The Emergence Of New Media (And More Rhombus Love)

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Tech

Yesterday, Rhombus was prominently featured in an excellent Daily Universe article on the re-emergence of Michael Jackson into pop culture relevance. Today, we’re at it again in an equally excellent feature, written by DU web editor Alexa Lee, on the burgeoning new media movement, of which we represent a tiny sliver. Once again, prepare yourself for some really high-minded nonsense from yours truly, as well as a great piece on the new engine driving our culture. The Rhombus-relevant portions are posted below, but we recommend you read the full piece at the Daily Universe‘s new Web site here. — Steve Pierce, Editor (2009)

As the national unemployment rate inches toward the double digits, young people across the country are turning to the comfort of technology for job security.

Most of Generation Y, those born between 1979 and 2000, came of age using the Internet. They spent high school teaching their parents how to set up e-mail accounts and shop online.

Snow_Leopard

"Snow Leopard" Arrives This Friday

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

Big news out of Cupertino, Calif., today as Apple announced they will release their new operating system this Friday, Mac OS X.6 or “Snow Leopard.” Snow Leopard will feature mostly “under the hood” improvements to OS X, improvements that Apple claims will “prepare Mac OS X for future innovation.”

Some of the changes will be immediately noticeable to some users, such as the changes to the QuickTime media player. Also, Snow Leopard is significantly smaller than its predecessor, Mac OS X.5 (or “Leopard”), and it will free up seven gigabytes of hard drive space just through installation. However, most of the changes will be in the way the operating system works, such as the switch to 64-bit or the use of Open CL technology and will not be immediately apparent to the average user.

TECH: Best of the App Store – August 2009

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

After doing my two-part “Best of the App Store” piece last month, I received a lot of positive feedback via my Twitter page. I know that not everyone has iPhones (you should though, especially at $99 for the 3G) or iPod Touches, but I feel quite a large percentage of Rhombus readers do. So I’ve decided to turn the “Best of the App Store” into a monthly feature highlighting new apps or older apps that I’ve just now discovered.

  • TweetDeck (Free) — Last time, I raved about Twitterfon being a great free iPhone app and then received some feedback from some people who had problems with it. As soon as I posted the article, my Twitterfon app started going on the blitz as well and I was forced to consider alternatives. So far my favorite is TweetDeck. TweetDeck originated as a desktop Twitter app that features a unique columned interface. The best thing about the iPhone version is that it mimics this columned interface on the iPhone, as well as being a fast and fully featured Twitter client. TweetDeck does have its disadvantages though. For me, the lack of landscape mode in the browser is a huge turn-off. Also, I will often open TweetDeck and it will tell me there is no connectivity, yet it still loads the latest tweets. This is a nuisance more then anything and hopefully they can fix it with a small update. Even with these flaws, the unique interface TweetDeck uses keeps bringing me over all the other Twitter apps I’ve recently used.
  • F.A.S.T. ($0.99) — Fast is simply one of the coolest games I’ve seen on the iPhone and a great example of what the iPhone is capable of. The game is a combat flight simulator capable of placing you in the cockpit of 10 military aircraft and plunging you smack dab in the middle of mid-air dogfights. The accelorometer controls allow you to fly the plane by tilting the iPhone, giving you the sense that you are actually flying the plane. The game also features multi-player functionality over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, allowing you to dogfight against your friends. The graphics are quite impressive and, with over 30 missions to play, this game will literally keep you occupied in the danger zone for hours on end.
  • MyPhone+ for Facebook ($2.99) — This is one of those apps that you never realized you wanted or needed until you get it. This app takes all of the info in your address book and syncs it with your Facebook info. It takes the names of your contacts and looks for them amongst your Facebook friends, then it takes their profile picture and uses it as the contact picture in your iPhone address book. It also adds their emails, addresses and birthdays to your address book when available, allowing you to easily keep your address book updated with the most current info on all your contacts.
  • BeeJiveIM ($9.99) — This application falls into the category of something I’ve always wanted and, when I finally found it, I was giddy with excitement. Beejive is an instant messaging application that can do Aim, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN, Myspace, Yahoo and Facebook chat. You can keep use all of your chat accounts right on your iPhone. The interface is simple, but effective and easy to use. The app also features landscape mode which is a huge plus allowing you to type a lot faster. However all of these pale in comparison to BeeJive’s best feature: BeeJive allows you to close the app and even turn off the phone, but it keeps your accounts open and logged in. Therefore you still show up as being available to all your contacts and, if they message you, the phone tells you with a push notification that appears similar to a text message. You can then open back up Beejive and chat away. For anyone addicted to communication like myself, this app is a dream come true: the ability to always be connected to my chats, even when I’m not physically at my computer or even using the chat application on my phone. So from now on when you see me on Facebook chat for 17 hours straight, just remember I’m always on — even when I’m not.

