Tag Archives: Technology

What’s on My iPad – Page 1

IMG_0016 So it’s been nearly a month or so since the iPad hit the streets in the US and 48 days since I got mine. In that time, it has become an indispensable item in my hi-tech arsenal. With the iPad reaching far-off lands and foreign shores today, it’s time for the first in a series of thoughts about the various apps I’ve installed on my iPad.

First, I’ve got a few thoughts about the iPad in general. There’s nothing particularly earth-shaking or revolutionary in my thoughts on the device but they warrant repeating.

Unlike the iPhone, the iPad is not a ubiquitous device. It isn’t just magically at your hip and unless you’re in the habit of carrying a knapsack with you, as a student might, you have to plan to have it with you.

I had the same exact problem with my laptop. When I went places I had to decide, with the convenience of having the computer with me outweigh the inconvenience of having to carry it and keep an eye on it when I’m not using it? 99 times out of 100 the answer was, “no”. With the iPhone, it’s “yes” 99 times out of 100. The iPad falls somewhere in between, and I’m still developing my habits in this area. If I go out for breakfast on a Saturday morning amongst the loonies at Chick-Fil-A, I’ll take it with me. Free Wi-Fi, a playground for the kids and reasonably neat food is a perfect combination for the iPad. Around the house, unless someone else in the household is using it, it’s pretty much always in the room with me. It’s awesome for reading my mail, checking the web, reading my RSS newsfeeds or just grabbing it for a quick games of solitaire in a down moment.

It’s also quite sufficient for making (typically shorter) blog posts and online comments. Typically it gets tiresome after 3 or 4 good-sized paragraphs. (I’m not typing this review on the iPad, but I could have. I can’t say the same for the iPhone.)

The iPad was billed as a “content consumption” device, and that’s certainly true. but as you’ll see from a few of the apps I use, it’s a lot more versatile and developers are beginning to make some awesome content manipulation and creation applications for it.

One thing that the iPad does, exactly like the iPhone does, is to encourage you to end up with software you never use but you can’t bear to part with. Unlike the iPhone, iPad software is often much more expensive. In face, I have one app on my iPad that cost $50. I probably don’t have a total of little more than $50 worth of apps on my iPhone.

Looking at the first page, and going in no particular order but vaguely left to right, top to bottom, here’s what I’ve got.

Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Maps, YouTube, Safari, Mail, iPod are all basically the same as the iPhone, but scaled up. Videos is new, but is mostly the video function of the iPod made into a distinct app. Videos on the iPad are gorgeous and while I generally poo-poo the idea of a person video device, I regularly use the iPad to watch Dr. Who episodes for review. The iPad, with easy backward and forward, high resolution and headphones makes for a great environment to really concentrate on a show (and thus give me more details to pick on.)

Pages and Numbers (I have no use for Keynote) are nice implementations of Apple’s word processor and spreadsheet. On the Mac, I use Pages, but I tend to avoid the “fancy stuff” with templates and rather just start with a blank page and type. As such, Pages on the iPad suffers from the 3 or 4 paragraph and I’m tired syndrome, but it does doa good job of rendering more complex page layouts. Numbers, which is much less typing intensive, it really nice. For what i use it for it’s as good as the full version and more convenient on the iPad.

Wikipanion is an app I have on both the iPhone and the iPad, and I wouldn’t be without it. It’s a great interface on Wikipedia that works better than a web-based search. This is a common theme on iPhone OS devices. Apps can be made better than web pages – bucking the recent trend on the Internet in the recent years.

Google search is a standalone Google application, it’s main superiority over the browser based version (it is in the tool bar on Safari, afterall) is that it has voice to text search capabilities and they are quite good. The iPad’s microphone is remarkably good – every bit as good as the one on MacBooks. In fact, the iPad works great for Skype, which really surprised me.

Photogene and PhotoForge are two photo manipulation apps. I have several others on my iPhone, but these two have made the jump to full iPad apps and the added screen space really makes the difference when doing photo manipulation. Photogene is the more polished of the two apps and has a lot of Photoshop like filters and adjustments, but it doesn’t have an retouching tools. PhotoForge is less polished, but has some cloning and smudging tools – which is why I have both on the iPad.

