Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What do you use your iPhone for?

In the past few days, I used

1. Cinepura to find another movie theatre showing Mamma Mia! after arriving too late at Golden Village Tiong Bahru;

2. Next Bus to find out what time 105 would be arriving. As a result, I was able to skip the crowded 105 because I knew another one would be coming in 8 minutes;

3. iSinGeo to find out what the bus stop number was at Far East Plaza because I was too lazy to look for the number plate (In my admittedly feeble defence, it is a pretty long bus stop);

4. Epocrates Rx to check the anti-histamine I bought from the pharmacist at Guardian Pharmacy at United Square. She sold me something she claimed wasn't a sedative. Epocrates told me otherwise;

5. Google Maps to direct a taxi driver to get to Jalan Kampong Chantek from Thomson Road. It's quite hypnotic watching the pulsing blue dot move along the map;

6. NetNewsWire to read Mac, iPhone and general news while riding on the MRT;

7. Wikipanion to check on a rumour I heard in church that Prince Charles, the head of the Anglican Church, was really planning to become an Orthodox Christian.

8. Line Rider to amuse myself on the bus because I wanted to take a break from reading

9. Mail (all the time)

10. Safari (all the time)

11. Crash Bandicoot Nitro 3D (not me. My son!)

Oh yeah, I also use my iPhone to make and receive calls.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

SingTel’s iFlexi users paying for speed they can’t get

If you’ve signed up for any of SingTel’s iFlexi plans for your iPhone, you’re probably paying for speed that you’re not getting. I’ve run a limited test that shows that an iPhone on the iFlexi plan does not enjoy significantly faster download speeds than an iPhone running on SingTel’s slower Broadband on Mobile plan.

My wife and I both have an iPhone. She’s on the iFlexi Plus plan which offers 2GB of free data transfers and 3.6Mbps download speed. I’m on a Broadband on Mobile 1000 plan which offers 50GB and 1Mbps download speed (this is SingTel’s slowest BBOM plan). I also signed up for the iTwo Plus voice plan. Here’s how the two plans stack up:

iTwo Plus + BBOM 1000                             iFlexi Plus
- $105.35 ($82.93 + $22.42) a mth                 - $95 a mth
- 700 min outgoing calls                                - 500 min outgoing calls
- 500 free SMSes                                           - 500 free SMSes
- 1 Mbps d/l speed                                       - 3.6 Mbps d/l speed
- 50 GB a mth                                            - 2 GB a mth

I’m paying $10 a month more for 200 more minutes of outgoing calls and 48 GB of data more a month. In return, my download speed is capped at 1 Mbps.

My wife obviously has fewer outgoing minutes and much less data she can download without charge, but she supposedly enjoys much faster download speeds. Or does she?

Running the Speedtest app

I decided to see if her download times were much faster than mine. I installed the Speedtest app on both iPhones and ran them simultaneously. (Speedtest is an excellent app that uploads and downloads benchmark files and divides the files sizes by the time it takes to transfer. It’s available for free on the App store.)

This is how I ran the test: both iPhones were placed side-by-side on a table. I hit the Speedtest app on both phones simultaneously and recorded their download and upload speeds. I did this repeatedly over a 15-minute period.

I did this on five occasions at three different locations around Singapore. The first two occasions, I ran Speedtest five times. The last three occasions, I ran Speedtest 10 times.

The results

Here’s a summary of the results:

Round 1: iFlexi is faster 3 out of 5 times. Winner = iFlexi
Round 2: iFlexi is faster 3 out of 5 times. Winner = iFlexi
Round 3: iFlexi is faster 6 out of 10 times. Winner = iFlexi
Round 4: iFlexi is faster 3 out of 10 times. Winner = Broadband on Mobile
Round 5: iFlexi is faster 4 out of 10 times. Winner = Broadband on Mobile

Note that my iPhone, on the slower Broadband on Mobile plan (capped at 1 Mbps), was able to beat my wife’s iPhone (on the iFlexi plan with 3.6 Mbps download speeds) on two out of five occasions.

Another way to look at it is that out of the 40 times I ran the test, the iPhone on the iFlexi plan was faster 19 times out of 40. Which means the iPhone on the BBOM 1000 plan was faster 21 times out of 40.