Ben Wagner is a tech correspondent for Rhombus Magazine and considers the time before the iPhone to be the Dark Ages. Give him some feedback about the apps by following him on Twitter @ben_wagner.

TECH: The Battle For The Net Begins

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

For those of us with iPhones, one thing has become abundantly clear since we signed that two-year service contract: AT&T is a huge, miserable failure. Lack of tethering, MMS, dropped calls, missed texts, voicemail failures: its just one thing after another. So it really shouldn’t surprise us that AT&T has fired the first salvo in the battle for net neutrality.

For those unfamiliar with the term, net neutrality refers to the concept of an open Internet. A neutral network would be a network free of restriction on content, sites or types of equipment connected. Basically, any Internet-enabled device could connect and use the Internet for any purpose conceivable. In recent years, many advocates of an open Internet have expressed concern about the ability of Internet service providers (AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, etc.) to block certain websites and services. For example, Comcast is first and foremost a cable provider; therefore, they could conceivably block websites like Hulu so their customers are forced to watch Comcast’s cable and not view their television online. Likewise, AT&T could block Skype so their customers had to use their cell phone minutes, Verizon could block Apple so people don’t realize how much they need an iPhone, etc. Proponents of net neutrality believe your service provider should provide you with an Internet hookup and not dictate what services you use while on the Internet. Many believe that, if Internet service providers were allowed to begin censoring web content, it would only be the first step in them beginning to charge users for things like e-mail, bandwidth use and special packages (i.e. Comcast beginner package gives you access to Facebook, Google, and eBay for only $19.99 per month; Upgrade to the experienced package for only $5 more and receive YouTube and Amazon!)

This vision of the Internet is obviously not what we want. While the Internet as we know it is in no way perfect, the ability for easy, open communication and distribution of information is what makes it great. An Internet connection should be an Internet connection: it should not be up to Comcast to decide what websites or services we use through the Internet. Some supporters of net neutrality include Google, Microsoft, Steve Wozniak (of Apple fame), Yahoo and Amazon, while opponents include AT&T, 3M and Alcatel.

On Sunday, reports began circulating around the Internet that AT&T DSL subscribers were unable to access 4Chan.org. 4Chan is an imageboard Web site with minimal rules on posted content. Users post anonymously, and 4Chan has been used in a variety of ways that link it to Internet sub-cultures and activist movements such as Anonymous (essentially the Internet equivalent of a gang) and Project Chanology (an online anti-Scientology movement). Previously 4Chan has been used to distribute pornography, pirated material and coordinate Internet attacks. As the day wore on, it was confirmed by 4Chan that AT&T was indeed blocking the website in several regions around the country, although the block only seemed to affect wired AT&T customers, while people using the carrier’s 3G network were unaffected. Within hours, 4Chan began organizing counter-attacks, including a plan to circulate a rumor about the death of AT&T’s CEO in an attempt to artificially lower the stock price. On Monday, AT&T effectively retreated and unblocked 4Chan, reopening the site to all of its users.

While I am in no way condoning the content on 4Chan’s website, it is the right of those users to post said content. AT&T’s service is (and should be) providing people with a connection to the Internet; It is the user’s prerogative to censor any content they don’t want to see. While the 4Chan block may not have even been legal under FCC regulations, it further raises the issue of net neutrality laws (or the lack thereof) in the United States. While net neutrality generally exists in the United States, there is no clear law protecting it. Politically, net neutrality continues to be a hot issue: seven different bills have been introduced in Congress regarding net neutrality — and each has been voted down. During his 2008 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama pledged to make net neutrality legislation a priority during his first year in office. While he has understandably been occupied with issues like the economy and health care reform, I hope net neutrality doesn’t stay on the back burner forever. Companies like AT&T and Comcast will continue to push this issue and challenge net neutrality until more comprehensive regulation is adopted.

