Cyber sausage

Cyber Sausage

One part of Tōkyō I often visit is Akihabara, the electric district. This is the place where you can find inter­esting electronic gadgets and new tech­nologies that are difficult to come by in Europe or even California. One thing I bought this time is the red dongle you can see on my iPhone on the photo. Can you guess what this is?

It is basically a stylus for touch screens, but I prefer to think about it as a cyber­netic sausage. You don’t need a stylus to use the touch screen on the iPhone and similar smart­phones, but the sensor does not work if you are wearing gloves. This resulted in a huge sale increase of a certain kind of sausages in Korea, they could be used as a replacement for the finger. Of course having a sausage in your pocket to use on your mobile phone is not very elegant, hence the cybernetic replacement (available in five fashionable colours).

Impressions du Japon

La baie de Shimoda

Je suis donc retourné au Japon, à peu près un an et demi après mon voyage précédent. Là où j’admirais le sakura, les feuilles commençaient à jaunir. J’étais malheureusement trop en avance pour admirer le momiji, le moment où les feuilles des érables deviennent rouge vif. Au delà du passage des saisons, naturellement, le Japon a vécu le plus grand tremble­ment de terre des temps modernes.

Comme je suis me suis pas approché de l’épicentre, je n’ai pas pu voir les effets directs du séisme, mais d’autres signes, plus subtils, étaient visibles un peu partout. Le plus frappant était l’apathie générale : les hôtels sont vides, à Shimoda, une station thermale très populaire au sud de Tōkyō, j’étais la seule personne dans les thermes. Même si c’était un jour de semaine, cela paraissait exagéré, l’hôtel m’a même upgradé ma chambre, quelque chose de plutôt inhabituel au Japon.

L’autre chose frappante était l’absence d’étrangers. Quand on est habitué à une petite ville comme Kanazawa, où les occidentaux sont rares, et qu’on les connait fondamentalement tous, je les remarques toujours lorsque je suis ailleurs au Japon. Français sur l’axe culturel Tōkyō – Kyōto, germaniques dès qu’il s’agit de gravir une montagne, américains bruyants à Tōkyō. Là, personne, tout au plus quelques rares hommes d’affaires dans le Shinkansen et quelques retraités américains à Asakusa.

Puis viennent les signes plus subtils de la pénurie de courant à présent terminées : affiches un peu partout, panneaux expliquant, dans les gares, que telle ou telle devanture est éteinte pour des raison d’économie. On sent l’action précipitée, on a coupé sans chercher la logique : à côté de la devanture éteinte, de gigantesques écrans, à côté de la gare les pachinkos inondent le voisinage de bruit et de lumières criardes.

Les publicités pour l’électro-ménager promettent des économies d’énergie pour les nouveaux appareils, mais l’hiver s’approche, et si elles sont plus discrètes, les publicités pour des chauffages électriques sont omniprésentes. D’une meilleure isolation, nul ne parle. De fait, la télévision parlait peu de Fukushima, et beaucoup de la Thaïlande inondée.

Durant mes précédents voyages, j’avais toujours cédé à la tentation et acheté une de ces babioles informatiques qui font la réputation d’Akihabara, le quartier technophile de Tōkyō, cette fois-ci je n’ai acheté que des câbles et de un support pour fixer mon iPhone sur mon vélo. Pratique, mais on ne peut pas exactement parler de haute technologie.

Apple semble avoir réussi l’impossible : pénétrer le marché japonais, mais aussi et surtout l’esprit des japonais. Dans la commune où j’ai vécu, Nomi, la grande rumeur est de savoir si la nouvelle usine construite par Toshiba sur la colline à côté de JAIST va produire des écrans pour l’iPhone, Apple nie, naturellement, mais cela ne fait qu’alimenter la rumeur. Dans la province d’Ishikawa qui attend toujours la venue Shinkansen depuis Tōkyō, c’est un symbole.

