This blog(ger) has moved....

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 08 Feb 2011 View Comments

As you may have noticed, things have calmed down a lot over here at mpieters.com. I have taken over as editor over at BandwidthBlog - so if you want to stay informed, please head on over. Expect opinion pieces, reviews, and general news tidbits...

Top 10 Problems with the iPad

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 23 Aug 2010 View Comments

For the last month my iPad has changed my computing patterns quite a bit – my Macbook Pro has been staying at home on most trips, which I did not really believe would happen. However, not all is great with the iPad. While Apple might sketch a very rosy picture, there is a few shortcomings which I believe should not have been there in the first place. 

 1)      Multitasking
This is my major hangup with the iPad – in fact I think its pretty silly of Apple to release the iPad without it. While everyone was clamouring for multitasking on the iPhone, I have to say that I realised later that it wasn’t something that I used all that much. Sure, its nice to have, but it was not really such a big deal (except maybe for navigation apps). But on the iPad it’s a necessity. Having to exit out of an app to go copy something from another app is getting old mighty quick.

2)      Improved Notifications
Apple’s current notification method is pretty sucky. The whole idea where my notifications are static on screen is tired. Android’s implementation is much more slick – the pull down tray from the top of the screen is much better. On a device like the iPad where a multitude of apps might be wanting to notify me, a proper notification scheme is needed. All that screen real estate and all I get is little popups and badges on icons?

3)      Folders
One of the greatest parts of the iPad is the big bright screen – it is still better than just about any tablet PC on the market today. On the iPhone the cramped screen creates a necessity where screen icons need to be easy to touch, and therefore a typical user can browse through many pages of icons. On the iPad it gives the impression of an unfinished product – we need folders so that we arrange the icons. Frankly, this should have arrived on the iPad.

4)      A revised Universal App policy
So far the apps available for the iPad has slowly improved, with most of the apps focussing on rewriting of existing iPhone apps, with next to no additional functionality. The worst part is that some developers have the odacity to simply slap “HD” at the end of the title, and asking double the price. I am pretty sure that a large percentage of the iPad user base is iPhone users as well – therefore people who would prefer to have universal apps that run on both platforms, but most importantly, carry a one time cost. Now many apps have done the right thing and made their apps universal, but I believe Apple should insist apps be made universal if they do not improve on the iPhone version. A good example is Beejive. I paid $10 for it on iPhone, now I have to pay $10 for the iPad version? Please.

5)      An improved App Store interface
Currently the iPad Appstore is not really logically arranged. Instead of following the tried and tested iPhone formula where top selling apps bubble to the top. On the iPad it takes a few clicks to see the top selling apps of a certain category. Small thing, but irritating nonetheless.

6)      Wireless Sync
I was never one of those people that did not like iTunes – I liked its organization of my music library and its reasonably simple, no drills interface. But over time it has become quite a pig – while the interface has remained quite similar, Apple had to make it compatible with its ever increasing range of iDevices, and the result is its current overweight self. Even the name iTunes is misnomer – its not like playing music is the only thing it does. iHub might be more apt, with it becoming the center of your digital entertainment. But problem number one is that devices like the iPad need iTunes just to activate. And then it needs to be plugged into iTunes just to do a music sync. With the iPad’s large battery and fast wireless N networking, why cant it do it without a cable? The iPad should move away from relying on your computer just to switch on.

7)      Printing
At present this is non-existant on the iPad. If you want to print something with the iPad, you need to send the file to a computer, and print it from there. Again, the iPad relies on your computer. This should be built into iPad, and I am sure Apple can figure out a way to handle the mess of printer drivers. In fact, if there is one area of computing that I think most people agree is still terrible, its printers. Im not asking for iPrinter, the driver and setup method must be universally refreshed. (Getting off the point here, I know.)

8)      A file structure
Now I know many people will say that this goes against the very simplicity that makes the iPhone/iPad successful. But at present, iTunes’s file syncing is a very poorly implemented solution. At the very least, Apple should allow me to sync file structures and folders between my PC and the iPad. Why must I manually choose which files I want to send to my iPad? I have enough space on there – let me sync them all please. Also, the current API of opening a file in another app is a welcome change, but more apps need to use it.

9)      Improved iPhone app rendering
At present iPhone apps on the iPad look very bad. If Apple can make older low res iPhone apps render next to perfectly on the iPhone’s retina display, surely they can make the same effort on the iPad. Especially with the app updates now all addressing the Retina display, images, buttons and text should all look better on the iPad’s display as well right?

10)   More transparency on Software Updates
First off, I know Apple and “transparency” cannot really be mentioned in the same sentence. But with the iPad, Apple has a responsibility to improve on all these aspects, and quickly. The iPad should have arrived with iOS4 out of the box – and the current “Fall 2010” timeline is not really specific.

You will notice that most of my issues can be fixed with a software update – that because I believe the iPad hardware is pretty close to perfect. Sure, it can stand to lose a few grams, and it might be better with a SD card reader built in, but all in all I think the form factor is pretty perfect.

Not that its all bad news – I honestly believe that these “slimmed down” computers are the way forward, and that our general computing pattern will change in the future. I am on the fence whether people will prefer smartphones or tablet devices, but my first instinct tells me that smartphones will win the battle, but the iPad might be prefered by many people who don’t want to tinker with small touch screens.

