Monday, December 17, 2012

Timer+ (free, paid options)

If you've ever used a kitchen timer which can time more than one event simultaneously, you know what Timer+ does.

iOS has a built-in countdown timer, but if you need to time more than one event concurrently, this is a fine solution.

I started using this while digitizing hundreds of videotapes, to alert me that I should check on the progress of two or three concurrent transfers. You can name alarms, and the sounds can be individually set. You can pause and cancel any running timers, and see all the timers at once.

The free version is adequate for me. Paid features add sounds ($0.99) and eliminate the advertising banner ($1.99).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Flipboard (free)

If you're a user of social networking sites like facebook or Twitter, you should take a look at Flipboard (free), especially on an iPad.

Here's the one-liner: It makes your facebook wall look like a magazine. You have to see it.


Category: Text, Productivity

($4.99) - GoodReader has been my primary choice for a PDF reader since first owning an iPod touch six years ago. I have to say that GoodReader isn't the friendliest app to use. It's dense and complicated - perfect for the geeky me, and perhaps too fussy for someone who "just wants something to work." 

The best parts about GoodReader:
  • You can rename and organize files in folders. I have a lot of PDFs, and inevitably their names as downloaded are something like "100_es-us_ug206_112.pdf," so making it something like "Sony 100ES User Guide" is a necessity for later reference.
  • You can download files from within GoodReader, and if you open a PDF file from a Web browser or email app on your iOS device, you can tap "Open In..." and direct your device to open the PDF file in GoodReader.
  • GoodReader can open and view many kinds of text, html, Microsoft Office and media (images, audio, video) files. 
  • Annotation of files.
Worst parts:
  • Complex, cluttered interface.
  • Manual screen rotation only, and in only TWO possible orientations (landscape mode with the Home button on the RIGHT - I'd like it the Home button on the left, where I hold the phone).
(NOTE: Apple's own free iBooks app make a fine alternative PDF reader for users for whom GoodReader sounds too complex.)

Skype (free)

Skype is a very mature audio- and video-chat client for iOS devices. If you don't have a video camera, you can use it to talk to another Skype user for free. I've used it because Apple's own FaceTime didn't originally support video chats without a WiFi connection (and still won't in many configurations of phone and carrier ). Quality of the video is pretty remarkable, and fairly robust. I've once had a two-hour video chat with a friend while driving down the highway with the camera pointed out the windshield so they could watch my progress from 3,000 miles away, and we only lost the connection twice.

At least as important, Skype is cross-platform. You can text-, audio- and video-chat with users on other mobile platforms, desktop computers, and even embedded systems some televisions.

Monday, July 9, 2012

FREE Calls with magicJack

Category: Telephony

(Free) - I've still never used this service or app, though I installed it some time ago. This allows users to make free domestic phone calls on their Internet-connected device (a free Magic Jack account is required for an inbound number to receive calls from other Magic Jack users). Reports are that call quality is spotty, but it's a unique solution for someone with an iPad and a data plan. (Note that unlike Google Voice, you're actually talking to people on the iOS device, and not a real phone.)

(FREE Calls with magicJack)

Google Voice

Category: Telephony

(Free; not available as iPad-native app) - This app works with a free Google Voice account, and makes it easier to take advantage of some of the fantastic features Google Voice provides. I choose to let Google Voice handle all my cell phone voicemail, so not only can I receive all voicemail in email, but in the Inbox of this app. Google has offered FREE unlimited domestic phone calls for Google Voice users over the past few years, and the Google Voice app makes calling simpler: select someone to call from your Address Book, and tell Google Voice which phone line you'd like to use. Google calls you on that line, and then calls the other number. We've used this as our exclusive long-distance landline solution for over two years.

(Google Voice)

String™ Augmented Reality Showcase

Category: Fun, Augmented Reality

(iPad and iPhone, Free) - I’m including this as an example of "augmented reality" technology. After downloading this app, you’ll be instructed to print a paper “target.” When the camera in your iPhone/iPad sees the target on its camera, it will superimpose a 3D model of one of the sample objects/characters over the camera view, making the objects appear to be in the room, even as you move around the virtual scene. Fun stuff, and a nice introduction to things to come.

