Friday, August 8, 2008

Olympus, Panasonic Plan Assault on Fortress of Pretentious Photography

A new camera standard promises to cram the quality of a digital SLR camera into a smaller, more portable package -- and may even bring back the golden age of candid street photography.

Hey, a guy can dream.

Olympus and Panasonic, two upstart manufacturers with a tiny slice of the camera market but a couple of really high-quality products under their belts, today announced the Micro Four Thirds System, a set of standards for compact, interoperable lenses and camera bodies. Neither company has announced specific products yet, but they undoubtedly will in the coming months.

The image on the right, from the Micro Four Thirds information site, shows how much skinnier the profile of the new cameras will be compared to those of SLRs.

The announcement may sound technical, but it's a welcome chink in the monolithic dominance of bulky, retro-styled digital single-lens reflex cameras.

Here's why Olympus and Panasonic's crazy new plan should give you hope, even if you'll never buy a camera based on it.

Canon and Nikon rule the digital camera market today, with inexpensive digital SLRs that give ordinary schmoes like me the ability to feel like a pro photographer while making pretty decent pictures. These single-lens reflex cameras are modeled on 35mm film cameras, and their quality is better than that of compact pocket digicams for two reasons: They have larger image sensors, and they have bigger lenses. In both cases, size confers an advantage because the imperfections (in silicon or in glass) that cause problems in smaller cameras become unnoticeable on a larger scale. Plus, SLRs sport interchangeable lenses, giving you the option of upgrading the optics in whatever dimensions you can afford: aperture, focal length, or clarity.

But SLRs are bulky. Plus, they hew unnecessarily to the design requirements of obsolete film cameras -- simply because that's what people expect a quality to camera to look and feel like. That's why the daydream of pro photographers and amateurs alike has been, for years, a small digital camera that uses interchangeable lenses -- preferably the really good lenses made by Leica.

The new Micro Four Thirds standard is based on the older Four Thirds standard, and uses the same relatively large image sensors found in Four Thirds cameras, like the nearly perfect Olympus E-510 and the smaller, still impressive Olympus E-420. Micro Four Thirds cameras will also be able to use lenses from the older, larger standard, with an adapter.

But Micro Four Thirds does away with the flip-up mirrors used in SLR cameras, enabling the camera bodies to be made much slimmer (the distance from the camera mount to the sensor is cut in half, so the entire depth of a Micro Four Thirds camera should be considerably smaller). It also calls for a 6mm reduction in the size of the lens mount, which doesn't sound like much, but should enable much more compact optics.

Instead of peering through an SLR viewfinder, you'll compose your shots using an LCD on the back, just like you do with a compact digicam, or using an optical or electronic viewfinder that sits alongside the lens.

And, because it's a standard, you won't be committed to a single manufacturer for all your future upgrades. You could buy a Panasonic camera and use it with a Sigma lens, unlike Canon and Nikon owners, who are locked into their respective brand choices until death or theft separate them from their camera bodies.

But will the new Micro Four Thirds standard turn the camera world on its ear? Probably not, even though the camera boffins at DPReview are terribly excited about it.

The earlier Four Thirds standard (which, by the way, will continue to exist) hasn't exactly taken the world by storm. Canon and Nikon continue to push the envelope in terms of image quality, they have a far wider range of optics and other accessories available, and it appears that consumers really do want big, swinging cameras.

But perhaps Micro Four Thirds cameras can do something like the Eee PC did when it came out: Provide a compact, inexpensive alternative to the dominant mindset, and kick off some real design innovation in the industry.

Secret URL May Allow Apple to Delete Your iPhone Apps Remotely


It's supposed to be your "life in your pocket," not Apple's. But a piece of code discovered in the iPhone operating system might keep you under Apple's control.

Jonathan Zdrianski, author of the book iPhone Open Application Development, discovered a URL hidden in iPhone's CoreLocation that he believes the iPhone uses to check whether any apps on your phone match with those listed in a database of blacklisted applications. Presumably, that would allow Apple to remotely de-authorize those apps, or perhaps even delete them.

"This suggests that the iPhone calls home once in a while to find out what applications it should turn off," Zdrianski wrote. "At the moment, no apps have been blacklisted, but by all appearances, this has been added to disable applications that the user has already downloaded and paid for, if Apple so chooses to shut it down."

Hum. So then all of those who got away with NetShare before it disappeared from the App Store aren't so safe/lucky after all.

Now, if Apple were more organized with regard to what appears and disappears from the App Store, they probably wouldn't need this emergency procedure. What's the point of an approval process if the useless, $1,000 "I Am Rich" app is going to make it out the door, only to be yanked immediately afterward?

Original here

New software would let iPhones access iTunes libraries from anywhere

A new version of Apple's iPhone Software could provide iPhone and iPod touch users with access to their home computer's entire iTunes media library while on the go without having to first download those media items through a traditional sync, a new company filing has revealed.
The Cupertino-based electronics maker notes that downloading media items from a computer to a media player is often a time consuming process, and one that is limited by the player's storage capacity. Therefore, users who are out and about sometimes find themselves without access to some of their content, which sits inaccessible on their home Mac or PC.

New versions iTunes and the iPhone Software could theoretically eliminate this problem by syncing only the metadata -- or tiny files containing the barebones attributes of each media item or playlist but not the content itself -- from a user's iTunes library to their portable devices.

Using this metadata, iPhones and iPods would contain "virtual media items" representing every playlist, video, photo, and mobile game stored on their computer, even if the sum of those files would ordinarily be too large to fit onto the devices' hard disk drive or flash drive. This is possible because metadata capable of representing a media item consumes only faction -- typically less than 1 percent -- of the space required to store the media item itself.

"As a result, the user perceives that the virtual media items may be available on the [the media player]," Apple said. "In this manner, the virtual capacity of an electronic device may be increased."

Users would select virtual media items for display or playback on their handhelds just as they would today under the assumption that the entire contents of the file sit on the device for immediate playback. But instead of accessing the files from the device's built-in storage, the iPhone or iPod would use a wired, Wi-Fi, or cellular connection to remotely access and retrieve the media items from a user's home Mac or PC.

"For instance, a personal computer can be turned on and connected to the Internet to enable a portable device to access the media items stored on the personal computer," Apple said, adding that the files could then delete themselves from the portable device once the user is done listening to or viewing them.

Patent example

Through similar techniques, users could also manage their iTunes libraries remotely, reorganizing, deleting, or adding files while on the go. During all of these processes, the condition of the handheld's connection to a host source would be under constant surveillance to detect problems or a fading signal, at which time data transfer could be safely paused or stopped.

Alternatively, iPods and iPhones could communicate with one another in a manner similar to that employed by Microsoft's Zune media players.

"This type of communication can be referred to as peer-to-peer interaction. In this regard, one mobile device can communicate directly with another mobile device" or " to a plurality of other mobile devices," Apple said. "In the peer-to-peer environment, one mobile device can communicate with one or more other electronic devices (whether mobile or stationary) in the immediate vicinity. Data sharing can be performed when such communication is available."

The 24-page filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office is credited to Apple employees David Heller and Thomas Mavrakakis.
Original here