What I do agree with however is Steve Jobs’s analogy of how our computing patterns might follow the way we use cars. Instead of everyone driving trucks (lets just call them big, tough vehicles), people have started shifting towards smaller, more focussed vehicles like cars. The typical user does not do any computationally intensive tasks on their computers anymore – our usage of computers have shifted towards web-browsing based scenarios completely. The upcoming release of Google’s Chrome OS is typical of this – why use a full operating system when our usage is primarily concerned with web platforms?

And that is why the iPad is doing so well at the moment – we have changed our entire computing pattern, and the iPad is the ideal machine for that. Now bring on the competition please. HP – I am looking at you.

Review: Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid Hard Drive

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 28 Jul 2010 View Comments

Seagate Momentus XT
Just about any techie would tell you that the slowest part in a modern computer is still the harddrive. In fact, 90% of the time you wait for your computer is because that little needle is busy reading sectors from a very fast spinning disk (not counting waiting for Seacom delays…). True, hard drives have become very quick over the years, but the other components in a computer has just progressed at exponentially faster pace.

Its for this very reason why you might have the latest Core i7 machine with large amounts of RAM, but still can go make a cup of coffee in the time it takes to boot up. Luckily solid state storage has come along – this does away with the moving platter inside a hard drive and instead replaces it with chips that do away with access times (the average time the needle takes to find that little bit of data) and also makes the drive silent and uses less electricity. Sounds like a terrific solution, except for price. Whereas a 500GB 7200rpm hard disk drive costs R800 today, a similiar size SSD costs around R15000. No, that is not a typo. So people who wanted the speed of SSD were forced to buy smaller capacities – 64GB currently goes for about R1800 for a decent Corsair SSD.

And this exactly what makes the Seagate Momentus XT so special. Seagate refers to it as a “hybrid hard drive”. The XT has a 500GB traditional HDD merged with a fast 4GB SSD chip. Now 4GB might not sound like much, but you do not have to manually choose which files to drop on this SSD portion. As you use the drive, it keeps track of what files are used often, and stores these files in the SSD. These typically include files that are used by the OS often, your most used apps, etc. The Momentus XT is not only a laptop drive – in fact, it will beat most standard desktop hard drives as well. In many benchmarks it beats the WD 10,000 rpm Velociraptor drives… Its also operating system independent, so you can go ahead and use it with Windows, Mac or even Linux. The adaptive memory just keeps on doing its thing.

Now you might think 4GB SSD is not enough – but here is some of the changes I noticed using this drive. Just for some background – I installed this drive into a late 2009 Apple Macbook Pro 13inch, with a Core 2 Duo 2.53GHz processor and 4GB of RAM. It used to have a Seagate Momentus 7200.3 320GB 7200rpm drive installed, which was pretty quick already. Here is the boot times of a full Mac OS X install. Take note this not a clean fresh install, but instead a install that is made from time machine restore for both the old and new drives. In fact, I havent reinstalled or reformatted my machine in more than 2 years. Time Machine just does such a good job of that, another thing where I really do believe Mac is still better than Windows. This install is full of apps I run often, but also small utility apps that I like to use every now and then. All in all a pretty representitive Mac install. You can expect the same performance improvements on Windows as well.
Both the old and new image is defragmented and then left for about 10 minutes so that the adaptive memory does its thing.

Boot time of Mac OSX 10.6.4

These speeds are carried over to shutdown speeds as well. Again, once the adaptive memory gets used to the shutdown procedure, speed increases as well. Very impressive.

Shutdown of Mac OS X

So how does it affect everyday apps? Just everyday apps like Firefox load in half the time (and this does not include timing from cached apps in memory, this is after reboots). Larger apps like Photoshop get even better performance. iTunes gets zippier as well. Here is some timings I did with the drive. iTunes load time for a 60GB library. (Take note this is timed after a reboot every time).

iTunes Startup times
Here is the startup times for Photoshop. This is a standard install without any plugins. Again, this is a startup after a boot every time.

I did not time everything, but here are some things that improve as well:
  • You know that little wait while you type into the Spotlight search box? Thats gone.
  • Virtual Machines are faster as well. I know an average VM is much larger than 4GB, but over times these do become faster. I guess that adaptive memory looks for files within the VMs as well.
  • Everything is snappier. The stuff you do most often on the computer just happens so much faster. Makes me only wish for the day when SSDs will be cheaper.
I did notice that the drive is a little more noisy than the previous drive, but I can only hear it it if I put my ear right against my laptop. Other than that I did not find any other negatives when using the drive on a day to day basis.
Just a tip to Mac users who would like to install one – do not use  a tool like SuperDuper, rather do a Time Machine backup, and then restore the image during the install process of Mac OSX. For some reason the drive doesnt cooperate with those image cloning tools. This goes the same to Windows users, do not use DriveImage XML. Do a reinstall, I know its quite a process, but the performance boost is well worth it.
The best part of the Momentus XT is that it costs only slightly more than a standard 7200rpm notebook drive. I payed R1200 for the 500GB model. And the performance in real life use is much faster. While it wont quite reach the speed of a fast SSD, it is a fraction of the price. And that makes it a very good deal. So you might want to know if it makes more sense to rather spend your money on a full on SSD or even more RAM. Suppose you have a machine with a normal 250GB 5400rpm drive and 2GB of RAM. Here is a pretty handy chart to put hybrid hard drives into perspective:


So if you want large capacity plus fast performance, it seems like a hybrid hard drive might be the ideal middle ground before SSDs become affordable. I am willing to bet that Seagate will spread this hybrid technology to its other hard drives as well. I think the sweetspot will be a desktop drive with 8GB or 16GB of SSD memory. Hopefully in a few years we will laugh at this as SSD have finally become comparable in price with hard drives… Bring on the speed.

