Speaking of Square...

Although it was announced three weeks ago, I just found out that Square is rolling out their payment platform to a select number of New York taxi cabs. This is a pretty smart move. All the customer has to do is swipe their card at any point during the ride, sign the screen with their finger, and get a receipt sent to them via SMS or email. The only way to make it more painless would be incorporating Pay With Square, where the rider simply speaks their name and the cab driver taps their name on a screen.

NY Times | With New Hardware, Square Begins Taxi Rollout


'Square Card Case' Rebranded as 'Pay With Square'

Over the weekend, mobile payment company Square released an update to their Card Case app that overhauled the entire UI and came with a new name: Pay With Square. The new interface does away with the wallet metaphor, and not only looks sleeker but is much faster and even easier to use than before. Here's a comparison of the interfaces, before and after:




Clearly, the focus is now on business discovery. Upon opening the new app, it loads the list of places near you that use the Square Register platform. You can swipe left/right on any one of these entries to display options (à la Twitter for iPhone) for adding it to your list of favorites or sharing it via SMS/email/tweet. You can also swipe through various businesses that appear as images at the top of the screen, seemingly chosen for that space based on popularity rather than distance from you.

I love this update and I'm excited about what Square is doing in this space. Now I just need more merchants in my area to jump on board!


TEDTalks Now on Netflix

Wow, this is a pleasantly-suprising bit of news. Netflix announced today that they are going to be offering a select few TEDTalks available for instant streaming. I love TED videos, they're always fascinating and inspiring to me, and having them instantly accessible on my HDTV will surely be amazing.

These are the various topics available (each one has several "episodes"):

Beasts, Bugs & Bio-wilderment
Beauty & Fashion: Beneath the Skin Deep
Building Wonder
Chew On This
Crime & Punishment
Cyber Awe
Defying Disease
It’s (Not Just) a Guy Thing
Power Shift
Sex, Secrets & Love
Smart Laughs
Space Trek
Video & Photo Mojo

I'm going to love watching these talks all over again in 1080p. If you've never checked out any TED Talks, do yourself a favor and check them out. You may learn a thing or several.

Netflix Blog | TEDTalks Collections On Netflix


'Clear' To-Do App for iOS Released

After seeing the above teaser video a while back, I have been anxiously awaiting the release of Realmac's to-do app, Clear. I consider myself a fan of great design, and unfortunately the majority of the existing to-do apps out there are either horribly ugly or just WAY too overloaded with features to be of any use to me.

Clear intends to change all of that. When you open the app and have no tasks, you'll see something like this:

No buttons, no visible interface to speak of. Pull the screen down though, and a red bar will appear at the top of the screen where you can type in a task. Do this several times, and you'll get something like this:

Notice the colors. Everything is color-coded in order of priority from top to bottom. You can move things around as needed simply by dragging them up/down. Swipe left on a task to delete it, swipe right to "complete" it. Completed tasks can be deleted as a group by pulling up. Other actions include pinching together on the list to move up one level in the app (there are 3 levels: main menu > lists > tasks) and pinching two tasks apart to create a new task between them.

Everything feels very intuitive and I absolutely love the minimalist aesthetic. This is definitely going to be my to-do app of choice for the forseeable future and it's only a dollar so I suggest that you try it out too!

Clear [iTunes]


Apple's Education Event

This morning, Apple held an event focused on education at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. I followed along via The Verge's live feed, and while it wasn't exactly a mindblowing event, I was still very impressed by the announcements and excited for what this means for the future.

First up was the reveal of iBooks 2 for iPad, which hopes to redefine the classroom textbook experience. Apple has partnered with several major publishers to come up with digital books that will be featured in the new Textbooks section on the iBookstore. These textbooks have obviously taken a cue from the thousands of great education apps for iPad that have been around a while.

They will be interactive books, full of great features such as photo galleries, 3D models, built-in highlighting/notetaking functionality, automatically-generated flash cards based on notes you take, keynote presentations, vidoes, and searchable indexes. These books will also cover the full range of subjects a student would need to study (i.e. math, science, etc.). I certainly wish I had all of these great tools when I was in school, to avoid this familiar scenario:

Image via The Verge

Next, they announced a Mac app called iBooks Author, which will allow anyone to actually create their own textbooks and release them on the iBookstore and/or iTunes U. This app contains all the templates and tools you'd need to publish a great textbook, with an interface that reminds me a lot of Keynote.

Lastly, they are releasing an iTunes U app for iPad and iPhone to complement Apple's current iTunes U service (which acts as a hub for educators to communicate with their students in various ways, such as video lectures). With this app, educators can materials into their students' hands even more easily, in the form of syllabi, videos, iBooks notes, and more.

This is an impressive lineup of announcements that could potentially change the entire education system. Obviously there will still be hurdles for Apple to overcome, the price of an iPad being the most prominent, but as someone who just became a father and will have to worry about schoolbooks again in the not-too-distant future, I am excited about what all this will mean for students in the years to come.

