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WWDC 2011 prediction

WWDC 2011, Apple’s developer conference is coming up, and Steve Jobs is going to do the keynote on Monday. Let’s start the predictions:
1. Mac OS X Lion. We saw a preview of it late last year. We would probably see a bit more of a rehash, but maybe also a price and shipping date. Considering Apple charged just $30 for Snow Leopard, I doubt they would price Lion back into the $130 price range. My bet is it will be still $30, with the option to download it from the Mac App store as a bootable image that you can put on a USB stick.
2. iCloud. Apple’s online services. It was .Mac, then MobileME, then iCloud. Free for simple email and Apple ID (for Facetime, iTunes, etc), but I think Apple will still keep most of the good stuff for a cost. Who knows how much would it be (previously it’s $99 per year for .Mac/MobileME), but I wonder if Apple would consolidate this with their iTunes streaming service.
3. iTunes streaming. We see Amazon and Google jumped in first. Amazon has a nice integration with its MP3 store, while Google is just offering a basically online storage where you can upload your own music. Apple would need to do better than Amazon in terms of integration with the iTunes store and all Macs and iDevices. We’ll see.
4. iOS 5. Hopefully Apple revamp the notification system. Let’s face it, at its current state, notification on iOS is like a dumbphone. It’s even sillier on the large screen iPad. We see good examples already, from Android, WebOS, and various implementations by the jailbreaking community.
5. iPhone 5, or maybe iPhone 4S. The rumor is Apple don’t have a new iPhone ready. Well, I don’t know. It’s a bit risky to extend the iPhone 4 to compete with the slew of new dual-core Android phones. I bet we will see a refreshed iPhone, probably the iPhone 4 with A5 in it. All I want is for Apple to sell the damn thing unlocked in the US, something that apparently is a difficult concept for them. The iPad sales have proven that people are willing to pay Apple $500+ for an unlocked device. No reason to deal with AT&T anymore that is obviously unwilling to unlock iPhones forever.

Well, there you go. I hope Apple do a live stream of the keynote.
Live blogging from:
Ars Technica
This is my next

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Posted by on June 5, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Nexus One

I guess I haven’t updated my blog for quite some time. Too lazy as it’s easier to rant on twitter. LOL. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

I’m a Mac and iPhone user, mainly. Apple’s ecosystem has been great and working for me. However, I’m thinking, what if sometime in the future, the iPhone is no more? I mean Steve Jobs is not going to man the company forever. Although I’m sure the rest of Apple will do fine, keeping the same Apple philosophy, but what if? So here I am, thinking the what if scenario. I love my iPhone, and I think it’s the best phone. Looking outside Apple ecosystem, what are the alternatives? Let’s see:
-Symbian: Yeah, right.
-WebOS: It’s great, but obviously it’s on life support.
-Windows Phone 7: This would be a great alternative, but it’s not out yet.
So, that leaves Android. Android seems to be the next best thing in terms of smartphone OS/platform. It has the same idea and UI concept as iOS. The downside is, at least in the US, all Android phones are carrier-controlled. This is in contrast of iOS where Apple is the one in control, not AT&T nor any of the carrier partners all over the world. There was one pure unadulterated Android phone, the Nexus One (N1). Yeah, was, because Google doesn’t sell the Nexus One openly anymore. Now, it’s only available as part of the dev program, and only the T-Mobile model (no 850 3G support). Luckily, I managed to get the AT&T 3G supporting Nexus One before it was too late. I was hoping Google would drop the price, but then decided to just get it. Lucky me, as now this phone is extinct.

Let’s go straight to the experience. While the iPhone is obviously designed around Apple’s ecosystem, the Nexus One is obviously designed around Google’s ecosystem. The first thing it asked was a Google account. If you don’t have one, you have to create one. Now, if you already use Google services for your contacts, calendar, and email, once you put in your Google account credential, the Nexus One is ready to go with all your contacts, email, and calendar all setup. It’s awesome! No need to “activate” the phone first, unlike the iPhone which needs to be activated with iTunes. Now, there’s something that’s even more awesome. Google Voice. I’m a Google Voice user since before it was bought by Google (it was called GrandCentral). Using Google Voice on the iPhone is very clunky as there is not a native app. You pretty much rely on the Google Voice website to make phone calls. Not intuitive. On the Nexus One, Google Voice is fully integrated. All you need to do is tell it to use Google Voice, and everything is transparent. You still use the phone’s dialer and contacts, and it will automatically route your call via Voice. Pure awesomeness!

