Summer of Discontent: Running iOS5 Beta

I jumped in. A friend of a friend is a developer for iOS, and he had a couple extra device spots for a beta tester, so I signed up. I upgraded my iPhone 4 and iPad (original) to the iOS5 beta. It took me all of half a second to decide to do it.

The Dangers:
Now, a few days in, I can tell you I will never be so fast to jump in again. At least with my iPad. I just need to know the apps on there work. I lost several apps that are key to my work flow. I don’t have to have most of them on my iPhone, but I use them on the iPad daily. I don’t blame the app developers (And I for sure don’t go post negative reviews on the app store about it!), they should not have to support a beta software. That’s why it’s a beta. I should have updated one and not the other. But I wanted to play with iMessage and sync docs back and forth through iCloud.

But my iPad isn’t a toy. I use it for work. Suddenly key apps did not work. I know that they will work again, but for now I’m out of luck. I am waiting eagerly for the next version of the beta, hoping it magically fixes these important-to-me apps. Take it from me, rushing headlong into beta testing is not smart.

Now running it on my iPhone, that is another story.

The Cool Factor:
There is something narciisiticlly nice about being the center of attention. People gather around as you demonstrate the features they have been hearing about in the newest version of iOS. They cannot get this new thing for months, but they want it and you have it. There are enough parts of the new beta working that you can show it off, but just be sure not to expect glitch free bragging. Invariably, something will drop. That’s OK, this is a beta. It’s not supposed to be perfect. And it is cool.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this is to use the features mentioned in the keynote. iOS5 is going to be amazing. I would go on about how cool it is, but I don’t want to say too much.

The NDA:
The Non Disclosure Agreement is pretty intense. I don’t blame Apple. Beta software isn’t perfect, and no company wants people complaining about what may or may not be working. So, I won’t be talking much about it, even though some blogs feel free to say plenty.

In the meantime I eagerly await the next version of the beta, in hopes that my summer won’t be completely jacked up by my impetuousness. I’d roll my iPad back, if I could. But, in the meantime I wait, and use alternative apps to get my work done. Oh, and enjoy a great new iOS from Apple.


RIP Flip

I’ll bet the founders of Pure Digital are smiling this week. Cisco, who bought them and their popular line of Flip handheld cameras, shut down manufacture of the line. After spending $590 million on the company two years ago, Cisco shut them down. There are all kinds of reasons why Cisco might want to do this, but the plain fact is that if the Flip line up was still pulling in the cash it did back in 2009, they would have either kept it or sold it off.

In many ways, this is like Kleenex announcing they will no longer make tissue. I mean, Flip had significant name recognition. people would talk about buying a Flip camera, and mean buying a handheld camera. They made it easy to carry a video camera anywhere, and get good looking video that was easy to share on your computer.

And then they didn’t do anything else. They owned the handheld camera market. And then they stopped innovating, stopped improving. Oh, they released a few new devices. One with a larger screen. A larger capacity Mino. There were lways rumors of new Flips, one that could use WIFI to publish directly to the internet video sharing site of your choice. One that could stream video from the camera. Vaporware.

So, with no real enhancements to entice new purchases, once everyone who wants a Flip has a Flip, how do you make money again? Its not like they are poor quality, they last for years.

And the competition isn’t waiting around. I don’t mean Flip-like handhelds. Most of those are still offering the same features as a Flip. We use the now discontinued (But if you get lucky you can find one) Kodak Zi8 for work. It offered a slightly more “pro” set of features with external power and external audio input. (But most people buying Flip-like camcorders didn’t care about pro features.)

The real competition came from Smart Phones and iPod/Music Players. When Apple introduced the 5th Gen iPod Nano, it had a camera. Steve Jobs even said they were competing with Flip (name recognition). Now, you can capture video on a device that also did something else. A device smaller than the Flip Mino. These were not HD videos yet, but it was the beginning of the end. One generation of devices later, and every Smart Phone and iPod Touch could not only capture HD video, but edit and upload right from the device.

I own a Flip Mino, an iPod Touch, and an iPhone 4. Which of these do you think I will carry if i am trying to lighten the stuff in my pockets? I am letting my kids play with the Flip. I am taking the device that let’s me work and play, capture video, edit and upload. And lately I have been using the video capability through apps that add effects. It just does more than the Flip.

I have a friend who was lamenting the demise of Flip. He loves his Flip. He couldn’t believe they were not going to be available in the future. He pulled out his Flip Ultra HD. It’s the same one he has owned for a couple of years. These are the customers Flip could have capitalized on if they had offered anything worth upgrading to. Give him a Flip with WIFI, and he would have been posting to Youtube in about 3 seconds. Yes, his iPhone could do the same thing, but he likes to use the Flip. he just doesn’t like to use it enough to keep buying new ones that do the exact same thing his current one did.

