Reading List

Unfortunately we aren’t able to bring you a podcast this week. Instead, here are the stories that caught our eye and are well worth reading. Normal service will hopefully resume next week.

Gary McKinnon’s U.S. Extradition Blocked On Human Rights Grounds
http://techcrunch.com/2012/10/16/uk-government-blocks-hacker-gary-mckinnons-us-extradition-on-human-rights-grounds/
In a surprise to many the Home Secretary Theresa May blocked Gary McKinnon’s extradition on health grounds.

Gov.uk is live
http://www.gov.uk/
Gov.uk has moved out of beta to a live service. Really impressed with the look and feel of the site. More impressive is how open the development has been. Good job.

Xbox Music launched
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19948100
Microsoft launch a streaming music competitor to Spotify et all. Launching first on the new Xbox dashboard and coming soon to Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. More interesting is the Android and iOS clients coming next year.

Surface priced and dated
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/oct/16/microsoft-surface-price
Microsoft price and date the Windows for RT Surface tablet. Similar to iPad pricing but watching the ad for the Surface makes the keyboard cover the USP – so why doesn’t every Surface come with one? Microsoft also haven’t done a good job explaining Windows RT – http://www.winsupersite.com/article/windows8/windows-rt-redmond-problem-144554

Apple loses Samsung Appeal
http://techcrunch.com/2012/10/18/apple-vs-samsung-u-k-appeal-court-upholds-galaxy-tab-not-cool-enough-to-copy-ipad-ruling/
Apple lose their appeal in the UK and will now have to run adverts saying that Samsung didn’t copy Apple…in a font no smaller than Ariel 14. Weird specific ruling.

Kindle PaperWhite hits the UK
http://www.engadget.com/2012/10/12/kindle-paperwhite-uk/
Amazon bring the PaperWhite Kindle to the UK…but some people aren’t happy with uneven lighting issues – http://techcrunch.com/2012/10/13/amazon-acknowledges-uneven-lighting-on-the-kindle-paperwhite/

Raspberry Pi gets an update
http://www.engadget.com/2012/10/15/raspberry-pi-model-b-512mb-ram/
Double the RAM for the same price – bargain.

GoPro’s new Hero3 is lighter, faster, higher res and has WiFi, comes in three flavors starting at $199
http://www.engadget.com/2012/10/16/gopro-hd-hero3/
One of the best action camera’s gets a great update.

Boxee TV
http://blog.boxee.tv/2012/10/16/boxee-box-past-present-and-future/
New direction for Boxee, releasing a TV tuner that is US only and stopping updates to it’s Boxee Box. Shame and a poke in the eye for anyone outside the US.

Pirate Bay moves servers to the cloud
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19982440
Pirate Bay is moving much of it’s infrastructure to the cloud to stay ne step ahead of any future legal battles.

Unmasking the worlds biggest troll
http://gawker.com/5950981/unmasking-reddits-violentacrez-the-biggest-troll-on-the-web
A must read story on how Reddit’s biggest troll, responsible for posting some vile material, was unmasked and outed. There has been much fallout including question marks on how Reddit is run. The troller known as Violentacrez has lost his job and now appeared on American TV to apologise for his actions.

Skydiver Baumgartner sets YouTube live view record
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19947159
The world watched Felix Baumgartner skydive from the edge of space setting many records including the most watched YouTube Live record with over 8 million viewers. The previous record was 500,000 for the London Olympics.

Google Data Centres
http://www.google.com/about/datacenters/
Google released lot’s of information about it’s secretive data centres which helps YouTube allow for 8 million continuous streams. SOme of the pictures are amazing – have you seen a data centre look so clean and colourful?

Jailbreaking an iOS Device

I’ve jailbroken my iPhone once before, during a podcast no less, but quickly went back to stock iOS as it felt a bit immature and a couple of app’s crashed which I hadn’t seen before. Almost a year on, and prompted by Shakeel doing it and with a certain amount of boredom with iOS it was time to jailbreak again and see what I was missing.

I also thought it would make a good blog post, capturing the step’s I did and my findings. Before you read on, a health warning. You can break your iOS device so follow the step’s carefully. You will also have to wait a few days after each iOS version is released before you can upgrade. With those out-of-the-way, let’s jailbreak.

