The iPad is announced! I just don’t don’t get it

With some fanfare the iPad was announced today. And if I am reading it right, it’s like an iPhone but big and fat.

I don’t get it.

It’s an iPhone without the phone. It does not multitask.  So while you are using it as a ebook reader, you can’t keep any instant messenger sessions in the background.  You can probably play music, but no streaming music via the wifi.  You can probably still cut and paste, but no switching ssh sessions ’cause that will make the ssh app to exit.

What’s the appeal again? Seriously, who will step up with a really useful little tablet? I’m hoping ASUS or MSI will deliver something that I actually want. I already have an iPhone.

Transcoding for the iPhone

This is definitely one of those “you’d better write this down” posts.

Being a longtime LINUX monkey, I am used to manipulating files via the command line. The GUI is a fad and if you want to get something done switch to command line. Transcoding video files are good for that sort of CLI manipulation.

Let’s say I had a .mkv file and wanted to play it on my iPhone. The iPhone does not play that format so I need to convert or transcode the video/audio/subtitles to something the iPhone can play.

It’s a two step process that requires two executable files for Windows, mencoder and ffmpeg. Doing a basic search on Google located the two binaries that I wanted and I put them in C:\util.

The first one used is mencoder.exe and that’s to take the mkv formated file and convert it to an avi file. This is accomplished using this command:

C:\util\mencoder.exe -mc 0 -noskip -oac mp3lame -lameopts cbr=128 -ovc xvid -xvidencopts bitrate=1200 "C:\Videos\Episode-01.mkv" -o "C:\tmp\Episode-01.avi"

This is an intermediate step since the iPhone can’t play avi files either.  Depending on the file this could take a while.  Once the output file Episode-01.avi has been generated then it’s time to use ffmpeg.

C:\util\ffmpeg.exe -threads 2 -i "C:\tmp\Episode-01.avi" -acodec libfaac -ab 128kb -vcodec mpeg4 -b 1200kb -mbd 2  -cmp 2 -subcmp 2 -s 640x352 -async 1 -title "Episode 01" "C:\iPhone Video\Episode-01.mp4"

I am running on a Intel Core 2 Duo so I use the -threads 2 option. After that’s completed, I just drag the new file into iTune’s and sync my phone.  The sync process will not transfer a video file that it thinks the iPhone will not play so even it iTunes can play it, the phone might not be able to.

There are GUI wrappers for this, but I could not get WinFF or Handbrake to work reliably for me. They both wrap the CLI commands, so this works out better for me. The quality is not that good outside of the iPhone but that’s what the original .mkv versions are for.

Now in 9 months, when I want to do this again, I’ll have the steps ready and wont waste the morning trying to remember what I did last year.

Attention Apple: AT&T is hurting your brand

Another day and another 3G outage for my iPhone. Even EDGE is not working today. Voice works, just not data. If the Palm Pre is successful it will not be because of an iPhone issue, it will be because AT&T’s 3G network is a joke.

The iPhone is a great piece of convergent technology. But without Internet connectivity, it’s primary function is crippled. It’s a cool device and works well when the network cooperates but without it I’m left to listening to music and playing games.

I can now play 3 card draw solitaire as an expert and Bejeweled 2 bores me to tears. I would much rather read my RSS feeds via Google Reader but AT&T’s poor network just can’t work. This is why Apple should turn to Verizon or Sprint.

If Apple were to actually have a model of iPhone that works on a non-AT&T network, it would be a bigger hit than it is now. In the meanwhile I look forward to more Android phones and the latest Palm offering.

Looks like I'll need to try iTunes again

I don’t like DRM. It’s not an effective control since you can almost always convert the protected media into an unprotected version.It treats paying customers like trash and is meant to keep the fish swimming in neat little lines.

That’s why I buy all my online music from Amazon. I’m not an Amazon fan exactly, I just think that Apple is pandering to the music factory. The integration with my iPhone is broken so I buy music via the web and run iTunes and add the new files to my collection. There is a Firefox plugin but it works sporadically and I gave up on it.

Recently Apple relaxed their DRM.  Your account is still stamped on the downloaded music, but most of the songs are no longer encrypted. That means I can play that music on Linux, my XBox 360 (I think), etc.  For a not huge fee you can convert the songs in your collection from encrypted .m4p format to .m4a format.

