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Barcode Scanner app for iPhone

I just learned of an iPhone app called “Snappr.” It’s amazing.

Click here to get the free Snappr app. Launch it, then “scan” a barcode by taking a picture of it using your iPhone’s camera. The picture is sent to Snappr’s servers, where the code is actually read. In a few seconds they tell you how much that thing would cost at,, and a few others. That way, before you buy that big flat-screen TV as a present for your older brother’s 47th birthday this coming July so he can watch college football games while typing his fingers off in an effort to make the world a better place for Mac and iPhone users everywhere, you-- Brother Spencer-- could check that you were getting a good deal.

I will demonstrate with a box of Rice-a-Roni, recently purchased at my local grocery store. Let’s find out whether I got a good deal.

Here’s the bar code (as seen in the Snappr app after I took the picture)...
Snappr Rice-a-Roni barcode

And here’s how much it would cost at “Meijer,” wherever that is.
Snappr Rice-a-Roni image and info
I don’t want 12 boxes but it’s nice to know that it would cost $14.71 for the dozen. I only paid 99 cents for my box so I’m feeling pretty good.

Let’s try something a little different: a CD.

Here’s the bar code (a little blurry)...
Snappr CD barcode

And here’s what comes back from Snappr.
Snappr Willie Nelson Greatest Songs
Pretty neat. Of course, I already bought it, but suppose I was in the store looking at CDs and was only thinking about buying it. Armed with the price info from Amazon & Yahoo I would know whether I should buy it at the store or not.

Pretty cool stuff.

Snappr says that you have to have a special macro lens on your iPhone to take the bar code pictures properly, but I say you don’t. I took those bar code pictures with my stock iPhone 3G S and everything turned out fine. If you DO want a macro lens, get this case for your iPhone (from Griffin), as it has a little slide-out lens and it does make a difference. You can always try taking a picture of a bar code without the macro lens-- it’s a free app, so it costs nothing to try. (The iPhone 3G S’ camera is Apple’s best camera yet, so maybe the Snappr people just need to update their website.)

Read more about Snappr here. I say check it out.

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iPhone 3.0 software-- go get it

If you buy a new iPhone you get the latest iPhone system software (iPhone OS 3.0) and thatt lets you some pretty cool things:
  1. Cut, copy, and paste
  2. Landscape keyboard for email, text messages, etc.
  3. Spotlight search of email, address book, etc.
  4. Voice memos
... and lots more. The neat thing is, you can put the new iPhone software on an older iPhone-- for free. It’s fine with me if you quit reading right now and go do it.

In case you need instructions:
1. Connect your iPhone to your Mac with the USB cable.
2. Sync your iPhone (this creates a fresh backup).
3. Click the “Check for Updates” button in iTunes and get the 3.0 software
4. Download the update and let Apple (and time) do the rest.

Click here to see a list of the new features in iPhone OS 3.0 and to find out which of the features will work on your phone.

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iPhone 3G S-- it's great!

I bought a new iPhone last week-- the 3G S, 16 gigabytes of storage, in vivid black. It looks just like the 3G it replaces but has a few new doodads inside. And it has “S,” which stands for “Speed.”

Here are some pictures.
iPhone 3G S front and side views

Here’s a list of the things I like about my new iPhone 3G S.
  • It was easy to order from Apple’s website.
  • It was “only” $199 (my original iPhone was $599-- yikes).
  • It arrived on time, on Friday 6-19-2009, thanks to Fed Ex (no charge from Apple).
  • It is MUCH faster than my original iPhone-- at everything.
  • The camera can take still photos or video. Video can go straight to YouTube if you’d like.
  • The camera has an autofocus but you can tap the screen to show what you’d prefer to focus on.
  • There’s a compass inside so when you look at a map it can orient itself to the direction you’re facing.

All of the things I liked in the original iPhone are here in the 3G S: easy to use, elegant interface, great selection of applications.

The only things I don’t like about the new iPhone have to do with AT&T. First, the phone wouldn’t activate, and that was because AT&T had no idea I had this new phone-- even though I had to pass through AT&T’s website to check my eligibility for the new iPhone’s subsidized pricing on the way to buying it. It took me a day to figure out what was going on, but after a couple tries with AT&T’s hilariously uninformed “customer service” squad (“You can’t activate the iPhone without going to either an Apple store or an AT&T store” (wrong). “You don’t have an iPhone 3G S” (wrong). “The internet is like a big highway, and activation of so many phones at once is like running out of gas on the way to your mother’s on 4th of July weekend” (huh? Actually, I made that one up)).

The second thing I don’t like about the new iPhone 3G S is it costs me $10 more per month to get the same kinds of stuff as my original iPhone: 450 anytime minutes, unlimited data plan, unlimited text messaging. It’s faster at the data stuff so I am not bothered all that much. Still, $100 per month sort of adds up.