Paradoxalement, l’influence culturelle américaine semble être au plus bas, les nouvelles marques portent des noms français – j’ai beaucoup aimé « Bises Opaques » – ce qui était déjà le cas quand j’habitais au Japon. Ce qui est nouveau, pour moi, c’est la recrudescence de mots allemands: une ligne de parfum « Auslese », et un magazine féminin « Frau ».

iPhone 4

Screen Capture of the Kotoba Application

The two year lock cycle of phone operators is as good as any other measure for the passing of time, as I have come back to Switzerland since four years, I now have my third phone. I have been using an iPhone 4 for a few weeks, replacing the venerable iPhone 3G. I had to annoy the Swisscom people to get the previous one SIM-unlocked (they should really do this without you needing to ask for it), and had to transition to a new, micro-SIM card, but the transition was quite smooth. The only thing that got lost in the transition is the layout of my apps on the screens, but everything else went fine.

Physically, the new phone is only steel and glass, the ab­sence of plastic make it feel like a luxury object, it is really a nice piece of hardware. After some use, I see tree big im­prove­ments over the 3G:

  • The screen. I can’t see the pixels. There is something sad in having a phone break a limit that I always hated in desktops and laptops: resolution. At 360 DPI, the screen has the resolution of an early laser prin­ter. This makes reading a delight. I’m not sure I would read a full book on the device, but for notes, references, or mails, this is a very good improvement. I very often use the excellent kotoba application to study kanji (now called imiwa), the quality is really good, click on the screen capture on the right to see how large the actual screen is.
  • Speed. There were many justified complaints that iOS 4 was slow on the 3G, and while performance improved somehow with the subsequent releases, it still felt sluggish. On the iPhone 4, the system feels much more responsive.
  • Camera. During my Kraków trip, I did not take along my Sony camera, and took all pictures using the phone. Picture quality has been generally comparable, the phone can’t match the camera’s speed, nor its optical zoom, but I really like the HDR mode, and having the pictures geo-tagged immediately is nice.

It took me some time to get used to the new tasking UI, while it is nice to be able to switch between applications faster, I can’t say that it impressed me that much, but then I was never really convinced by the need for multi-tasking on a phone. As for printing, I’m waiting to see what will come out, will Apple finally add support for Airprint to OS X? Will brother roll out a firmware upgrade for my printer? The hardware is capable of handling PDF files, so this should be OK. If not I suppose that eventually support will come into my Synology NAS.

I must say I’m impressed with the speed with which the smartphone is converging to a single, clean, design. All newer smartphone seem to have a form factor like the iPhone.

Tilt to Live

Tilt to Live Icon – ⓒ One Man Left Studio

While it is easy to emphasize how much computer game graphics have improved since my youth, the real changes invariably come from the input methods. The first Videopak console I played on had delicate and slow joysticks. Most of the fun of the new games on the Commodore 64 came from the fact the joysticks where fast, and some games actively used the fact you could flip them back and forth fast. RTS Games only made sense because of the mouse all computers had by then, and the fighting games on the newer consoles where possible because of the multiple buttons and the ability to do combos. The Wii console, but also games like Guitar Hero took the input system of computer games to completely to a whole new dimension.

Tilt to Live is the re-invention of a very old game, basically Asteroids, for the iPhone. The key is it uses the tilt as the sole input. You can’t fire, this is determined by the specials you capture. The game is fast, very fluid, and tremendous fun. With a game taking generally less than two minutes, this is the kind of play I can indulge in easily. The graphics are simple, but smooth and elegant, the gameplay is excellent, and the loading screen even has a kind of humor I like. At 2.20CHF it is really a bargain.

Sony TDM-iP50

Sony TDM-iP50

Cela fait des années qu’on nous parle de convergence multi-media et tout ce genre de choses, finalement cette convergence voit le jour. J’ai reçu avec un peu d’avance mon premier cadeau d’anniversaire, un dock qui permet de connecter mon téléphone à ma télévision. En termes plus techniques le dock connecte un iPhone ou un iPod au port Digital Media de mon moniteur Sony Bravia. Cela me permet de faire deux choses: recharger le téléphone et jouer le contenu sur le moniteur. Toute l’interface se fait par le biais du moniteur. Le point positif c’est que toutes les fonctionnalités sont accessibles via la télécommande du moniteur, donc on peut paisiblement contrôler le tout depuis son canapé, ou un pouf confortable.

