Author Archives: Darrell Etherington

Nooka’s mystery dial watches get an iPhone app

Matthew Waldman’s Nooka watches are far from your standard time-keeping devices, with various dial designs that often use digital squares and circles turning on and off to mark the passing of hours, minutes and seconds. With a new app launched Thursday (via Om), Nooka brings its off-the-beaten path watch design to the iPhone.

The major benefits of the iPhone app are that you get to experience a variety of different dial designs in one place, and that it only costs $0.99 (or free for a more limited version), as opposed to the hundreds you’ll spend on an actual Nooka watch.

The Nooka app provides a basic local time clock, with three different faces to choose from, as well as a world clock, stopwatch and timer. For all of the above, you can choose the color of the clock’s background and time indicator elements using a simple color picker. The app works in both portrait and landscape orientation, which makes it a great candidate for a desk or bedside clock, although the presence of an alarm function would really help that, as would an interface tweak to hide the status bar when the clock is active.

 

Even though I’d like to see those features added in an update, the Nooka app is definitely cool as-is, and fans of good design and visually intuitive time-telling will not regret the $0.99 purchase price.

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Satisfaction survey shows why Apple’s iPad will remain on top

Apple’s iPad is still the tablet market leader in terms of sales, despite gains by Android devices like the Amazon Kindle Fire, and a recent survey of tablet user satisfaction suggests it’s well-poised to stay in the lead. The iPad’s customer satisfaction is through the roof, according to a ChangeWave report, while Amazon’s Kindle barely exceeds the satisfaction level of the rest of the tablet pack.

Seventy-four percent of survey respondents said they were “Very Satisfied” with the iPad in an earlier November survey, while only 54 percent said they were “Very Satisfied” with the Kindle Fire in the January survey. The average of Very Satisfied customers for all other tablet devices combined was 49 percent. Why the 20-point gap between the iPad and Fire? It came down to what many users seemed to feel were missing features, according to ChangeWave.

The major dislikes that survey respondents listed for the Kindle Fire included the lack of a hardware volume button, the absence of a camera, short battery life, a lack of cellular connectivity and the size of the Fire’s app library. Cost and screen were favorite features among Kindle Fire owners.

Apple’s focus on user experience seems clearly to be better at winning the admiration of users post-purchase, while Amazon’s focus on offering a low-cost device seems to ultimately leave customers feeling like there’s something missing. That strategy appears to have worked well in the short term. One analyst said earlier this week that Amazon may have shipped as many as 6 million Fires during the last quarter of 2011. But long-term, Apple may have been right when it suggested in December that strong Kindle tablet sales might eventually help boost iPad demand.

Consider that the features tablet users indicated a desire for in expressing their dissatisfaction with the Kindle Fire are all features the iPad currently offers; there’s a clear path of where to get what they want out of a tablet already in place. And if Apple does decide to keep the iPad 2 around as a lower-cost offering when it unveils the iPad 3, the Fire’s No. 1 selling feature won’t seem nearly as much of a marked advantage.

On the flip side, Amazon could also address those deficiencies in future iterations of the Kindle Fire, should it find cost-effective ways of doing so. But Apple will continue to push the experiential envelope at the same time, and so far whatever it provides seems to set the standard in terms of tablet buyer expectations. Pleased customers are loyal customers — as ChangeWave says, it’s found that satisfaction is highly linked to future sales, so Apple’s big lead here is definitely a key measure of success.

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Wallee adds more versatility to its iPad mount solution

The Wallee is an iPad accessory that’s almost as old as the iPad, yet it’s shown that it can remain just as relevant, and actually become more so as the iPad has evolved. The new headrest mount that works with existing Wallee cases is a good example of smart accessory design that can grow with the iPad, rather than be left behind by Apple’s regular device redesigns.

The headrest mount, which works with Wallee’s existing iPad case mounting system, attaches to the headrest rail of any vehicle, and rotates in and out to provide viewing to one or more unruly kids who need entertaining in the back seat on long trips. It’s a simple, sturdy design in and of itself, but it’s really more impressive as the latest proof that Wallee’s creators at Studio Proper are into delivering long-term value rather than chasing short-term gain.

A lot of my favorite cases for the original iPad, including the ZAGGmate iPad keyboard case, required me to buy a new version in order to play nice with the iPad 2. The Wallee also required a new case, but it stung much less since all the accessories the case is designed to work with remained useful. Wall mounting disks, stands and a VESA mount still work with the new iPad 2 version of the Wallee case, and recent additions to the line, including a hand strap for easy one-handed use, and the upcoming Wallee Lock for secure, interactive iPad-based displays mean investment in the system continues to feel fresh, two years after the original Wallee’s introduction.

Most mobile device users will likely go through piles of device accessories that quickly become as outdated as the gadgets they’re designed for, so it’s nice to see a system that embraces and builds on its past, rather than simply starting fresh with each new whim of Apple’s design department.

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Hands on with Remarks, a remarkable iPad PDF annotation app

App developer Readdle has been very busy lately. A big update arrived recently for its PDF Expert software, and now the company is also launching a brand new note-taking and PDF annotation iPad app called Remarks. Here’s a hands on look at what the app offers users.

Remarks, like PDF Expert, offers PDF annotation and filling tools, but it’s a much more streamlined tool than that app, with a focus on making it easy to mark up and share documents, as well as create your own notes and notebooks independent of any pre-existing PDFs that can also be marked up and shared with other Remarks users for collaborative work.