Hats off to AT&T customer service guy “Justin” who listened to my story, verified that his company didn’t know about my new iPhone, entered my new phone’s SIM card number and iPhone serial number into their computers, AND made sure that my voice mail worked. All without once hanging up on me. More like that, please. Boo and hiss to every other AT&T comedian, I mean “customer service representative,” who either didn’t know anything about the iPhone, or anything about anything. There were four of those. Double boo and double hiss to AT&T’s automated customer service phone system that makes you enter your phone number, then “touch or say 1 for service,” then “touch or say 7 for iPhone support,” then “touch or say 0 to speak with an operator,” then-- after you get through all that they say “Sorry, we’re closed. Call back during regular business hours.” That’s nice.

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Palm Pre-- not for me

No doubt you’ve been hearing a lot about Palm’s new “Pre” phone, made by a new team at Palm that looks a lot like the old team at Apple. Jon Rubinstein heads the group (and now Palm itself) and he used to be in charge of the iPod division of Apple. (Click the link to read all about Jon Rubinstein’s career-- he’s done a lot.)

David Pogue (New York Times) liked the Pre-- read about it here.

Walter Mossberg (Wall Street Journal) liked the Pre-- read about it here.

Christian Boyce (free agent writer, currently available for assignment) did not like the Pre. Read about it right here.

Palm didn’t send me a Pre to play with, so I had to leave my office-in-the-living-room-- I mean “the West Coast Headquarters of Christian Boyce and Associates”-- and find a Pre on my own. Sprint is currently the only carrier with the Pre so I drove over to my local Sprint store (and then drove some more, because the store doesn’t have any parking). It took me so long to find parking that I almost gave up, but being so intrigued with the Pre’s potential, and feeling a deep sense of responsibility to the four people who were waiting for my review, I made it to the Sprint store, and there it was--- the Pre! Of course, leave it to Sprint to display the Pre in the back of the store, mixed in with a bunch of other shiny black phones so you can hardly notice it. Here’s what it looks like closed (but on), front and back:

Palm Pre front view
Palm Pre Back View

Here’s what the Pre looks like with the keyboard slid open. This is part of what I didn’t like, so pay attention. Note that the keyboard doesn’t really slide down-- instead, the phone slides up.

Palm Pre keyboard

Now let’s have a look from the side. You can see it’s sort of curvy: you slide the phone away from you, and up.

Palm Pre side view keyboard extended

I’m not going to complain about the TINY keyboard. Some people like any keyboard more than the iPhone’s no-keyboard keyboard, even if the keys are small and rubbery and make me feel clumsy. No, the complaint is simpler, and surprising: the keyboard is really hard to slide out. Really hard. Really. (Maybe it’s because you’re trying to make the phone slide forward and UP but all you can do is push it forward and DOWN. The action is sort of a watermelon seed between the fingers thing, but it’s not slippery enough. So it doesn’t feel right.)

It’s funny how things that feel right, feel right, and things that feel wrong, feel wrong. When it’s right, you feel good every time: closing the door to a Mercedes, or putting on cowboy boots that fit. When it’s wrong, you feel bad every time, and it’s a lot easier to come up with examples for “wrong”: turning off a PC (hint: click “Start”), turning ON my Samsung phone (press “End”), telling the gas pump whether you want a receipt or not (press Red for “Yes”, Yellow for “No”-- Green is for “Cancel”). You can add “sliding out the keyboard on the Palm Pre” to the “feels wrong and makes you grimace every time” list.

If Apple made a slide-out keyboard it would move as if by magic. I don’t know how it would work but I know it wouldn’t feel like two pieces of plastic grating on each other (like Palm’s does) and it wouldn’t have sharp edges (like Palm’s does). It looks to me as if Palm could have used Jonathan Ive’s touch on this-- he’s Apple Vice President of Industrial Design, and more than anyone else responsible for the look and feel of Apple’s products, including the MacBook Pro, the iMac, the iPod, and yes, the iPhone. I’ll bet Steve Jobs does his best to keep Jonny from looking for new places to work.

I guess you have to try it for yourself. I’m betting you won’t like it. It doesn’t help that Sprint displays the Pre with a heavy steel cable securing it to a post, making it hard to get a feel for the weight of the Pre in your hand. But what the heck, go have a try at that keyboard yourself-- and let me know what you think when you do.

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Safari 4-- free, and great

Safari 4 download link

Lost in Monday’s excitement about the new iPhone was the news that Safari has been upgraded to version 4. I think it’s terrific, and since it’s free you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. I say “go get it.”

Click here to read all about it.