Note that while I use terms like faster and slower, in reality, the differences were pretty minor. If you actually compare download times, you will see that the difference in download speeds between the two phones is very small. See detailed times here.

No speed boost on iFlexi

This means that my wife on the iFlexi plan is paying for speed she doesn’t get, and on top of that, she is limited to only 2GB of downloads a month.

This is still a pretty limited test. If enough people are interested, I’ll try to organise a test on a much larger scale to see if the same results pan out. Email me at jimmy at ricejar.com if you’re interested in taking part in the test.

Waiting for the bus becomes less painful

I must admit I was a little skeptical about the utility of Next Bus. Until, that is, I found myself at a somewhat lonely bus stop yesterday evening wondering when my bus would arrive.

Fortunately, I was able to click on Next Bus, which improves on the Iris service that SBS Transit provides. Instead of having to type in one service at a time, Next Bus replicates those LED boards that some of the bus stops in town have.

Type in the bus stop number (available at the bus stop) and it returns all the estimated arrival times of the SBS Transit bus services that stop at that bus stop. Particularly useful if you have a choice of more than one bus that you can take. And even if you're only waiting for one bus, it affords endless minutes of fun as you wait to see if the other buses do arrive at their estimated times (I clearly need to get out more if this is my definition of fun).

You can access Next Bus directly or use it via iSingeo.

Next Bus makes waiting for a bus just a little less painful.

Via SinGeo.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ticket to Ride: An Interview with Shen Weijia of the Singapore Bus Guide

Most people give Singapore’s public transport the thumbs up. Between the MRT and the buses, there are very few places you can’t get to by public transport. However, Singapore’s bus network is so comprehensive that the problem is sometimes trying to figure out which bus to take. That’s where the Singapore Bus Guide comes in.

Selling for US$0.99 on the Singapore App Store, this app tells you what route the different bus services take. It’s one of two bus guides on the App Store, the other being SG Buses.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The battle of the iPhone bus guides

If you know where you want to go today, but not how to get there, the Singapore App Store has the answer. Actually, it has two. Bus guides that is.

That's right. Currently, there are two guides to Singapore's bus services. This is great news for those of us who rely on the bus because we've failed our driving test too many times to count. 

The two apps are SG Buses (free) and the Singapore Bus Guide (US$0.99). Who will win the battle of the bus guide? Let's see. Free vs not free. Tough choice.

Look for them on the Singapore App Store. 

iPhone Photography

The iPhone photography of Greg Schmigel.

I used to blame the iPhone's 2 megapixel camera for the lousy shots I was taking. Seems like the problem was not the camera, it was the person behind the camera. If you want to see what the iPhone can do, have a look at the photography of Greg Schmigel. Stunning photographs of street scenes, all shot on an iPhone. See also the winners of the 2008 iPhone Photography Awards. Inspired by these people, the shots I take are now less bad...

Friday, September 19, 2008

iToday now available for iPhone

iToday is a free app that will deliver news from the Today newspaper to your iPhone. You can even read the news offline. Early reviews say it's unstable but at least Today is trying. You can't even subscribe to the Straits Times RSS feed without forking out cash...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Griffin's iPhone case will have macro lens

Griffin Technology's  Clarifi (US$34.99) will protect the iPhone 3G and allow owners to take photos from about 4 inches away as well. This is thanks to a built-in macro lens in the case that you can slide over the iPhone's original lens when you want to take close-ups.  As someone with an inexplicable interest in odd-looking insects, this is great news. The only problem is that Clarifi does not look like it has the protection that the Speck ToughSkin provides. Decisions, decisions.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Speck's ToughSkin now in Singapore

Paranoid iPhone owners can now rejoice. Epicentre at Wheelock Place is now stocking Speck's ToughSkin for $49. Bought it yesterday and I love it. My old $15 macmosphere seems shockingly inadequate in comparison. The grooves on the side of the ToughSkin make it easy to hold while the thick rubberised exterior feels like it can handle bumps and drops. I'm much less worried about lending my iPhone to my 9-year-old son now. The downside is that ToughSkin makes the iPhone much thicker; the whole look is very industrial. Also, hitting the Q and P keys on the keyboard requires extra care because of the thick rubberised skin hugging the edge of the iPhone. These are tradeoffs I can live with though.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Early reports of 2.1 firmware are good

People who have updated to version 2.1 of the iPhone's firmware have reported better 3G reception, faster syncing and a more snappy experience overall. No one has reported major problems with the update.