The death of the Flip is a cautionary tale for every technology company. You cannot sit back with your successful product and expect it to stay successful. You must keep improving.

The iPad 2: Was I Close and Will I Buy It?

Back in the middle of January I joined the speculation about what the new iPad 2 would be.

I was right about the outside of the iPad. Your old case won’t fit. It’s thinner than the iPhone 4, and a little lighter.

I was wrong about the higher resolution display. Maybe next time. But there is a better graphics package.

Both cameras appeared. The rear one turned out to be the same as the one in the iPod Touch. Not great, but good for 720p video and Facetime.

iOS 4.3 will bring mobile hotspot, but only to the iPhone. But the Airplay features are going to be amazing.

Generally, the iPad 2 was a decent upgrade. Double the processing speed, and 9 times the graphic power. The addition of cameras and Facetime rounds out the Apple line. These should help keep Apple ahead of the pack.

But, I won’t be getting one, soon anyway. I like the upgrades, but my current iPad is serving my needs just fine. I wish that the new iMovie would run on it, but I can always use my laptop for editing. It’s a ice upgrade, and once they come out and the reviews come in, I could be convinced, but for now I will wait a while.

What If TV Were Crowdsourced?

If TV were to be interactive, and you could influence it on a whim, what would you do? Try to influence major plot decisions only? Or would you delve into the mundane?

The thing to overcome is the length of the production schedule. Live TV could do this so easily. Send a text, post on Facebook or twitter to affect the show, live. We’ve seen something similar with the various talent shows, but this wouldn’t be overnight voting, but could be instant polls during the show, a whole new level of interactivity. There have been a couple of shows and movies that tried to use apps on mobile devices. They would push data from the show to the people, but there wasn’t a lot of information going to the show producers from the people.

Do people want this level of interaction?

The Future of Christian TV: A TV Distribution Idea

For over a year now I’ve had this idea. I’ve been thinking about it, and watching the world shift, waiting for technology to catch up with the idea.

I go to conferences and hear presenters talk about how we need to change the culture from within, how we can use the system to influence entertainment and our world. And I love that we have more and more Christians in the entertainment business. Christian writers, producers and actors and the rest. These people are making a mark in the industry, but what if we saw a trend in the consumption of media, and could actually lead the industry and distribute quality Christian content to a huge audience?

I have seen Christians do amazing things with movies. Ever since the Passion of The Christ showed studios that a religious movie can make money, the doors have been open. The new funding, production and distribution model that people like Sherwood Baptist and Possibility Pictures has developed over the last few years has caused ripples across the entire movie industry.

I want to talk about TV.

The current pay TV/educational license model in Christian TV is limited in reach, and the donor base is drying up. Younger audiences are not responding to this type of TV.

Quality Christian TV is still shut out of the major networks. We may see the occasional show like Seventh Heaven or Touched by an Angel, but generally there are no TV shows that routinely show characters dealing with real world issues from a biblical perspective.

What if we could change that? What if we could use emerging technology to reach millions?

In 2009 the Wall Street Journal reported that the median age for TV viewers climbed to 50 for the first time in history. (source: The Last TV Evangelist by Phil Cooke, pg 19). More and more people are not choosing network TV as their first screen. Younger people are still consuming media, but they are not limited to TV networks to find it.

Netflix boasts over 20 million subscribers, with huge increases as more and more methods of viewing their content come available.

Well over 40 million people view content on Hulu, and that number keeps growing.

YouTube has over 120 million viewers, watching everything from funny home movie to full length feature films.

Set top Internet TV boxes are becoming more and more popular. The new Apple TV sold 1 million units in less than 4 months.

Roku hit a million boxes sold in 2010 as well, with over $50 million in revenue. Forecasts are that they will reach $100 million in revenue in 2011.

Google TV has hit some roadblocks with content, but I think their issues have to do with how they approach content acquisition. But you can still view Netflix, and the company is reportedly working on a deal with Hulu Plus.

A recent survey by JP Morgan reports that 28% of cable subscribers would consider canceling cable and going with web video. If they already use Netflix to stream video, the number rises to 47%

Who watches TV online?

Lab 42 surveyed 400 people of varying ages and backgrounds who use social media. -slide- Over 72% of those under 34 said they already watch TV shows online. The younger they were the more likely they were to watch TV online. The top 3 services they used to watch TV online: 1. YouTube. 2. Hulu. 3. Netflix. The kind of show they watched most? 45% said episodic TV. Only 3% said they watched religious programs online.

