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The Latest Victim of the iPhone NDA: Developer Books

While we’ve already discussed Apple’s NDA and the muzzle its put on App Store developers when applications get rejected, its reach apparently extends to another area as well: books. Silicon Alley Insider reported Thursday that at least one publisher–Pragmatic Programmers — has canceled its plans to publish a book on developing apps for the device because of NDA restrictions.

News of the cancellation came by way of the publisher’s official blog. While the publisher thought the NDA would have been lifted following the launch of iPhone 2.0, it never was. “It now appears that Apple does not intend to lift the NDA any time soon. Regrettably, this means we are pulling our iPhone book out of production,” it said.

This is not an isolated issue. Take a look at some Amazon search results, which show Apple’s code of silence is also holding up other books as well. All appear to be on pre-order at the moment. There is at least one that explicitly says the release of the book is directly related to the lifting of the NDA itself.

So what is a developer to do? Let’s remind everyone that while Steve Jobs may have made a big deal out of how easy it is to program for the device, for many it is still completely new. Yes, a fair amount of it drag and drop. However for more advanced features some developers are going to need to brush up on on Macintosh programming–most are probably Windows developers first and foremost.

Books like the ones now being quashed are great references to get developers up to speed quickly. While I’m sure developers will survive without them, the learning curve may be a little steeper. Why frustrate the folks that are essentially the core of your entire platform?

While Apple may see its silence as key to keeping a competitive advantage, I’m seeing way too much negative publicity out of this, and its going to end up hurting the company in the end. I’m not sure how much longer the company is going to be able to maintain its current business practices.

Sooner or later, the walls are going to have to come tumbling down.


Google’s 10th Anniversary Search for Great Ideas

A few weeks ago, many of us were marking Google’s tenth birthday and wondering how it would celebrate the event–and assuming it would decorate its home page with a special logo. (The one at left is my crude handiwork.) I’m still not sure if Google did a special logo or plans to, but it’s announced one celebratory initiative that’s way cooler: It’s holding a contest to find great ideas that can help as many people as possible, and has set aside $10 million to spend on making up to five of them into realities.

The company calls this Project 10 to the 100th, and has created a Web site to spread the word. It’s also produced a little music video, which is pretty cute and features a song I’m now going to have trouble getting out of my head:

The site has a submission form, and lets you upload your proposal in the form of a video (30 seconds max) if you choose.

Google says the ideas can be big or little, and don’t necessarily need to involve technology–it’s all about how big an impact they can have. I’ll be interested to see what folks come up with–and whether Google’s $10 million investment pays off. I’m glad it’s trying.

The company has launched a tenth anniversary site that’s worth a visit if you’re a lover of Googletrivia.

Oh, and I just checked the Google holiday logo site–and see no evidence that it’s done a tenth aniversary one. I’m still holding out hope…

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Won’t Someone Build an Android-Based Anti-iPhone?

So T-Mobile’s G1 has been unveiled. It looks neat–and it looks like the most serious rival to the iPhone yet, though the BlackBerry Bold could be a contender once AT&T starts selling the darn thing.

What the G1 doesn’t seem to be is transcendent–a phone that’s as impressive as the iPhone, but in different ways. And the world could use such a phone. Some stuff about the iPhone is a matter of personal preference: Lots of folks are OK with the onscreen keyboard, but there are at least as many hardcore smartphone users who won’t ever buy a phone that doesn’t have (to quote Steve Jobs) little plastic keys.

Then there are the things about the iPhone that may stress out even Apple’s biggest fans, such as the company’s monopoly on application distribution and its mysterious, troubling policies on what does and doesn’t get in. All in all, I think there’s an opportunity for somebody to build a phone that’s the opposite of an iPhone in some ways, and better than an iPhone in others, and maybe even open in ways that no phone has been to date. And Google’s Android OS seems like the best platform to build it on.

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Apple Makes Changes to App Store Policies

Stung by criticism, Apple has put a muzzle on applicants to the App Store by including the rejection letters it sends under a non-disclosure agreement. In addition, it has closed a loophole which was allowing rejected developers to find other avenues to serve their applications to users.

The newest rejection letters come complete with a warning to those reading them: “THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS MESSAGE IS UNDER NON-DISCLOSURE.” No doubt this move is in response to high-profile cases of rejection by Apple, where developers in protest published the letters in verbatim.