Ben Wagner is a tech correspondent for Rhombus and, ironically, works for Comcast. Follow him on Twitter @ben_wagner.

TECH: Your Online Music Guide

Written by Colton Chesnut on . Posted in Music, Tech

Technology and distribution have had an exponential effect on how we’ve listened to our music over the last 50 years. Back then, we were a people who only listened to what was played on the local radio, mixed by some guy with slicked back hair and rolled up jeans. Next, it was the mania of the latest gramophone at the local retailer, because you wanted to personally contribute to the boys who brought you “Eleanor Rigby.” Then it was on to long-haired portability, because head-banging was born for your sick Camaro. Now we are an “on-demand” society. Why should we have to drive all the way down the street to buy the newest installment of Nickelback (not that we’d ever willingly do that) when we could download it from our living room couch via iTunes? There’s no use in owning the antiquated physical version of your music when it will only limit where you can listen to it. Like myself, may were introduced to digital music through illegal means (see Napster). However, it is my goal in this article to either introduce or refresh you on some of the better, more legal avenues for listening and obtaining music in 2009.

iTunes
It just seemed natural to get iTunes out of the way first. Obviously Apple is the big fish here in this digital sea, so I won’t spend too much time talking about using iTunes. If you don’t already know, that’s probably because you are a rebellious Amish boy that sneaked into the nearest library because of your devotion to reading Rhombus. (Thanks for the commitment.) As for the rest of us, you may have noticed the spotlight these days on iPhone apps and HD movie rentals, making it hard to remember that the iTunes Music Store still sells music. Rest assured, because not only do they sell music, its now 100% DRM-free. Not so fast though: That license freedom did not come without a price. Aside from some deeper cuts and older releases being discounted a smidgen, almost all new releases and top selling tracks now bear a $1.29 price tag. 30 cents may not seem like a lot but, based on my library (which I did acquire solely via iTunes), if I had paid the current prices I would be out an extra $350. Overall, I would say that you would use iTunes primarily out of convenience. You probably already own an iPod, so going this route is as simple as one click to purchase and plug in to sync.

Napster
What a journey the crew at Napster has been on. They were the premier illegal source for mp3 downloads around the turn of the century. Even my Ninth Grade P.E. teacher used their service: he had me download shady versions of the Doobie Brothers in return for class credit. Despite their illegality, Napster was an important part of ushering in our current age of music distribution. However, their offering has changed a bit different since my junior high days. First off, it’s now legal, which is a plus for me. Until recently their service was a flat monthly fee of $12.95 and if you didn’t buy an official “Napster to-go” device, you were essentially paying for a glorified version of Pandora (without the clever recommendations). If your specific mp3 player of choice is “to-go” status, you can still opt back in to that plan. As for the rest of us, we get their new web-only service. For $4.99 a month you have all the access to their online library you can handle. They do have a Windows-only desktop client (sorry, Mac users) that allows you to listen and build custom playlists, but requires an internet connection to function. Included in the fee, Napster also allows you five full mp3 downloads every month. So if you find yourself only purchasing a song here or there from iTunes, this may be the perfect hybrid option for you. (For those of you who are interested, Rhapsody is another alternative service similar to Napster. CNet did a comparison of the two here.)

Pandora
Online radio at its finest.  Pandora takes your favorite song or artist and builds a radio station around them. Sounds almost too good to be true, right? Well it pretty much was until May of this year when they added some usage limitations. Pandora has always been ad supported — that’s how they stay afloat. However, now there is a max time usage of 40 hours per month, in addition to your individual radio sessions timing out after 1 hour. You can thank/blame their new service, Pandora One: There are no monthly usage restrictions, it’s higher quality music (192 kbps), you can use their lightweight AIR desktop app and — last but not least — no more ads.

LaLa
LaLa seems to have taken a different initial approach than the others. I suppose they assumed most people already had some sort of music collection on their computer already, so they decided to integrate with that. The Windows/Mac sync program called “LaLa Mover” will analyze the music on your computer and place the matches in your online LaLa library. If they cannot find certain songs you own on their site, they will automatically upload those tracks until all your music is on the Interweb. Their idea is allowing you the flexibility of filling your library with either 79 cent mp3 tracks or 10 cent online-only tracks. The LaLa ecosystem is not quite as straight forward as others, but accounts are free and there is no monthly bill. For those of you familiar with imeem, you will feel right at home with LaLa.