The Seagate Momentus XT reached South African shores last week, its currently only at suppliers, but should reach stores soon.
Highly recommended.

iPad and Prepaid 3G in SA

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 15 Jul 2010 View Comments

OK, so you have a brand spanking new iPad 3G, or at least on the way. But you want to get it on a SA cellular network. Sounds simple enough right? Not so fast – there are a few things you need to take note of.
First off, the iPad ships with a new type of sim card slot, which is made for a newer standard, called Micro SIM. It is essentially just a smaller version of the sim card we currently use in our phones, called Mini SIM. If you compare the two, you will see that the Micro SIM doesnt actually use any new circuitry to make it smaller – it just gets rid of even more of the plastic around its edges. Here is a small illustration if you want to see what I am on about.

MicroSIM vs MiniSIM

Now the good news is that Vodacom and MTN pledged to have Micro SIMs available – the major reason being that iPhone 4 also uses it, and they need to be ready for that potential cash cow once it reaches our shores. In this piece I will focus on Vodacom, seeing as I am comfortable with them (not always happy though), and I know their product range. First off, you can go to any Vodacom SP shop, and jsut order a Micro SIM. I went to one and they had it ready for me within 3 days, for a cost of R50. Not bad.

Of course there is the DIY approach. You can take a SIM Card and cut the sides so that they fit the new Micro SIM slot. While I can see it not being a very hard job, I cannot say I feel to comfortable doing it, seeing as I dont wont to risk the SIM card getting lost inside the iPad – you cannot simply open it after all. But if you feel confident, good for you, just dont blame me.

Another area where the iPad can create some problems is that it doesnt have any type of dial pad, so you are going to need some way to load up data bundles. I know you can get a 3G data contract, but then you are just being a a sucker. Buying data bundles prepaid work out much cheaper, and you have the added benefit of spreading your data costs over 60 days if you plan well enough. So here is the strategy I am using.
  1. Buy any Vodacom prepaid SIM card. They go for next to nothing at most supermarkets. Mine cost a princely sum of R1.
  2. Take the SIM card, with your ID and a proof of residence to any Vodacom shop. You have to go through RICA in order to activate the SIM.
  3. Order a MicroSIM – this will take a few days to arrive. I reckon they will become much faster in future, especially after September when the iPhone 4 is here. Alternatively if you are brave, you can cut the SIM card to fit the iPad.If they have theMicroSIM in stock, hold on, dont activate it yet.
  4. Go to Vodacom’s website, and register for their online services. Just click “Register” at the top of the page. Got through the process, they should send you a SMS to confirm, so….
  5. Put your normal SIM card in any cellphone, type the PIN, and wait for the SMS to come through. Using that password, log into the Vodacom site.
  6. Go to Vodacom, and do the SIM switch to Micro SIM. Put the MicroSIM in the iPad. It might take a few hours to activate.
  7. Load credit onto the number. Trick is to get credit where you dont have to phone out or type in any codes. Remember, you cant phone or SMS or type cellular numbers into the iPad. I use ABSA – you can go on Internet Banking and transfer prepaid credit to any number. You can also do it from their ATMs. Many other banks do this as well, as long as they dont give a voucher with PIN code. You want the credit to be automatically loaded.
  8. Go to Vodacom’s site again, login, and click on bundles. From there, you have a selection of data bundles to choose from. Just a tip – these bundles last for 60 days. The bundles are also cheaper per meg if you buy larger bundles at once. Example – it makes more sense to buy a 600meg bundle every 60 days than a 300 meg bundle every month. My tip is to buy on the first of a month, and then recharge the bundle every 60 days.
  9. On the iPad, go to Settings, General, Network, Cellular Data Network, and then change the APN to: “internet” – without the quotation marks.
And after this exhaustive process you ought to be online. If you want to load more data, just go through steps 7 and 8. Of course you can skip this whole process and get a contract, but thats something I think you are smart enough to avoid. I dont buy data contracts in SA, our prices are still going to fall in the future, and you dont want to be stuck in a 24 month contract. But that just my opinion. You might have a good reason to choose otherwise.

Lets hope Vodacom can also integrate the payment method that other networks are doing overseas once the iPad comes to our shores officially…

Latest Distimo Report

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 08 Jul 2010 View Comments

The Distimo report is a monthly report that shows current trends in the mobile application development marketplace. It takes into account all the handset manufacturers’ different stores through which they distribute applications on their devices. Here are some of the interesting developments:
  •  Mobile apps are cheap, or free. More than half of apps are below $2. So developers who charge high prices, remember, the large group of users out there should make you worry less about profit per sale.
  • The iPad’s current application seems to cost a bit more than the iPhone. This can be attributed to increased development costs, but I have to commend developers who write universal apps. Universal apps you purchase once, and they run on both the iPhone and the iPad. Dont make me pay twice for two devices.
  • The Android market is made up of more than 57% free apps. Why? Is it because Android users are less likely to buy apps than on other platforms? Or is it because the free apps are good enough?
  • Games are still by far the most popular apps. Out of the top 10 paid for apps on the iPhone, 8 was games.
  • Amazon’s Kindle app seems to be under fire. Apple’s iBooks app is the number one app on the Appstore. But its still great that Amazon is making their platform available to other platforms as well. After using the iPad, I have to say my Kindle has become neglected. And with good reason.