It’s a start and I’ll give it a shot and pick up some tunes.  I’ll believe Apple’s iTunes Store is really “open” when the Creative MP3 player can plugin and sync using iTunes.

Watching the shower get fixed

Yesterday Lily stayed at home and got the contractors started on our bathroom.  They have done work for us before and don’t need us but we wanted to start off right.

Today it was my turn so I took a day off and ran errands.  Me and the owner of the contracting company went to Home Depot looking for tiles.  The ride there was fun.  I was the passenger explaining how to get to Home Depot and the driver spoke English very poorly.

The Home Depots around here don’t really have much selection of tile so I ended up buying the tiles from a local seller.  The store did not have it in stock, so I took a 15 mile ride by myself to their warehouse.  I had to get 7 boxes of tiles.

The ride was in my MINI Cooper and my only GPS was my iPhone.  It was in Old Westbury and when I got to a light I pulled out my iPhone and checked my position in the GPS.

Drive, stop, check GPS. I must have been the poster boy for why you can’t use cell phones while driving.

Once I got there I filled up the back of the MINI and came home.

The iPhone 3G

iphone-3g-desk

I’ve had the iPhone 3G for a week now and have come to one inescapable conclusion:

I need to buy a watch.

The iPhone 3G is well designed and easy to use.  The screen is larger than my old BlackBerry Pearl but not too large. The built in applications are generally okay but a little on the “more is less” side. For example, the e-mail client is very functional.  I am able to have my mail delivered using my own SSL based SMTP AUTH relay (open SMTP relays are criminally stupid) and the client works well with my own IMAPS server.  Using IMAPS I get full access to my mail folders on my phone (finally!) via an SSL connection. I can view attachments such as PDF and Word documents with ease.  But the e-mail client looks sparse and drab.  It works well but could be spruced up a little.

The web browser is Safari, plain and simple.  It’s good but given the screen size I find myself visiting websites that support the iPhone directly.  Both CNN and Newsweek have good mobile websites and all of Google’s web sites are built to work well in the iPhone.

You can’t run multiple applications at the same time, so instant messenger is pretty much useless.  The only thing that will run in the background is the iPod application for playing music.  That works out for me since I read RSS feeds in Google Reader while listening to music.

The built in assisted GPS is great and I have enough apps that will let me find the nearest you-name it store.  I have not played with Google Earth on my phone but I’m told that it is insanely good and fun to play with.

Applications are plentiful and readily available from the app store. The price ranges from free to around $15, with most being less that $3.  I can recommend TouchTerm as an adequate ssh client and everyone should buy the addictive Bejeweled 2 game.  The free Facebook app is really easy to use. I have not been tempted to jail break my iPhone because I have no need to.  Except for IM, everything I want to do works.  Why hack my phone?

The video capabilities is surprisingly good.  If you have a collection of videos on your PC (oh, for talking purposes, say English subtitled Anime) you can convert them for using on the iPhone with WinFF. It’s a GUI wrapper for ffmpeg and works well.  One thing to watch out for is the audio.  Set the optional arguments in WinFF for “-async 1″ and this will fix any audio sync problems.

My old phone only went as fast as EDGE so to me the 3G network is really fast.  On my first day using the iPhone and firmware 2.1, I took the LIRR train to the office.  I listened to the radio via the 3G network using an iPhone app.  I had to restart the stream twice but that’s pretty good for a 55 minute train ride.  In Manhattan I listened to the radio via the 3G network all week as I walked to Penn Station.

The iPhone 3G comes with an A/C adapter and a USB cable.  No software CD, no docking station, nada.  That’s generally OK as iTunes is available on Apple’s web site and you can buy lots of accessories.

Tonight I went back to the Apple Store and bought another USB cable and an Air Jacket set.  This contains a clear hard plastic case that protects the shiny back of the iPhone and a film for the LCD cover.  I’m using the anti-glare one and it works really well.  No residue and all I did was clean the screen with my lens cloth and used the pre-installation film for picking up any dust.  This second visit to the Apple Store makes it official; I am now one of the Apple Undead (a repeat customer).

Oh, and the reason I need to buy a watch?  With my old BlackBerry I would use it as a time piece.  The iPhone is slightly too large to keep pulling out of my belt clip to do that. So I need to buy a watch.