Your guide to sanity amidst wild iPhone speculation and rumors

When people ask me what I think of the latest rumors about next iPhone, I do some research. In most cases, it turns out that what reputable industry experts predict is the exact opposite of what the rumor-mongers are blabbing. Utterly unfounded rumors abound because posting a rumor about the iPhone is a quick way to get headlines and readers — for about 24 hours.

The next time you hear a wild iPhone rumor and want to know Could this really be true?, the quickest way to find out is to see what these folks are saying on the subject:

  • The Macalope is anonymous pundit who writes regularly for Macworld online (but, they hasten to assert, is not on their staff). Excerpt from a typical Macalope column: “Thank god Consumer Reports is on this, because you know you won’t get a minute of sleep until the magazine that your parents used to figure out which blender to buy weighed in on how hot the new iPad is.”
  • John Gruber blogs at Daring Fireball; often his daily post is a listing of current rumors/reports and his take on them. (What about a new iPhone with a huge 4.6″ screen? Gruber said “Bullshit.”)
  • Glenn Fleishman Tweets as @GlennF and is a regular contributor to the Babbage science and tech blog at the The Economist. The Babbage posts are excellent big-picture explanations of technology. They might even inoculate you against the next wave of wild rumors.

Please let me know who else we should add to the list of reliable Apple/iPhone prognosticators.

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Alternatives to MobileMe Galleries

Today I visited the Naples, Florida, Macintosh Users Group meeting to hear Vickie Kelber’s presentation on alternatives to MobileMe photo/video galleries.

MobileMe will be going away in June. Many functions (such as mail and calendars) have already been moved to iCloud, but some, like the galleries, will simply vanish. For people who have relied on MobileMe galleries for one-step publishing to the Web, losing galleries is a real pain.

Oddly, I’ve rarely used the galleries — I publish directly to Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube, all of which have become increasingly easy to work with. However, if the people you want to see your photos or videos don’t have accounts with those services, and don’t want to establish accounts, they won’t be able to see your content. When I encountered that situation last night, I used a MobileMe gallery to host a video of I’d taken of dolphins in the Everglades.

I learned today that if you have created MobileMe galleries and want to save their video or photo contents before the services ends, Apple provides detailed directions. A photo site called ZangZing has automated the process, and will transform your MobileMe photo galleries (but not videos) into a MobileMe Gallery Alternative.

Kelber, a photographer and traveler writer, covered several factors people should consider in selecting a service to replace MobileMe galleries:

  1. If you want to store, or make available for download, high-resolution photos, consider a professional service and be prepared to pay for storage.
  2. If privacy is a consideration, use a service like Flickr that allows you to password-protect a set of photos.
  3. Consider whether your friends are willing to join a photo or video site in order to view your content. Some sites, like YouTube, require people to register. Others, like Flickr, don’t.
  4. Some sites work only with photos uploaded from your computer; others allow you to upload photos or video directly from an iPad or iPhone.
  5. Some sites require you to pay for additional storage space or bandwidth (for high-resolution photos, or large or long videos).

Kelber noted that in recent weeks storage sites have created special services for photo storage and sharing:

  • Cloud has provided the opportunity to create photo journals, which can replace photo galleries.
  • Dropbox recently added an automatic photo upload feature (and increased the size of  free account storage if you use Camera Upload).

A partial list of photo store/sharing sites that have free basic services:

  • Dotphoto
  • Flickr (Yahoo service, which is integrated in to iPhoto for one-step sharing)
  • Photobucket (also video)
  • Picasa (Google)
  • Shutterfly (with integrated publishing services)
  • Snapfish (with integrated publishing services)
  • ZangZing

A short list of video sharing sites:

  • Photobucket — photos and videos; closely integrated with Facebook and also has an iPhone app.
  • YouTube — Free. The 15-minutes time limit for videos has been lifted for some users. You can share directly from iMovie.
  • Vimeo — 500MZB a week (no time limit). More for $60 a year (Vimeo Plus); you can share directly from iMovie. Note that Vimeo been selected by Apple as the instant-sharing site for video publishing in Mountain Lion (here’s why).
  • Video Sprout — only 100MB; completely private

I’ve included here only sites that people at the presentation were enthusiastic about. If you have an additional site or service you’d recommend, please leave a comment and let me know why it’s worth considering.

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My AT&T iPhone prediction: Charges for opt-out text message spam will piss off customers

I’m not much into horoscopes and fortune-telling, which is why I didn’t have a crystal ball on my desk to throw across the room and smash after talking with AT&T’s billing department this morning.