The beauty of iOS is the app ecosystem. Android is not too far off. Most apps that I use on the iPhone are available for my Nexus One. Facebook, Twitter, epocrates (albeit beta and not updateable), Foursquare, Gowalla, etc. Unless you’re into games, you won’t find much problems finding the apps you want on Android. The only problem I see is the market app itself. Apple has designed its App store fairly well in terms of layout. The market app on the Nexus One is very basic, and it feels very difficult browsing the store. A lot of the apps don’t have much useful descriptions. Even worse, many don’t even include any screenshots, leaving you guessing what the app can do. The reviews are not helping either. Apple’s app store seems to have more helpful reviews, while the Android market reviews seem to be mostly people complaining about the app FC. FC this, FC that, one star. Not really helpful. Oh, and what’s FC? Yeah, at first I was like WTF? FC is a short for force close. Meaning the OS have to quit the app forcefully (aka, the app crashes). And these 1 star FC “reviews” are all over the place. Trying to get the gist of how good the app is becomes futile. Why? Because who knows whether these people having issues are using which Android phone/custom ROM/rooted phone/task killers, etc. But at least if you stick with the well known apps, you should be fine. I myself never experience a force close on my Nexus One.

Okay, most of the apps I would use are available. Great. I also use my iPhone as a calendar. The Nexus One sync its calendar with Google calendar. Pretty neat, but the calendar app itself doesn’t look great. It feels like a Winmo app for whatever reason. I do like the agenda view. One thing I was looking for on my Nexus One main screen and failed to find was anything that shows the day’s date. I was baffled at first. Why? Well, iOS made it simple, by making the calendar’s app icon to show the day’s date, just like in OS X 10.5 onward. Sounds simple, but it’s intuitive. Not the case on my Nexus One. The calendar icon is only a generic non-interactive icon. Well, that’s useless. On the bright side, there are widgets.

Ah, widgets. The Nexus One already come with various widgets, like weather, music playback shortcut, etc. Going through the Android market, and you’ll find even more widgets. So many that it’s ridiculously confusing. Just search for a weather widgets and you’ll find gajillions of them, although most of them are the same widget with different skins. I finally found a simple date widget that simply shows the day’s date.

One extremely under-rated feature on the iPhone is the silent hardware slider. Sliding this switch automatically silences the iPhone. There’s no such switch on the Nexus One. On the bright side, there are widgets that provide shortcut on the home screen to quickly toggle between silent/vibrate/normal mode. The downside is, since this is a software solution, you have to do it with the screen is accessible. Meaning if the phone is on stand-by, you have to push the power button, unlocked the screen, find the widget, and toggle it. On the iPhone, I simply switch the hardware slider. Much simpler huh, especially if you have your phone inside your pocket.

Another annoyance on the N1 is that the only way to activate the phone out of stand-by is with the thin power button at the top. This is annoying. The trackball button does nothing. The 4 “buttons” on the face of the phone are touch buttons, not physical buttons, thus won’t bring the phone out from stand-by. On the iPhone, I can simply press the home screen to activate the phone from stand-by, which usually is where my thumb is. Tiny details like this is what makes me appreciate Apple products.

One the the apps I use often on my iPhone is maps. The Nexus One obviously has Google maps built-in. One thing I immediately noticed is that even though the maps app on the N1 supports multi-touch, instead of being able to zoom-in/out smoothly, it seems that there are only several pre-set zoom levels. Although the zooming effect is smooth during pinching, after I lift my finger, the map snaps to the nearest pre-set zoom level. I find this very annoying as I’m used to the maps app in iOS where it simply stays to whatever zoom level I did after pinching. On the bright side, the navigation mode is better than iOS. The N1’s maps app allows showing directions as a list of text, something that sometimes is easier to read than tiny letters on a map screen. To top it off, the N1 has a its own navigation app, which providers GPS navigation, for free! There are nav apps for iOS too, but it’s hard to beat free. The nav app on the N1 pretty much turn the phone’s UI into a “car mode.” It replaces the home screen with several big icons, typical of a GPS navigation device. Also, using this mode is one way to quickly keep the phone’s screen from turning off without specifically changing the settings.

