Free Kindles, local mobile news, and pissed off fanboys: My recent CNN.com Tech mobile stories

It’s been a very busy month and a half for me. I spent a week in Los Angeles as a featured presenter for the Mobile News Week at the journalism school there, and now I’m finishing preparations to travel to two other journalism schools next week for the Knight Digital Media Center’s Mobile Symposium. So I haven’t been letting Contentious.com readers know what I’ve been writing elsewhere.

But I’ve been logging a lot of cool mobile stuff for CNN.com Tech. So here’s a quick list of what I’ve been covering there…

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Apple shows how to undermine its ecosystem for content apps

Earlier I wrote about how I thought it was a mistake for News Corp to invest so lavishly in The Daily, the first-ever iPad-only newspaper.

This morning, as I listened to the streaming audio of Rupert Murdoch’s official unveiling of this publication, I saw a headline that made me think Murdoch — and any content publisher or retailer — should be especially wary about depending too heavily for revenue delivered via iPhone or iPad apps. It was: Apple blocks Sony e-book app. Is Kindle next?

In a nutshell, Apple recently rejected Sony’s new e-reader app from its app store because it jumped users out of the app and into the browser to buy new e-books. This strategy skirts Apple’s considerable 30% cut of all in-app purchases, and it’s how Amazon has handled e-book sales for its popular Kindle iPhone and iPad apps since the beginning.

I did some research this, and it looks like Apple is sending some potentially destructive messages to the iOS app ecosystem they’ve worked so hard to create. So I wrote about this today in my CNN Tech mobile blog…

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AT&T: Way to spin a mobile data plan backstep! (OR: Why I’m going Android)

You may have heard that yesterday AT&T stopped offering unlimited mobile data plans.

Their spin, according to this press release: New Lower-Priced Wireless Data Plans to Make Mobile Internet More Affordable to More People

Hah! That’s smooth! But now, the real point: AT&T now offers only these pay-as-you-go data plan options for new or renewing mobile contracts:

  • 200 MB/month: $15/month, plus an extra $15 for each additional 200 MB
  • 2G/month: $25/month, plus an extra $10 for each additional 1G
  • Tethering service: $20 month

No more all you can eat. Which makes sense! AT&T’s network can’t really handle unlimited mobile broadband for a large swath of its smartphone and tablet users. No US mobile carrier can. That’s just begging for network congestion — which annoys everyone and is bad for business… Continue reading

Nokia’s Newer, Dumber Business Model: Sue Apple

More than a year ago, in June 2008, I wrote about how Nokia’s clueless approach to serving the US smartphone market basically handed that market to Apple on a silver platter by the time the 3G iPhone launched.

Last week, GigaOm reported that Nokia is now suing Apple, claiming technology patent infringement. And on Oct. 15 CNET reported on Nokia’s dire slide in the US smartphone market.

According to GigaOm:

“Nokia is looking to collect patent royalties of 1 or 2 percent for each iPhone sold, according to a note from Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster, which — given the roughly 34 million iPhone units already in the hands of users — would amount to $200 million-$400 million. That’s not a lot of money to either company, of course. But Nokia is clearly hoping it can be more successful in the courtroom than it’s been in the marketplace.”

Nokia: Really? Is this what you’ve sunk to?

There are far better ways. Here are some options… Continue reading

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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Thinking of updating your mac to Snow Leopard? Do this FIRST!

While I’m here on my 3rd Apple Store visit in as many days to try to recover from a disaster triggered by my attempt to upgrade my Mac to the Snow Leopard OS X, here are some tips that might save other Mac users similar pain and frustration.

1. Back up your entire machine onto TWO EXTERNAL DRIVES. It’s a good idea to run Time Machine backup as often as possible. But when you’re running the risk of having to hand over your mac AND your backup drive to a technician (which is always the case when attempting a significant operating system update), it’s a good idea to have a separate copy of your backup in your own possession.

