Drew Rattray : Design vs. Functionality
Drew Rattray
| News and views on design vs. functionality balance across the communications and technology space.

January 2009

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Weather the Storm

January 27, 2009

I'm exceptionally bad at checking the weather, and with the way this winter is going, I'm bound to get into trouble as a result of it sooner or later.  There's been a certain buzz  today about the snow and ice coming tonight and tomorrow, and honestly, if my fiancée hadn't said anything while I was walking out the door, I probably wouldn't have known about the storm until I found the roads covered in 4 inches of snow in the morning.

It made me realize that I really should start using my Verizon BlackBerry Storm for this type of thing.  It's always on me and has the functionality to keep me in the know with a simple touch of the finger.

I've found that it's not too difficult to check the weather using the browser on the Storm, but it's not very smooth either.  On the BlackBerry Bookmarks Home Page, there's a weather link that navigates to WeatherBug.  Once there, you plug in your zip code and you can get pretty decent reports and alerts.  But as always, I'm looking for a better, faster, and easier way.

While browsing for Storm 9530 Apps, I managed to find a unique WeatherBug application.  The application has a simple design and utilizes the touch screen functions of the Storm fairly well. One feature I found helpful, is that it will find your location through a GPS fix.  If for whatever reason your GPS is on the fritz or you don't want to wait for it to find your location, you can plug in locations as favorites and slide through them with a quick touch of your finger.

The application also features an icon that updates itself to tell you what the current conditions are for your area (if you're not near a window), the current temperature, and the high/low of the day.  Basically, you actually need to open the application if you just want a quick update on the weather outside.  Well... you could do that or just get off the computer for a minute and walk outside. 

Inside the application there is a current conditions page that tells you anything you want to know including temperature, wind speed, dew point, and much more.  You also get a 7 day forecast, which if you slide further too the right has detailed descriptions for night and day forecasts for every day including precipitation percentages and possible accumulations.  There's also a radar feature to see the conditions around your area, an option to view the conditions through the camera of the weather station you selected, and a weather advisory button to display alerts for your area.

The app is free and you can download it here.

















GEDC Sets a New Wireless Standard

January 23, 2009

I personally get very excited when I read about new steps in wireless technology.  I own a lot of gadgets, a lot of media hardware, and a lot of computers. With all of that comes a large electric bill and worse yet... a lot of wires. They're everywhere, they're a pain to keep organized and to hide, and they keep my gadgets confined to restricted areas.  I dream of the day when every gadget I own is wireless.  According to a report from ScienceDaily, my dreams may be approaching reality.

The Georgia Electronic Design Center (GEDC) at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has developed a new chip design that promises wireless functionality for ultra-fast media applications.  The new Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) chip is capable of transmitting 60 GHz digital Radio Frequency (RF) signals.  The chip "represents the highest level of integration for 60GHz wireless single-chip solutions."

What does this mean?  Multi-gigabit wireless technology is the next step for new wireless applications.  Consumers and IT markets alike will benefit from this new technology.



Welcome to the Inauguration Waiting Room

January 20, 2009

Like many people around the world, I've been trying to tune in to see the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America via Internet.  CNN.com Live and Facebook have been advertising that they will be streaming Inauguration coverage all day today, but I just keep getting dumped into a waiting room.  I get cycled back out and then just sit on a loading page.  I've let it sit there for 15 minutes twice already.

Sorry CNN, you should have dumped more resources into this system because you're losing my impressions for your advertisements today.  I hate their coverage, but I'm heading to Fox News because I know their player works.

Congratulations and good luck President Barack Obama.



The PerfectStorm?

January 18, 2009

Got an iPhone?  Want a BB Storm?  Well before you go changing carriers and investing in a couple hundred dollars of hardware, there's a new iPhone theme you may want to check out first.

The self proclaimed PerfectStorm brings the look and feel of the BlackBerry Storm to your Apple iPhone.  Once installed, most of the user interface resembels the Storm including icons, lock-screen, calculator, media player, camera, dialer, sounds, browser, and keyboard.

Personally, I think it's silly, but I guess if you are really having that much trouble choosing between the top touchscreen phones, it's a middle ground of some kind.

Pandora for the BlackBerry Storm?

January 7, 2009

I usually have Pandora, the internet-based radio station, running in the background while I work, and I see the ads showcasing the Pandora application for the iPhone just about every time I log in.  In fact, Pandora for iPhone just went 2.0, adding new functionality to an already well designed application.

So I have to ask...  where is version 1.0 for my BlackBerry Storm?  Why can't I join in to the Music Genome Project from one of the most advanced mobile devices on the market?  I can't even access Pandora through the web browser on the Storm.  Pandora Mobile already supports Sprint, AT&T, and Windows Mobile phones.  Why not support the latest and greatest from Verizon, the soon to be largest US Carrier?

When emailed a request for a Pandora app for the Storm, this was the reply:

Thanks very much for writing.

Each version of Pandora software for a portable device needs to be separately developed and approved by the cell carrier. We're currently working to bring Pandora to more devices including the Blackberry.

I don't know exactly when it will be available for the Storm but I would encourage you to stay tuned to our "On the Go" page for updates: Pandora Radio - Listen to Free Internet Radio, Find New Music for updates.

