Italy’s Prime Minister wants to learn from Jony Ive

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jony_desk
Italian premier Matteo Renzi's desk. Photo: La Stampa.

Summer reading tends to lean towards the frothy or the ambitious. It looks like Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is definitely in the ambitious camp.

His summer reads, as shown on his desk, include a work by an economist about innovation, a tome on the power of the labor force, and, oh yeah, Leander Kahney’s Jony Ive The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products.

Smart toys for grown-ups with back-to-school blues

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Toys for grown ups

It’s almost back-to-school time, again. Rats. Whether you’re heading to the hallowed halls of college, shoving your kids out the door or just gearing up for the cubicle after a long lazy summer, you deserve a little something to make the transition easier.
Here are our picks to keep your inner child happy, including a May-December romance vehicle and a killer kit for desk warfare.

Lego Architecture Studio

Many an architect built the foundation of his or her career with Legos, now the Danish toymaker tops its architecture series with a new kit especially for the grown-ups. The Lego Architecture Studio comes with 1,200 components plus a manual penned by architecture luminaries including Sou Fujimoto, Ma Yansong and Moshe Safdie. Lego suggests making your own masterpiece, from the Eiffel Tower to the Trevi Fountain.
When you do, send us the pics.

Dream Toy

This handmade porcelain “art toy” hails from a studio in Sydney called Egg Picnic. The simple, elegant design of the Dream Toy harks back to the Aboriginal myths and legends tracing the origins of native animals and the evolution of their appearance and behavior. We just think it looks cool.

iSpy Tank

Roll out the hijinks with this tank that you can control with your iPhone, iPad, iPod via Wi-Fi. The iSpy Tank comes equipped with a built-in mic and live video camera function. It just might jumpstart your YouTube career, depending on how telegenic your grumpy cat is.

Mini Ballista Kit

Yeah, desk warfare. I can attest from the number of pens and other stuff lobbed between the Macs here in the Cult offices that it is an actual thing. That’s why I can’t wait to put together a tiny replica of this Roman artillery weapon. It’s got interlocking parts, a simple, reliable trigger, high-strength cordage and lightweight projectiles. So, you know, watch it, guys.

Kartoni

This cardboard Foosball table gives you all the wrist-wrenching drama of the game minus the heft of having to transport it for your next picnic. It comes with two full teams and one ball and, low-fi as it is, still sports a built-in iPhone speaker for your winning jams. Best part? You can personalize the faces of the players from the Kartoni website.

Giffo

Get yourself together with this sturdy catchall for all of the things that inevitably end up flying around your apartment or studio: books, CDs, iPad, magazines. The Giffo comes to you in a whimsical giraffe design in 17 pieces of double-reinforced cardboard, so once you’ve assembled it, you can actually tell people you *made* something.

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Vespa 946

This is the official ride for your December - May romance. Piaggio’s Vespa 946 costs a hefty $9,946, so you have to be of a certain age to afford it. I’m told by the patient mechanic of my aging LX150 that driving it offers an immediate boost to one’s spirit. Only 3,600 of these red-leather seated, 4-stroke air-cooled engine beauties are going to roll out worldwide. One thing’s for sure: Audrey Hepburn never had it this good.

California closer to smartphone ‘kill switch’ law

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CC-licensed, Aquilaonline, via Flickr.
CC-licensed, Aquilaonline, via Flickr.

SACRAMENTO — The state where the iPhone was born came a step closer to a law that might help keep it in your hands.

State Sen. Mark Leno’s Smartphone Theft Prevention Act (Senate Bill 962) passed the state legislature this morning with a 51-18 vote. Now it will move on to the Senate for a vote on amendments.

California won’t be the first state to flip the kill switch – that distinction goes to Minnesota, which heeded the call from consumers in May. If the law passes in the most populous state in the U.S. and the birthplace of the iPhone, it may mark a sea change in similar legislation. California’s law will affect any smartphone manufactured on or after July 1, 2015.