Android has a slightly different paradigm on showing apps on the home screen. In iOS, all the apps you have is on the home screen. That’s it. Pre iOS4, you can kinda pre-set specific home screens to contain specific apps for a bit of organization. iOS4 introduces folders to make organization more manageable, but the idea is straight forward, all you apps are all directly accessible from the home screen. Android took a more traditional desktop OS paradigm. The home screen is your desktop. You can put shortcuts, widgets, etc on it. Your apps are accessible through the program drawer, which will infinitely scroll through however many apps you have. Not that easy if you have a ton of apps, so most people would end up putting the apps’ shortcuts on the desktop to mimic iOS. You can also create folders on the Android’s desktop. However, it’s amazingly flawed, which made folders in iOS4, albeit late, is a ton more intuitive in terms of implementation. Why? Well, in Android, once you put a shortcut into a folder, you cannot rearrange the icons. Yeah, sounds stupid isn’t it, but that’s the case. The icons will simply be sorted based on the order you put the shortcuts into the folder. In contrast with iOS4, you can simply tap and hold, and you can freely re-arrange the icons in any order you want. Another drawback is due to Android using the paradigm of a desktop OS. Inside a folder, you have a bar at the top representing the folder’s name, and an X button at the right corner to close the folder. In iOS4, once inside a folder, you can simply close it by touching anywhere outside the folder. Easy. Not the case with Android. You have to touch that X button to close the folder, and the button is fairly small for my finger that sometimes I need to press it several time to close a folder. Not intuitive especially when you’re on the go and you want to do things quickly using one hand. Just another situation that makes you appreciate the tiny details in Apple products.

Okay, so what else do I usually use my iPhone for. Pictures. Putting pictures on the iPhone is actually a hassle, more than it supposed to. Unless you use 3rd party apps, you have to use iTunes to sync pictures to the iPhone. That may sound okay, but today, I have pictures all over the place. My computer, Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, etc. There’s no integration in iOS. You have to pretty much use one or more 3rd party apps outside the built-in photo app. This is true even for Apple’s own MobileME service. This going in-and-out apps just to view your pictures is not intuitive. On my N1, when I put in my Google account, its gallery app automatically pulls and sync pictures from the Picasa account associated with the Google account. Very nice! You can add more than one Google account too if you have more than one Picasa account. Also, this means the pictures are not stored internally, only downloaded on demand, saving storage space. The gallery app on the N1 is very nice, uses the accelerometer to simulate tilting the “photo album.” Of course, it’s not all perfect. The app only syncs picture with Picasa. You have to rely on 3rd party apps if you use other online services outside Picasa. One app that I like is called justpictures, an aggregator app for your pictures from various online services, including Facebook. Oh, and it’s free. This is something that Apple needs to re-think on their approach in iOS. Windows Phone 7 supposedly will offer even more integration as its default picture hub can aggregate pictures from various online services outside the box.

I use my iPhone heavily as an iPod. iTunes is just an amazing jukebox software, especially for podcast, and the integration of syncing music and podcast with the iPhone is just beautiful. So, how do I do this on the N1? Well, it’s a journey of frustration. The N1 doesn’t have any desktop client app. So, my first though is to download podcasts directly on the phone. Google has an app called Google listen. It’s a simple and straight forward app, allowing you to subscribe, download, and listen to podcasts. However, there’s quite a bit of downsides. Downloading podcasts straight to my phone is slow, even on wifi. To me, the iTunes approach is faster as the heavy duty lifting is done on the desktop, and iTunes simply copies the files to my iPhone. Also, Google listen is not integrated with the default music app, and doesn’t have its own widget for playback control. This means I have to go to the app for controls. Not intuitive. I rather have a solution that integrates with the default music app, which has a playback control widget. So my next idea is to simply have a desktop software solution. The first one that comes up to mind is doubletwist, an iTunes clone. But then apparently the Mac version doesn’t have podcast syncing. BOO! Next alternative is Songbird, but I find that its podcast support is fairly bare, not even supporting some feeds. I finally found a more straight forward syncing solution, Salling Media Sync, which is just a simple syncing program that syncs contents directly from iTunes to the portable device of your choice. Looks great, but you have to pay $22 for a fully syncing feature. Oh well, at least I can try it for free. It works okay. Since the N1’s music app doesn’t have a built-in podcast support, Media Sync simply creates a podcast playlist, and dumps all the podcasts you wanted to sync in that playlist. Not ideal, but I guess it works. At least this way I’m using the default music app.

