Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mail, Callendar, Contacts - A Solution

One of the more powerful things modern mobile devices provide is tight integration between regular communication activities. The technical solutions are there but the actual implementation has often been rather ameturish in the past. The old fashioned method of plugging the phone into your computer to update callendar and contacts and using MMS as a type of expensive pseudo email is no longer appropriate and there are some rather nice solutions. The one I describe I happen to think is the best free option and when set up works rather well. There are other options but the better solutions all cost the user and will maybe more feature rich but who wants to pay for features the user never uses?

First get yourself a Gmail account. Go to Gmail and sign up if you do not already have one. Apart from the nice iPhone integration this provides there are three other benefits.

It frees you from your ISP's email - which I have found nothing but painfull. I have had four ISPs over my online life and every time I changed I got new email addresses and it has been a nightmare ever time. At one stage I was tracking three primary email addresses with three ISPs each of which were used for different things. I got a Gmail invitation as soon as they went to beta and have never looked back.

Second there are many sites that use your email as authentication and you cannot change this email. MSN for instance (Microsoft Passport) uses your email as the login. Having a permenant single email address makes this much easier.

Finally it gives you integrated access to a plethora of other Google services - all of which are available vie the one login.
  • Callendar - share callendar with your friends and family and see peoples availability. Add events and invite others to attend with Gmail - also converts to Exchange and outlook for those tied to those corporate solutions. The event integrates to Google maps and shows the location if a valid address is entered into the location field. See who is coming from the invited guest list.
  • Contacts. Integrated with mail and callendar, as well as other services.
  • Documents - online real time collaboration with Document, SS and more. Compatible with all popular document types including all MS documents in the new XML "x" type office formats.
  • Photos.
  • RSS reader. One of the best in my opinion. Great integration with the iPhone (with one minor exception which I will not go into here).
  • Websites. You can customise your web site.
  • Domain integration - you can use your own domain to provide most of the Google services. For instance uses Gmail. This part is not as well worked out as the native Google stuff.
This is most of the more interesting but there are many more including Bloggs such as this one.

What has this to do with the iPhoen I hear you say? Everything really. One of the really nice features of the iPhone is the way it supports related services such as mail contacts and callendar. The support of Google means that you can get seemless access to these services easily on the iPhone. The solution below is just one - but I think it is the best solution but it does rely on a third party free service to give the user some added features. This service is calle Nuevasync.

Nuevasync is free and provides push support for Google contacts and callendar. It also gives you access to multiple callendars so you can see your friends and familiy's callendars from your iPhone.

This is how to set it all up. Omit the steps that you have already completed.

  1. Sign up with Gmail to get youself a google account. This will be the way you access all of the google services and this will now be your primary email account from now on.
  2. From the list along the top go to all of the google services that you wish to activate and wizards will set them up for you. As a minimum activate callendar.
  3. You can import your contacts if you wish to migrate them from another system. The import options in Gmail are quite flexible but it may take some massaging. I have to say Gmail contacts is nto the most elegant system devised by man but it is functional and all of the information is there.
  4. Once Gmail is set up you can then go to Nuevasync and get yourself an account there and set that up. It has setup guides for the iPhone.
  5. While you are doing that set up a Gmail account for your new email on the iPhone. Again that is pretty straight forward and a wizard takes you through the necessary steps. Start by opening Settings and selecting Mail, Contacts, Callendar and then Add Account...
All done. Now whenever you change a contact or callendar entry on either your web Gmail or your iPhone it will immediately appear the other end. Mail this stage is fetch so it will update on the next fetch cycle.Gmail push is on its way.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Converting Audio for the iPhone

If, like me, you have audio from many different sources then you may find that many of them do not show up in iTunes and that can be somewhat annoying. Some are from way back when had free samples in various formats. Some are from my many audio CDs that I have ripped in different formats at different times. Some are more recently bought over the internet from the artists and then downloaded from secure sites.

iTunes will convert non-DRM (Digital Rights Management, read copy protected) wma files to the apple AAC format. It will also read mp3 and the Apple Lossless format, m4a. But there are many other formats such as ogg and FLAC which Apple does not recognise.

Many people already have their own favourite converter but after doing much research I found the EAC (Exact Audio Copy) to be one of the best, and very easy to use.

It is what we traditionaly called shareware. Typically shareware is free and after a period of time some of the higher end features would time out and a fee would be required to activate the disabled features. It is an excellent model of try before you buy. In the case of EAC some of the features disabled are then ability to edit id tags (id tags is the audio file information such as artist, song, album etc) but there are other ways of doing this. iTunes allows the user to edit the id tags using Right Click->Get Info. However the two important uses for this software are totally free.

First it allows the user to rip CDs. I know that iTunes also does this but EAC uses techniques which claim to result in a more faithful transfer of data. Second it can rip to many more formats than iTunes, gives you much more control over the id tags of the resultant files, the file names and location.

However the really nice feature is the ability to convert file formats from Windows Explorer.

All you need to do is right click on the file or files and select Convert To from the menu. When the EAC program installs it creates an integration in explorer to make it simplicity itself to convert file formats. You may need to install additional codecs to support the additional formats. If you select a format that is not installed it takes you to the EAC web site where you can download and install the pack that supplies the required codec.

Once you select your files and codec you then have a choice of where to save your files. You can specify the current directory or any directory of your choice. My dilemma is that I use FLAC lossless for the media player in my home theatre because it will not play Apple lossless. On the other hand iTunes does not play FLAC so I need Apple lossless as well. The only limitation is that it will not create mp3 files without paying for registration because of the license.

Once the conversion begins a window opens with a progress bar.

After it is all done the newly converted files can be imported into iTunes and then copied to your iPhone or converted to ringtones.