AP’s iPhone App: White Elephant

White Elephant: A possession entailing great expense out of proportion to its usefulness or value to the owner. (Random House Dictionary)

Today, AP debuted its AP Stylebook iPhone app.

According to the press release. “AP Stylebook fans have been asking for a mobile application so they can have style guidance wherever they go. Journalists never know when they will need to run out the door to chase a story, so as long as they have an iPhone in their pockets when they go, the Stylebook can go with them.”

…Which indicates the strategy here: The AP Stylebook iphone app is basically an app as e-book. Which almost explains its exhorbitant price: $28.99.

Yep, that’s right: $28.99 for an iPhone app. Seriously.

Beyond displaying the text of the AP Stylebook 2009, this app adds a little extra functionality: “The 2009 AP Stylebook app features searchable listings for the main, sports, business and punctuation sections, along with the ability to add custom entries and personalized notes on AP listings. Stylebook app users are able to mark any entry as a favorite for easy access.”

…In other words, similar with what you could do with this book on a Kindle. Only AP doesn’t offer a Kindle edition of the Stylebook.

AP does offer online Stylebook subscriptions: $25/year for an individual, with cheaper bulk pricing available for organizations. Which means that the iPhone app is more costly than an online subscription. So why wouldn’t iPhone users buy an online subscription instead and access it through the mobile Safari browser?

Here’s another thing baffles me: Why sell an app that’s basically a standalone e-book? Why not offer a free app with some free content/service that also can allow paying subscribers to log in from their phone and have a mobile-optimized experience? It seems to me that AP is reinventing the wheel with this app, missing obvious opportunities to grow its Stylebook market, and positioning this product poorly through ludicrous pricing.

It gets worse… but it could get better too…

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Mac Contacts weirdness following Time Machine restore

One of the strange new entries polluting my address book. Click image for full-size version.

One of the strange new entries polluting my address book. Click image for full-size version.

Something weird is happening with my contacts list on my mac laptop and iPhone.

Background: Last week, my Macbook Pro’s hard drive crashed during a Snow Leopard install. The Apple Store replaced my drive, installed Snow Leopard, and told me to restore my data from my Time Machine backup. But Snow Leopard wouldn’t let me specify the correct Time Machine backup to restore from, so I had to bring it back to the Apple Store a total of three times (including my staying in the store for over seven hours to make sure my repair was handled correctly) to get them to restore my data. Yeah, the ordeal sucked, and deeply shook my confidence in Apple technology. Here are my tips to avoid a similar crisis.

What’s weird now: After this, my mac’s address book (“contacts” app on the iPhone) contained dozens of duplicate entries. I was able to merge these via the Card –> Look for Duplicates command on my laptop’s address book.

BUT…  I’ve discovered that dozens of new entries (maybe more than 100) have been mysteriously and inexplicably added to my database! Each of these are random collections of 10 or so e-mail addresses. (See picture) As far as I can tell, I have to delete these manually.

WTF? Has anyone else seen this happen? I’m hoping this is just some weird artifact from the grueling restore process, and that after I clean up the random e-mail entries the problem will go away. But it’s just weird…

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Kindle Text-to-Speech: “Robotic NPR”

Photography imported on the site Flickr.com by...
NPR’s next hire? (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve made a discovery about Amazon’s Kindle e-reader: It’s a pretty good “news radio.” That is, its text-to-speech function does a surprisingly decent job of reading news content aloud.

I currently subscribe to the Wall St. Journal on my Kindle, and I’ve gotten in the habit of letting it read me some interesting articles as I go through my morning routine. I like it. The automated text-to-speech reader is a bit flat for fiction, narrative, and essays that require significant emotional or rhetorical inflection — but it’s great for news. I’ve starting considering it my “robotic NPR.”

(Ducking the reflexive outcry from all my friends at NPR…)

Of course, my point isn’t only about the Kindle. It’s about how any text-to-speech service or tool can interact with text-based news and information content — and why creators of text-based news content should start to take that into consideration. Because you never know exactly how people will experience your content…

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Instapaper: Because the Device Shouldn’t Matter

Kindle next to iPhone
Image by alexhung via Flickr

Now that I own (and use daily) a laptop, iPhone, and Kindle, I’m developing a new relationship to text content. I realize that I shouldn’t have to care about the device. The news and other content I choose to read should just be there — available on whichever of my devices I prefer at the moment, in a format friendly to that device.

This is especially true for anything longer than about 750 words. I’ve found that’s my personal limit for reading through a Web browser, either on my laptop or iPhone. Yes, I can and do occasionally slog through longer Web-based content on those devices. But honestly, after about 750 words I tend to stop truly reading and instead scan quickly through the rest to gauge whether it’s worth further reading.

So I was pleased to recently discover an online service called Instapaper, which makes it easier to read electronic long-format content and to share that content across multiple devices.

Here’s how it works…

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Safari iPhone bookmarklets: Clunky setup, but very useful

The new Apple iPhone
iPhone apps are cool, but sometimes bookmarklets are helpful, too. (Image by Victor Svensson via Flickr)

As an avid iPhone user, I love my apps! I use several of them daily, including Omnifocus, GroceryZen, Twittelator Pro, Google Mobile, iBART, and Google Maps.

Apps are not enough, however. First of all, some online services I use (like Gruvr or My511, nudge nudge) don’t yet offer iPhone apps. (This is especially annoying if they also don’t default to mobile-friendly site layout upon mobile access, grumble…)

But also, several very cool and useful online services are meant to play nice with the rest of the web.

For instance, I get value from my preferred social bookmarking service Delicious because I can use it to bookmark, tag, and comment on any page I happen to be browsing. And on Twitter I often tweet links to pages I find online. For these services, I want their functionality integrated with my iPhone’s Safari browser (since you can’t run two apps at once on the iPhone, and since the iPhone also doesn’t yet allow cut and past, grumble…)

That’s when Javascript-based iPhone Safari bookmarklets can come in handy…

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