We’ve covered at least one of these apps in detail, Almerica’s Podcaster, and shared our laments over Apple’s hard-lined stance several days later when another developer got the thumbs-down. Apparently, Apple’s had enough of this kind of coverage and has decided to put the kibosh on any further releases of its rejection notices.

But it doesn’t end with the extension of the NDA. Apple is taking it one step further by closing a loophole which was allowing developers such as Almerica to bypass the App Store completely. Originally intended for education and software testing, it allowed for ad-hoc licenses to be created which would allow the applications to be run on the phone legally. Continue Reading →


Skyfire: A Phone Browser That Thinks It’s a Desktop Application

At the DEMOFall conference a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t see a single product that knocked my socks all the way off. But when I think back to last January’s edition of DEMO, one product leaps to mind instantaneously: Skyfire, a browser for Windows Mobile that delivered remarkably desktop-like browsing–which is another way of saying that it came closer to the iPhone’s Safari than any Windows Mobile browser I’d seen.

Skyfire has been in private-beta mode for months, but today it’s finally releasing a version that anyone can download. It’s still a beta–version 0.8–and it behaved like one on my AT&T Tilt, sometimes refusing to connect to sites until I fiddled a bit with it. But I remain extremely impressed. If the beta leads to an official shipping version that works out the kinks, it could be one of the best browsers on any phone platform. And with a new version of IE for Windows Mobile stll a ways off and the more ambitious Windows Mobile 7 delayed, Windows Mobile needs all the browser love it can get.

(Skyfire is also available for Symbian S60-based phones; this version is still at 0.6, with 0.8 on the way, and I haven’t tried it.)

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Twelve Questions I Still Have About the T-Mobile G1 and Android

We now know a heck of a lot more about T-Mobile’s G1–the first “Googlephone”–than we did last night. But the phone won’t show up for almost another month. So unless you’re lucky enough to be one of the few folks who has one now–such as Walt Mossberg–it’s impossible to answer the most important question about the phone. Which is, of course, “Is it any good?” (Actually even Walt is reserving judgement, although he’s pretty positive overall.)

That leaves plenty of time to ask questions about the phone and the Android OS it’s based on. Such as…

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T-Mobile Appears to Be Set To Throttle G1 Users

You’d think T-Mobile would have learned from all the hubbub surrounding the Comcast bandwidth throttling mess, and Rogers’ fights with Canadian customers over its paltry iPhone 3G plans. Customers want their data, and they want it unlimited and unfettered. But maybe they haven’t gotten the memo.

Fine print on the carrier’s page for the device may give some pause, especially for the heavy data users among us.

If your total data usage in any billing cycle is more than 1GB, your data throughput for the remainder of that cycle may be reduced to 50 kbps or less. Your data session, plan, or service may be suspended, terminated, or restricted for significant roaming or if you use your service in a way that interferes with our network or ability to provide quality service to other users.”

While of course the company is well within its rights to attempt to keep service available for all of its users, the data limits stink. A majority of users will probably never make it to 1GB of data, I’ve been able to use 600MB easy in a month on my iPhone, and I know others who’ve used far more. Getting throttled, especially after I am paying a premium for faster data, would anger me quite a bit.

I’ve done a search through AT&T’s policies for the iPhone and cannot find a similar policy for the iPhone. When Canada’s Rogers came out in July with its meager data plans which capped data at 1GB (that is for data included in the plan), they were rightly criticized for it.

One thing is for sure — T-Mobile shouldn’t be advertising this as an “unlimited 3G data,” because technically that  isn’t true true. I guess it remains to be seen how aggressively they’ll police this. Don’t be surprised if users begin to complain quite vocally if the carrier has a heavy hand.

We’ve got a request in for official comment, and we’ll update this post if and when we hear back.


The T-Grid: T-Mobile’s G1 Android Phone vs. the iPhone

It was all but official for what seemed like an eternity. Now it’s just official, period: T-Mobile is releasing the G1, the first phone powered by Google’s Android operating system. It’s essentially impossible to not instinctively compare it to the iPhone 3G. With phones more than almost any other technology device, the devil is in the details, and the best thing about the iPhone–its incredibly refined user interface–needs to be experienced to be appreciated. So a real comparison of the two superphones will need to be a hands-on one.

Still, there’s some value in a simple features comparison. Here’s my first stab at one, with data from sources such as Gizmodo’s writeup of the G1. (What’s a T-Grid? It’s an at-a-glance comparison in this format, and we’ll be doing them on other topics as appropriate.)

