While the Opera web browser may not have the largest market share, it is the source off many browser innovations. Tabbed browsing got its start in Opera, and the browser was one of the first to broadly support emerging standards like HTML5 and CSS 3.
The second beta release is primarily a slew of bug fixes and doesn’t offer much in the way of new features. Still, if you’ve been enjoying the first beta, this release should make the experience a little more stable. And now Mac users can get into the party as well, though 10.5 beta 2 is unfortunately only available for Windows users. Mac users are only caught up as far as Opera 10.5 beta 1.
Also worth mentioning is that native HTML5 video is working in both Windows and Mac version of Opera 10.5 beta. Opera joins Firefox as the second browser to go with the Ogg Theora codec for native web video.
Google has pushed six of its Gmail experiments out of Labs and into Gmail proper. Handy tools like the forgotten attachment detector, search auto-complete, vacation dates, custom label colors and in-mail previews of YouTube videos are all now standard Gmail features.
The features Google moved from Labs to Gmail feel a bit arbitrary — for example, why make YouTube previews standard, but ignore the Picasa, Flickr and Google Docs preview tools? But the Gmail blog says that the decisions were based “mainly on usage,” so presumably these are the six most popular features in Gmail Labs.
The good news is that the two search tools, search auto-complete and Go To Label make for a much-improved Gmail searching experience, particularly for those with a lot of labels to filter through. Go To Label adds a keyboard shortcut that lets you quickly jump to a label, just type “g l” (if you use Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts) and then type the first letters of the label you want to find. Search auto-complete will kick in and let you quickly jump to the label you’re after.
Sadly, some of Gmail Labs’ less popular — but still no doubt useful to some — features have been given the boot as part of this “upgrade.”
Among the features removed from Gmail Labs are the fixed-width font option, and Muzzle, a very useful add-on that hid your contacts’ chat status messages for a cleaner-looking sidebar. Also no longer available are e-mail addict, a time-limiting script that encouraged you to take a break from e-mail, as well as both random signature and location in signature, two features for automating your e-mail signatures.
With five projects booted out of Gmail Labs and six more moving on to be real Gmail features, it seems reasonable to think perhaps some new e-mail experiments might be arriving soon. So far, the Gmail teams hasn’t announced anything, but we’ll be sure to keep you posted.
Google will soon control the patents around the VP8 video codec, one possible alternative to H.264 for web video. And the leaders of the free software movement are banging their drum, urging the company to ditch those patents and offer the new video technology for free.
Shareholders of the video company On2 have approved an acquisition offer made by Google, which was initiated last year. On2 has developed the VP8 video codec, and currently holds the patents on it.
If Google were to release the newly-acquired VP8 as a free, open source video codec, it could significantly alter the web’s HTML5 video landscape. After all, Google owns YouTube and puts out the Chrome browser, so adoption would get a huge kick-start.
Free software advocates unhappy with the license-heavy and patent-encumbered video codecs like H.264 and the video quality and performance of free alternatives like Theora have long been hoping that Google would take the VP8 codec and release it as a free, open source savior for web video.
Even with Google at its back, VP8 would face an uphill battle against H.264.
While the picture quality and compression of VP8 is generally believed to be superior to Ogg Theora, which is based on On2’s VP3, much of H.264’s appeal lies in hardware optimizations. For example, part of the reason H.264 works so well on your iPhone — offering smooth playback and little drain on the battery — is because the hardware is optimized for H.264.
So, even if Google does release VP8 into the wild, it would still be some time before it could possibly catch up with H.264 on the hardware level. A similar lack of widespread hardware optimization also plagues the Dirac codec, another potential alterative to H.264.
There are also some unanswered questions around the patent status of VP8. Since VP8 is currently closed source and proprietary code, it’s hard to say what patent claims it might be vulnerable to. The MPEG LA consortium (which oversees H.264) governs almost 2000 video encoding patents. The odds of anyone creating an entirely new way of encoding video that doesn’t somehow infringe on at least one of those patents is pretty slim.
In short, while we’d like to see Google do exactly what the FSF is suggesting, that doesn’t mean that such a move would magically solve the web’s open video conundrum.
The Palm Pre unveiling stands in my memory as one of the most refreshing moments in modern history. Palm had done it—they had created a great phone Nokia would’ve killed for. But today, that’s just not enough.