What is interesting is seeing how the appstore ecosystem is changing. iPhone still seems to be the one that has the monetary edge, but that might change soon enough. With the number of Android handsets being released, there is plenty of oppurtunities for developers. The number of free apps on Android might sound great, but this does not take into account the quality of these apps. Whereas the iPhone Appstore is verified by Apple on a app for app basis, Google’s marketplace has no such process.

The disadvatange to this is of course that low-quality or poorly designed apps get in there as well. While people criticize Apple’s quality control, there are just as many postive aspects as well.I really reckon Google can do with a similiar process – not to replace the current marketplace, but a “Google Verified” section for apps that Google does approve of. That way you have the best of both worlds.

That way you cater for both developers who want to quickly and easily want to get into the marketplace, but end users who want high quality apps can find them as well. Tools like AppBrain does address this somewhat, but what I am talking about is a official source of apps. Maybe Google should have a chat with AppBrain?

You can download the full Distimo report here.

Xbox Live coming to South Africa

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 15 Jun 2010 View Comments

Oh this will make the gamers happy. For long us South Africans had to use strange methods to be able to use Xbox Live, we had to masquarade as yanks in order to play our games online. What made this doubly insulting is that we pay full price for our Xbox games, and these days the online component of a game is even more important than the actual game. Just ask any Halo or Forza fan.



Microsoft has finally announced that SA will be getting Xbox Live within the next three months. A definate date was not given, but we can be assured it is before the end of September. This was of course hand in hand with the announcement of the “Kinect” peripheral (called “Project Natal” in the past) and the new Xbox 360, which is slimmer, shinier, quiter and better looking than the original Xbox 360.

So will you be getting the Kinect? And will you finally sign up for Xbox Live now that it is officially in SA?


Image from LazyGamer.co.za

iPhone 4 announced: so whats new?

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 09 Jun 2010 View Comments


OK – we might be a little late on this one, but I am pretty sure any reader of this blog would have known about the iPhone 4 already. But to the uninformed/uninterested/android using reader, here are some of the things that stand out:

Hardware:
In typical Apple fashion, the new display is called the “Retina” display. First off it has a much higher resolution, about 4 times more in fact. So if you thought the current iPhone screen was good, I can only imagine what it will look like. Secondly, it uses IPS (In Plain Switching) technology which means that the display can be viewed at a much wider angle. The display is also fused with the glass, which means there is no space between the glass and the actual LCD panel. Apple decided to skip the OLED craze, and it seems the first impressions agree with this choice.

The iPhone is also sporting a new look. Yes, it still has the all-display front, but it now sports a stainless steel edge, very much in the same fashion as the current macbook pros and the iPad. True, in their case its aluminium. But with the iPhone, the casing frame is used as a antenna, so thats why its stainless steel. The rear of the device is glass this time round, getting rid of the cheaper feeling plastic of the iPhone 3G and 3GS. Glass – but a new type of glass, which supposedly the same type used by helicopters. Time will only tell if it is indeed scratch proof and can withstand a bit of torture. It sure looks more solid than the old one. Jobs mentioned at the announcement that it reminds him of old Leica cameras, and that is pretty spot on. It looks very classy.

On the inside things changed a lot as well. Apple is getting rid of the old Cortex processor and going with their own custom designed silicon, the Apple A4 chip. This is the same chip that is in the iPad, and its very brisk in there. This chip also gives better power efficiency, and the new iPhone also gets a slightly bigger battery, so it gets slightly better battery life. 7 hours of talk time on 3G, 10 hour video playback, 6 hours of browsing on 3G, and 300 hours of standby time.

The camera is also improved  – it gets a 5MP backside illuminated sensor, and finally also gets a flash, which will improve pictures at night. While 5MP does not sound a lot, any photographer will tell you its not about the number of megapixels, but the size of the sensor – and apparently the pixel density in the sensor is the same as the old 3GS, which means the sensor size has increased, which leads to better low light photography as well. The new camera is also capable of recording 720p HD video at 30 frames per second.

Apple is also pushing their own new method of video conferencing, called Facetime, with the a new front facing camera. While its pretty same old, same old, Apple is opening up the standard for use by other vendors and software designers. Only time will tell whether it will be used at all. Video calling has been available for a long time, and people still dont do it. You know why? Because people dont like to use their double chin. Really.

iOS4:
The iPhone 4 will ship with iOS4, which was previously known as iPhone OS. Now that its running on other devices than a phone, its an apt renaming. iOS4 gains a lot of new features, but the standout ones include multitasking, unified inbox, folders, iBooks, better camera controls, Faces in photos etc. But I want to focus on multitasking. Long the fuel of Android fanboys everywhere, the iPhone finally gets its own implementation of multitasking, where apps can access certain services that are allowed to run in the background, where the app itself is paused for use later.