Colton Chesnut is co-founder and Web editor for Rhombus. He doesn’t really like Nickelback. We promise. Send him a tweet @coltonjchesnut.

TECH: Google's New Plan For World Domination

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

On July 7th , at around midnight, the official Google blog announced the next phase in the company’s plan for global domination. (I’m half-joking). They announced the development of the Google Chrome Operating System, the follow-up and natural extension of the Chrome Internet browser Google released a year ago. Chrome OS will be an open-source operating system that will begin arriving on netbooks sometime in 2010.

netbook-vs-notebook

Netbook (left)

For the uninitiated, netbooks are small, lightweight and compact laptop computers. This class of PCs generally feature smaller processors and hard drives then their bigger counterparts. However, they are ideal for travelers who mainly need Internet access and don’t want to lug around a 17-inch Dell boat anchor to do so. Hence the name: “netbooks.” Because these computers are essentially designed for Internet use, they generally run Windows XP or sometimes even Linux. During the ongoing global recession, netbook sales have skyrocketed due to their lower costs (most netbooks cost between $200-$400) and the market is currently booming (certain reports suggest a 260% growth in sales just this year).

Google’s foray into the operating system market has largely been seen as inevitable for quite some time. While Google’s # 1 priority has been and always will be its search engine, they have slowly but surely begun to creep into other areas with programs like Gmail and other Google apps. Last year Google released Chrome, a browser meant to compete with Internet Explorer and Firefox. Chrome received mostly positive reviews and has gained a 1.8% market share of the worldwide Internet browser usage since its release in September 2008. At the same time Chrome was released, Google also debuted Android, an operating system for celular phones. Android was designed to compete with the iPhone, Blackberry, Palm and Windows mobile telephone operating systems used on smartphones.

So it didn’t seem that much of a stretch to think that Google would enter the operating system market at some point. Microsoft’s Windows OS has dominated the personal computing market for years. The only two competitors they have faced are Apple and Linux. I’m sure most people are familiar with the Mac vs. PC debate by now, thanks largely to those cheeky Apple commercials with John Hodgman and Justin Long, and I won’t go into that. For those not in the know, Linux is an open source operating system, meaning that it is free and anyone with the prerequisite know-how can take the operating system and modify it however they want. As a result, there are thousands of different versions of Linux available for free. While this is one of Linux’s greatest strengths, it is also one of its greatest weaknesses because there has never been a unified attempt to make one version that works best for everyone.

Enter Google. Chrome OS will be an operating system based on Linux and made primarily for netbooks. So far HP, Acer, Adobe, Texas Instruments and others have all voiced their support for Chrome. The OS is said to boot up in seconds and be competely impervious to viruses and other security flaws present in PCs. Chrome will focus on the web. The goal is for Chrome to be extremely lightweight, essentially just a shell of an operating system that can get you online in seconds, so you can use Web-based (sometimes referred to as “cloud”) applications, including programs like Google Docs and Gmail that run completely on the Internet.

This presents a unique set of problems for Google to overcome. For example, what happens when you’re in a location without Wi-Fi, like an airplane? Without an Internet connection, your Chrome-based netbook essentially becomes a paperweight. Undoubtedly, netbook makers will try and counter this by selling cheap netbooks with 3G wireless cards built in, providing Internet wherever you can get a cell signal. Privacy issues also arise. If you are using Chrome OS, all your documents, photos, music, etc. will be stored not on your hard drive, but on Google’s servers (a.k.a. “the cloud”) where anything can happen. Google could concieveably know everything about what we do on our Chrome-based computers. Competition will also be an issue: don’t expect Microsoft to sit quiet during all this. They will undoubtedly start a smear campaign to point out all the flaws in Chrome. Furthermore, Windows 7 has purposefully been designed to be netbook friendly and will undoubtedly be a hit when it’s released this fall.

