Category Archives: Tech

Three iOS Photo Apps You Need Now

One of the best things about the new iPhone 6 (both models) are the improved cameras.  Like many iPhone users, I have largely abandoned my traditional video camera and my DSLR in favor of my iPhone.  iPhone photography has been great for a while, and it just got better.

In addition to better hardware specs, the iPhone 6 cameras benefit from the new extensions feature of iOS 8, which allows you to use third party photo apps from the native Photos app (e.g., your camera roll).  Not only is this quicker and more efficient, it solves the problem of having duplicate photos on your iPhone- the original one in your camera roll and the edited one, as modified by the third-party app.

I’m sure it will evolve as I discover more iOS 8 optimized apps, but my current photo tool box consists of the native iOS Photos app, plus three great third-party apps.

Camera+.  This has been the best iOS photo app for as long as I can remember, but now you can use its editing features directly from the Photos app (again, what you probably think of as your camera roll).  Simply tap on the photo, tap Edit in the upper right hand corner, tape the circle with three dots in it at the bottom.

photosapp

And you can edit that photo with your third-party photo apps.

photoextensions

So I often experiment with my Camera+ filters before saving or sharing a photo.

camerapfilter

Paper Camera

I only recently  discovered this app, but I love it.  The effects are really well-done, and you can flex your creative muscle without a ton of work.

papercamera

DateStamper

I do not miss the early digital photo era phenomena of super-imposed dates in the corner of your photo, but there are definitely times when you need to note and prove when a photo was taken.  DateStamper does this, again right from the Photos app.

datestamper

There’s a lot to love about the new iPhones and the new iOS, and the ability to take, edit and manage your photos is near the top of the list.

Batting .550: My Kickstarter Experience

kickstarter

Kickstarter is an awesome idea, and a pretty good execution of that idea.  It’s the leading crowd-funding site on the web.  Have an idea, but can’t or don’t want to go the traditional funding route?  Kickstarter may be the answer.  Need something that you can’t find?  If enough people would buy it, there’s a chance someone is trying to fund it via Kickstarter.  I’ve had some good experiences and a few bad ones.  Overall, I’m still a fan, though the inevitable conscription of the concept as a marketing tool for already existing products has taken a little of the fun out of it.

Here’s the best and worst products I’ve backed (Kickstarter lingo for purchased), and a complete list of every product I’ve backed, why I did so, and what I currently think about it.

The Absolute Best

everdock

EverDock.  By a long shot.  Until EverDock, I had not found an acceptable iPhone or iPad dock.  I bought several EverDocks, and have one on my desk at work, in my office at home, at the farm, and on my bedside table.  They work with my iPhone (including the new 6+) and my iPad.  They are great.  I love them.  I have also backed the maker’s next project, an EverDock for the car.

The Absolute Worst

instacube

 

Instacube.  A long time ago, back in 2012, I used a then-hot photo app called Instagram (yes, I’m sort of messing around; some folks still use it).  So when I saw a retro-looking cube that promised to display my nifty Instagram photos, and which would be in my hands in the Spring of 2013, I happily backed the project.  Over two years later, nothing.  Even if it ever comes- and I actually got an email this week saying that mine has finally shipped- I don’t care any more.  I no longer use Instagram.

A close second in the worst ever category would be the eleMount, an iPhone and iPad mount.  To say that this thing doesn’t work would be an insult to everything else in the world that doesn’t work.  It won’t stick to anything.  Except the bottom of the trashcan (but only thanks to gravity).  Which is where I put mine.

The Others

Here’s a brief look at everything else I’ve backed, from oldest to newest.

What: Mary Lou Lord’s new record.
Why: Because I like a lot of her music, and she will eventually do a cover of whatever song I pick.
Do I have it: No, it’s years late.
Does it work: Not yet.
What do I think:  I’m cool with it.  Mary Lou’s had some problems, and it’s OK.

What: The Possum Posse’s new record.
Why: Because of this.
Do I have it: Yes.
Does it work: Yes.
What do I think:  Great record from a great band who made the best videos ever.

What: gTar.
Why: At the time, my girls were taking piano, and planned to take guitar lessons.
Do I have it: Yes.
Does it work: Yes.
What do I think: It’s a good product, but my girls held a mutiny, that they will regret as adults, which led to the end of piano lessons.  Here’s sort of why.

What: Touch the Wall, a movie about Missy Franklin and Kara Lynn Joyce.
Why: Delaney is an elite swimmer.  Raina and I inadvertently backed this separately.
Do I have it: No, it’s late.  There are also questions about the promised signed photos.
Does it work: Not yet.
What do I think:  It’s been too long now.  My zeal for watching this has faded greatly.  This project had great promise, but was handled horribly.