NewsRack is my RSS reader. It ties directly into my Google Reader account and this is the app I use more than anything else on the iPad. I have hundreds of RSS feeds I monitor and NewsRack makes it simple. On the iPhone I use ByLine, which I still like better, but ByLine hasn’t made the jump to the iPad and native iPhone-only apps mostly such blown up on the iPad. Yes, they work, but, you really feel the pain. I’m hoping ByLine gets with the program and gets an iPad version out soon. Not that I have any real complaints about NewsRack.

iThoughts HD is a MindMapping software, which I like much better than MindMapping on the MacBook simply because you can carry it around like a notebook and do your mapping on-the-fly in meetings. The fingers to screen paradigm, rather than mouse to screen, really shines for this type of program. MindMapping is about taking notes and organizing thoughts and the iPad is a great way to do it.

OmniGraffle is a longtime Mac graphing/template program (similar to Visio on the PC). Their iPad version costs an astounding $49.99, but I have it here because I do lots of charts likes this. Normally I do them on giant sticky notes on my wall – and my coworkers can attest, I have them everywhere with design and flow ideas. I bit the bullet for OmniGraffle for the iPad because, like iThoughtsHD, I felt this would finally be the right tool for doing this sort of design on the fly, in meetings and other impromptu situations. For $50, I have a few complaints about how it works, but I’m confident these are mostly bugs that will be resolved soon. Text boxes in UML diagrams in particular are irritating as they keep resizing and double text while you’re editing it. But if you’re doing flow diagrams, it’s pretty much perfect.

WordPress is a free interface to WordPress blogs, like lonelocust.com. I use it for blogging, but detest the fact that you have to do all formatting in HTML. The iPhone and iPad keyboard is not friendly for type XML elements like <b></b> This limits how much I’m willing to blog in the program. Recently I’ve started experimenting with BlogPress, a not-free app that seems a bit better, but still limited. This is an area when someone could really make huge improvements.

Solitaire City is probably the second most used app on my iPad. I love a good game of solitaire and Solitaire City is great. Easy to use, has lots of games and variations and is just a nice, rich visual presentation. If only it would not shout “Yaaahooooo!” whenever you win a game. I could really do without that.

Next, there’s ReelDirector, a video editing program. Honestly, I’ve not had much time to test this on the iPad. I purchased it for the iPhone and they’ve since updated it to be iPhone/iPad native in a single version. Many developers are making second versions of iPad only software and from a development standpoint, there are legitimate pros and cons for either way. It’s seems that what’s happening mostly, though, is that developers are realizing if they upgrade their iPhone version to be native on both, everyone just gets a free upgrade. If they make a separate version, they get paid twice and they almost all charge more for the iPad version.

I wouldn’t have bought ReelDirector for the iPad but since it was a free upgrade, I’ll try it. The interface on the iPad seems a lot easier than the iPhone version, but there’s a problem with content. On the iPhone 3GS, you can shoot video, then edit it with ReelDirector. If you sync you photos to a computer, the videos and photos are removed and then synced back as part of your normal photo albums. Video, by default, are not synced back and so disappear from your phone, so you have to make that change to your settings to have an archive of video available for the program.

Second, you can’t put videos on that weren’t shot with the iPhone – at least I haven’t been able to trick it into accepting them.

Finally, the iPad has no camera, so, you have to shoot on an iPhone 3GS, transfer to your computer through iTunes, then have iTunes sync the videos onto the iPad, otherwise, you’ve got nothing to edit. That’s too much of a pain in the rear. If I’m going to sync it to my computer, I’ll just use iMovie or Final Cut to edit. I guess if all I had was Movie Maker on a PC, I might push it back to the iPad to edit elsewhere.

Finally, I have iBooks and Kindle at the bottom, two e-readers. I like them both. Ibooks is easier, more visually appealing and has in-app purchases of books, but Kindle has a much larger book selection and you can sync your last read location across several machines, such as real Kindle. Honestly, they’ll be selling “real” Kindles and Sony e-reader in the discount bin at Big Lots in a year. Who would want one of those horrid things when you can have an iPad which does so much more.

Blogging? What? Me? Ok, just a quick iPhone post.

Improved iPhone Maps Accuracy

I’m sick as a dog this weekend. (Come to think of it, my dog doesn’t seem to feel well, either.)

Still, while I was sort of healthy on Friday I upgraded my iPhone to the V2.0 firmware and am pleased and horrified to report that the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync stuff worked flawlessly. Now (Yeah) I can get important e-mail from work wherever I am and also (Oh crap) I can get all the rest of the junk e-mail from work wherever I am.

The firmware upgrade was far from smooth, and my phone was bricked for a few hours while the iTunes servers creaked and buckled under the strain, but about 4 hours later it kicked in and completed the upgrade without a problem.

