The iPhone has always been a great platform for developers to innovate and invent new uses for the device. Recently L5 Technology did just that with their L5 Remote hardware dongle + iPhone app [iTunes App Store link]. The L5 Remote is an universal remote control. It comes in two parts: a hardware IR dongle attached to the iPhone (3G/3GS)/iPod Touch Dock Connector, and an iPhone app. The hardware dongle cost USD49.95 + shipping and the L5 Remote iPhone app is free from the iPhone App Store.

When you first starts the app you are presented with a blank slate and a row of controls at the bottom of the screen. You can either drag preset controls to the workspace or drag one control at a time to the workspace to design your remote.

One of the controls is the macro control, it can be programed to invoke a series of existing controls to produce a sequence of events upon pressing just one key. For example, turning on the TV, AV receiver and cable box with just a click of one button on the L5 Remote app.

Each set of controls can be grouped into individual panels. These panels can be labeled whatever the user wants. The user can add an unlimited number of controls to each remote workspaces. The remote workspaces can also be labeled by the user.

Most of the controls can be label and these labels are resized to fit the controls by automatically reducing the font size of the label; with a minimum font size of approximately 8 point. The height and width of these controls can also be adjusted as necessary.

After the remote is designed, the user can click on the Assign button in the toolbar to switch the app into learning mode. Of course this learning mode is only functional when the hardware IR dongle is connected. When the hardware dongle is connected the app will automatically rotates 180 degrees; making the bottom of the iPhone/iPod Touch the top so the hardware dongle is oriented upwards.

The controls are assigned by pointing the original device remote to the front of hardware dongle, select the control on the L5 Remote to assign, then pressing the button on the original device remote to copy from. Releasing and repressing the button at appropriate times by following the on screen instructions on the L5 Remote app.

The assignment (learning) process is fairly fast and accurate. The speed in which a control is assigned depends on the original device remote. It works best for remotes which emit IR signal continuously when a button is pressed, rather than those which only emit a signal burst each time a button is pressed no matter how long the button is held.

List of remotes can be chosen either by using the swipe left-right gesture on the screen or by clicking on the Remotes button in the middle of the toolbar at the bottom of the screen.

Using the remote is self explanatory, especially if you have reproduced the labels for each controls from the original device remote. Each time a control on the L5 Remote is clicked a sound will emit and the Remotes button in the toolbar will light up for a fraction of a second. Both of these serve as a UI feedback for correctly pressing on a control.

After using it for a week I found the IR signal from the hardware dongle to be quite directional, and it comes out at a very narrow angle from the end of the dongle. Therefore to use the L5 Remote effectively, one must aim the hardware dongle directly at the device's IR receiver for the signal to be received. This makes the use a bit cumbersome especially when.

The company tells me that in an upcoming release designed remotes can be backed up and/or transferred to other iPhone or iPod Touch. This features is very important especially a number of original device remotes was reproduced on the L5 Remote. I hope in the future L5 Technology will publish predefined remotes with learnt controls like Logitech does for its Harmony Remotes.

If you are in the market for an universal remote, I think the USD49.95 that L5 Technology is asking for is quite worth the money.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone, review

Last year I had an in depth review of SimplyTweet 2.3 and later 2.5. With the release of SimplyTweet 3 [iTunes App Store link] MotionObj has improved on a Twitter client that is already amazing. As mentioned in my review last year, many of the features in SimplyTweet 2 were later adapted in Tweetie 2, it is surprising why Twitter did not purchase SimplyTweet instead of Tweetie.

In this latest update, the developer has made some bug fixes but also added the following features/enhancements:

  • Improved offline caching.
  • Faster application startup.
  • Improved Twitter List access.
  • Added new style RT to swipe menu.
  • Added support for tweeting current song (with #nowplaying).
  • Added support for TwitLonger.

I had tried many Twitter clients on the iPhone: TweetDeck for iPhone, Tweetie, TwitBird Pro for Twitter and Twitterrific, but had to go back to SimplyTweet mainly for the following reasons:

  1. First and foremost is its built in Push Notification. Yes, I understand BoxCar is a common solution for applications that do not have built in Push Notifications, but for whatever reasons I never have too good of an experience with it.
  2. Link shortening seem to be the only one that works correctly for me. This is one of the most important feature to me as I share many links among my followers.
  3. Since I manage my Twitter stream using Twitter Lists, SimplyTweet's ability to customize the icons at the bottom is invaluable to me. Although it is a bit limited with only 4 spots, but TweetDeck's implementation is a bit hard to manage also. I hope the developer will improve this UI behaviour.

