Andy Yip and Jane Zeng, creators of the iPhone app DaBus were featured on Yasmin Dar's Social Wire segment on KITV's morning show. Both Andy and Jane were part of CityCamp Honolulu and the CityCampHNL Hackathon. In fact they won top honors at the Hackathon. Since the Hackathon, they came up with a name for the app, polished it up and got it added to Apples iTunes App Store. The DaBus app takes the guess work out of catching the bus on the island of Oahu. It uses the near real-time GPS arrival information, courtesy of the Oahu Transit Services, to provide the best estimated time on when the next bus will arrive. This app also tracks the current location of the bus you are interested using the GPS device installed on many of the buses. In addition, it also provides options to explore different bus routes and take a virtual ride to better understand its route. DaBus app ver 1.1 is available in the iTunes App Store. Jerome Koehler, tech blogger at Non-Stop Honolulu also did a video review of DaBus and its application. Congratulations go out to Andy and Jane for the successful launch of DaBus.
At this month's Bytemarks Lunch, I invited Paul Dickey and Edward Wright from Verizon Wireless to talk about Motorola's new Google Android phone, Droid X. I did get to see (and touch) one back in June but it wasn't until now that I actually get to play with one. On first appearance, the feels big. I am used to the iPhone 3GS and the Droid X is about 10% bigger in size, but the two phones weigh about the same. The 4.3 inch 854x480 display is much better than my 3GS screen resolution but iPhone 4 users are already enjoying crisp viewing with their new hardware. The Droid X comes with an 8 megapixel camera with flash and can shoot HD movies. It also has an HDMI port that you can plug into your television for content viewing. Paul showed us a video he took with his Droid X of an F-18 landing on the USS Ronald Reagan. It looked as good as any hand-held video camera. Moore's Law, which states that computing power will double every 18 months seems to apply directly to smartphone capabilities. The Droid X demo unit I have is running Android 2.1 (Eclair), not Froyo (Android 2.2) which is not slated to come out until late summer but I also heard as late as November. A couple of cool features with Eclair is the Live Wallpaper. Instead of a static photo you can now have clouds wafting across your screen or in my case autumn leaves floating in a pond. But this is just eye candy. More interesting is the voice to text feature. As an input option, you can speak your messages into the Droid X. Where ever the keyboard comes up, there is a selection for microphone. The key to its operation is short, well articulated phrases. You can't as an example dictate this blog post. The speech recorder is sensitive to pauses so will automatically stop once a second of silence is encountered. It works great for phrases like "are you available for dinner tonight?" or "where is the nearest Starbucks?" The translation feature is cool too. You can speak Japanese to it and it will give you an English translation. Great for the next time you are in Harajuku ordering sushi. You can also use the voice feature for navigation. GPS knows where you are so when you tell it where you want to go, it will give you directions on how to get there. Another feature of the Droid X is Motorola's integration with Swype. Thank goodness Motorola dropped the physical keyboard. It was built into the original Droid and I thought it make the phone heavy and the keyboard, to me, was unusable. Swype is a text input selection and allows you to draw the words on the keyboard. Well, when I say draw, it more like connecting the dots or letters. So if you were to want the word "lunch" you would connect the letters with your finger. For those of us that are used to typing with two thumbs, it takes some getting used to. But, if you a new to these screen keyboards, Swype beats the one-finger hunt and peck. Right now I am enjoying Pandora on the Droid X. Downloaded it from the Android Market. Droid X is a fun phone which we will be talking more about on this week's Bytemarks Cafe (Wed. 8/4 at 5pm on KIPO 89.3FM) when we talk about smartphones in general with Angela Keen and Brian Dote. In the meantime I am going to kick around the tires and see what else the Droid X has to offer.