2. Verify the condition of your hard drive. Apple is marketing Snow Leopard chiefly as a way to enhance performance. However, if your hard drive is developing problems (as mine apparently was), that will impair performance. Installing Snow Leopard won’t fix HD problems, and it may even cause your drive to fail during installation (as mine did)

So Verify your disk using your Mac’s Disk Utility before you upgrade. That can indicate HD problems. It’s not a perfect predictor of problems, but it’s at least some help. Had I thought to do this, I might not have lost 3 workdays and be freezing my ass off in an over-air conditioned Apple Store right now.

If your disk verification process indicates problems, and if you’re experiencing decreasing performance, it’s probably a safer bet to get your HD replaced and data restored correctly BEFORE attempting to upgrade your operating system. If you have to go to the Apple Store to do this, make sure they put in the work order that you do NOT want the OS upgraded yet.

3. Check your warranty coverage. I purchased Apple Care when I bought my mac a couple of years ago, and it’s still in effect. So Apple replaced my HD for free. I’m not sure whether the warranty covers drives that are having problems (rather than have already failed), but it’s worth asking about.

4. Line up a backup computer. If, like me, you work or life could get seriously screwed if you lose your computer for a few days or more, make sure you have handy access to a functional backup machine BEFORE doing a significant system update. Load it up with all the software & data you’ll need to do what you need to do, and test it.

Personally, I’m getting a Linux netbook ASAP.

5. Check your ProCare staus. ProCare is Apple’s preferred service program. It costs about $100/yr, and it’s worth it if you depend in your Mac. If you need a speedy repair, make sure you have current ProCare coverage. You van buy it on the spot at the Apple Store if you need it.

6. Don’t leave the Apple Store without your computer the way you need it. If your OS X update goes dreadfully wrong (as mine did), required them to wipe your drive, have the Apple Store staff restore your operating system and data from your Time Machine backup. Don’t do all of that yourself.

My experience shows that this installation/restore process is trickier than Apple claims. It’s surprisingly easy for the Time Machine restoration to not work right with a freshly installed OS. Make them do everything you need do your machine is up and running. Bring this blog post with you if they balk, and stick to your guns.

This means bringing your external HD with your current Time Machine backup to the Apple Store with you, of course. And before you leave, sync your iPhone and make sure it works. My iPhone sync is not yet working, so I’m staying put in this store for now.

7. Check the “Lemon Law” in your state. The details if this federal consumer protection law are defined by each state. In many states, including CA, lemon laws cover not just vehicles but also consumer products. This may give you recourse if you get screwed by Apple on mac-related issues, like a disastrous OS update you paid for.

Also have the phone number of the local Better Business Bureau handy, and be willing to file a complaint if necessary.

8. Don’t attempt a major system update a couple of weeks after having knee surgery. I’m just saying, it makes everything that much more difficult, aggravating, and risky.

My Snow Leopard Disaster: live updates from 3rd Apple Store visit

I’m sitting in the Apple Store at 5656 Bay St., Emeryville, CA. It’s the third time I’ve been here in as many days, thanks to a series of unfortunate events spawned by my misguided effort to upgrade my Macbook Pro to the latest OS X, Snow Leopard.

I’ve been here about 3 hours so far.

THE HIGHLIGHTS:

  1. My mac was increasingly having performance problems, and Snow Leopard is marketed mainly as a performance enhancer.
  2. When I tried installing SL, it failed because my hard drive crashed. HD problems were most likely the cause of my performance problems.
  3. Apple replaced my HD, installed SL, and told me to restore from my Time Machine backup. The TM restore failed in a weird way.
  4. On my 2nd Apple Store trip, they wiped my HD, installed SL, and gave me new instructions for restoring from TM. Last night that failed too.

For more details on exactly what went wrong, see my posts from yesterday and this morning.