For more screen shots of the application please see my previous review of SimplyTweet.

I spoke with the developer about the future of SimplyTweet given Twitter's recent purchase of Tweetie and the pending release of an official free Twitter client. The developer tells me that he is still examining the situation.

This sort of thing happens often in the software development community, where independent software developers create applications that link with a service/platform, and the service or platform owners decide to release their own applications. Often this actions eliminate all 3rd party applications for the service/platform, but in many case these 3rd party software developers is challenged to differentiate their application from the official application from the service or platform owners. One such example is BusyCal from BusyMac. It is an excellent replacement for Apple's iCal, calendar application. There are many more examples like this on the Mac OS X platform.

I wish the developer of SimplyTweet luck and hope he can afford to stay on this excellent client. If you too agrees with me, please do spend the USD4.99 that the developer is asking for in the iTunes App Store.

A pair of iPhone app from Omar Rabbolini, an Italian application developer currently resides in UK. These pair of iPhone apps: CantoNotes and Hanzi Lookup, will help Cantonese speaking users not familiar with writing Chinese; like myself, learn to write Chinese characters.

CantoNotes will allow users to enter Chinese characters using the LSHK (Linguistic Society of Hong KongJyutPing standard phonemes input method and CantoNotes will respond with the corresponding Chinese character. Characters displayed can be copy and paste into the built in Hanzi Lookup screen. Rather than using the built in copy & paste feature of iPhone OS, the app use its own Copy and Paste buttons. Although the iPhone OS built in copy & paste feature also works. After pasting the desired Chinese characters into the Hanzi Lookup screen, it will display the Chinese character in a medium size font, along with the Cantonese pronunciation beneath it one character at a time.

Not sure what the built in Hanzi Lookup screen is for, as the shown information is already shown in the main screen of CantoNotes. The program does have a reference in the Hanzi Lookup screen to the iTunes App Store page for the separate Hanzi Lookup app.

The Hanzi Lookup app allows users to locate meanings of Chinese characters in English, plus it provides pronunciations for the Chinese character in both Mandarin and Cantonese, along with the phonemes to enter the Chinese character in JyutPing and PingYin.

The developer is asking a relatively steep USD1.99 and USD0.99 for CantoNotes [iTunes App Store link] and Hanzi Lookup [iTunes App Store link] respectively. Given the functionalities of these application, I suggest you give it a pass.

I to come to aware of the iPhone/iPad app, HoloToy [iTunes link]. It is classified as Entertainment in the iTunes App Store. There are a total of ten (10) screens: Fish Tank, Scarab Attack, HoloBall, HoloBot, Cornell Box, The Impossible Triangle, Planet Earth, The Moon, Mars, Jupiter. I guess the developer will refer to these as "toys". Only two of the ten screens are games: "Scarab Attack" and "HoloBall", the rest are 3D images where the user can change the point of view by tilting the iPhone or iPad, or animate the object in some way by tapping the screen.

The developer is not asking much for the app; USD0.99 in the iTunes App Store. I do not believe even that is justified, but USD0.99 is the lowest a developer can charge form an app in the App Store other than making it free. My suggestion to the developer is to drop it to free, add some ads and focus on just one "toy". Make this toy the best he can so it is worth more than he is asking for, then introduce more toys through in-app-purchase.

The very popular iPhone app, Tweetie by Atebits (the Loren Brichter's company) has been purchased by Twitter, the service it's a client for. Twitter decided to buy instead of recreate its own mobile client, so it settled on Tweetie. It rename the app to "Twitter for iPhone" and then make it free in the iTunes App Store.

Loren Brichter will join Twitter as a key member of their mobile team.

This has been confirmed by Evan William, one of the founder of Twitter, on their blog.

At the time of writing Tweetie is still available in the App Store for USD2.99. Given the above news I do not suggest anyone purchase it until Twitter takes over.

I wonder how will all the other Twitter clients: Seesmic, TweetDeck, SimplyTweet, Twitterrific, HootSuite and newcomers like Twitepad will react to this news.

