iPhone vs. iPhone? Or Android?

Apple's iPhone 4

It’s not an exaggeration to say that there’s a national love affair with Apple’s iPhone. Now that love affair is about to really blossom as the iPhone 4 is released from its bonds with AT&T and becomes available on Verizon Wireless. So naturally the question on every gadget lover’s mind is, should I finally get an iPhone now that I have a choice?

To answer that, consider the proverbial parental admonition: If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you jump, too?

It’s not hyperbole to point out that the “new” iPhone 4 on Verizon is really the old iPhone 4 (essentially the same model that’s available on AT&T). And that phone has already been eclipsed by other smart phones on the market–and is likely to be eclipsed by a new iPhone within a few short months.

That doesn’t mean Verizon won’t sell millions of the new/old iPhone. Apple has already sold more that 80 million of the handsets in the last 3 and a half years–in spite of one major fault: It doesn’t work well as a phone. Most people have been more mesmerized by apps than voice calls, anyway.

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Caraoke: Singin’ In the Car

Think of it as radio plus.

Rather than having providers stream music into cars through apps, car stereos and in-dash entertainment systems, which I wrote about in last weekend’s New York Times Automobiles section, Aha Mobile’s iPhone app bundles several driver-oriented services together. There’s local traffic (via Inrix), which sounds like a homily of nearby congestion and accident warnings. There are prerecorded podcasts from stations like Fox News Radio and NPR. There are comedy clips, and there’s even an application that will read your Facebook friends’ postings aloud. But what makes this software truly notable is one of the most peculiar car-oriented programs I’ve ever heard and one of the best examples of what an Internet-connected car radio can do.

The program, called Caraoke, lets Aha users record 15-second audio clips from behind the wheel as they sing along to their favorite songs. Then they share those clips with the entire universe of Aha users. The result is a bottomless jukebox of some of the worst, and funniest, caterwauling you’ve ever heard.

“It does tend to sound like the American Idol bloopers reel,” admits Robert Acker, chief executive of Aha Mobile, who also refers to the program as a “community-only content channel.” But even calling it “audio Twitter” or CB radio on steroids does not do it justice.

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Apple Scares Ellen?

Ellen on the iPhone

Apple scares even poor, adorable Ellen DeGeneres.

The other day the popular daytime host did a parody of the iPhone focused on how difficult it is to text on the touch screen. (It is, come on, admit it.) Cute, funny and relevant to many people's daily lives. After all, Apple has worked hard to become a part of the mainstream, and when you go mainstream people are bound to make fun of your little quirks.

But apparently, Apple didn't think it was very funny at all. And so, rather than doing a Jon Stewart, our irrepressible Ellen apologized the next day for making fun of the iPhone.

No, we are not kidding. Click on the image above and you can watch it for yourself. (Hmmmm, I wonder if Ellen owns any Apple stock?) As for those of us in the profession, this is getting even better than following the Microsoft anti-trust case.  

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Apple Makes the Week That Was

The Daily Show on Apple

Bash in a reporter's door: There's an app for that.

Jon Stewart doesn't do the best Jerry Lewis impersonation, but he does capture the zeitgeist in this segment on Apple's, uh, handling of Gizmodo outing the company's forthcoming iPhone update (expect an official announcement in June at Apple's regularly scheduled conference).

From nearly all quarters–fans, critics, and technophobes–the reaction to Apple's reaction has been pretty much universal: What's the big deal? It's just a phone. (Okay, some of my mainstream media colleagues fretted about the ethics of paying for the phone, but the same people pay for photos and other information, so it sounded more like sour grapes.)

Well, at least the whole crazy affair made for a nice break from worrying about morally bankrupt Wall Street types and oil-covered beaches. Check out the Daily Show clip, it picks up steam and as always there's a cute punchline.

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The Supersonic Suit

Why would anyone jump from 23 miles above the earth's surface?

To see what would happen–and because they know they'll be protected by a high-tech pressurized suit to protect them as they fall.

More than merely a daredevil stunt, the Red Bull Stratos project is a serious attempt to break the record for the highest freefall–120,000 feet above the earth–and in the process also become the first parachutist to break the sound barrier plummeting toward the ground at over 760 mph. It may sound crazy, but the team of engineers and scientists behind the jumper, Austrian Felix Baumgartner, hope to cull volumes of data from the event that will later be used to develop advanced life support systems for future pilots, astronauts, and even space tourists. Consequently, perhaps the most critical element to the mission is the special supersonic suit he'll be wearing, a suit that represents the culmination of over 50 years of research and testing.

Developed by engineers at the Massachusetts-based David Clark Company, the suit and helmet Baumgartner will don is a custom design. The David Clark Company has been developing pilot and astronaut protective suits since 1941 when it made the first anti-G suits to prevent World War II fighter pilots from blacking out during high-G maneuvers. Since then, the company has developed a range of PPAs or pilot protective assemblies, ranging from pressurized suits for U-2 spy plane pilots to launch entry suits for Space Shuttle astronauts.

But no one has attempted to use a PPA to do what Baumgartner plans to do, so the David Clark Company had to tailor the suit to meet his particular needs. Typically, the type of suit Baumgartner will be wearing only has to withstand say, a pilot being ejected from a jet in his seat, but in this case it has to be designed for supersonic skydiving. MORE 

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Smart? There’s An App For That

How do you make a Smart car even smarter? You guessed it: Create an app for that.

Smart's new Smart Drive App for the lilliputian Smart Fortwo is more ingenious than most. Developed by Mercedes-Benz software engineers, the forthcoming application for the iPhone not only adds features such as navigation to the car, but also does something the iPhone usually can't do on its own: multitask.

Demonstrated at the New York Auto Show, the software is part of a package that will include a cradle than needs to be installed by dealers. The application itself divides the iPhone screen into larger, legible quadrants, rather than using tiny icons that might tend to distract the driver (or distract the driver even more). The four on-screen buttons cover media, phone, map and assist functions.

The best part: like built-in navigation systems, it will mute a call in favor of spoken directions instructions, and it's here where the multitasking function comes in handy. Unlike other navigation-only applications for the iPhone, you don't have to choose between chatting on the phone or following the navigation system. It can run both simultaneously because the developers built both functions into a single application.

For more on the Smart Drive App, see The New York Times.

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PointCast Comes to the Car

In the 90's, PointCast was the scourge of the nascent Internet: a news ticker that spread like wildfire on computer screens until it began clogging corporate networks. Well, a similar news crawl is about to appear again, but this time it will be on car dashboards.


Clear Channel's Total Traffic Network already broadcasts reports about incipient road congestion in about 125 metropolitan markets using its network of radio stations across the U.S. The information can be viewed on compatible car radios thanks to a text-only FM subchannel using a format known as RDS (Radio Data System). Now, Clear Channel plans to add news headlines to data feeds by using the Journaline service.

Clear Channel says it's ready to launch the service it some time in this summer as a free service for stereo systems that can receive HD Radio broadcasts. However, at the moment, only one compatible car stereo system has been introduced, JVC's $1,200 KW-NT3HDT Navigation Receiver, so it make be slow to gain traction with drivers.

The Journaline format has the ability to offer a text-to-speech feature depending on type of device being used to receive it. However, Clear Channel says it will only be text-based when it begins in the U.S. So the question becomes will drivers pay attention to the new in-dash crawl, and if they do pay attention, will it simply become another source of driver distraction?

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