As for using my N1 as an iPod, well, it’s like having a basic MP3 player. Luckily, my Apple earbud works with the N1. The microphone and play/pause button work fine. Only the volume buttons don’t work, and I have to use the volume button on the N1 itself.

But the journey of frustration didn’t stop there. My next step is to find a solution for listening to those podcasts in my car. My car is old, it doesn’t have an AUX input, let alone USB or iPod support. So the only way to listen to contents from an external device is via an FM transmitter. Sad isn’t it. So my first step is to find a universal FM transmitter, ideally the one that also providers USB charging so I can charge my N1 at the same time. Well, looking around, I realize that everything now is “Made for iPod/iPhone.” The proliferation of iDevices have been so significant that every company is focusing on accessorizing the iDevices, nothing else. What a bummer. 😦 Finally I found a solution from Griffin, a universal FM transmitter (out of dozens of models they make for iDevices). It’s a simple FM transmitter with a 3.5mm audio plug and a USB jack for charging. As for mounting, I got a generic mounting harness that attaches to the air vent in my car. Attaching my N1 to this setup, it’s cables galore since I have 2 cables hanging from my N1, the 3.5mm audio cable and the USB cable. This is also when I found out about the “car mode” of my N1, forcing the screen to remain on. The solution is not pretty, and it’s quite a hassle, especially compared to my previous solution for my iPhone, using this FM transmitter from Belkin. It’s a cleaner solution as it also acts as a holder for my iPhone with a built-in dock connector.

Okay, after all these, I took a step back and realized, why am I doing this. I mean why went through all these hassle just so I can listen to podcasts in my car? I already missed the ease of iTunes syncing with my iPhone. I miss the smoothness and polished feel of iOS. Also, I have to remember that epocrates on Android is not updateable. Finally, I gave up, pulled out the SIM card from my N1, and put it back in on my iPhone 3GS. After waiting for the Apple logo to finish booting iOS, I felt a huge relief. LOL. Yeah, it’s true. Using my iPhone again feels like a blessing. I felt like a lost lamb, going back to the comfort of Apple’s bubble after being lost in the woods of Android. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of things on my N1. Google Voice integration is a huge one. Another thing I like is the notification system. Let’s face it, notification on the iPhone is at the level of a dumbphone. However, there is this level of comfort when using iOS. I cannot describe it, but I know I feel this surge of relief when I returned to using my iPhone after a mere ~3 days using my N1 full time. It made me laugh.

My N1 will be a backup phone from now on. Android is marching on, getting more polish with each version. My only worry is that we will never see a pure Android experience anymore, with all Android devices are pretty much OEM customized (HTC, Motorola, Samsung, etc) and/or carrier controlled. The next excitement will be Windows Phone 7, and maybe it will be the better alternative. In the meantime, I’m back at the comfort of the church of Apple. LOL. 😀

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Posted by on August 12, 2010 in android, apple, comparison, google, iPhone, review


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Google Voice: My Impression

I’ve been using Google Voice for quite some time now, and it’s time to do my own impression on how I use it.

First of all, Google Voice is NOT a VOIP service like Skype. This seems to be the most common misunderstanding about Google Voice. Unlike Skype, which provides a complete calling service, Google Voice is simply a forwarding service that forwards calls from your Google Voice number to any phone you wish (could be a landline, a cellphone, or even a Skype number). You still have to have a line to get the calls. When you first sign up for Google Voice, Google offers 2 kinds of services. The first one, you will use your existing phone number and simply use GV as an in-between service for voice mails. The second one is the full featured service where you pick a GV number. All the stuff I’m discussing will be about the later.