(String™ Augmented Reality Showcase)


Category: Reference, Augmented Reality, Social, Navigation

(Free) - This isn't necessarily useful, but it provides a demonstration of the promise of "augmented reality" (which I'm guessing is the "AR" in the name). By utilizing your mobile device's camera, GPS receiver, compass, accelerometer, and information acquired from the Internet, Layar presents you with a realtime "heads-up" display of points of interest around your current location. As you hold up your device and turn around, Layar shows you in which direction and how far away points of interest are. There are downloadable Layar "layer" modules for many interests: food, drink, entertainment, real estate, crime statistics, Twitter . . .

While it's fun and compelling, I haven't thus far found Layar useful. It would be most interesting as a pedestrian in an ultra urban locale like San Francisco or Manhattan. Theoretically, an AR app should allow you to answer questions like "what's that building?" and "what's down that block?"



Category: Social, Food

(iPad and iPhone; Free) - This front-end to the popular user review site is a slick way to find nearby businesses and eateries.

Yelp! also has an augmented reality mode, but it's a bit obtuse to launch. Tap your way to the "Nearby" pane of the app, then click the "Monocle" button in the upper-right. When you bring the iPad up perpendicular to the Earth, it will switch to an AR view, superimposing reviewed businesses on the horizon over the live camera view.


My Measures & Dimensions

Category: Productivity

($2.99, Pro version $4.99) - This app lets users superimpose measurements over photographs. (Alas, it doesn't do the measuring - that's up to you.) It's fantastic for home-improvement projects, especially back-burner ones. If you've ever carried around notes with dimensions with you, this is better. It supports decimal and fraction measurements, and metric, standard, and feet/inches formats.

The app can calculate areas and volumes. Projects can be organized into folders. You can export image files and PDFs to others, or native editable files to other users of the app.

The Pro version adds iCloud sync, Zooming, and other features.

(My Measures & Dimensions(My Measures & Dimensions Pro)


Category: Entertainment, Streaming

(iPad and iPhone; Free, requires Netflix subscription) - For subscribers to Netflix's streaming service, this app allows you to stream movies over WiFi *and* 3G/4G. Not recommended unless you have an unlimited wireless data account.


eBay and eBay for iPad

Category: Shopping, Lifestyle

(iPad and iPhone; Free) - The auction giant's app is a convenient way to shop and browse the site and manage your auctioning activities.

(eBay) (eBay for iPad)

Amazon Mobile

Category: Shopping

(Free) - If you buy things from Amazon, you should have their own app. It can't do everything their website does, but for simple shopping, it's quick and easy. A built-in barcode-reading tool lets you find out whether Amazon sells the product you have in front of you.

(Amazon Mobile)


Category: Books

(Free) - This may have changed, but Apple's own e-book reader isn't installed by default. Even if you don't buy books from Apple, iBooks works as a pretty good PDF reader.

(NOTE: A current bug in some versions of iOS (I experienced this bug in 5.1.1, but it's gone in 6.0.1) limits the number of apps displayed in the menu when the user selects "Open with:" for a PDF file to 10. If you have 22 apps which can open a PDF file, you can still only see 10 in the list. Until Apple fixes this, and if you're running OS 5.x, you may wish to limit the number of apps which can open PDF files.)


Find My Friends

Category: Navigation

(Free) - This Apple-published app lets you see the current position of friends and family who trust you (via an explicit setting in which you agree to share your location with a given user) with their current real-time location. Unlike Glympse, this works passively all the time by periodically uploading your current position to Apple servers. We run this all the time, and it’s something I sought for a long time as a way for my family to rendezvous. It's still one of a handful of friend-locating apps that shows an auto-orienting map view, so you can hold the phone and walk toward the spot where your friend is. It's not perfect - the auto-orienting cancels if you pinch to zoom in or out - but it's better than trying to describe your positions to each other over the phone.

Note that in addition to automatically reporting your position, you can also turn the position-reporting off, or manually report your position as wherever you'd like.

(Find My Friends)


(Free; requires Internet connection) - There are several apps which share your location with others in real time, but Glympse provides a link viewable by anyone with a Web browser, and most importantly, automatically "expires" the link after a user-specified period of time. If someone needs to or wants to follow your location as you travel, this is an excellent solution. Note that running Glympse is a big power drain, and the device should be provided with external power.

I use this all the time when meeting friends and family, so they can anticipate your arrival, or watch your progress.


