Square update

Just a quick update on the problem I mentioned in the last post about using the Square reader on iPhone 4. Square sent me (and many other people, from what I read) a new reader that is not only iPhone 4-compatible, but also thinner and supposedly more tolerant to swiping speed inconsistency. It seems to work quite well.

A Square Deal

For those who haven't heard, there is a new credit card transaction processing company called Square. They provide a free card reader that plugs into the microphone jack of your cell phone/iPhone/iPad/Android device and the software to go along with it. You can see screenshots on their web site and in the App Store, so I won't belabor that point here. What I will do, however, is relate my experience and give my opinion about the device, software, and service.

It's been widely publicized that this service launched before it was quite ready. For example, I signed up in May but didn't receive my card reader until Friday (5 days ago, almost 5 months after I signed up). There was also a lot of talk about transaction limits that were too low and the amount of personal information they asked for. The software was originally announced for the iPhone, but then Square decided to detour and release the iPad version first. That put a lot of people off, myself included. The iPad version has features that the iPhone version doesn't, like the ability to enter an inventory of items for sale. On the one hand, that is understandable because of the iPad's much larger screen. On the other hand, there is really no reason (especially with the iPhone 4's and new iPod touch's Retina Displays) that these features can't be implemented on the iPhone as well. I'm sure that Square will indeed incorporate these features into the iPhone/iPod touch version at some point, but that's functionality that should have been available from the start as it was with the iPad version.

Enough griping — now that I have my reader, I've had a chance to actually try the service out. It's not perfect by any means, but wow… it's slick! If you want to use the reader with an iPhone 4 then be aware that the metal antenna band causes interference with the reader. Check Square's support site for information about ways to mitigate or even fix this problem. Once I put a piece of paper between the band and the reader to electrically insulate the two, the reader worked perfectly. I found the software straightforward and easy to use. Authorization and transaction commitment on Square's servers was fast and the transaction showed on my credit union's website within about half an hour. Controversy has arisen on Square's forums about their practice of showing their phone number, not the merchant's, in the transaction description. They claim they do this to reduce the time it takes to resolve transaction disputes, but I have a feeling Square will update their back-end software to give the merchant the choice of which phone number appears.

Overall, I'm impressed so far. I think the independent photographer now has the means to accept credit card payments that would have been cost-prohibitive to accept until Square came along. I hear rumors that Square will soon have some competition, which is good for us!


I've been a PhotoVision subscriber for several years now and I love it. PhotoVision is a two-hour photography seminar delivered to your doorstep on DVD every other month. It covers all aspects of running a professional portrait/wedding photography studio but you don't have to be a professional to get value from it. The majority of what you'll see is photographers doing photo shoots while the PhotoVision crew captures it on video — it's a great way to learn new techniques, learn refinements to techniques you already use, and renew your enthusiasm. There are also studio tours, interviews with photographers and office managers, product reviews, and much more. From the PhotoVision web site:

You'll see photographic styles and techniques, digital workflow, lighting and posing, Photoshop tips and tricks, hear innovative marketing and sales strategies, output alternatives, new hardware and software reviews and much, much more. You'll go into the studios and see photographers during actual sessions working with real clients and go on location to experience entire weddings.

Why am I pitching PhotoVision without getting paid? I enjoy the product enough and think it provides good enough value that I want other photographers to get the benefit of the sale PhotoVision is currently running through September 30th. A one-year PhotoVision subscription is normally $149 plus shipping. If you follow this link and use promo code "PVFAN" then you'll get a PhotoVision subscription for $39. Yep, that's a pretty steep discount! Strike while the iron is hot! Here's the best part: your annual renewals will also be just $39.

http://bit.ly/9S3Igb, promo code PVFAN


Now we're getting somewhere!

I actually started writing this post last month when I first saw an announcement in Professional Photographer magazine about DigiLabs' StudioShare iPhone app. It is perhaps fortuitous that I've been too busy to finish writing the post until now, because Apple's recently released iPad may take the subject to the next level.