What: MOS Menos, a system to keep your iOS cables in check.
Why: I have lots of iOS devices.
Do I have it: Yes.
Does it work: Yes.
What do I think: It works, exactly as promised.  Good work.

What: Bringrr, a device to help you keep track of items.
Why: It seemed like a cool device.
Do I have it: No.
Does it work: Not yet.
What do I think: It’s a little late.  The jury’s still out.

What: Flag, an app that prints and mails your photos for free.
Why: Ads on the back sounds like a good business plan.
Do I have it: No, it’s a little late.
Does it work: Not yet.
What do I think: I’ve lost confidence, based on the updates, that this project will maintain its focus.  Doubt I’ll ever use it.  Try Bill Atkinson’s PhotoCard app.  The prints aren’t free, but they are wonderful.

What: Neutron S, a shielded magnetic device to hold iPhones and iPads.
Why: I thought to use in the car, but now I use it to hold an iPad Mini on the wall (as a Sonos jukebox of sorts).
Do I have it: Yes.
Does it work: Yes.
What do I think: It does what it promises.  I’m happy.

What: The Right Arm, a universal tablet stand.
Why: I thought it would be cool to use to read in bed.
Do I have it: Yes.
Does it work: Not at all.  It broke within a week.  Plus it’s really hard to get the iPad off once you put it on there (I could engineer around that, but I can’t engineer around broken).
What do I think: It was a decent idea, but seems cheaply constructed.

What: imitone, a songwriting app.
Why: It was an impulse purchase.
Do I have it: Yes, at least an alpha version.
Does it work: I don’t know.
What do I think: I never got around to trying it, which is my fault, not theirs.

What: Ca7ch Lighbox, a wearable camera.
Why: Super cool concept, like a better GoPro.
Do I have it: No, but it’s not late.
Does it work: Not yet.
What do I think: I’m excited.

What: MOS Reach, an elegant and powerful power strip.
Why: I have never found a perfect solution to outlets near the floor and my gear on a desk.
Do I have it: No, but it’s not late.
Does it work: Not yet.
What do I think: It’s not a life changer, but I think it will be useful.

What: GripSnap, a magnetic iPhone holder for taking photos and video.
Why: I shoot 99% of my photos and videos with my iPhone.
Do I have it: No, but it’s not late.
Does it work: Not yet.
What do I think: I think my iPhone 6+ is really big.  I hope it will fit.

What: LIFT, a sitting or standing “smart” desk.
Why: I’d love to have a stand up desk, but only some of the time.
Do I have it: No, but it’s not late.
Does it work: Not yet.
What do I think: I think it’s a cool concept.  Looking forward to trying it.

Batting .550 would make you a baseball star (and get you banned for juicing), but when almost half of your backed products are broken or late, that’s not a hall of fame situation.  Even so, backing these sorts of projects is inherently more risky than ordering an existing, and likely customer-reviewed, product from Amazon.  All things considered, I’m moderately satisfied with my Kickstarter experience.

How about you?

Six Things About My iPhone 6+

iphone6

So I thought about it for a minute or so, as I was feverishly refreshing the Apple Store page at 2:01 a.m. that sleepy and frustrating Friday morning.  Should I get the bigger iPhone 6 or the huge iPhone 6+?  I got the big, honking iPhone 6+.

It came down to two things.  And unlike most things, neither of them was money.  The pro- I almost never actually raise my iPhone to my ear.  I have Bluetooth in the car.  I rarely get calls on my iPhone when I’m in the office.  When I’m at home or at the farm, I either use the iPhone’s built-in speaker, Google Hangouts (where I’ve been involuntarily tossed from the no-doubt soon to be shuttered Google Voice), or- and this will become the default- the ability to talk on my iPhone on my Mac via the forthcoming OS X Yosemite.  I rarely handle my iPhone in a traditional phone manner.

The con- I work out a lot.  And during many of those workouts, I listen to podcasts.

podcasts

Which means I have to carry this giant phone around in my pocket.  The fact that all of my pants have big pockets was the deciding factor.  So now I’m toting around my gigantic iPhone 6+, with the wonderful iOS 8 and 128 GB of space.

I’ll admit to second thoughts.  But in the end, I’m certain I made the right choice.  Screen size trumps physical size, at least for me.  I think it would, if given a chance, for most people.  But it’s an adjustment.  For sure.

Here are six things I’ve noticed.

One, it’s slippery and very easy to drop.  The size, thinness and smooth finish conspire to make the iPhone 6+ a drop waiting to happen.  In fact, within (and I’m not kidding) a second of taking my new iPhone out of its box, it sprang from my delighted hands onto (thankfully) the counter in my study.  No harm done, but it could have been much worse.  I haven’t used a case with my iPhone since Around Me was the hot app de jour, but I have been weighing the odds and thinking about getting one.