I can actually not see where multitasking would make such a big difference, except with GPS apps and audio streaming apps. But thats the wonder of the Appstore – I am pretty sure someone will code an indispensible app that needs to run in the background.
Luckily for current users of iPhone in SA, iOS4 will be a free upgrade in afew weeks. Msot of the new features will be available to all users, but multitasking will not be available to iPhone 3G – apparently it needs a bit of horsepower.
I will be testing the iOS4 Golden Master seed in the next week, so come back later for my opinion on it.

PS: Vodacom has confirmed that iPhone 4 will come to SA, but has not confirmed a time. My bet is late August / September.

Google Streetview goes live in SA:

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 08 Jun 2010 View Comments

Finally, it is here:




And it works great! I tested this on my iPhone – easy enough to do. Go to an area where StreetView has taken pictures – in this example, Greenpoint. Click on one of the pins that drop on the screen, and you will see a small orange icon on the left of the description, and there you go. As you can see here I am looking at Main Road, and there on the right is the stadium.



In similiar fashion to overseas, all cars registrations and people are blurred out.
Thanks to Google!

I recently got contacted by the folks at ALK - they wanted to show off their new CoPilot Live product for South Africa. In case you dont know, CoPilot is available on iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile. I have been using the iPhone version for the past week, and yes, I am very impressed.


Key Features
  • Full spoken turn-by-turn voice directions
  • Detailed street maps of UK and Ireland with full UK post codes stored on your iPhone
  • Clear 3D and 2D driving views with SmartZoom™ speed-variable zoom and street names
  • Navigate to a house number, street, intersection or address book contact
  • Automatic portrait and landscape display switching
  • Comprehensive multi-stop pre-trip planning and preview
  • Route optimizer works out the best way around multiple stops
  • Intelligent navigation provides guidance in tunnels and underpasses
  • Automatic day/night mode
  • Navigate to thousands of Points of Interest
  • Lane indicator & CoPilot ClearTurn™ provides a more realistic view of motorway exits and junctions
  • Real Signpost display matches real-life signs
  • LiveLink™ location sharing and messaging: keep track of your CoPilot friends, live on-screen!
  • Live 5 day weather forecast for your location or destination
  • Huge range of customization features to suit the way you travel
  • Customized trip status displays, including ETA, distance remaining and more
  • Safety camera database (with free updates)
  • In-app purchases for premium Live services
  • In-app purchase for Text to speech voice instructions

I have used alternative solutions by other vendors on the iPhone, and over time certain things started to irritate me. It has gotten so bad, that in most cases I just fire up Google Maps instead of actual GPS apps. Their database is up to date, and their routing is good as well. But of course, Google Maps does not actually navigate you to the your destination, with a convulatuted next, next, next type of interaction which is downright dangerous to use in a car. (Maybe one day they will grace South Africa (or even the iPhone) with that feature.

So lets get round to CoPilot Live 8. The install is easy enough - it is on iPhone after all. Standard Appstore solution. At 100MB+ you do want to download it through wifi however.


First off, the interface is slick and easy to use. Buttons are large, and easy to interpret, which is necessary when using a GPS in your car. Most things can be understood at just glance, which I appreciate. It's pretty clear when you open it that it is a ported interface (it is almost exactly the same as on the Android and Windows Mobile), which I normally dont like. But after playing around with it, I realized that it works very well, despite not following the typical iPhone app look. Integration with the iPhone keyboard is perfect, which is more than I can say for NDrive. The level of detail on the maps is also great - in fact much better than with my Garmin with the latest mapset. The maps move along at a good pace - and there is a very cool feature where the top of the screen is changed to indicate where the current lanes you are driving down is heading. Orientation switch between landscape and portrait is quick and without bugs.



Voice instructions are clear and loud enough (on the 3GS at least). Routing was very good, and seems to be very similiar to my Garmin dedicated device. Talking about Garmin - they bring out new mapsets, and still havent included my security village's road, which is by no means new. With CoPilot, it is there, with all the streetnames. And here I thought dedicated devices like Garmin have always been the best.  Small issues include the strength of the GPS signal, but this is a iPhone issue, not the software. On cloudy days, it did take a while to grab the signal, but just leaving it under the windscreen seemed to do the trick.

The performance on the iPhone 3GS was very good, but it was a lot slower on the 3G, and I did get some warnings on the 3G about memory shortages. But it did not crash once, which is good. Battery life was also better than I expected, and a hell of a lot better than using Google Maps which has to continually download map tiles as you go along. A small thing I also appreciate is the integration with the iPod - and creating quick playlists were a breeze. Also, while playing music, it didnt stutter once while giving directions, and the music were slightly turned down while talking, and than smoothly increased back up to the previous volume. I really appreciate that.

Even if the interface of a GPS app is good, it comes down to routing ability. And this is where CoPilot really shines. It has calulated all my routes perfectly, and never once give me an error, or a situation where I had to second guess it. And just for that I really like CoPilot. I wouldnt hesitate recommending this to people who are still not happy to use GPS's. In fact, I have stopped using my Garmin in the last few weeks.

One criticism I have is that the South African version of CoPilot is expensive - CoPilot makes versions of CoPilot for many parts of the world, and currently the only version that is more expensive than the SA one is a version for the entire Europe. Meanwhile, the entire US mapset costs $19.99 at the moment. What makes this even more unfair is that the SA one doesnt support many of CoPilot's "live" features, such as traffic reports. Now I realize there isnt infrastructure in place for this in SA, but still, the price seems to target international travellers visiting SA for the World Cup. Maybe the map providers in SA ask very high prices, but I think the price should drop a lot. At least we do get weather, and you can easily ask for current location or just about anywhere:




Overall I am very impressed by CoPilot Live - it is clear that they have put more attention to detail in their product - it runs smoothly, and works well around the iPhone's application framework shortcomings. I am actually very interested to see what how they will implement the GPS framework of iPhone OS 4.0 in the future.


