Ah yes, that unmistakable smell of conference season is in the air. A few places I'll be making an appearance in coming weeks:
I seriously considered not attending this year. It seems there's a growing feeling amongst those who have been going for years that this event is getting to be a bit too much to handle, especially with the plethora of other web conferences that have sprung up in the past few years in their more intimate settings.
But, I'll be there after all! Paul Hammond invited me to be the "independent contractor" or "designer" or "hardly qualified, but maybe we'll get a few good stories out of him anyway" voice on his panel about collaboration during web projects. Don't let the web app focus in the title fool you, I don't do nearly enough of those to be that specific about the type of projects I've collaborated with others on; I'll be drawing from the experience I've had plugging myself into established teams, and working with clients directly. With a line up of three super-smart Brits and a talented Aussie, plus the token Canadian, come and see the Commonwealth throw down on Tuesday afternoon.
(And this year I'll be feeling Jeremy's plight, as it's looking increasingly like that room at the Hampton is going to be single occupancy. Sadly, Lauren probably won't make it this year, so if I'm a little distracted during any hallway chatter, it's not you! I promise!)
- An Event Apart
When Jeffrey and Eric asked me to come speak at an earlier event, it pained me that circumstances didn't work out. I have never been to An Event Apart, and I've really really been wanting to go for some time now.
Happily, the latter part of April was clear for me, and I'll be heading down to join what looks like is going to be a crazy-good New Orleans date. My talk, "Living, Breathing Design", will be a look at how web sites change and grow during and after the design process, and how we can choose to add growth into our work. As always, expect lots of design and code talk.
(psst... and if you haven't registered yet, the magic code is AEADSCSS. It's $50 in your pocket. Use it.)
While I'm at it, a few more things I've been meaning to mention in some capacity or another for a while now (funny how far off the wagon you fall when running a conference of your own):
- Rosenfeld Media's First Book: Mental Models
This one is particularly close to my heart as I've been working with Lou for the past few years, and during that time witnessed his publishing company evolve from a concept to reality. We were very privileged to have Indi Young, the author of Mental Models, join us at WDN this year, and early reviews have pegged this one as a winner. If you grab a copy, make sure to use the code FOSHEA10 for a small discount.
- The Lab with Leo
Back in November I went in and did an interview with Leo Laporte, which is now up on Google Video. It's just a basic overview of CSS, and like all rapid-fire on-the-spot TV interviews there wasn't much room for nuance and error-correction as we went, so pardon the stalling for time while trying to figure out how to explain things like the history of CSS... Still, I think it came off rather well, for an introduction of a style language to the more general audience who watch the show. (Ian Lloyd, you owe me a beer.)
Ahead of the possibly-delayed iPhone/iPod Touch Software Development Kit, and the plethora of applications that will undoubtedly ensue, I thought I'd do a quick run-down of some of the more interesting third-party applications that already exist, in an unofficial capacity.
Since I had to jailbreak my phone in order to get it working outside the four countries where it has been officially launched, it was hardly a stretch to start playing around with the software that's being developed anyway, SDK or no. This could very well end up being a preview of some of the first applications that will be officially available once the SDK is released.
My list below isn't comprehensive by any means; these are just some of the apps I think deserve mention due to their utility or polish. There's a lot of crap to wade through already, so I think it's worth calling out some of the gems. All these are available directly from Installer.app, provided you have also installed Community Sources.
The images above link to larger screenshots. I just recently updated to firmware 1.1.3, and all of the existing iPhone Screenshot utilities don't seem to be working for me anymore. So pardon the grainy photos.
There are a few native IM clients out at the moment, and obviously Meebo works just fine too. But I'm finding none of the native clients thus far are any good, or even good enough. Apollo is the one I've been using occasionally when I need IM on my phone, but it still needs a lot of work. Active development stopped back in October, with the developers stating they're focusing on an official version once the SDK is released, so this may turn out to be one of the first official IM clients for the iPhone. Hopefully it will have seen some massive updates in the interim.
Killer feature: IM over EDGE. It's not great for long chat sessions, but damn if it isn't useful to have the ability to ask an IM contact a quick question when out and about. (Terrible video of Apollo in action)
Almost more of a proof of concept than a useful app at this point, iAno is still fun. It's a piano simulator that crams a full octave on screen at once, and can play any note between C3 on the low end and C7 on the high end. What makes iAno stand out is its use of Multi-touch; chords are possible, you can play three notes at the same time. Here's a video of iAno in action, and you've probably already seen it on the top phone in the iBand video going around recently. If they end up adding a sequencer to the app, I'd expect to start seeing rather a lot of iPhone-generated music in the future.