Thanks for listening in the meantime!

cheers-
Tom K@ Pandora














iTunes abandons DRM

January 6, 2009

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is an access control technology designed to limit the functionality of digital media.  By functionality, I mean the ability of a consumer to copy songs or move them to multiple computers.  Most of the music inventory that can be downloaded from iTunes to date has DRM embedded into it.  It's frustrating, and it drives music lovers from around the world to bypass paying for their music all together just so they can have full access to their music, a.k.a. illegal downloading.

At the Macworld Expo trade show today (Tuesday 1/6), Phil Schiller, Apple's Senior Vice President, gave the first keynote delivered at Macworld since 1997 that was not given by Steve Jobs.  He announced that iTunes will be offering songs in three pricing tiers beginning in April: $0.69, $0.99, and $1.29.  Which price you get all depends on the recording company the song came from.

The pricing tier is a result of a flexibility offering Apple gave record labels to convince them to agree to sell all of their songs DRM free.  Apple began offering 8 million of their 10 million songs today DRM free, and plan to have the other 2 million available by the end of the quarter.

I understand the plight of many music lovers.  Today's music is saturated and often bland.  Many do not want to pay $10-20 dollars for a full album from the music store, only to get 1 or 2 quality tracks.  Most of us have figured out the wonders of paying a dollar or two to download the tracks we want from iTunes instantly, and bypassing the crap.  But DRM is infuriating, and although I understand why it has been implemented in the past, it can drive a person to look elsewhere for their music.  By dropping prices on some songs and offering everything DRM free, Apple may be able to coax some of the illegal music downloader's back into a legit music lifestyle, and cashing in on the response.







ESPN.com gets Organized and Creative with their Redesign

January 6, 2009

First impression of the redesign...  I like it.  I don't live on the site like some of my colleagues do, but I navigate to ESPN.com at least once a day.  I find that the new, simplified, and tabbed navigation definitely reduces the clutter that engulfed the old design of ESPN.com. The main reason I come to ESPN.com is to stay updated on scores across the sports world, and I love that they placed the scoreboard at the very top of the page, above all advertising and banner ads.

One of the most notable and in-your-face changes is the Main Engagement and Carousel.  It's large, bright, and has a front-and-center location across a majority of the site, providing top editorial picks of sports videos and stories.

3D is Making a Comeback

January 2, 2009

It's been over 50 years since the Golden Era of 3D in theaters that began in 1952 with the release of Bwana Devil, the first stereoscopic feature film. Since then the 3D industry has had a few revivals and lulls, and has been carried along as a novelty in IMAX theaters... but now it seems it may see a permanent place in the entertainment world, and soon our own homes.

On January 8th, college football fans will be able to view the 2009 FedEx BCS National Championship in 3D in select theaters. It will be the first time a sports show has been filmed in 3D.  The NBA All-Star Saturday Night will also be offered in 3D on February 14th.

Following the success of 3D versions of kid films over the past year,  four leading studios will be backing the conversion of 10,000 screens to digital, making 3D movie offerings more of a staple in the film industry.  With large HD televisions steadily dropping in price, and Blu-ray seeming to do well this holiday season, film studios are looking for anything to coax viewers out of their home and back into the theaters.

Regarding home use of 3D, European satelite TV provider Sky tested a new 3D television service in London on December 18th.  The 3D television service is said to be available through existing HD infrastructure next year and not require the purchase of new set-top boxes (you will need 3D glasses though).

We've also now seen the introduction of the world's first 3D webcam by Minoru.







BlackBerry Storm Not So Touchy With TalkLock™

January 2, 2009

One design flaw that's bothered me with the BlackBerry Storm is that the touch screen remains active during a phone call.  CellAvant has offered a solution to my frustrations with TalkLock™.

While on a call, the BlackBerry Storm touch screen stays active and displays your number, your connected time, and as much information as is available with who you are contacted to.  On the bottom half of the screen you also have 4 large buttons, one for speaker, one for mute, one for flash and one to add participant.  Then at the very bottom there are 5 menu buttons. One to show keyboard, one to launch the notes application, one to navigate you to the home screen, one to show your calendar, and one to show your contacts.

All of these options are great and very useful in keeping everything at my fingertips that I might need during a call.  The only problem is I've got big cheeks...  Yeah I know it's an odd thing to say, but while talking or smiling, my cheeks constantly hit the mute button and I get mad at my phone because I'm talking and the person on the other end of the line can't hear me.  I've resorted to holding the phone out and hovering during the calls.

Now... I imagine the phone was designed this way because RIM and Verizon assume that a good percentage of their clients are Bluetoothing.  Everyone who lives off an earpiece would have no idea what I'm talking about and I can see how this current design works perfectly for them.  I however hate walking around with an earpiece as I've said before, and I know I'm not the only one.

Well, for the rest of us Stormies that are frustrated with accidental screen presses during a phone call, CellAvant is offering the free utility TalkLock™ (BETA), a touch screen lock for the BlackBerry Storm.

Once downloaded, the utility automatically engages a few seconds after a call is connected.  It locks your screen similar to the image shown in this entry.  While you see this screen, all normal touch screen functions during the call are intercepted, preventing screen presses from launching functions or programs.  If you need to access all those options you would normally have on a call, just slide the lock bar across, and you return to the normal Storm call screen.  When the call ends, TalkLock™ automatically releases your phone and hides until the next call.  The background image that you see during the call is also customizable (save a 360x480 PNG format image over TalkLock-Background.png in the home/user folder of Device Memory and do a full reboot).

To install TalkLock™, register here, providing an email address that delivers mail to your BlackBerry Storm. According to my device the download was 69.0KB for Version 1.01.