Sunday, December 30, 2007

More Maps on the iPhone

After my previous efforts with Google Maps for Sky and the native on the iPod touch, Ryan Scranton at Google pointed me in the direction of a Google Code project that was attempting to provide a more friendly user interface to the online Javascript version of Google Maps on the iPhone and the iPod touch.

It turned out to be a fairly trivial project to modify the code to use the new Sky maps, so on yet another wet Sunday afternoon, I did...

The results aren't quite as slick as the native version, but it was a lot less effort. You can drag the map around the screen using two fingers, although unfortunately you can't use the pinch action to zoom in and out. Crucially since it's just the normal maps with extra Javascript wrappers you can make use of the Maps API to add placemarks and overlays and other interesting things...

However getting used to using two fingers to drag the map around instead of one is surprisingly hard, it's very anti-intuitive for some reason. I'm also not entirely convinced it runs fast enough, at least for my purposes, it seems much less responsive and much more jerky during scrolling than the native application. It's a great hack, but not the solution to my problem. But don't take my word for it, if you've got an iPhone or an iPod touch you can try it for yourself.

Back to the hex editor perhaps?

Update: For comparison with the native version here is a screen shot from the online javascript version of Google Maps.

The Carinae Nebula in Google Maps

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hacking on the iPhone

The release of the new Google Maps API for Sky got me thinking. Google Maps, and Maps for Sky, doesn't really work very well inside on the iPhone or the iPod touch. The maps in the browser aren't set up to trigger on the correct Javascript events, and as a result scrolling and zooming just doesn't work correctly. However there is a mobile for the iPhone, which not only scrolls, pans, and zooms properly, but is also a whole lot faster than the browser based version.

So I didn't really want to play with the browser based version of Google Maps on my iPod, I wanted to play with the mobile version. So the obvious thing to do would be to hack the mobile version of to support the Sky. It's just a different tile set, shouldn't be too hard?

There is nothing obvious in the plist files associated with the Maps application or the GMM.framework itself, but this is only really to be expected. So I pulled out my hex editor of choice, I recommend Hex Fiend by the way, to see what I could be done. Initially, and unfortunately somewhat optimistically, I thought that it should just be a case of tracking down the strings containing the URLs where Maps pulls tiles from the remote server, and changing these to point to the Sky tile server instead. But after poking around for a while inside the GMM.framework this didn't look like it was going to be too easy, at least without decompiling the code. However I did discover references to a SQL database which the application was using as a tile cache for downloaded tiles. Pulling this database off the phone an into SQLLite on my desktop let me examine the schema, which has three separate tables,

images(zoom int, x int, y int, flags int, length int, data blob);
version(version int);
index1 on images (zoom,x,y,flags);

The x, y and z were self explanatory. That's just the x and y position of the tile at zoom level z. The flags looks to be whether the tile is a map (flag is 2) or satellite (flag is 3) tile, the blob was presumably the tile itself and length was obviously the length of the binary blob in bytes. Probably...

The obvious strategy at this point was to download all the tiles, and yes, I mean all the tiles, from the Google Sky tile server, and poke them into the tile cache database in the appropriate places to fake out the application into thinking it didn't have to go to the web to download those tiles after all.

Oddly enough the maps tiles served by Google Maps for Sky are JPG files, and the maps tiles in the cache database are PNG files. The JPG's also seem to be 256×256 pixels in size, while the tiles in the cache file are 128×128 pixels in size. So we had a bit of an issue here. I could either take the thousands of downloaded tiles, convert them to PNG, and split them up into smaller tiles, or I could just try throwing them into the cache and see what happened. Want to take a guess at which one I chose to do first?

Pulling the eatblob.c out of the SQLite tutorial, I hacked together a quick script to push all 5,461 tiles (zoom level 0 to zoom level 6) into the cache database. Copying the new enlarged database back onto my iPod, I restarted the iPod and fired up but things didn't exactly go as planned. Predictably I didn't get the mapping between the x and y's of the Sky tiles and the Map tiles quite right. In fact I got my x and y's round the wrong way in one of my scripts. Second time was the charm though...

SMC in Google Maps on an Jailbroken iPod touch

Basically at this point I've got Google Maps for Sky working on my iPod touch under Firmware 1.1.2. This hack will presumably also work on the iPhone since my was taken off a Jailbroken iPhone in the first place, after all my iPod touch didn't ship with the Maps application in the first place...

Despite all this there are still predictably some problems with the current implementation. First and foremost, the Sky map only occupies the upper left quarter of Earth map when zoomed out all the way out. The best explanation I can come up with for this is simply the fact I haven't yet cut my "big" tiles into quarters. If generate 4×(128×128) tiles out of each of my current 256×256 tiles at each of the current zoom levels then I reckon I'll fill the map.

Of course even with this solved there are two fundamental problems which means that this project is almost entirely an intellectual exercise. The current lack of zoom levels in the Sky data means than when you zoom in far enough you eventually drop back down onto the Earth. For instance the SMC is located somewhere over Marrakech, and if you zoom in far enough sub-Saharan Africa starts to poke through the star field. This could probably be lived with except for the fact that the only way to find the SMC in the first place is do a search for Marrakech, after all the search utility still thinks it's looking at the Earth's surface.

The other major problem is that the application doesn't actually have the Maps API, the very thing I need so that I can manipulate the map at the very basic level of even adding a placemark. There are presumably hidden hooks into the application, and maybe those will appear in the Apple SDK due in February . But there still isn't any word on the licensing provisions for the SDK. Who knows if I can get access to it, especially if there is a issue surrounding the digital signatures rumoured to be needed for an "official" application. Finding the money needed, possibly a lot of money, for the SDK could be an interesting proposition. That's even if those hooks exist in the first place.

Anyway, the easiest thing for you to do if you want to replicate my hack is to download the hacked database file (29MB) I generated and copy it into /var/root/Library/Caches/MapTiles/. Make sure you make a copy of your existing MapTiles.sqlitedb database before dropping the new one ontop of it, you'll probably want to back out of the hack at some point. After copying the database file into the right place, simply reboot your iPhone or iPod touch. At that point it should all just work...