Whether on the iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, the ability for your clients to order prints and products in the spare moments they find waiting in line for their "venti double light skinny white chocolate mocca frappuccino blended creme with energy to go" will almost certainly increase your sales. I can't believe it took this long for someone to finally put the system together that makes such purchases from iProducts easy. Over at Aunt Myrtle's showing off your wedding photos? Now, if your photographer uses this DigiLabs product, you can order albums and prints for your Auntie while your spouse drives the two of you home — before you forget which ones she liked. If DigiLabs revises the software for the iPad's increased screen real estate it will even easier to preview the photos before ordering. Let's turn the scenario around… say Aunt Myrtle is over at your house for a visit. You can hand her an iPad and let her order prints and albums of your wedding from the comfort of the couch while you're in the kitchen finalizing dinner. No need to worry about a bulky laptop or whether she knows how to use a trackpad. It would even be easy enough for her to pace back and forth while making her decisions if she's a "pacer."

I think it's a foregone conclusion that more labs will integrate Apple's iProducts into their workflows and service offerings very soon. I can hardly wait!

Off to Denver

I've been in Denver for 24 hours now. My iPhone has helped me out immesurably every step of the way. It started in Houston when I went to check in for the flight. The process of checking luggage was unbelievably bogged down. I stood in line for close to an hour. When I finally made it to the desk to check my one suitcase, the attendant informed me that I missed the cutoff by two minutes. He tried to override the automatic lockout but wasn't successful. His exact words were, "You're going to miss it [the flight]." He directed me to a supervisor, who was fielding several irate travelers when I found her. I explained my situation to her and she directed me to her supervisor. The super-supervisor explained that there were weather issues on many of their flights and that they were having to reschedule and re-route hundreds of people. She put me on another flight that was to leave two and a half hours later.

What to do for a couple of unexpected hours in the airport? Luckily I had the foresight to rip a couple movies from DVDs (that I own, thank you very much) and encode them for the iPhone. Minority Report or The Matrix... decisions, decisions. The movie kept me entertained until it came time to board the plane and whizz off to the mountains.

I had reservations for a rent car that I was supposed to pick up upon arrival from my original flight. Since I arrived several hours later, it turned out that the company was sold out. iPhone to the rescue again! I used the Google Maps app to find the airport location of my backup rental company of choice. I chose Google Maps over using Safari to go to the Google web site because I knew it would have the phone number with the results. All I had to do was tap on the phone number that came up and within moments I was reserving a car with them.

Next challenge: getting a meal. I had directions to my hotel from the hotel's web site, so that was easy. Once I checked in I found a list of local restaurants among the literature in my room. Problem is, I don't know where any of them are. I had the address, but that didn't help me get there because I don't know the Denver streets. I bet you can guess what I did... used the Google Maps app, of course.

Professional development, part trois (a.k.a. "That Screen")

I really am enjoying the freedom to watch the video podcasts to which I'm subscribed anywhere, any time. Photoshop Killer Tips is perfect for those less-than-five-minute chunks of time when you'd otherwise be bored out of your mind. For slightly longer idle periods, the video variety of the Tips from the Top Floor podcast will keep you informed and entertained. For periods longer still, such as having a quick, informal meal by yourself, Photoshop User TV and Photo Walkthrough fit the bill nicely. If you're waiting in the airport, one of the Radiant Vista Video Tutorials might be a good choice.

If you are reading this blog then the chances are good that you already know about all the podcasts mentioned above. You are probably already subscribed to most (or all) of them. Maybe you've even been enjoying them on the road with a 5.5G iPod for quite a while. As someone who made the jump to iPhone from the 4G iPod which couldn't even display still pictures, I have not had the luxury until now of watching video while out and about. However, the iPhone has two key advantages over the 5.5G iPod that would have had me upgrade anyway: only having to carry one device, and that screen! Oh, and did I mention the screen? It's considerably larger than the iPod screen in both pixel dimensions and physical dimensions. Granted, an 8GB iPhone only holds one tenth the data that an 80GB iPod can hold, but that's a trade-off I'm willing to make to have video-watching capability always with me at the ready and to be able to view it on that screen.

