SiliconFilter

Camera+ 3: The Best iOS Camera App Just Got Better – And You Can Now Use it in Other Apps, Too

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Camera_plus_logoCamera+ is probably the most popular iOS camera app around. Today, taptaptap, the developers of Camera+, launched the latest version of their app ($0.99) and it’s a major step forward for what was arguably already the best camera app for the iPhone. Among other things, Camera+ users can now share their photos quickly to multiple services, create workflows and set focus and exposure independently. In addition, the developers also redesigned the app’s lightbox interface for managing your images and tweaked the app’s filters.

The most important update, however, is that Camera+ now offers third-party developers APIs for integrating the camera into their own iOS and Camera+ images that are stored on the web into their web and mobile apps. WordPress, Tweetbot, Twitterrific, Foodspotting and Twittelator Neue are already using these new features. Once you install the update, for example, you can now choose to take pictures with Camera+ in Tweetbot, edit them in the app and then use them in your tweet.

Here is a full list of the updates in version 3:

★ App icon

The very first thing you’ll notice in Camera+ 3 is its shiny, new icon. It’s essentially the same Camera+ icon that you’ve grown to know and love… but better and much more polished.

★ Dramatically improved sharing

There are two main improvements here… The first is that you can now share to multiple services, or even multiple accounts on the same service, all at the same time. The second big thing that you’ll notice with sharing is the increase in speed. It’s now faster than ever to share your photos online.

★ Multiple photo library import

We’re introducing a great new feature where you can import multiple photos from your photo library all at once.

And we added several fine touches to the import panel. Large thumbnails, zooming to view your photo large, and photo info will help ensure that you’re choosing exactly the photos you want.

★ Workflows

Sometimes you want to shoot a bunch of pics in a row without having to think about things like editing and sharing. And sometimes you want to do just the opposite and edit and share each pic you take, right after you take it. Workflows easily provide you with the flexibility to do it either way

★ Focus & exposure locks

Now you can lock the focus and exposure of the camera, independently of each other. Photographers looking for the utmost flexibility in shooting will love this new feature because it enables all kinds of creative ways of taking awesome shots.

“Bokeh?! I hardly know her!”

★ APIs

We’ve created a few comprehensive APIs for Camera+. These APIs enable people to integrate Camera+ into other apps and to create web services that make use of the many, many photos that have been shared by Camera+ users.

Several prominent developers have already integrated Camera+ into their apps via these new APIs. Check-out the WordPress, Tweetbot, Twitterrific, Foodspotting, and Twittelator Neue apps in the App Store to see these APIs in action.

And to get all the details on how the APIs work, visit http://api.camerapl.us

★ Improved Lightbox UI

We’re a bit obsessive when it comes to user interface and user experience. With Camera+ 3, we’ve reworked several details of the Lightbox to make it even more usable. It’ll take a couple of seconds to get used to the changes but we’re completely confident that you’ll love these improvements almost immediately.

★ Create web link

Many of you used to use the SMS sharing feature (now renamed to Message) for passing web links along to others. Now we’ve got a much better, easier, and dedicated way of doing it.

★ Tuned Clarity

Often imitated but never duplicated, Clarity is one of the things that makes Camera+ what it is. And now it’s even better, especially if you’re using an iPhone 4S.

★ VolumeSnap setting in menu

VolumeSnap is our birthright. That is all.

★ Status bar in Lightbox

In previous versions of Camera+, we didn’t display the status bar (you know… that thingy with the clock, battery level, etc at the top of your screen) when you were in the Lightbox. Well, that’s all changed with this version! Never again miss picking your kids up at soccer practice because you were editing photos and had no clue what time it was.

★ Improved performance

We’ve gone through painstaking steps to improve performance in several parts of the app. It all feels a lot more fluid now. But don’t just take our word on it… try it yourself and see how much nicer it is now.

★ Notifications

Find-out about Camera+ updates, news, and contests. We’ve implemented notifications so they’re not intrusive and they’re opt-in only.

★ Lotsa bug fixes

We’ve identified and fixed several bugs in Camera+. Thanks to all of you who’ve reported any issues you’ve experienced.

★ Various other subtle, but significant enhancements



9:14 am


6 Million Downloads Later, Microsoft Photosynth Goes Global

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Photosynth is, without doubt, one of Microsoft's more impressive mobile apps. The app lets you snap panorama pictures with your iPhone and then upload them to Photosynth.net (and you can even get them featured on Bing Maps). While the mobile app doesn't give you quite as many features as the web app – which allows you to stitch together 3D panoramas by combining images from multiple perspectives – the app has proven to be quite a hit.