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A Real Review of RealDVD

[NOTE: A court has ordered Real to stop distributing RealDVD for the time being–details here.]

In one sense, there’s nothing the least bit new about software that can copy DVDs to a PC’s hard drive. Folks have been using applications such as DVDShrink and Handbrake to do the job for years–and  the same people have moved movies to phones, media players, and other devices…as well as onto BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer networks, where they’re there for the taking by anyone who can figure out how to download them.

But because such applications decrypt DVDs, their legal status is the U.S., to put it politely, murky. Make that very, very murky, , considering that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibits the circumvention of copy protection. That’s true even if you’re engaging only in the victimless crime of enjoying movies you’ve paid for on a device that doesn’t happen to have a slot for a DVD.

Enter Real Networks’ RealDVD, a Windows program that’s a breakthrough in one significant respect: It’s a DVD-copying program–a ripper, if you like–that doesn’t violate the DMCA. That’s because it doesn’t strip off the copy protection the DVDs came with. Matter of fact, it adds additional copy protection that prevents users from sharing the DVD copies they’ve made, or watching them on anything other than up to five Windows PCs per license; other types of computers and devices aren’t supported. Only a DVD copier that locks down its copies in this fashion could go on the market without risking Hollywood’s wrath.

But RealDVD, which Real says it’ll start selling by the end of this month, is more than a DVD copier that’s hobbled by the fact that it doesn’t flout U.S. law. It copies not just the raw video files from a DVD but the entire DVD experience–bonus materials and all–and recreates them on the PC. And as you copy movies, it identifies them (using GraceNote, the same service that powers the CD-identification powers of iTunes and other music apps), catalogs them using cover art images, and lets you browse them by title, genre, or star. It’s a little like a $30 software version of the $30,000 media server from Kaledescape, a company whose victory in a court case brought by the DVD Copy Control Association last year confirmed that DVD copying can be legal.

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No E-Mail, Photo Editing, and Movie Editing in Windows 7? What a Good Idea!

Over at Cnet News, Ina Fried has posted some news that I find both startling and pleasing: Microsoft has told her that Windows 7 won’t come with applications for e-mail or for editing photos and movies. Windows Mail (née Outlook Express), Windows Photo Gallery, and Windows Movie Maker will live on, but as free downloadable Windows Live applcations rather than bundled into Windows.

I think that’s potentially a very encouraging sign about Microsoft’s priorities for W7. Operating systems shouldn’t be about e-mail or photo tweaking or movie making–they should be about being a fast, reliable, and intuitive platform for all of those applications and thousands more. By insisting on making those programs part of earlier versions of Windows, Microsoft hobbled both the apps and the OS in multiple ways:

–There’s no way that applications that move at the speed of OS development can keep up with the rest of the world. Windows XP shipped in 2001; how could a photo app tied to it compete with services like Flickr that arrived years later, even if it received updates?

–Applications bundled with operating systems are destined for mediocrity–nobody pays for them, or even chooses to use them. They’re defaults–at best, they get good enough to be good enough. And then they stagnate.

–Bundled apps are just a distraction. There’s so much fundamental stuff that Windows could do better on every front, from performance to security to usability; why lard up the OS with apps that are clearly optional and which have strong third-party rivals?

I don’t think Microsoft would nod its corporate head in agreement with all of the points above, but some of the things it told Ina about its decision aren’t wildly different in terms of the bottom line. That’s a striking reversal from marketing for Windows XP and Vista, both of which often played up the bundled applications that came with the OS. Here, for instance, is the XP ad with Madonna’s “Ray of Light”:

It’s also strikingly different than Apple’s OS-application strategy. It too makes an operating system and creative applications, but OS X and iLife only get bundled together on a new Mac. iLife will only live as long as it’s compelling enough to get real people excited enough to pay real money for it. Otherwise, they’re standalone products that must be purchased separately. Good for OS X; good for iLife; good, ultimately, for Mac users.

I think Microsoft could go way further with this basic idea: Should it be a given that Windows comes with Windows Media Player or even Internet Explorer? Maybe Paint should be retired after 23 years? (That’s apparently not going to happen–actually, it’s apparently getting a major makeover, with the Office 2007 Ribbon interface and multi-touch support.) But losing some apps is a good start–and I think that Windows Mail, Photo Gallery, and Movie Maker all stand a better chance of being really competitive if they stand on their own and only get used by people who make an effort to find, download, and explore them.