A finger-friendly iGoogle returns to iPhone and Android handsets

Google has been once again revamped its iGoogle start page for easier use on iPhone and Android handsets. It lets you see and interact with your gadgets in a similar fashion to the desktop version, by making use of tabs and displaying content that runs in iFrames. The previous version, which was mysteriously discontinued by Google in late January, simply put everything into one, large vertical stream, and required you to go back and forth to get at different sets of widgets.

One nice feature that was not found in the previous version, is the option to set certain widgets … Read more

Five perfect puzzle games for the iPhone

Puzzle games and the iPhone and iPod Touch go together like peas and carrots (and they're nearly as good for you). They fit beautifully on the small screen, they have no awkward controls to master, and they're ideal when you have 5 minutes or 10 minutes to kill (and don't feel like killing things).

Here's a list of my five favorite puzzle games (so far):

Hanoi A beautiful rendition of the classic Towers of Hanoi game. The object is simple: move a stack of disks from one side of the board to the other. There's … Read more

How the iPhone can overtake all gaming handhelds in five steps

Apple had its own E3 press conference at the beginning of the week, with its newest model in the iPhone line finally being unveiled to the world. The iPhone 3G S, while in some ways a modest upgrade, introduces significant improvements for gamers--some obvious, others not so much. Will it help even further cement their growing position in a handheld games market previously dominated by Nintendo and Sony? Read on.

Faster processor speed, more RAM. T-Mobile leaked the hard 3G S specs, and they're all-around zippier than the old 3G--which Apple confirmed when it promised overall speeds up to 2x faster. This will matter in particular with game load times and game crashes, both of which can tend to plague an overstuffed iPhone. While the spec bumps are relatively modest, the iPhone's game-playing prowess has already been more impressive than early pundits predicted, especially on recent releases like The Sims 3 and a PC-perfect port of Myst. The only thing missing now is...

Proper controller support. Sneaked in under the radar amid the iPhone 3G S news is the fact that the 3.0 software update allows third-party app interfacing with peripherals. While a larger focus on this functionality has been on medical devices, it's now possible for someone to make a clip-on control pad case and to have that controller be usable in any game. What should happen is that publishers gather to designate one universal controller that then gets adopted as the iPhone's "gamepad." The question is, who will make that accessory? For a while last year it was rumored to be Belkin, although it was unclear who would support the device. On consoles, the manufacturer usually settles these issues by making the controller themselves (except in the case of peripheral-driven games like Rock Band).

While it would be easiest if Apple made a gamepad, it's entirely unlikely. The whole appeal of the iPhone is its interface simplicity--too many plug-ins kill the minimalist chic. If a third party makes a controller, there's a likelihood that some publishers would support it, while others splinter off under some other controller accessory. Either way, someone should make sure there's a good consensus. Otherwise, soon enough we'll be buried in plastic miniperipherals, not unlike what's currently happening to (or plaguing) game consoles.… Read more

Friday roundup: Dirt-cheap Netbooks, MP3s, 802.11n, Peggle

I couldn't pick just one deal today, so here are five to jump-start your weekend:

Much as I'm loving the iPhone version of Peggle, I think it's a little pricey at $4.99. Good news: Right now it's on sale for just 99 cents [iTunes link]. No-brainer. Buy it. Thanks to reader Harold for the tip!

I'm not loving Amazon MP3's current selection of $5 albums, but there's one standout: Holst's The Planets, one of my all-time classical favorites. ("Mars" gets all the attention, but "Jupiter" is really … Read more

Live a virtual life and race against the clock: iPhone apps of the week

In addition to the big Apple announcements of new laptops and the iPhone 3G S at this weeks WWDC, other well-known developers used the conference as an opportunity to release some big name iPhone applications. I usually try to balance my coverage of iPhone apps by talking about one game and one useful utility, but with this week's big releases, I'm going to talk about two games. These games are both $9.99, so with the higher price point, I think it's worth it to give you the rundown of both so you can decide if you … Read more

Two cheaper alternatives to Find My iPhone

No doubt about it, Apple's just-announced Find My iPhone app is pretty cool. If your precious goes missing, you can remotely transmit a "Help, help, I'm lost!" message in the hopes that whoever found it will return it.

If that doesn't pan out, you can send a Mission Impossible-style self-destruct command that'll wipe the iPhone's memory, thus protecting any sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands.

Unfortunately, the price of this nifty recovery/security service is a subscription to Apple's MobileMe, which costs $99 annually. That's fine if you're … Read more

iPhone OS 3.0 beta testers get Find My iPhone

MobileMe's Find My iPhone service is alive and ready for anyone using iPhone OS 3.0. Using it allows you to locate your iPhone or iPod Touch on a map, send a message along with a sound to the device, or wipe your device remotely if its been misplaced, lost, or, stolen.

Here is the location screen for an iPhone (iPod Touch is similar in all cases below) in the Account settings section at me.com.

The location screen supports the following actions:

Press the Update Location button and MobileMe will attempt to query your iPhone and display an updated map showing its location.

Press the Display a Message... button, and MobileMe will send a text message to your phone that displays with an optional sound playing for up to 2 minutes. You'll be prompted to enter your message and check the box to include the sound.

The message then appears on your iPhone like this:

Next, you get a confirmation e-mail that your message was sent, received, and displayed on your missing iPhone.

Press the Remote Wipe... button and MobileMe will remotely erase your iPhone. According to Apple:

This will permanently delete all media and data on your iPhone, restoring it to factory settings. This will not suspend your wireless service. Once wiped, your iPhone will no longer be able to display messages or be located. Learn more.

You'll be prompted to erase your device with a warning that you cannot undo this process once it has started.

If the iPhone is eventually recovered, users can restore their data by enabling their MobileMe account on the iPhone or syncing with their computer. It's unfortunate that the iPhone cannot be completely disabled, but at least you have a chance of destroying your personal data if it lands in the wrong hands.

The system isn't foolproof, however. One problem with Find My iPhone, according to Jonathan Zdziarski in a Twitter post, is that, "There's a magic button on every iPhone a thief can use to disable remote wipe and LocateMe; it's called the SIM eject button."… Read more

Where does the iPhone 3G S get its speed?

So, where does the Apple iPhone 3G S get its claimed "2x faster" leap in speed? Rumors are rampant that Apple is using a new chip to crank up the performance.

Why rumors when Apple has already announced the iPhone 3G S? Apple doesn't disclose chip-level hardware specifications. Moreover, Apple clearly wants to convince any prospective buyer than it's not the iPhone's individual parts that matter but the Apple-branded whole.

The fact is no one will know for sure until teardown specialists like iFixit and iSuppli actually disassemble the iPhone 3G S. "Until we … Read more

Dialed In 83: iPhone 3G S, Palm Pre, and more

This is one of our busiest weeks of the year, with the announcement of a new iPhone, the launch of the Palm Pre, and so much more, which makes this show one of our longest yet.

Listen now: Download today's podcast Subscribe now: iTunes (audio) | iTunes (video) | RSS (audio) | RSS (video)

News WWDC iPhone 3G S First Take iPhone OS 3.0 revisted All things Pre T-Mobile HTC Magic to be called myTouch 3G? $700 for Nokia's new phone. Are they nuts? Casio Exilim C721 is one tough camera phone Sony Ericsson announces C901, Naite "GreenHeart" phonesRead more

A year later: Is MobileMe finally worth $99?

Let me begin this by saying that I'm a stingy guy. In high school, I bought a hair clipper and adopted a buzz cut largely to save cash by not having to go to the barber. I will also stop dead in my tracks to pick up a penny.

So for me, spending $99 a year on Apple's MobileMe, a service that basically does Web e-mail, contact syncing, photo hosting, and file storage, was a hard sell--especially after its bad start. This week, however, Apple finally got me to take the plunge. Why? It's starting to add genuinely useful tools for Apple hardware owners, with the promise of more to come.

On Monday, the company demoed a new tool for MobileMe subscribers called "Find My iPhone" that lets you both find a lost (or stolen) iPhone, as well as remotely wipe its contents. You can also get it to ring and vibrate for two minutes straight, which can be a huge help if it's stuck between couch cushions or buried deep within a bag. Anyone who's been late to work, or had a near-heart attack from trying to find a lost phone can appreciate how this service alone may be worth a Benjamin.

Then there's the upcoming iDisk iPhone and iPod Touch application that lets you access files you've stored in your MobileMe online storage. This in itself is not groundbreaking, but if you're an iPhone or iPod Touch user who is already using MobileMe's online storage, it's a nice bonus. Apple is advertising this as a way to show off presentations and get at important business documents, but I'd argue that it's a great way to extend the limited storage on the iPhone by keeping some of your music and videos on MobileMe instead. If you've got a Wi-Fi connection, you can stream both.

But let's get back to the basics. Is the rest of the service worth the cash? Not in my mind--and a big, fat no if you're using it for the Web apps alone. Let's break it down:

For Web e-mail: No On the iPhone and iPod Touch, you get messages as soon as they're sent. On the browser, however, it's missing a lot of features that competitors like Yahoo and Google have had for years. Both of those services are free, and between Gmail's labs, and Yahoo's just-introduced apps platform, MobileMe's Web mail feels rudimentary. It also drives me nuts that the service logs you out after 15 minutes of activity. This isn't my bank account, it's my e-mail. (Note: readers wrote in to let me know that you can avoid having this happen if you check off the "keep me logged in for two weeks" option when first signing on).… Read more