A tale of two stores: Apple vs Microsoft

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Apple vs Microsoft

Microsoft may be headed for a smackdown in Manhattan. The maker of all devices PC is reportedly laying ground for a retail outlet just six blocks from Apple's Fifth Avenue store, one of the most photographed landmarks in New York. And a glistening cube that rakes in more than the sparklers at nearby Tiffany & Co. If Redmond had only taken note from what happens in Oregon: here's our totally unabashedly unscientific pictorial take on Apple and Microsoft stores in downtown Portland. All photos: Nicole Martinelli/Cult of Mac

Apple vs Microsoft

There's just a two-minute walk between Apple's Pioneer Place store and Microsoft's retail outlet, with plenty of tony shops like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. in between.

Crickets

It's a Thursday afternoon in late July. And you can definitely hear crickets in the Microsoft store...

Bustling

Same weekday afternoon in July and the Apple store is packed.

Take Two

This woman walked past the Apple store asking directions to Microsoft. I thought I'd give the store a second chance and see if it'd become more busy.

As good as it gets

There were about three customers in the whole store the second time around..

The 10 coolest companies founded by ex-Apple employees

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Coolest Apple spin-offs

The apple does not fall from the tree when it comes to former employees of the Cupertino company. A bunch of smart, creative types formerly in Apple’s employ have branched out into smart, successful ventures. You might say they had Steve Jobs, who during his Apple hiatus founded NeXT and Pixar, as a role model. Here are our favorites, from Nest to up-and-comers like a smart scale, 360 camera and a new, iBeacon-based biz. Let us know what you think of our picks (and who you would add) in the comments.

The Stir Kinetic desk

You know how we wish Apple made *everything?* Well, we’d love to live in a world designed by Jony Ive, but honestly, our aching backs and craning necks would settle for just a lovely desk to place our MacBook Pros on. JP Labrosse, an early member of the iPod Engineering team, heard our cries and founded Stir Works. His sleek motorized desk is controlled by a touch screen for optimal height with a built-in dock for your fitness gadgets, and was meant to “reimagine the desk as something that is powerful, life-changing and even lovable.” We’d say he succeeded, but at $3,890.00 it’s a smidge out of our price range for a trial run.

SITU

SITU is an attractive Bluetooth food scale that talks to your iPad. Apple employee Michael Grothaus, who has battled his weight since adolescence, got the idea his lunch hour at Caffè Macs. The scale tells you the exact nutritional content of any food you place on it, providing a breakdown of fat, calories, etc. The sleek lines won't clutter up your minimalist countertop; preorders for the SITU after a successful Kickstarter campaign are coming right up.

Path

The road to success has been paved with good intentions and studded with a few bumps for this social network app. Founded by Dave Morin, who got his start in Apple’s marketing department, this photo sharing and messaging app first launched with great fanfare on the iPhone before hitting controversy (and an $800,000 FTC fine) by hovering up users’s address books. Path is well-designed and the options to only import 150 contacts and silo the sharing from other social networks made it a winner. Also, the mothership still hasn’t succeeded in launching a decent social network, we think they should try again. With something similar to Path.

CENTR

What say you to a tiny interactive panoramic video camera that looks like a slide carousel of yore and fits in the palm of your hand — yes, we want one, too. San Francisco-based CENTR is the brainchild of Paul Alioshin, who lead camera engineering at Apple and Bill Banta who worked in program management, operations and supply chain at the Cupertino company. It fell shy of the $900,000 it was stumping for on Kickstarter, but the project continues: “Fundraising is not a quick process, but we promise to update you when we have public information to share!”

Inkling

While working at Apple, Matt MacInnis kept hearing about a new device in the works, shrouded in the usual CIA-level security. In 2009, before the iPad launched, he left with the idea to “revolutionize the textbook.” It turns out his water cooler smarts paid off: Inkling raised $48 million in venture capital funding then branched out into non-fiction, video plus interactive animations. Named one of the most innovative companies in 2014, Inkling crossed over to the other side launching Android versions of its wares in April 2014.

