gadgets

Ubiquitous Facebook

Facebook’s plan to find its next billion users: convince them the internet and Facebook are the same

This is the story of Facebook’s rapidly unfolding plan to take over the world, or at least the world wide web. It’s a tale that’s been hiding in plain sight for years, and it begins with an explanation of how Facebook has reached almost a billion users. It continues with a roadmap for how the seeds of Facebook’s future growth – to two billion and beyond – have already been planted. In both cases, what matters is emerging markets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America: the striving, proto-middle class “next billion” whose first impression of the internet is often that it seems to consist entirely of a site called Facebook.

I’ve always thought Facebook would come out with a device (phone or communicator) that only ran Facebook but in fact, Facebook for SIM, Facebook Zero and various Facebook apps are better and more generic gateways to the Facebook community. Had AOL done this type of thing in the old days they might have lived a bit longer.

Through a series of canny partnerships, acquisitions, and roll-outs, Facebook has made its service usable for anyone, whether they’re using the latest iPhone or a five year old gray-market Nokia with a black and white screen. In many cases, users don’t even have to have a data plan.

And the key to Facebook’s strategy is that no matter where users start on the ladder of mobile technology, from the most basic device to the newest smartphone, Facebook becomes better and more fun to use as they upgrade. And this is also why carriers are so eager to partner with Facebook, because the next billion to come onto the internet will do it through a mobile device, on which every megabyte that they use in connecting with their friends can be measured and billed.

This piece is worth reading carefully and while I’m no fan of Facebook, this is a brilliant idea.

[via The Verge]

SlingShot grip and tripod

The SlingShot: A Double Duty Phone Grip and Tripod

I don’t have one of these yet (ordering after posting) but it looks great to me.

Best part: the SlingShot’s flexible cradle holds any smartphone ever — from the new iPhone 5 to the oldest Android (with or without a case too)!

I have a 4S with a bumper on it so the current set of clamps don’t work for me. This will. Yes!

Serious compact cameras

I have three camera systems: Canon EOS 5D with some nice lenses, Canon PowerShot S100, and an iPhone 4S. The Canon 5D is the most capable camera but also the biggest, heaviest, and most difficult to have with me all the time. The iPhone is the smallest, easiest to have with me all the time but it’s the least capable camera.

As many reading this know, the iPhone has been eating into the point and shoot camera market enough so that people like my wife don’t carry and use a “real” camera anymore, they simply take pictures with their iPhones or other smartphones. While I think this is great and I use my iPhone’s camera often, as a photographer I want more control than a smartphone can offer so I still have a need for a small, point and shoot camera to live between my iPhone and my DSLR.

For the past few years I’ve been using the Canon PowerShot S90, S95, and now S100 more than my other cameras because these cameras can make excellent images and are small enough to have with me all the time. That said, there are many other cameras in the growing “smaller than a DSLR” category these days and in addition to considering upgrading my 5D to a 5D Mark III, I’m also considering other cameras in the small, “serious compact” category. There is no perfect camera that will please everyone but I’m getting a better idea of what I want in a camera in this category. I like Canon’s ergonomics, both hardware and software and while I’m not absolutely stuck on Canon brand equipment, to me it’s like sticking with Apple even as other makers come out with better stuff.

In earlier versions of this post, I listed numerous cameras in the micro 4/3 category and some of Fujifilm’s new X series cameras as well as Canon’s new EOS M but decided that all of these cameras are in a different category than the one I’m interested in: they’re more expensive, more complex, and more capable and are really a middle ground between point and shoot and DSLR and they’re closer to DSLR; many people are now choosing these cameras instead of DSLRs.

I think the solution for me, at least for now, is to continue with a DSLR and lenses for studio and higher end photo shoots and continue experimenting with higher end point and shoot cameras with fixed lenses (lenses that are permanently attached to the camera, either zoom or prime).

What I have now is the Canon PowerShot S100. It’s very small (maybe too small), sports a 24-120mm f/2.0-5.9 lens, has a modern and decent (although small) sensor and image processing system and has excellent hardware and software ergonomics. Yes, it has had some production problems with stuck zoom lenses on some copies (fixed in a recall by Canon) but it’s an extremely capable little camera and I continue to learn new uses for it. Still, it lacks some things that I find appealing on other cameras.

The Canon PowerShot G12 is a great camera and I don’t mind its size relative to the S100 but its lens only opens up to 28mm which is common in smaller cameras, it’s largest aperture at 28mm is f/2.8, and it’s got an older sensor and processor in it than the S100. There will be a next generation camera in this series and I’m hoping it inherits some of the S100’s capabilities: newer image processor and sensor, 24mm f/2 lens on the wide side. I like the ergonomics of this camera although it’s viewfinder is so bad Canon should just eliminate it, it’s useless.