So today, on my third visit, my goals are:

  1. Get my HD wiped again. Tech reports this was done.
  2. Get the regular Leopard OS X installed, NOT Snow Leopard. Really, screw SL at this point! Tech reports this was done.
  3. Restore my apps and data from the CORRECT TM backup, something the SL installer would not let me do.
  4. Avoid unnecessary walking. I had knee surgery Aug. 13, & doc says I must avoid unnecessary walking until my leg is much stronger, to avoid developing a hard-to-correct limp. Trouble is I don’t own a car, so had to take bus to Apple store, which involved walking a few blocks. I’m staying put in the Apple Store (they gave me a chair) until my mac is fixed. Been here nearly three hours so far.
  5. Check everything out BEFORE I sign off on this repair & leave. And if it’s not fixed, they’re getting a big ‘ol dose of NJ loud ‘n pissed, plus possible action under CA’s lemon law. (Been doing sone research, and it applies to consumer products, not just cars.)
  6. Get a refund for Snow Leopard. Yeah. Seriously.
  7. Try to avoid homicides. Just on general principles. Especially at the Apple Store. Too many witnesses.

If all goes well, my mac will emerge from brain surgery in the next hour. I hope so, because I’m getting hungry.

It’s cold in here. Glad I brought my goodie.

So far I’ve lost 3 days to this. Most of my work-related data is in the cloud, but not having a backup computer leaves me outta that loop. So I’m researching which Linux netbook to purchase. I’ve been wanting one for travel & portability, but now I see having a backup machine running Firefox with all my plugins and that I can actually type on makes the difference to keep me in business.

Because writing on an iPhone truly sucks. I loathe this #^*+%# touch keyboard. Good thing I remembered to charge up & bring my backup battery.

I’ll post again when I know more. Stay tuned.

My Snow Leopard disaster continues

It’s the third day since I lost the use of my only computer, a Macbook pro, and I’m about to head off to the Bay St. Apple Store in Emeryville, CA for the third time to try to get it working again.

Please see my post yesterday explaining how a failed update to the much-heralded Snow Leopard OS X left me macless.

Last night, after the Apple Store wiped my brand-new hard drive, I went home and followed their instructions for installing SL again and restoring from my Time Machine backup. The SL install worked; the TM restore failed because the Snow Leopard installer does not allow you to specify WHICH TM backup you want to restore from!

That’s right: SL automatically grabs the most recent backup — which in this case was a backup of the lobotomized virgin system captured after my first SL install.

Tom worked hard for several hours last night via iChat screen share to try to manually restore the correct TM backup. Below are his notes

Right now I’m en route to the Apple Store. I plan to be there when they open and stay there until they fix this. I’ll be updating on this blog and via Twitter” throughout the day.

…BTW, I’m having to run all these errands at a time when my orthopedist has cautioned me to walk as little as possible. I had knee surgery Aug. 13 to repair a torn ACL. I have a leg brace for getting around during recovery, but walking too much now impairs my recovery. So managing this Apple ordeal is putting my physical well being at risk. No exaggeration.

Anyway, here’s Tom’s account of what happened with my mac last night and what I’m trying to achieve today….

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New iPhone Software: Copy & Paste (Finally!), Intriguing APIs

:Image:IPhone_Release_-_Seattle_(keyboard) cro...
Image via Wikipedia

The iPhone is due for a major operating system update, and this week Apple revealed what the iPhone OS 3.0 software (due to be distributed summer 2009) will allow users and developers to do.

In a nutshell: Plenty.

The biggest splash: iPhone 3.0 will support copy and paste. Seems like a no-brainer, but so far iPhone users have not been able to employ this basic user interface tool which has been available since long before Apple even started making computers. The iPhone’s lack of copy and paste has led to considerable user frustration and some clumsy work-arounds involving javascript bookmarklets for mobile Safari. I’ve heard several people say they’d get an iPhone if only it did copy and paste. So it’s possible that this key bit of usability catch-up could broaden the iPhone market base.

But even more importantly: New iPhone APIs offer exciting opportunities — especially for news orgs and other online publishers… Continue reading

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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