According to Microsoft, 6 million iPhone users have downloaded the app so far (though, as usual, it's not clear how many active users there currently are). More importantly, though, the company also today announced that Photosynth is now available worldwide (iTunes link).

Also new in the latest version is a tighter integration with Twitter (via iOS5's built-in Twitter capabilities). 

In case you are unfamiliar with Photosynth, here is Microsoft's description of the app's capabilities:

Capture Full-Sphere Panoramas: Look and capture in all directions more easily than what most of us can do with DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras.

View immediately: With fast On-Device Processing, you can see the final panorama in a few minutes, without requiring an internet connection or data plan.  Very handy for those impromptu panoramas and immediate gratification that you captured the perfect shot. 

Save locally and on the cloud:  Your panoramas saved on your phone can also be saved and viewed online at http://photosynth.net.

Share immediately:  Share your panorama immediately via Twitter, Facebook or Bing Maps.

View in browser or app: Zoom, pan, and rotate your panorama in any direction through the Photosynth app or through the mobile browser.



11:31 am


In a World of Check-Ins and Social Discovery Apps, EchoEcho Keeps it Simple (and Useful)

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Just like last year, this year's edition of SXSW is once again heavily focused on location-based application. While the genre is slowly moving away from check-ins and virtual badges and more towards "social discovery," though, it's still rather debatable how useful apps like Highlight or Glancee are outside of the conference and Silicon Valley bubble. One location app that has long been going against these trends is the Google Venture-funded EchoEcho. The app does one thing – and it does it well: letting you find out where your friends are and making it easy to meet up with them without compromising anybody's privacy.

Just in time for SXSW, the company just rolled out the fourth version of its app (iTunes link), which features a redesigned interface, a mobile web app and the ability to share your location live with a friend for a set period of time (up to 2 hours).

Using the app is as simple as it gets. You just pick a contact from your phone's address book and simply use the app to ask them where they are. Once your contact receives your request and accepts it, you can both see where both of you are (by requesting somebody's location, you also always share your own location). From there, you can use the app to chat and/or suggest a meeting place.

Two major new features in this version make all of this easier (besides the new design, which is much more streamlined that before): live updates that allow you to share your location in the background, so you know how far away your friends are from the meeting place and a new web app that allows your friends to share their location with you without having to install the app themselves (instead of a push notification from the app, your friends will simply get an SMS with a link to the web app).

Just like previous version of the app, the EchoEcho team continuous to ensure that it's available on all the major mobile platforms, including iOS, Android (these have been updated to 4.0 already), as well as Blackberry, Windows Phone and Symbian (I'm not sure the Symbian app will get an update, though).



3:52 pm


Those Pretty Maps in Apple’s New iPhoto for iOS? That’s OpenStreetMap

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After Apple launched its new photo for iOS yesterday, a number of eagle-eyed users quickly noticed that the company stopped using Google Maps in the application and switched to what, at first, seemed like its own product. It turns out, however, that at least outside of the U.S., the company is using data from the collaboratively edited OpenStreetMap project. The problem with this is that a) Apple isn’t giving credit to OpenStreetMap and b) that the data is actually over a year old. While data from OpenStreetMap is available for use in third-party applications, the group requires attribution under a Creative Commons license.

Here is a nice little hack that allows you to compare Apple’s maps with data from OpenStreetMap and Google.

In a somewhat passive-aggressive statement, OpenStreetMap’s Jonathan Bennett notes that the data Apple is using is from April 2010 and that it is “also missing the necessary credit to OpenStreetMap’s contributors.” OpenStreetMap, however, is looking “forward to working with Apple to get that [the credit] on there.”

Over the years, there have been quite a few rumors about Apple launching its own mapping product and its still not clear where Apple is getting its U.S. maps from. In Europe and other parts of the world, though, it looks like the company is taking a bit of a shortcut and is implicitly claiming credit for data that doesn’t belong to it. What is clear, though, is that Apple is definitely working on replacing Google Maps across its product range.