My screenshot above is mostly useless, as the entire point of iMatrix is what the iPhone's camera sees and I wasn't able to demo that. What it does is two-fold.
First, if you happen to run across a QR Code or other 2D code, you take a quick snapshot of it with the phone. Then iMatrix will process the data contained within, and automatically (with your permission) use the data to open a URL in Safari, add a contact to your address book, dial a phone number, or a few other actions.
Second, it's able to generate 2D codes on the screen of the phone that can be read with scanners. Some of the applications this opens up: virtual ticketing, coupons, identifaction, and other purposes where simple authentication or data exchange is useful.
The idea of 2D codes isn't unique to this application by any means, they've been around for over a decade. They're not common in North America yet, but given time and more devices that are able to process them, it seems like momentum's building. They may be as common as URLs in a few years. Here's a poorly-narrated video of iMatrix contact exchange in action.
I don't really need to describe Solitaire, do I? This particular version just happens to look great, and makes fine use of the touch screen for dragging cards around. If it's not one of the first official solitaire apps, I'll be very surprised.
You know the classic wooden labyrinth puzzles? Yeah, it's just like those. Using the accelerometer, Labyrinth has you tilt the entire phone to guide the ball into the hole. It makes for a great demo of what having accelerometers in these devices can get you. Unlike most of the other apps in this list, Labyrinth is a demo; there's a full version available for purchase. The iPhone software market has already begun.
Remember that wow feeling after watching Jeff Han's TED demo of a multi touch interface a few years back? Photoboard brings a bit of that to the iPhone/iPod Touch with its rotation and zoom ability. It's a fairly simple toy at this point, akin to a basic lightboard for photos. You pull in photos from your device's library and then use two fingers to rotate them, pinch zoom in and out, and layer them on the screen. It's cramped on the small screen, doesn't save your setup when exiting, and isn't really altogether useful yet, but it's a great tech demo and shows promise for what might be possible in the future. Here's a video of Photoboard in use.
A basic note-taking and sketching app, Sketches has a few basic drawing tools that turn your finger into a pencil. You can import photos from your library or the iPhone's camera and use them as a canvas, save your creations, email them, etc. Given the limitations of using your finger as an imprecise stylus, this feels like the perfect mix of basic utility without going too far into more advanced and harder to use features. There may be apps in the future that allow more complex image editing on the iPhone, but right now this seems like the furthest you'd want to go.
Plus, to erase the image? You just shake the device. How cool is that? There's a reason the icon looks like an Etch-a-Sketch. Here's a video about using Sketches' tools.
This is just scratching the surface; it seems like every week there are a handful of new ones worth keeping. A few more notable applications:
- This is a recent discovery; it allows for folder/group creation on the iPhone/iPod's home screen. You choose an icon for the folder, then drag a few apps into it. To get at them later from the home screen, you tap the group, then a new menu pops up with those icons. Pretty much as you'd expect.
- A reusable dictionary/lookup app. If I get it, and I'm not 100% sure I do, you plug in various installable dictionaries, and then use the application to search them. Right now I have French > English and English > French dictionaries, and if I look up "neige" it tells me that the French > English dictionary thinks that word means "snow".
- A basic eBook reader. It's ugly, but it works. I've seen some public domain titles available for install, and a few newer CC-licensed works, like Cory Doctorow's books.
- Evolution RGB
- This is a little toy/game thing that doesn't make any sense at all when it first loads. In a nutshell, you have pre-defined elements like fire, water, plant, clay etc. You draw them onto the screen, then watch water interact with fire, fire interact with plant, etc. It's generative like the old-school evolution game from decades past, and setting up some opposing elements and watching them interact can be vaguely hypnotic. This is the best video I could find that demonstrates how it works. It won't win any beauty contests, but it's really worth taking a look.
- NES, gpSPhone, Frotz, ScummVM
- Various emulators for games past, of varying and questionable legitimacy. In order: Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy Advance, Infocom text adventure games like Zork, and the LucasArts Scumm system that powered classics like Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. (I say "questionable legitimacy" because the practice of emulting ROMs is kind of a legal grey area.)
- A simple audio recorder that uses the iPhone's built-in mic. Something that ought to be officially available sooner or later, but isn't yet.
And it figures that as soon as I hit publish, I discovered that firmware 1.1.4 came out today. Not sure yet what it changes, if anything.