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June 30 2010

How to be independent from iTunes

I’m a heavy iTunes user. And no, I’m definetly not proud of it. Since I bought my first iPhone I hate Apple every day that they forced my into the relationship with iTunes, the RAM-eating syncing hassle, especially on any Windows system.

But enough with all the whining and enough with all the promises that may be true someday - I need a solution for my daily life, now. Let’s see what we can do to bypass the software.

So the iPhone was the first device that relied in many cases to the cloud to get all its features to work.

I will tell you nothing new that you can already sync Mail / Contacts / and Calendars via the web. It just works seamingless, e.g. with Google services.

Apps are also available via the App Store App. (In fact it occurred to me several times that I loaded an app-update in iTunes, synced both, but the iPhone still hasn’t got the updated version.) If you additionally want to get past the 20 MB restriction on mobile networks, you have to be a Jailbreak user.

For Podcasts there are a number of apps available which let you download or even stream episodes with the iPhone, my favourite is Podcaster 3 (formerly known as RSS Player, which was formerly known as Podcaster 1), because of the incoming push notifications when a new show airs.

For Movies and TV series there’s the fabulous AirVideo. Saves also space on the flash drive. Another solution could be the recently announced Hulu+ app, which let you stream a lot of American TV Series. Also not free, but worth the consideration are the streaming service put.io or for german television lovers MobileTV.

Music is also very important, radio apps like Last.fm or Pandora are not enough for me. The perfect solution are streaming services like the well-known Spotify, MOG, steereo or muziic, which is based on YouTube. If you still want to sync your music library locally there’s even more Jailbreak goodness with PwnTunes. PwnTunes turns the iPhone in a USB device that is recognized on any PC, just like a mp3 player where you can drag & drop your music files.

Photos easily backed up via the official flickr app or a third party uploader like Pixelpipe with access to many services. For documents there’s Dropbox, Notes are anyway stored centrally in Evernote.

For general access to the iPhone filesystem, including adding Wallpapers or Ringtones, I highly recommend the free i-FunBox software. It’s like SSH-ing into your phone, but without the need for hacking your phone.

Other iPhone software for replacing the compulsory iTunes Backup mechanism are listed on this site.

Did I miss a use case in your daily life where you still have to sync? Any other suggestions for staying sync-free?

April 08 2010

iPhone OS 4.0 justifies Jailbreaking

Yeah, you could read the title again. I mean it.

After the unveiling of the new iPhone OS, shipping this summer, tech blogs are pretty amazed at the new features Apple brings to their smartphone. Well, I’m not, because the important parts were already covered years ago by software available through the Jailbreak Store, namely Cydia. Others have written about the “freeing” of Apples closed system before, so I won’t tackle this in detail.

But what bugs me really hard is the fact that Steve Jobs said the whole time their system was good as it is. Noone needed apps one the 1st gen iPhone and noone needed Multi-Tasking either. Every time the crowd has to tell Apple what’s important.

With 4.0, some of the feature enhancements which come with a Jailbreak gets covered with original software - the same thing happened with 3.0 quite analog (e.g. Copy & Paste). Let’s look at some of the new pieces:

  • Folders gives you, well just folders - Jailbreak counterpart: CategoriesSB
  • Possibility of Wallpaper customization - Jailbreak counterpart: BossPaper (with more features); not to forget the famous theming program Winterboard.
  • Possibility to set up multiple exchange accounts - Jalbreak counterpart: The simple tweak MultiExchange.
  • Multi-Tasking is available, but in a somehow crippled way - Jailbreak counterpart: Backgrounder in conjunction with different possible GUI’s, the Palm Pre like ProSwitcher or Circuitos, etc. Interesting to note that these got invoked via doubleclick on the home button…

Now you can say “but Apple did it in a way preserve ressources and don’t drain the battery”. But that’s just not true. Or please give me another reason the whole feature set will only be available on the 3GS model? ProSwitcher instead works on all iPhones (of course not so smooth as on the current model, but at least the user has the choice.)

Apple did take care for some of their flaws, but Jailbreaking will continue to be the only way for some people - including me - to use their iPhone, until Jobs will open up the App Store in general and looses the draconian way to run the platform.

I could only imagine what a exorbitant thriving ecosystem would be created by embracing developers and give them real access.

December 07 2009

foursquare vs. Gowalla

Since I first heard about foursquare, I’ve been eager to try the service for myself. But as you probably know foursquare has this city concept, so I couldn’t take part from Germany at the beginning.

I found Gowalla, a more or less similiar location based gaming network. Despite some confusion at the beginning (there is no such thing as a newbies tutorial), I grow used to the gaming thingy.

In mid November foursquare launched in some german cities. I thought I couldn’t join either because I used to work and study in other towns. Now the interesting part: It turned out I’m wrong. You can use the app, even if you 240 km away from the next foursquare city. Made not so much sense to me¹, but hey let’s just try it out.

So I’ve using both services for about two weeks. I consider myself as a web geek, but even for me it’s way too geeky to log in two networks when I arrive at a certain place. I had to decide which one to use further.

Concept

The common: Get better through creating and checking in venues. I’m not going to explain the Trips, shouts and To-do lists. Nice ideas, but you need a established userbase to see these kind of things roll.

More motivating is the Badge-system (called “Pins” in Gowalla). In foursquare I can get badges like “Local” (check-in the same place 3 time in one week) or “Bender” (for night-outs in a row). It would be interesting how they hand out the “Gym Rat” - you can only set the name of the venue, not that it’s a fitness center. Personally I like the categorisation you have to take when creating a place in Gowalla. The icons tell you instantly what’s behind the name of the spot. Unfortunately there’s no option to tweet your Pins automatically.

In Gowalla everything aims at getting items. Over time you get the feeling which items are rare and important. You can drop items on a spot to become a “Founder”, switch them and see which persons had this particular item before you.

Let’s break it down: Foursquare’s point-system is far more easier to understand for the newcomer. I’ve got 5, he’s got 4 = I’m better. The leaderboard stats gets reset weekly what makes sense for beginners. I takes some time to understand for which actions you get how many points, but the algorithm is well balanced.

A problem I see with both services is how they deal with double or false entries. I suddenly made one too, because the GPS sensor in the iPhone sometimes lagges behind. Where is the button to join this spot with the other?

Realisation

Just look at those two screenshots from the main screen when you open the iPhone app. Huh, they focus on different things, but it’s not so hard to decide which one you wanna look at every day.

Here’s the Spots/Places screen:

The Android one goes to foursquare, because they have one and Gowalla doesn’t. Same thing seems to appeal in the near future for those on Blackberry handsets.

Mobile-page again goes to Gowalla:

Userbase

I recognized, the more you went south in Germany, the more users are on Gowalla. Overall foursquare is the more known. That’s important, it just makes more fun to play against friends you know already. For me, it’s a tie.

Showdown

Overall, it’s hard to decide. The concept is really a little bit more thought-out on foursquare, but I got used to the item collecting and the friendly interface in Gowalla.

What made me switch for the moment² was the newly introduced foursquare API. Everybody just saw the last couple of years on Twitter that a good and open 3rd party connection can make the difference. There are already some applications that use “Connect with foursquare.”

  1. They don’t explain on their Twitter or tumblr blog why not all cities above, let’s say, 250,000 inhabitants are in and others aren’t, how they pick the cities and if some time every city will be supported.
  2. When you read this blog post, the information may be outdated because Gowalla introduced their promised item overhaul, foursquare gets a good iPhone designer (Jason Hewitt is free at the moment ;-), or whatsoever. Just imagine what happens when finally Facebook enters the location market.
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