Le point négatif c’est que l’interface est relativement sommaire, et n’est pas sans rappeler le télétexte de mon enfance, j’aurais bien aimé que le système utilise l’interface en crossbar qui est devenu le classique de Sony ou affiche les couvertures de disques, mais ce n’est pas réellement un drame. Le support Unicode est aussi partiel, il y a une certaine ironie à avoir un appareil d’une marque nippone incapable d’afficher des caractères japonais. Mais ce sont des détails somme toutes mineurs surtout que l’interface honore au moins l’ordre de tri défini dans les chansons (ce qui évite de retrouves «The Beatles» sous la lettre «T». Le contrôle se fait au moyen des touches du contrôleur de menu et des touches classiques (▶,◼, ▶ ▶, ◀ ◀) et l’écran affiche les informations sur les morceaux joués. La vidéo est aussi supportée, mais je n’ai pas pu juger de la qualité vu que je n’ai pas de fichiers en HD dans mon téléphone. Une capacité important que je n’ai pas pu tester encore est la gestion des appels téléphoniques. L’avantage d’avoir la musique jouée depuis le téléphone c’est qu’en cas d’appel la musique est interrompue. La gestion de mise en veille est par contre bien supportée, avec un économiseur d’écran qui se met en route (je soupçonne que cette fonctionnalité vient de la télévision, pas du dock).

En conclusion ce dock est un petit gadget qui pourrait être plus perfectionné, mais qui rempli bien son rôle.

iPhone

iphone

I now have used my iPhone for two weeks, which replaced the Sony Ericson Z610i I had been using for two years. Comparing the way both phones have been designed is quite interesting.

Physically, the iPhone is more bulky, and I still prefer the clamshell design, which protects the screen when the phone is not in use. Having a clear, mechanical mean of telling the phone it is not in use is very useful. I already had a few cases of putting the iPhone to my belt without pressing the button that “closes” it. The result was some random app launching, possibly using costly bandwidth. The iPhone’s screen is of course way larger and this makes it possible to have useful applications. It also means that while taking pictures you have an idea what you are taking. The Z610i had five external buttons, the iPhone has basically three, but they actually do something, while on the Sony they were programmed to do stupid things – I suspect Swisscom fiddling with the firmware explains why one of the external buttons would display the phone’s status on the internal screen. Both phones have a proprietary external port, but the iPhone also has a regular audio jack, which is nice. I only realized recently that the earbuds that came with the phone had a three polarity connector and included a microphone, which is even better.

I found the call quality of both phones similar, but having the option to use my earbuds for phoning is really convenient. I had some earbuds for the Sony, but as I could not listen to music with it, I never carried them. This brings us to the whole music player thing. Theoretically, the Sony could play music and decode both AAC and MP3 files. In practice, the Firmware would only accept to play signed audio files. This was not even a serious security feature as I could find a program that would sign arbitrary audio-files, but only for Windows. As audio playing never worked, I had to buy an iPod, which was really silly. The iPhone is an iPod, with all the bells and whistles, so this means I don’t need a mp3 player in my pockets. The camera of both phones have similar resolutions, but I had the feeling the actual quality of the iPhone’s picture was better. The iPhone cannot record movie, whereas the Sony could but I never really managed to shoot anything vaguely useful with the camera in movie mode, so this is no great loss.

The main advantage of the iPhone is the Wifi connection and proper internet programs: web browser, mail, maps. The last one, coupled with the GPS is for me already worth a lot (I have a bad sense of orientation). I also liked the fact that there are plenty of useful applications. Having a specialized interface to facebook is nice, I also recommend Tramdroid if you live in Zürich, having the schedule for all trams stored in your phone is a really nice feature. While the Z610 had a web-browser, I was never usable beside for visualizing rich-text files converted.

I see two weaknesses of the iPhone compared to the Sony phone: bluetooth and tethering. While the iPhone has bluetooth hardware, only one functionality is supported: connecting a headset. Nothing else, no way to send data to another device. This was something useful when I wanted to push a picture to a computer, or send a vcard to another phone. The other part is using the Edge/3G connection of the phone from a computer. The Sony supported two modes, bluetooth internet sharing and the ethernet emulation over the USB connection. The iPhone cannot do either, but this seems more related to operator stupidity than to anything technical. Finally I wish the phone could track ToDos and also a Swiss-French keyboard, because currently, if I want French spell correction, I need to use the awful French keyboard.