As Palm teeters on the brink of either ruin or acquisition, let’s take stock of what they did right:
• They abandoned an entrenched but aging platform for something new an innovative, and they didn’t half-ass it: Palm OS was dead, WebOS was here.
• WebOS was actually good. If you discounted the lack of apps at launch, it was arguably more capable than anything else on the market.
• The Pre was totally buyable. It’s one of the few smartphones I’d consider buying, and would also recommend to the rest of my family. And the hardware didn’t suck.
• They got huge buzz, and they earned it.
Sure, their app ecosystem was slow to develop, and their TV ads were underwhelming at their best, and creepy at their worst. But that’s not what really matters, right? Palm accomplished something with the Pre, and we could all see that.
This was the line from Jason’s Pre review that he caught the most flak for, but seriously, fuck that, it was spot on:
I’m bored of the iPhone. The core functionality and design have remained the same for the last two years, and since 3.0 is just more of the same, and-barring some kind of June surprise-that’s another year of the same old icons and swiping and pinching. It’s time for something different.
The Pre’s spell was such that it made everything else feel old. Palm made something different—and it was something we would have paid obscene amounts of money for just a year prior. More than anything, Palm succeeded wildly at reinventing its products, its company and its image, by its own standards and by ours.
The problem is, it’s not 2006 anymore. Those standards don’t apply.
There was a time when it was enough for a company like Palm to release a fantastic phone, and for years, that’s exactly what they focused on. But today, to fight in the smartphone wars is to fight against multi-platform giants. And the rules of engagement have changed: It’s no longer phone vs. phone, or mobile OS vs mobile OS. Today there are apps, and even if a phone maker nails that ecosystem, they have to integrate it into the company’s other stuff: desktops, tablets, the living room, the workplace, the bathroom, the car—not to mention all the music, movies, TV and other media consumption any given human expects to be able to tap into on a new device.
The era of the standalone smartphone company is over. To say it plainly: If you want to make the best smartphone these days, it’s just not enough to make the best handset, or even the best OS. So pour one out for the indie phone makers! I, for one, am sorry to see them go.
There are over 130,000 apps in the App Store. About 100,000 of those expect you to pay cash money for a download. Sometimes it’s worth it! Often, it’s not. Prof. Dealzmodo’s here to help you tell the difference.
Oscar Wilde was right about cynics: they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. On your next trip to the App Store, don’t be cynical. Be smart—even if it means spending a little money.
Last fall, John pondered the App Store Effect, which holds that Apple’s model results in price deflation so severe that it’s unsustainable… in the long term. In the short term, though, it’s your ticket to apps that cost far less than their analog (or web-only) counterparts. And sometimes, they’ll include even more functionality.
Examples? Certainly! Here’s a range of apps, from professional to gaming to reference to navigation, that’ll save you anywhere from a few bucks to a few thousand:
It’s probably most helpful to think of these in terms of the broad categories where you’re most likely to find a cheaper app alternative.
Hobbyist: If it’s an activity that at least a few thousand people enjoy, there’s likely an app catering to it. GuitarToolkit‘s a perfect—if extreme—example. For $10, you get a library of over 500,000 chords, a chromatic tuner, and a metronome. Purchasing all those items individually gets expensive and, more importantly, bulky. An app? A fifth (or less) of the cost, all stored in your phone. Frequent traveler? Download HearPlanet‘s collection of over 250,000 audio guides instead of shelling out around $8 for one at each location. If you have a common passion, someone’s developing for it.
Professional:BarMax costs as much as an App Store product is allowed to, but the law exam prep app is still $2,000 less than an in-classroom service like BarBri. In fact, shortly after BarMax was released, BarBri retooled its pricing structure to be more competitive. It wasn’t a coincidence. And other professionals—including pilots and nurses—have a bevy of targeted apps to choose from as well.
Cannibalistic: Companies are so eager to be represented in the App Store that they’ll undercut themselves to be players there. An online subscription to Zagat.com costs $25 per year. The Zagat to Go app costs just $10, and includes location services and an offline mode that the Zagat website doesn’t. You can play Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for $30 on the PSP, but it’s only $10 on your iPhone. And Major League Baseball’s MLB.com at Bat app lets you stream games for $1 a pop, while MLB.TV charges $99 for a yearly subscription. Sure, if you watch a hundred or more baseball games a year on your iPod Touch’s tiny screen you’ll want to go with the latter, but the pay as you go option is ideal for the casual fan with a vested interest in his eyesight.