Source Code

If you're crazy enough to want to waste your time playing around with this I've attached the source code that will let you rebuild the MapTiles.sqlitedb database directly from the Sky tile servers. Hopefully the guys at Google won't be too cross, as I doubt the handful of people crazy enough to go off and duplicate this stunt will add any significant load to the tile servers...

download_tiles.plDownload all of the tiles from the server
eatblob.cProgram to push the tiles in the the SQLite DB
getdelim.c getdelim.h   Needed by eatblob.c
getline.c getline.h   Needed by eatblob.c
push_tiles.plScript to run eatblob.c in harness for all tiles.


Of course if you don't want to get your hands dirty with the insides of the Maps application, you can always just watch the video...

Apple breaking EU regulations?

Reports are starting to come in that Apple have applied a country lock, so that French iPhones only work on French mobile networks, to the "unlocked" iPhones on sale in France. I guess they haven't heard about the regulations forbidding restrictions on trade and commerce between EU member countries? I can't see any way they can justify this move the face of the current EU regulations, and presumably we'll see someone pull them up on it very shortly...

While the iPhone is a success in the US market, Apple seems to have failed to understand how the European and US markets differ. If the iPhone takes off here, it's going to be despite all the Apple is doing, not because of it...

Update: The Register is now reporting that Orange France is denying the rumours, and saying that "Once legally unlocked, the iPhone will operate with any SIM card, including foreign ones..."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Turning Google Maps into Tupperware

We've know this was coming for a while, but not when. News of Google Maps for Sky leaked out last week on the Google Maps API forum, quickly followed by the official Google announcement on Friday.

You can create a Sky map in the same way you did your plain old regular map, all you have to do is pass it the correct mapType. So something like this will get you a handle to a Sky Map,
     var map = new GMap2(document.getElementById("map"), 
{ mapTypes : G_SKY_MAP_TYPES });

However if you want to do anything to the map, the coordinate mapping isn't pretty. If you've got your RA and Dec in decimal degrees, you'll need to fudge them like this to push a marker pin into the sky,

     var point = new GLatLng( dec, -ra + 180 );
var marker = new GMarker(point);

This initially had me very confused, not only is it back-to-front, it's not what you have to do to your RA and Dec to plot it in Google Earth. There you have to subtract 180 from your RA value before throwing it into your KML file. Which of course brings me to KML support, there doesn't seem to be any right now...

The lack of KML support is a bit disappointing, it'd be nice to be able to take the KML network link that has the live feed of event messages flowing across the eSTAR network, and throw it directly into Maps. But right now that isn't possible. No worries though, this is an early release in every sense of the word. It's coming, I'm sure I can count on the Googlers.

With that in mind, it'd be daft for me to rewrite the code to throw the live events into Google Maps, because if KML support is coming, and surely it is, I'd just be wasting my effort. So I decided to sit down and PLASTIC-enable Maps instead. A few months ago I did the same for Google Earth, although obviously I had to take a slightly different tack this time around while turning Google Maps for Sky into so called "tupperware".

As before I've written a small PLASTIC application, a facade, which registers with the PLASTIC Hub as normal and listens for ivo:// messages. These are PLASTIC messages telling interested applications to "point at" an RA & Dec. When such a message is passed through the Hub, say by CDS Aladin, it is forwarded to the facade application, which then injects this into a boiler plate HTML file. The facade application then exposes this HTML file via an embedded web server. If you point a web browser at this end point you get a map with the marker plotted at the relevant RA & Dec.

Additionally when you send a PLASTIC message into facade application the place mark it generates has a link which, when clicked, will call back to the facade application's embedded webserver and allow you to send a PLASTIC message back to the Hub. This means there is bi-directional control, both in and out, of Google Maps with PLASTIC.

I've uploaded the source code again, but be warned, this is proof-of-concept stuff and when you're dealing with Perl that can get pretty torturous. Especially since I based it on the previous proof-of-concept code I wrote for Google Earth and never got round to fixing up.

There are obvious problems with my implementation, after all it was just a wet Sunday afternoon's work, but most of these are fixable with a little refactoring. However it does work, and uses a lot of the same concepts as my previous effort. This hints strongly that it really is time I got round to writing that general use PLASTIC module for Perl that I've been talking about for a year or more...

Update: More Google Maps for Sky, this time on the iPod touch.

Because the iPhone is not a phone

I saw today that Daniel Dilger noted that the iPhone has grabbed 27% of the US smart phone market, I think he has the reasons for this totally wrong. The reason for this is that the iPhone is not really a phone, it just happens to be able to make phone calls.

The iPhone isn't competing against the rest of the smart phone market. If anything the iPhone, especially after jailbreak, is competing with the ultra-portable market. It's closest competition is the iPod touch not the Nokia N95.

The iPhone now accounts for 0.09% of all web usage. That doesn't sound like a lot until you realise that all Windows CE devices combined account for only 0.06%, with all of the Series 60 devices combined accounting for 0.01%. Despite being around for a much shorter time, and having a lot fewer units out in the wild, the iPhone accounts for 9 times as much web traffic as all of the Series 60 devices put together. Doesn't that tell us something?

It tells me that people are actually using the iPhone to browse the web, not just the quick in and out raids to specific sites that is all most people do with their phone. The iPhone seems to be the first mobile device that has got the ergonomics right so that people are willing to use it to interact with the web, rather than just grab critical stuff like train times and phone numbers off cut down and butchered sites specifically designed for that purpose.

In the longer term Apple have, by design or accident who knows, opened up a new market. Back in 2004 I confidently stated that Apple wouldn't release a phone because the market was saturated and the margins we vanishingly thin. It looks like they've solved the problem by reinventing the market rather than playing in the existing game. Clever Apple...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

More rumours of an Apple ultra-portable

More rumours of the long awaited Apple sub-notebook ahead of Macworld in January. Quickly countered by people noting that 13.3-inches isn't a sub-notebook and assertions that Apple would be crazy to release a sub-notebook at all. I guess we'll have to wait till January...

First, do no harm

Whether active SETI is a danger (via Slashdot) is something that has long been debated inside the SETI community, but late last year the debate boiled over into the public arena after the Nature published an editorial scolding the SETI community for failing to conduct an open discussion on the risks of actively transmitting high powered signals.

Image curtsey of Seed Magazine.
The Interstellar Rosetta Stone

Of course one of the reasons the SETI community has been avoiding the debate is that, through long and bitter experience, they know they need to keep their heads down. With the Proxmire era well and truely behind them, the past few years have almost been a golden age for the SETI community, with public perception of SETI very much changed, they still feel the cold wind of unrespectability on their necks.