These Android phones are coming out fast and furious. Late last year I got to touch a Motorola Droid. It was a little heavy compared to the iPhone and it had a built in keyboard that nobody liked. Next up, the Nexus One was sold by Google early this year with quite a bit of fanfare as the tech pundits predicted how Google was going to disrupt the cell carriers distribution model. Less than four months later Google pulls the plug on their online sales strategy. Despite all these fits and starts the Android phone, independent of manufacturer, is gaining fast on the iPhone. Obviously people are looking for an alternative and the competition is good for the smartphone marketplace. What I like about Android is how Google and the carriers are willing to try new models and offerings. Some things work, others don't, but innovation continues. In spite of its clunky keyboard, Verizon Wireless and Motorola are now pitching Droids for a special two for one sale. Over the past two weeks, Verizon Wireless loaned me a demo HTC Incredible to play around with. I will admit, I am a staunch iPhone fanboy but am a little infatuated with the Android operating system. Its Google app (Voice, Goggles, Maps, Gmail) integration and open architecture are enticing. And now, with HTC's streamline design I am about to come out of the closet. The HTC Incredible does not have a hardware keyboard making it a very light unit. Lighter in fact than the iPhone. Anybody used to typing on the screen will easily adapt to the Incredible. The 480x800 touch screen is very sharp. Some of my geek friends complaint about HTC Sense, the overlay UI (user interface) that connects you to Android, but I found it quite responsive. The power/lock button on the top of the unit is slight to the touch (compared to the iPhone) and I found myself putting the device in sleep mode inadvertently. I love the 8 megapixel camera that comes equipped with a flash. The addition of an FM tuner was also a nice treat. What I did not like about the HTC Incredible was the lack of Mac support for syncing. I connected the USB cable to my Mac Mini and the unit indicated it was recharging. Outside of that there, was no recognition by my Mac of the device. Others on the HTC Forums seem to have similar problems. One person suggested a third party application for syncing to the Mac but paying for an app that I think should be a basic feature with the phone goes against everything I believe in. All in all a nice job engineering the HTC Incredible in to a compact package but still lacking elements that make it ready for prime time. If HTC/Google fixes the syncing problem I might reconsider, but for now I am sticking with my iPhone. Update: 6/1/10 - I got a chance to talk to Verizon Wireless today and found a way to connect to the phone's disk drive. Forget what they say in the Quick Tips Guide. To get to the drive you need to plug the USB in and watch the top menu bar on the phone. You can drag that bar down to reveal additional options. One option is "Disk Drive". Once selected you can see the unit in Finder and it also automatically launchs iPhoto for picture downloads. Not too intuitive but it does work. My appreciation for this phone just went up a notch.
About a week ago, friends over at Archinoetics asked if I wanted to be a beta tester for their new iPhone app called Epic Tracker. I had heard about Epic Tracker from following Roz Savage's row across the Pacific on her "epic" solo row. The program's first iteration was called Roz Tracker and on her recent leg from Kiribati to Australia, I noticed it had evolved to Epic Tracker. Now, I am not about to row across the Pacific or scale the heights of Mt. Everest and chances are the only epic treks I will go on are those in my own mind. Nevertheless, I love the idea that you can embark on a journey and mark your course along the way. As it turns out, I had the perfect excursion to field test out Epic Tracker. On the day of the LOST series finale, my friend Ryan Ozawa organized an outing at Kualoa Ranch to visit some of the notable filming spots. It was great timing and the perfect epic trek I can handle. With iPhone in hand, it was quite simple to capture a spot with a photo and sending to to Epic Tracker. The input screen allows you to title, provide a description, tag and select your multimedia content of choice, photo, video or audio. Since I like the point and shoot immediacy of photos that's the route I took. As for GPS, I selected automatic GPS since I was not prepared to manually input GPS coordinates. Once you've assembled all your content, you click Submit Post and away it goes. I felt there should be some validation before hitting send but that might be due to the newness of the application and my not wanting to lose data. I've noticed with the iPhone GPS, you can never be too sure about your location accuracy. This is the result of cell phone tower triangulation which is problematic in remote locations, but then again, I have been in urban Honolulu locations with sketchy results. Once I completed my trek submissions, it wasn't until I got back on my desktop computer that I could see my completed trip. Not surprisingly several locations were way off. It was a bit of a challenge to relocate those spots since the Epic Tracker did