Remember: with so many developers targeting the App Store, it’s more than likely that there really is an app for that. But wait… what if there are several apps for that? How do you choose the right one?
Because the App Store is such a big ecosystem, it’s inevitable that there are redundant applications. Some categories see more overlap than others, but in general it’s common to find multiple apps that do the same thing. So where does the cost difference come from?
Functionality: The most basic—and most obvious—reason for an app to be more expensive is that it can flat-out do more. A casual Twitter user might be happy using Echofon for free, but if you need support for multiple accounts and the cleanest UI around, you’re going to be happy coughing up three bucks for Tweetie 2. Make sure to read up on the full feature set of what you’re buying. If you’re about to pay for something with more firepower than you need, there’s likely a free (or cheaper) version that’ll suit your purposes. The paid app will still be there if you decide you need more functionality down the road.
Ad Support: Often, and particularly with casual games, the only difference between the free and paid versions of an app is whether you’ll be saddled with advertisements as you use it. It really depends on your threshold: is it worth three dollars to play Words With Friends unfettered, or are you willing to endure the between-turn sales pitches that accompany Words With Friends Free? Each app integrates ads differently, so it’s worth trying out the free version first. Too many banners cluttering your screen? You’re only a click away from an upgrade.
Ripoffs: It might be helpful to think of the App Store as a giant, unruly bazaar, with thousands of vendors peddling their wares. There’s some oversight when things get out of hand, but even the $999 “I Am Rich” app was downloaded eight times before it got shut down. Like in any sales environment, it’s important to remember that what something costs usually has very little to do with what it’s worth. Don’t just go by the star system; read through the reviews to make sure that the app lives up to the developer’s description.
Easier Said Than Done?
There’s no question that a little research should go into whatever app you buy—starting with our Essential iPhone Apps Directory. Beyond that, here are a few common App Store categories with stand-out expensive, cheap, and free apps, along with our recommendations of when it’s worth it to pay up:
Jamie Oliver and Martha Stewart are powerful brands, but that’s pretty much all you’re paying for. Epicurious has thousands of recipes—including from famous chefs featured in Gourmet and Bon Appetit—a shopping list feature, and will suggest meals based on the ingredients you have handy. It’s really the only cooking app you’ll ever need.
Expensive: Air Sharing Pro ($10) Verdict: Don’t Download
Cheaper: Air Sharing ($3) Verdict: Download
Free: Dropbox Verdict: It Depends
While Air Sharing Pro includes printing and emailing, the regular version should get the job done for most people: you can transfer your files to your iPhone’s flash memory via Wi-Fi for storage and transport. The trouble with the “free” option, Dropbox, is that it’s not a standalone app. However, when you link it to your Dropbox account you can share and sync up to 2GB of files for free. It’s good if you already have an account, but if you don’t, you probably should skip it.
Expensive: BeejiveIM ($10) Verdict: Download
Cheaper: AIM ($3) Verdict: Don’t Download
Free: Meebo Verdict: Download
It might sound crazy to pay ten dollars for a messaging app, and for a lot of people it would be. But if messaging is your primary mode of communication, BeejiveIM‘s multi-account management, intuitive interface, and seamless push implementation are well worth it. For more casual IMers, it’s hard to beat Meebo‘s multiprotocol support and push notifications. They even log your conversations on their servers. Another solid free option is Fring, which includes Skype support. What you don’t want is to pay $3 for a messaging app like AIM, which only supports services on the AIM network and Facebook and is missing some features—like blocking contacts—found on the desktop version.
Just to be clear: Navigon makes one of the best navigation apps out there. But MotionX GPS Drive is a very good navigation app at a tiny fraction of the cost. So before you spend $90 on a top-flight turn-by-turn system, spend a few weeks figuring out if MotionX is good enough for your purposes. Chances are it is. And if it’s not? It was worth a dollar to find out. As for Waze, anyone who’s ever dealt with a backseat driver should appreciate just how unreliable—and aggravating—crowdsourced navigation can be.