The arrival of major private funding, notably the Allen Telescope Array paid for by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has lent an air of respectability that perhaps has been lacking in the past. However the notions of Active SETI is, in popular perception at least, still intertwined with the notions of UFOs and the main-stream SETI community really doesn't want to get sucked into that quagmire. They just don't want to be seen as cranks.

But despite the poor reputation the field has had in the past, it's always been viewed as basically harmless. Low capital and operational costs, along with some fringe benefits such as detailed microwave maps of the sky, mean that the field was fairly inoffensive. After all, it can't hurt just to listen, can it?

Of course the the SETI community have been listening for a long time, and they haven't found anything yet. Perhaps because of the increased funding and the improvement of the public perception of the field, the amount of frustration at that lack has increased to match. Because of this frustration perhaps, METI, or active SETI, is starting to be viewed more favourably especially in the former Soviet Republics.

METI pursues not a local, but a more global purpose – to overcome the Great Silence in the Universe, bringing to our extraterrestrial neighbors the long-expected annunciation “You are not alone!” - Alexander Zaitsev

Of course the roots of active SETI go back a long way, all the way back to the Frank Drake, most famous for the Drake equation, and the Arecibo message in 1974.

The main arguement against active SETI is that its proponents are no longer doing science, they're playing with politics,

Let’s be clear about this. Active SETI is not scientific research. It is a deliberate attempt to provoke a response by an alien civilization whose capabilities, intentions, and distance are not known to us. That makes it a policy issue. - Michael Michaud, SETI League

Carl Sagan, one of the greatest SETI supporters and a deep believer in the notion of altruistic alien civilizations, called such a move deeply unwise and immature. - David Brin

If aliens are so advanced and altruistic... and yet are choosing to remain silent... should we not consider following their example and doing likewise? At least for a little while? Is it possible that they are silent because they know something we don't know? - David Brin

Which seems, at least to me, to be a telling blow. In the long term being silent and listening hard for the next fifty years or so won't make a lot of difference. But the increasing strident cries of the birth of our civilisation are equivalent to us shouting into the darkness "Here we are, look at us...", and that seems a dangerous course of action. All the more so because the proponents of Active SETI refuse to consult with either the astronomical or diplomatic communities. Instead they take it upon themselves to speak for humanity.

First, do no harm...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Touch screen iMacs

No, not another Apple rumour. Earlier in the month Troll Touch, the company that'll touch enable your Mac, released a touchscreen iMac (via CrunchGear). For a hefty mark up of course, you can now have a touchscreen technology on your desktop, as well as your iPhone. Old news now, but I hadn't seen the YouTube video so thought it was worth a quick post. Now why hasn't Apple done this?

The 3 Skypephone Review

Just under a month ago I was lent two Skypephones by the UK network operator 3. They're scheduled to go back in a week or so, so I thought I'd sit down and write up what I think of the handset and perhaps more importantly, what the appearance of the first not only officially sanctioned, but heavily promoted, VoIP application on a phone targeted at the average consumer means for the industry.

Like most first offerings there are problems here that aren't really symptomatic of the concept, but are because when you're rolling out new hardware, or new software, there are always problems. So despite the large amount of criticism I'm going to level at the Skypephone in this post I want to make it clear that it's a decent handset. Not too flashy, but decent enough, and the Skype application works well.

Lets start on the hardware. As I've mentioned before, the handsets are small, light, and fit easily into your pocket. Although it's not the most attractive phone in the world, compared to Nokia's N-series or the Apple iPhone it is clunky and somewhat dated. But it's a solid enough handset and the rubberised case feels quite good in your hand. Ergonomically, you can't complain.

What you can complain about is the screen, I've had the handset less than a month and the screen is scratched quite badly. The phone hasn't been dropped, or suffered any major trauma, it's been in the same pocket as my Nokia N80 and my iPod touch. I've had the Nokia for just over a year and it's far less bashed about than the Skypephone. The iPod touch I've had for only a little longer than the Skypephone, and it's probably seen more trauma than the Skypephone, after all 3's handset was only on loan. There isn't a scratch on my iPod's screen, but the Skypephone's screen has taken a serious beating.

I got fed up years ago trying to keep my portable electronics in little protective cases, if they can't handle the day to day knocks and bumps then it falls by the way side fairly quickly. If you actually have to coddle something that's been designed to go in your pocket, then it hasn't been designed well.

I haven't dared put the Skypephone through something like the stress test PC World gave the iPhone. I'm not sure it'd give a good account of itself, and I do have to put it back in the post in a few days in more or less one piece.

Next up, software. The handset's operating system isn't really as polished as the latest Nokia, or the iPhone. This is especially apparent when it comes to browsing the web. Compared to my iPod touch or Apple's iPhone, web browsing on 3's Skypephone is a joke. I'm not interested in 3's walled garden, but found myself more or less restricted to it because the web browser that comes with the phone did such a remarkably bad job of rendering web pages.

Of course part of the problem is the screen, it's small, and the number of pixel per inch isn't anything like the iPhone, and to be fair that's okay. This isn't a smart phone, or at least it isn't what passes as a smart phone these days. Okay, so you can browse the web, but that isn't why you'd buy a 3 Skypephone is it? You'd buy it because it has Skype...

The main question you have to ask about something marketed as a Skypephone is how well does it handle Skype, the answer is pretty well. The few calls I've actually managed to make have had fairly good voice quality, although there is sometimes noticeable lag between sending and receiving that (as a heavy VoIP user) came as a bit of a surprise to me.

Which brings me to my main problem with the handset, which again I've mentioned before, and isn't anything to do with the handset itself. It's to do with the network the handset is on, I can't get any coverage. I was loaned two handsets, I had one, and my wife had the other. The places where there isn't any 3 coverage is getting rather long: our house, her parent's house, her office, my office, the cities and towns we visit regularly. The list of places where there is coverage is considerably shorter, and that's bad. Although to be fair there basically isn't any mobile phone reception in our village at all, between us my wife and I have Orange, O2 and T-Mobile handsets, and none of them work either. So there at least, it's not just 3 that's got a problem.

Of course with only having the phone on loan I wasn't really prepared to move "my life" onto the new handset, although to be fair I'd have found it hard. The phone isn't supported by Mac OSX, so it would be difficult to sync my contacts and calendars onto the phone, and perhaps I just haven't given the handset a fair chance because of that problem? After all, without all that information the handset is just a brick that can make telephone calls, admittedly a small and cute brick.