7:26 am


Apple Announces New iPad with Retina Display, Quad-Core Graphics and 4G LTE Support, Available March 16th

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Apple’s CEO Tim Cook took the stage in San Francisco this morning to announce the next version of the iPad, as well as iOS 5.1 and a new AppleTV. The new iPad features a retina display and a faster processor. The wireless version will now support 4G LTE networks for significantly faster download speeds while on the go. The design of the new iPad looks virtually identical to the iPad 2 and the name, it seems, is "the new iPad."

The new AppleTV now supports 1080p playback and also comes with an updated user interface.

This is a developing story. Check back later for more updates.

iPad: Retina Display, Faster Processor, Better Camera

The central focus of today’s event, of course, was the next version of the iPad. Apple, in Cook’s words, wants to “redefine the category that Apple created with the original iPad.”

As expected, the highlight of the new iPad is a high-resolution display – the kind Apple likes to call a Retina Display. It features a 2048×1536 resolution (that’s 3.1 million pixels at 264ppi) and is, according to Apple, the “most ever in a mobile device.” Apple also notes that the new display also offers significantly better color saturation.

Inside the iPad, a new A5X processors now offers quad-core graphics performance that is, according to Apple, four times as fast as a comparable NVIDIA Tegra 3. It's worth noting that this is still a dual-core processor, though. Just the graphics chip is now quad-core.

The new iPad will also features a significantly better camera (5 megapixel, IR filter, face detection, etc.). The new camera will allow you to shoot video in 1080p. Maybe even more importantly, the camera software now uses stabilization to ensure your movies aren’t too shaky.

The new iPad will be 9.4 mm thin and ways 1.4 pounds. It will retail starting at $499 for the 16GB version. It will be available on March 16th in the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland and Japan. It will go on sale world-wide on March 23rd.

The iPad 2 will remain available for the time being, starting at $399 for the 16GB WiFi version.

4G for the iPad

Surprisingly, the new iPad will also offer support for 4G LTE wireless networks. These next-generation networks offer faster download speeds, though until now, Apple had been somewhat conservative about moving to these faster networks as there has generally been a trade-off between battery life and speed. Apple, however, says that this new version will offer the same battery life as the previous 3G iPad (10 hours of battery life, 9 hours on 4G).

The 4G version is coming to Verizon, AT&T in the U.S. and Telus, Rogers and Bell in Canada. Prices for the 4G iPad will start at $629.

The 4G version of the iPad will, it is worth noting, also support regular 3G networks.

Users will also be able to turn the 4G iPad into a personal hotspot – if the carrier supports it.

Apps: Updated iApps – Including a New iPhoto for iPad

In addition to the new hardware, Apple also talked about the app ecosystem for its tablet. Cook, of course, couldn’t help himself and had to take a stab at Android. Specifically, he noted how Twitter on a Galaxy Tab “looks like a blown-up smartphone app” while the iPad version was clearly designed for a tablet.

In addition to talking about third-party apps, Apple also announced new versions of its own productivity apps (Pages, Keynote and Numbers) for the iPad and the next version of Garageband, the company's music-creation app. iMovie, too, is getting and update with advanced planning and editing tools. It's not clear if any of these updates will also be available for first-generation iPads.

New in Apple's line-up is iPhoto for iPad, which completes Apple's lineup of iApps that are currently available for OS X. 

New AppleTV & iTunes in the Cloud

iTunes in the cloud, which was mostly focused on music until now, now offer support for movies as well. Users will be able to re-download any of the movies they have purchased on any device. These movies will be encoded in 1080p.

The reason for this is that Apple’s latest version of the AppleTV, which the company also announced today, finally supports 1080p as well. The new AppleTV also features an updated interface that makes use of the extra pixels. Just like the old AppleTV, this new version will cost $99. It will be available next week and you can pre-order starting today.

Siri Comes to Japan

In addition to all of this, Apple also today announced that Siri, it’s voice-enable personal assistant, is coming to Japan as part of the company’s iOS 5.1 update (which is also rolling out today).

The Post-PC World

Cook also used his presentation to talk about Apple’s vision of the post-PC world. In his view, it seems, the iPod started this trend, followed by the iPhone and, of course, the iPad. “Apple,” he said,”has its feet firmly planted in the post-PC future.” These devices, according to Apple, made up 76% of its revenue last year and the company sold a total of 172 Million of them. Just in the last quarter alone, Apple sold 62 million iPads.

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10:42 am


Sorry Microsoft, But My Desktop Isn’t a Tablet

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Last week, Microsoft launched the consumer preview version of Windows 8 to the public. As I was at the Mobile World Congress, I didn't get to install it until the weekend, but I've now been able to put it through its paces for the last few days and been using it as my main operating system for most of that time. Its split personality is driving me absolutely bonkers, however, and I'm not sure I'll extend this experiment much longer.