In a nutshell, Safari 4 loads pages faster than anything and is very nice to use. It will read your old bookmarks, and it will work on your Mac as long as you have 10.4.11 or 10.5.7. (Mom, you’re all set-- download away.) Try the “Top Sites” feature, and try searching your History, and try reviewing your History in the new Cover Flow way.

Watch this space for Safari Super Tips, coming soon.

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WWDC Keynote Speech

Apple’s Phil Schiller give the keynote speech at the World Wide Developers Conference. Click on the picture to watch the show.

World Wide Developers Conference Keynote Phil Schiller

In a nutshell:
  • Updated MacBook Pro laptops
  • Updated iPhones (some cheaper, some faster)
  • iPhone software 3.0 coming this month
  • Mac OS X 10.6 coming in September-- for $29!

No, they did NOT come out with an iPhone whose camera faces forward, and no, Steve Jobs did not make an appearance. He’s scheduled to come back to work June 30th in case you’re wondering.

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Rumor Roundup

Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) starts tomorrow in San Francisco. WWDC is an annual gathering of programmers who create applications for the Mac and the iPhone, hosted by Apple, and it’s a very big deal. It costs $1000 to attend, which is also a very big deal, and that explains why I’m not there this year. That, and my iPhone application programming is taking longer than I thought it would. Wait for next year.

Anyhow, with WWDC comes a lot of press coverage, and with that comes a lot of guessing what we’ll see and hear tomorrow during the opening keynote speech. Yes, we could just wait until tomorrow and know exactly what we saw and heard, but what fun is that? Here’s what I think MIGHT happen tomorrow. If any of this stuff turns out to be true remember you read about it here. If it doesn’t come true forget I mentioned it.

Game-Changing Rumor: Apple will take advantage of the attention and introduce a new iPhone-- this one with the camera on the front. Primary use: video chatting. If you’ve use iChat to do video chats on your Mac you know how cool this is. To be able to do it on a cell phone? Incredible. (This is my own personal rumor-- I think I’m the first to mention it.)

If they do come out with video chat on the iPhone they’ll change the name of Palm’s new Pre to “Post.” As in “mortem.” Sure was a nice two days you had there, Palm.

Interesting Feel-Good Human-Interest Rumor: Steve Jobs will make an appearance. The betting line on this is about 2-1 in favor. Jobs is officially expected back June 30th but with everyone watching he might come on stage, hopefully a little heavier than last time we saw him.

Boring, Evolutionary Rumor: new iPhones with more memory, faster processors, and the exact same appearance will be introduced, taking the place of the current iPhone 3G. You won’t be able to tell the new ones from the old ones but they’ll be better and cost the same.

The keynote speech kicks off at 10 AM Monday, June 8th 2009, about 12 hours from now. There’s no live coverage of the speech but you can do what I do and get updates from someone planted in the audience. Try this link ( and let’s see how it goes. If you miss the live updates you can usually watch replays of Apple keynotes a little later in the day, and I’ll have a link to this one as soon as they make it available.

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iPhone App of the Day

Here’s a great application from AAA, otherwise known as the American Automobile Association. This little beauty shows where to use your AAA card for discounts-- and it’s free.

Here’s what it looks like when it starts up.

iPhone app AAA Discounts opening screen

Here’s a list of AAA discounts near me.

iPhone app AAA discounts sorted by name

Here’s the same information on a map (the green dot is my location, which the iPhone figured out by itself)

iPhone app AAA discounts on map

Here are the categories.

iPhone app AAA discounts categories

HERE is something very cool: a built-in “Call for Roadside Assistance” button.

iPhone app AAA discounts call for roadside assistance

If you enter your membership number into the application you’ll save time when you call.

All in all, considering it’s free, I think you get more than your money’s worth. cboyce says “Check it out.” Click here to download it from the iTunes App Store.

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Two ways to get a free iPod Touch

Apple’s giving away an iPod Touch with purchase of a MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, or iMac. Actually, it’s a rebate thing, so you have to pay for it first, then submit the receipt, and wait for your money to come back. And, you can only take advantage of the deal if you’re going to college, or work at a college, or something like that. You can read all about it here.

If you don’t qualify for the rebate you may be interested in an offer from another company: Ferrari. They are giving away an iPod Touch with purchase of every Scuderia Spider 16M. Here are the details on that. You might want to hurry as I hear that they are only making 499 of these cars and when they’re gone, they’re gone. It’s a convertible, by the way. Here’s a picture.

No matter how you get it, even if you have to pay for it, an iPod Touch is a groovy device. I would wait until Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference kicks off June 8th before buying one because there just might be a new model coming out soon-- and if there is, we’ll learn all about it June 8th. Watch this space for further information.

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