My final swipe at this handset is of course, standards. You only have to go to Google too see the controversy around the proprietary peer-to-peer Skype versus centralised, but standards based, SIP debate. There are a lot of criticisms of the proprietary Skype protocol, but I'd probably argue that Skype and SIP attack different problems. Despite advertising Skype is not a SIP-killer, nor despite the outcry of the open source community is SIP the answer to Skype.

That said I find 3's decision to go with Skype for a VoIP rollout curious, has Skype already got the mind share in the consumer market to make it so attractive? Surely a network operator, who lives and dies by standards, would have been more attracted to a SIP solution. Why isn't this the Gizmo phone for instance?

I think that's a telling point, and it's going to be interesting to see how this works out when 3's exclusivity agreement with Skype runs out. Are other operators going to jump on the band wagon, are they going to go with SIP. Are they going to, unsuccessfully, ignore the whole thing?

As I mentioned earlier today I think we're at a tipping point, and the 3 Skypephone is a symptomatic. VoIP on mobile handsets is here to stay and you only have to look at Nokia's commitment to putting SIP stacks on their new handsets, despite operator pressure not to, to realise that.

But despite all these complaints, am I going to regret saying goodbye to my Skypephones? Probably...

If you're interested in trying out a handset yourself, the guys over at, the people than gave me the loaner handsets, are running a little competition. I'll let them explain it themselves...

We at are running a little competition - the winner gets three 3 Skypephones, second place gets two and third place gets one. Also two devices will be awarded to the blog that refers the winning entry.

All entrants need to do is tell us why they want a 3 Skypephone – and it can be done however they want as long as it can be linked to. For example, it could be a blog post, forum thread or simple webpage, a picture or a set on Flickr (here’s something that knocked together), a link to a YouTube video (can you do better than this?) or even a Facebook group where 100 friends sign up and support the quest for a 3 Skypephones. The more creative the better.

The only rules are: the content needs to be original, not ripped off an insignificant YouTuber (we’ll know because you have to tag all your videos 3mobilebuzzcomp1), and the URL of the site which brought the competition to entrants attention needs to be included on the entry email. The deadline for submissions is midday on Monday 17th December.

Entries must be sent to the hallowed keeper of prizes, enforcer of rules and judge of all, As always we’ll keep everyone updated as to the best submissions via

VoIP on the iPod touch

So we've known for just under a month that, despite not coming with a microphone bulit-in, the audio input pins on the iPod touch dock connector are active (via Engadget).


The discovery of the live audio pins immediately led to lots of speculation about using the device for VoIP. Although to be honest, having used many large screen "smart phones" over the years, the ergonomics are wrong. Without Bluetooth using the iPod touch as a phone will be pretty tiresome. But the general consensus seems to be, it looks like an iPhone, why shouldn't it be able to make calls?

Shortly after the discovery of the live audio input pins, the same people hacked a mic in a dock connector (via Engadget). Now all that was lacking was some VoIP software...


A couple of days ago reports surfaced that the SvSIP stack has now been ported (via TUAW) and is being tested and that it's been confirmed that registration and signalization is working.


The translation is that "it all just works". As far as I know nobody has made an actual voice call yet, but all the right bits of software have already been written, and just need to be connected together. It's just a matter of time before that happens, and the fact that people are willing to go to this length to hack VoIP onto a device which out of the box fundamentally lacks even hardware support is telling.

Mobile phones have been commodity items, at least in the UK and Europe, for several years. What the drive for VoIP on the iPod touch is telling me is that the network providers, and the infrastructure they provide that sit behind the telephone calls you make, are starting to become exactly that. Infrastructure. The network of cell towers are just another commodity, and can be swapped out and replaced by a different infrastructure, in this case WiFi, without the user noticing much of a difference. The interesting stuff, the packet data level, sits on top, transparently.

This has been rubbed home to me by two things, the Skypephone which I've got on loan from Three, and the realisation that I haven't actually used my fixed line at home for several months now. It sits there, carries my ADSL connection, and as a consequence my phone calls which are now almost exclusively done over VoIP. But actual POTS calls? Not for a while...

The mobile network providers are dinosaurs, as are the fixed line telephone companies. It's going to be interesting to see it they can reinvent themselves, as Three are trying to do with the Skypephone, and provide what people actually seem to want. Commodity bandwidth.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hotel Mauna Kea

This You Tube video (via Samwise) is currently going viral amoungst the astronomers who use the observatories on top of Mauna Kea. Starts off slow and instrumental, but wait for the vocals...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The 3 SkypePhone and 3's coverage

So I'm currently in the States, where of course my new 3 SkypePhone doesn't work. Or at least the interesting Skype bits of the phone doesn't work...

However I was loaned two handsets by 3, and my wife has the second handset. So theoretically at least, we're good. Gemma can carry around her SkypePhone back in the UK, and I can call her from the States for free from my laptop using Skype. Why theoretically? Well so far the places where there isn't any 3 coverage is getting rather long: our house, her parent's house, her office, my office, the cities and towns we visit regularly. The list of places where there is coverage is considerably shorter.

The couple of Skype calls we have managed have had fairly good voice quality, but I've been out here a week and we've only managed those couple of calls because of the coverage issues. Generally I've been using Gizmo, which unlike Skype uses SIP which is actually standards compliant, and means I can call my home phone network for free. Which isn't something I can do with Skype.

So what's my impression so far? If you live in central London, and you use Skype, go out and buy yourself and your family some phones. You probably won't regret it. But if you live in a more rural area, be careful. The phone itself is pretty nice, it works as advertised, but at least for me, 3's coverage doesn't extend to anywhere we really need to be...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Quest for the holy grail over?

For some years now bringing down the cost per kWh of photovoltaics to a more manageable level has been the holy grail of the the solar power industry. At least in the labs high efficiency vacuum deposited "thin film" technologies, that do not rely on silicon, has been around for some years. However these have been expensive and not commercially viable in the mass market.

CREDIT: Nanosolar
Nanosolar has developed a proprietary ink that makes it possible to simply print the semiconductor of a high-performance solar cell.

Nanosolar is part of the new generation, the so call third wave, of solar cell companies. They are doing away with the expensive vacuum deposit processes and are simply printing the semiconducting ink onto a substrate to make the cell.