Windows 8 is a beautiful tablet operating system, but on a desktop – and especially with a multi-screen setup – it just constantly gets in your way. Thankfully, this is just a preview version and Microsoft still has a few months to iron out the kinks, but unless it makes some radical changes, I'm not sure I'll be able to recommend Windows 8 anytime soon. Microsoft says Windows 8 will offer the best of both worlds and in a way it does. It's just that these two worlds aren't meant to be squished into one single operating system.

The Split Personality of Windows 8

At least in this preview, Microsoft makes no attempt to hide the split personality of its new operating system. There's the metro interface, which you can't avoid, as it also now doubles as the new start menu, and then there is the traditional desktop, which can be best described as Windows 7.5. The two user interfaces have nothing in common with each other and try as you want, you can't just use Windows 8 like a Windows 7.5 because the tablet interface constantly intervenes. To launch applications from the traditional desktop, for example, you always have to go back to the Metro-style start menu, which features a great design for tablets, but makes utterly no sense when you use a mouse and keyboard.

Oh, and what about those two different versions of Internet Explorer? There's the Metro version, which doesn't support Flash and has a very stripped-down interface – and then there's the regular browser that runs in the desktop. How do you explain that to a mainstream user?

Got Two Screens? Windows 8 Wasn't Made for You

Worst of all, when you use a dual-screen setup right now, the second screen always shows the Windows 7.5 desktop and you can't even run two metro apps side-by-side on the two screens. To make matter worse, Windows 8 right now assumes that your primary screen is always the one with the task bar on it, so you can't even start any apps on the other screen while you are in Metro mode (unless you opt to show the same task bar on both screens, which also makes no sense whatsoever).

Great Tablet UI – Pointless on the Desktop

Microsoft has decided to privilege the tablet use case over the traditional desktop and productivity one. At times, this leads to non-sensical decisions like a login screen you have to drag up to get to the password prompt (okay – you can just hit enter twice, too, I think – but it's not like you will accidentally start your desktop or laptop in your pocket).

And what about trying to put your PC to sleep or turn it off? In Windows 8 right now, you have to first log out as a user, then pretend you want to log in again and the hunt for the shutdown button, which is hidden under your user icon (or you can try to bring up the "charm" that appears when you hit the right side of the screen with your mouse – but that's a bit hard  when your main screen is on the left side and your mouse just moves over to the right screen).

Maybe there is an alternative universe out there where this makes sense.

Then, of course, there is also the question of why you would want to run these full-screen apps on your desktop in the first place. Apple pushed the same concept with its full-screen mode and just like Microsoft, it totally forgot about dual-screen users. I don't think I've ever run an OS X app in full-screen mode, as it just makes switching between apps too much of a hassle.

There's Still Some Time to Fix This…

Hopefully, Microsoft will continue to polish the edges of Windows 8 to the point where this disjointed experience becomes somewhat less disorienting and maybe even feel natural. I admit, I doubt it. And that's a shame. Microsoft made some really smart decisions with the Metro interface (including, for example, the ability to run two applications side-by-side). My desktop, however, isn't a tablet and instead of making things easier for me, Windows 8 just constantly gets in the way. Windows 7 does its best to get out of my way – Windows 8 instead throws some giant tiles onto my screen.



2:59 pm


Hands-On With Apple’s Mountain Lion: Don’t Like Change? You’ll Love this Update

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While Microsoft is working on its most significant operating system update in recent memory, Apple just released the first developer preview of Mountain Lion, the next update to OS X. Mountain Lion is scheduled for a public release in the summer. As with Apple's Leopard to Snow Leopard update, the company is clearly indicating that this is a minor update – and indeed, after spending a few days with Mountain Lion as my main operating system now, I still sometimes forget that I'm not using Lion.

The New Stuff in Mountain Lion: More About Apps than the Operating System

About This Mac

Unless you are deeply embedded in the Apple lifestyle and use an AppleTV, for example, or use Apple's default email app, chances are you won't notice too much new in Mountain Lion.

Sure, the Messages app is cool and useful – but that's really just an app that you could run on Snow Leopard as well (assuming Apple continues to support it after the general release of Mountain Lion). Indeed, most of the updates like the new Reminders and Notes apps are more about these new apps than the operating system.

