Tag Archives: Multi-touch

Inside the Web of Things

This is a slightly longer version of a piece I’ve recorded for the BBC World Service

I’ve long dreamed of an Internet of things, where all the stuff in my life speaks to each other instead of me having to the talking. The vision is relatively simple: each gadget is assigned an Internet address and so can communicate with each other, and with a central hub (my, or my computer, or smartphone, or whatever.)

The most obvious one is electricity. Attach a sensor to your fusebox and then you can see which or your myriad appliances is inflating your electricity bill. Great idea! Well sort of. I found a Singapore-based company that was selling them, and asked to try one out. It was a nice, sleek device that promised to connect to my computer via WiFi and give me a breakdown of my electricity consumption. Woohoo.

Only it never worked. Turns out the device needed to be connected to the junction box by a pro called Ken, who tried a couple of times and then just sort of disappeared. I don’t mean he was electrocuted or vaporized, he just didn’t come back. The owner of the company said he didn’t really sell them anymore. Now the device is sitting in a cupboard.

Turns out that Cisco, Microsoft and Google tried the same thing. The tech website Gigaom reports that all three have abandoned their energy consumption projects. Sleek-looking devices but it turns out folk aren’t really interested in saving money. Or rather, they don’t want to shell out a few hundred bucks to be reminded their power bills are too high.

This might suggest that the Internet of things is dead. But that’d be wrong. The problem is that we’re not thinking straight. We need to come up with ways to apply to the web of things the same principles that made Apple tons of cash. And that means apps.

The Internet of things relies on sensors. Motion sensors which tell whether the device is moving, which direction it’s pointing in, whether it’s vibrating, its rotational angle, its exact position, its orientation. Then there are sensors to measure force, pressure, strain, temperature, humidity and light.

The iPhone has nearly all these. An infrared sensor can tell that your head is next to the phone so it can turn off the screen and stop you cancelling the call with your earlobe. (The new version can even tell how far away you from the phone so it can activate its voice assistant Siri.)

But what makes all this powerful is the ecosystem of third party applications that have been developed for the iPhone. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of sensors. There are 1000s of apps that make use of the iPhone’s sensors–most of them without us really thinking about it.

This is the way the Internet of things needs to go. We need to stop thinking boring things like “power conservation” and just let the market figure it out. Right now I want a sensor that can tell me when the dryer is spinning out of control, which it tends to do, because then it starts moving around the room. Or help me find my keys.

In short, the Internet of things needs to commoditize the sensors and decentralize the apps that make those sensors work. Make it easy for us to figure out what we want to do with all this amazing technology and either give us a simple interface for us to do it ourselves, or make a software kit that lets programmy people to do it for us.

Which is why some people are pretty excited about Twine, a bunch of guys from MIT who are working on a two and a half inch rubber square which connects to WiFi and will let you program it via a very simple interface. Some examples: hang it around your infant’s neck and get it to send you a tweet every time it moves.

It may not be rocket science, but if you’ve got an infant-wandering problem it could be just what you needed.

How Long Was the iPhone Location Vulnerability Known?

I’m very intrigued by the Guardian’s piece iPhone keeps record of everywhere you go | Technology | guardian.co.uk but I’m wondering how new this information is, and whether other less transparent folk have already been using this gaping hole. Charles Arthur writes:

Security researchers have discovered that Apple‘s iPhone keeps track of where you go – and saves every detail of it to a secret file on the device which is then copied to the owner’s computer when the two are synchronised.

The file contains the latitude and longitude of the phone’s recorded coordinates along with a timestamp, meaning that anyone who stole the phone or the computer could discover details about the owner’s movements using a simple program.

For some phones, there could be almost a year’s worth of data stored, as the recording of data seems to have started with Apple’s iOS 4 update to the phone’s operating system, released in June 2010.

But it seems that folk on a forum have already been talking about it since January: Convert Iphone 4 Consolidated.db file to Google earth:

Someone called Gangstageek asked on Jan 6:

Is there a way to, or a program (for the PC) that can read the Consolidated.db file from the Iphone 4 backup folder and accurately translate the cell locations and timestamps into Google earth?