360 Panorama

Category: Photography

($0.99) - This app lets the user create spherical panoramic images by panning and tilting the camera, while the software "stitches" the pieces into a single file. You can share the resulting files with other 360 Panorama users, via a panoramic viewer on a Web page, or as a "flat" image file. A cool feature: 360 Panorama app users can pan around the scene virtually with their device - the app uses the compass and accelerometers to simulate panning around the original scene.

(360 Panorama)


Category: Photography

(Free; no iPad-native version available) - This free app from Microsoft is a way to experiment with making panoramic photographs. I still prefer 360 Panorama, but this is worth trying.


FlightAware Flight Tracker

Category: Travel

(iPad and iPhone; Free) - This app provides a front-end to FlightAware's website for tracking airline flights in real time, showing their approximate location and altitude on a map. In conjunction with a (free) account, FlightAware will also automatically alert you to status and changes in your scheduled flights.

(FlightAware Flight Tracker)

IMDb - Internet Movie Database

Category: Entertainment, Reference

(iPad and iPhone; Free) - We've visited the Internet Movie Database daily since it moved to the World Wide Web in the 1990s. On our iOS devices, we use the free IMDb app. The iPad version of this app is an excellent example of enhancing the user experience on a touch-screen tablet over a traditional desktop Web browser.


Kayak Mobile

Category: Travel

(iPad and iPhone; Free; $0.99 Kayak Pro has no ads and provides airport terminal maps) - The slick user interface of this front-end to the popular travel website demonstrates that a custom program can be a MUCH better way of working with information than a Web browser-based interface.

(Kayak Mobile) (Kayak PRO)

Pandora Radio

Category: Entertainment, Music, Streaming

(Free) - If you're a fan of the Pandora music streaming site (we are), this app lets you stream from your iOS device. If you have an unlimited data plan on your device, it's the ultimate "car radio."

(Pandora Radio)


Category: Information

(UPDATE 11/18/2015) Sadly, there's nothing to recommend this former leader in barcode scanning solutions. I don't know what's happened to the enterprise, but it no longer looks up scanned barcode data online - at least not on my iPhone 6+. I see it's now owned by eBay, so perhaps they bought it to rob it of some technology and let the product languish - a sad but common tale of the dot com era.

(Free; no iPad-native version available) - One of the earliest and still at the top of the heap of barcode-reading apps, RedLaser continues to improve this free app. Scan an item in your kitchen and find out where to buy more. Scan an item in the store and see where you can buy it for less (or whether you've already got the lowest price in hand, which also happens). RedLaser also reads those QR Codes you see in magazines, billboards and in TV, and even lets you _create_ a QR code to share a URL, email address or just text with another smartphone or tablet user without sharing your own email identity (I've had this happen at trade shows).


Atomic Web

Category: Internet

(iPhone and iPad; $0.99, Free Lite version available) - Our orginal reason for having this alternative to the Safari Web browser is that it can identify itself to websites as several popular desktop Web browsers including several versions of Firefox and Safari for Mac. Many sites either don't render well in mobile browsers or exclude important elements. Atomic Web can be a lifesaver. The developers continue to add many useful browser features, including touch-screen gesture commands, rotation lock and a full-screen mode which hides all controls to maximize screen real estate.

(Atomic Web) (Atomic Web Lite)


Category: Productivity

(iPhone and iPad; Free, requires DropBox account) - If you're a user of the popular DropBox Cloud-based file service (and you should try a free 2GB account), this iOS portal lets you upload and view DropBox files from your iOS device.


Google Translate

Category: Language

(Free) - Ready to have your mind blown? Remember the "Universal Translator" from "Star Trek?" As long as you have an Internet connection, Google Translate can translate speech spoken in one language to both written and spoken(!) word in another language. It's obviously not perfect, but we've heard a number of accounts of people communicating exclusively via this solution with a foreign language speaker.

(Google Translate)

AP Mobile

Category: News

(Free) - There are lots of news sources and apps. I chose The Associated Press' app because they are a source for most news organizations world-wide.

One irritating thing about the service: they "push" sporting event and other competition final results to the app as they happen. If, like me, you watch a lot of television delayed by a DVR, you probably don't want to know how things turn out before you watch them. Unfortunately, you can only disable ALL notifications, and not just by category, so if you turn off notifications, you'll lose news alerts, which is one of the app's best features.

