The Solution to Vertical Video

The introduction of video on the iPhone 3GS introduced an issue into society: vertical video. If you’re reading this online, then you’ve likely seen a vertical video. The iPhone 3GS only recorded SD (640×480) video. Now, iPhones record HD (1080p). Thus, people are sharing around huge vertical videos via social media, SMS, etc. If you’re unfamiliar with this, then watch the following video.

This has been prevalent since 2009, but has increased exponentially in the past 3-4 years. It seems educating people on the matter is a lost cause; (non-technical) people are complacent. (Snapchat also isn’t helping the situation.)

I have a solution which doesn’t require people to learn anything new. (Plus, it will make Instagram users squeal.) Device manufacturers just need to place a square imaging sensor inside phones, tablets, and any devices which people tend to primarily hold in a vertical orientation. Most imaging sensors in cameras (DSLRs, camcorders, REDs, etc.) are in a 4:3 or 16:9 (wider than they are tall) aspect ratio. Cameras were built to be held in a certain way. Phones were also built to be handled in a certain way. If manufacturers just place a square sensor in devices held in a portrait fashion, then the software can determine whether to record with a widescreen crop on the sensor, or not. Vine and Instagram have exploded the square (1:1) content market. I don’t like the limitation of a square (especially in video), but it’s far better than vertical videos.

iPhone 5 iOS 8 UI - Video Camera modeWith a square sensor, you would load the built-in camera app and it would function the same way it does now. However, when you switch to video mode and hold the device vertically, it will display a dark, translucent overlay on the live view from the sensor. That overlay will appear on more of the screen than the clear portion representing the content which will be captured (see image left). This may entice people to rotate the device horizontally — so they can see a larger image of what is being recorded. Even if they continue to hold it vertically, the video recorded will be horizontal. Huzzah!

So, Apple, Google, Motorola, LG, and all you folks. Get Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, and all those image sensor manufacturers to make you square sensors. Then spend a day tweaking the software to support it. Then give yourselves a big hug as you witness vertical videos being less and less viewed online.

From an art perspective, I have no issue with vertical video. I haven’t not seen it used in a creative, artistic way though. Enlighten me, if you have.

Oh, and Instagram users. You’ll be sharing photos created by capturing light to every single pixel on that sensor. Congratulations.

Graphic created by me using iOS 8 Illustrator Vector UI Kit, screenshots from my phone, and a frame from a vertical video Kali sent me. 

DKTHINKS – Siri in AppleTV

I don’t pay close attention to technology rumour mills. Apple rumours that get a lot of hype eventually reach my radar, but I don’t enjoy following something that has the potential to be completely fabricated just to get a few views on a blog/site. I do like to make predictions. Almost any prediction anyone makes it bound to come to fruition… some day. Although, some predictions are more logical than others.

There have been rumours and predictions in recent months regarding the future of Apple TV, and how it will contain Siri sooner rather than later. I don’t think any of these predictions have much thought or imagination put into them though. Hence, here’s mine.

A few things to note: When I refer to “record” I also mean access/download the episode/movie after it has gone live to air. This may be by auto-purchasing the media via iTunes, or adding it to your Hulu/YouTube queue (whichever is the cheaper/better/faster option). “Siri” is referred to when commanding the Apple TV to perform a function (record, play, save, download, brightness, etc.). “Apple TV” is the device/software that records, performs functions, and commands the television to perform its respective functions. That said, “Siri” and “Apple TV” could be used interchangeably.

Siri in Apple TV

This one is obvious: You’ll be able to speak commands to your Apple TV — even if you’re not near your Apple TV. Siri will be in all your devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook, etc.), so you’ll just need to tell her what you’d like to do with your Apple TV:

  • Record a show/movie — Siri will have access to an EPG which is updated every 30 seconds. If a live show or sports event runs overtime (cutting into your program), then Siri will be able to adapt and record the show at the accurate time, and, more importantly, stop the recording when the show is over (not when it was originally scheduled to finish). Also integrating media fingerprint recognition technology (e.g., Soundprint, Gracenote) into the recorder/system would allow Apple TV to know when the show is actually over. The combination of this accurate EPG and media fingerprint recognition would result in 100% successful viewings and recordings. If you choose to watch a show ‘live to air’, and it’s not going to air at the scheduled time, then Siri would notify you via any communication method you choose (e.g., call, SMS, push notification, email, etc.).
  • Controlling volume — Not only will you be able to increase or decrease the volume of the television, but Siri will always be sensing (microphone, motion sensor, ambient light sensor, etc.) what you’re doing. First, advertisements (if any) will be the same volume as the content you’re watching. Second, if you walk out of the room, then Siri will pause the show and cue it back to where you left off by rewinding a few seconds. Third, if you receive a phone call or SMS, then Siri will pause the show and display it on the TV screen. Contacts you frequently communicate with will receive priority over others or unknown callers. In other words, some calls may be forced directly to voicemail if you choose to not be disturbed while watching a show/movie. Of course, all of these options can be configured ON/OFF in the settings menu of Apple TV.