Rating: 4 out of 5 (drop the price and I will give it a 5)

Pros:


Works well - nice speed, reliable
Routing works well
Very detailed mapset
Interface is excellent - good example of how porting is not always a bad thing



Cons:
Pricey for the SA version
Performance on the 3G is significantly slower than the 3GS


Not too worry - I have a few licences of CoPilot Live South Africa to give away. What I need you to do is retweet this review to be part of the draw. Example: Review of CoPilot Live for iPhone over at @mpieters 's site: http://www.mpieters.com (or whatever comment you want).

If you are not a twitter kind of person, you can just comment here as well, and tell me why you think you deserve it. You have 5 days in which to do this (with the word @mpieters for the tweets), and I will select the retweeters and commenters with a random generator, by 4 June. Then I will contact the winners with redeem codes...


Update:

OK people, the results are in. Here are the winners, as generated by using random.org. Thanks to everyone who took part! I will be contacting the winners within the next few hours...





This is a big deal folks. In terms of market capitalization, Apple has just shot past Microsoft. For many, many years Microsoft was untouchable, but unfortunately their growth in terms of share price has been dwindling recently. Apple on the other hand, has had a impressive growth spurt in the last few years, starting with the iPod, and now their big money maker, the iPhone.

What makes this even more impressive is that in the mid nineties, Apple were just about ready to close up shop. With a bunch of corporate shake ups and poor leadership on the board, many expected the company to just give up. Luckily Apple somehow go hold of its ousted leader, Steve Jobs, and put him back in charge as interim CEO, or in Apple speak, the iCEO. Before this, Dell CEO, Michael Dell famously pronounced that the right thing to do for Apple is to close shop, and give back the money to the shareholders. Imagine you were one of the shareholders then – things are definitely looking up today. This because Steve Jobs shaked up Apple’s structure and brought back its culture, something that was always Apple’s biggest asset.
What he did is basically scrap unnecessary product lines and refine existing products to just a few choices. It is still very much evident today with the Apple range of products. Despite thinking that people want infinite choice, Apple proves that people do not want to be bombarded with different products.

Oh and one small thing also helped: Microsoft actually invested $150 million into Apple in those bad years to bail them out. Who would have thunk?

Now one should not dismiss Microsoft in this – this is after all percepted value of a company based on shares. Apple only has around 10 percent of the US market, while Microsoft is still very profitable, despite these profits primarily coming from its operating systems and productivity software, but then again they sink a lot of money in to other divisions like Xbox and Windows phone, which is yet to turn signaificant profits, if any at all.

What it comes down to is that investors are not always the best (or most accurate) people to value a company – Microsoft is still the dominant player in the corporate market, where scale, not pure profit per sale is what is more important (just go look at the profits in building an iPad). Whatever you might read into this, we still live in a Windows world.

I dont believe Microsoft to take back their place in the next few weeks – Apple has an exciting month lined up. On June 7th they are releasing their next generation iPhone (which has been leaked it seems, and it looks great) and also roll out the next release of it iPhone operating system, which will roll out to eager iPhone 3G and 3GS users. This software update also addresses one of the last major criticisms of the iPhone platform with multitasking, although only for the 3GS model (and of course the upcoming one).
I think the battle is still coming.

PS: If you want some history on Apple, go read iCon: Steve Jobs, The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business, a great book by Jefferey S. Young. Another great book is Inside Steve’s Brain, by Leander Kahney (he is the guy behind the Cult of Mac website).

Review: Microsoft Office 2010

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 18 May 2010 View Comments


At first glance, Microsoft needs to make a very convincing argument to make people take note of Office 2010. After all, it's just another release of Office. Just about anyone would agree that Microsoft Office is by far the most feature rich productivity suite out there, but this great advantage also makes it very difficult to sell us a new version of the software.

Over the years Office has become a very mature product which has become the industry standard, but many people still do not go for every new release, especially in enterprise environments. In the case of Office 2007, its biggest downfall was in fact Microsoft Windows Vista, because MS decided to release the two at the same time, which scared off many businesses in droves, which is sad really, because Office 2007 was actually a completely seperate product which had very little to do with Vista. It's for this very reason that Office 2003 still has a 70% foothold in the enterprise market.

Clearly Microsoft has learned a lesson this time round and kept Office 2010's launch completely seperate from Windows, but rather launched it with a range of new enterprise level apps, such as SharePoint 2010, SQL Server 2010, and Exchange Server 2010. This is a very significant release, and Microsoft has to be commended for doing a complete productivity software overhaul, from server to desktop. Impressive. But today I am just focussing on Office 2010 (which of course gains a lot of features when combined with these enterprise updates).

Office 2010 contains the traditional apps we expect, like Word, Excel, Powerpoint, One Note and Outlook. In higher end versions a few more apps are included. Like I mentioned before, these apps have become so mature, it would be silly going through every new feature in every app. What is more interesting is how MS has integrated these apps with one another, and enhanced them to compete in this time where everybody is starting to take note of competitors like Google Docs. I will focus on major improvements instead of every small change.