(AP Mobile)


Category: Creative, Music

(iPhone and iPad; $4.99) - Apple's desktop music recording and composing program is capable of impressive multitrack compositions using built-in and purchased instrument "loops" as well as recording live audio from the built-in mic as well as external input devices (requires additional 3rd-party hardware accessories).


Google Earth

Category: Education

(iPhone and iPad; Free) - Considering how challenging the desktop version of this program is for computer display hardware, the iOS version does a remarkable job of letting you fly around the Earth and view its wonders from above.

(Google Earth)

Star Walk

Category: Education, Fun

(iPhone and iPad; $2.99) - This beautiful and fun astronomy app lets you see what's actually in the night sky, as well as what you can't see in the daytime, on the other side of the Earth, or at any time in the past or future. It helps you identify what you see, and find objects in the heavens.

Star Walk uses your device's compass, accelerometer and GPS so that when you hold your device up to the sky and move around, the displayed information is automatically synchronized to the actual celestial view.

If you want just one app to show off your iPad, this is a good one.

(Star Walk) (Star Walk HD for iPad)

Google Search

Category: Utility

(iPad and iPhone; Free) - Why use an app for searching Google? Because the Google Search app does one fantastic thing: it provides a voice search interface. Tap the microphone icon at the bottom of the app screen, and say whatever you'd type into a Google search. Even better, Google Search can (optionally) know where you are by your device's GPS coordinates, and so it knows you probably want to know the closest example of whatever you've just said. Of course, this is Google, so there's probably no end to the possible things it might be able to interpret, such as "what's the weather?," "what's playing at the AMC 12 in Milwaukee?," or "how many gallons in 94 ounces?"

Even more fantastic, but not quite "useful," is Google Goggles. Tap the "Goggle" camera icon and point your device's camera at something, and Google will try to give you information about it. If it's got text or a bar code, that's simple. But in experiments, I've discovered that Google can identify a magazine ad from a tiny photographic fragment of the ad; that it can identify "a salt and pepper shaker" and "two salt shakers" just from seeing the seasonings through the glass shakers. It's more of a prototypical idea than a tool at this point, but suggests a promising (and scary) future.

The app also provides an app launcher for Google's Internet-based services, including Gmail, YouTube, PicasaWeb, Google Drive (formerly Google Docs), Translate, and Blogger.

(Google Search)

Dragon Dictation

Category: Productivity

(iPad and iPhone; Free) - This app from speech-recognition industry leader Nuance is most notable in that it works. I personally don't find it that useful, because I've just learned to type on an iOS device, and because Dragon Dictation only generates a few sentences at a time, which you’ll inevitably have to edit before using. But if you really hate typing, have a quiet enough environment and can organize your thoughts well enough as you speak, you might get some work done creating text with this app. Requires an Internet connection to work.

(NOTE: If you have an iPhone 4s or later or a 3rd-generation iPad or later, you can use Apple's impressive built-in dictation functionality.)

(Dragon Dictation)

LogMeIn and LogMeIn Ignition

Category: Utility

(UPDATE: 11/18/2015) Sadly, this product no longer works as it once did. Over time, LogMeIn reduced the maximum number of machines which could be associated with a Free account, and eventually discontinued access via web browser interface from personal computers. At this point, a couple of years after this reduction in services, they've sort of grandfathered users who purchased LogMeIn Ignition (which promised to work without a paid LogMeIn subscription) to continue to use the product with their existing computers (but only the last 10 that they had configured when that became the limit). But as far as I know, it's not possible to acquire these products and use them in the way I described here.

I was so upset at this change in policy that I used other products for a couple of years. But LogMeIn Ignition's user interface is by far the best of them all - primarily because of their scrolling and clicking paradigm, where the cursor remains in the middle of the mobile device's screen, and the user slides the image of the remote PC's desktop under the cursor. Tapping anywhere on-screen performs a click, and secondary clicks required a tap of an on-screen button. I discovered that I could reinstall old copies of the LogMeIn host software on the same computers on which it was originally installed (I'd uninstalled it from most of the machines when I started to use other services), and I still use it from my iPhone for those computers. For any computers I've added since, I've been using the free version of TeamViewer. It's much clunkier, and has very confusing interface paradigms, but it does what we need and allows control of Mac and Windows PCs from iOS, Android, Mac and Windows machines.