The company has just completed it's move to its San Jose manufacturing facility, and is gearing up to start production in first quarter next year. While I'll reserve judgement till I'm actually holding one of their panels in my hands, because as we all know "cheap solar cell technology is now only ten years away..." has been a mantra for the industry for at least twenty years, this is actually looking fairly promising. The quest for the holy grail may now be over.

Update: Nanosolar are now shipping the first panels...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Not supported under Mac OSX

So I really should get some work done, but before going off and doing things I'm actually being paid to do I'll just drop a quick note to say that, predictably perhaps, the new 3 SkypePhone isn't supported by iSync and Mac OSX...

Not supported by iSync

SkypePhone, but no Skype?

Well I was right to think that there wouldn't be any Three signal out in the sticks for my new SkypePhone to pick up...

However I'm now back in the big smoke, or at least as smoky as it gets in Devon, the little smoke perhaps? I've got a couple of bars of Three signal and I'm on their 3G network. Just done some tests, and text messages go out fine. But no Skype, it just hangs on "Signing in" and doesn't connect. I wonder if my wife will have any better luck with her handset? She's going to be creating a Skype account rather attempting to log in to her existing account...

Update: After pointlessly playing around with the packet data settings for a bit I turned the phone off and then back on again. Magically both Skype, and all the phone's packet data functions which hadn't been working either, started to work...

The question is whether there is some generic problem here, or whether this is just because I turned the phone on for the first time while it was out of signal? Although I can't really see why that should make a difference?

Which reminds me, the main problem I had with this phone so far is that I had absolutely no idea how to turn it on. I'm way too used to Nokias with the power buttons on the top or the side. The on/off switch for the SkypePhone is buried on the keypad. How quaint!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The 3 SkypePhone, unboxed...

I was recently offered a pair of Three's new SkypePhones on loan, and as promised, the two handsets arrived in today's post. I've got them for a month before I have to put them back in the post to Three, so we'll see how I get on with them...

First impression? They handset is small, and light. Pocket sized. Which makes a nice change. I'm more used to smart phones and the bulk associated with the latest bleeding edge hardware. Although, when compared to Nokia's N-series phones for instance, they aren't the most attractive handsets in the world. Especially the white and blue version. However they look, serviceable. You can't complain...

The handsets don't come charged though, so it's time to take them home and plug them in, and considering I live out in somewhere rural enough that your neighbours still take the time to say "Hello" we'll see how I do for signal. Neither Orange, nor O2, have any signal in my village, and a brief scan of the documentation tells me that the Skype part of the a SkypePhone only works on Three's 3G network, and stops working when you roam onto their partner networks. I might have to wait until tomorrow to test them out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An Apple store of my very own...

Just got the email from Apple announcing that the Exeter Apple Store, in the new Princesshay development, will be opening this Saturday, the 24th of November.

An Apple Store of my very own, pity I'll be 30,000 ft over Greenland inbound into LAX at the time really. I'll miss out on that free t-shirt...

The iPhone 3G? Already?

Now this is an interesting rumour. Apparently Vodafone has snagged the rights for the 3G version of Apple's iPhone, now rumoured for release in Q1 next year.

This seems moderately unbelievable, except of course for the fact that they're currently suing T-Mobile in Germany over rights to the iPhone. Although nobody really seems sure what the basis for the lawsuit actually is, it does tie in nicely with the new rumour, which of course could be the point, it now seems sort of believable, whereas it wouldn't have been before that.

So why are Vodafone suing T-Mobile, and why just in Germany? What about the other markets with exclusivity deals like the UK and France?

Update: Apple Insider have some details of the law suit. It looks like the courts, at least at the moment, agree with Vodafone that it's illegal for the handset to be sold locked with a two year contract in Germany. Unfortunately, a Vodafone spokesman has apparently told the Wall Street Journal that,

We're not taking any plans to replicate these actions anywhere else, or in the UK. It's a different regulatory environment.
So no unlocked handsets here in the UK it seems, although with Apple forced to sell the phone unlocked in both France and now perhaps Germany, you have to expect some sort of legal challenge to the locking on phones in the UK under the restrictions on trade and commerce between E.U. member countries.

Update: A leak from AT&T on the 3G iPhone?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mobile TV not dead, just lazy?

According to the latest lot of consultants (via Mobile Europe) mobile TV isn't dead on arrival, it's just a bit lazy, and is now only two years away from taking off. According to the consultants, Mott MacDonald Schema,

...95 percent of British mobile users have not accessed mobile TV and those that do use it regularly, which is less than one percent, don’t access it more than once a month.
However they apparently believe that,

In a couple of years we could see the real take off of mobile TV and significant revenue streams.
All I can say is that if you believe that, I've got a very nice bridge you might be interested in..?

More Apple sub-notebook rumours?

I've been waiting for a replacement for the 12-inch Powerbook, and something "much cooler" than the current Macbook Pro for two years now. It hasn't happened yet, and I've repeatedly asked "What about the 12-inch?"...

Yet despite that rumours of a subnotebook persist ahead of Macworld in January next year. You know what, they're probably accurate. Why? Because last month I finally gave in and bought a Blackbook.

Update: More rumours ahead of Macworld.

Fixing Google Maps

Google is appealing to the wisdom of crowds once again. They want you to fix Google Maps for them, by moving the marker for your house to actually be over your house rather than in the middle of the street.

Unlike their image labeler application, this appeal is founded quite firmly in self interest. It makes sense, if you want people to be able to find your house or office, and you can actually see people doing it, and in the process radically improving the Google's geo-referencing and search results...

The Amazon Kindle?

I'll admit it up front, I'm amongst the faithful. The small library my wife and I have accumulated over the years takes up most of the sitting room, and it's over-spilling the bookcases yet again. It's almost time to buy yet another bookcase and jam it into the room somehow. So I'd quite like a sleek, paperback sized, ebook reader that actually works as advertised, but it's been a long wait.

CREDIT: Engadget
The Amazon Kindle

But I don't think the Amazon Kindle (via Engadget and Read/Write Web) is it. A good deal of what people enjoy about books, the thing that makes it actually enjoyable to read a book as opposed to a chore, is the way the book feels in your hand. Effectively the user interface is the thing that makes book useable. Unfortunately, you just have to look at the Kindle to know this will never replace the paper back.

