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Friday
Apr292011

Apple: Highest Mobile Phone Growth Rate

International Data Corporation (IDC) has released their latest quarterly report on mobile phone market share.  Apple continues to hold the number 4 position among worldwide mobile phone manufacturers behind Nokia, Samsung and LG.  IDC noted:

Apple maintained its number 4 spot on IDC's Top 5 list thanks to a record quarter for unit shipments. The company posted the highest growth rate of the worldwide leaders. Apple's results were buoyed by strong sales on Verizon Wireless and additional carrier deals; the company is now on 186 carriers operating in 90 countries. The iPhone once again sold particularly well in developed economic regions of the world, such as North America and Western Europe.

(Emphasis added.)

Apple's 5% mobile phone market share is particularly impressive when you remember that manufacturers like Nokia and Samsung offer dozens of different mobile phone models while Apple offers, basically, just one model.

In 2007, Apple's stated goal was to capture just 1% of mobile phone market share.  Some analysts scoffed at that suggestion, saying the mobile phone market was too competitive for a new player to gain a 1% foothold.

Fast-forward to 2011: Every mobile phone manufacturer wants to make phones that are just like the iPhone.

Thursday
Apr282011

Apple More Profitable Than Microsoft

Over at TechCrunch, MG Siegler has a nice article on how Apple's last fiscal quarter compares to Microsoft's Q3 2011 results.

Just about a year ago, when Apple passed Microsoft in market cap, the Redmond loyalists were out in full force: that means nothing — look at the revenues! When Apple passed Microsoft in revenues last October, it was: who cares — look at the profits! We were looking, and we projected that this quarter just ended would be the one in which Apple passed Microsoft in that regard too.

Sure enough, they have. Easily.

Watch out Exxon Mobil!

Thursday
Apr282011

Most iPhone/Android Comparisons Flawed

In an article at The Loop, Jim Dalrymple argues that you can't compare the iPhone to Android.

Here is the first giant flaw — you may have noticed in the headline of this story. You cannot compare Android to an iPhone. That’s comparing an operating system to a hardware device.

The man has a point.  He correctly points out that you wouldn't compare a single model of Mercedes against all cars that GM makes.  The same is true for the iPhone/Android comparison.

Dalrymple points out that it is more appropriate to compare operating systems.

Now, let’s take a look at the operating systems in the U.S. According to reports released this month by comScore, if you factor in all of the devices that use iOS including iPhones, iPads and iPodtouches, Apple reached 37.9 million people. Android, according to the data, reached 23.8 million on phones and tablets.

That’s a 59 percent lead for iOS over Android.

Logical and true.

Thursday
Apr282011

Mobile Sales: iPhone Gains, Android Slips

Market research company The NPD Group has announced their analysis of mobile phone market share in the United States.

In the first quarter (Q1) of this year Apple's mobile phone sales reached 14 percent of the U.S. market. Apple outranked HTC, Motorola and RIM as the third-largest handset brand in the U.S., behind Samsung at 23 percent and LG at 18 percent. After launching on Verizon's network in February, Apple's iPhone 4 further solidified its position as the top-selling mobile phone in the U.S., while iPhone 3GS, Motorola Droid X, HTC EVO 4G, and HTC Droid Incredible rounded out NPD's top-five mobile phone handset ranking.

The report goes on to state that Apple's launch of the iPhone 4 on Verizon's network is what allowed the iPhone to expand its market share, previously held back by AT&T exclusivity.

At the same time, Andoird OS lost ground in market share, falling to 50 percent of smartphone unit sales compared to 53 percent during the previous quarter.

Wednesday
Apr272011

SpyderLensCal: Camera Focusing Target

Digital cameras are technological marvels.  Manufacturers are continually updating their products with new features.  In the last few years, one of the features added to many digital SLR cameras is autofocus (AF) micro-adjustment.  AF micro-adjustment allows the camera owner to make small—but noticeable—changes to the depth of field (also referred to as the depth of focus) for a given camera/lens combo.  As tight as manufacturing tolerances may be, experienced photographers know that autofocus precision can vary from lens to lens, even within a given lens model.  Manufacturers provide a service allowing camera owners to send in a lens for professional calibration, usually for a fee.  Unfortunately, manufacturers sometimes ask that the photographer send in his camera along with the lens so the two can be calibrated as a pair.  In rare cases, that is what is ultimately necessary.  But thanks to the AF micro-adjustment feature, photographers can frequently make the necessary adjustments on their own.