Other forum members helped him out. Indeed, an earlier forum, from November 2010, looked at the same file. kexan wrote on Nov 26:

We are currently investigating an iphone used during a crime, and we have extracted the geopositions located within consilidated.db for analysis. During this we noticed that multiple points have the same unix datestamp. We are unsure what to make of this. Its kind of impossible to be on several locations at once, and the points are sometimes all over town.

Going back even further, Paul Courbis wrote on his site (translated from the French), including a demo:

Makes it relatively easy to draw the data on a card to get an idea of ​​places visited by the owner of the iPhone..

I don’t have an iPhone so I’ve not been able to test this. But I’m guessing that this issue may have already been known for some time by some kind of folk. Indeed, there are tools in use by police and others that may have already exploited this kind of vulnerability.

Filling the Tablet Hole

This is a guest post by my old friend and collaborator, Robin Lubbock

I’m still waiting for this hole in the market to fill in. It’s the tablet hole. The space for a viewer/reader/player about the size of a novel. It’s easy to type on, it runs apps like an iPhone and everybody’s going to love it. But it’s not here yet.

 
Apple’s iPhone, let’s be frank, isn’t that wonderful a piece of technology. It’s a beautiful piece of sculpture: nice to look at and hold, and it’s just the right weight. But now that I’ve had mine for a year it has such a lag in its response time that it’s actually somewhat entertaining. You type, then sit back and after what seems like seconds you watch the keyboard apparently hitting keys of its own accord. Like one of those old pianos that plays itself, the keys moving in that wonderful ghostly way.

 
One impact the iPhone has had on me (and I’m sure I’m not alone) is that I now find myself touching screens everywhere and expecting them to do something. Of course by and large they don’t, which is disappointing. David Pogue had an article in the Times this week about screens that play images and music, but aren’t touch sensitive. He points out that one of the screens he reviews looks as if it was originally designed to be touch sensitive. But it isn’t. Either the market won’t bear the cost, or the technology won’t bear the burden.

 
Manufacturers of tablet sized computers still seem to be stuck with the choice between power and portability. So you have a rash of e-readers that aim to trickle out their power over a long time, and so have slow two-tone screens that can’t be asked to do very much.

 
Add to that the absence of a standardized platform for e-books and you’ve created an unmanageable mess of choices for users.

 
Somewhere on the heels of the Kindle and Sony’s e-reader, you’ll soon have Plastic Logic’s business e-reader (see demo): a reader that’s aimed at people who like to print out documents before they read them. This may sound a little bizarre as a business proposition, but the reader does have a touch sensitive (if rather slow) screen. This alone puts it ahead of other readers. But how will people with Kindle accounts use it?

 
These are murky waters, but they are turbulent with activity and they will clear one day. I hope it’s one day soon.

Finger Painting, Angling and Tuning the Cello: the New Computing

I’m not overwhelmed by Nokia’s new appstore, Ovi, but using it does help remind one of what the real revolution in computing is (I have been talking a lot about revolutions lately, but there are basically three: the information revolution, the computing revolution, and the mobile revolution, which I’ll address later.)

The computing revolution is this: a small device, about the size of your hand, which is called a phone, but isn’t, really. It’s what Nokia can only dream of: a device so smart that even ordinary people can use it. It’s called the iPhone, and listening to some friends talk about it the other night brought home just how great an impact it has wrought, and will have.

One was talking about working with someone who, during a long car drive, would take his iPhone and look like he was about to throw it away. Then he would stop, his hand mid air, and then he would look at the screen. And then do it again. At first my friend thought he was having some sort of seizure, or was just really upset about something.

Then he realized he was angling. With his iPhone. (I can’t find the app right now.)

My other friend has a tuner in his, so he can tune his cello. “It’s geeky I know, but when I come home at the end of the day I can be up and playing quickly,” he said. Just point the device at the cello, hit a string and the iPhone display will indicate whether it’s in tune.

Both of these are great examples of how computing fulfills its promise by giving the user something they actually want, when they want it and in a form that fits their environment. What’s more, it’s easy enough for them to buy, install and use that they’re actually using it.

Which gives you some idea of how far behind the likes of Nokia are, and how long users have been waiting for this revolution to happen.

Then there’s the New Yorker cover, all drawn on the iPhone:

Colombo’s phone drawing is very much in the tradition of a certain kind of New Yorker cover, and he doesn’t see the fact that it’s a virtual finger painting as such a big deal. “Imagine twenty years ago, writing about these people who are sending these letters on their computer.” But watching the video playback has made him aware that how he draws a picture can tell a story, and he’s hoping to build suspense as he builds up layers of color and shape.

What I like about his story is that a) he has all the tools he needs in his pocket, just like the angler and the cello guy and b) he talked about not feeling too exposed—the painter, painting in a public place–because everyone assumed he was just checking email. This is a significant mini revolution in itself; a few years back, pre-Palm, someone poking around on a small screen in a public place might have seemed weird, but now the idea of what we do in social spaces has changed entirely.

(Now someone standing on a corner reading a paper or watching the world go by is viewed with suspicion.)

I’m no shill for Apple, but I think there’s a compound shift taking place here: by keeping the design elegant, making it easy for developers and users, the iPhone has captured the imagination of both. These guys may not be angling and tuning in a few years’ time, but already significant rivers have been crossed.

Now users have access to functions and features that they may not have considered the terrain of computing, but which now are part of their lives.

Computing will never be the same.

The Failure of the Open Field

It’s great that Apple has created a new platform with the iPhone and the App Store. But it’s also a ripping indictment of the personal computer industry—and cellphone industry—thus far. And not to be too nice to Apple: The beautiful stuff we’re seeing with the iPhone is mainly about pastime—not about productivity (or creativity.)

Here’s what Apple has done right: It’s created a beautiful device that works and seduces. It’s created a single environment and process for people to be able to buy, download and install applications. And then it’s set some standards so things don’t get out of hand.

This is something that should have been done years ago. Microsoft had oh so long to come up with a way for third-party developers to produce good applications and have them certified and delivered in a way that makes it easy for consumers to install them (and the developers to make a decent living from them.) Instead we have a world where increasingly users are reluctant to download apps because even the best of them come front-loaded with crapware and configuration changing tweaks.

Nokia and the other big cellphone players had a decade to get their act together: To make phones connect seamlessly with computers, and for third party developers to come up with applications that made their devices compelling. I hate installing anything on my N95 because I know it’s a nightmare. Why bother?

Now Apple have done what needed to be done. They’ve done well and they deserve to take over the market for these reasons alone. Now the iPhone has become an extraordinary device capable of some spine-tingling stuff. Computers, finally, are tapping into the creativity of individual developers. And at a price point that’s not free, but for most people is as cheap as makes no difference.

I doubt Microsoft will get it. I doubt Nokia will get it. That makes me sad. But I also have a deeper regret. That, because it’s Apple, I don’t think we’ll now see the really full potential of software ideas and development, because Apple is still a very closed-in world. That is part of the reason for its success. Making everything a single pipe tends either succeeds spectacularly or fails dismally.

But it also caps its potential. By acknowledging this success we’ve also admitted that the online chaos that we thought would work, would somehow organize itself, has not worked. Try to find a decent application for WIndows XP. Or for your N95. Try to browse and just see what’s out there, and experiment. You’re brave if you do. Apple’s walled garden approach is a roaring success because we’ve failed to make the unmown field work. And we had long enough.

From the Desk of David Pogue – So Many iPhone Apps, So Little Time – NYTimes.com

Puppy Love, Army Trojans and Perfecting the Phone Call

I make an appearance on the excellent Breakfast Club show on Radio Australia each Friday at about 01:15 GMT and some listeners have asked me post links to the stuff I talk about, so here they are.

Love on the net

Teenage social networking isn’t so bad, according to the MacArthur Foundation. According to the lead researcher on the project, called the Digital Youth Project, “their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.”

The study, part of a $50 million project on digital and media learning, used several teams of researchers to interview more than 800 young people and their parents and to observe teenagers online for more than 5,000 hours.

The bit I like in the NYT report is the shameless flirting that goes on, cleverly disguised:

First, the girl posted a message saying, “hey … hm. wut to say? iono lol/well I left you a comment … u sud feel SPECIAL haha.” A day later, the boy replied, “hello there … umm I don’t know what to say, but at least I wrote something …”

U.S. Military Under Attack

Spooked by the rapid spread of a worm called Agent.btz, the U.S. military has banned everything from external hard drives to “floppy disks.”

USBs are a problem: Lenovo this week offered a software package to XP users with a Trojan dropper called Meredrop, found in one of the drivers.

And Telstra earlier this year handed out USB drives at a security conference that were infected with malware.

Could it be China?  The conclusions reached in this year’s US-China Economic and Security Review are far more dramatic than before. In 2007, it says, about 5m computers in the US were the targets of 43,880 incidents of malicious activity — a rise of almost a third on the previous year.

Much of the activity is likely to emanate from groups of hackers, but the lines between private espionage and government-sponsored operations are blurred. Some 250 hacker groups are tolerated, and may even be encouraged, by Beijing to invade computer networks. Individual hackers are also being trained in cyber operations at Chinese military bases.

 

How to Make the Perfect Phone Call

According to the UK Post Office, the perfect phone call should last nine minutes, 36 seconds and contain a mix of chat about family news, current affairs, personal problems and the weather.

Three minutes of that should be spent catching up with news about family and friends, one minute on personal problems, a minute on work/school, 42 seconds on current affairs and 24 seconds on the weather. Chat about the opposite sex should last 24 seconds. 12 seconds of every call should be set aside for a little quiet contemplation.

One in five people said they spent most time on the phone to their mother. The research, by the Post Office, revealed that the phrase “I’ll get your mother” is common. Only three per cent of people named their father as the person they spent most time on the phone with.

Susan042764

“Please help!,” she writes. “I took my husband’s iPhone and found a raunchy picture of him attached to an email to a woman in his sent email file. When I approached him about this, he admitted that he took the picture, but says that he never sent it to anyone.

“He claims that he went to the Genius Bar at the local Apple store and they told him it is an iPhone glitch – that photos sometimes automatically attach themselves to an email address and appear in the sent folder, even though no email was ever sent.

“Has anyone ever heard of this happening?,” she asks. “The future of my marriage depends on this answer!” Read more here.

links for 2008-09-11

  • Avego.com is where travelers cooperate to make the whole transport system more efficient, saving us all money, wasted time and reducing pollution.

    A 5-seat car traveling with only a driver is inherently inefficient, and yet 85% of the time, that’s how cars travel in much of the world. With our iPhone GPS technology, web services and your participation, we can fill up those empty seats.

  • Did I get enough exercise today? How many calories did I burn? Am I getting good quality sleep? How many steps and miles did I walk today? The Fitbit Tracker helps you answer these questions.

  • Swype was developed by founders Cliff Kushler and Randy Marsden, along with a very talented team of software programmers and linguists.

    Cliff is the co-inventor of T9, the standard predictive text-entry solution used on over 2.4 billion mobile phones worldwide. He is the named inventor on multiple patents related to alternative text entry.

    Randy is the developer of the onscreen keyboard included in Windows, with an installed base of over a half a billion units. He is a recognized leader in the field of assistive technology and alternative computer input.

    Together, their experience is unmatched in developing onscreen keyboard-based text input solutions for mobile touch-screen devices.

  • ShiftSpace (pronounced: §) is an open source browser plugin for collaboratively annotating, editing and shifting the web.

  • # Create and track invoices you issue to clients.
    # Determine what you’re owed, by whom, and when it’s due.
    # Keep track of timesheets for yourself and your employees.
    # Notify your clients of new invoices.
    # Create interesting reports and analyze payment history
    # Save time & collect your money.

The iPhone Dream

Shocking pricing from New Zealand’s vodafone, the first country to launch the iPhone 3G. A $200 iPhone? More like $2,000-$5,000 after charges.

As ReadWriteWeb points out:

Carrier greed worldwide is probably the major reason why the Mobile Web is struggling to take off.

You can’t blame them for trying to make some money while they still can, because that scraping sound is the rats trying to secure stowage on a sinking ship.

Vodafone NZ Charges “Like a Wounded Bull” For iPhone 3G – ReadWriteWeb

The iPhone Dream

Shocking pricing from New Zealand’s vodafone, the first country to launch the iPhone 3G. A $200 iPhone? More like $2,000-$5,000 after charges.

As ReadWriteWeb points out:

Carrier greed worldwide is probably the major reason why the Mobile Web is struggling to take off.

You can’t blame them for trying to make some money while they still can, because that scraping sound is the rats trying to secure stowage on a sinking ship.

Vodafone NZ Charges “Like a Wounded Bull” For iPhone 3G – ReadWriteWeb