New in the iPhone App Store: Camera+

We’re 4 days away from being able to pre-order the new iPhone and my gadget lust is at code orange. Jules and I are still rocking 3Gs so spending on this upgrade is easily rationalized :). There are a lot of groundbreaking innovations on the device, but what I’m most excited about is the camera. To date, believe it or not, I’ve taken 1275 photos with the 2 megapixel camera on my trusty 3G. An unexpected side effect of having a “good enough” camera as part of a device that’s with me wherever I go is that I use all the time – mostly as a memory and inspiration tool. If I want to remember something, or I see something that inspires me, I snap a photo. Over time it just became a habit and I’ve found it so useful that I’d never buy a phone without a camera again.

The volume of pictures I’ve taken on my 3G  shows that Apple definitely crossed the usefulness threshold (for users like me at least) with their first stab at putting a camera in a phone. The image quality is lacking, though, and there’s no real manual control and it performs horribly in low light. Apple did a heck of a lot to correct those issues with the 3GS, and even caught the attention of photographers with the improved sensor, an increase in resolution, low light performance and tap-to-focus. (side note: If you haven’t heard about Chase Jarvis‘s new book “The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You” check it out…awesome iPhone photography)

And with this release, Apple’s shown that they’re still listening and has put even more useful features into the camera:

  • Video recording in HD (720p) up to 30 frames per second with audio and in-camera video editing with iMovie – I’m skeptical about what using this will be like, but how can you say this isn’t cool?
  • 5-megapixel still camera – instead of uselessly increasing megapixels they’ve focused on putting in a kick-ass low light sensor, which will make much more difference to image quality.
  • The new front-facing camera – finally I can take a picture of Jules and I when we’re out and about that I don’t have to re-take 3 times because all I got was the sky or “just” my stomach.
  • Tap to focus video or still images – awesome for isolating your subject and blurring the background – this is the feature that made photographers go banana sandwich when the 3G came out.
  • LED flash – huge – this sucker even stays on to light your subjects when you’re shooting video.
  • Photo and video geotagging -neat if you care about this sort of thing, which I do because iPhoto’s sorting by place is awesome.

The New Camera + App

OK, so I’ve told you all that so that I can now tell you about this. Now that the iPhone camera is 17 new kinds of awesome, you’re going to start looking for apps, right? Only natural. Along with the “Best Camera” app, I’d recommend this one – Camera+. What’s different about this app is that it gives you lots of control and a much closer experience to an actual DSLR that the pros use. Plus the lightbox, zoom and custom filters are sweet and you can do some really cool “post-production” type of work directly on your phone. For $2.99, it makes the whole experience of using the camera way more than $2.99 cooler…check the video, you’ll see what I mean. If you end up buying it and loving it, you can thank Lisa and TapTapTap for their hard work. 

What Would Proximity Sensors Do For The Mobile Web?


Our dumb web is getting smarter. It already knows who you are and who you know, and it won’t be long before it will be able to leverage those connections on your behalf wherever you go. Our mobile devices are already being outfitted with sensors of all types. There are currently two common scenarios for sensors + mobile phones:

1) Everyday objects with sensors pumping out data on things like temperature, noise and activity; the mobile phone reads and analyzes this data.

2) The phone is used as a sensor itself. For example the iPhone has a built-in accelerometer, which is basically a motion detector. This is used for game control and also for re-sizing your iPhone display from portrait to landscape. The iPhone also has a microphone (which can be used as a noise sensor), a proximity sensor, and an ambient light sensor.

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We’re starting to see GPS-based Geosocial networking services like Whrrl, Loopt, and Hotlist gain some ground, but I’m really interested to see what will happen when mobile devices are embedded with proximity sensors (i.e. when the mobile device gets close to another short range sensor, data is shared). It may never happen, but I think it’s a great idea because, while GPS based social networking works for people who know each other, it doesn’t work for sharing contextual relationship data between a person and an object or an organization. You could imagine many of different/unique use cases based on foot traffic for business and being social…

New Kinds Of Retail and Restaurant Loyalty Programs

What if  a store or restaurant had it’s own short range sensor that knew when you walked in the door and alerted the sales staff about your sales history and personal shopping preferences? What if you were fed instant information on in-store sales based on your favorite items or wish lists? How would any of this change your relationship with your favorite venues?

Enabling The Smart Home

What if your home automatically knew your preferences for lighting, music, air temperature etc and automatically adjusted the environment and your devices as you walked from room to room?

Navigating People & Businesses

What if you were at a conference and you’re in a crowd of people. Would it be useful if your device could tell you when you last saw a person you’re about to run into, or that six steps behind you is someone you went to high school with? What if it could tell you that the product that’s being sold at the store you’re passing is on sale at another store in the same area? The web knows these things, we just don’t have a useful way to get that information automatically fed to us when we’re on the go.

Why Mobile Devices?