Missing: To-dos and checklists

Two features sorely lacking from iPhone are to-do lists and checklists. The Newton had both, and Address Book has to-do lists. Rumor has it that AB's to-do feature will be incorporated into iPhone's Mail.app (strange, why not Calendar?) when Leopard releases. At least Mac users who are in a position to buy and install Leopard have something to look forward to. I don't know what will happen on this front in the Windows world, nor whether Apple will leave Tiger users in the cold. In the mean time, I know there are web-based to-do "apps" and checklist "apps" but all of them that I've seen require one to create an account to use them. I have too many accounts as it is. I don't want more. I already have to-do's in AB and I don't want to have to duplicate them into another app and keep them in synch with each other.

This really is a bigger deal than it may sound. Checklists are vital for making sure all your gear is accounted for before (and after!) a location shoot, keeping track of the shots you want/need/intend to get, and so forth. To-do lists are great for noting which client's deliverables you need to work on if there's not a fixed deadline. I've found it can also be a convenient way of reminding myself of upcoming projects that clients have in the works but haven't yet scheduled. Sure, I have a Palm with both checklist and to-do apps on it that I could use or I could even (gasp!) carry a small paper notebook, but that would defeat the purpose of using iPhone as a convergence device. See my earlier posts if you don't know why that's important to me.

Professional development using iPhone, part deux

I found snippets of time over the weekend and today to watch some of the aforementioned Photovision edition. It really is so much more convenient than allocating a block of time to sit chained to the TV. Just this morning, for example, I had an 8:00 appointment. They kept me waiting until 9:15 before I could meet with the person. Instead of twiddling my thumbs and staring out the window for an hour, I was able to watch a Photovision segment on my iPhone. The ability to turn previously wasted time into productive time is something I've been awaiting for quite some time, and precisely one of the reasons I got so excited in January when SJ announced the iPhone.

On a related note, the Google Maps app on iPhone rocks! I used it to guide me to this morning's appointment. It's the next best thing to a GPS navigation system.

Professional development using iPhone

I stopped by the post office to check my mail and what did I find in my box but the latest Photovision DVD. Right then a light bulb went on. Instead of having to carve out an hour or two to sit in front of the TV to watch the material, I can rip and encode it for the iPhone; then I can watch it segment-by-segment as I find the time no matter where I happen to be. When I got to the office I popped the disc into my computer and started the process. It took about an hour and a half to encode everything, but that's no big deal because I can start it and walk away (so to speak).

I did run into a couple issues, but nothing I couldn't overcome. It turns out that the Photovision folks mastered the DVD with no title 0. No big deal, it just took me a few minutes to figure out why the software was choking. The other issue (which turns out to be mostly a non-issue) is that the various segments are mastered as individual titles. This means I had to encode each one as a separate movie file to bring into iTunes. Inconvenient, but I can live with it. Now if I can figure out how to import the titles as individual episodes of a "TV show" I think that would make organization easier. I could have multiple Photovision issues on iPhone at once and keep them straight more easily than dumping them all into the Movie category and using a naming scheme to organize them. It would also be easier to get them from iTunes to iPhone that way since I wouldn't have to plug iPhone in, put a check next to each segment, and then do a second sync. I have iTunes set to automatically sync all unwatched episodes of all TV shows.

Portable Portfolio

I started creating portfolio-related iPhoto "albums" about a week before iDay. I cleaned up my Address Book entries too because I wanted to be able to bring iPhone home and sync it right away with meaningful information. So I've been walking around with this exciting new device for nearly two weeks and indulging countless requests for demonstrations. Until now, people have been most interested in the phone and iPod aspects. A few have been curious about iPhone's Internet capabilities. But today, someone in the office finally had a reaction that validated what I already suspected. She asked if she could see what all the buzz was about, so I handed my iPhone to her. The first area she chose to explore was Photos. She brought up one of my portfolio categories and said, "Wow, the display is so crisp! Look how rich and beautiful the colors are!" My suspicion that iPhone would be a reasonable platform for displaying a super-compact, super-portable portfolio are confirmed. Validation feels great.

Why would I want such a portfolio? As I mentioned in the first post, I always have my phone with me. I seldom carry a portfolio of 8x10 prints, or even one of 5x7's, unless I'm going somewhere specifically to show a portfolio. So, what to do when I run into someone I might like to use as a model? In the past, I would give that person a business card and explain that I would like to have them model for me. They're usually distant because, despite what I tell them (which I think goes in one ear and out the other), they don't know whether I'm talking about so-called "legitimate" photography or porn. By the time they get home or somewhere else where they can look at my web site, they've already forgotten about it or thrown the card away. By whipping out my iPhone I'll be able to show them an approximate representation of the quality of my work and the styles I tend to shoot. When I've done that in the past in the rare instances I had my Palm or a 5x7 portfolio with me, that grabbed their attention and they took me seriously.

Getting good color in Photos

I've never really liked iPhoto. Blasphemous, I know. I'm sure it works quite well for family vacation photos and other "happy snaps" but it seems a little clunky and somewhat limited for serious photographers. That's undoubtedly why Apple produced Aperture. I don't use Aperture because my humble laptop doesn't meet the minimum hardware requirements. It sings with iView, however.

Getting back to iPhoto... since I don't use it (or at least didn't until I started preparing for iPhone) I had forgotten that I turned off the "Copy files to iPhoto Library folder when adding to library" preference. In my iPhone preparations I was a dragging-and-dropping fiend, pulling in photos from some of my external drives as well as my local drive. Last night was the first time I synced without those drives mounted. When I saw iTunes' status bar say "Deleting photos..." I started to worry. Why was it deleting photos from iPhone?

During my troubleshooting, I discovered that the files iTunes had deleted were all TIFFs. I naturally assumed that was the problem and used Photoshop to create JPEG versions -- I also took that opportunity to size the photos to fit iPhone's screen dimensions and apply size-appropriate sharpening. I synced iPhone and what do you know? The photos were back. Only they looked washed-out compared to how they looked on the iPhone before. The colors were less saturated and contrast was lower, as if they didn't get converted from Adobe RGB to sRGB. Of course I realize that sRGB has a smaller gamut than Adobe RGB, but the images looked the same on my laptop screen after the color space conversion. After saving as JPEG and then opening the JPEGs in Photoshop again, they still looked almost identical to their Adobe RGB brethren with only very slightly less saturation. In iPhoto and on iPhone, however, they showed a marked difference. I tried saving the JPEGs with and without embedded profiles, but it didn't matter.

So the moral of the story is that if you have richly saturated photos that you want to display on your iPhone in all their glory, save them as single-layer TIFFs.

One week later

It's one week and one hour since I unboxed what I believe is the most advanced, revolutionary handheld communication device ever released to the consumer market. A lot of people have been speculating that iPhone won't make inroads into the business communications infrastructure. I think they're wrong.

OK, so I've been using it for a week. The voice quality is (at least on my particular unit) among the best of any cell phone I have used. The only other phone that may have been better was my old-school (by today's standards) Nextel i1000.

Voice quality is important because you must be able to communicate efficiently with your customers and vendors. Frequently asking someone to repeat themself presents an unprofessional image.

The information management and productivity features of iPhone are amazing. Of course there are a few things missing here and there since it's a first-generation product, but on balance it is a very solid implementation. I tried several years ago to use a Palm for my calendar, address book, and notepad and as a super-compact version of my portfolio. While the Palm can perform in all those capacities, the main reason it didn't work out is that it was yet another device to carry. I don't typically wear clothes with a lot of pockets so I would carry the Palm by hand. I would invariably set it on my desk when I sat down to work and then forget to pick it up when I left. Even if the Palm could handle all my organizational needs plus drum up new business and take photos for me, what good is that if I don't have it with me?