Archive for Podcrastination

Playbook Sucks A Half-Billion Out Of RIM

So there was interesting press release action coming out of Waterloo today. In a nutshell, Research In Motion is going to suck a 485 million dollar loss on the Playbook this quarter. It’s not a giant surprise or anything – everyone knows that they have sold less than 100K of the things and great teetering stacks of unwanted shipments are piled up and gathering dust in the retail channels.

What is interesting is the crazy amount of spin going on in the guts of the statement. My favourite bits of smoke-n-mirrors are these two gems from CEO Mike Lazardis:

“Although a number of factors have led to the need for an inventory provision in the third quarter”

“Early results from recent PlayBook promotions indicate a significant increase in demand across most channels. We look forward to continuing to grow the installed base of PlayBook users”

For those of you that don’t speak RIM, the effective translations are:

“Sure our app store sucks and the thing doesn’t even have email, but we honestly thought our brainwashed business users would buy it anyway.”

“Two weeks ago we dropped the price to below cost and managed to move a couple of handfuls. So we’re going to drop the price to 99 bucks next month.”

What’s really vexing here is that it didn’t have to be this way. With their purchase of QNX and an army of smart and creative people on staff, RIM should have been able to come up with – at worst – a basically competent tablet. And really, given the entrenched legions of “Blackberry über alles” diehards at the top levels of the corporate IT biosphere, that would have been all they needed to grab second place in the market and go from there. Instead, they dropped a big ol’ turd and then seemed honestly surprised when no one wanted to pick it up.

I’ve thought about this a lot and two possibilities come to mind as far as the possible cause for getting blindsided this badly.

One: Someone sold them a bill of goods regarding Adobe Flash and – despite there being no valid reason for and a bucket full of compelling reasons against having Flash on a mobile device – they stuck with it even when it became evident that Flash was going to cripple the thing in crucial areas like response time, browser speed, and battery life.

Two:  The decision makers at RIM’s very top level still can’t see how tablets are changing the mobile and personal computing markets forever, and (fanatically clinging to the idea that their two-decades old handheld is still the pinnacle and the rest of the world will come back home sooner rather than later) they have mentally and technically positioned the Playbook as a Blackberry accessory instead of a stand-alone player in a new marketplace.

Truth be told, I’m leaning towards number two. If you look at the Playbook as an add-on to enhance your Blackberry experience, it suddenly makes sense. Was this less of a tablet and more of a way to preserve Blackberry sales and functionality going forward? We might never know. But I wouldn’t bet against it.

Using PCF Files With The iPhone

UPDATED FOR iOS5: The terms used in the setup screen and the order of entry have been updated to reflect the changes in iOS5. If you are still using version 3 or 4 the setup screes are close enough that you should be able to puzzle it out. If you get lost, however, drop me a line and I will try to help you out.

A lot of people were seriously jazzed about the rather robust new VPN capabilities built-in to the iPhone. All sorts of things that just haven’t been doable from a smartphone – VNC to server desktops, full LDAP connections to your Exchange server, desktop shadowing and remote control – are now on the table and one finger-tap away.

If, that is, you can actually get the VPN working. Here is the rub: The vast majority of corporate VPN setups work on Cisco’s IPsec setup. This isn’t a bad thing – IPSec is far and away the best and most usable VPN structure going. The problem is that the IPSec setup usually involves your IT department issuing a certificate in a .PCF file with your group credentials. Instead of manually setting up your desktop VPN client, you just import this little file. The certificate has the group login and password encrypted (to keep it away from the prying eyes of the plebes, apparently) and the network dudes are usually loathe to give out the plaintext version to anyone, even people in other arms of the IT department.

This doesn’t help at all when you try to fill out the VPN client on your iPhone.

Fortunately, simple instructions for getting around this are now at hand. As in right here. If your corporate VPN is a Cisco IPSec system, you have a PCF file, and you want to get on the VPN with your iPhone, then this post is for you. Sit down and pay attention.

First, locate your .PCF file on your computer and open it in a text editor – you will need to refer to it shortly.

Next. go to the VPN setup on your iPhone (Settings – General – Network) and then tap the “right arrow” beside the VPN entry. Tap “Add VPN Configuration” and select the IPSec tab from the three at the top. You’ll know you are in the right place when you see the groovy Cisco logo at the top of the screen.

iOS5 VPN setup screen 1The top section of the setup box is pretty straightforward:

Description: This can be anything you want, but it would help to make it something useful since you can have multiple VPN configurations saved. If you are really stuck, try “Work”.

Server: This is the name of the VPN server at your workplace. You can find the name listed in your desktop VPN client, or you can find the server name or the IP address beside the “Host=” entry in the .PCF file. Always use the name if possible – that way you don’t have to change things down the road if they they do any DNS optimization or random juggling at work.

Account:
Your username to log into stuff at work. I assume you know this.

Password: Leave it blank – your VPN system will demand it every time you log in anyway.