How many social media users are there? Consider Facebook. In 2010 the number of Facebook users grew from 337 million to 585 million. That’s more than 7 new users every second. Of the 585 million, over 428 million are age 34 and younger. 147 million of those are in the US, and over 50% are age 18-34.

Remember 72% of social media users 34 and under watch TV online? If that number holds true worldwide, there 308 million people in the world who already watch TV online, and over 53 million 18-34 year olds in the US who already watch TV online. Even if you discount all of these numbers, it is obvious that there is a huge trend among younger audiences to watch TV online. Millions and millions of people make up a huge potential audience.

Television broadcasting is in the middle of the largest shift in content delivery since cable was invented. In the next few year we will see the Internet become the primary source for video consumption. Networks are scrambling to figure out how to stay profitable.

With the shift in how people get content, there will no longer be network locks at every door.

Now is the time to use new methods of delivery for quality episodic Christian content. We can bypass the network gatekeepers, and create a new funding model for TV. (Not just Christian TV, but all TV) We can bypass the networks, and make content available to millions and millions of people. We can create shows and distribute them directly on services like Netflix and Hulu, or through YouTube, or any other web video outlet.

For this to work you need three things-

Show– Above all the show has to be good. Period. The model only works if people want to watch it more than once. If you don’t have the right show, stop and go home. This is the first and most important factor in success.

Tech– We have to use every method possible, every avenue available to deliver content. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Vimeo, or whatever. This model of Christian TV production is only possible because of the shift in tech. The cost of production keeps falling, and we can use advances in technology to produce great looking shows for a fraction of the cost of traditional network shows.

Marketing– We have to cut through the noise. Without the networks to filter content, and serve as a point of consumption, show producers must figure out how to stand out in the crowd, how to get watched. And because the new media revolution is interactive, social media will be a huge part of that. We must use every means to get people to watch the show, and empower them to share the show with others, recommending it within their own spheres of influence. Video diaries, highlights, contests, online chats with actors, fan pages, all disseminated through social media. This approach, combined with a traditional media campaign, can create a growing ground swell of viewers. The more viewers, the easier it is to get sponsors. The more sponsors, the more shows we can produce.

So, that’s the model: distribute an episodic show through online video channels with significant interaction with audience. I’m positive I’m not the only person thinking along these lines. This isn’t rocket science, the future of TV is coming our way and it will be hard to miss. I’m sure things will have to be tweaked, and there’s definitely stuff I’ve missed. This is not a perfect plan. And as the world keeps shifting, things will have to be adjusted. But this can work. And we have to try it. We cannot let this chance pass us by.

So what’s the next step? I need to find a show idea. Something that appeals to 18-34 year olds. It needs to be Christian, but not sappy. Fiction or reality show, it needs to appeal to non religious people. Something that shows real people in real situations reacting to life from a biblical perspective. From a budget perspective, reality TV may be more feasible, and those shows seem popular with young adults.

I am still going to be a church media pastor. I will still be working at my job for the knowable future, and this is a spare time project. And then it takes a lot of work… It will only work if God is in it, because I know I don’t have the knowledge, or the capability to do it on my own. It probably won’t happen fast, but it can happen.

The New iPod Touch: Review

I recently got rid of my old iPod Touch 8GB (2nd Gen) and purchased the new iPod Touch 32GB. I’ve only used it a short while, but here is an initial review.

It’s fast. Much quicker than the 2nd Gen I had before. iOS 4 runs well, with all features enabled. The 2nd Gen Touches could not do multi tasking and such. I have not used Gamecenter much, but it works great.

Going from 8Gb to 32Gb was a big leap, but allows us to store a lot more video and pictures. We use the iPod Touch when we travel to send video to a small flat screen in the car.

I know it’s not as good as the iPhone 4, but man, is it good. My 3GS doesn’t hold a candle to this. Everything looks great on it.

Video Playback:
As expected, it plays back video wonderfully. I can use the videos I ripped using handbrake and the slightly altered Apple TV settings. They look great. Otherwise it is like previous iPod Touches.

I have not used this much, but it is very easy and can be very useful. I had a 20 minute conversation with a friend out of state. It’s not like having a face to face conversation, but you can pick up on visual cues on the other end. if you need to show something to someone, or just let other family members see the kids, this is a great feature.

It’s simple enough that anyone can use it, and as a result, will likely be more successful than other video chat features on other phones. Using the iPod for this was very easy, my Apple ID email is the address that FaceTime uses instead of a phone number. I have had a couple of times playing around where the other person’s iphone 4 was not able t connect. one error message said the other person needed to upgrade their phone OS to 4.1.

The still camera is a huge disappointment. I knew that this would be the case before I ever ordered it, and I did not buy the iPod Touch for the ability to take still pictures. But, to have a 0.7 megapixel camera in today’s marketplace doesn’t make any sense. I would almost rather they not even include the ability to take stills.

Photos loaded on the iPod from iPhoto look amazing on the new display.

Video Capture:
The iPod Touch shoots 720p. It does a good job in different lighting environments, except for low lit areas. It is about on par with other single CMOS chip video cameras with small apertures here. There is no real adjustment, but point and shoot. You can record from the rear camera, or use the front facing camera (at a lower resolution, of course).

Like all single CMOS sensor cameras, the iPod Touch suffers from the problem of the rolling shutter:

If you pan swiftly, any vertical lines appear to lean. It’s a known problem. Even the Sony A1U I use has issues with this. The only solution is to not pan quickly when there are vertical lines in the shot.

Generally, I am very satisfied with the video capture capability. Microphone is on the back. i am working on ways to get external microphones into the iPod Touch and iPhone. The headphone jack seems to use the same wiring as the iPhone, and should allow for an external microphone input with the right conversion.

Overall I am happy with it. The still camera is my biggest gripe, but that was expected.

Touching FaceTime

This is a picture of my first ever FaceTime chat. (The image has been altered to protect the innocent who didn’t know they were getting a picture taken.)

I’ll have more in depth review of the new iPod Touch very soon, but I wanted to talk about how the newest feature of the iOS family works with something that isn’t a phone. It was seamless. Simply launch FaceTime, log into your Apple ID, and make a “call”. I called a friend who had just had a baby a couple weeks ago. I had not talked to him since, and I knew he had just gotten an iPhone 4. So, I texted him to see if he was available. Then launched the app.

I found that I liked the landscape mode best. I swapped to the rear camera once.

Talking by video is a whole new animal. I haven’t used Skype or even iChat before, so this was a pretty new experience for me. It’s definitely not like sitting the same room with someone, but you can send a receive visual cues and interact more than a simple phone call. But you have to hold device where you can be seen. And there’s not a lot of talking while doing something else.

Still, I liked it. The greeting from my friend was perfect, “Welcome to the future.”

A Note about Note Taking Apps

Ever since I’ve had access to an iPad, I’ve been on the search for the best note taking app out there. I’ve used several, ranging from free to pay versions. I had some great experiences, and some annoying ones. It came down to the basic note taking app that come standard, Awesome Note, and Evernote. Here’s what I wanted: Ability to sync between multiple devices, multimedia capability, and security.

The only one of those three that has any security is Awesome Note. I almost settled on this one. It looks great, can handle images, can sync (sort of) and has the ability to passcode folders and entries. I tried the Lite version for a while and got the “pro” version, ready to move forward. Then I started to run into problems.

First, there is no iPad version yet. So the iPhone version on the iPad is syncing to Google Docs, and the one on your iPhone is doing the same. The program cannot handle that. I always had multiple versions of notes. File management was a real problem between multiple devices. I tried to fix this by altering the Google Docs, and re syncing, just to find that I lost all of my folders, and some of my latest notes. If I hadn’t had the files on my other device I would have lost some very important data. All the folders and settings were wiped out.

Until Awesome Note comes out with an iPad version and a way to handle multi device sync, I won’t be settling for that app. So I was back to the included note app, with it’s limitations. It synced just fine, but no pics and no security.

Then I found Evernote. Free unless you need a lot of data transfer, the app has versions for the desktop, iPad and iPhone. The “cloud” is the master, so changing an entry and syncing means that the next time the other apps open, the latest version downloads. You can do all kinds of media, and there is a huge community surrounding this program. I have the Safari plugin where I can “clip” websites and save them as notes. I can edit on my laptop, phone, or tablet device and never worry about which is up to date. Then there’s the Trunk, with all kinds of free content.

The interface isn’t as fun as Awesome Note, but it works. And, if I really want to use the Awesome Note app, I can sync from it to Evernote. And I can use Seesmic to save twitter or facebook content.

The one thing it lacks is security. Sometimes I need confidential information, and carrying it around on an open program makes me nervous. I know, it’s no different than writing it on paper, but it feels less secure. The only option is to use the passcode function on your device. Probably something you should do anyway, so that is how I am securing my data.