A Suitable Target

To use the AF micro-adjustment feature you need an appropriate target.  This could be just about anything but, ideally, you want to use a target that has high contrast so the camera's autofocus lock will be reliable and repeatable.  In addition, you want a target that allows you to measure the depth of focus in the image.  The Datacolor SpyderLensCal is one such target.

Datacolor SpyderLensCal Retail Package 

Datacolor SpyderLensCal (click image to expand)

The SpyderLensCal features a proper contrasting target, an angled rule (to measure the depth of focus), a bullseye bubble level, and a standard 1/4-20 tripod socket.  It is constructed of rigid and reasonably strong plastic.  The focus target and the marked rule are quality paper stickers attached directly to the plastic.  Using the SpyderLensCal is easy but you need to follow a few basic steps to ensure good results.

On The Level

Throughout the autofocus testing, you want to be sure that both the SpyderLensCal and your camera are level.  Thanks to the bullseye bubble level on the SpyderLensCal, this is an easy process.  I used a light stand with an adjustable swivel to support the SpyderLensCal, but you can also use a tripod with a ball head or just use a level tabletop.

Datacolor SpyderLensCal Bubble Level (click image to expand)

For ease of positioning and stability, it's best to mount the camera to a tripod with a ball head.  To level the camera, I recommend using a two-axis hot shoe bubble level.

Two-axis Hot Shoe Bubble Level (click image to expand)Lining Things Up

Once both the SpyderLensCal and the camera are perfectly level, you need to adjust the distance between the lens and the SpyderLensCal.  Datacolor recommends a distance of 5 to 10 times the focal length of the lens.  If it is a zoom lens, Datacolor recommends you use the longest zoom position.  Using a 24-105mm lens as an example, you would set the lens to 105mm and calculate the distance. 105mm x 5 = 525mm, or about 20.7 inches.  So, you would position the lens between 20.7 to 41.4 inches from the SpyderLensCal.  Also, it's a good idea to position the target in a spot with good lighting.  I chose a spot next to a window.

Datacolor SpyderLensCal Setup (click image to expand)

The next step is to raise or lower either the tripod or light stand so the center focus point in the camera's viewfinder falls on the smaller contrasting squares on the SpyderLensCal (next to the zero line on the rule).  You also want to be sure that the back of the SpyderLensCal and the plane of the camera's image sensor are parallel.  However, since the appropriate focus point is right next to the rule and the lens is relatively close to the target, this is not as critical as it would be with a larger target at a greater distance.

Camera Settings

Note: The settings menu structure varies from camera to camera.  Please refer to your camera's user manual.  The example screens shown here are for a Canon 5D Mark II.

To ensure the sharpest images, I recommend turning on the camera's mirror lockup feature.

Set Mirror Lockup (Canon 5D Mark II)

Next, check the AF micro-adjustment setting to be sure it is enabled and set to "Adjust by lens".  Start with the adjustment set to zero (0).

AF Micro-adjustment Menu (Canon 5D Mark II) 

AF Micro-adjustment Scale (Canon 5D Mark II)

Ready To Shoot

Now it's time to take the first test photo.  To help eliminate vibration, I recommend using a cable release or the camera's self-timer.

First Test Shot w/AF micro-adustment at 0 (click image to expand)

You can attempt to review the image on the camera's rear LCD screen, but I recommend viewing the image on your computer.  Look at the rule to check where focus begins and ends.  As examples, here are two image crops demonstrating the AF micro-adjustment range from -20 (front focus) to +20 (back focus).

Front Focus Example -20 (click image to expand)Back Focus Example +20 (click image to expand)

Ideally, you want the center of the rule (0) to be in the center of the depth of focus.  Here's a crop of the first test image, shot with the 24-105mm lens and AF micro-adjustment set to zero (0).