Now we get into the tricksy part. It’s time to once again peer into the .PCF file you opened earlier and pull out some of the values.

iOS5 VPN setup screen 2Group Name: Look in the text of the .PCF file for the “GroupName=” entry. Type in that value here – and remember, it is case sensitive.

Secret: This is the group password, and the thing that the network guys in your IT department aren’t usually willing to part with. If you look in the .PCF file, you will probably see that the “GroupPwd=” item is blank, and instead there is some gawdawful long string of crap beside the “enc_GroupPwd=” entry instead. This is the encrypted password mentioned earlier, and it useless to you as is. However – the hash that Cisco uses for encryption is public knowledge, so all you have to do is copy the string from your text editor and paste it into the blank on this web page: http://www.unix-ag.uni-kl.de/~massar/bin/cisco-decode. You will get back an unencrypted string (yes, it may still look like garbage, but trust me, it will work) and that is what you type in beside “Secret”.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If for some bizarre reason your .PCF file has the password in the “GroupPwd=” entry, just use it as is – you can ignore the decryption part and just put it in under “Secret”. They have already handed you the keys to the kingdom, so to speak.

That is it. Hit the Save button, and you are done. Now when you go to your Settings on the iPhone, there will be a new switch in the upper section labeled VPN. Tap it and your phone will connect, ask you for your normal work password, and get you in. You know you are connected by the little “VPN” flag at the very top of the screen. Disconnect if needed by using the same button. And yes, it is perfectly

OTHER NOTE: The Cisco logo is one of the best corporate logos of all time. It never fails to amaze me with it’s general awesomeness.

Mission Control

I have committed more than a few pixels to extolling the many, many virtues of Soma FM on These Very Pages over the past handful of years. This week (and next, barring some sort of unforeseen but sadly-not-unprecidented disaster) they are offering something new and wickedly original. Mission Control is a new (and necessarily short-lived) channel that mixes the brain tentacles of electronic ambient music with the live feed of mission audio to and from STS-132, the last hurrah of the United States space shuttle program. It runs until shuttle touchdown, scheduled for May 26, 2010.

It’s funky and cool and hey – you just might learn something. They offer the usual spread of iTunes playlist feeds in AAC and MP3, a firewall-friendly MP3 feed, and the Soma pop-up player – which would be a cool idea if it wasn’t Flash, but it is Flash so it pretty much sucks. And, as always, it’s presented sans commercials and 100% free-as-in-beer free.

Saturation

I have pimped Adobe’s “Kuler” technology a couple of times in the past. Now you can tie into this incredibly useful tool in a super portable way with Saturation. Down at ye olde home improvement big box looking at paint? Trying to decide on fabric for curtains while at the mill store? Now you can hit the guts of the Kuler package with a seriously slick (and an addictively fun) iPhone interface.

Cost: Free.

Recommendation: Highest.

A Refresher

A couple of quick notes for the folks who wondered:

The unlocked and untethered iPhone 3.1.2 is indeed still up and active, ready for your general enjoyment (with instructions!) on the iPhone unlock page.

The instructions for getting onto your corporate Cisco VPN if your IT department hides and encrypts the group password in a PCF file are still up and still valid. You can check them out here.

It’s cool. I got ya covered.

iPhone 3.1 Unlock

For those of you patiently waiting … wait no more. I have posted 3.1 firmware files – unlocked and jailbroken – for both the original (first-generation) iPhone and the iPhone 3G. There are “vanilla” versions and “full-on geek” versions of each one, pick your poison appropriately. All files, as well as easy instructions, are on the unlock page and ready for your downloading pleasure.

Enjoy.

iPhone 3.1 Update

I am going to go way out on a limb here and guess that you already know this, but – if you have a jailbroken and/or unlocked iPhone, do not update to version 3.1 of the firmware. 3.1 updates the baseband yet again, and you will be left with a locked device.

However – you can downgrade back to 3.0 or 3.0.1 and re-activate with Redsn0w. so you don’t end up with a brick or anything tragic like that. It’s just an annoyance and a couple of hours of your time. But best to avoid the whole thing for now.

Genius Mixes

One thing about the “Genius Mix” feature in the new iTunes is that you have to go to the “Store” menu of iTunes and use the “Update Genius” selection. Only after you do that will the “Genius Mixes” item show up in your toolbar. You’re welcome.

It’s Only Rock And Roll

So here we are – a mere 36 hours from Yet Another Apple Event. And all sorts of fenderheads are out there working themselves into a lather because they have convinced themselves that the long-rumoured Apple “tablet” will be handed down to the masses tomorrow.

Er, no.

These people need to get a grip. This is an iPod event. Period. When Apple has a music theme for an event (and I will go way out on a limb here and guess that “It’s Only Rock And Roll” is really a musical cue) that event is about iPods, iTunes, and … well, that’s it. Done. Finis.

Yes, there will be a tablet eventually. The thing is in the works, and you will see it sometime in 2010. And it will fill a need in a way that will startle you, and it will be insanely good (of course) and there will be rejoicing by all.