As Mike Monteiro (NSFW link due to his Twitter background) put it: "I know that few parents can afford to buy their kids an iPad full of textbooks, but VCRs once cost over $1000. This is a good step."


On the SOPA Blackouts

It's been over a month since I've written anything here, and I'm returning to the subject I last discussed: SOPA

Tens of thousands of websites, including big names such as Wikipedia, Google, Reddit, Wordpress, and Mozilla, have blacked out their pages today in protest of the SOPA/Protect-IP bills that are being pushed through the US Senate despite massive opposition from just about everybody else. I support the blackouts—and would do the same for this site if I had the technical knowhow—but I also agree with this piece by Joe Brockmeier over on ReadWriteWeb:

The dirty little secret of SOPA is not that the entertainment industry has far more influence than it ought to have on Congress. Anyone who pays attention already knows this. The dirty little secret of SOPA is that almost nobody pays attention to what Congress is doing 99% of the time.


Most of the SOPA/PIPA tools have to direct people to their representatives because they don't know who they are or how to contact them. Think about that for a moment. It's good policy for a political organization to make it as easy as possible for voters to act, of course. But, without instruction, a large swath of the voting public has no idea who to contact or how. Worse, unless you make it as easy as humanly possible, they won't bother.

I'm glad that the big guys are raising awareness about this issue, but I have to wonder, will this really spur public activism on a widespread scale? Most people I've talked to have no idea what any of this SOPA stuff means or why it will matter to them. These are the people who don't follow technology matters all the time and will simply be annoyed that their favorite website has been shut down, even if for only one day.

It also seems a bit odd to me that people are protesting so hardly about something that would be pretty easily circumvented even if the bill passes. But what about healthcare? Remember when everybody got outraged about our healthcare system and cried out for reform a few years ago during Obama's election?

Now you hardly ever see it come up in public discussion, at least not on the same scale. The general public has a very short political memory and I can only assume that the same thing will happen with SOPA/PIPA. It will be all over Twitter, Facebook and plenty of blogs for a little while, and then people will move on to the next bandwagon cause. And so it goes.


This is why SOPA and PROTECT IP are bad

Mike Masnick, writing for Techdirt:

There are so many things about this story that are crazy, it's difficult to know where to start, so let's give the most important point first: The US government has effectively admitted that it totally screwed up and falsely seized & censored a non-infringing domain of a popular blog, having falsely claimed that it was taking part in copyright infringement. Then, after trying to hide behind a totally secretive court process with absolutely no due process whatsoever (in fact, not even serving papers on the lawyer for the site or providing timely notifications -- or providing any documents at all), for , the government has finally realized it couldn't hide any more and has given up, and returned the domain name to its original owner. If you ever wanted to understand why ICE's domain seizures violate the law -- and why SOPA and PROTECT IP are almost certainly unconstitutional -- look no further than what happened in this case.

This is appalling behavior on the US government's part. Head over to Techdirt to read the full story.

Techdirt | Breaking News: Feds Falsely Censor Popular Blog For Over A Year, Deny All Due Process, Hide All Details...


'See Ya Dad'

Marvel artist Skottie Young's father passed away last week and he wrote a lovely piece about it:

He was a good man, and as a Thor lover from childhood he was very proud that I hang my hat at Marvel drawing comics. There wasn't a person he came in contact with he didn't mention it to. When I bought my car, he mentioned it to the dealer as if Spider-Man would inspire them to cut a couple thousand off the price. Ha ha. He was proud of me. He was a husband and father of four who worked at CAT for 34 years so I don't have say that I am proud of him, but... I am very proud of him.

Head over there to read the whole thing.

Skottie Young | See Ya Dad


Evernote Adds Virtual Cover to 'Peek' iPad App

Peek was inspired by the iPad 2 Smart Cover, but not everyone has a Smart Cover, nor an iPad 2. Knowing this led us to develop a swipeable Virtual Cover that maintains the dynamics of a Smart Cover, but could be used with any iPad. Now, when you launch Peek, you’ll be able to swipe down a tab and select a Virtual Cover of your choice—it’s available in 10 colors.


Evernote Blog | Evernote Gets Virtual Peek Cover, Now Available For All iPads


Gmail Native App for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch Is Finally Here

As MG Siegler predicted several days ago, Google has released a native iOS client for Gmail. I've been testing it for several minutes and all the advertised functionality is there, but it's definitely working more slowly than the built-in Mail app.

Granted, I still use an iPhone 3G from a few years ago, but the speed difference is there. This feels like I'm still using the Gmail webapp but repackaged in "native" form. Disappointing, really.

If you want to try it out, the iTunes link is here.

iTunes | Gmail by Google

UPDATE: The app has been pulled.

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