Crop of First Test Shot Showing Slight Front Focus (click image to expand)

My 24-105mm wasn't off by much, but it was front-focusing slightly.  Click the image for a better look.  The forward .5 mark was in better focus than the rear .5 mark.  The AF micro-adjustment setting needed to be moved in the backwards direction.  After some experimentation with different settings, I decided an AF micro-adjustment of +2 was about right.

AF Micro-adjustment Scale (Canon 5D Mark II)Crop with +2 AF Micro-adustment (click image to expand)

Use Photoshop's Emboss Filter

Tip: You can use the emboss filter in Photoshop to improve the visualization of the in-focus and out-of-focus areas of your test shots.  Here are those two 24-105mm lens crops again with the emboss filter applied.

Emboss Filter Applied w/AF Micro-adjustment at Zero (click image to expand)

Emboss Filter Applied w/AF Micro-adjustment at +2 (click image to expand)Check Each Lens

After you've repeated the process for each lens using the appropriate distances (also being certain that you keep the SpyderLensCal and camera level and square), you're all done.  The camera will remember the AF micro-adjustment setting for each lens and set it automatically when you attach the lens.

Mine All Needed Some Adjustment

I have four lenses.  Each of them needed a slightly different amount AF micro-adjustment.  My 17-40mm lens was back-focusing slightly and needed a setting of -2.  My 100-400mm lens needed the least amount of AF micro-adjustment, which is not surprising because I sent the 100-400mm to Canon for professional calibration about two years ago.  The setting for the 100-400 ended up at -1.  Lastly, my 100mm macro lens needed the most AF micro-adjustment.  I've been suspicious that it was front-focusing, which was occasionally noticeable when I used it for portrait photography.   Sometimes I'd have a nose in focus with an eye that was slightly out of focus, yet, I was aiming at the eye.  Sure enough, the testing proved the 100mm macro lens was front-focusing and needed an AF micro-adjustment of +5.

Poor Documentation

Datacolor provides a really sparse set of instructions with the SpyderLensCal.  It was next to worthless.  Fortunately, I found much more thorough documentation on Datacolor's European site in the form of a PDF file: SpyderLensCal User's Guide

Summary

I'm happy with the results I obtained by using the SpyderLensCal focus target.  I've fiddled with homemade focus targets in the past with mixed results.  My results with the SpyderLensCal were consistent and easily repeatable.  The SpyderLensCal costs more than a homemade target, but as digital camera accessories go, it's not exactly expensive.  The included tripod socket and bullseye bubble level make for a nice package.

The Datacolor SpyderLensCal earns my recommendation for those wishing to take advantage of the AF micro-adjustment feature available on their digital SLR.  If you found this review useful and are interested in purchasing the SpyderLensCal, please consider supporting Mark's Hangout by using the Amazon link below.  Thank you.

Wednesday
Apr272011

Meat Glue

An Australian video about the use of transglutaminase, also known as meat glue, to turn scraps of meat into a nice filet.

According to an article on Yahoo, meat clue is not banned in the United States.

Meat glue is banned in the EU, but in the US, the FDA classifies it under GRAS (generally recognized as safe). Transglutaminase is not required to be posted on the ingredients list.

I think I'll stick to eating steak at home.

Wednesday
Apr272011

Apple Q&A On Location Data

Apple Inc. has published their response to the growing controversy over the recording of iPhone user location.

Why is Apple tracking the location of my iPhone? 
Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.

Apple goes on to explain why there is a need for a location database.

Why is my iPhone logging my location? 
The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested. Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements). These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple.

The document also explains that a software bug is responsible for the location database cache file being updated when a user has turned off Location Services in their iPhone settings.  Apple states they will be releasing a software update in the next few weeks that will address this, plus a couple of other issues.

  • reduces the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone,
  • ceases backing up this cache, and
  • deletes this cache entirely when Location Services is turned off. 

Apple ends the document stating that, in the next major iOS update, the cache will also be encrypted on the iPhone.

