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Archive for the 'iPhone' Category

Sep 14 2010

iCal syncing made easy - Fruux!

Published by Mark under Mac, Technology, iPhone

A few months ago I was desperately searching for a way to keep all of our iDevices in sync. With 2 iPhones in our house (an iPhone1 and iPhone4), 2 iPod touches, an iMac and a Macbook, it was becoming a bit of a challenge making sure our calendars were sync’d across all of our devices - both me and my wife use our iPhone calendars extensively which in turn sync to different computers. We were often left with one person having an important commitment noted on one computer or iPhone but missing from another and it had started to lead to a few unexpected rush situations, or double scheduling.

The easy solution would be to subscribe to MobileMe, but really the only part of the service I wanted was the iCal syncing - the rest was of little value to me, much less $100/Year worth.

Enter Fruux.

Surprisingly, at the time, I didn’t find it with a simple Google search but found a few people raving about it in a message forum somewhere. It was free, so I figured I’d give it a shot - nothing to loose, right?

Turns out it’s been excellent. Based on the what I’ve learned as a fan of the service it’s run by a few university students somewhere overseas, but in no way or form does it appears to be cobbled together or unreliable - to the contrary it’s extremely polished, integrates directly into the Mac control panel, supports Growl, and best of all…just works. Although I only use it for iCal, it will also sync Bookmarks, Contacts (!) and notes.

Yep, all the important syncing stuff MobileMe does…except free.

I installed it, set it up, and almost forgot it was “doing it’s thing” until I recently upgraded (and re-enabled) Growl and started noticing the “Fruux Sync Successful” popups on my desktop whenever it was triggering. Within a few days I was reminded exactly how important it had become to me and how reliably it had been running.

An email from the Fruux developers a few months ago outlined how important the support of the people using it really is to them;

However, as most of you know, fruux is an entirely bootstrapped student project. Our userbase has grown to a size that needs enterprise level infrastructure which requires constant monitoring and work on the systems that run our cloud (like a huge factory). Also it’s necessary to constantly add capacity to our cloud to avoid dropped syncs and downtimes. In addition to that we of course want to add new features. We’d love to get one or two more developers into the team to handle this huge workload. This would allow us to constantly work on the necessary foundation stuff and also new features at the same time. Unfortunately it costs a hell of money to run the whole infrastructure and also to get the necessary manhours into the project. Even without new developers the fruux core team is not “for free”. More fruux work results in less time in our dayjobs that help us funding fruux.

With that I threw the guys a $20 donation - not much, but enough to quality me for their “Premium” service (not yet launched) when it’s ready…and if it does make it to fruition, I’ll probably throw them another donation - with OTA iPhone syncing and a few other goodies potentially part of future updates, it stands to get even better.

I will admit when it comes to Donationware I often fail to follow up on the donation part of the deal, but I’m a big fan of Fruux and am willing to support this great service. Hopefully enough people do the same that the costs don’t see this project end before it’s time - I’d sure miss it if it went away.

Check it out if you’re looking for the same..and consider donating.

2 responses so far

Aug 11 2010

Pointless social networking

Published by Mark under Amusement, Ponder, iPhone

My job takes me over a fairly large geographic area on a daily basis, combined with lots of quick stops at various points.

After having recently seen a few friends posting Foursquare updates on Facebook, I decided that I’d install it on my iPhone and give it a shot. Perhaps adding a level of social networking to my job would make my day go a little faster if nothing else.

I’m still undecided if it’s actually interesting, or completely pointless.

Yes, there are goals - I’ve already become “Mayor” of several locations - the fact that I cover similar geographic areas 5 days a week, often returning to the same customers over and over again makes the “Check In” system ideal for me as I’m guaranteed to be back again after I visit a location. Whereas others covet their Mayorship of their local coffee joint, I’m easily picking up leading roles at many other businesses. Virtual “Badges” are rewarded for completing certain goals so there is some incentive to check-in repeatedly, and if you check in more then anyone else, you become Mayor.

Most locations are valid - businesses, fast food outlets, venues of every sort - but there are an annoying array of junk locations. Sorry, I don’t think that “Nicks Pad” or “Intersection of Simcoe and Taunton roads” really add anything to the system. An local highway exit ramp has it’s own location. Garbage.

In the end it seems much less like social networking and more like a big virtual game. I suppose if you are in a busy urban area, or looking to socialize with others from Foursquare it has potential, but for the average user it seems to be all about the race to become mayor of as many locations as possible (and defend such) as well as collecting badges. It also seems the system is rife with abuse based on observations of certain areas where every single location is held by one mayor.