The announcement of Chrome also creates one very important question: What is Google’s ultimate goal? Do they really expect to bring down Microsoft and Apple? Realistically, that’s about as likely as me writing an entire column without mentioning the iPhone. While I’m sure Chrome will be a serious effort, many are questioning if the OS isn’t Google simply trying to make a statement. The company has said they believe Web-based applications are the future of personal computing. Is Chrome OS nothing more than an attempt to keep Microsoft on its toes and force them to compete by creating an operating system more conducive to running cloud applications? Even if Chrome ultimately fails to take off, Google will have pushed the entire industry toward Web-based apps. Perhaps their ultimate goal is to have a plethora of online applications, available via an iTunes-esque app store, that could run through the Chrome browser on Windows, Mac or Linux.

Of course, that is the ultimate cynic’s view. When it comes down to it, Google just wants to see ads. Chrome OS allows the company to collect even more data about its users and slap Google ads on everything you do. Working on a doc? See an ad. Looking at your digital photos? See an ad. Is Google really trying to change the industry for the better, or do they really just want you to know that you can bid on a cheap new iPhone 3G S at Swoopo.com?

Ben Wagner is a tech correspondent for Rhombus. Surprisingly, he somehow managed to complete an entire article without mentioning Twitter.

TECH: Best of the App Store: (Part 2: Games)

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

If you missed the first installment of “Best of the App Store,” you can check out part one here.

If you read part one of my “Best of the App Store” series, you will have noticed that this was intended to be a three-part piece. Well, two vacations later I realized that may have been especially ambitious. There was going to be one article about free games and one about paid games. I also discovered that I couldn’t find five free iPhone games that were worth my time and, therefore, yours. So I decided to combine the two into one, so I present to you “Best of the App Store: Games.”

Honorable Mention

  • Space Deadbeef (Free) — For me, this is the best pound-for-pound free iPhone game available. The game is a simple side-scrolling space shooter that boasts impressive graphics and a unique control scheme. Part of what makes this game so addictive is the way the levels are laid out. Essentially you play the same level over and over again. Every time you beat the level it increases the difficulty. Also, you have an unlimited amount of lives so when you die you can keep re-trying the level at the same difficulty. The game displays how many deaths you have and what level you are on so that you can compare your skill level with your friends. If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch and are looking for a free game, this is the one.

Top 5 Games

  • Tiger Woods Golf ($9.99) — I realize this game may not be for everyone. It is a sports game and it’ll cost you $10. However, it is absolutely phenomenal. It is a fantastic mobile version of the console game. The control scheme is great for the iPhone and the graphics are as impressive as I’ve seen. You are presented with a realistic golfing experience right on your phone. I’ve definitely gotten my $10 out of this game; if you like golf, you will too.
  • World Cup Ping-Pong ($0.99) — I love ping-pong. I have spent countless hours in my basement with my brother, destroying all hope in his soul with a barrage of power shots, drop shots and spinning serves — and I have never, ever enjoyed a ping-pong video game. Even the Wii Play version bored me instantly. So I was skeptical of this game, but I figured for $0.99, why not? What makes this game great is that it uses the touchscreen interface just as it should. Its simple: wherever you move your finger, the paddle follows, allowing you to feel like you’re in complete control of the paddle. Therefore, the precision that makes ping-pong a great game is present in a simulated version played on a 3.5 inch screen. There is a free “lite” version available that removes all the different levels of competition and tournaments available in the paid version. So if you want to give it a shot, you’ve got nothing to lose.
  • Flight Control ($0.99) — This game took the App Store by storm some weeks ago and has become a must-have for iPhone/iPod Touch owners ever since. The game is built upon a simple premise: there is a runway on the screen, various types of aircraft begin to enter the screen and you have to land them on the runway without crashing them by tracing their flight path with your finger. Sounds simple, but once more and more aircraft enter the screen it becomes quite difficult. Definitely give this one a shot. It’ll keep you trying to best your high score for hours.
  • Dropship ($1.99) — This game is a fun space shooter that has a slight learning curve, requiring some mastery of the controls. Once you have them down, you’ll find yourself spending hours and hours steering your spaceship around, trying to rescue fellow space cadets and shoot down alien fighters. This is a very fun space shooter and I highly recommend it. Definitely worth your $1.99.
  • Need for Speed: Underground ($6.99) — One of my favorite genres of games from the App Store is racing games. The steering control system is very fun and intuitive. There are plenty of racing games to choose from, but so far this one has been my favorite. The game features fantastic graphics for a game you are playing on your phone. It also features a surprisingly involved storyline and several types of racing modes. You also get the option of earning money to upgrade and customize your car, even down to the color. While its a bit pricey at $6.99, you get what you pay for here. Nothing less then a console-worthy racing game in the palm of your hand.