Working Together

One app that can be singled out is Outlook. You know Outlook? That app that most people in corporate environments stare at day in and day out? In Office 2007, Microsoft debuted the Ribbon interface which improved most of the Office apps, but Outlook was left out. It had to stick to the old school File, Edit, View menus. Now Outlook 2010 gets some Ribbon love, and the app is indeed much more intuitive to use.




Where Outlook shines is in its new social features, which are actually very nice to use in practice. The way it works is with the "Social Connector" which is a platform for third party websites and service to write plugins for Outlook which makes the way we interact with contacts a bit more interesting. For example, when conversing with a colleague over email, Outlook can be made aware of his latest status updates on Facebook or LinkedIn (if you prefer to keep "work" social network seperate, but these types of services can run concurrently). This also gives you a profile pic of the person you are talking to, as well as a timeline of communications. Other services include Windows Live, Myspace and also Exchange 2010 (which gives a few more powerful features). The only third party networks who have actually released these plugins already are Linkedin and Myspace, with more to come. I do feel however that Microsoft was trying to mimic some of Xobni's features, but I have to agree that Microsoft's implementation is somewhat better.


In the past few years the holy grail of Office apps were the supposed "working together" feature that no-one really wanted. Now I am not bashing Microsoft here, but I have not really come across a situation where I need to edit a document with someone else concurrently (maybe you know of a situation where it's needed). But what I can say is that it works beautifully. In a recent Excel demo I saw how well it worked, and then in my own testing it *just worked* through Windows Live's services.

Powerpoint also gains an interesting new feature to broadcast slides to anyone connected to the internet. Again, though the use of Windows Live or Sharepoint, you send an invite to a recipient which contains a URL (which can be public or private) and from there the person can see the slides being presented live. While you can send this to anyone in the world, I think it might be more handy in meeting environments and classrooms for people who want to read slides right on their machines.

Office Anywhere


Where it becomes even more interesting is through the use of Office Web Apps - Microsoft's knockout to the Google Docs offering. Instead of a barebones interface like Google Docs, Office Web Apps looks like a near perfect rendering of the actual native Office app. These Web Apps are accessed through Windows Live and also through Facebook (which is still in Beta). In corporate environments, this will be managed through the latest version of Sharepoint server. Now where might you use this? Imagine you need to edit a word document from a computer without Office. Now, as long as it is connected to the internet, you can go ahead and just use the web app version of Office by using your Windows Live login details. Microsoft also made this functionality available to Facebook users, but it is still in an invite only beta at this stage.

Bring Ideas to Life



Office has also improved the multimedia aspects of Office. Most of these enhancements go into Powerpoint. Sometimes small things, like better looking transitions between slides, but also some very handy tools for image editing. I was astonished by how well certain tools work - like removing the background from an image worked almost perfectly, and just required some cropping. Compare this to the process of using something like Photoshop and then exporting the edited file for use in Powerpoint. Screen clipping can also be done by just clicking a button, and selecting the part you want to add to your document or message. Altering colours or contrast work brilliantly, with small previews of how the image might look on every button.

Practical Productivity Platform

One aspect I do appreciate with Office 2010 is the attention they have given to security. Whenever you open a document in Outlook, it will first open that document in sandboxed environment in which editing is also disabled. When you do try to edit the document, it will first make you aware of the security risks. Outlook is also a bit smarter in the way it checks up on mistakes you might make in messages, called Mail Tips. For example, if you send an email to 5 people in your organization and one person outside, it will just remind you of this, in case you are sending confidential information. It will also warn you that you are about to send that report to the entire organization. While it might irritate some people, I am sure it can save your butt at some point. Just maybe. If you are connected to an Exchange server, Outlook will also inform you before you hit send if someone is out of office.  Handy.

Outlook also gains threaded conversation view, which is now set as default. Instead of browsing through hundreds of emails which might contain a lot of replies and re-replies, Outlook groups your messages so that you can keep context of any conversation. Mac has used this in its native Mail app for quite some time, so it's great that this is now in Office as well. Outlook also gains a new feature called "quick steps" which contextually change as you do different things. For example, it connects to Sharepoint and knows who your team members are, and sets up a quick link to forward something to your team. You can also go create your own multiple "quick steps" in which you specify what a button does.



For people responsible for deployment, Office is much more versatile this time round. One new method I have been testing is "Click to Run" which makes Office run in sandboxed, virtualized environment. This is built on App-V, a new method of virtualizing (almost) any app on top of Windows. This makes it much more versatile in complex machine setups - for example, you might have someone who runs very old macros that are reliant on Office 2003, but they also need Office 2010, without any problems occurring.

Overall I am very happy with Office 2010, and it's a very tough product to fault. Its almost like they thought of everything. Of course there is always the issue of price, and yes there are free alternatives. But we are talking about the standard here, and something not many people can choose not to run. Office 2010 can be bought in a number of SKU's. But for the first time they are also selling key-cards, so that you can save money on the initial price, provided you have an internet connection which you are comfortable downloading a large file through (yay for uncapped). You will be able to buy the key cards at computer stores, and then you just take them home and use the product key inside to activate a new licence, and you download the install files. These keycard prices are specifically made for South Africa, and Microsoft actually checks when you download the install files whether you are indeed in South Africa. There exists a few other versions for enterprises rollouts, but here we focus on the consumer versions.