Remarks is that rare beast among PDF tools, either on or off the iPad: it features a simple, straightforward interface and everything work very quickly, with speedy response times for turning pages, adding notes, and basically anything else you’d want to do. Tools, including pens, highlighters, preset shapes and text entry, are clearly labeled with simple icons, and there’s no visual clutter or wealth of unnecessary options to distract you from what you actually need to get done.

 

Sharing may be one of Remarks’ best feature. Using email, you can easily share documents with other Remarks users, including annotated PDFs and notes created in the app itself. But in an upcoming update, Readdle is planning to introduce Dropbox, Box.net and other cloud storage sharing options, too, making it even more convenient for doing collaborative work.

Paired with a Bluetooth keyboard or stylus, Remarks is even more useful. It features effective accidental touch or wrist-detection, meaning you can write naturally with a stylus without worrying about drawing in the wrong place, and regular Mac key shortcuts like Command+C, Command+V and Command+A work with keyboard text input.

Remarks allows flexibility in creating notes and notebooks, allowing you to rearrange pages as you add them or after the fact, but it doesn’t overwhelm with options like other iPad notebook offerings. And since it’s also a full-fledged PDF annotation tool, and one that can be used collaboratively, it’s probably one of the most versatile iPad apps for students, and a fairly inexpensive one at $4.99.

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Apple jumps to third place in worldwide mobile phone shipments

Apple’s huge iPhone sales numbers from its latest quarterly results and the overall success of its iPhone 4S helped it grow its mobile phone business by 128.4 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2011, according to a new IDC report. That was good enough to help the company climb to third place overall in worldwide smartphone shipments, leapfrogging both ZTE and LG Electronics.

Apple’s 37 million fourth quarter iPhone shipments were a far cry from the market leaders, however. Nokia still ruled the roost with 113.5 million handset shipments, while Samsung edged closer to grabbing the top spot with a 20 percent increase compared to the previous year, to a total of 97.6 million units shipped. Samsung succeeded by growing its smartphone sales, but also by increasing its feature phone shipment numbers in an otherwise soft market for those devices.

While Apple was the biggest gainer percentage-wise during the quarter, LG suffered the biggest drop,with a negative 42.2 percent change compared to the same period in 2010. Its total shipments were at 17.7 million for the year, which is on par with 2007 levels. LG definitely felt the hit of the waning feature phone market and was unable to do much to impress consumers with its smartphones, either.

Apple also ranked third overall in terms of  mobile phone shipments throughout the whole calendar year thanks to its fourth quarter results, with 93.2 iPhone shipments and year-over-year growth of 96.2 percent.

IDC predicts that the mobile phone market will continue to experience double-digit growth, despite only seeing 11.1 percent growth year-over-year in 2011, versus 18.7 percent growth between 2009 and 2010.

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Apple denied Galaxy Tab 10.1N ban in Germany

Apple has failed to secure a preliminary injunction against the Galaxy Tab 10.1N tablet and Galaxy Nexus smartphone in Germany, thanks to a ruling by the Munich Regional Court Wednesday (via Bloomberg). Apple had claimed that the Galaxy 10.1N, a version of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 redesigned to avoid a previous injunction, and the Nexus infringed upon a patent related to touchscreen technology.

In delivering the ruling, judge Andreas Mueller suggested that the court didn’t like Apple’s chances for maintaining the validity of the patent claim, saying that “Samsung has shown that it is more likely than not that the patent will be revoked because of a technology that was already on the market before the intellectual property had been filed for protection.”

It’s a win for Samsung, and one that will no doubt take the sting out of a ruling Tuesday that saw a Düsseldorf court uphold an injunction against the original Galaxy Tab 10.1. This injunction also would have applied to a technical patent, not design IP, which would’ve been much harder for Samsung to work around with simple software or hardware modifications.

Samsung’s bigger concern will still be the pending European Commission’s investigation related to its legal use of patents requiring fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) licensing terms, which the EU regulatory body formally announced on Tuesday.

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Straight talk for businesses considering an iOS app

IOS development is not for the faint of heart, and a new blog post by developer Kent Nguyen (the creator of the Denso mobile video discovery apps) does a good job of pointing out exactly why. Nguyen’s target audience is companies who foot the bill for app development, in the hopes of lessening sticker shock and generally making it easier for non-developers to understand why devs need all that time and money to do what they do.

Nguyen goes into a lot of detail, and it’s a must-read for anyone thinking about commissioning an iOS (or really any mobile OS) application. Here’s one passage in particular that I know will resonate with a lot of freelance devs:

Converting an iPhone app to iPhone/iPad universal app: This is the worst ‘additional feature’ found in iPhone development contracts. Because an iPad app is not a frikin’ additional feature. The iPad app is always more complex than iPhone app, and most of the time requires entirely different interface and interaction mechanism. It’s like making an electric bicycle and then convert[ing] it to a fuel-powered motorcycle! They are very similar at what they do, but under the hood, the difference is immense. [Emphasis in the original]

A lot of companies may be interested in what an app can do for their business, but without a good sense of what kind of resources need to be invested in order to create the app in the first place, there is bound to be ample frustration on all sides. Nguyen’s no-nonsense primer is a good way to help avoid some of that frustration.

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