The Canon PowerShot G1 X camera is a slightly larger G12 with a large, APC-C sized sensor. It too lacks the fast, wide angle lens of the S100 and somehow they forgot to give it decent macro capabilities. Put its sensor in a G12/S100 hybrid and I’m in.

The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 is probably the hottest point and shoot camera on the market right now. David Pogue gave it an incredible review and for good reason: it packs a very large 20MP sensor into a pocket camera and has a very good Zeiss lens. The lens only opens wide to 29mm which is a bummer for me. If it opened up to 24mm I think I’d be tempted to buy one. It’s also twice as expensive as the Canon S100 although the image quality from the big sensor might make the price go down easier.

The Ricoh GR Digital IV is actually the closest I’ve come to my ideal camera that’s not made by Canon. If it had a 24mm lens instead of a 28 I’d have one. I bought one from B&H and returned it after two weeks because I found I really missed the drama created by the extra 4mm of wide on the S100’s 24mm lens.

This Ricoh has a very nice, simple user interface, it’s lens is a 28mm prime (no zoom) and that’s fine with me and while it’s not quite as small as the S100 it’s small enough to fit in a pocket. I think if my friend Gary Sharp got his hands on this camera it would be his favorite of all time. I may have to try one again some day.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 came out recently and I haven’t had a chance to try it yet. It may very well be the best of the lot and it does sport a 24-90mm f/1.4 to f/2.3 lens. I’m not crazy about Panasonic’s ergonomics and I don’t like the fact that this camera’s lens must be capped (it has a lens cap) but it looks great otherwise. If it sported a bigger sensor…

The Fujifilm X10 is a camera I’ve not tried but it does belong in this category: fixed lens compact camera. I did try the Fujifilm X100 and wasn’t crazy about its software ergonomics although I was swayed by its loyal users who continue to make exceptional images with it. It’s considerably more expensive than typical smaller cameras and it’s bigger…. But, the X10 is small and capable and I rejected it by association. Best to get some hands-on experience with it at B&H before concluding a thing. 28mm on the wide end but still, worth a look.

I’ve no doubt left out a lot of cameras here but you get the picture, there is still a market for high end point and shoot cameras, maybe more than ever. As more casual photographers use their smartphones it will eliminate the lower end of the point and shoot market leaving the more serious photographers and hopefully companies will continue to push these “serious compacts” into new territory.

iPad (3) notes

My wife Anne and I have had new iPads (3rd gen) for almost a month now and I thought I’d report on our experience with them so far.

Anne
Anne had been using my original iPad (trickle down) and loved it. She used it primarily for reading and while she tried the Kindle app she prefers iBooks and continues to use that as her primary reading tool. The lack of speed of the original iPad limited her use of it as a computer replacement because much of her computer use is on the web. She does have an iPhone, a MacBook Pro (an old computer of mine) and an iCloud account and has them all working together.

The new iPad is fast enough so that she’s now doing pretty much everything on it: email, web browsing and a bit more. Reading remains her primary use of the iPad and she’s loving the extra resolution on the new iPad screen. Anne says that this iPad is very close to the step that could allow her to go computer-less.

Richard (me)
I was going to skip the new iPad (3) because my iPad 2 was doing the job for me. When Anne’s new iPad came I had my iPad 2 to compare to it side by side. While the screen on the new iPad is spectacular, the thing that tipped me was dictation.

I use both Siri and dictation on my iPhone 4S and find both quite useful (when they work) and one of the things that has always bothered me about the iPad is the on-screen keyboard. I’ve refused to buy a bluetooth keyboard for my iPad because while I appreciate the difference between Mac OS and iOS, I have a computer with an excellent keyboard and I don’t see a reason to recreate that in the iPad world. One of the things that makes the iPad so amazing it’s its small size and weight and simplicity. Adding a keyboard pulls it back into the computer world.

So, I found a buyer for my iPad 2 and ordered the new iPad.

Dictation on the new iPad is a dream and I’m a very fast typist, both on a hardware QWERTY keyboard and on the iPad screen. But, even with that, I find dictation quite useful and I like having it in addition to a keypad. I can’t wait until it’s part of Mac OS.

Recently I cut the tip of one of my fingers off cutting potatoes of all things. It did not require stitches and there was no way to reattach it so I’ve been changing dressings and keeping it covered and it’s healing nicely. However, during the past week and a half, my keyboarding has been compromised by the bandage on my finger and so, out comes the iPad with dictation and it’s a godsend.

Editing text in iOS is still in its infancy and feels crude by comparison to editing text on a computer. This video by Daniel Hooper is a nice demonstration of a possible solution to multi-touch text selection on the iPad. It’s great and I hope Apple is considering this issue.