I'm upgrading now so we'll see how it works for me. Better battery life and less lag while composing an SMS would be very welcome. 

Apple's list of bug fixes in 2.1

* Decrease in call set-up failures and dropped calls
* Significantly better battery life for most users
* Dramatically reduced time to backup to iTunes
* Improved email reliability, notably fetching email from POP and Exchange accounts
* Faster installation of 3rd party applications
* Fixed bugs causing hangs and crashes for users with lots of third party applications
* Improved performance in text messaging
* Faster loading and searching of contacts
* Improved accuracy of the 3G signal strength display
* Repeat alert up to two additional times for incoming text messages
* Option to wipe data after ten failed passcode attempts
* Genius playlist creation

Friday, September 12, 2008

Eye-Movie: An interview with Cinepura’s Harish Mallipeddi

Harish Mallipeddi keeps an eye open for the latest movies in Singapore.

Last Sunday, I wanted to take my kids to watch Wall.E. I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket and in seconds, found out that the Shaw cinema at Bugis was showing it at a convenient time. We jumped onto the MRT, got to Bugis and bought the tickets with plenty of time to spare.

For this, I have Cinepura to thank. Cinepura is a simple iPhone web app that does one thing very well, it tells you where and when a particular movie is showing in Singapore.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It makes calls too! (iSinGeo that is)

Being the eagle-eyed reviewer that I am, I missed the fact that when you are presented with the search results in iSinGeo, you can can tap on a square button (with the letter T on it) and a window will pop up asking you if you want to call that shop or restaurant. Fortunately, what I lack in keen eyesight, I make up for in large clumsy hands. I accidentally uncovered this useful feature while poking at the screen in search of an Apple store near Toa Payoh Lorong 6. A good thing I called ahead too because while it was supposed to be 400 metres away from me, I found out that they repair Apple products rather than sell Apple products. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New iPhone firmware coming Friday; 100m downloads from App Store

Steve Jobs announced that Apple will be releasing the 2.1 firmware update for the iPhone on Friday. The update promises to:

1. Fix lots of bugs
2. Reduce dropped calls
3. Significantly improve battery life (hurray!)
4. Fix problems that are caused when you've gone App Store crazy and installed 200 apps on your iPhone (good news for my wife), and
5. Provide faster backups in iTunes (never had this problem)

Sadly I wasn't in San Francisco for the 'Lets Rock' event but MacDailyNews covered the event. Check out its quick summary here or watch the event for yourself here.

Apple also announced that more than 100 million apps have been downloaded from the App Store since its launch on July 11 (some 60 days ago). I'm sure my wife downloaded a significant proportion of that 100 million but it's still a pretty amazing number. Of course it helps that 20% of the 3,000-odd apps in the store are free and 90% cost less than US$10. (See full press release here.)

Apple would have definitely recorded more downloads if certain apps were more widely distributed (I'm talking about you, Google Mobile App!).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Easy Rider: An interview with iSinGeo’s Jon Petersen

Thanks to his web app, iSinGeo, Jon Petersen (above) can always find a latte.

Do you regularly find yourself in an unfamiliar part of Singapore, desperately searching for an OCBC ATM or a Starbucks outlet? If so, then iSinGeo is a godsend.

Punch in your location and this excellent iPhone web app will tell you what’s nearby. The list is astonishingly long and ranges from Apple stores and bike shops to mosques and supermarkets.