Monday
Apr252011

Apple Gets Sued (yes, again!)

Bloomberg is reporting that a lawsuit has been filed against Apple Inc. in Federal court claiming invasion of privacy and computer fraud over Apple's alleged recording of the movements of iPhone and iPad users.

The complaint cited a report last week by two computer programmers claiming that Apple’s iOS4 operating system is logging latitude-longitude coordinates along with the time a spot is visited. The programmers said Apple devices are collecting about a year’s worth of location data. Apple hasn’t commented on the matter since the April 20 report was released.

The attorneys for the two named plaintiffs, Vikram Ajjampur and William Devito, are apparently seeking class-action status for the lawsuit.

It is important to note that, so far, there has been no proof or demonstration that Apple is "collecting" any of this location data.  All that has been demonstrated is that the location data is stored on a user's iPhone or iPad and that the data gets copied to the user's computer when he or she syncs their iPhone or iPad for updates and backup.  Nowhere has anyone proven that a single bit of that data gets transmitted to Apple or to any other party.

Until such time as there is some form of proof that Apple is both collecting the location data to their servers and using that data in a manner that allows them to personally identify a specific user, then my opinion is this lawsuit is meritless and a waste of the court's time.

Sunday
Apr242011

BlackBerry PlayBook: No iPad Competitor

Galen Gruman at InfoWorld has reviewed the BlackBerry PlayBook, Research in Motion's new 7" tablet. In what might be the most negative product review I've ever read, Gruman doesn't pull any punches in his assessment of the device.

After spending a couple of days with the final product, it's clear that the PlayBook is a useless device whose development is unfinished.  Not only can it not compete with the Apple iPad, it can't compete with the second-best tablet, Motorola Xoom, nor even the marginal Android tablets such as the Galaxy Tab that use the smartphone version of Android OS rather than the Honeycomb tablet version. In fact, if my choice were between a PlayBook and a Windows 7 tablet -- my benchmark for unusability -- I think I'd rather go sans tablet.

Ouch!

But wait... like Android OS, the PlayBook supports Flash, so it has to be better than an iPad, right? Um, no!

On the bright side, the PlayBook supports Flash, with no need to download a player as on Android. But Flash objects are often slow to load, and some would not function. That's an issue Flash also has on Android, as my colleague Neil McAllister discovered in his extensive Flash tests. It's becoming increasingly clear to me that Flash and mobile don't mix.

Hmm, I seem to recall someone else saying that Flash and mobile don't mix. Who was that? Oh yeah, it was Apple CEO Steve Jobs in his April 10, 2010 open letter titled Thoughts on Flash.

Saturday
Apr232011

Physical Media Still Dominates!

According to the NPD Group, more Americans use DVD and Blu-ray discs to watch movies at home than all forms of non-physical media combined.

More than three quarters of U.S. consumers continue to view movies on DVD and Blu-ray Disc; nearly 80 cents of every dollar spent on home video movies goes toward the purchase or rental of physical discs.

Personally, I'm glad physical media is still dominant.  It is my desire to see Blu-ray continue to grow and eventually replace DVD.  I realize that some people can't see or hear the difference in image or sound quality, but I certainly can.  I haven't purchased a DVD in over two years and I've rented as few of them as I possibly could.  With its 50 gigabytes of storage capacity (compared to DVD's 8.7 GB), Blu-ray is the only current physical media that has the encoding bandwidth necessary to deliver clean, artifact-free video on today's high-resolution television displays.

Streaming is Inferior to Blu-ray

Most movies on Blu-ray are encoded at a healthy 25-35 Mbps versus the 5-6 Mbps of DVD.  Granted, DVD is pushing a smaller image through the "pipe" so it needs less bandwidth.  But look at streaming providers.  The bandwidth they encode their HD content at is, at best, about the same as DVD.  Yet, they are pushing a much larger image through their pipe.  It's a difference that I can see, particularly during fast-motion sequences in movies and sports.  Streaming just doesn't encode at a sufficiently high bandwidth.

If you want the best possible picture and the best possible sound, Blu-ray is currently the only way to go.