As iOS gets better text editing it will push me further along the path of using the iPad to replace things on this computer.

Aside from dictation, which was the feature that tipped me I’m finding the new iPad a bit faster than the iPad 2 and this small speed increase is enough to get me to use it more to replace this computer. I still use this computer the most of all of my devices but the new iPad is eating into some of that time.

While the screen is great for reading and looking at images, for me it was not the most important factor in doing the upgrade and even now that I’ve had the iPad for a few weeks and love the screen, I think the maturation of iOS, dictation, and the small speed upgrade makes the new iPad a revolutionary evolutionary version of an already great tool.

I have little doubt that the new iPad is eating away at Apple’s low end computer sales and this in turn affects how they position and market MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros.

Apps that push me to iPad use
I was going to avoid listing all of my iOs apps but in fact, some of these have helped push me into more iPad use so it’s important to list them as part of a general discussion of the evolution of the iPad as a computer replacement. iOS is a very different environment than Mac OS and because of this and the fact that everything runs full screen by default, some tasks done with the right apps are more pleasant for me to do on an iPad than on a Mac.

Each of these is a cloud-based application: each uses the cloud to connect to itself running on another device and so, I use these on my computer, my iPad, and my iPhone along with an iCloud account to keep my contacts, calendar and bookmarks in sync.

RSS
Reeder for iPad is a newsreader client for a Google Reader account. It is so well designed and such a pleasure to use I can’t imagine using anything else. Given that RSS feeds are the center of my web life I spend a lot of time in this app on the Mac, iPad and even iPhone. Because it’s cloud (Google Reader) based Reeder syncs all of my devices seamlessly. Reeder for me is the equivalent of iBooks for my wife; I spend more time reading in it than anything else.

Twitter
I’ve had a Twitter account for a while but rarely used it on anything but my Mac because tracking numerous feeds on multiple devices without any native way to keep the feeds in sync proved less than wonderful for me. Once I got used to using RSS as a way of scanning information I could not tolerate Twitter’s lack of cloud based syncing on multiple devices. I still think this is a severe weakness of the native Twitter platform.

However, once I found out about Tweet Marker I started getting more serious about using Twitter because I could keep my iPhone, my iPad, and my Mac in sync. So, I started using the native Twitter app on the iPhone and iPad for a while and found it awful and eventually got two clients that are better.

Tweetbot is the current “Reeder” of Twitter clients and it’s simple, beautiful and is the hip Twitter client of choice to use. It can and does make use of Tweet Marker and I would not use a client that didn’t.

While Twitterrific is less hip it’s what I use on my Mac so I decided to give it a go on the iOS side as well. It too makes use of Tweet Marker so all of my various Twitter clients are in sync with one another.

Reading Later
Imagine that you start reading a long article on your computer’s web browser and don’t finish it before you have to rush off for a doctor’s appointment. It would be nice if you could take the article with you to finish reading it. If you knew your doctor had public wifi in his or her office you’d be all set, or, if you had an iPad or iPhone and a cellular signal you could get back online and finish. But, if you’ll be off the grid (so to speak) what do you do?

Instapaper was made for situations like this (and others). You click a “Reader Later” button on your browser and it uploads the link to your Instapaper account. Before you leave your house, run the Instapaper app on your iPad and/or iPhone and update your account. The article you were reading will be loaded and cached in its entirety.

Now when you get to the doctor’s office you can run Instapaper on your iPad and continue reading the article in a very clean, iBooks-like reading environment without being connected to the internet. Works on planes, or anywhere.

Instapaper is such a great reading environment I use it in the house to read things on my iPad that I’d rather not read on this computer.

Shared Writing
I know many people use more capable and complex apps like Evernote as their writing and collecting environment on the Mac and iOS devices but as one who likes extremely simple and spare software tools I’ve stuck (so far) with Simplenote. It has continued to work well for me for quite some time and with the addition of dictation on the iPad I use it more than ever. The one change I’ve made since starting to use it is that I’m using nvALT (Notational Velocity Alternative) on the Mac as my Simplenote client. It works quite well and supports the Simplenote API while being a decent text editor on its own for the Macintosh.

Make a shopping list in nvALT on your computer and go to the store with your iPhone (or iPad or iPod Touch) and there it is.

iPad as computer?
I have dozens of other apps on my iPad, many of which I use daily but the ones listed here coupled with iCloud make the new iPad a serious alternative to a portable computer. I don’t mean to sound defensive of what might otherwise seem like an expensive upgrade just to keep up with everyone else (can’t let my wife have a later iPad than me, right?) but the new iPad pushes the iPad into the world of computing and may well be the only tool many people need to do the types of things only done with a computer just a few years ago.

Knowledge Navigator, here we come.