Your iPhone/iPad is Apple TV

  • Eventually, Apple TV will no longer be a standalone device. It will be integrated in to all iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, etc.). Thus, you’ll be able to use Apple TV on any TV — no matter where you are (home, friend’s house, hotel, tech conference). This will be exceptionally great if you’re in a foreign hotel and you don’t know which channel has the show/movie you’d like to watch. Hotels are notorious for having such poor user interfaces (TV and remote control) because they choose to lock down what you are able to do with the television. Apple TV could fix all this.
  • You will be able to connect your various media check-in apps (e.g., GetGlue, IntoNow, SideReel, Tunerfish, etc.), and Siri will pull data from them in order to know your viewing habits, likes, episodes/shows you have/haven’t watched, and so on.

Siri and Apple TV know where you are

You will be able to program Apple TV to switch on your television when a show/movie is about to go live to air. If you’re home, and unable to watch the show/movie at that time, then you’ll be able to command Siri to “wait [n minutes/hours]”. Siri will turn off the display and/or mute the volume until that time comes around. Additionally, Siri will know where you are thanks to apps like Foursquare, Google Latitude, and Find My Friends. If you’re not home at the time a show is scheduled to air (and subsequently turn your TV on), then it will not turn on, and it will record the show instead. Your calendar will also be involved in this decision making process. If you’re scheduled to be away at an event (e.g., South by Southwest), then your Apple TV will never turn on your TV during that time, and it will record the shows instead.

I’ve been referring to Apple’s Apple TV throughout this prediction, but Google (and others; less likely) could just as easily create a similar product that is just as intuitive and forward-thinking. We will see.

Google’s Thin-Bordered iPad

Today, I happened to stumble across a post on the Official Google Blog regarding the mobile version of Google Docs. (Read it here.) Basically, you can now edit documents stored in Google Docs from any mobile device — whether it be a Blackberry or a new-fangled iPad.

Speaking of iPad, the photo below on the left is grabbed directly from aforementioned post; the photo on the right is taken from apple.com/ipad.

Yeah. It looks like Google decided to redesign the iPad the way they would like to see it. It looks like the screen size is about 13″ diagonally; huge. Maybe they know something we don’t. Perhaps we’ll find out next year when the next generation iPad is released.

Apple’s September 2010 iPod Announcement

Today Apple announced updates to their iPod lineup along with an TV refreshment. La dee da; if you don’t already know everything about it, then you can read it on Engadget, Inhatko.com, or listen/watch TWiT’s coverage of the keynote.

I watched Apple’s live feed on my iPhone and it worked pretty well. Mitch was watching it on his laptop (running Snow Leopard; the only OS it would run on; I’m on Leopard) and I noticed several seconds of delay coming from his computer. Weird considering we were both using the same Wi-Fi. It was probably just because the iPhone version was more compressed; though it looked great.

I’m not going to repeat what everyone else said. I’m going to pick out just a few things I liked and didn’t like.

iPods

Shuffle
I don’t care too much for the shuffle; I’ve never owned one and I probably never will. I liked the buttonless (third generation) design, but I think a device without a screen needs tactile buttons for visionless clicking. I’m sure lots of Shuffle users will welcome the return of the buttons.

Nano
Alright. This is where I have a bone to pick. (Is that the saying?) I understand the reason for the touchscreen — making it smaller. I understand they want to keep the design in sync with other iDevices (specifically the iPad). But that’s about where my understanding is limited.

Apple iPod Nano 2010 -frontThe design is pretty horrendous! If you want to make it look like a mini iPad, then make it look like a mini iPad. The design looks like they put a mini iPad inside an iPod shuffle. Literally (see photo left). Sure, people want colours, but Apple could have just made the rear panel of aluminium coloured and left front just the glass touchscreen.

Apple iPad Nano / Illustration and Hands-on

The back has some strange round-cornered, shaded thing to make it look symmetrical to the front. Hopefully it doesn’t look as bad as the photos in person. As you can see in the photo above, that rounded thing on the back is the clip. Duh, Derek. Duuuuh.

Classic (updated)
Um. They’ve done away with the iPod Classic. The original iPod design. The ones with a large storage capacity.

Quick history on my iPod experience: I never wanted an iPod because I didn’t like iTunes and I much preferred listening to FM radio (for the talking; music on the radio sucks; it’s repetitive and unoriginal). Then I discovered podcasts, eventually bought a refurbished 80GB fifth generation iPod Classic, and used it quite a bit. I still use it.

I don’t need to upgrade it (the only caveat I have is that the HDD inside can be slow at times), but I have been waiting for them to release a larger capacity flash memory version. Today that didn’t happen. It appears it never will.

Update: According to Engadget (via Michael Gartenberg), the iPod Classic isn’t “dead”. Though it also hasn’t been updated; it’s as good as dead then.

Touch
Apple devices will become the number one most used photography/videography device. That’s all.

Apple TV

Apple TV 2010 next to iPhone 4 - engadgetNo storage. Okay, cool. It’s tiny and everything, but they’re really looking at the future here — which I like. They don’t care if you have a crappy internet connection or haven’t upgraded your router to 802.11n; you will be upgraded in a year or so. I would like some storage (even as little as 64GB) so I can watch something if the Internet is down. If…

Steve proclaimed that the HD revolution is over. Yes. Good. I’ve said this myself is as many words. There’s no reason to have standard definition (SD) options on anything (online video, television, downloads) anymore. HD will become the “standard definition”.

Moreover, Apple has completely skipped Blu-ray because physical content like that is a waste of space and everything will be downloaded. Good.

iTunes

It sounds like iTunes 10 will be ‘just another update’ considering I only really use it to listen to the occasional song and sync my iPhone.

Ping
I found it pretty funny when Steve was essentially explaining how Twitter works; followers, circle of friends (private account), posts. Sure, I’ll sign up, but I doubt I’ll use it much. I know Apple likes to be able to control everything they do, but wouldn’t it have been easier to use Twitter’s API to pull keywords relating to music into iTunes? That way we wouldn’t have to follow all of our friends on yet another network; quick adoption.

iPad

What? They didn’t update the iPad. Maybe not, but they hinted at the update. I’m not a diehard-Apple-fanboy-thing, but I’ve been saying that there will be an iPad hardware update before the end of 2010. I figured this September announcement would be Steve’s last for the year, but it sounds like there will be at least one more before Christmas.

iOS 4.1 will include HDR photo creation. In November iOS 4.2 will be released for the iPad. It “will include everything in iOS 4.1”. This means HDR photo creation on the iPad. This means an iPad with a camera built-in. Hopefully, the lens ans sensor are much larger that the one in the iPhone 4 and fourth generation iPod Touch. It sounds like a pretty reasonable assumption to moi.

Conclusion

All in all this wasn’t a surprising keynote from Steve; many things were rumoured well in advance and we still hold the original iPhone announcement as “AMAZING”. That said, this announcement will be looked back on as revolutionary when we’re all wearing iPod Nanos as watch phones and streaming HD video to our iPhone 7 via some kind of WiMax/5G wireless network.

Oh. One more thing.

Those of you that are musically talented (compared to me, that’s anyone reading this) probably felt that Chris Martin’s singing at the end of the Apple keynote was terrible. I mean, even I could tell there were issues with his singing. However, I liked it. It was rough and unique. Where do I download?

(I saw a few tweets mentioning that Chris Martin’s singing will make auto-tune cool again. Personally, I feel anything auto-tuned is seven times worse than any of Chris Martin’s singing today.)

Made up words: 3

Switching my iPhone from AT&T to T-Mobile

AT&T was great and everything, but it was just costing too much. As you can read here, I’ve used AT&T’s services for almost two years.

T-Mobile is $10-$15 cheaper than I was paying on AT&T. AT&T offered me a similar (after tax) price to T-Mobile’s, but that only included 300 minutes, 200 texts, and 2GB of data. Comparatively, T-Mobile is giving me 500 minutes (not that I’ll use anywhere near that much) and unlimited SMS/MMS & data. All that for about US$70/month (much better than the US$85 I was paying AT&T).

NB: I specifically asked T-Mobile if there data is unlimited (not ‘fake unlimited’; capped) and they told me I can “go nuts”. Sweeet!

The Switch

It was painless, but it did take up quite a bit of my time. Here are the steps I took to switch:

  1. I looked on T-Mobile’s website for the plan that best suited me. For me, this happened to be the Even More Plus 500 Talk + Text + Web contract-free plan.
  2. I called T-Mobile, setup an account, told them I had an iPhone, and had them send me a SIM card. (There was no obligation to make a payment until I activated the SIM card.)
  3. I called AT&T told them I wanted to cancel. They immediately put me through to their cancellation department where they asked some expected questions and then offered me a lower-cost plan (which I haven’t seen available online or elsewhere) that included (as I said above) 300 minutes of talk, 200 SMS, and 2GB of data. I said “No thanks.” and proceeded with the cancellation. AT&T asked if I was going to port my number (something I hadn’t thought of) and if so the porting would cancel the account anyway.
  4. When I received my SIM I called T-Mobile to activate it and port the number. Within minutes they had done so and my AT&T account was canceled.
  5. It took almost a week to get data working. Each T-Mobile support representative I spoke to was helpful, but the first few didn’t realise that I wasn’t on the correct data plan. I had to be on a smartphone data plan. Once that was activated my data worked. (T-Mobile forum posts like this were helpful, but didn’t resolve my issue.)
  6. Visual Voicemail is a feature on T-Mobile, but for some reason it doesn’t appear to work on the iPhone. I spoke to a nice T-Mobile girl about it. She told me everything was active on T-Mobile’s end, so it must be some kind of iPhone incompatibility. Perhaps it’s because of [Step 7].
  7. I was originally told that there was great 3G coverage in my area, but according to T-Mobile’s website my area has the slowest data rating. Outside of my apartment I get good EDGE speeds; I’m not complaining here; I usually had 3G turned off when I was on AT&T anyway. You must note that T-Mobile’s 3G isn’t compatible with the 3G radio inside the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and iPhone 4. So, even if I had awesome 3G in a certain location my iPhone wouldn’t be able to see it. That doesn’t bother me though.

That’s about it. It was a longer process than I expected, but my bill is less and my iPhone is working fine on T-Mobile’s network. I haven’t used it outside of the Huntsville, Fort Worth, and Houston areas yet, but I’m sure it would be fine in places like New York City and San Francisco.

Oh, just in case you didn’t read my post on using my Australian iPhone 3GS on AT&T, then you need to know that I did not hack-unlock and/or jailbreak my iPhone to work on T-Mobile. My iPhone is carrier unlocked from my Australian carrier.

Using my Australian iPhone 3GS on AT&T

I assume a post like the one you’re about to read has been written before, but I just wanted to document my experience with using an Australian iPhone in the USA.

The Quick and Dirty Answer

Call your Australian carrier and get them to unlock your Australian iPhone from its network. You’ll then be able to use it on any GSM network in the world. This is NOT a hack/jailbreak/unlocking tip. This is legit unlocking.

The Long and Clean Answer

When I traveled to the USA in 2008 I got a first-generation iPhone from a friend and put it on a plan with AT&T. This was not a contract, but a month-to-month plan that worked exactly the same as a regular AT&T iPhone contract plan, but didn’t have the early termination fee. This means I could cancel at any time. Why no contract? Because I had my own phone/hardware. (Note: I did have to pay a deposit because I had no credit score in America, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)

In 2009, Apple released the iPhone 3GS in Australia on the 26th of June. I went to the midnight launch an the Optus Store in Sydney’s CBD. It was a fun event, and I probably only waited in line for about 6 hours. It was a fun time in the dead of winter. 🙂

I went on the $79 Cap which included the following:

  • iPhone 3GS (32GB / white)
  • 1-year contract.
  • AUD$500 worth of calls.
  • Unlimited SMS and MMS. (A first for any mobile phone plan in Australia; previously we only had the option to pay for each text at between $0.05-$0.25 depending on the carrier. We don’t pay to receive text messages (like USA carriers do it) though.)
  • 700MB of mobile data
  • And whatever fancy Optus things it came with, like ‘Yes Time’ etc.

On top of the $80 I had to pay around AUD$48/month just for the phone itself. I did not pay any upfront costs for the iPhone.

48\times12 = 576

iPhone unlocked screen in iTunesThat’s about half the cost (~AUD$1100) to buy that phone outright at the time. Going on a 1-year contract is definitely one of the cheapest ways to obtain an unlocked iPhone. “Unlocked?!”, you squeal? Yes, as soon as you make the first month’s payment you can call Optus (and I assume there’s similar options at other Australian carriers) and ask for the phone to be unlocked from Optus’ network.