Technically the book reader might push the right buttons, but you'll never get people who buy books to buy this thing. Not only is the thing not ergonomic, it's just plain ugly to look at...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A from the factory unlocked iPhone?

It appears that because of French law, the iPhone will go on sale in France in two version. One will be locked to Orange France and will be sold for €399, the other will be sold unlocked, presumably for a higher price. But despite the higher price this opens interesting opportunities, especially with the EU laws in place against restrictions on trade and commerce between E.U. member countries. For instance if I boughht an unlocked iPhone in France there is no legal way for Apple to put technical restrictions on my use of it in the UK, or other EU member countries. So no locking it to the French iTunes store, or restricting it to French language only. That isn't legal... interesting no?

Update: Just to clarify. Under French law the network must unlock a phone if requested to do so, free of charge, as soon as the customer has owned the phone for more than 6 month. So even the locked version won't stay locked for long.

An iPhone SDK coming soon...

It was if millions of voices suddenly cried out in pain, there was no SDK for the iPhone. Well there is now...

The rumours of an official API for the iPhone and the iPod touch in the face of the growing number of unoffical third party applications, Apple have announced an official SDK to be released in February 2008.

Can I be one of many to say... "Hurrah!" and "It's about bloody time!". I mean come on, what took them so long? Of course the wording of the announcement is a bit worrying, it's talking about digital signatures, possibly quite expensive digital signatures. If they're charging real money for those things then I know developers like me aren't going to get a look in, which is a bad. I guess we'll have to see how things go...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Smart clothing for Geeks

Remember the smart clothes pegs, intelligent spoons, thinking carpets, ubiquitous umbrella and the smart chopping board?

CREDIT: ThinkGeek
Ubiquitous computing gone mad?

It's not really how I thought smart clothing would start to trickle down into the consumer market, but ThinkGeek's new t-shirt (via CrunchGear) is an interesting foray into ubiquitous computing. I'm just not sure it's very useful...

Friday, October 05, 2007

Dynamode USB-SERIAL not working...

This is just a quick warning for people thinking of buying a Dynamode USB to Serial Convertor. This device uses an Ark Micro chipset, rather than the more common Prolific PL-2303. Unlike the PL-2303 chipset, which has OSX drivers, the Ark Micro chipset doesn't. So if you want a USB to Serial convertor to use with your Mac, don't buy this one...

Update: There is an experimental Linux driver, but that doesn't help me a lot at this point.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A new DAWN

After many delays, including at one stage actually being cancelled, the DAWN mission is sitting on the launch pad at the Cape. The mobile service tower has been rolled away from the Delta II, and launch is scheduled for 07:20 EDT (12:20 BST). It's actually looking like the mission is going to go this time, and you can follow the launch live on NASA TV.

Update: The launch is on hold, as the range is reported not to be clear. The Coast Guard is attempting to contact a ship which has strayed into the harzard zone, the region where the solid rocket boosters may fall back into the ocean.

Update: The ship has cleared the hazard zone, and the launch will come out of hold at 07:30 EDT, for a scheduled launch at 07:34 EDT.

Update: Lift-off...

Update: At T + 1 minute 23 seconds we have the initial solid rocket booster separation of the first six boosters, and ignition of remain three boosters.

Update: At T + 11 minutes the spacecraft has successfully achieved its planned parking orbit with an apogee of 100.6 miles, perigee of 99.99 miles and inclination of 28.6 degrees.

Update: At T + 12 minutes the spacecraft has gone out of range of the Antigua tracking station. The next communications will come when it approaches the west coast of Australia.

Update: At T + 61 minutes 58 seconds the DAWN spacecraft has successfully separated from the Delta 2 third stage.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A quick patch to iUI

I've mentioned Joe Hewitt's iUI web framework before, and it does a pretty good job of imitating the iPhone native look and feel for web applications. However I was fiddling around with the framework and really wanted to be able to load an HTML fragment inline instead of appending it, which is the current behaviour of the "_replace" target, so I created a new "_insert" target to do just that...

The great thing about open source is that I can take some software that almost does what I want, scratch my itch, and make it do exactly what I want. If you're interested in scratching the same itch, you can download the patch files [1, 2] I've generated against the current release of iUI.

First commercial iPhone app?

Although developers are officially denied access to the iPhone as a platform, and restricted to Web technologies to deploy applications for the phone, it hasn't stopped people developing unofficial native applications.

CREDIT: Engadget

However as far as I know Navizon "virtual GPS" is the first commercial application. Apart from the fact that I don't think their application is worth paying for, I've knocked similar things together in Python on my Nokia in an afternoon, it seems like a risky strategy. Rumours are circulating that Apple may brick unlocked iPhones with the next firmware update, which might leave Navizon with a number of very unhappy customers. Additionally, while Apple might tolerate the open source community hacking on their new phone, will they be so forgiving of a commercial developer? This is going to be an interesting one to follow along with...

Update: Tom Robinson has a good article on alternative methods for geolocation.

Friday, September 21, 2007

What really matters for a mobile phone?

Lets talks about what actually matters here, how much is it going to cost me to make a call or send a text message from my mobile phone?

Cubic Telecom (via The Register) launched their service at at TechCrunch 40 a few days ago...

Interestingly perhaps their website, which had a lot of information about the service including detailed pricing plans, has disappeared behind a sign saying "Coming soon..." since I first looked at it, although of course the Google cache of their site still gets you backstage behind the curtain.

What they're doing is really interesting, forget their hardware, it isn't fancy. But because it isn't really the point. They're going to make international roaming much, much, cheaper by establishing MVNO agreements with local operators. In other words where ever you are in the world you're making a local call. Their phones also offer PBX functionality, allowing you to have up to 50 local phone numbers assigned to your handset. Which presumably will then ring anywhere in the world. Finally, they're also offering VoIP via in-built WiFi directly from the handset.

For most of you this probably not a big deal, but for guys like me who spend half their lives in airports and who regularly run up phone bills that would finance the debt of several small African countries, all I can say is "...what took you guys so long?".

Of course a standard charging connector for mobile phones would probably affect the quality of life of most people far more than anything else the industry could do for us...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

There went the iPhone?

As predicted, yesterday's special event saw the UK launch of the Apple iPhone. Surprisingly it left me unmoved, and from the reactions I've seen elsewhere I'm not alone. In fact I've been left with a certain feeling of disappointment...