Just not now.

So – what will we see tomorrow? Here is a quick rundown, from the for-sure to the if-pigs-fly possibilities:

A new iPod Touch with a camera, compass, and virtually everything else in an iPhone except for that phone part: Definitely. The new SDK for the iPhone OS has explicit support for these hardware goodies in the iPod Touch code library. A couple of people involved in writing that code library have told me just what a crapload of work was involved. People don’t do that just for fun. Combine that with the age of the current iPod Touch and this one is a no-brainer. Probability: 100%

The last ever traditional iPods: Yep. This is the swan song for the device that changed entertainment and the music industry and interface design and what we expect from handheld devices forever. Look for the last ever “old-school” iPods with bigger-than-ever memory and lower-than-ever prices. No, they won’t tell you that these are the last ones, but they are. Probability: 100%

Full HD video on video-capable iPods: Probably. The timing of this event, just a couple of days before Microsoft launches their “last gasp” Zune with HD video is not a coincidence. Look for the repositioning of the Touch (and possibly the nano) from hand-held entertainment devices to portable whole-home entertainment devices / portable computing solutions. Probability: 80%

A startling new iPod nano with the iPhone OS as its interface: This might be less far-fetched than you would think. It’s not exactly a secret that the iPhone OS will be the interface of the future for all of the iPhones, and possibly all of Apple’s “handheld” devices (see the “wild guess” below). And there is reference to the nano in the current iPhone SDK. But how to integrate that sort of OS with the smaller form factor and screen? Honestly, I have no idea. One incredibly far-fetched idea is that the entire surface of the nano might be a touch screen – front, back, sides, all of it. There have been mentions of nanos with “freaky shells” floating around the Apple campus for the past month of so – could that be what they are? Probability: 50%

The splitting of the Shuffle from the iPod brand: This could be a real surprise for a lot of people. Shuffles sell in staggering numbers, but the fact of the matter is that Apple is committed to the iPhone OS as their handheld/portable interface. And for obvious reasons, the Shuffle just cant get onto that particular bandwagon. They aren’t going to axe the Shuffle, but they might change it drastically and send it out to do battle as its own product and its own brand. Probability: 45%

An all-new iTunes: Maybe, maybe not. The fact that iTunes is the only core piece left on the OS X platform that is not a full 64-bit application irks a lot of people at Apple. 32-bits is so ghetto now. But – there are more installs of iTunes on Windows machines than there are on OS X machines. And there are no viable tools for 64-bit application development in the Windows world as of yet. Rewriting iTunes for Cocoa would be a snap for Apple, but then they get into the nightmare of divergent versions on the two computing platforms. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the answer is “don’t” and we end up waiting for this until next year and the launch of the tablet. Probability: 35%

The super-awesome new media format that makes music and art and interactive media a single integrated and essential unit and by extension makes you want to buy albums instead of just the singles you want: Hmmmm. This is a poser. I am sure you have heard about this, possibly under the nom du guerre “Cocktail” and you can probably understand why the record companies want this so badly. For years they were able to sell entire albums on the strength of one or two songs and you had to buy all the dreck as well. Now people can pick and choose what they want, and quality counts. This is an ongoing idea to get more quality and value into the “package” so that you might buy the album even if you dont care for more than half the songs. Is this ready for prime time? Probably not. But someday … maybe. Probability: 20%

Steve Jobs making an appearance on stage: Nope. Forget it. He is back to work and healthy, but the torch has been passed. He won’t be on stage today unless it is just to introduce Phil or thank everyone at the end. Probability: 5%


Finally, under the heading of a “wild guess that you can file away for next year, look for two rather startling things: One, the tablet (when it comes) will be a huge break from Apple’s traditional “laptop” structure and actually use the iPhone OS instead of OS X. Two, the combination of the iPhone OS and the new “socially-based” iTunes will be the first solid steps into “cloud” computing for the average joe. Your library will follow you everywhere no matter what device you happen to be using, regardless of actual storage, and you can interact with your friends and cohorts on a “social media” front wherever you happen to be. Remember – you read that here first.

Word Ace

I am a complete sucker for innovation – especially in gaming. If it is new and cool and different and fun, I will be the first in line to pluck my simoleans down for a title. Everything from Animal Crossing to Guitar Hero to Boom Blox – I’ll search it out and be more than happy to pay. So when something that reaches up into that part of the stratosphere and it is free … well, you can connect those dots for yourself.

And when you do connect those dots, you end up with Word Ace – a combination of a word game and poker that is 100% winner-winner-chicken-dinner. The guys at Self Aware Games took scrabble, mixed it half-and-half with hold ’em poker, added a dash of really slick on-line play, in-game chat, and an achievement system, and they brought it in at the low low price of free. So yeah, that works for me. Big time. The game is available for the Palm Pre and the iPhone and if you have either of those devices you need to take a look.

You can find all the details here (note: that is an iTunes store link) and see what else the gang at Self Aware is up to over here.