Well, that’s that. Enjoy!

Ben Wagner is a tech correspondent for Rhombus. He apparently has nothing better to spend his money on than iPhone games. Follow him on Twitter at @ben_wagner.

TECH: Best of the App Store (Part 1)

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

I’m am, admittedly, an app store addict. I try and stay away from the iTunes App Store because, once I get into it, I will undoubtedly download five or six new apps. With 50,000 different apps available, both free and paid, it’s sometimes hard to sift through the garbage to find the store’s true gems. Luckily, that’s why I’m here. Following is part one of my “Best of the App Store” series, with today’s entry  focusing on free utilities (non-gaming) apps.

Honorable Mentions

  • Darkroom — For iPhone and iPhone 3G users, this app is a must. Darkroom uses the accelorometer to measure when your phone is steady as you take a picture. Once you hit the shutter button on your camera, the app waits until the phone is completely steady before taking the picture. This allows for much clearer shots, especially during low-light conditions. Unfortunately, this app is not yet compatible with iPhone OS 3.0 and iPhone 3G S and is, therefore, relegated to the honorable mention category.
  • Skype — The popular video chat client released its mobile iPhone version some months back and I instantly loved it. While the iPhone version doesn’t feature video chat, it does feature free voice calls (when there is a local wi-fi connection) to any of your Skype friends. This feature can save you minutes and works great. The instant messaging feature also works great, allowing you to IM with your online friends over a 3G connection. Don’t be surprised if we see an iPhone external webcam released in the near future and Skype adds video chat over wi-fi to this app. Therefore, I put this app in the honorable mention category because it has yet to reach its full potential.

Top 5 Utilities

  • Shazam — So it’s late at night and you’re getting kicked out of the library as they blare music over the speakers and you just can’t quite identify the song playing as you’re packing up your books for the night? Just open up Shazam! Let it listen to the song being played and within seconds it somehow scours its massive database of just about every song ever written and tells you the name of the song, as well as handy info such as the artist, links to iTunes to purchase the song and accompanying YouTube music videos (if available). This app is scary accurate and I have no idea how it works. I figure there are only two logical explanations: a) there are people a lot smarter then me, or b) black magic. I’m leaning towards b, but it could go either way.
  • Flixster – This app is simple: it uses the GPS device in your phone to find your location, then searches for movie theaters in your vicinity and displays the movie showtimes for those theaters. Simple and easy to use. It is one of the most used apps on my phone.
  • Stanza — There are a lot of free e-reader programs for the iPhone, but what sets this one apart from the pack is the converter program available from the Lexcycle Web site. This converter program allows you to take any document on your PC or Mac, convert it to a Stanza format, then sync it to your iPhone. Like that latest column on Rhombus and want to read it on the road? Copy the text, put it into Stanza, convert, sync and — voila! — you have it in an easy-to-read format right on your phone. It converts everything from PDFs to simple .txt files, so you can make virtually any document portable.
  • Twitterfon — There is a plethora of Twitter apps available for the iPhone: some are free, some are not. I find that it completely unnecessary to spend money on a Twitter app when there is a great one like Twitterfon available for free. Twitterfon is fully featured and easy to use. I like the user interface so much that I often find myself using Twitterfon instead of my desktop Twitter client. If you use Twitter (and if you don’t, then why are you really reading this?) and have an iPhone, tweet with Twitterfon.
  • Evernote — Evernote is a fantastic app for Mac and Windows. On the surface, it is a note-taking application. Add in the fact that Evernote uploads all of your notes to the Internet where they can be accessed from any web browser and you can begin to see the potential it has. Then add in the iPhone app which allows you to access your notes from your phone and you have a truly great way to record and access information. Last semester I took all my class notes in Evernote, which were then synced to the Web. Come finals time, I was able to study my notes from my iPhone while waiting in the massive line to enter the testing center. The synchronization between PC, Web and iPhone is fantastic and seamless and requires no manual effort: it is all done automatically in the background. Throw in the ability to create to-do lists and store photos and videos and Evernote stops becoming a note-taking app and becomes a new way to organize and retrieve information from wherever you are. If you are a student and you have an iPhone, believe me: this is a must-have.

