End-of-year Blog Bits: From iPhones to Digital Watches

Whenever I get a idea for a potential blog entry, I jot it down. That way, if I'm ever having trouble thinking about what to write, I can check the list and hopefully find something to rescue me. Many of the ideas never make it past the gestation stage. Right now, there are more than a dozen topics on the list.

With the end of the year fast approaching, I decided to prune the list. While many of the topics might not be meaty enough for a full column, they still seemed worth a brief mention. Hence today's blog. From iPhone tips to movies to digital watches, it's a collection of mini-topics which, for lack of a better term, I call "blog bits."

The iPhone Home needs folders. Now that I am bulking up my iPhone with at least one new app every week or so, I am already on my sixth Home screen. Not only am I in danger of soon reaching the maximum number of screens (nine), but it is becoming increasingly difficult to quickly locate a particular app ("Did I put it on screen 3 or screen 4 or where exactly?"). It's become clear that what is needed is a folder structure, as in the Mac OS X Finder. That way, I could put all of my games, for example, in a Games folder. This would reduce the number of root level Home screens and, at the same time, make it much easier to locate any particular app.

"Stars Wars: The Force Unleashed" requires iPhone Software 2.2. Speaking of iPhone apps: Shortly after iPhone Software 2.2. update was released, a new version of the game Stars Wars: The Force Unleashed was similarly released. According to the description in the iTunes Store, the Star Wars app has an "updated sound API" and "requires iPhone 2.2. Software Update." Interesting. I know that the iPhone 2.2 update includes improvements in audio (Apple specifically mentioned improved audio for visual voicemail). But I am not aware of any other applications that actually require the iPhone update in order to work.

Still, a word to the wise. If you haven't yet updated to 2.2 and are having trouble with any third-party apps: update. As with the Star Wars program, it may need the new update to work properly.

New podcast features with iPhone 2.2: worth checking out. Speaking of the iPhone 2.2 update, have you tried out the new podcasting features? If not, do it now. They are quite cool.

Unlike the other parts of the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, you don't need a Wi-Fi connection for accessing podcasts. The feature works via a 3G or even an EDGE connection. Perhaps most cool, you can stream podcasts live -- saving you the time, trouble, and disk space of having to download them. It even allows you to watch video podcasts (although some videos are in an "unsupported" format and won't run). Viewing a variety of podcasts is now almost as easy as switching channels on your television!

Starbucks and the Wi-Fi Music Store: anybody home? Speaking of the Wi-Fi Music Store, remember the feature that allows you to make a free limited Wi-Fi connection at Starbucks locations? This has diminished value for iPhone owners (as you now have unlimited free Wi-Fi at Starbucks and all other AT&T locations). But it is still valuable for iPod touch users and anyone who might want to use the special Starbucks section of the iTunes Store (which allows you to view the currently playing and recent played selections in the Starbucks store).

Be prepared for some possible disappointment. Although the Starbucks service apparently still exists, it seems less well-supported than earlier in the year. The last four Starbucks I visited did not have the service working properly (even though they worked on a previous visit). Either I was unable to connect at all or, after successfully connecting, I was unable to get the Starbucks feature to work in the iTunes app. Don't count on help from the sales staff; they typically don't provide any tech support for this service.

I understand that the Starbucks option does not appear if you login via the attwifi access. I was using the T-Mobile connection, as instructed in the Apple support article.

Apple support article update emails: RIP Speaking of Apple's support articles, Apple used to offer a weekly email that listed all of the support articles released during the past week. No more. Instead Apple now directs you to a couple of Web pages that list recently posted articles. While the Web pages work as advertised, I still liked the email notifications. They were a convenient way to remind me to check the Apple database each week and provided a permanent record of updated articles that I could easily check long after a given article was no longer listed on the "recent" Web page listings.

Maintaining the email list seems like a relatively low-cost service for Apple. I am not sure why they felt the need to discontinue it. But it's consistent with Apple's general disregard for anyone who wants to keep up with Apple's latest postings. Every year, they seem to find new ways to make doing so more difficult. My biggest gripe (see my previous posting) continues to be Apple's refusal to indicate whether or not an article is a new posting or a modification of an existing one. All that Apple provides, even for a new article, is a "Last Modified" date. True, some older articles show both an "Old Article" number and the new one, which does tell you that this article is not a new one. But for updates to articles that don't have an old number, you can't tell the new from the old.

Netflix on TiVo. Wow!! If you use Netflix and have a recent TiVo model, congratulations. You can now watch all the movies in your Instant Queue right from your TiVo. Previously, the queue was mainly limited to viewing movies on your computer (which is generally less convenient and less enjoyable than watching on a TV). Worse, if you are running Mac OS X, you couldn't view the movies at all -- as the software requires Windows (although a Mac-supported version is coming soon). Now, with a TiVo, you can instantly watch any and all of over 12,000 movies, at no additional charge beyond your normal monthly Netflix fee. I've already watched several movies (including Transsiberian and SherryBaby) and it works great. Compared to renting the movie from the iTunes Store, it's like getting the movie for free.

On a related TiVo subject, if you have an iPhone, you can now use the TiVo Mobile Web site to set up recordings right from your phone.

The Dark Knight soundtrack. Why? Speaking of movies, The Dark Knight is out on DVD. You've probably already seen the movie. But it's worth seeing again, if only to appreciate Heath Ledger's amazing (and sadly, final) performance (which is almost certain to win an Academy Award).

You can also purchase the movie's soundtrack album. My question is: Why? That is, why would anyone purchase this CD -- especially the 2 disc special edition that costs over $45 dollars even at Amazon's discounted price? That's more than the movie costs. Even at a more typical CD price, does anyone really want to listen to this background music (with titles such as "And I Thought My Jokes Were Bad" and "The Ferries") more than once? Not me. It may be great background for the movie, but as stand-alone music on my iPod, it's just boring.

Digital watches. Wherefore art thou? Finally, having nothing to do with anything, except possibly a last-minute holiday gift: What's the story with digital watches? Why have they all but disappeared -- except for inexpensive, and generally ugly, sports watches? I know some people find the whole idea of a digital watch to be unavoidably ugly. Maybe that's why their presence has diminished. But I have long preferred a digital read-out, with day and date, to an analog clock. The trouble is, if I want a digital watch and want to be even a bit fashionable, I am pretty much out of luck. Oh well, perhaps someone will get me The Dark Knight soundtrack instead.

Happy Holidays everyone.