Now, you’re probably wondering what’s the big deal then. Well, first and foremost, let’s start with one of its feature, SMS, for free! Yes, after logging in to Google Voice website, you can send text messages for free to any cellphones, even international numbers! This is a big plus as US wireless carriers are ripping us off with their outrageous SMS charges (especially international), and the fact that they charge you for receiving SMS (in other countries, receiving SMS is free). Google Voice provides sending and receiving SMS for free. Now, obviously it’s not convenient having to check the website every single time to see if you receive a new SMS. That kinda defeats the point of the expectation of SMS being instant. There are a couple of ways to approach this problem:
1. GV can forward the SMS to your cellphone, so it’s like you’re receiving a regular SMS. The downside is that you will still be charged by your wireless carrier for it. Best to utilize this by signing up for a messaging plan or somekind if you plan to do a lot of texting. The upside is that you can use your own phone’s SMS client instead of having to go to GV site. Now, how do you reply? When you get an SMS from somebody that sent a text to your GV number, your phone will show that it received a text from some random number that is assigned by Google. Simply save that number as that person’s contact, and when you reply to that person using the Google assigned number from your cellphone, the text that that person received will indicate that it’s coming from your GV number, so you can do 2-way texting without having to log-in to GV site. Even better, the number that Google assigned is a US number. This is useful if you have an international contact as now when you send a text to that person, you’ll be sending a local text instead of being charged for an international text rate. Nifty huh? 🙂
2. Forward the SMS to your email. If you have a phone with a data plan and support for push email, you can go around avoiding an SMS charge from your carrier as you receive it as an email. Downside is obviously you have to have a data plan (unless your phone can have wifi access 24/7) and push email, and the fact that you have to go to the GV site to reply back.
Now, I’m basing my experience off my iPhone. Google Android phones supposedly have a native GV client, so the experience is even seamless and you can skip paying money for texting as long as you have a data plan.

Next, let’s talk about the phone forwarding feature. Google Voice is based on Grand Central. Let’s go over some scenarios to illustrate this feature better.
1. Let’s say you have a landline at home, a work phone, and a cellphone. In the past, you would have to give everybody all 3 numbers, and if you change a number, you have to tell everybody the new number. Plus, people have to guess which number they have to dial to reach you. No longer. Just give people your GV number, and you can set GV to ring all your 3 phones when somebody calls. Pretty convenient huh. 🙂 Even better, you can schedule GV to forward the calls to certain numbers at certain times. Whenever you change a phone number, just update it on GV and you don’t have to worry telling people your new number as all they need to know is your GV number.
2. Let’s say you have relatives that is out-of-state, and only have a landline. If that person wants to call you, he/she has to dial long distance and pay $$$ to the greedy long distance provider. No longer. When you sign up for GV, you can pick a number from any state. Pick a GV number that is local to that person. Now everytime that person calls, his/her call will be local, but still being forwarded to you, skipping the greedy long distance providers. Neat! Of course, cellphones eliminate this issue altogether. Furthermore, GV is available for US numbers only, so no way to use the same tactic for international calls. Now, what if you already pick a GV number and want to change it? Google does allow you to pick a new number, but for a fee, so caveat emptor.

So, how about Skype? Skype is a VOIP service that provides free calls from Skype to Skype, and cheap rates for international calls. Despite a different service, a lot of people would associate GV with Skype, so I’m going to point out the advantages of Google Voice. Note that I used to use Skype constantly, mainly to make international calls. The problem with Skype is that you have to use a Skype client, and you have to have internet connectivity. Sure, there are Skype phones that put Skype functionality into a landline phone, but these phones are piss poor (the one I have was a Phillip). Skype is also available on cellphones, but again, usually you’re stuck having to use the client to make/receive calls, and need internet access/data plan. Since Google Voice simply forward calls, it simply uses your existing voice plan/minutes since you’re still making the calls over your phone provider line. Also, you don’t need to have a client software/app running. The only downside, at least on the iPhone, is that I have to use GV site to make calls. This experience should be more seamless on Google Android phones.

As far as international calls, this blurs the line between GV and Skype. Since GV is not a VOIP service, how does international call works? You still use your local minutes, but on top of that, you will be paying Google for the forwarding service to an international number. The rate is as cheap as Skype, so no worries. Oh, and SMS is free with GV, while you have to pay for SMS with Skype.