Now go out and download ‘em! I mean, they’re free. What do you have to lose? Check back tomorrow for my top five free games!

Ben Wagner is a tech correspondant for Rhombus. Let him know what you thought about his app recomendations by sending your thoughts on Twitter (hopefully using Twitterfon) to @ben_wagner.

TECH: iPhone vs. The Field

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

In the summer of 2007, Apple released the first generation of their groundbreaking smartphone, the iPhone. The device recieved rave reviews for its revolutionary mobile web browsing and touch-screen interface, but received criticism due to its lack of 3G support and third party applications. Sales were strong for the phone and Apple sold 6.1 million handsets in its first 5 quarters; strong numbers, but not strong enough to bring down international smartphone leader Nokia. By the 4th quarter of 2007, the iPhone had gained a 5% international market share and was showing promise as a new leader in the smartphone market. Apple corrected many of the mistakes of the first generation with the second iteration of the phone, the iPhone 3G, in 2008 by adding 3G support and, perhaps most importantly, creating the iTunes App Store. Apple also dropped the phone’s price tag and added more then 70 new international carriers.

The iPhone 3G became a smash hit. The phone sold more then 6.8 million units in its first quarter, more than its predecessor sold in over a year of production. In its first 3 quarters the 3G sold in total more than 14.5 million units and Apple’s stranglehold on the smartphone market began. Apple released the third generation of the iPhone hardware, the iPhone 3G S, last month and the phone reportedly sold more then a million units in its first week. While the numbers aren’t perfect, certain reports suggest that, as of the June 25th, Apple has a 69% market share in the U.S. smartphone market. Internationally, the iPhone has yet to overtake Research-in-Motion (makers of the Blackberry) and leader Nokia, but seems to be gaining ground.

In the last year, several companies have tried to stop Apple’s stranglehold on the market by creating “iPhone killers.” Phones such as the Blackberry Storm, the HTC G1 and the new Palm Pre have all been touted as the new “It” phone, yet Apple has maintained (and grown) its dominant market share. The question is, “How?” Well, there are several answers to this question:

  • The App Store. To date, there are more then 50,000 apps available for the iPhone and there have been more then a billion downloads from the iTunes App Store. As of today, the Palm Pre app store has about 30 apps. Literally, whatever I need to do on my iPhone, “There’s an app for that.”
  • User Interface. Simply put, the iPhone user interface just works: it’s simple, easy and anyone can pick up the phone and figure it out. I know plenty of people who can’t even navigate the finder on their laptops or open the Start menu, but they can navigate an iPhone.
  • Multi-Touch. The touch-screen technology used by the iPhone is second to none. The multi-touch technology works great and is very intuitive.
  • Form Factor. Let’s face it:  the iPhone is sexy.
  • Marketing. The marketing team at Apple has done a brilliant job of touting the phone, while other phone makers have not successfully pointed out the phones flaws: the lack of MMS, tethering and a decent camera. However, Apple has now added these features and, as a result, there are now very few identifiable flaws. Research-In-Motion could point out that the iPhone lacks a decent enterprise-level mail client or HTC could highlight the device’s lack of a tactile keyboard. No Blackberry will ever match the iPhone’s media player and no Palm will ever possess an equivalent touch interface. These companies should stop trying to outdo Apple at what it does best. Instead, they should focus on promoting the features their phones have that the iPhone lacks. The timing of Apple’s releases have been critical as well. The Palm Pre received lots of buzz around the Internet for months prior to its release. However, the week the Pre was released Apple also announced the iPhone 3G S, effectively killing any momentum the Pre had been building since January.
  • Dependence. iPhone users find themselves dependent upon the apps on their phone. This makes the very idea of switching to another phone seem ludicrous, considering the money they have invested and the need they feel for their apps. I personally have about $60 worth of paid apps on my phone and plenty of free ones. Switching to another phone would mean the loss of thar $60. As the number of iPhone owners increases (especially with the recent price drop of $99 for the 8GB 3G), Apple will find ways to make users more dependent then ever on the handset. With the release of iPhone OS 3.0, manufacturers are now allowed to create accessories that connect with the phone’s dock, creating all new possibilities. Medical, scientific and gaming equipment will all be compatible with your iPhone very soon. For example, GPS maker TomTom has announced an app and car kit that will dock with the iPhone, boost the device’s built-in GPS and allow for turn-by-turn voice instructions. Similarly, various medical companies are creating new technologies that will dock with the iPhone. Need to see your blood sugar levels? Plug in your iPhone and get a readout.