I spoke with the developer of Twitepad, and he said:

Development of Twitepad will still continue. Have to see how tweetie for iPad will look when it's out. On the iPad there are many ways to build Twitter clients so there still might be a market for 3rd party clients.

I guess time will tell.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

Well not exactly true for everyone. Yesterday many media reported that the ever popular social news aggregation site, Digg.com is releasing an iPhone app.

This evening the app appeared in Apple's iTunes App Stores for UK, HK and several others, but not the iTunes App Store in the US. Very strange indeed.

So if you're in one of the lucky countries do check it out and leave comments here of your thoughts. If you live in the US then you will have to wait a bit longer for the app.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

The much talked about new version of Foursquare for iPhone 1.6 was accidentally made available in the Apple iTunes App Store over the weekend and then pulled immediately, with Foursquare saying that their system was not ready. As a result all versions of Foursquare for iPhone were removed from the App Store until Tuesday when they re-released the previous versions as v1.6.1, which is higher than the version that was released on the weekend. This morning (HK time) Foursquare again relaunched the new version as v1.7. Below are the side by side comparisons of what's different between the old and new versions, looking at the revised UI designs.

Gone is the old landing page, with the new version when you start the Foursquare app on your iPhone it will return to the last screen it was on when you left.

The order of the buttons at the lower toolbar has been reworked. The first icon now shows the friends' latest checkins

Next is the icon that shows the near by Places the user can check into.

After that is the Tips icon which shows the Near By tips and My To Dos.

The old More icon has been replaced with an icon with the user's name on it. It shows the user's Profile with history of checkins and access to the user's list of friends. The previous Badge icon had been removed from the lower toolbar and now the list of earned badges are accessible from user's Profile screen.

The venue screens have been reworked a bit to align with the new UI design. Some of the functions that were available on these screens are now hidden within an option button at the top right corner of the screen.

The ladder screen has received the similar UI refresh to align with the new design.

Same UI refresh was applied to the Badges screen.

Here are some of the other screen in the new version (v1.7).

Overall this new UI design is a welcome change. The light colour scheme aligns better with the traditional Web2.0 style applications, but the lighter colours may also consume more power on the iPhone.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

If you are into technology or if you use Gmail you will have noticed Google launched Buzz several weeks ago. Google this time took a different approach of launching its products/features. Buzz was not released with an "Alpha" or "Beta" badge, instead it was released as a "finished" product. Normally Google releases a product with many features and slaps a "Beta" label on it, like they did with Gmail. Then slowly releases new features or refines existing ones. Ineffect recuiting its users as testers pubilcally.

This time Google released a product that does very little but what features it has are very solid. Although, some of the initial decisions Google made regarding Buzz are questionable. Abnormally Google reacts very quickly on complains and refines the product based on these feedbacks almost over night. I believe Google's ability to accomplish such agile development methodology is the result of hiring seasoned individuals from the social network community (people like Chris Messina and others) specifically for the development of Buzz and social features in other products within Google's suite of applications/services.

On initial look you may notice similarities to FriendFreed (now a Facebook property), with abilities to connect to external web sites and aggregate contents from these sites. You may ask why will I want to aggregate content into one site? That will depend on the type of sites one connects to Buzz.

In most cases, Google expects users to connect sites with original content that users generate themselves, like personal blogs or other sites that the user belongs to with original content relating to the user. Google assists with this process by providing a list of "linked" sites from the user's Google Profile; Yes, all users of Buzz must first have a Google Profile in addition to Gmail. If the user does not already have a Google Profile, the user will have the opportunity to create one during the activation process for Buzz.

Now Alberto Garcia Hierro has made an iOS application, Buzzie [iTunes Link] that he wants USD1.99 for it in the iTunes App Store. I personally do not see a need for a dedicate app for Google Buzz on any of the iOS devices. Google has a fairly usable version of their site customized for the iOS devices.

I was made aware of InfoXenter's recent released iPhone application called "TimeSqueeze". It is a simple app; like any iPhone app should that focuses on performing one task and do it well, in this case the task is creating time-lapsed videos/photography on the iPhone 3G or 3GS running OS 3.1.2 or later. At the moment it does not support the iPod Touch. After displaying its title page the user is brought into the Main screen of the application where it awaits the creation of a time-lapsed video.