CREDIT: Engadget

Comparing the iPhone specification to the Nokia's current flagship product the Nokia N95, the iPhone doesn't really measure up very well. Crucially it lacks that 3G magic we're used to in the UK, and the absence of an onboard GPS has always puzzled me, but perhaps the thing that's going to surprise Apple is the reaction they're going to get to the crippled Bluetooth functionality. The iPhone can only use it's Bluetooth to talk to a headset, we're used to more. I doubt I could even find the data cable for my Nokia N80. Having to sync my phone by plugging it in with a wire is so last century.

The deal with the Cloud is interesting, but not amazingly useful. The places people want to use WiFi such as train stations, airports, coffee shops and book stores, are mostly using T-Mobile in the UK. The Cloud on the other hand seems to have most of its hotspots located in pubs. I don't know about you but I've never taken my laptop out of its bag in a pub in my life. I don't think I've ever seen anyone working on a laptop in a pub either. I've never figured out how the Cloud made any money. I'm presuming there are other hotspots, but I don't think I've ever run across one.

With estimates that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of early adopters have hacked their iPhone, either by installing third party native applications, or by unlocking it, it looks like there is a lot of suppressed demand for both. I'm guessing that the UK market isn't going to take well to a locked iPhone either, again we're used to being able to unlock our phones. In fact we're so used to having unlocked phones, it'll probably confuse quite a few people that they can't just put one of their pay as you go SIM cards into the phone from the outset. It's interesting that Apple have gone with Carphone Warehouse, their normal policy is to sell all their phones unlocked.

Of course the big stumbling block is price, like most Brits I was guessing that Apple just wouldn't be able to persuade a UK network to sell the iPhone without a subsidy. It's totally alien to the way the UK market works, I've never paid for a phone and I've always had high specification phones. It's also interesting to see that the O2 contract is for 18 months. Lately, driven by the uptake in 18 and 24 month contracts in the US, the networks have been trying to push these fairly hard in the UK. They aren't popular, I'm on a 12 month contract and wouldn't sign an 18 month one under any circumstances.

I guess that I expected better from Apple, and I'm part of the mounting back lash. That said, just as soon as someone manages to jailbreak the new iPod touch I'll be picking up one of those. For me at least, it's pointless getting one unless I can use third party applications. Although the lack of any Bluetooth at all is puzzling. I know that in the US Bluetooth never really made a big impact, but in the UK, and Europe, Bluetooth is everywhere. Virtually everything electronic I own talks to each other via Bluetooth. It'd be weird to own a pice of kit that doesn't...

As for a phone, I'll stick with my Nokia for now. Maybe the next generation iPhone will tempt me when it arrives early next year. But unless they fix the crippled Bluetooth at least I'm not so sure, even then I wouldn't buy a locked phone.

Update: At least according to the New York Times (via TUAW) it isn't as if they don't have the margin to offer the subsidies we were expecting either...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Here comes the iPhone?

Reports are coming in (via TUAW) that Apple has announced an invite-only event to be held next Tuesday at the Regent Street Apple Store. The invite is pretty cryptic, even for Apple, but like almost everyone else I'm presuming that the tagline "Mum is no longer the word" is hinting at a UK release for the iPhone.

Update: My main objection to the rumours that O2 were Apple's chosen partner for the iPhone in the UK seems to be disappearing as, despite having a perfectly good 3G network, they appear to be rolling out an EDGE network across the UK. That more or less both confirms that Apple are going to be the shipping a 2.5G iPhone in the UK, and that O2 is their chosen partner. There really isn't any other reason for O2 to do this...

Update: I'm going to be presenting in a conference during Apple's announcement, so if you want to follow along you'll have to make do with Engadget's live coverage.

Update: My comments on the release of the iPhone in the UK.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Applications on the iPhone and the iPod touch

With all the unofficial third party applications appearing for the iPhone one of the questions on my mind during last nights special event was whether the iPhone hacking effort was going to port seamlessly to the new iPod touch. Whether these third party applications could be run on the new iPod...

Well it looks like that's going to be the case, and better yet the conspicuously missing email and maps applications present on the iPhone but not on the touch will probably be really easy to pull across onto the new iPod as well. That turns the iPod touch from an interesting media device, to a working internet tablet...

Update: Interestingly Apple's Greg Joswiak says that the community has Apple's blessing (via Ars Technica) for native applications, and confirms that the iPod Touch and iPhone use the same software platform. Apple seems to be taking the middle ground, and while it won't support native code on the iPhone or the iPod touch, they're not going to forbid it either. Crucially Joswiak added that they will also not design software updates specifically to break native applications, although he made no promises about accidentally breaking them...

Update: Predictably the iPod touch firmware restore files have a different password to the iPhone's firmware, but the hunt is on to break the image. With that done, a jailbreak should be possible fairly quickly...

The 3G iPhone?

Only hours after the beat goes on and rumours of a European 3G iPhone release at the Apple Expo later this month are starting to circulate. It does make a certain amount of sense, a $200 price drop is pretty remarkable, and opens the way for a new 3G model to fill the vacated $599 price point.

None the less for a company that's not really known for rapidly upgrading their product lines, the 4GB iPhone died a suspiciously quick death. Surprisingly perhaps, Apple has understood from the outset the rapid turnover in models necessary in the mobile phone market. There is a reason the margin on mobile phones is notoriously low.

How long does a mobile phone stay on the market? In the US it might be different but in the UK, and the rest of Europe, it's a matter of months. I bought, or rather was given for free by my network, a Nokia N80 when I last renewed my contract just under a year ago. You can't even buy the handset anymore, if it was a desktop machine they'd still be churning it out. But it's a phone, the turn over time for phone models is 6 months to a year tops. If Apple are even selling the original iPhone in twelve months time then they're showing they don't understand the market they've got into...

Of course in the twenty days between now and the Apple Expo I'm sure Apple will shift a lot of iPod touch models to people desperate to get their hands on that touch screen goodness and can't yet buy an iPhone. One way or the other Apple will get their early adopter tax out of us Europeans.

I've got very little sympathy for those people who feel cheated because the price of their phone has dropped. Reducing the price by a third is actually fairly mild compared to some of the price drops you see on high end Nokias a few months after they roll out. The price of a high end phone can drop from (a subsidised price of) several hundred pounds to free with a twelve month contract in the space of a few weeks after launch. Sorry, but those are the breaks...