not provide a way to move your map point. I ended up going into Google Maps and approximating where the location was and got lats and longs from there. That got edited back into Epic Tracker for a more accurate display of the LOST sites we visited. I later found out that by tapping the GPS Signal indicator on the screen, you would get a display of your map location. But you still couldn't adjust it. I suppose if you were on a real epic journey you would have a GPS device that you could manually input coordinates into Epic Tracker. The social media features allow you to send out your posts to Twitter and/or Facebook. I was blasting my ET posts to Twitter and getting updates from Ryan when he saw them. As you can see, the message starts off with a hashtag for EpicTracker. The title is the only user generated message. I could have probably been more informative but at the time I thought my description was also going to be included. The rest of the tweet is an Epictracker url. An obvious suggestion would be to use a url shortener. Maybe they can work something out with Turkey and get Epic.tr. Back on the website, more work needs to be done to add a social element. I can see a lot of my friends using this service and I would like to follow their travels. Right now there doesn't seem be that feature. The website also seems to be split into two parallel views, one HTML and the other Flash. Once in the Flash view you aren't able to one-click back into HTML view. You need to type the entire url. There are other idiosyncrasies but I will chock it up to being early beta. In all fairness, I can't be too critical since this version of Epic Tracker is not publicly available. My role at this time is to kick the tires and report back. So far I like what I see and if some of these improvements are made for the public release I am sure you will like it to. I'll keep you posted.
For the past week or so I've had the pleasure of using a Motorola Droid courtesy of Verizon Wireless. It's a loaner so I have to return it shortly. As these are my first impressions, I am going to make the obvious comparisons to the iPhone 3GS which I will admit I am in love with. The first question I have is without an iTunes like interface, how does one sync all the content to the Droid? At first take it is not intuitively obvious. Neither is it on second take. I thought I might be able to drop content into the Droid if I plug it into my laptop but Finder on my MacMini did not see any Droid device or storage. The Droid did recognize the Mac as a power source, though. So loading music and podcasts will have to wait. The next thing I did was search for applications. The Droid menu includes something called a Market launchable from an icon that looks like a little briefcase. Clicking that brings up the Android marketplace. From here you can search and select from thousands of Android apps. The big difference from the iPhone is Google is not restricting any apps from being made available for the Droid. The vetting process that Apple subjects all the apps getting into the iTunes Store is a big sore point for many developers. As will all things there is a plus side and a downside. For Google Android it is open to anyone wanting to develop for their Droid phones. The downside is that there exists the possibility for some nefarious applications to be downloaded to your phone. In the Apple case, they control access but with the promise that it will be a user friendly environment. Once you find an application you like in Market you just click on it and Install. The app gets downloaded directly to your phone from the Verizon 3G network. I tried a few of the popular titles like Seesmic for Twitter access, Yelp for restaurants and ShopSavvy for barcode reading. All worked fine except Yelp did not have the augmented reality feature as found on the iPhone version. I did like the Google Goggles app just announced last week. With it you can snap a picture of a book, a product, a landmark, even a face. Goggles will then scan the image and return search information based on your image. Very cool. The Motorola Droid phone is solid, even a bit heavier than the iPhone 3GS. I've heard a lot of people complain about the physical keyboard but people complained about the iPhone screen keyboard when it first came out. My only comment is since the Droid has a screen keyboard, it could do away with the physical keyboard and reduce some weigh and complexity. The screen for the Droid is very crisp making for clear images. I also like the Voice activation capabilities with the Droid. I must also mention, last week there was an upgrade to the Android operating system to 2.0.1. The phone automatically prompted me of the update and proceeded to download it. Quite seamless. All in all a very nice phone. One that will be a major player in the smartphone market. Right now though IMHO, the Droid is more suited for the early geek adopter. The true test is the Mom test. Moms are more incline to get immediate benefit from the iPhone before the Droid. I'll update this post as I get more information. Unfortunately I will have to return this phone shortly. Stay tuned to the Dec. 30 edition of Bytemarks Cafe where we will have a couple of gadget geeks on to talk about their impression of the Droid.