"I see sleazy billing tactics in your future."

It all began when I noted that my AT&T iPhone bill was $11 more than usual. There were no changes in my calling or data activity, so I looked at the long, long list of “usage charges,” like the regulatory cost recovery charge, city utility users surcharges, federal universal service charge, county 911 service fee, state 911 service fee, WA state telecom tax, city telecom tax, and city district telecom tax.

No changes there, either.

Then, at the very bottom of the pages-long bill, under “Mobile Purchases & Downloads Charges,” I spotted the $10.94 subscription to “Horoscopegenie Alert,” allegedly purchased March 4 from “WiseMediaUS.” A 1-800 number for them appeared on my bill, but I was wary of any contact with them.

Instead, I immediately called AT&T customer service and asked what in the name of Nostradamus was going on. I assured them that no one else has access to my phone, and I that I did not buy this service.

The rep was sympathetic. From the fluid way he went on to explain and to quickly remove the  charge from my bill, it was very clear that AT&T is getting a lot of calls like mine.

According to his explanation, “Horoscopegenie Alert” is one of many third-party services for which AT&T handles the billing. He patiently explained that I had probably given my phone number to a website and that their terms of service included a subscription to…

“Nope,” I said.

He swiveled quickly to a more plausible explanation. Had I received a text message offering this service?

Yes, I said. And I had not replied to it.

He did not seem at all surprised by this, and didn’t attempt to explain how it might have been added to my bill without my replying to the text message. (I was also intrigued that while in AT&T’s view I had apparently subscribed to this automatically renewing “service,” I had never received any horoscopes.)

I later discovered that Horoscopegenie Alert is opt-out spam — you must text a reply to them in order to avoid being signed up for a subscription. And I discovered that “WiseMediaUS,” AT&T’s business partner for whom they handle billing, is unfindable via Google. Nice, huh?

The rep not only quickly volunteered to remove the subscription and charge from my account, he suggested that I use a free AT&T service that blocks text-message based subscriptions from being added to your account. Want it? All you have to do is call AT&T and ask.

If you receive any unwanted text messages from strange vendors, don’t ignore them! Check your bill, call A&T, and get free subscription-blocking. They’re suspiciously eager to offer it. My guess is that AT&T is doing rapid damage-control to back out of this ill-advised third-party billing arrangement.

Posted in iPhone (General), iPhone apps, Smartphone use, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

iOS 5.1 — and the AT&T wallpaper surprise

iOS 5.1 for the iPhone is out. Here’s a quick guide to what it offers, and how to install it.

What’s new:

  • A smarter version of Siri (more)
  • The ability to delete individual images from Photo Stream
  • A camera activation button (to the right of the slider on the locked screen), so you can use the camera without unlocking the phone
  • An improved iTunes Match

Ars Technica finds the OS 5.1 update one big “meh,” citing 10 longstanding annoyances it has failed to address.

Note: You’ll also see the AT&T information at the top left shows as 4G icon. Unfortunately, this does not mean the hardware has been upgraded — unless you see “4G LTE” on a device, it’s not really the faster 4G. What you’re getting is a pepped-up version of AT&Ts 3G service and a new icon dreamed up by somebody in AT&T marketing.

To upgrade your iPhone from iOS 5* to iOS 5.1:

  1. Connect your phone to your computer
  2. Tap Settings on the phone’s homepage, scroll down to General, tap General, and tap Software Update
  3. Follow the instructions to download and install iOS 5.1 — it will take several minutes.

*NOTE: If you are not yet using iOS 5 and iCloud, and want to upgrade to iOS 5.1, you will need to install iCloud and download the new operating system via iTunes. Here’s some info on that upgrade path.

What’s strange:

iPhone 4G wallpaperIf you use AT&T for your iPhone, you may have sudden discovered yourself with a different wallpaper yesterday. Specifically, this one, with pink flowers:

My phone was back to normal today, and I don’t know if this affected iPads. But it was interesting!

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Judge orders AT&T to pay $850 to customer with “throttled” iPhone

A few months ago I wrote about why iPhone owners with AT&T’s legacy “unlimited data” plan might find it advantageous to switch to a cheaper limited plan — or to a limited data plan that includes tethering.

Now there’s another reason for making the switch. Users who actually take advantage of the “unlimited data” plan have found their data transmission slowed to a crawl by AT&T, which doesn’t want people to take advantage of the plan they’ve purchased.