There is still a ton that Evernote does that I have not tried. And it seems that the community wants to make it better and more useful. There are probably a lot of other programs out that that work great, but for now I have settled on Evernote. if Awesome Note updates with an iPad app and fixes the sync issues, I may switch back. But I will still sync with the Evernote servers.

Preparing for The Touch: Testing Handbrake

Yesterday I ordered a new 32GB iPod Touch.

I could not resist it. I sold my old Touch and my old Apple TV, and upgraded to the 32GB model. With HD video captures, and the new Retina display, it looks great. And according to Apple, it will display:

H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats

Which means that my old handbrake settings may now be obsolete. I have always tried to maintain settings that would allow video to be played across all of my iOS devices, iPods/iPhones, iPads and Apple TVs. Previously that meant that I needed to start with the iPod preset in Handbrake, and make adjustments.

With this new HD capable iPod, I suspect I can start with the Apple TV preset. I won’t know until I get the iPod Touch, but I have made a couple of test files. These files loaded and played on my iPad and iPhone 3GS.

I ripped the first Transformers movie with the Apple TV preset into two files. On one I left “large file size” checked, on the other I removed that. I added “iPod 5G Support”.

There was no discernable difference, either in file size or quality.
file size

Both files were exactly the same size. I have no idea what “Large File Size” does. Both files were significantly smaller than my universal settings, using that yielded a file at 3.38 GB. Oddly, this larger file will play on all iOS devices, while the one I ripped yesterday will only play on “HD” capable ones. This is primarily to do with the percentage of constant quality I select in the universal files. I found I liked the higher percentage of 65%, more than the preset 60%. Anything over 65% ends up with a huge files. But as you can see, the 60% mark produces much smaller files.

I took a couple of screen captures of these last two rips. The compression artifacts that you see are in every version I have ripped with every setting. The combination of dark with smoke does not compress well. But, you can also see that either version delivers the same compression artifacts. Both load onto an iPad and my iPhone 3GS. I assume they will load onto the new iPod Touch. They will not load onto older iPods or older iPhones.

You can see the smoke artifacts here:
smoke artifacts

A general action shot with light and dark:
robot attack

I was very pleased with it’s performance on the iPad. The image looked great. Now that the iPods/iPhones have the ability to play higher quality video files, I may switch to the Apple TV preset all the time. I know I won’t be able to watch them on my wife’s 4th Gen Nano, but with an iPod, iPad, an iPhone 3GS and an Apple TV that can play them, I don’t think I will miss it.

My goal has been great looking video, with decent file sizes. The Apple TV preset, adding the “iPod 5G support” gives me both on all of the “HD” capable iOS devices, as well as the Apple TV.

iPods and Apple TV

So, after my pre-announcement post, I never came back and commented on the actual announcment.

First, the ability to stream was very nice. I suspect their main purpose was to tie in the Apple TV as a Stream-Only device. Let me say that the stream quality was amazing. I watched full screen on a 30″ Apple display, and could not believe the detail. There were a couple of hiccups, and my bandwidth had some issues, but overall it was very good.

Apple TV
Well I was surprised by what was announced. I really thought that Apple TV would be an iOS device. I can understand why they are not doing that yet, but I wish they had. What they did announce isn’t really complete. It’s a start. I do not think the $1 TV rentals are a good idea. I won’t be renting them. If they could offer network subscriptions or something, I would think about it.

But the streaming model is solid. It’s a good start. Adding Netflix is great. Now they need Hulu Plus. I’d love for Apple to create their own streaming “channel”. So, it’s not complete, but its a start. I miss the local storage a bit, but will not miss the time it took to sync.

And for $100, I pre ordered it. I’ve already got the entertainment center set up, with an HDMI cable waiting.

I think they made the right move on the Shuffle. The Nano is probably the right thing as well, although I hate to see the video capture and playback go away. Moving to HD only capture devices is smart, but a little sad. Still, I don’t know many that used the other versions of the Nano to watch video. I’ve tried it, and didn’t go back.

The new Touch was what I am most excited about. The only disappointment for me was that you don’t get the 5 megapixel camera for stills. But the HD video capture and retina display is much appreciated. Faster processor and the 3 axis Gyro will make this even more of a gaming device.

I went ahead and sold my old Apple TV and iPod Touch to fund the purchase of this new one.

I like Game Center. I pay Microsoft $60 annually to get what Apple is doing for free. It’s a lot like Ping, in that it is a framework that hasn’t filled out yet, but the potential is there. We just need more games that take full advantage of it. We don’t need more games that simply let you share scores. We want internet multiplayer. Cro Mag Rally has this, and it’s fun. This will only get better.