Personally, I don't really care for the deeper Twitter integration, a new, more Chrome-like version of Safari or having access to Game Center in Mountain Lion. I never felt like I needed an easier way to share anything on Twitter and I don't play games on my Mac.

The interesting new features to me are support for AirPlay in OS X, as it yes another move by Apple to get the Mac closer to the living room (and maybe also a precursor to the iTV) and Gatekeeper, the new security feature in OS X that is meant to protect you from malware. If you own an AppleTV, AirPlay alone is likely with the upgrade.

The other update that you will likely use quite regularly is the Notifications bar. That, indeed, is a very iOS-like feature, but one that actually feels completely at home on the desktop, too (unlike the Launchpad Apple introduced with Lion). Only Apple's own apps currently make use of it, but once more developers integrate it into their applications, chances are you will use it all the time and wonder how you ever worked without it.

Mountain Lion Isn't Going to Turn Your Mac into an iPad

If you are worried about the "iOSification" of the Mac, Mountain Lion isn't the update to worry about. The update really isn't about convergence as it is about convenience. The deeper iCloud integration makes keeping you address books, notes and files in sync between your different devices easier, the rather useless iOS-like Launchpad app is still there, but you don't have to use it (I know I never do).

Nothing in Mountain Lion – except for maybe Gatekeeper if you set it to its most restrictive setting – takes anything away from what you can currently do in Lion.

Mountain Lion and Windows 8: Two Very Different Updates

Even though Apple obviously announced Mountain Lion just ahead of Microsoft's unveiling of the public beta of Windows 8, these are two completely different updates. With Windows 8, Microsoft is trying to reinvent its operating system to a degree that is closer to going from Mac OS 9 to OS X. While Microsoft is baking its tablet OS into its desktop OS (and we still have to see how successful it will be in doing this), Apple is just making the interplay between the desktop and mobile more convenient.



11:02 am


Apple Does the Right Thing: “Any App Wishing to Access Contact Data Will Require Explicit User Approval”

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Apple has finally weighed in on the ongoing discussion about the recent discovery that numerous iOS apps (including Path, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) upload their users' iOS address books to their servers. In a statement to AllThingsD, Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said that the company is "working to make this even better for our customers, and as we have done with location services, any app wishing to access contact data will require explicit user approval in a future software release.”

Apple also told AllThingsD that "apps that collect or transmit a user's contact data without their prior permission are in violation of [its] guidelines." Judging from this, it sounds as if Apple will add its own mechanism for requiring approval to iOS in one of the next updates.

I'm glad to see that Apple has finally clarified this. Until now, most developers apparently felt that this was a gray area, though quite a few already added explicit warnings to their apps when contact data was uploaded to their servers. Path, for example, quickly released an update to its app that added a warning and the option to opt out whenever users were about to send their data to its servers.

 



11:12 am


Address Book-Gate: U.S. Congress Members Ask Apple About its Role

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Two members of the U.S. Congress, Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman and Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee Ranking Member G. K. Butterfield, sent a letter to Apple's CEO Tim Cook this morning, asking for Apple's role in the recent scandal surrounding apps that quietly upload a user's address book to their servers. Specifically, the two congressmen want to know "whether Apple’s iOS app developer policies and practices may fall short when it comes to protecting the information of iPhone users and their contacts." Apple has until February 29 to answer the congress members' questions.

Dave Morrin, the co-found and CEO of Path, is also cc'ed on this letter.

What started out as a scandal around Path, though, has obviously moved far beyond the startup and the companies that have admitted to virtually the same practices now involve Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (though they all ask for permission before uploading your data), as well as Foodspotting (which doesn't ask) and quite a few others.

Many pundits have wondered if it isn't time for Apple to provide a technical solution to stop developers from accessing a user's address book and the two Congress members seem to be leaning in this direction as well. They also ask Apple about the rumors that "there’s a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user’s entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference.  It’s common practice, and many companies likely have your address book stored in their database."

Here is the full text of the letter, including a set of questions the congressmen want Apple to answer:

February 15, 2012

 

Mr. Tim Cook

Chief Executive Officer, Apple Inc.