Select a category, say Starbucks, and iSinGeo will pull up a static Google map with the little bubbles showing the Starbucks outlets in the vicinity (sadly none near where I am now). Pick a particular movie theatre and iSinGeo will bring you to the Yahoo page showing you what movies are showing at that theatre today.

iSinGeo is a web app version of the SinGeo website, located at www.singeo.com.sg. While they share the same database, the website differs from the web app. The focus of the website is data-rich maps so you can see, for example, where all the dengue hotspots are. The web app, on the other hand, aims to provide location-based data.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Local iPhone apps (part 1)

Slowly but surely, people are developing Singapore-related programs for the iPhone. Currently it's a mixture of web apps as well as apps for jailbroken iPhones but I'm sure that legit apps for the iPhone 3G are not far behind.

Here are some local apps that you may find useful:

1. iSinGeo is a web app that allows you to find out what's close to a location that you specify. Input a road name, a bus stop number (they have numbers? who knew?), an MRT station, a hotel or a shopping mall. It locates nearby cinemas, ATMs, restaurants, bars, Apple shops, bicycle shops, Starbucks outlets and much much more. Very cool app that is based on the excellent SinGeo website. 

2. Cinepura is a web app that gives you movie screening times. Very handy when you arrive at the Golden Village cineplex at VivoCity only to find that tickets for Wall.E have sold out and you need to find another cinema that shows it in the next hour or so.

3. Transit and MRTSchedule are iPhone apps for jailbroken iPhones. They look very useful and the developer appears to be planning to convert these apps to work for normal iPhones. Transit is a journey planner that tells you how to get from point A to point B by bus. It appears to be like Iris. MRTSchedule tells you when the first and last train leaves from the different stations.

If I've missed out anything, let me know and I'll update the list.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Comparing iFlexi vs BBOM speeds (Part 5)

Date: Sep 4, 2008
Time: 12.24am
Location: At home in Ghim Moh
3G Signal Strength: 3 bars

Download speeds in Kbps

           iFlexi Plus    BBOM 1000

1.            162                      82
2.           183                    144
3.           175                     115
4.           154                     164
5.           170                     159
6.           168                    249
7.             78                    190
8.           119                     527
9.           132                     294
10.         241                     292

Upload speeds in Kbps

          iFlexi Plus       BBOM 1000

1.          160.5                   176.4
2.          121.2                    99.7
3.            91.3                  182.2
4.         130.9                   104.1
5.          177.4                    88.6
6.         108.4                  122.8
7.          105.5                    94.7
8.         126.8                    97.3
9.           79.3                  134.6
10.         95.9                   86.4

Singapore's iPhone Community

Thanks to pwned iPhones, there's already a thriving iPhone community in Singapore. Here are two I've found:

1. The always excellent Hardware Zone forum.
2. iPhoneSutra

Just in case

As Bristol Palin now knows, it's important to use protection at all times. And what's true for Sarah Palin's daughter is equally true for iPhone users. The other day, I bought a $15 Macmosphere case from Popular Bookstore. It's red, ugly and ill-fitting. And the best $15 I've ever spent.

A few days after that, I managed to drop my very expensive hunk of glass and sensitive electronics while walking to Funan Centre, ironically in search of a better case. I was trying to make a call while I was walking when I managed to flick the phone out of my grasp. It flew out of my hands, and actually bounced once on the pavement, before coming to a stop.

Heart in my mouth, I picked up the iPhone. The screen was blank. I restarted the iPhone and thankfully, everything worked, although all my settings were returned to their default.

While I'm eternally grateful to Macmosphere, I am now in search of even better protection. Current candidates include Speck's ToughSkin and OtterBox's Defender, neither of which I've seen in Singapore though. Let me know if you've seen either of these in stores here...

Comparing iFlexi vs BBOM speeds (Part 4)

Date: Sep 3, 2008
Time: 6.01pm
Location: Prime Gymnasium, Toa Payoh Lorong 7
3G Signal strength: 2 bars

Download speeds in Kbps

                iFlexi Plus                  BBOM 1000

1.                234                                 290
2.               440                                 348
3.               272                                  395
4.               433                                  455
5.               378                                  509
6.               508                                 479
7.               443                                  458
8.               491                                  374
9.               272                                  378
10.             207                                  449

