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Newer isn’t always better: The iPad and Wi-Fi geolocation

When I first got my original iPod Touch, I was amazed to discover when I checked Google Maps that the iPad had a pretty good idea of where I was. It turned out that this was due to the Skyhook wi-fi geolocation service, which had been busily sending cars out to wardrive urban areas in the US before Google ever had the streetview idea that ended up landing it in so much invasion-of-privacy trouble. Skyhook recorded in what locations it could find any given MAC address (the serial number that uniquely identifies every network adapter such as a wi-fi card or router) and plugged that into a database that applications could query.

While not perfect, this service was key to the subsequent rise of location-based check-in services like Foursquare and Yelp: people had a way of “proving” where they were, so they could “check in” at nearby businesses. They could append their locations to Twitter posts, and easily find directions in Google Maps from one place to another.

There are a lot of possible uses to being able to find one’s own location, at least semi-reliably, and append it to software applications—including for e-book readers. You could see how many people within some arbitrary distance are reading the same e-book as you are, for instance—perhaps even contact them and arrange arbitrary ad-hoc book-club meeting groups. Startups like Foursquare have barely even scratched the surface. But for it to be useful, it has to be at least semi-reliable.

One of the neat things about Skyhook is that its website features a form by which people can add the MAC addresses of their own wi-fi routers along with their physical location to fill in gaps in Skyhook’s database or change their location if they move. I did that myself for my own router, as well as for the router my parents placed at their home in the middle of the country. (Which means my parents’ house can be pinpointed as a single dot in the middle of a wasteland of no coverage if you zoom in close enough on Skyhook’s coverage map.)

But beginning with OS 3.2, last year, Apple dropped Skyhook and started using its own proprietary geolocation database. The problem is, this new database doesn’t have any way to correct mistakes or add missing routers. And while my newly-acquired second iPod Touch still locates me properly in my apartment in central Springfield, Missouri, my iPad places me in Middletown, PA.

I’m not sure why this is; my best guess is that one of my neighbors used to live there, and brought his Apple-recorded wi-fi router with him when he moved here. And since my own router is too recent a purchase to be listed in Apple’s database, the iPad makes the determination based on the other routers it can pick up. It’s really annoying, because it means I can’t use the geolocation-based features, such as getting directions or searching for nearby Twitter queries, from my iPad.

And there seems to be no way to correct this—nor to add my parents’ rural MAC address. A query on Apple’s support forums brings the response from another Apple user, “That’s been discussed many times (do a search) and, so far, no one has an answer.” So I’m not the only one to have noticed this problem.

Presumably wi-fi-based geolocation simply isn’t a priority for Apple, who has plenty of other irons in the fire—unlike Skyhook for whom it is their sole concern. So the iPad and other OS 3.2-and-up devices have an inherently less-reliable, and less-correctible location system than they used to—and it becomes less reliable with each new, unrecorded router people buy.

Meanwhile, the Skyhook-based geolocation on the 1st-gen iPod Touch continues to work.


Why Google’s ebook store could be better for indie publishers|Lastest Ebook News]

Why Google's ebook store could be better for indie publishers
Ebooks have been called the cornerstone of a new literary economy, and blamed for the slow death of so-called “tree books.” But recent spats between publishers and Amazon over pricing, and Apple over content control , have made the ebook market seem slightly less rosy.
Read more on e-Consultancy


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Browsing for eBooks – Why is it so much better in a real shop than online?

Recently I came across a short post in which the author bemoaned the rather unimaginative and unfriendly manner in which most eBook sellers displayed their wares.  He made the comparison to how enjoyable it is to browse happily around the shelves of a real book shop (especially the independent ones)  as opposed to how it is at Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, for example.

He pointed out that when one wanders into a real bookshop, with a vague idea of what one is looking for, one almost always ended up buying some other book as well, in a sort of impulsive manner.

Whilst he made no suggestions about how online eBook sellers could achieve the same atmosphere on their sites, he made a plea for them to try and reproduce the happy chaos that is the hallmark of a truly enjoyable book shop.

This is something I have written about in other posts, and I tend to agree with  him, as even in such sites as Books on Board or Kobo, who have attempted to do this, one is always offered a choice of the type of books one has asked for.   You select say Thrillers, and you are offered a range of eBooks in that genre, but are highly unlikely to stumble across an interesting eBook on gardening or some other totally unrelated topic, which in a real book shop always happens, and I know one tends to then stagger out of real book shops with more books on differing subjects than you ever intended to do when you entered the shop – plays hell with the credit card, of course.

There has to be a way to replicate the happy mix of unrelated books one finds in a book shop, without making finding and selecting the type of book one set out to find originally too complex.

I know that they all offer a side bar with a list of all the genres one could wish for, but you have to plough through loads of windows and lists to browse in this manner, which very few of us are prepared to do.  This is a pity for both the buyer and the seller, as it inevitably means one buys only the book one set out to find, for the shop it means lost income, for us it means missing just that serendipitous find that is one of the main joys of real book shops.

Geographical restrictions too………..

A further irritation of online bookshops is the matter of geographical availability.   After hunting and finding the eBook one wants, we are all too often told (as we attempt to purchase it) that it isn’t available in our country.   Can you imagine a book shop having books on its shelves, which they then tell you that you are not allowed to buy as you live in the wrong part of town?  Whilst I understand the reason for this problem – writer’s agents make different deal with publishers in different countries – I still find it a real problem.  As far as I know, only Kobo have attempted to address this problem, by means of identifying the country you are in (by using your computers internet address – IP), and placing a note beside any eBooks that can’t be sold to you where you are.  This at least saves you wasted time in choosing a book and starting the check out business, but it remains a serious problem that needs to be addressed by the book sellers and publishers somehow.

Link to article: http://www.booktrade.info/index.php/showarticle/28444

Share with us:

If you have any brilliant ideas as to how online eBook sellers could address this problem, do let us know them, as eBook buying should be as enjoyable as paper book buying I feel.