Another Google Voice feature is free voice mail, and it’s not just a basic voice mail, it’s a souped up voice mail, complete with transcription, for free! This is useful if you have a landline without an answering machine, or a cellphone without a visual voice mail. Google will record and machine-transcribe your voice mails (not perfect and sometime funny, but hey, it’s free), and it will email them to you. Accessing voice mails on the GV website is like accessing emails, no need to wait and play them one by one.

One more feature of GV is call screening. If this feature is enabled, the person calling your GV number has to identify his/herself first, and when your phone rings, you have to option to accept/decline the call. This is a nice feature, but I decided not to use it as it can confuse a lot of people for them being asked by a machine to identify themselves first. But then how about telemarketers? No worries. Google Voice keeps a log of all calls you made/received. You can simply block those numbers on the site. 🙂

There is something to be aware of with GV, something that I found out recently. Once you have a GV account, you will receive 3 invites that you can send for your friends/other people. Well, a Google account is free, so you can just send yourself an invite to a 2nd Google account, and voila, you get another chance to pick a phone number (time to think some fancy phone numbers). So technically, you can endlessly re-inviting yourself and have unlimited GV accounts. Well, seems like Google is cracking down on this, and makes it mandatory for a GV account to be tied to a physical phone line, and you cannot share that line with another GV account. Let me share what happened to me. So I did basically what I described, I invited myself on a second Google account to get another GV account, just to get a phone number with some fun combination of numbers. GV asked me for a physical phone line, so I used my one-and-only physical phone number that was associated with my original GV account. GV simply wanted me to verify the number by calling it and putting a 2 digit combination, and my physical phone number is yanked from my 1st GV account to activate my 2nd account. Well, I thought everything was fine since I can just re-claim that number for my 1st GV account, yanking that number back again. Well, that didn’t work. When I tried to add my number to my 1st GV account, Google said I cannot use that number since it’s been associated with another GV account, and there’s no option to re-claim it. Oh crap. I tried deactivating/deleting that number from my 2nd account, but GV didn’t allow it as it requires a physical phone line to be tied with a GV number. I couldn’t use another GV number, nor a Gizmo number. I started to panic. I don’t want my physical phone number to be stuck with the 2nd account. Oh crap. Finally, I ended up spending $18 for a temporary Skype-in number as a physical phone number, and used that to allow me to re-claim my real number back to the 1st GV account. Phew. So, yeah, be very careful.

So, in short, I love Google Voice. It’s an awesome service, considering that it’s free. The only thing it lacks is a native iPhone app, but considering the current relationship between Apple & Google, I’m afraid it might be a really long wait. 😦

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Posted by on May 15, 2010 in google, impression


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Video Streaming in HD

With my recent purchase of an HD camcorder, the Sanyo VPC-FH1A, I’ve been looking for video sharing sites that support 720p playback. After recording stuff in 720p, it’s really hard going back to 480p/standard def. Recording in 720p captures so much more details.
Browsing through bing, google, and wikipedia (by the way, Wikipedia has a really nice table comparing all the video sharing sites) I tried Viddler. Wikipedia says it supports 720p. Well, apparently HD is only supported under business/paid accounts.
Next is Vimeo. Vimeo does support HD on free accounts, albeit with some limitation (ie. only 1 HD video upload per week, etc). The problem is, during playback, the video player is still sized for low-res video, even with HD turned on. There’s no option for a larger player size other than full-screen. 😦

Now, I hate Google, and I hate Youtube, mainly because they deleted my account overnight without warnings. However, Youtube seems to have the best implementation for 720p videos. First, they don’t have as much limitations as Vimeo (assuming Google didn’t delete your video/account). Second, Youtube allows a larger video player where you can appreciate 720p content without having to go full-screen. So, yeah, the devil gives you the best solutions. *sigh The catch is processing your 720p video can take a while. A 5+ minute 720p video may take Youtube overnight to fully process for HD streaming. In the meantime, a lower-res version of the video is made available fairly quickly.

Streaming HD video takes a lot of bandwidth, and obviously Youtube (Google) is the only one with enough cash to support such services with the least catch and most features, for free. *sigh

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Posted by on April 19, 2010 in commentary, rant


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