1 Infinite Loop

Cupertino, CA  95014

 

Dear Mr. Cook:

Last week, independent iOS app developer Arun Thampi blogged about his discovery that the social networking app “Path” was accessing and collecting the contents of his iPhone address book without ever having asked for his consent.[1] The information taken without his permission – or that of the individual contacts who own that information – included full names, phone numbers, and email addresses.[2] Following media coverage of Mr. Thampi’s discovery, Path’s Co-Founder and CEO Dave Morin quickly apologized, promised to delete from Path’s servers all data it had taken from its users’ address books, and announced the release of a new version of Path that would prompt users to opt in to sharing their address book contacts.[3]

This incident raises questions about whether Apple’s iOS app developer policies and practices may fall short when it comes to protecting the information of iPhone users and their contacts.

The data management section of your iOS developer website states:  “iOS has a comprehensive collection of tools and frameworks for storing, accessing, and sharing data. . . . iOS apps even have access to a device’s global data such as contacts in the Address Book, and photos in the Photo Library.”[4]The app store review guidelines section states:  “We review every app on the App Store based on a set of technical, content, and design criteria.  This review criteria is now available to you in the App Store Review Guidelines.”[5] This same section indicates that the guidelines are available only to registered members of the iOS Developer Program.[6] However, tech blogs following the Path controversy indicate that the iOS App Guidelines require apps to get a user’s permission before “transmit[ting] data about a user”.[7]

In spite of this guidance, claims have been made that “there’s a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user’s entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference.  It’s common practice, and many companies likely have your address book stored in their database.”[8] One blogger claims to have conducted a survey of developers of popular iOS apps and found that 13 of 15 had a “contacts database with millions of records” – with one claiming to have a database containing “Mark Zuckerberg's cell phone number, Larry Ellison’s home phone number and Bill Gates’ cell phone number.”[9]

The fact that the previous version of Path was able to gain approval for distribution through the Apple iTunes Store despite taking the contents of users’ address books without their permission suggests that there could be some truth to these claims.  To more fully understand and assess these claims, we are requesting that you respond to the following questions:

 

  1. Please describe all iOS App Guidelines that concern criteria related to the privacy and security of data that will be accessed or transmitted by an app.

  2. Please describe how you determine whether an app meets those criteria.

  3. What data do you consider to be “data about a user” that is subject to the requirement that the app obtain the user’s consent before it is transmitted?

  4. To the extent not addressed in the response to question 2, please describe how you determine whether an app will transmit “data about a user” and whether the consent requirement has been met.

  5. How many iOS apps in the U.S. iTunes Store transmit “data about a user”?

  6. Do you consider the contents of the address book to be “data about a user”?

  7. Do you consider the contents of the address book to be data of the contact?  If not, please explain why not.  Please explain how you protect the privacy and security interests of that contact in his or her information.

  8. How many iOS apps in the U.S. iTunes Store transmit information from the address book?  How many of those ask for the user’s consent before transmitting their contacts’ information?

  9. You have built into your devices the ability to turn off in one place the transmission of location information entirely or on an app-by-app basis.  Please explain why you have not done the same for address book information.

 

Please provide the information requested no later than February 29, 2012.  If you have any questions regarding this request, you can contact Felipe Mendoza with the Energy and Commerce Committee Staff at 202-226-3400.

 

Sincerely,

 

Henry A. Waxman

Ranking Member

G.K. Butterfield

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade

 

cc:        Dave Morin

Path, Co-Founder and CEO



8:54 am


No More Buttons: Clear Demonstrates the Power of a Purely Gesture-Based Interface

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At Goldman Sach's technology and Internet conference today, Apple's CEO Tim Cook gave a rare live interview that provided a sweeping overview of the current state of Apple and some glimpses into its future. One moment that stuck with me was Cook noting how he things that at least some of the iPad's success is based on the face that it wasn't a completely new experience for users. The iPhone and iPad touch had already trained users in how to use Apple's gesture-based controls ("The iPad," he said, "stood on the shoulders of everything that came before it.").

It's somewhat fitting then, that today also marks the launch of Clear ($0.99), a deceptively simple todo list app for the iPhone that does away with menus and just focuses on providing a natural interface based on gestures and a few taps here and there. While most iOS productivity apps still use menus at the bottom of the screen, Clear just runs in something closer to a full-screen mode. Even if you don't feel the need for a new todo list app (and, no doubt, there are plenty of those around already), Clear is worth a look just for the interface alone. You can watch the demo below to get a better idea of what it looks like, but you really need to use it yourself to understand why people are so excited about this app.