I suspect as the weeks wear on I’ll quickly loose interest as I have with many other social networking applications like Waze and Gowalla. Who knows. In the meantime, I’ve got a few Mayorships to defend.

2 responses so far

Jul 19 2010

Is the grass greener on the Android side?

Published by Mark under Technology, iPhone

Up until a month ago it seemed like my next cellphone was obvious - my iPhone 3G is now getting long in the tooth and with a credit I currently have on my cellphone account in conjunction with my now willingness to get roped into a new term with my cellular provider, the iPhone4 was the clear choice.

However, “Antenna-gate” made me stop and think. Yes, I’m a fan of Apple hardware and especially the iPhone in particular, but I’m not such a fanboy that I will simply march forth and buy any Apple hardware despite an issue. I stepped back and surveyed the situation, almost glad that the iPhone had (and still has not) yet arrived in Canada.

As the weeks have wore on and the iPhone4 antenna issue became, well, less of an issue, I’ve swayed back to the iPhone4 as being my choice again. Seemingly most people that were experiencing issues are in fringe or poor coverage areas with AT&T - an issue which with AT&T seems widespread. A select few who already have iPhones here in Canada report NO issues, probably thanks to our much more robust (and lesser loaded) cellular carriers here.

So, the concern has faded away, and I’ll be getting an iPhone 4.

However, during the period of time I was unsure, I looked seriously at Android. What I discovered was that in many respects, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, it’s better then anything out there right now short of (in my opinion) iOS4, but I had some nagging concerns.

1/ For being such a supposedly “Open” OS I still hear of a lot of discussion about rooting, or difficulties thereof. That doesn’t seem to shout “free and open” to me. The iPhone has been consistently Jailbroken though it’s every evolution (with no sign of the iPhone4 or iOS4 halting that) whereas some Android phones and builds have proven difficult to impossible to gain root access.

Reportedly, the new Droid-X has a chip in it that detects unapproved builds of Android having been installed on it, and will simply prevent the phone from even booting until an “Approved” build is re-installed. Suddenly, all the anti-Apple people who have screamed about Apples overzealous control over the iPhone platform fell silent with this revelation.

Advantage: iPhone.

2/ Too much hardware seems to be experiencing end-of-life early due to Android builds that don’t work on hardware that’s really not that old. On the flipside, even the original iPhone 2G was updated right to 3.1.3 before it reached end of life from an OS standpoint.

Assuming this trend continues with the 3G and 4G, advantage iPhone.

3/ Arguably, The GUI still isn’t as slick as the iPhone. I’m sure, as with any phone, once you get used to it it becomes more intuitive, but it just feels clunkier from the initial “pick it up and use it” standpoint versus the iPhone. Add to that the fact that some cellular carriers seem intent to clutter the GUI further with horrid skins or OS overlays (something that Apple strictly forbids on the iPhone) just has the potential to not only make it worse, but potentially cripple the OS further.

Advantage: iPhone.

4/ Still nothing beats the iTunes and Appstore combination (iPhone) so far as choice goes, like it or not.

Advantage: iPhone.

Yes, my decision is once again clear.

No responses yet

Jun 26 2009

To sign, or not to sign?

Published by Mark under Mobile Data, Money, Ponder, iPhone

My wife’s cellphone contract is expiring in the next week and we are starting to consider the options. The cellphone industry in Canada has undergone a revolution in the last 12 to 18 months on both the voice and data fronts. No longer does it cost $100 for 200 megabytes of cellular data - quite to the contrary, I now have a data plan which offers me a generous 6 gigabytes for $30 per month and allows laptop tethering, although it’s a promotional plan which has came and went a few times. On the non promotional front it’s a little less of a deal at $30 for only 1 gigabyte, but that’s a whole other story that I really should dedicate an entire new post to.

With the impending entrance of several (big and small) new competitors to the market courtesy of a recent spectrum auction, further shapeups are inevitable, and the incumbents are taking notice - in the last few months even more drastically improved monthly pricing structures have arrived offering Canadians even better deals. Of course, to obtain these new plans and great new handsets consumers must accept a contract term, and with many of the fancier handsets only being remotely affordable with the dreaded new trend of 3-year contracts, and some (such as the iPhone) demanding them (no other option) the carriers have made consumers pay for the lower rates with longer terms. Of course, without paying a hefty early termination fee, the incumbents now have the consumer locked into a long term contract, possibly making then unable or unwilling to move to one of the new competitors regardless of how much the savings could amount to.

In the greater scheme of things I think that the consumer still wins when compared to the realities of years passed, but the long term contracts are troubling to many Canadians, and there is clearly going to be much better deals to be had once the new companies arrive.