The first rule of money management: don’t pay for something you can get for free. Apps like PocketMoney and MoneyBook aren’t bad at what they do, they just look a bit hypocritical with Mint.com Personal Finance around. Mint automatically syncs to your online accounts to help you keep track your budget and investments. It’s the best personal finance app out there, and not just because it’s free.
Expensive: NewsRack ($5) Verdict: Download
Cheaper: Reeder ($3) Verdict: Don’t Download
Free: NetNewsWire Verdict: Download
You can get by with a free RSS reader, and NetNewsWire‘s a great option that syncs with Google Reader. Like the majority of free options, though, it can be a bit sluggish and prone to crashing, especially if you’re loaded up on feeds. Among the paid apps, NewsRack (formerly Newsstand) shines for its reliability and speed. In-between options like Reeder? Well, if the developer’s best troubleshooting suggestion is to limit the number of items you have to sync, you’re not getting what you paid for.
Tweetie 2 is our favorite Twitter app : it’s fast, intuitive, and loaded with features. I can understand if you’d rather not pay to use Twitter on your phone, and Echofon’s a more than capable free alternative. But only a twit would pay $5 for Twitterrific when the class of the field is just $3.
The Value and the Cost
Remember that the App Effect is working for you, at least for now, and that we’re in an age of unprecedented deals on app content and services. Try not even looking at the price at first. Start with the feature set, see what’s comparable. If it’s free? Great! But even if it’s $10 or $20, it still might be a steal.
We’ve gotten to a point where it feels almost perverse to pay for an app. But think of it in a larger context: you’re buying software. On your desktop, that used to—and often still does—command exorbitant sums. Even on mobile platforms, Windows Mobile and Blackberry apps used to cost 10 or 20 times the average App Store paid download. Comparatively, App store downloads are peanuts.
And remember, too, that by paying for apps that are actually worth the money, you end up supporting the developers that are delivering innovative content and services. That means a better app experience down the road for all of us. Even the cynics.
Prof. Dealzmodo is a regular section dedicated to helping budget-minded consumers learn how to shop smarter and get the best deals on their favorite gadgets. If you have any topics you would like to see covered, send your idea to email@example.com, with “Professor Dealzmodo” in the subject line.
You can’t talk about the Devour, Motorola’s new slide-out QWERTY Android phone, without talking about the Droid, Motorola’s favored child. And it’s precisely when pitted against the Droid that the Devour stops making sense.
The Devour runs $150, with a two-year Verizon contract. But not really. (More on that later.)
What It’s Supposed to Be
When the Devour was announced, I called it a “Baby Droid with Motoblur.” That’s not quite right, it turns out. Despite a measurably smaller screen, the Devour is actually a bit larger than the Droid. It’s a hefty, machined aluminum slab of a device that feels sturdy in your hand and a bit fat in your pocket. It’s a continuation of the Droid’s design philosophy, if not its actual design: The Devour obviously copies some stylistic traits, but the Droid’s goldish finish and sharp edged evoke an entirely different past than the Devour’s matte silver, slightly more rounded profile. A child of the 70s speaks the Droid’s retrofuturistic design language; the Devour speaks more to a future-forward 90s sensibility. At any rate, it looks nice.
And it feels nice, too—gone is the Droid’s lifeless slider, replaced with a springy mechanism that just begs to be fiddled with. The tapered sides give you a place to rest your index fingers during typing. Speaking of which, the Devour’s keyboard, with slightly raised, perfectly rounded and neatly spaced keys, is a welcome improvement over the Droid’s. And instead of a trackball or d-pad, the Devour has a small, inset touchpad on its lower-left chin. So far, so good.
Then you turn it on.
This is when it becomes clear what the Devour is meant to be, which, despite the apparent improvements, is something less than a Droid. The smaller screen—3.1 inches to the Droid’s 3.7—pushes fewer pixels, too, at just 320×480 vs 854×480. The camera, which shoots 3MP photos, suffers from poor color and clarity issues to a greater extent than the already mediocre sensor of its predecessor.
And the software! Oh, the software. Here’s how Jason summed up the Motoblur widget philosophy in his original Cliq review:
The four widgets of note are the status widget, the messaging widget, the happenings widget and the news/RSS widget. The news widget is self-explanatory, and really cool that a phone would have a built-in RSS reader right on the home screen, but the others are a little bit trickier. The status widget lets you update your “status” to any of your social networking sites, like Facebook or Twitter. The messages widget consolidates ALL your 1:1 messaging, like emails, SMS, DMs on Twitter or private messages on Facebook. The happenings is a feed of other people’s status updates on your social networks.