Using the phone as a sensor (instead of an embedded RFID chip in our skin, for example) seems like a logical next step for these types of applications because it makes participation optional and manual. It might seem whacky now, but you’d probably be surprised how many people would be on board if the the privacy-to-utility ratio was right.

What are your thoughts on this? Too far out there, or is it where we’re headed?

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Here Come The GeoWeb Wars

around meOne of the very first apps I downloaded on the iPhone was Around Me, and it’s still one of my go-to’s. It’s simple and it does exactly what the name implies – it finds your location and shows you all the critical services around you — banks, coffee shops, bars, gas stations, hospitals, movie theaters, restaurants and so on. It comes through in the clutch whenever I’m in an area that I don’t know well, which makes it an indispensable travel tool. It makes you a local expert in less than a few minutes. At a conference in a new city and want coffee? Instead of wasting time asking strangers, you’re already on your way to the Starbucks that’s around the corner, exactly 119 yards away. Need an ATM? Gas? Medication at a pharmacy? Hungry and want to know what your meal options are in a 2-3 block radius? You get the picture. The app orders the services by their proximity to you and gives you quick access to mapped directions, and touch-to-call phone info. The latest release also includes Twitter and Facebook integration so you can share the location of meeting spots or recommendations etc with your friends. Enough said. For this app alone, it’s worth moving to an iPhone.

Here’s a quick video overview of what the app does.

Expect Competition For Geolocation Services To Heat Up This Year

There have been a lot of apps like Around Me to hit mobile devices over the past 12 months. Google (of course) is the sleeping giant for geoweb services and they’ve started to release location based offerings this week that will start to challenge the space and put the squeeze on smaller players. Last week Google announced a mobile search service called “Near Me Now” that makes their mobile search page location aware, giving mobile users access to a lot of the same type of information that apps like Around Me do.

Yesterday, Google also announced Place Pages targeting local businesses, which many believe is another maneuver meant to dethrone Yelp as the de facto resource for local venue information and customer review data. We’ll see how this one plays out. You can expect a lot of me-too players to show up very soon, so it’ll be interesting to see how (if at all) Google innovates and sets the pace. As the web gets denser and geo tagging scales up to put all the data into context, there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for innovation across the board, so we can only hope for startups to think way outside the box and give us all things we’ve never seen before. I know one thing – access to location information and maps on my iPhone has turned me into a heavy user of geoweb services in my daily life and I’m itching to see what’s coming. The war is on.

The Phone Book – Designing Interactive Storytelling Experiences For Parents & Kids

It takes about 30 seconds to realize that this product is a perfect marriage between digital and analog. The interface is simple, and the story telling is rich and engaging. What a fantastic way to bring together parents and children. Not only does it encourage reading, it also inspires creativity.

This video was originally posted on Alex Rainert‘s blog EverydayUX – one of the best blogs on the web for user experience design lovers. Hat tip to Alex for the find. Head over there for more info and links about the product.

Twitter Is Apple’s Support Forum

The iPhone 3.0 upgrade software was just released and, within minutes, #iPhone and #iTunes popup on the trending topics list as the iPhone community rushes to their computers to upgrade their phones. Between the time I ran the search and took this screenshot, there were over 1000 new twitter posts mentioning #iTunes – literally in the space of a minute. Hundreds of people are all having similar problems, asking questions, helping each other. Amazing. And Apple is no where to be seen in the stream. Lesson learned…get your community manager and techies monitoring Twitter when someone pushes the “RELEASE” button. Read More

The Rise Of The Liveblogging Phenomenon

It’s amazing how fast information travels nowadays. With rapid adoption rates of multi-function, browser-ready devices like the iPhone becoming a norm, people are blogging constantly – Liveblogging, a term that I’ve seen used on tech-centric blogs like TechCrunch and Read Write Web, describes the act of blogging an experience as it’s happening. I didn’t notice how common a phenomenon liveblogging was until going to ETech – during keynotes and presentations people would hold up their iPhones take a picture of the slide and then quickly email it to themselves and (presumably) post it to their blogs, even before the next slide was up. Talk about rapid exchanges of information – imagine a TechCrunch blogger posting in real time to 753K RSS readers around the world. Recently, I’ve seen tons of “liveblogged” posts on tech blogs – yesterday’s post on CrunchGear titled Live from the CTIA Wireless 2008 Keynote is a perfect example of the Liveblogging phenomenon – you can even see people’s heads in the photos showing the slides. Of course, along with people photoblogging using their iPhones, they’ve also got their laptops open, Twittering and emailing at the same time. Doesn’t anyone just listen anymore? You can be damn sure that tons of new apps for the iPhone (and similar devices) are going to focus on streamlining these kinds of activities.

Here’s a video I found on YouTube that shows just how easy it is to Blog in real time on an iPhone. For those of you wondering, no I don’t have one, and yes, I do want one. Badly. :)