Home & Student:
It will include Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010 and Office Web Apps. What's significant with this SKU is that the buyer can install it on up to three machines in his home. So you can buy it for Mom, Dad and another machine.
Price: R899 (with install media) R799 (if you download the install files yourself, called the keycard version)

Home & Business:
This version is focussed on people who actually work from home. It includes Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010, Outlook 2010 and Office Web Apps. This is for a single licence.
Price: R1999 (with install media) or R1899 (keycard version)

Professional:
Here things get pricier. It comes with Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010, Outlook 2010, Publisher 2010, Access 2010, Office Web Apps and premium technical support. If you do need Publisher and Access, I really recommend you go for the keycard version.
Price: R5199 (with install media) or R3699 (keycard version)

Bizarrely, you might notice is that Microsoft removed upgrade pricing. However, you do save some money going for the keycard versions.

Conclusion:

So should you upgrade? Well, it depends on your situation - if you are stilling running Office 2003, I would really recommend you move to Office 2010. There are too many improvements to count and the increase in efficiency with just dealing with day to day tasks quickly become apparent. You might have held out on the Ribbon interface, but it clearly is the future of Office. Just go for it.

If you are running Office 2007, things become a bit more complicated. True, they function very similiarly, so unless you need very specific new features that only Office 2010 offers, you need evaluate carefully if it's worth the cost. But if there is one tip I might give you - go take Outlook 2010 for a test drive. Outlook has been improved so much that it might be the very reason you would want to upgrade. Gone are the long loading times and tedious menus. Things happen quickly and the whole application is much easier to use.

Despite the high price, nothing comes close to Office 2010 in terms of ease of use and feature richness.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Pros:
Outlook 2010 is a huge upgrade
Major performance improvements
Good pricing on Home and Student version

Cons:
Professional SKU is very pricey

PS: Microsoft, get cracking on Office 2011 for Mac please. I want the new Outlook on my Mac as well.

Google Streetview SA launching soon...

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 17 May 2010 View Comments

Good news Google Maps fans. As part of Google’s efforts of being ready for the onslaught of soccer fans next month, Google is launching Street View for South Africa on 25 May.


You might have seen the Google Street View cars – normally Toyota Prius’s driving around with large cameras on top of them. The area in which Street View will launch is the following:
  • Johannesburg
  • Pretoria
  • Cape Town
  • Port Elizabeth
  • Durban
  • East London
Google also took the time take photograph some other areas in SA including:
  • Chapman’s Peak drive
  • Table Mountain
  • Soccer City
  • Moses Mabhida Stadium
So keep your eyes peeled…

Internet Explorer 9 Preview 2 now available

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 06 May 2010 View Comments

If you are someone who always wants to try the latest version of software, even if it is a pre release, you might want to take a look at IE9. I downloaded it, and from what I see Microsoft is really trying to step up to the plate by creating a decent standards based browser. While it might not be a Webkit browser like Chrome or Safari, it does support the newer HTML5 standards, including H.264 video codecs right out the box. IE9 is currently not even in Beta yet, but is primarily focussed on web developers who want to be proactive with their work. When you install it, it does not replace your current IE install, so its not too risky. What this version of IE9 does well is some great new design demos:

Get Microsoft Silverlight


You can run the demos in other browsers and just see how they perform. So if you are interested, you can get IE9 preview here.

Google buys Bumptop

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 03 May 2010 View Comments

Well this is interesting - Google bought the guys responsible for BumpTop, the very slick 3 dimensional desktop application. I have always been a fan of the idea of Bumptop, but I hated running another layer over my background. The few times that I did test it I was always impressed, and it ran well, especially its recent Mac OSX version. It was however limited in its free form, and hopefully Google fixes this. Just like Picasa was little known before Google bought it, maybe they will set Bumptop free for all OS's, with quick links to all Google services. I can imagine that being very handy.


Please Google, dont keep Bumptop only for your upcoming ChromeOS (or Android).

Set it free.

New Vodacom data prices

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 23 Apr 2010 View Comments

Vodacom just announced that their data prices will effectively drop from the 1st of May. While you wont necessarily spend less on your mobile data, you will get more data for your money. First off, here is the “advanced” bundles, which are ideal for people who do not want to spend a lot when they exceed their data bundle.
MyMeg Broadband Advanced Service

FREE data included (MB) Bundle includes now:
MyMeg 150 Advanced 25 175
MyMeg 250 Advanced 50 300
MyMeg 500 Advanced 250 750
MyMeg One Advanced 512 1536
MyMeg Two Advanced 512 2560
Out of bundle megabytes are calculated at the same price as in bundle prices. If you are however a less demanding user, the standard broadband prices are as follows:
MyMeg Broadband Standard

FREE data included (MB) Bundle includes now:
MyMeg 150 25 175
MyMeg 250 50 300
MyMeg 500 100 600
MyMeg One 205 1229
MyMeg Two 307 2355
Well, any better value for our money is welcome. However, this does not necessarily mean we will spend less on our data costs – the free megs are just little enough that I am pretty sure most people will just stick to the plan they are already on. No Vodacom – does this mean Vodacom iPhone contracts now get 300 megs included? That is still not enough.

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I am a R&D Analyst in Stellenbosch South Africa who has a immense passion for all things tech related. I embrace technology, open source and web standards, and I participate and contribute to the social web.