Motoblur is as good here as it’s ever been, aided by plenty of tweaks, faster hardware, and a more developed underlying operating system. (This is the first time we’ve seen it laid atop of Android 1.6; the Cliq was a 1.5 handset.) But as Motoblur has inched forward, Android has outpaced it. And unfortunately its stablemate, the Droid, is one of the best exemplars of why you don’t need to mess with Android.
What was so refreshing about the Droid was that its software was essentially untouched—Android 2.0, which was at the time the newest build of the OS, had been left alone to represent Google vision for Android, without interference from Motorola or Verizon. And because Android 2.0 was so good, it took the wind out of the sails of alternative Android interfaces like HTC’s Sense or Motoblur.
Motoblur’s greatest sin isn’t that it can be a bit confusing to navigate at first, or that it feels a bit crowded on a 3.1-inch screen, or that its inbuilt Twitter and Facebook functionality depends too much on sending you to an external browser; it’s that in pursuit of a custom interface and minor, proprietary features—Flash Lite in the browser, DLNA media sharing and proprietary voice command and nav software to compete with Google’s native solutions—Motorola has left Devour users with an out-of-date version of Android. Android is an OS that’s fragmented, and 1.6 is one of the fragments that’s getting left behind. Even some Google apps won’t work on Android 1.6, like Goggles or Google Earth. (Update: Goggles apparently works on 1.6, but I can’t find it in the Android Market on the Devour. Ideas?) Of course, an upgrade is possible, but a Blur-adorned Android will always lag a version or three behind vanilla Android, which seems to be assimilating many of its most important features anyway.
The redeeming factor here should be that it’s cheaper than the Droid by about $50, positioned to appeal to people who might otherwise buy a messaging phone, but who don’t want to put down for a Droid. But even at launch, this price positioning doesn’t work.
What It Really Is
if you’re a Verizon customer, holding this next to a messaging feature phone, the choice is pretty clear: go with the smartphone.Thing is, that’s a false dilemma. You have other options.
Before the Devour hits shelves later this week, it will have been undermined by one of its biggest sellers. Best Buy, at launch, will be selling it for $100, alongside the Droid, also priced at $100. The $150/$200 Devour/Droid distinction will remain intact at Verizon stores, but you can probably depend on these lower prices to be an option from here on out.
What you’re getting with the Devour, then, is a downgraded Droid. Sure, the keyboard is a bit better, and the styling may appeal to some people alienated by the Droid’s aggressive lines, but if you’re a Verizon customer, holding these two potential purchases in your hands—which, by the way, have access to the exact same smartphone plans—it’s hard to imagine why you’d opt for the silver one. [Motorola]
Elegant, brushed aluminum design
Better keyboard and slider than the Droid; generally better hardware than the Cliq
Motoblur works reasonably well for social networking hounds, but later versions of Android with dedicated social apps serve just as well
Same street price as the Droid, which is just a better phone.
It’s stuck on Android 1.6, rendering it incompatible with some newer apps—even apps from Google
Since we launched this proof-of-concept test on Google Labs in December, 75% of people who sent us feedback said they preferred the Living Stories format to the traditional online news article. Users also spent a significant amount of time exploring stories. This tells us there’s a strong appetite for great journalism displayed in a compelling way.
In addition to the positive input from visitors, we’ve also heard from publishers interested in telling their own stories through the format. So we think it’s time for the next stage of this experiment: releasing Living Stories more broadly to see what you can do with it. Today we’re open-sourcing the code so all developers can build their own Living Story pages. (Here’s the open-source documentation for technical details; read our Google News Help Forum to ask and answer general support questions.) Now that we’re shifting into this public phase of the experiment, the Times and the Post are going to wind down their work on the version hosted on Google Labs. We’d like to thank them for embarking on this stage of the project with us. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with them, and many other publishers, on Living Stories as well as other projects that help to advance how news is presented online.
In coming months, we’re going to look into creating software tools that make Living Stories even easier to use for news organizations. Until then, we can’t wait to see what fascinating works of journalism developers, reporters and editors, working together, create using the open-sourced Living Stories code.