Instead of repeating the jailbreak steps, visit iClarified.com. Click on the Jailbreak link at the top of the page and then select your device and platform. You will then be taken through the steps to jailbreak your iOS device. I used Pwnage tool and it worked without issue. It takes about 20-25 mins to jailbreak your device but then iTunes will restore your app’s and media which can take 20-40 mins depending on your device. After an hour I had a jailbroken iPhone, the only evidence being a Cydia icon in among my application icons.

Firstly I reset the root password on the iPhone to minimise the risk of anyone logging into my phone at a later date. I then connected to the iPhone from the Mac using Transmit (if you don’t have Trasmit then the free app Cyberduck will work just as well) and was able to browse the iPhone like any traditional computing device. Now what?

Well there’s a whole new world of app’s and customisation that now awaits. The first app I installed was SBSettings. This is a free app and once installed via Cydia it gives you a quick list of settings and toggles by swiping the iPhone toolbar. You can quickly enable and disable bluetooth, wifi etc far more quickly than opening settings and drilling into a variety of menu’s. You also get stats like current IP address which is a quick way of finding your IP and accessing your iPhone from your Mac or PC. You can also add widgets to SBSettings like a calculator and skin it so you can make it look as nice (or ugly) as you want. Speaking of skins, Winterboard is another app that is a must install. This will allow you to install themes and hacks to totally change the look and feel of iOS.

In this screen the icons are smaller and there are five columns of icons rather than four. The theme being used is Matte Nano HD but if you look around there are hundreds to choose from. Like all theme’s some theme, like the one linked above, are great and others – not so much. I actually found the theming to be a bit of a pain as once you change the look and feel, especially reducing the size of icons, you are then on a constant hunt to change the individual app icons that the theme doesn’t cover. However Shakeel has done almost everything on his phone (screenshots are from his phone) and it looks amazing.

What’s not apparent from the screenshot are the live notifications. The weather icon is live rather than a graphic and will show current temperature and weather. In the title bar you get have notifications for e-mail, messages etc which makes for a much more informative iOS environment. You can even change the search screen and make it not only informative but like an Android or Windows phone.

Jailbreaking also allows for app’s that are currently prohibited in the App store – emulators for example. There’s a great SNES emulator and SNES games play well as long as you put up with the virtual controller that you need to use. You can also enable tethering so that other devices can take advantage of your mobile data without having to enable it with your mobile phone provider.

The seedier side of jailbreaking is piracy. There are many repositories setup purely to allow you to download cracked versions of iOS applications. What I find most incredible is that for many of the pirated app’s, users are saving only £0.59. Are people really that tight that this is the only way to get app’s for their mobile devices?

I’d been running my iPhone jailbroken for a few days when I started to become frustrated with it. There were slight pauses during operation that I didn’t get using vanilla iOS. Worse, I suffered a couple of major crashes that required a reboot of the device. The crashes weren’t during the install of app’s – the last one was when taking a photo and it took around 15 minutes before the device switched back on. Not good. One thing I value is stability and that last crash was a crash too far. That night I restored the phone back to vanilla iOS and restored from a backup. I missed the visual flair and the handy little hacks I’d installed but it was noticeably snappier and I’ve not had a crash since.

One interesting point on crashes. Apple released Keynote, Numbers and Pages for iPhones this week. Shakeel on his jailbroken iPhone has seen a number of crashes. I’ve had none. Gut feel is that the extra utilities running in the background coupled with running a heavy app is pushing the iPhone in ways it wasn’t designed to be.

So if you are bored with the look of iOS, or dream of carrying a SNES in your pocket then jailbreaking is for you. Good luck! I’ll stick with vanilla iOS and look forward to what iOS 5 brings our way.

Form factor prediction…

In January 2010, I started to write a post about the future of device form factor… I never finished or published it. I wish I had now, as I would have actually looked more intelligent and insightful than I actually am! See below for the unfinished masterpiece…

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Form Factor Fads

We can cram computing power into all sorts of different shapes and sizes. The excitement of cramming powerful computers into devices we can fit in our pocket has created a huge global industry. Devices that know where they are and that are always connected have seen many innovations and uses.
The biggest problem is one of form factor. A device that fits in your pocket is often compromised on the display and input front. Even though an iPhone is an exceptionally capable device being worked on by millions of talented individuals, it still has some inherent limiting factors to its capabilities. Screen size and data input.
We see more and more niche products being released that all have different combinations of form factor. Different screen sizes to suit particular tasks. Different input methods to facilitate different types of application.
Users aren’t going to buy 101 different devices to meet all their different requirements. It’s wasteful and unnecessary. What needs to happen is a separation of computational device and display/input devices.
A computer that can sit in your pocket and be portable can be used to output content to any size monitor or display and can be attached to any input device imaginable. Your device can then act as an eReader, Personal Computer, Media Streamer, Word Processor, Catalogue etc etc Users can then make purchasing decisions about how they want to interact with their device and its data. With commonality of input/output interfaces, everyday objects, like TV’s, will immediately become huge lounge portals to any digital media.
Buying a bigger laptop will simply be a matter of buying a bigger shell – with keyboard and screen that your pocket device can interface with.