I find this the most indispensable of apps - it allows the user to remotely view and control any number of remote computers (Mac or Windows) on which the LogMeIn software has been installed via an Internet connection. A powerful aspect of LogMeIn: "firewall penetrating" strategy means you can probably control your computer even within a network you do not control (i.e., your workplace or school).

LogMeIn (iPad or iPhone; Free, requires a subscription to LogMeIn service; remote control using a LogMeIn Free subscription is free, but other features, such as file-sharing, require paid subscriptions)

Ignition (iPad or iPhone; $129.99, Yes, you read that price correctly, but with this app, you get the functionality of a paid LogMeIn Pro subscription - such as file-transfer between any of your remotely-controlled computers - for a one-time flat purchase. At the time I bought Ignition almost two years ago, it was priced at $29.99 and I bought it on sale at $14.99. I guess LogMeIn decided that they were losing revenue to users not subscribing to their Pro service after discovering that Ignition did everything they needed. 

I find the LogMeIn interface to be fantastic - as good a way to deal with operating a full computer from a small touch-screen as could be imagined. Pop-up virtual keyboards allow nearly any keystrokes to be generated, and the cursor control - where the cursor stays in the middle of the mobile device screen and the user pinches and scrolls until the desired item is under the cursor is in position - offers magnificently subtle control. I've done a lot of remote controlling of computers from other computers and mobile devices, and this is the best solution I've ever used.

If I understand the complicated descriptions of the many LogMeIn products correctly, I believe that you can - for FREE - use the free LogMeIn app with the LogMeIn Free service and remotely control your computers from your mobile device. Note that their marketing ploy is that you will get a FREE 30-day LogMeIn Pro trial subscription, which provides several features - like file-sharing - which do NOT exist in the LogMeIn Free service. For me, the simple workaround is that you can simply email files from the remotely-controlled computer. If you need to move multiple files more easily, then you may be an Ignition customer. Why do they let you use such useful services for free? Because they hope you'll find the need to upgrade to a paid version. Many users will find remote control more than they need.

Even at $129.99 (though I’d really have to think long and hard about it if I didn’t already have it) the unique usefulness of Ignition's being able not only to remotely control Windows and Mac OS computers, but transfer files between those computers and the iOS device while using only a FREE LogMeIn account makes this one of the best software/service values ever.


Category: Entertainment

(for iPad and iPhone; Free) - The free version of this music identification app at least as effective as the more-popular Shazam app at identifying recorded music by sampling it with your device's microphone. You can sample music from the television, in a restaurant, on your car radio - and see lyrics to songs as well as have the opportunity to purchase a copy of the song.



Category: Useful Apps

(Free) - We prefer the super-slick presentation and elaborate information in this free app to Apple's built-in (Yahoo!-powered) Weather app. Data is provided by the meteorological organization of the same name, and includes animated satellite maps and frequently-updated custom video reports.

(AccuWeather for iPad) (AccuWeather for iPhone)


($4.99; for both iPad and iPhone; Free "Lite" version available) - This note-taking app records sound and synchronizes your text notes and sketches to the audio playback. So during a meeting or seminar you merely type or draw to augment the audio, or to make an index of what's currently happening in the recording. Later, you can tap on your notes or drawings and jump to that point in the playback. During playback, any notes of drawings are highlighted at the time they were originally created in the recording. You can also add or edit notes and drawings during playback.



Category: Useful Apps

(Free) - This dedicated browser for Wikipedia automatically reformats content from the group-sourced encyclopedia so it’s more readable on a mobile device. Occasionally we find some searches fail to produce results on the app but do get results on the website, but this is still a daily app for us.

(Wikipanion for iPad) (Wikipanion for iPhone)

Wikipedia Mobile

Category: Useful Apps

(Free) - The Wikipedia Foundation finally published their own app, but it’s not quite as nice to use as Wikipanion. It’s free, so I include it here as an alternative that probably doesn’t have the search result anomaly of Wikipanion.

(Wikipanion for iPad) (Wikipanion for Phone)

Category: Useful Apps

(Free) - A “front end” for the website, and a handy way to access the site. Plays audio pronunciations of many words as well.

( for Pad) ( for iPhone)