Our friends over at The Next Web also have an interesting interview with Phill Ryu, one of the app's developers. In it, Ryu talks about how he thinks that virtual buttons are basically "about the most unsatisfying interaction you can have in a touchscreen device." Kids, Ryu thinks, are already growing up being more comfortable with gesture-based interactions than hotkeys and right-clicking. Games, of course, are mostly responsible for this, but it's only natural that these natural interfaces are now finding their way into productivity apps as well.

Clear may not be the right todo list app for you, but it is definitely blazing the trail for a new class of apps that will be completely based on gestures. This would have been completely impossible just a few years ago, as none of us were familiar with pinch-and-zoom gestures yet. But as Tim Cook pointed out earlier today, all of this has now become completely intuitive and the next logical step now is to just do away with more and more of what is still left of the desktop metaphors on our mobile devices.



11:35 pm



Tweetbot 2.0: The Best iPhone Twitter Client Just Got Even Better

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As Twitter has decided to focus on simplicity, its iPhone app is now a shadow of its former self for more advanced users (and for Twitter, search and lists apparently qualify as advanced features). Thankfully, there are some very good alternatives on market and among those, Tweetbot has long been my favorite. Today, the app's developers launched version 2.0 of Tweetbot and it’s a worthy upgrade to what was already – in my view – the best iPhone client for iOS.

Speed and New Features

The first thing you will likely notice when you start Tweetbot 2.0 is that it is significantly faster than previous versions. Searches, for example, now feel like they take a quarter of the time to appear on your screen.

Besides the speed, though, the app also now sports a number of new features. The updated timeline view, for example, now lets you immediately click on links and usernames. Before, you first had to select a tweet before these links became active. The timeline now also features in-line image thumbnails that let you quickly view an image with just one click.

Another nifty new feature is support for Readability as a mobilizer service. Just like Apple's Reader feature lets you see a text-only view of a website, you can now set Tweetbot to immediately see a text-only view of any link you click on (or you can toggle back and forth between the Readability view and the regular page).

Here is the full list of new features:[list]

  • Updated timeline view
    • Image thumbnails in timeline
    • Links now colored and single-tappable
    • “Retweeted by” bar now integrated and tappable
    • Cell colors adjusted for better contrast
  • New direct message view.
  • Redesigned “New Tweets” bar (Can be dismissed by tap and configured in Settings > Display)
  • Timed auto-refresh (timeline, mentions, and DM’s will refresh every 5 minutes)
  • Readability added as mobilizer service
  • Much improved tweet replies view
  • Links in user’s bio now tappable
  • “Huge” font size option in Settings > Display
  • Improved scrolling performance[/list]


11:37 am


Apple Doesn’t Want to Own Your Content: Updates iBooks Author EULA

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When Apple released iBooks Author, its new eBook authoring software, last month, most pundits and users loved the software but didn't love the end-user license agreement. The EULA, depending on how you interpreted it, seemed to say that Apple would own the exclusive rights to your content once you sold your newly designed eBook in the iBookstore. Now, Apple has clarified this, and as I predicted, the company has no interest in owning your content.

The New iBooks Author EULA

Here is the new text (my emphasis):

B. Distribution of Works Generated Using the iBooks Author Software. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, works generated using iBooks Author may be distributed as follows:
(i) if the work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute it by any means;
(ii) if the work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service) and includes files in the .ibooks format generated using iBooks Author, the work may only be distributed through Apple, and such distribution will be subject to a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary); provided, however, that this restriction will not apply to the content of the work when distributed in a form that does not include files in the .ibooks format generated using iBooks Author. You retain all your rights in the content of your works, and you may distribute such content by any means when it does not include files in the .ibooks format generated by iBooks Author.

The changes are in section II, which originally read (my emphasis):

(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.

Your Content is Yours

As expected, Apple has no interest in owning the full, exclusive rights to your content. Instead, the company simply wants to ensure that the books you won't sell the eBook you create with this tool – and specifically the layout and .ibooks file you create – on your own site or in another store. The updated language also seems to imply that it would be okay to sell the PDF version of the book, for example, as the EULA now specifically references "files in the .ibooks format."



12:29 pm


Hands-On With iBooks Author: eBook Authoring Made Easy, Not Just for Textbooks

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Apple just launched its new free eBook authoring app iBooks Author during an event in New York earlier today. During the event, Apple mostly focused on textbooks and authoring them with iBooks Author. In reality, though, the software will come in handy for a multitude of different kinds of books. It also opens up a whole new world of publishing for those who may want to create paid and free books based on their photography or travel experiences, for example.