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910 Review

At the tail end of 2010 I picked up a webcam for use in daily video conferencing via skype. It would most likely have been sensible to plump for a cheap and cheerful option but somehow, as with all my buying decisions, I get like a kid in a sweet shop and can’t resist the big shiny option.

So, after some digging around and reading I plumped for the newly released Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910. A mouthful I think you’ll agree – so I’ll just call it the C910 from now on.

So why this buying decision? Well, I liked the top notch specs of this little camera. It’s got Carl Zeiss® optics, offers up full HD video recording, 10MP camera stills and has the capability to conference in 720P as well (although it requires a hefty internet connection to use this feature in reality.)

The head unit is long and oblong – about 3.5″ x 1.5″ – and has a flexible monitor support attached. I had no problem using the support to attach the cam to my 24″ Dell Flatscreen or my MacBook Pro Laptop. Obviously, being a fairly sizeable camera and the nature of a portable laptop, you’ll be wanting to have the laptop on a desk to make sure that you don’t catch the cable or otherwise yank the thing off the screen.

In operation, the camera is very capable. The optics are clear and the refresh rate is very good. The C910 offers auto focus that is quick and precise. I didn’t really notice it in operation, which is a good sign.

When in use, the camera has two led strips that light up blue. It’s a nice touch and looks sleek.

The software is relatively painless in use. Drivers are available for PC and Mac support was added recently. As far as I can tell, Mac is just drivers + the Logitech Vid HD software at the moment, whereas PC comes with some extras like options to install Skype, Vid HD as well as Magix photo and video editing software.

Also, it doesn’t appear at this stage that the Mac drivers come with the same filters and effects tools as the PC. Whether this is an additional download coming soon or whether this is a PC only feature, I don’t know at this stage.

I have to say that the facial recognition and tracking of the camera on the PC is impressive. A simple calibration tool sets things up and then you’re off. You can change yourself into an Avatar if you want and the facial tracking then transplants your mouth, eye and face movements onto another character. Just as impressive is the ability for the software to add 3D “features” to your face. Ever wanted to know what you’d look like with an arrow through your head? Well, now you can find out. As you move your head, the arrow moves in 3D space as well. Freaky voodoo fun!

In addition to these fun features, it’s possible to use the PC software as a motion tracker. Set things up and you can have your camera record snippets whenever it notices something moving in its sight line. You get to define the sensitivity of this feature and what it should do when it detects motion (record, alert you etc).

The basic system requirements are not onerous. 1GHz, XP and up or OSX 10.5, 512Mb Ram. However, things step up a notch when it comes to full HD conferencing. You’ll need a dual core processor, 2Gig Ram and at least a 1Meg upload connection. Most modern computers will meet the specs – but in the UK it’s really only the lucky few who have the luxury of 1Meg upload.

You’ll also need to download the latest version of Skype to make use of the HD capabilities of this camera fully (because who is really going to use Logitech’s own Vid HD in reality?). However, even if you’re not stretching this camera to its limits, the higher quality optics and hardware as compared to basic offerings mean that your video comes through bright, clear and updates quickly – well beyond other offerings I’ve seen in practice.

It copes well with light changes and differing light conditions and the stereo sound won’t win any awards but is plenty capable for Skype. It picks up the sound well and since moving to this as my main Skype Mic, I’ve had only positive response. If you let Skype auto change the gain, it can even pick up sounds downstairs when I go and make a cup of tea!