My prediction? If there is any truth to the rumours at all, then we'll see a 3G iPhone later this month at the $599 price point, possibly with more memory and a better camera. Such things actually matter in the European market. But six months after that the new phone will be sitting at the $399 price point and the current iPhone will be a memory.

To those of you complaining about that, you're buying a piece of disposable consumer hardware, not a desktop machine that's going to be with for the next three or four years. Forget about it...

Update: So even if you don't qualify for any other refund, Apple are now going to give you a $100 credit in the Apple Store if you were an early adopter. Happy now?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The beat goes on...

With last minute rumours (via CrunchGear) of a UK launch of a 3G iPhone hitting the wires in the hours before today's special event, my speculations a couple of days are suddenly looked less unlikely...

CREDIT: Engadget

I'll be following the live coverage of the event, so if you don't want to follow the event yourself, check back here later today and I'll have the high and low-lights for your entertainment.

Update (09:46am PST): The Apple Store is down ahead of the event, which pretty much confirms we're looking at new hardware...

The UK Apple Store

Update (09:48am PST): Engadget is reporting it's a fairly small audience, unlike the event in August, but that all the usual suspects are present. But Gizmodo are reporting that it's "packed in here" so I guess your milage may vary at that point...

CREDIT: Engadget

Update (10:06am PST): Steve Jobs is on stage,
Today, we get to talk about music. We’re going to start with iTunes... iTunes is clearly leading the way. We're going to ship a new version of iTunes tonight to support some new products. The biggest new feature: ringtones.

CREDIT: B. Lam, Gizmodo

Update (10:08am PST): Apparently when you plug in your iPhone a bell icon will pop up inside iTunes showing you which songs you can turn into ringtones. Pick up to 30 seconds of the song add fade ins, fade outs, and create your ringtone before you click the buy button...

CREDIT: B. Lam, Gizmodo

Update (10:14am PST): Moving on,
Now let's talk about the iPod... today we're going to refresh or replace every single product in this lineup to get ready for this holiday season.

So that's a new iPod, a new iPod nano and a new iPod shuffle?

Update (10:18am PST): Looks like it,

CREDIT: B. Lam, Gizmodo

with the iPod shuffle coming in (PRODUCT) Red as well as other colours, and the new iPod nano coming with an enhanced UI that have a lot of the features of the iPhone like CoverFlow. The leaks had the new form factor for the nano down surprisingly accurate as well...

CREDIT: Engadget

Update (10:28am PST): The "iPod" is now being renamed the "iPod classic", which is interesting. Does this hint at a widescreen iPod with the same sort of form factor and touch screen as the iPhone? The iPod classic has the same enhanced UI as the new iPod nano, which means it still has a click wheel...

Update (10:32am PST): Yup, here we go...
When we introduced the iPhone in Jan, we said it was the best iPod ever. and iPhone owners agree with us, it's incredible with its multi-touch interface, it is the best iPod ever. People have been asking us when we're going to bring this technology to the iPod. The answer is we're going to do it today. And this is what the product looks like..

The touchscreen iPod is here, and they're calling it the iPod touch. It's the same size as the iPhone, but it's much thinner, only 8mm thick...

CREDIT: Engadget

Update (10:39am PST): The big news is that the iPod touch has WiFi, if you look in the picture above you can see the signal strength meter. We've got a touch screen internet tablet here?

Update (10:42am PST): Looks to be the case, it comes with the same Safari as on the iPhone. It flips, landscapes, pans, flicks, scrolls just like the iPhone version does. This really does look to be a phone-less iPhone...

CREDIT: B. Lam, Gizmodo

Update (10:46am PST): That means it can access all the iPhone optimised websites, like the new Facebook site...

Update (10:48am PST): Gizmodo just reported that, "A reader just bought the 8GB iPhone for $399 and 4GB iPhone for $299 in an Apple store just now. Possible price drop?". The iPod touch comes in two models, an 8GB and 16GB model at $299 and $399 respectively. The other updated iPods are available now, but the touch ships in a few weeks. Some time this month?

CREDIT: B. Lam, Gizmodo

Update (10:52am PST): Did you spot the missing icon on the iPod touch dock? That'd be " more thing", the new iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store.

CREDIT: B. Lam, Gizmodo

It looks like browsing the store is similar to the normal iTunes application. You can tap on a song to preview it, and then tap the download button to purchase. The next time you dock the iPod touch to your computer, it’ll sync the song into your iTunes library. The new store is also rolling out for the iPhone...

CREDIT: B. Lam, Gizmodo

Update (10:59am PST): ...and there is a partnership with Starbucks,
When you get near a Starbucks a fifth button will come up in the WiFi music store -- you may have been in a Starbucks wondering what song is that playing? Now you can buy it with a tap of your finger. And if you just missed it, you can still find it...

CREDIT: Engadget

Update (11:09am PST): They've rolled Howard Schultz, the founder and chairman of Starbucks, onto stage to talk about the partnership. There is free access to the iTunes store while at Starbucks, just the store though, not the rest of the web? I guess T-Mobile, who provide wireless access for Starbucks wouldn't be too happy about that...

Update (11:12am PST): Here we go, Steve is back on stage and Apple is dropping the price of the iPhone. I guess they figure they've cleaned out the early adopter market... they’re dropping the price of the 8GB model to $399, that's a US$200 drop, and interestingly the 4GB model has been discontinued. I guess nobody was buying it?

Update (11:16am PST): Looks like Steve is winding up, KT Tunstall is on stage and will be performing...

CREDIT: Engadget

Update (11:22am PST): ...and we're done.

Update (11:37am PST): The U.S. store is back up and filled with new toys: the iPod shuffle from $79, the iPod nano from $149, the iPod classic from $249, the iPod touch from $299 and the newly reduced iPhone at $399. Interestingly the UK Store isn't back up yet, all we've got is an Http/1.1 Service Unavailable error...

Update (11:42am PST): The UK Apple Store is back to showing the "We'll be back soon" holding page. Looks like they're having problems...

Update (11:58am PST/7:58pm BST): The UK Apple Store is finally back up, about twenty minutes after the US Store. It looks like we have all the new toys: the iPod shuffle from £49, the iPod nano from £99, the iPod classic from £159, the iPod touch from £199. No iPhone though, the last minute rumours we're very accurate it seems.

With thanks to Engadget and Gizmodo for real time coverage.