Nest Labs

Sorry Tony Fadell. Better turn up the temperature if you want to win customers!

Photo: Nest

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Flipboard

This glorious app was among the first to pair digital aggregation with slick magazine looks back in 2010, with former Apple iPhone engineer Evan Doll at the helm. 2014 has been a banner year for the San Francisco-based company: it partnered with CNN and swallowed up frenemy Zite. Not content to remain static on the shelf, the company, which already features content in 19 regional editions, recently launched a U.S. Latino Content Guide. Another thing it’s got going for it? It’s a great way to peruse the news from Cult of Mac.

Cooliris

This mobile app with an Apple-centric design lets you browse, share, and view photos and friends' photos from multiple sources. Austin Shoemaker, who did a seven-year tour of duty in Cupertino, including a stint as an engineer on the team that created iPhoto is its CTO. As our own Charlie Sorrel put it, “Cooliris’ gimmick is its endless wall of photos which you can almost throw around the screen, but recent versions have added so many sources that it might well become your iOS photobrowser of choice.”

The 10 coolest companies founded by ex-Apple employees

Loop Pulse

ClioneLabs was founded by Thomas Pun, who spent six years at Apple and also headed up an Apple TV killer, this company also rotates around the Applesphere. Its first product called Loop Pulse aims to harness the power of iBeacons for brick-and-mortar retailers, collecting and analyzing the behavior of punters in an easy-to-use dashboard. With offices in tech obsessed San Francisco and shopping obsessed Hong Kong, this one looks like a winner.

Inspirato

This members-only luxe resort company Inspirato offers you a place to crash in Grand Cayman, stylish residences overlooking the mountain in Vail and cliffside villas with private infinity pools in Costa Rica. You can bet all the details will be impeccable: co-founder Brad Handler was once an Apple technical review specialist.

How startup Cubr might kill the business card and foster dangerous liaisons

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Rolling with Cubr. Photo courtesy Sébastien Leidgens.
Rolling with Cubr. Photo courtesy Sébastien Leidgens.

SAN FRANCISCO — Sébastien Leidgens wants to put a new angle on the business card.

His invention, Cubr, is a six-sided die that connects people through private mobile web chat. When a red, blue or green Cubr is tossed your way, you hit the website or download the app, then enter the code to start your instant message convo or share photos with the person who gave you the die. The enterprising Belgian, a former project manager at a digital marketing agency, is taking a gamble on the idea that people are tired of handing out one-dimensional cards.

“It’s a business card for non-business people,” Leidgens says in an English heavily influenced by his native French. “Young people don’t have business cards. This you can use for private situations in everyday life. It’s a lot more fun and outside of the usual public circles.”

This app will guide you to parking — and may get you a ticket, too

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Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
The VoicePark app could be the solution to San Francisco's parking problems. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

SAN FRANCISCO — A parking app that reliably helps find open spots in this congested city was coded on a turn-of-the-century tugboat in Sausalito.

The Terrapin served David LaBua as a coding den for VoicePark, a free app that uses sensors to monitor parking spots. It’s the only one we’ve tested to date that guided us to viable public spots on the busy streets of San Francisco.

“Parking is probably San Francisco’s biggest stressor, and writing about it has been very therapeutic for me,” says LaBua, who holds a master of science in psychology. “I had no intention of getting into the app game, but there was a real need for it.”

Why iPad art is more than a passing fad — though you soon might smell it

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The iPad is a powerful machine for art.

Check out the 10 finalists in the 2014 Mobile Arts and Creativity Summit and vote for your favorite.

The Old Fox

Jaime Sanjuan Ocabo made this piece with Procreate.

Flowers Dancing in Sunlight

By Linda Pahl, created with My Brushes and Percolator apps.

Golden Ratio

Deborah McMillion used Sketchbook Pro to create this work.

The Birth of the Universe

By Anton Muraviev using app Paper FiftyThree.