Upload speeds in Kbps

             iFlexi Plus                 BBOM 1000

1.             159.5                                 112.7
2.            130.1                                  67.6
3.            176.3                                  74.2
4.            180.2                                116.9
5.             151.9                                109.0
6.             137.5                                119.6
7.               39.2                               122.3
8.               91.3                               112.4
9.              33.3                                 68.4
10.            22.3                               123.6

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Comparing iFlexi vs BBOM speeds (Part 3)

Date: Sep 3, 2008
Time: 3.06pm
Location: House off Rifle Range Road
3G Signal strength: 5 bars

Download speeds in Kbps

                      iFlexi Plus                       BBOM 1000

1.                     312                                      380
2.                    390                                      459
3.                    534                                       459
4.                    561                                       430
5.                    541                                       436
6.                    492                                      240
7.                    404                                      414
8.                   488                                      340
9.                    539                                      474
10.                  431                                       441

Upload speeds in Kbps
                    iFlexi Plus                          BBOM 1000

1.                   56.1                                      53
2.                  56.4                                      56.5
3.                  56.4                                      56.6
4.                  56.4                                      56.7
5.                  56.5                                      56.6
6.                  56.5                                      56.4
7.                  56.5                                      56.6
8.                  56.3                                     56.6
9.                  56.5                                      56.4
10.                56.5                                      56.7

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Problem #3 faced by iPhone users in Singapore

You end up taking the wrong bus because you are too busy reading Slate.com. However, at least you can blog about it while on that bus as I'm doing now. (I've also missed MRT stops thanks to my iPhone. Clearly I have problems walking and chewing gum.)

What are problems 1 and 2? Problem 1 involves connecting to Wireless@sg while problem 2 has to do with download speeds on Singtel's 3G network. (See previous posts.)

Comparing iFlexi vs BBOM speeds (Part 2)

I did the test again at 12.05 am, Sep 2, 2008. Same set-up -- both iPhones were side-by-side on table at home in Ghim Moh. This time, both iPhones were restarted to clear out the memory. Wi-Fi is turned off in settings. Speedtest was run five times. Both iPhones ran the app simultaneously.

The results:

Download speeds in Kbps

        on iFlexi Plus Plan      on BBOM 1000 Plan

1.           214                            166
2.           195                            192
3.           183                            219
4.           236                           233
5.           262                           294

Upload speeds in Kbps

       on iFlexi Plus Plan      on BBOM 1000 Plan

1.           189.2                        177.8
2.          194.5                         185.9
3.          192.2                         186.8
4.          185.4                         188.2
5.          187.9                          191.7

More tentative conclusions:

1. The two plans still aren't showing a significant difference in speed. My iPhone also managed to (just) beat my wife's iPhone two times out of five. However, her plan is supposed to be the 3.6 Mbps plan, while mine is the 1 Mbps plan.

2. Upload speeds are much faster than the test conducted nine hours ago.

I now need to test both phones in a different location. Perhaps I'm in a place with a wonky cell tower.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Comparing iFlexi vs BBOM speeds (Part 1)

My wife and I have identical iPhone 3Gs. She's on the iFlexi Plus plan (3.6 Mbps) while I'm on BBOM 1000 (1 Mbps). I decided to run SpeedTest on both iPhones to see if we actually get very different download speeds (after all, she's on a much faster plan, for which she is paying much more).

The two iPhones were placed side-by-side on my table at home in Ghim Moh. They ran SpeedTest simultaneously. I ran the tests between 2.55 pm and 3 pm on Monday, Sep 1. Here are the results, which you might find interesting.

Download speeds in Kbps

      on iFlexi Plus Plan          on BBOM 1000 plan

1.              271                            438
2.             349                             340
3.             392                             529
4.             307                             270
5.             300                             337

Upload speeds in Kbps

     on iFlexi Plus Plan          on BBOM 1000 plan

1.               56.5                             69.9
2.              59.4                              56.6
3.              89.3                            184.7
4.            188.5                              79.2
5.              56.4                            127.9

Some initial (tentative) conclusions:

1. Download speeds don't differ very much and on three of the five tests, I'm actually a little faster.
2. Upload times suck in general, though once again, I'm ahead three out of five times.

It's much too early to say anything definitive. I'll be running the tests again to see if we replicate these results. Stay tuned.