I called my wife’s cellphone carrier today to see if they were willing to make us an attractive offer in return for us signing a new contract. What we ended up with, despite the reps insistence that he was offering us a “special”, “very attractive” plan that was “not available to the general public”, it was still rather lacklustre, offering only 200 peak minutes a month, free evenings and weekends, free incoming calls, and a bunch of features which in my opinion amounts to fluff (caller ID, voicemail, unlimited texts) the best rate they could give us was still $35 per month. Not bad, but when I inquired about adding a data plan things got weird. My wife would really only need a few hundred megs per month for a device like the iPhone - really, a 500 megabyte plan would probably suffice. That said, it’s $25 for a 500 megabyte plan, but the 6 gigabyte promotional data plan is currently available again for only $30. Although the latter is a good deal (one which I subscribe to because I enjoy and utilize it), it’s a huge overkill for my wife, yet they were unwilling to offer a significant discount (beyond $5) on the 500 gig plan to make it attractive. Regardless, despite the overkill nature of the 6 gigabyte plan it would be stupid to not pay the extra $5 for it regardless.

In the end all the figures add up rather unattractively. My wife is contemplating getting an iPhone, but the fact that she would be forced into a 3 year contract with only a mildly attractive price plan (equalling over $75 a month after taxes) suddenly dampens her interest.

At this point I’m seriously contemplating just putting things on the back burner for a few months, letting her cellphone plan continue as-is without a contract, and seeing what appears on the horizon with the new carriers. Once the new entrants open up shop (inevitably utilizing GSM) we could contemplate just buying her a used iPhone 3G (which will get cheaper as the 3GS saturates the market and people upgrade) and then hooking her up with the competition instead. Rumors are we can expect to see unlimited minutes and huge (if not unlimited) data for about the same amount of money as she is looking at for 200 minutes and 500 megabytes with her current carrier.

The new few months will be interesting indeed. Bring on the competition, Canada awaits.

One response so far

Jan 24 2009

200 Megs/Day via iPhone

Published by Mark under Mobile Data, Ponder, Technology, iPhone

I was lucky enough (if you consider it lucky compared to unlimited plans elsewhere in the world) to snag a 6-Gig/Month data plan for my iPhone late last summer. After years of struggling with exorbitant mobile data costs and foolish limitations, this was suddenly the “Holy Grail” of data plans. Add to that the fact that it’s a truly free data plan (including tethering) it has actually come in quite handy - while traveling we hook our Macbook to my iPhone and enjoy internet everywhere.

Unsurprisingly the data plan in question was discontinued months later and replaced by an 1-Gig plan for the same amount of money, but that’s a whole other story.

As the months have passed, and having recently upgraded to an iPhone 3G from my original iPhone 2G, I noticed my data consumption was climbing, but after actually resetting my data counter last week at the beginning of my billing cycle I was astounded to discover that I’m actually consuming about 200 megabytes per day.

I sat back and tried to figure out exactly where that amount of data was coming from and it quickly made sense.

Podcast Download: I start my day by downloading a podcast (over 3G) that I listen to daily. I used to download it at home and sync it to my iPhone when I was using my old (drastically slower) 2G iPhone, but with the new found blazing 3G speed, I found it more convenient to just download it on the fly in the morning. Total data: 40-50 Megs daily

VNC: I spend quite a lot of time with an active VNC connection to my iMac at home so that I can monitor a piece of software running there and provide input as required. It’s a long story, but suffice to say I really enjoy the power that VNC provides in allowing me to access my iMac as if I’m sitting in front of it. Total data: ~100 Megs daily

General surfing: The iPhone is a rich surfing experience as anyone who owns one knows. With fast 3G speeds it’s easy to burn a large amount of data very quickly with just plain surfing, catching up on blogs and such. Total data: 10-20 Megs Daily

Webcam: I have a security related IP webcam and various occasionally-updated images (weather, etc) that I monitor throughout the day. With the recent addition of the excellent iPhone application “Cam Viewer Lite” I’m now able to monitor them all in real time directly on my iPhone. It’s handy, but even with light usage it’s a large consumer of bandwidth (especially the realtime IP webcams) I’ve discovered. Total data: 20-30 Megs Daily

The remainder is a bit of data here and there - the weather app, the Facebook app, email, etc.

Quite a lot of my data consumption is purely discretionary and by no means necessary from a personal or work standpoint so I could easily lower it if I needed to, but I subscribe to the “use it if you’ve got it” viewpoint.

It wasn’t that long ago when it would have been technologically impossible or financially crippling to do what I’m doing now without hardly a second thought. Oh how times have changed for the better.

One response so far

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