On the Main screen you will find several controls in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. The first icon will begin the recording of the video, before the second icon is a bar that controls digital zooming that is enabled during video recording. The second icon will bring up a Project List containing the recorded time-lapsed videos. Lastly is the Setting icon that brings up the speed up slider, which allows the adjustment of the amount the resulting time-lapsed video is sped up.

The speed up formula is as follow:

5 X = a 60 seconds video will be sped up resulting in a video that is 12 seconds long. 1000 X = a 24 hours video will be sped up resulting in a video that is 90 seconds long.

1000 X being the maximum speed.

After these time-lapsed videos are recorded in MPEG4 (the default and only format available) they can be uploaded to YouTube, Facebook or YFrog, the latter by sharing the video through Twitter, as YFrog is the current default service used to host videos shared with a tweet.

Note: if you like to save the video out to the iPhone's Camera Roll along with other recorded videos on the iPhone, you will need to click the "Save to Library" button. I believe this button may need to be changed to "Save to iPhone's Camera Roll" to make it more obvious what it does.

Clicking on the YouTube button will bring up a screen to enter the information: Title, Description, Tags and Category, these are all fields that YouTube requires when uploading a video. TimeSqueeze automatically used the Project title as the video Title, entered "Timesqueeze", "iPhone" and "Timelapsed" as default tags and "Comedy" as the default category.

After these mandatory information are entered you can then click on the Upload button at the top of the screen to bring up the YouTube Credentials/Upload screen.

TimeSuqeeze is not using YouTube's OAuth API to authenticate the user's YouTube account but requires the user to manually enters the Username and Password. Fortunately, TimeSqueeze saves these credentials between use/uploads.

During my test of a 57 seconds video that was converted into a 11 seconds video, it took several minutes to upload (on a 3G network connection). Unfortunately, my test failed with an error message and the video was not uploaded. After trying several times I gave up.

I uploaded it manually, by first saving the created video into my iPhone's Camera Roll, connect my iPhone to my Mac, import the video using the iPhoto application, then uploads the video using a browser connection to YouTube.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlgM7qUWWR0

Clicking on the Facebook icon brings up a screen to enter the information: Title and Comments (optional), these are information Facebook requires when uploading a video. TimeSqueeze automatically used the Project's title as the video title.

Here TimeSqueeze uses Facebook Connect to authenticate the user with his/her Facebook account. Afterwards clicking on the Upload button will theoretically uploads the said video onto the user's Facebook account.

Unfortunately, my test upload also failed with an error message.

Clicking on the Twitter icon brings up the screen to enter the body of the tweet and the user's Twitter credentials. It is unfortunate, that TimeSqueeze is not using Twitter OAuth to authenticate the user's Twitter account, but fortunately it saves the entered credentials for subsequent uploads.

I had reported both of the errors encountered during upload attempts to the developer and he assures me that both functions work properly as expected. He is now investigating the issues I had encountered.

The Negatives

I wish the application would use the respective OAuth services for the corresponding sites to authenticate the accounts. This can be done in the applications Settings either within the application on in the iPhone's Settings app.

There should be a way to change the recorded video's sped up speed after recording and before saving to the iPhone's Camera Roll. Alternatively, a copy of the original video should be saved within the application's storage space. Understand this can be storage intensive but most videos are one-shot-deal and cannot be retaken.

The application should recognize the orientation of the iPhone when recording so that upside down videos would not result as in the example below.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oktt8aRaWyE

Conclusions

As mentioned this is one of those iPhone app that lives up to the true nature of apps on the iPhone. iPhone app should perform one or a few tasks best it can and does not try to do too much unlike a typical desktop application. That is one of the main differences between iPhone "app" and regular "applications".

Although I was not able to get the upload features working, I do have confidence in this developer because of past experiences. He is always very good with following up any bugs in his programs and actively improves applications he creates. So I am certain those the bugs I encountered will be corrected.

This application makes creating time-lapsed videos/photography on the iPhone very straight forward and I believe all iPhone 3G or 3GS users should have this in their photography app library.

Where To Get It

At the moment InfoXenter is asking USD1.99 for the application via the iTunes App Store.

goFerry is a Free application created by a Hong Kong investment company, SINO Dynamic Solutions Limited, but own and operated by a Malaysian travel company called AsiaTravelMart. I will go into why this is important later in this review. The vendor refers to its application as the first iPhone application to allow mobile purchases of ferry tickets between Hong Kong and Macau on one of the three companies: TurboJet, Cotai and New First, which it does.