A California court has ruled that by throttling data transmission, AT&T failed to provide one customer with the service he was paying for. The court has ordered AT&T to reimburse Matt Spaccarelli $850.

The contract iPhone users agree to with AT&T specifically prohibits them from engaging in a class-action suit, so Spaccarelli went it alone, taking his complaint to small claims court.

For details on the case, and the reasoning the judge used in making his decision, see this article by AP technology writer Peter Svensson. It also compares AT&T’s “throttling” practices with the “gentler” ones at Verizon and T-Mobile — valuable information if you are choosing a plan.

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Cookie Locator app says thin mints are near

It works.

I just got a notification from the Girl Scout Cookie Locator app that cookies will be arriving in my neighborhood Friday, March 2. The free iPhone app was developed by the Kellogg Company to enable you to find cookies. Keep in mind that it works only on official Girl Scout cookie-sales events, and is not intended to help you figure out where your spouse hid the last box of Samoas.

When the sales start, the app apparently will also tell me which flavors are available at which location.

It also purports to tell you what your cookie preference says about you…though I think just having the app on your iPhone says enough.

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Traveling? “Coverage?” app for just $1.99 through this weekend

Got "Coverage?"

Mel Martin at TUAW alerted us to a sale on “Coverage?” an app that lets you know in advance what mobile phone coverage is like on major carriers, by location. If you’re wondering what kind of coverage you’ll get at a vacation spot or at your in-laws’ place, this is the app to have. Through this weekend: $1.99.

For testing the signal strength where you are, I like Coverage Map (free), which lets me test my current carrier signal (a mediocre three bars) and Wi-Fi strength (1.2 Mbps down and 392 kbps up). It also displays (crowd sourced) signal data for the mobile carriers. You have to root around in the Help to figure out the features, but it’s got a lot of extremely useful data — particularly if you are contemplating changing carriers.

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Macworld Rapidfire talks: Short and sweet

One of the new events at Macworld | iWorld 2012 was RapidFire, a two-hour session of 5-minute Ignite-style talks. I’ve written on the Writer Way blog about strategies for preparing Ignite talks, and saw some of those same strategies used successfully at RapidFire.

A few of us employed the “10 tips” (or “5 tips”) approach to present highlights in a broad topic. A number of  presenters, including Chris Breen, focused tightly on a “how-to” topic. Breen’s “how to rip DVDs” was a standout because he recommended specific software, whipped you through the basic steps, and then spent time on the two or three points in the process where people would need help getting past arcane technical menus.

Having been one of the people who last year lobbied Paul Kent of IDG to add short talks to the Macworld | iWorld lineup, I was delighted to get to give one — and thrilled that the event was so crowded that they ended up turning people away at the door.

Here are a few reviews of RapidFire from press and bloggers (some of which mention my talk “The 10 Wildest Things People Do with Their iPhones”):

“The Best from Macworld’s RapidFire Event,” by Mike Vardy, Cult of Mac

“Brevity is the soul of wit at Rapid Fire session,” by Jeff Porten,

“10 MacWorld Rapid Fire Tips for Mac, iPhone, and iPad,” by IvanExpert

I’m still rooting through brochures, giveaways, business cards, and digital photos to assemble my list of cool iPhone apps from the show (and I found one that I think you’re going to love). Meanwhile, those of you who’d like a big-picture summary of the show should check out:

“Macworld | iWorld 2012: In a Word, Confident,” by Adam Engst, TidBITS. (It explains the very strange text message I got from Adam, telling me to look both ways when I cross the street.)

“Macworld|iWorld 2012 completes post-Apple transition to ‘iFan event’,” by Chris Foresman, Ars Technica

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First comments from Macworld / iWorld 2012

Macworld 2012 reinvented itself as Macworld/iWorld, adding a lot of shorter talks and benefitting from a vastly revitalized lineup of dealers.

I’ll be writing more about what I saw and did at the show in the next few days, focusing on favorite iPhone apps and accessories. Here’s quick picture of Todd Bernhard, writer for iPhone Life, with his distinctive name badge. Yes! It’s an iPad!

Posted in iPhone (General), iPhone accessory | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The iPhone turns 5

(image from the fCards iPhone app)

Has it really been five years since we sat in the audience at Macworld and saw the first iPhone unveiled?

In this article, looks at how the iPhone has evolved from its initial incarnation, including:

  • The App Store (2008)
  • Serious photography (iPhone 3GS)
  • New design (iPhone 4)
  • Siri (iPhone 4S)
Posted in iPhone (General), iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone apps | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments