Palm Pre ads with Tamara Hope

These commercials for the Palm Pre smartphone have been given largely negative reviews, with most reactions going something like “WTF”, “that girl is so creepy/ugly”, and “show more features of the phone!”

Of course, I’m posting them here because I disagree. I’m not saying it’s the most effective route Palm could have chosen, but when you’re putting out a new line of devices in a crowded playing field where one competitor dominates mindshare, and everyone else puts out ads highlighting a long list of techie features or superficial accoutrements, you need to do something bold.

These are branding ads. These are look at me and remember me ads. The worst examples of these leave viewers angry, cursing the fact that they spent energy being annoyed. Nevertheless, the images remain with them. For me, these ads are a thing of queer beauty. They’re a little creepy, yes. But they are well written, and they are different. Some of them are a little too hippie, with their New Age songs and talk of reincarnation, but such missteps are redeemed by the genius that chose such shots as the one where she turns her back on the camera twice, and the ethereal, painting-like scenes that flow behind her. I also think they were drawing inspiration from Max Headroom, and one can’t go wrong with that.

I’ve read that Palm and their US partner Sprint are running other ads in support of the Pre. Those purportedly target other demographics, while I believe these are tremendously appealing to those who don’t have strong feelings about technology. The kind of people who need a phone for business, and right now it’s a Blackberry or a very old basic phone. These aren’t the only tools in their campaign. TV ads don’t need to contain all the facts. Watch one of these, and you get the idea of what being connected, multitasking, and having GPS can do for your life, without a single bullet-point having to appear on screen.

The last and latest one, Mind Reader, is my favorite. It’s a poem to technology, read with confidence. Her final line, “Of course it does, it’s mine”, is a powerful sentiment that every geek can understand. My iPhone certainly knows me well, between the data I store on it, the connections it helps me make, and the choices that go into each of its nine pages of apps.

iPhone app review – Ferrari GT: Evolution

(This iPhone review and others like it have been moved to my new app review site, positivemachine.com. Why not have a look?)


Name/Category: Ferrari GT: Evolution / Games
What it costs: $0.99 (previously $9.99)


What it is: Last year’s racehorse, on its last legs


Why you should buy it: Racing games and first-person shooters are two of the most graphically intensive genres in gaming, so enthusiasts often look to them for examples of what a machine can do. When Gameloft released Asphalt 4: Elite Racing on the iPhone last year, it was hailed as a landmark achievement in iPhone graphics. It was as if a tiny digital Ronald Reagan had approached a programming barrier inside the iPhone and commanded digital Gorbachev to tear it down. A few months later, the company released Ferrari GT: Evolution. Built using largely the same technology, the new game had a (licensed) identity of its own: a slightly more serious driving simulation compared to Asphalt’s nitro-boosted arcade speedfest.


Why you shouldn’t: Racing games sold on great graphics alone don’t have any long-lasting appeal. Gameloft seems to recognize this, and the game is now being sold at a tenth of its launch price of $9.99. In the time since it ran its first lap, other more impressive driving games have run it into the ground, made it eat their dust, given it a flat tyre, put a banana in its tail pipe, upped its road tax, cut its brakes, siphoned its fuel tank while it parked in the drive-in theatre and made out, parked it in a shipping container meant to be delivered half the world away, and used it as a Bonus Stage prop in a game of Street Fighter 2. Or if you prefer, overtaken it.

Oh and the controls are a bit crap.


“But It’s Just 99 Cents” Rating: 3/5

Buy Ferrari GT: Evolution in the iTunes App Store.
Try Ferrari GT: Evolution Lite for free in the iTunes App Store.



SingTel DSL Broadband settings

If you’re a heavy internet user connected with SingTel Broadband via the supplied 2WIRE modem/router, you probably already know that the hardware is crap and tends to spaz out when you open too many connections. Getting your own ADSL modem/router is an ideal solution, but unless it auto-configures to the network like SingTel’s does, you’re looking at some lengthy trial and error while trying to get it connected.

I had that experience myself a few months ago, and had to look all over the net for the settings (on my iPhone, no less) because SingTel’s helpdesk wouldn’t “support third-party hardware”. That’s funny, because when I called to ask for the admin console password on the 2WIRE router (to enable Modem Only mode, which I could use with my previous Linksys router), I was told that they couldn’t give it to me, and I had to call 2WIRE’s distributor in Jurong or something. In the end, 2WIRE told me to get the password from SingTel. It was hopeless.

I’d be satisfied if this helps just one person out there.

DSL connection settings from my 3com modem/router:

Protocol: PPPoA

Username: xxxxx@singnet

Connect Type: Always Connected

Idle Time: 20 (min)

MTU: 1492

VPI/VCI: 0/100

Encapsulation: VC MUX

QoS Class: UBR

PCR/SCR/MBS: 4000/4000/10

iPhone app review – Facebook

(This iPhone review and others like it have been moved to my new app review site, positivemachine.com. Why not have a look?)


Name / Category: Facebook / Social Networking (v2.5)

What it costs: Free



What it is: A way to overshare while on the go.



Why you should get it: Last week, I was induced to join a cult called iPRAMS, or iPhone Radicals Against MobileSafari. Our group believes that it’s no coincidence MobileSafari’s initials are MS, which makes the iPhone browser part of the conspiracy that began in 1997 when THAT other company bought $150m of Apple shares. Under my newly sworn vows, I can no longer use the browser to access Facebook’s mobile website on my iPhone. Thank heavens for this app which does exactly what the website does!


Why you shouldn’t: iPRAMS recognizes the independence and diversity of all iPhone users, which includes those who might want to use MobileSafari and the Facebook website instead. So if you want to help the devil spread a thinly-veiled mobile version of Internet Explorer 8, go right ahead.



“But I’m Not A Member of iPRAMS” Rating: 2/5

Download Facebook for free on the iTunes App Store.

Below: Facebook iPhone app

Below: Facebook site in MobileSafari

iPhone app review – Triazzle

(This iPhone review and others like it have been moved to my new app review site, positivemachine.com. Why not have a look?)


Name / Category: Triazzle / Games
What it costs: $2.99 on sale ($3.99 regularly)


What it is: A jigsaw puzzle with LSD-inspired effects


Why you should buy it: If you like jigsaw puzzles, triangles, and getting high, there’s no earthly reason why Triazzle won’t become your favorite iPhone game. You start by choosing either a 9 or 16-piece puzzle at one of four difficulty levels. A new puzzle is randomly generated each time. I’m not sure what it all means, but dragging pieces into place and rotating them usually makes me feel nice all over. Sometimes, the pictures on the edge of my piece actually match another piece next to it! That’s when it starts to get weird.

When a match is made, the pictures of frogs, butterflies, bugs, and turtles come to life and start to move around the board. They actually come out of the freaking pictures and crawl around on your screen!! It’s not a problem unless you’re hungry. One time, I had a really good conversation with this purple toad who told me to chill out when I was getting a little edgy.

“Dude, this game has no time limit or scoring system,” he said. “Whoaaaaaaa!” I replied. “So the point is just to kick back, listen to the far-out music, and see the world for what it really is? A system of control that you can escape with psychotropic medication?” I made another match and a turtle nipped at my fingertip. “Right on,” said the frog.


Why you shouldn’t: I forgot.



Rating: 5 rainbow frogs out of 5

Buy Triazzle on the iTunes App Store.

From sangsara.net
From sangsara.net

iPhone app review – Notespark

(This iPhone review and others like it have been moved to my new app review site, positivemachine.com. Why not have a look?)


Name / Category: Notespark / Productivity
What it costs: $4.99


What it is: The last notepad you’ll ever buy, as long as the site stays up.


What it does: Ever seen a sci-fi movie where people on trains read newspapers that are actually moving screens, like e-paper, and they download content from some awesome future internet? Notespark is totally like that, but for notepads. It lets you write down as many things as you want, on sheets of virtual paper that then fly off to a server somewhere for safekeeping. Later that night, when you’re back home in front of your computer and need to remember what that other commuter looked like in great detail so you can write her a Missed Connections post on Craigslist, you’ve got it right there on www.notespark.com.


What it doesn’t: It’s like, nearly the end of the noughties, and is anyone like, still taking TEXT notes? Are you serious? Why not just record a voice memo of yourself describing her cute clothes and sweet ass and intoxicating body odor, right there on the train in front of her? Or maybe snap a photo under the pretext of looking something up on Google, then jerking the lens in her direction whilst looking deep in thought or absorbed in the financial planning ad above? If you do go down that route – and it is a dark and contemptible one, believe me – Evernote will do the job. Just don’t ask Evernote to handle a bunch of words, because it’s like, totally retarded.


“Head in the Cloud” Rating: 5/5

Buy Notespark in the iTunes App Store.
But first, you might want to sign up for a free online account and test-drive their functionality at notespark.com. It’s many times better than the $1.99 Simplenote‘s online half.


Update: Notespark now supports SSL encryption on all connections, eliminating its gravest shortcoming (one that drove many to Simplenote). I’m told an update to the iPhone app is pending, while the website already has it in place.


iPhone app review – Birdfeed

(This iPhone review and others like it have been moved to my new app review site, positivemachine.com. Why not have a look?)


Name / Category: Birdfeed / Social Networking
What it costs: $4.99


What it is: Intentionally crippled Artfully restrained Twitter client.


Who it’s for: A small subset of Twitterers unfortunate enough to suffer from chronic design savviness – that is to say, they’re unable to use any app whose interface was not first sketched out in a Moleskine and then neurotically tuned at the sub-pixel level with symmetrical grids. Very few options exist for these pitiful but gifted consumers, and before Birdfeed came along, it was pretty much between Tweetie and Twitterrific. You know you’re one of them when someone mentions Birdfeed designer Neven Mrgan’s name and your first thought isn’t “wait, how do you spell that?”


Who it isn’t for: You call yourself a power user, and you expect your Twitter client to do useful things like show you who your followers are, and give you one-click access to different views via a thoughtful toolbar along the bottom of the main timeline. Well, if you dare ask for such niceties in Birdfeed, clearly you don’t get it. If you have to question why there isn’t a choice of themes, or any sound effects, or why you can’t view someone’s avatar photo at full-screen size, know that you’re a goddamned philistine and should probably apply for a job at Microsoft. With their legal department.

By the way, if your current app is something as godawful-ugly as Twittelator Pro, or to a lesser extent, SimplyTweet (seriously, have a look), I don’t think the creators of Birdfeed even want your filthy, filthy money.


“Art-School Snob” Rating: 4/5

Buy Birdfeed in the iTunes App Store.

From sangsara.net
From sangsara.net
From sangsara.net
From sangsara.net

* This review has been slightly amended for clarity. Some felt it was hard to tell whether I was poking fun at myself (and my own anal-retentive requirements), or slamming Birdfeed for possibly choosing form over function. I don’t believe that it does. It’s a swell app that makes a few tough choices and mostly gets things right, and the 4/5 score reflects that.

iPhone app review – I Dig It

(This iPhone review and others like it have been moved to my new app review site, positivemachine.com. Why not have a look?)


Title/Category: I Dig It / Games
What it costs: $0.99 (on sale, regular price $2.99)


What it is: A cool game for cool cats who dig diggin’


Why you should buy it: How often do you come across a game that puts you in the shoes of a poor, down-on-his-luck farmer given just four hours to pay off a mountain of debt and save his family from being evicted? And when you do, does that game then give you a hybrid bulldozer/excavation drill/jetpack machine with which said farmer may propel himself into the dark, igneous depths of the Earth’s crust in search of diamonds and rare metals? What? Get outta here!


Why you shouldn’t: Maybe you think this is too casual for a hardcore gamer like you. It does, however, have RPG elements (machine upgrades), and by connecting to Facebook for the trumpeting of achievements, is a little bit like Xbox Live. Maybe you’re a geologist, or a geothermologist, or work in the construction industy? Fine, you’re not going to like the digging physics. I mean, you can excavate ALL the soil beneath your farm, leaving your house, shed, and gas station floating above nothingness. I’ll understand if a man of science like yourself can’t just SIT IDLY BY and watch this problematic concept generate fun. There, there.


“Indie Diamond in the Rough” Rating: 5 out of 5

Buy I Dig It in the iTunes App Store.
Try I Dig It Lite for free in the iTunes App Store.



ION Orchard

ION Orchard front view

ION Orchard panorama

ION Orchard interior

Basement 3 & 4
ION Orchard interior

(Full photo set on Flickr)

I went to have a look at the new ION Orchard shopping mall on Tuesday, its first official day of being open. I’ve talked about it resembling the Bullring mall in Birmingham, UK before, from its sprawling promenade flanked by two-storey shopfronts to the curved sides of the building. The same architectural firm designed both, although I think they did a much better job with the Bullring. The ION’s curves are too slight, giving the whole building a strange form not unlike a dented pillow – I know for a fact they were hoping to elicit words like “organic” from onlookers. Not quite, in my opinion.

The interior layout of the four above-ground shopping levels also resembles that of the Bullring’s central arcade, which is a good thing. It’s easy to see where you’re going and where you’ve been because the shops don’t occupy fixed boxes of space, which gives them more identity, and better spatial recognition for shoppers. The roof design does a good job of letting in lots of natural light in the day, which, along with the use of predominantly white surfaces throughout and contrasting angular/curved elements like escalators and pillars, gives the whole affair a look of modernity that should last a decade, at least.

Basements 1 & 2 were a little darker, although that may change when all shops are open (currently about 70% are). The walkways are also narrower, which will probably cause some congestion problems. I was afraid, on the way down, that four similar basement levels were going to feel quite oppressive, but B3 & B4 smartly mixed things up with a different layout and more open space.

High points were the ThreeSixty Marketplace (link to another blog), with loads of imported food products that you’ve probably wanted but could never find locally before; a Korean gelato cafe that felt like it had been transplanted from some other country’s sidewalks; the return of the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, which means good, cheap coffee and passable donuts for me; and a raft of new Japanese restaurants to try out. I’m downplaying it a little here. If you’d seen me there that day, it would be pretty clear that I love this place and am very excited to have it as a part of our landscape (physical facade notwithstanding) from now on.

I also want to mention the large Epicentre outlet (they are a third-party Apple retailer) directly across from a Nokia flagship store and a SingTel mobile shop. Epicentre makes a few mistakes now and then, but they largely play it safe and therefore well by following the design language of official Apple Stores around the world. That includes placing large, round tables with lots of flashing, animated iPods and iPhones near the front of the space, for passersby to play with. People are always standing around and fiddling with them.

When you walk into the Nokia store, you’re greeted by a small table with maybe four working phones (I went in to look at the N97 flagship model, and the one I picked up wasn’t functioning), and then a very long wall of all the phone models they currently offer. It would have been very impressive, had any of them been real and not a plastic dummy. Move over to the adjacent SingTel store and you’ll find the same thing in each of the dedicated brand zones. LG, Samsung, Sony-Ericsson… not a single REAL phone to be had. Getting customers into your store is half the work done, so why let it fall apart with a non-existent product experience? It’s one of the simplest things in retail and marketing, and you don’t appreciate how Apple does it right until you see others get it horribly wrong.

~

As much as I’d like to go back several more times now, I expect the ION Orchard to be a total mosh pit for the next few weeks. There’s probably going to be a massive ground effect that wrecks the whole of Orchard Road for anyone who needs to find parking too. So while everyone comes down to town this weekend for a glimpse at the new hotness, my plan is to go shopping in the heartlands. Maybe I’ll finally get a place in line for that other Uniqlo.

iPhone app review – Tradewinds 2

(This iPhone review and others like it have been moved to my new app review site, positivemachine.com. Why not have a look?)


Name / Category: Tradewinds 2 / Games
What it costs: $2.99 on sale (normal price $4.99)


What it is: A port of an old PC game about visiting ports.


Why you should buy it: Because you have an addictive personality and some misguided, internet-era obsession with pirates and the Caribbean that the makers of this game could not possibly have foreseen, and therefore exploited, back in the 1990s. Thank god for the iPhone, then, as the current rights holders and publishers will finally be able to make good on their foolhardy investment from nearly two decades ago. If they’re really lucky, their children will start calling them again. From jail.


Why you shouldn’t: If you already played Chocolatier, a game that shamelessly ripped off the look and gameplay essence of this classic title, you might not want to revisit the old sail-around-the-world-making-money genre. Of course, Chocolatier did remove all the pirates, sea battles, and general fun found in Tradewinds 2 in order to include a realistic simulation of chocolate manufacturing – complete with catapults, giant ingredient icons, and indoor ferris wheels. Tradewinds 2 also feels a little more ‘adult’, that is to say people drown at sea by your scurvy hand.


Alright, fine, I’ll give a rating: 4/5

Buy Tradewinds 2 in the iTunes App Store.
Buy Chocolatier ($4.99) in the iTunes App Store.

——-

Below: Tradewinds 2 (touching any of the buildings shows their names)

From sangsara.net

Below: Chocolatier’s port view

From sangsara.net

Below: Chocolatier’s action puzzle replacement for sea battles.

From sangsara.net

Using an iPhone 3GS as a film camera

I got my iPhone 3GS a little over a week ago, on the 11th, and have been lucky enough not to get one that overheats or goes dead after a few hours. The WiFi reception isn’t as good as on my old iPhone 3G, but that’s another story.

My main reason for upgrading was the speed increase, and in that respect the phone has been everything I expected. I play a lot of casual games on it, and being able to start up and get into a level within seconds is something I’ll never take for granted. Even other handhelds like the Nintendo DS and PSP don’t always do a good job of loading quickly. Don’t even get me started on games that only let you save at predetermined points.

The secondary draw of the iPhone 3GS was its improved camera. With apps like Autostitch (a Flickr group I started is here) and ShakeItPhoto updating to support the increased memory/speed of the 3GS though, it may soon be my favorite feature. It’s not like I’ve never had a good camera on a phone before; my old Nokia N82 had a good, autofocusing 5MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics. It was versatile enough that I tried using it as my only camera while on a short holiday. But it wasn’t a very lovable device – great hardware features bolted onto creaking, vintage software.

Because the iPhone does so much (takes notes, calculates tips, translates Japanese, tracks expenses, etc.), and gets pulled out of your pocket so often, it also finds more use as a camera. And with the right iPhone apps, you can do all your post work and upload the results to Flickr without even coming near a desktop. Some of my other recommendations: Photo FX, CameraKit, ColorTaste (outputs low-res photos, hopefully an update is on the way), Mill Color, and Camerabag.

Here are some photos I’ve taken this week, processed to look like they were shot with a film camera: noise, light leaks and all. (Unfortunately, these weren’t done on the iPhone.)

Starbucks mug macro

Mandy in the garden Mooks' Australian paraphrenalia Chili's Burger Canon Singapore Visitor Centre