The steps for purchasing tickets are quite straight forward. They are as follow:

  1. Choose whether you like to purchase a one-way or round trip ticket.
  2. Choose the date of your departure.
  3. Choose the terminal to depart from.
  4. Choose the terminal to arrive at.
  5. Choose the date you like to return, if you're purchasing a round trip ticket.
  6. Next the user is presented with a warning that the "Main Contact" is the only person who will be able to pickup the tickets. I believe the the taxonomy used here should be change to refer to the individual as the person picking up the tickets.
  7. The Main Contact Details form is what the user have to complete next.
  8. In the Main Contact Details form, the developers failed to set the Email field to a email type field, so the user have to keep switching the keyboard of the iPhone to enter the complete email address.
  9. After the personal information of the Main Contact is submitted, the user has to provide payment information, this being the credit card details. On the Payment Details form the user is not asked to enter the type of credit card, presumably the application is determining this by the first 4 digits of the credit card number.
  10. I did not continue to what I believe is the final step, because I did not want to purchase a set of tickets. You can see from the Payment Details form the user is able to accept (default) or reject the Terms of Conditions, but there is no link to see the details of the T&C.

There are no indication that any of these personal and financial information are sent to the goFerry service via a secure channel. There are also strange design decisions in the application. For example, the progress icon and terminal names/details are bi-lingual but the rest of the application are in English. The goFerry.hk website also tries to be multi-lingual, and has the ability to choose among Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and English versions, but the English version contains mainly Chinese content. When you click on most links in the English version it will redirects to the Chinese version of the site. This is so typical of Hong Kong web developers, another sign of sloppiness and not paying attention to details.

One major issue with the workflow of the application is that it does not protect the user from purchasing ridiculous itinerary like the one I have created in error; note that my return time is before my departure time on the same day. It places the responsibility on the user to ensure the itinerary is accurate. I always believe applications; more to the point application developers, should do as much as possible to assist the end-user. Not including such a simple test is simply lazy on the part of the developers.

There is an issue with the list of available ferries from the search. It is simply a list of departures sorted by departure time in accending order. This is not too convenient for comparing ticket prices and times of departure. There should be a very simple presentation for both of these types of comparisons. Not that Hong Kong/Macau ferry pricing are complicated but it should be done much better.

As the last step in the workflow the application requires the end-user to provide credit card details including the CVV code. Although I was not able to find a Privacy document within the application, the FAQ or the goFerry.hk website. Their Terms of Use also does not mention or explain how the company will use and protect these personal and financial information.

When you take into account of my first paragraph in this article and the above, it becomes even more dangerous for the end-user to use this application to purchase tickets.

Let me explains the issue with SINO Dynamic Solutions Limited and the Malaysian company, AsiaTravelMart, that owns and operates the goFerry services. The website for AsiaTravelMart is not accessible, and any information found on the Internet about AsiaTravelMart are either marketing information or negative reviews.

To make things a bit more suspect, Alexander Kong, the principal behind this application and service, currently has an outstanding bankruptcy case against him, involving SINO Dynamic Solutions Limited and AsiaTravelMart.

dkny-logoWith the iPhone's popularity growing every company out there are trying to think of ways to get in onto the platform and hype. Some of these companies deliver their online services to the iPhone and others used their custom developed iPhone application simply as an advertising tool. The latter are the ones that fail and turns out to be a waste of resources to create.gucci-logo Now fashion brands are jumping onto the bandwagon with DKNY and Gucci each creating their own iPhone application to promote their respective clothing lines. The former actually trying to offer advice to its users on the Cozy wrap in its iPhone app. Now Kipling is trying to get in on the hype with its Kweather iPhone application. Kipling's application displays the local temperature, which is not that accurate (not sure of its source), and a built in function to help locate the closest Kipling outlet.Kipling-logo

Although all these applications are free, I believe only the biggest fanboy of the respective brands will download these application as they really do not offer too much for the average iPhone user.

I think companies should take the necessary time to analyze the added value of their iPhone application and all associated Use Cases before spending the efforts and resources to create an iPhone application.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone