Google News Goes Local, Finally

In a move that is sure to strike fear in the heart of local news providers such as your newspaper or TV affiliate, Google News has added the ability to see local news based on your location. Aggregating local news stories from a variety of sources is nothing new for Google News, but this is the first time we have been able to see a specific city’s news items as a news category.

iPhone 1.1.3 Update First Impressions

Apple posted the 1.1.3 iPhone update shortly after the keynote (as promised) and I managed to slowly grab it via AT&T’s 3G ExpressCard (~161MB…full firmware load). The upgrade behaves like a standard iPhone firmware update and upon restart, you are greeted with a dialog explaining how to move icons around.

NOTE: This is the first time I have ever seen a company use the term “wiggle” in official documentation or dialogs, but Apple clearly states that to move icons, you press and hold till they “wiggle”, after which you can then happily re-arrange to your heart’s content.

It’s a bit like playing one of those games where you need to put numbered squares in the right order (I see a game coming once the API is official). It is very nice being able to put things where *you* want them and it would be even nicer if you had the ability to delete – not just move – some of the default apps/icons (I never use the YouTube one). The addition of multiple screens shows (to me at least) that Apple is serious about the upcoming API since you would not need the extra real estate just for Safari links. You can even move the four standard icons – Phone, Mail, Safari, iPod – at the bottom of the main display (the horrible, built-in Mail has been relegated to screen number four, along with YouTube)!

Google Maps

Google Maps has had very clean visual update and the keynote video no doubt shows off the features very well (I haven’t seen it yet). The cryptic direction/location search icon has been replaced with more intelligent named buttons at the bottom. If you’re lost, just press the locator icon in the lower-left corner and you get an approximation of where you are. AT&T/Google seemed to know I was within the city proper [Seattle] but that was about it. I’ll test it in other areas and provide updates if it seems to be any more accurate somewhere else in the greater Seattle area. If you want to toggle the visual display features (traffic, satellite view, etc) just hit the eye button in the lower-right. Apple has added a very slick, semi-transparent page-curl visual candy that really works well for this feature, although I can see it getting very old if it is callable from the API, since many developers will be tempted to use it [incorrectly].

Safari

Mobile Safari has a new “+” icon on the bottom toolbar and you use it to either make a bookmark, mail a link to someone or add the current page/viewport to your home screen. This option has made it very easy to add “application” icons for hosted Google Mail (their recent update is slick), Google Reader, mobile Twitter and Meebo. If you already have a URL open in a Mobile Safari “tab”, the home screen icon will switch you to it instead of creating a new one (nice). The bookmark icon used to be near the location text field and a search icon has replaced it which takes you directly to the search text field. Again, very subtle-yet-welcome change.

SMS Messaging

While I do not have much need to send SMS messages to multiple recipients, that feature seems to work as advertised (I annoyed a few folks just to test it). It will be interesting to see if the recently developed iPhone SMS backup applications account for what is probably a change in the underlying schema.
While I would have liked Mobile iChat, an early API release and some other wish-list features, this 1.1.3 upgrade adds some very nice capabilities, tweaks some visual elements in the right way and sets the stage for the February API release. While I haven’t trolled the iPhone hack blogs yet, I’m sure we’ll be seeing the reports confirming that this does, in fact, cause some consternation in that group.
The Google Mail folks are reporting on enhancements to IMAP mail integration with Mobile Mail and GMail. I’ll take a look at that once I get on Wi-Fi. It may be worth switching back to Mobile Mail, but the Mobile Safari interface is way too feature rich to toss aside. Similarly, I’ll take a look at the new lyrics feature of the iPod portion of the iPhone once I get back to my full music library.
If you’ve found any additional features I’ve missed, have some suggestions for good Mobile Safari home screen additions or want to sound off on your 1.1.3 update experience, definitely drop a note in the comments.

Mobile Web Bad, Mobile Data Good?

Mobile Web: So Close Yet So Far, a story in The New York Times gives US mobile web usage a B-minus grade. According to Rethink Research mobile web accounts for “12 percent of average revenue per user in 2007, far below the expected 50 percent” while Yankee Group says “only 13 percent of cellphone users in North America use their phones to surf the Web.” Terrible phones, puny network speeds and WAP browsers – no surprise that in a society where people lug laptops even on vacation, mobile web as outlined by NYT isn’t doing well.
merlinpccard.jpgIn sharp contrast, mobile data seems to be doing well for the US carriers. Here is what they have raked in from wireless data: $8.6 billion (2005), $15.8 billion (2006) and $17.7 billion for first three quarters of 2007. Assuming that the non-messaging data revenues are in the 50-60% (of the data revenues) range for the US carriers, that is pretty hefty growth.
A large push, one would guess is coming from the growing popularity of 3G cards, especially among the web worker/mobile worker crowd. There is anecdotal evidence things will change quite rapidly when we have mobile handsets with real browsers showing up in the sales isles. One such device is already showing its impact. I caught up with Omar Hamoui, Founder & CEO of AdMob, a mobile advertising start-up last week, and he said that over past 30 days the total share of traffic coming to their network from iPhone doubled from 0.4% to 0.8%. Google Maps usage went up after introduction of iPhone. Next year a whole slew of devices are coming to market situation will most certainly change.

Ashton Kutcher’s Latest Prank: Room 401, WTF

Among the many annoyingly-addictive gimmicks J.J. Abrams has helped loose upon the world — TV show cryptograms, mysterious movie trailers, Alias — is that inescapably virulent strain of marketing known as the interactive mystery. The latest show to employ the format, albeit without Abrams’ imprimatur: MTV’s Room 401, named after the hospital room where Harry Houdini died.
The show, EP’d by Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg, is a reality series that pranks unsuspecting people with terrifying (but fake) situations: Crabs scuttling Alien-like out of a man’s chest at a sushi restaurant, a man who deep-fries his hand, a rat inside an arcade game, you get the idea. The show also contains, apparently, a series of easter eggs — subliminal messages by a doo-rag wearing Kutcher, directing videos toward an online mystery.
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Task acknowledgment once and once only: I think it’s time

Outlook_logoAs I move between multiple devices, I’ve come to realize many efficiencies. There’s something to be said for using a hosted Exchange server and having access to all of my e-mail on two Windows Mobile phones, a UMPC, a convertible Tablet PC and a dual-boot desktop with XP and Vista. Yup, all of my mail, contacts, appointments and tasks are up to date on each of those devices. Sounds like nirvana, right?

It would be except for one teensy, tiny issue in the Outlook Calendar across all of these devices: appointment reminders. All of these reminders pop-up on the client side on each and every client device I use. I previously knew this, but got a nice refresher when I booted into XP on the desktop for the first time in five weeks. Once I opened up Outlook, my data synched up without issue, just as it should. And then came the reminders. Ugh!

I realize that these reminders are acted upon at the client level, but I think we’re ready for synchronized reminders on the server side. I know I am: are you? Note: if I’ve overlooked a setting here in Outook 2003 or 2007, someone just let me know: 20 reminders this morning was about 19 more than I was ready for! 😉 Perhaps there’s an Exchange setting for this? I understand I may be in the minority here with multiple devices, but I suspect more folks will fall into the multiple device category before too much longer; isn’t the UMPC a companion device?

Blame it on Beaver

Phone companies are never to blame for anything. It is always someone else’s fault. Now, Verizon is blaming a beaver for being the cause of a service outage in North Eastern Michigan.

The outage began shortly after 8 a.m. on Thursday and lasted about six hours. About 62,000 customers were affected, including long-distance, Internet and cellular phone services. “From all indications, it appears a beaver picked it up and chewed it in half,” spokesman John VanWyck said. “I’ve heard of squirrels chewing aerial cable, but not this.