Fishin' for Trouble

This scene by Wayman Stairs was made with the Snapseed, Alien Sky and Lens Light apps.

Eagle Eye

This was made with Procreate by Andrew Frey.

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Strength Of A Man

Dion Pollard created this work with app Artrage.

Cubitt (2014)

Created by Roz Hall using Fresh Paint.

Sydney Town Hall

By Nori Tominaga, created with the Brushes app.

Lil' Hoot

Jeff Hebert made this with Sketchbook Pro.

Early doodles on the iPad looked a lot like this generation’s Etch-a-Sketch.

But in just a few years, after celebrated artists such as David Hockney have shown their iPad works in galleries, Apple’s revolutionary device has come into its own as a canvas.

The eclectic group of works above are finalists in the second annual Mobile Digital Art Exhibition (aka MDAC Summit 2014), an upcoming art-packed weekend of workshops and a celebration of digital art in Palo Alto, a stone’s throw from Apple headquarters. Take a gander and vote on them by July 31 for the People’s Choice Award.

iPhone or Canon? A veteran photographer debates digital versus analog

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Pros and cons of iPhoneography

Longtime photographer Dan Marcolina tells why an Apple smartphone can be the ultimate tool of his trade.

Untitled traditional portrait

"I’m tall and shy -- so I can’t be inconspicuous. That means a lot of my traditional portraits are shot from the side or the back," Marcolina says. In this 2009 shot, he was able to compose it carefully, because the subjects weren't facing him, and it expresses his "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" no-cropping philosophy for analog photography.

Untitled mobile portrait

"Mobile photography is more like sculpture - you're poking at the pixels to make them talk," he says. The color of the ribbons was amped up with app Snapseed afterwards, "making the story a little more intense." While he could've captured this from the doorway with a traditional camera, Marcolina walked in close with his iPhone and the man never stirred.

While it's generally easier to go stealth with an iPhone, "people are getting a lot more savvy about having their photos taken," Marcolina says.

Wedding

"The traditional work is from a collection of standard film cameras ranging from Toy Holgas to 2x2 Rolleiflex to Canon 5d digital. This work is never manipulated and rarely cropped, what you see is what I got." In this portrait of a bride with MS, note the shadow of Marcolina in the foreground.

“You’d never get this shot with a traditional camera,” Marcolina says. “It would be weird to be so close as this guy does a handstand in front of his girlfriend.” With an iPhone, you can control the camera in creative ways, getting this sculpted look by with a slow shutter and rotoscope effect.

"Photoshop is a production tool, not a discovery engine in the same way apps are," he says. And while the bathroom darkroom may have gone the way of the daguerrotype, the bog can still serve as an editing room for digital images, along with the supermarket checkout line.

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Digital portrait

This is one of those shots, Marcolina says, where paring down the image digitally really made the shot.

During his 25-year career as a photographer, Dan Marcolina has captured moments of everyday despair and delight, from beaches and backyards to bus stations and wedding celebrations.

His work exhibits the ease of an inside joke or a knowing wink; the images are visual juxtapositions that live up to a high point of praise from Richard Avedon, who once commented that Marcolina makes images that aren’t “trying to be beautiful.”

Ruh-roh: Your smart food scale and fitness tracker are talking to each other

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The folks at The Orange Chef prepare lunch in their San Francisco offices with smart scale PrepPad.Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
The folks at The Orange Chef prepare lunch in their San Francisco offices with smart scale PrepPad. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

This may be the last time you feel good about walking half a mile to get a cronut: a calorie-counting food scale and fitness tracker are on to you.

Smart food scale Prep Pad now synchs with Jawbone Up, keeping track of what you’re eating and how many calories you are burning.

It’s latest buddy system in the quantified self movement, where, as we reported earlier, your car is already conversing with your fitness tracker about how much you should be hoofing it instead of driving. Sales of fitness gadgets like the Jawbone Up, Fitbit and Nike + are over the previous year, leaving us with 19 million trackers and trainers strapped to our wrists.