It’s biggest downfall is its price of course. Not because I think it’s over priced for what it is, just because it’s steep for a webcam. However, with it’s full HD recording ability, single click upload to facebook/youtube and 10MP still capability, it’s a whole lot more than just a webcam. I picked mine up for around £80. I’ve seen them since at around £70 and I’ve also seen a page on Amazon that looks as though it may get down to £60 in the next few months.

iOS 4.3 Preview

A quick post with some news on iOS 4.3, recently released to developers and coming soon for all iOS users which came out while we were recording our latest podcast. Usually the NDA’s surrounding these releases mean information is thin on the ground but more and more we are seeing the details posted within hours of the developer releases. Looking at this Ars Technica post, the main new features are:

  • Airplay API – devlopers can now utilise API instead of the few Apple app’s that feature AirPlay support
  • Personal Hotspot – Launching with the Verizon iphone but coming soon to an iPhone near you turn your iPhone into a wifi hotspot, supporting up to five devices for 30 minutes tops unless there’s a power supply near you as well. Big question – will your telco support it and if so how much?
  • Choice. Honest. You too will be able to specify what your iPad’s hardware button can do. Prior to 4.2 it was an much loved by many orientation lock. 4.2 swapped it to a mute button and hid the orientation lock in with the multi tasking/playback controls. Many hated this and 4.3 allows the user to choose which of these two options are controlled via the hardware button. I am amazed – just not like Apple.
  • New gestures which look very handy. *groan* Four and five finger gestures, specifically pinch to return to the home screen and swipe to move between app’s. This is the biggest change for me and I’m surprised we’re seeing this in an OS point update rather than with iOS 5 or new hardware. Many are saying that this is the end of the home button but I can’t see it myself. The home button is important for one handed operation and a few other system related features which I don’t think will be replaced by gestures. The few saying this is really Boy Genius Report. The same people that have predicted Blu-Ray on the Mac. Video embed below shows the gestures in action. Nice.

Of course, I say all iOS users will be enjoying these features but this release drops support for iPhone 3G users and iPod Touch 2nd Gen. Performance of the hardware just not up to the latest features or Apple applying chinese burns to users to encourage hardware upgrades? Despite that negative, this update has some welcome new features. I just hope they are still featured when the final release is made available.

Create a US iTunes Account

While most content is made available across the world, every so often there is an app for the iPhone or iPad that is only available in the US app store. For example, the BBC News app which has been written by the BBC has been blocked for release in the UK pending a review by the BBC Trust. However it is available in the US App Store. The Newspaper Publishers Association should take a bow. However it’s a fairly painless process to setup a US account allowing you to grab the app’s that aren’t available in the UK

  1. Open iTunes and sign out of your current iTunes account. Note that it’s easy to swap between accounts and you won’t lose any of your content doing this. Click on iTunes store but you will want to navigate to the US store. Move to the bottom right of the store, click on the UK flag, then select US store to open the US iTunes store.
  2. Next, find a free app that you want – any app will do as long as it’s free. Click Buy and you will be prompted for a login. At this point select ‘Create New Account’
  3. After accepting the terms and conditions, enter your details including an e-mail address different to your current iTunes account. Click continue.
  4. You will now be asked for a payment method – click None on the right hand side of the payment options.
  5. You will then be asked for an address. Enter a US address – Google or Bing maps are your friend. Search for a hotel, business – anything really as long as you can get the address and post code (or zip code as it’s known over there).
  6. The next step is to verify your account. You will receive an e-mail from Apple with the obligatory click on the link step to authenticate the address. Once done you have a US iTunes account.

That was painless. Obviously, if you have a credit card with a US postal address you can set up payment details. If you really need a pay for app from the US store, then you can buy iTunes gift cards online either from eBay (be careful though – reports of quite a few scammers) or more reliably via Maximus Cards.

The US account isn’t just accessible via iTunes on your home computer. Fire up iTunes on your iPhone or iPad, logout of your current account and enter your US account details. You can then download directly to your device and it will be synced back to your home machine at the next sync. You can grab content from multiple accounts and sync to your devices without fear of losing any. So what app’s are worth grabbing?

Well, BBC news is a pretty obvious one. A universal app that works better on the iPad than the iPhone, it’s more visual, like Pulse adder, to give you quick and easy access to today’s news. Bing app gives you quick access to a variety of search options. One useful addition is visual searching similar to Google Goggles. Scan a barcode or front of a book or DVD and search results with a variety of prices will be returned. There is also voice searching but it is not as accurate as Googles voice search. Speaking of voice, Dragon Dictate will turn your voice notes into text. I’ve had mixed success with the app but I put that more down to Glaswegian dialect than the app as it’s got great reviews.

So there you have it – with just a few simple steps you can access app’s even if they aren’t available in your region.