We now had some time to test the app, which fits right into the same paradigms that Apple's iWork has already established for productivity apps on the Mac. There are the usual Inspector windows for accessing more advanced features, for example, as well as the pull-out panel on the side of the windows with your paragraph, character and list styles.

Everything feels very fluid and it's obvious that the same team that worked on iWork was also responsible for this product. This isn't iPhoto for books, by any means, though. While it's not Adobe InDesign or a complex design tool like either, it's clearly meant for users who are willing to put in a bit of time to create the best possible product (but then, if you are going to write even a short book, you're obviously pretty dedicated to what you are doing in the first place). Turning this short review into an iBook took about 15 minutes without any prior knowledge of the app, so it's not unthinkable that teachers could do this with their lecture notes, too, for example.

Template Chooser ibooks author

Working with iBooks Author

It's worth noting the first thing you realize when you start using iBooks Author is that this isn't meant to be a replacement for Pages, Word or your favorite text editor. The program expects you to focus mostly on layout and interactivity. Apple provides you with six templates, all focused on textbooks, though you can obviously arrange your box with your own layouts as well. 

Ibooks author reviewAdding Interactivity

This is obviously the most fun part of the whole experience. Apple provides you with 7 widgets that you can use to add interactivity to your book: Gallery, Media, Review, Keynote, Interactive Images, 3D and HTML.

Most of these are self-explanatory: Gallery and Media allow you to add images, audio and video files and Keynote allows you to add Keynote presentation to the documents.

The Review widget is obviously aimed at textbooks and allows you to create multiple-choice quizzes. There doesn't seem to be a way to save the results of these, though, and hence there is no way to tally them up at the end.

Interactive Images allows authors to add call-outs to images and also to have the image automatically zoom in to a specified area.

The 3D widget allows you to add COLLADA files, an open standard for creating 3D models, to your book. It's the same kind of file Google's SketchUp would create, for example. You can't add too much interactivity here, it seems, though, just the ability to see the object from all angles.

Widget 3d

As for the HTML widget, it's worth noting that you can't just import any old HTML file here. They have to be Dashcode-style files, the same kind you would use to build an OSX Dashboard widget. That actually gives developers quite some flexibility (adding maps, advanced interactivity etc.), but it definitely isn't the same as just throwing some HTML together. 

A lot of the highly interactive widgets you see in Apple's demo video were probably made using the HTML widget or Keynote.

Becoming a Published Author

Apple allows you to export your documents in three formats: iBooks (obviously), PDF and as a text document. Given Apple's license restrictions, you are only allowed to sell a book you authored with iBooks Author on the iBookstore. You can't sell your PDF file on your website itself, for example (though you are allowed to distribute a free version "by any available means," meaning you could give away free sample chapters as a PDF, for example).

It's worth noting that to sell a book in the iBookstore, you will also need to get an ISBN number for your book, set up an account with Apple and install the iTunes Producer software for uploading your books to the store.

With your iPad connected to your computer, you can also see a preview of your book at any time, by the way.

Help Center publish

Apple, it seems, will vet the books that it will let into the store. One interesting requirement is that you have to create a "sample book" before your book can be added to the store.

It's worth noting that you can obviously also distribute your book outside of the iBookstore if you just want your class to use it, for example. Users can then upload it to their iPad through iTunes or just tap on it in the iPad's native email program to open it.

This Review as an iBook

Obviously, I couldn't help myself and had to turn this short review into an iBook, too. You can download it here. Just email it to yourself or upload it to your iPad through iTunes. If you are on an iPad, you can also just click the link and open the file on your iPad directly.



9:14 am


Browsing the iTunes Store Just Got a Little Bit Easier with “Quick Look” Previews

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Here is a small but handy update to Apple's iTunes store: when you hover over an icon for an app, a new little 'i' icon will now appear in the bottom right corner of the screen. Click on it, and a small preview window will appear with all the regular info about the app. You can see screenshots and, of course, also buy the apps, songs and videos right from these previews.

Previews for Apps, Videos and Albums

For videos, a small play icon now also appears when you hover over their respective icons. Press one of these, and a preview of the song or video will start playing. For albums, the preview windows displays the contents of the album.

As Cult of Mac's Alex Heath notes, this looks quite a bit like the "quick look" feature in Apple's Mac OS X.

Here is what it looks like:

ITunes previews

 



3:37 pm