When I moved to the USA in February, 2010, I made sure my phone was unlocked and everything was dandy. I didn’t sign up with AT&T until about a month after I got there. I was using my iPhone on Wi-Fi in a lot of places… and I don’t get out much.

I called AT&T and got them to send me a SIM to put in my iPhone. At this point I didn’t tell them I had an iPhone because I figured I could just use the cheaper smartphone data plan and save a bunch of money.

When I received the SIM it didn’t seem to work. After a bunch of calls to AT&T and Apple’s technical department we couldn’t figure out the issue. I even went into an AT&T store to see if they could figure out anything. At that point I had to show them I had an iPhone and they noticed I didn’t have the iPhone data plan. Boo; now I have to pay extra money. That still didn’t fix the issue though.

I ended up calling Optus to see if there was some issue with the unlocking. It turned out that they never unlocked it like I requested. Not to worry though; they unlocked it then and there.

I called back AT&T and everything worked like a charm.

Remember what I said about a deposit? Well, if you don’t have enough of a credit score/rating/whatever (I didn’t the first time because I was traveling and I didn’t the second time (with the iPhone 3GS) because I only just moved to the USA), then you have to pay a deposit of US$500 to AT&T (I assume most companies do this. It seems AT&T might be the only one that does this: Read here.).

Don’t worry, it’s completely refundable after 1 year. I can vouch for AT&T on that because they returned the $500 — which I ended up giving back to them when I moved to the USA; haha.

I would like to note that both Optus and AT&T are great companies. Optus beats AT&T for sure, but they both have great customer service (phone/store), great reception (in the areas I frequent; I don’t live in SF or NYC), and have redeemed themselves numerous times when overcharging me then returning the money when I yell at them.

That’s it! Enjoy your unlocked iPhone goodness.

Less than 24 hours with an iPad

Over the past day I have had the opportunity to unbox an iPad and load it with applications.

As you’ve seen me mention many times, Australia gets technology later than many other countries. And the iPad is no different; Americans got it first at the beginning of April and Australians don’t get to see it in the flesh until May 28th — most Australians won’t have it in their hands until June.

I know a few people that work at an Apple Authorised Reseller/Service Centre in Australia. They have many regular customers and are super-nice to them. Customers have been asking about the iPad non-stop since the Australian release date was announced. So, they couldn’t wait to get one in the store. Hence, I shipped one to them. I’m not mentioning any names because I don’t want Apple to lock down their products more than they already do.

Anywho, that’s beside the point.

I connected the iPad to my MacBook Pro and synced some iPad and iPhone apps which I already had downloaded. The iPhone-only apps looks pretty lame/crappy on the iPad — especially when increase to 2x size.

The biggest issue I found with apps is when there isn’t a universal app (one app that can be used on an iPhone or iPad rather than separate apps for each device). Having an app for the iPhone and a different one for the iPad creates confusion when adding apps to the iPad. The iPad accepts iPhone apps (because of the ability to scale them up), but the iPhone does not accept iPad apps.

I have no knowledge or experience with app development, so I’m not sure if creating a universal app is more difficult than making separate apps, but if you create apps for the Apple mobile platform, then please try your best to make them universal.

I noticed that some apps are separate for a limited time (while the iPad is still new/fresh) because they’re offering the iPad app for free and then only keeping the universal (paid) app after the time period is over. I think this is still a little silly. Such app providers should just offer the universal app for free for a limited time. If some iPhone users score the app for free, then ‘oh well’; if those users like the app, then they’ll refer their friends to pay for it.

One such app is GoSkyWatch Planetarium (iTunes link). It’s an app that didn’t exist when I got my first iPhone and I was looking for astronomy applications. I only discovered it yesterday when putting rad apps on the iPad — because it was free; that is, they have a $6 universal app, but for a limited time they have a separate iPad app which is free. Here’s an example of what that looks like on the iTunes Store.

I really wanted to put this app on my iPhone (I love astronomy and this app is the best I’ve seen), but I’m not really sure it’s fair that it’s free for the iPad and not for iPhone users. If I do end up buying it, then I’ll write a review on it later.

There’s stuff like this happening all over the iTunes Store. AIM, Gowalla, Shazam, TweetDeck, Twitterrific, Urbanspoon, The Weather Channel, Wikipanion, and WordPress are just a few apps I have that aren’t universal apps. Again, it’s unorganised and uses unnecessary space on my computer.

I know the iPad App Store is very young, and I hope most apps become universal over the coming months. Right now, it’s just a mess.

That’s my experience with the iPad.

Below is my unboxing of the iPad along with some short usage of it.