Battery life seems to have taken a hit with the new firmware, but that might be because I’ve been playing with the phone a lot more over the weekend. (Lying in bed sick, with a new toy, what else have I to do?) This may be similar to when I first got the phone. The first weekend had terrible battery life, and I had to charge the phone twice a day, but once the novelty wore off, putting it on the charger at night was sufficient.

Yesterday and today have been two-charge days, but that might be Super Monkey Ball, too.

One thing that has changed is the Google Maps functionality, presumably because the 3g models have “real” GPS (not really, try using it where there’s no phone signal).

First, it’s more accurate, although, owning to being stuck mostly in the house, I’ve only been able to test it in a couple places, but the accuracy target is much more refined and the crosshairs are closer to the actual location. (See the picture, prior to the upgrade, my accuracy circle would have covered half the screen or more.)

Second, on the old firmware, the button on the lower left was a press once and release button, that pinpointed your location. Now, the button stays depressed and, periodically updates the location. Presumably this is from the GPS-enabled models, but it’s been carried over into the older ones too. That also seems to burn more battery juice (until I learned I needed to hit the button again to turn it off.)

The Apps store is cool, and I (like thousands of others) have now been admitted to the iPhone Developer program. I’m not as far along as I’d like on that, but I’m getting there.

There are quite a few nifty programs, so far I’ve only purchased Sega Super Monkey Ball, Electronic Arts’ Sudoku and Connected Flow’s Exposure – which is a nifty Flickr browsing program. I’ve also grabbed several free apps, including AIM. NetNewsWire, AP Mobile News, eBay AOL Radio and WeatherBug

It is cool finally being able to extend the phone without having to risk jailbreaking it. The future is here, we finally have mobile computers in our pockets. The significance of this development cannot be overstated.

Taipei 101 Swings

This one has been floating around the ‘net for a bit now, but it’s worth a look.

I’ve been to the Taipei 101 and seen this thing and it is impressive. A massive counterweight that helps stabilize the building. Still, when you look at those cables (bigger around than a person) and those massive shock-absorbing legs that it rests on, it’s hard to imagine that it could move at all – but move it does.

This video was captured by a tourist who was in the Taipei 101 when the big China earthquake happened some 1,100 miles away.

Triumph in Ticketing

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There are some distinct disadvantages to this whole “time zone” arrangement they use to keep the clocks on this planet all organized.

One of the bad things is that when you want to do something in another time zone, it’s just the wrong time, and so it was for me early this morning.

Tickets for the World Twenty20 championship next year in London went on sale today at the reasonable time of 10:00AM, BST. Being an international cricket championship, there’s a lot of interest from cricketing nations around the world, for example India (where it was 2:30 PM), Australia (7:00PM in Sydney), New Zealand (9:00PM) or South Africa (11:00AM)… all perfectly reasonable time to be purchasing tickets.

But consider us poor folk in Arizona. 10:00AM BST is 02:00AM here. That’s not a reasonable hour to be doing anything, except sleeping.

And yet… there I was, at 1:50AM, with only a small nap in the afternoon, preparing for the mad rush for tickets.

The Internet and credit cards are the great equalizers in the world today, and I was hopeful that I’d at least be able to get tickets for a Super-8 match, but I had my list prepared, in order from most desirable to least desirable match.

At 1:50, the ICC website changed. The link to buy tickets was now real, and so I immediately followed the link to the ticketing company. It was still too early, but a message came up saying, “Due to the current high demand you have been placed in a queue.”

How uniquely British! Rather than a major ticket vendor like TicketMasters have sufficient hardware to handle the task (What? They don’t have big events?) they developed a way to appeal to the British love of forming queues.

The estimated wait time progress bar crept across the screen, and, after just 10 minutes, I was deposited on a ICC T20 page – I think. The page was a squib. THere was nothing on it except ICC graphics. What to do? What to do? Should I continue to wait, or should I try a page reload? The page might not be auto-refreshing, on the other hand, reloading the page might dump me back to the beginning of the queue.

Or… could the bad page be because I was using Safari for my browser?

By now it was 2:05 and I fired up Firefox and put it on a second screen. It was waiting in queue, and the progress bar was slowly moving. I decided to gamble and I hit reload in Safari. The squib page reloaded, so I tried again,

This time a login page popped up: You must login or register to purchase ticket. I clicked the register button… I got a squib page. I tried a reload and I ended up back at the login page. I tried register again, this time the registration screen came up. Quickly I entered my information and hit “submit”. It was 2:09… and after a minute, a “page not found” came up.

I tried reload again – and was put at the back of the queue. Had I registered? How long would I wait?