Like it or not, Apple’s touch-screen phone is here to stay as the leader of the smartphone market. If you don’t own one yet, there’s never been a better time, especially with the 8 GB 3G now priced at only $99. I’m just warning you now: you may never go back.

Ben Wagner is a tech correspondent for Rhombus and is admittedly addicted to his iPhone. Give him advice on how to break the habit by sending a tweet to @ben_wagner.

TECH: How Twitter Is Changing The World

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

I was sitting in my cubicle at work on Thursday afternoon, trying out Twhirl (a great Adobe Air-based desktop Twitter client) when across my Twitter feed came a flurry of tweets about the death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. I had barely finished reading the tweet when the news began to spread through the office like wildfire. Somehow we all received the news simultaneously, whether it was through Twitter, Facebook, text messages or RSS feeds. Within minutes we were all watching live feeds from CNN.com and other news sites, receiving up-to-the-minute updates, all thanks to the Internet.

Popular microblogging service Twitter crashed as a result of the increased activity caused by the news of Jackson’s death. Users reportedly sent over 50,000 tweets about the pop icon’s death in under an hour. Search giant Google received so many Michael Jackson hits that the company believed its servers were under attack and users “Googling” for Michael Jackson received an error message stating, “Your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application.”

The way the news of Michael Jackson’s death reached our ears is a prime example of how the Internet has changed communication and the speed at which we receive our news. Long gone are the days of reading yesterday’s news in the morning paper or spending every night with your local news anchor. Real-time delivery of breaking news is the now the name of the game. Web services like Twitter take word of mouth to the next level, allowing us to instantly communicate what we know to a mass audience. Facebook allows us to distribute information to our network of friends who can then pass that info on to other friends, allowing news to travel faster then ever before. RSS feeds allow subscribers instant access to news from reputable sources, such as newspapers, magazines and television networks.

Not only is news being reported in new ways, it is also being generated in new ways as well. With mobile computing devices such as iPhones and Blackberries, individuals are not limited to sitting down at a computer to receive information. These devices can make us participators in the newsgathering and sharing process. From wherever I am, I can send out a tweet, update my Facebook status or receive text messages from my friends. With the iPhone 3G S now featuring a video camera with direct and instant uploading to YouTube, you can bet that we will see a huge surge in video news posted directly from locations where important events are taking place. Take, for example, the recent protests in Iran. As the government has cracked down, preventing traditional journalists from reporting on the conflict, many of the major news networks have been featuring videos taken in the streets with personal cameras or even camera phones. One of the most jarring images of the entire ongoing saga, a young woman named Neda bleeding to death in the street, was filmed by two people holding camera phones. Instead of hearing reports from professional reporters on-site, breaking news has come to global networks in the form of tweets and Facebook messages. The news networks are reporting what they see on Twitter before their reporters can uncover and pass along the info.

Of course, one must be wary of such reporting methods. Some months ago someone posted a story on CNN’s user-generated news service, iReport.com, stating that Apple CEO and founder Steve Jobs had died. The story spread across the Internet like wildfire and Apple’s stock plummeted before it was confirmed that Jobs was indeed still alive. Such are the potential tradeoffs of this information revolution.

With communication changing and progressing every day through the Internet, it is necessary that we become familiar with these new forms of communication. Services like Twitter and Facebook can be valuable tools, whether it be for communicating with old friends, promoting a business venture or receiving up-to-the-minute news. It’s up to us to figure out how to best use these services to fit our growing and changing needs — or the world may leave us behind.

Ben Wagner is a technology correspondent for Rhombus. When he’s not listening to “Thriller,” he tweets semi-regularly at http://www.twitter.com/ben_wagner.