I decided to let the Firefox copy run and I shut down Safari. Firefox had already achieved a 25% complete progress bar. My hopes of getting tickets to the final match were fading fast, especially when I began to realize the progress bar would periodically shorten itself. One minute it would be 40% done, the next 15%.

One hour, 45 minutes later and I was once again put to the login screen. I risked it and tried the login I had tried to create earlier. It worked! I was in! I zipped to the tickets for the final, fully expecting them to be sold out and… bought my my tickets, paid for them, logged out and went to bed.

OK, the story ends somewhat anticlimactically, but it it helps make it some more problematic, by this time it was 4:00AM, and I was soon due to wake up for work, and the adrenaline rush from desperately, impatiently waiting had wound me up enough that I couldn’t really sleep.

Still. June 2009, the UK.

Let’s hope the world economy doesn’t collapse so badly that it’s possible to actually use those tickets.

Snake oil isn’t dead

OK, we’re all feeling the pinch with gas prices, but I really hate it when people start taking advantage of others when they’re vulnerable. That’s bad enough, but when the local news helps them, I’m appalled.

Today, the local ABC affiliate, channel 15 published this story.

It’s about a company that sells magnets (yes, magnets) to improve your gas efficiency by 10%. Hmm, if only it were that simple. Why is it they just have testimonials from people who say things like, “Gosh, I sure was plumb skeptical of your claims until I tried this amazing product” rather than some real science explaining the principal rather than the pseudoscience babble on their site?

You’d think one of those darned smart scientists would have come up with this 50 years ago, wouldn’t ya? But, we all know, magnets are magic and their properties aren’t fully understood by modern science.

So remember, just because there’s no evidence for it, magical can magnets change the molecular structure of gas making it more efficient, they can realign the iron inside algae, making your pool more algae resistant, and they can filter free radicals from your blood.

I believe you can even buy magnetic condoms that go around your ankle. This system allows one to fully experience sexual intercourse without troublesome physical barriers and still prevents all forms of pregnancy, HIV or STDs. </SARCASM>

So this is a shame on ABC 15 for helping take money from people that could use it for something better – like a proper tune-up, which could actually help. What’s next? Psychic pet detectives can improve gas mileage by telling you where your dog should sit in your vehicle?

WII Madness

Some friends of ours recently went to Taiwan for a wedding. During their stay, the husband, Phil, apparently spent his time playing WII games. He was clearly addicted because as soon as they returned, he started hunting for one.

It would seem that even after all this time, the WII is just a bit difficult to find, so it took a couple days, plus mail time. When he got it, he brought it over to show us. (I’m convinced that he wanted to bring it over because his wife and three-year old daughter were not a suitable challenge for him at WII Baseball.)

After playing it for most of a day, apart from the 3 days of agonizing muscle aches afterwards, I can see why it’s such a strong product. I’ve got no piercingly insightful thoughts, WII has simple foregone state-of-the-art graphics in favor of state-of-the art player interaction. It make for some fun games that the whole family can play.

So, of course, I had to buy one.

We spent a few days waiting to find one available online, and when we found one, ordered it. It was scheduled to arrive between June 4 and June 12, after we’ve returned from vacation.

Hopefully, my muscles haven’t softened up again and I won’t experience days of pain again.

Aspen Simulator not really the same as Safari on iPhone?

I’ve been generally happy with my iPhone. It’s hard to describe the experience without resorting to hyperbole, but it really is a game-changing appliance.

But there are some limitations, many of which are being addressed in the newly-announced iPhone 2.0 firmware, specifically proper MS Exchange support. In the meantime, though, you should be able to access your Exchange mail via Exchange’s webmail service, Outlook Web Access (OWA), right?

Wrong.

Even though it’s “just a web page”, for some reason, I cannot get it to work. It turns out that my boss also has an iPhone, and she’s not been able to make it work either, and since there’s really nothing to do except go to the appropriate URL, it’s pretty obvious it’s an iPhone Safari issue.

Checking online for support on this issue, what I’ve discovered is a bizarre 50/50 situation – half the people with the same (apparent) configuration can access OWA, half cannot.

Switching gears, I (like, I’m sure, a few other people) joined the iPhone development program as soon as it was announced. I have a program (or two) that I want to publish, and I’m eager to get at all. (All I need to do is learn Objective C, Cocoa Touch and Xcode – how hard could that be?)

One of the things included is the Aspen Simulator – supposedly and stack-identical iPhone emulator.

So, my question is this: If it is identical, why does my OWA work on the simulator and not on the iPhone?!