Two, the screen is large and wonderful.  I didn’t use my prior iPhones for much heavy lifting when I was near a Mac or iPad.  The experience seemed very much like working on a phone.  You can do it, but it’s a little unsatisfying.  Photos or texts, sure.  But anything more than that had me grabbing another device.  Not so much any more.  The iPhone 6+ experience is much more tablet-like.  The resolution is superb and the extra screen space makes a ton of difference.  When I was holding Cassidy’s beloved (because it fits in her pocket) iPhone 4S last night, it seemed tiny.

Three, extensions make a huge difference.  If you’re a geek, you already know what extensions are.  If you aren’t, they allow you to do more stuff on your iPhone.  Apps can interact with one another (e.g., you can edit a photo in the native Photos app with another app, without having to back out and switch apps).  In other words, you can have more creative, seamless workflows.  You can also add widgets to the Today view in the pull-down Notifications window.  This may seem minor, but it is a major productivity boost.  In sum, extensions allow you to have a more computer-like experience on your iPhone and iPad.

Four, the native dictation feature works.  It’s accurate and, best of all, you can see what you’re saying in near real-time.  Previously, you said whatever you wanted typed, and then waited for the iPhone to process it.  As a result, I use voice all the time on my iPhone 6+.  Again, a huge productivity booster.

Five, working with documents will, eventually, be much easier.  iCloud (and iCloud drive) will be more powerful.  Handoff, which lets you start a task on one device and finish it on another, will lead me to use Pages much more than I have in the past.  At this point, other than its mandatory use for work documents, I have little need for Microsoft Word.  I also expect that much of my non-work document flow will migrate away from Google Documents to Pages, etc.  I use the future tense, because much of this requires the forthcoming OS X Yosemite to work.  I’ve been using the Yosemite beta since the day it was released to developers, and I love it.  One caveat: I have found it difficult to get handoff to work.  Hopefully, it will be easier with the release version.

Six, while iOS 8 doesn’t look much different than iOS 7, much of the magic is under the hood.  Developers are going to have a field day adding features.  Some of my most-used apps (Evernote and LastPass, for example) have already been updated to take advantage of things like touch ID and widgets.  I use Drafts (a must-have app for anyone looking for an efficient workflow) many times a day, and am anxiously awaiting its update (would love a beta version, guys).  Over the next few weeks, many, many apps will be updated to take advantage of iOS 8.  The user experience will be vastly improved.

In sum, the new iPhones are big and beautiful.  iOS 8 is powerful and expansive.  The combination of the two with updated and optimized apps will be life-changing.  You’ll think I’m exaggerating until you [hat tip to my editorial board in the comments] experience it for yourself.

You’ll dig it.  I promise.

Adios Yahoo Directory

yahoodirectorylogo

Those of us old enough to remember the birth of the web have seen some things we thought were awesome at first, that later turned awkward and silly with the passage of time, and ultimately got unceremoniously buried in the potter’s field of the Internet Archive.

There was Geocities.  It looked bad, even back then.  But everyone was there.  It was inevitable.  Like the Borg, and Sharknado 3.  There were web awards.  I remember this awesome technology that put current news headlines into your screen saver.  I have no idea why that app died- I’d use it now.

And there was Yahoo.  Front and center.  It was the search engine of choice for a while, but it was originally the directory for the entire internet.  Yahoo Directory was the digital equivalent of the boards you look at in building lobbies to see where you need to go.

In other words, it was a very big deal.

yahoodirectory

There I am.  With a link that still works.  And only 7 spots away from Wayne Newton!

It seems silly now, but back in the day, we browsed that directory like the newfangled yellow pages it was, looking for whatever we were looking for.  It was fast and hip.  Or at least it seemed that way.

Now it’s about to go away.  At the end of this year, Yahoo Directory will be shuttered.  It’s a little sad, given its cultural importance, to the entire internet and inarguably to Yahoo.  Yahoo should create a digital museum and move it there.  But apparently that’s not the plan.

Which is OK, I guess  Wayne and I will absorb the blow, and move on.

Like time, and the web.

A hopeful postscript:

I understand Yahoo’s need to move somewhere, given, you know, Google.  And I get that one needs to chop off dead branches for the good of the tree.  But I hope Yahoo will keep in mind that technical achievement, even if now outdated, should be remembered.  I also hope they don’t start sacrificing cool stuff that still works just because it doesn’t attract enough eyeballs.  Yes, I’m talking about Yahoo Pipes.  It will bum me out if Yahoo’s ax finds its way to the wonderful and still useful Pipes.  Take away everything else Yahoo.  But leave Yahoo Pipes alone.

At least for a while.

Apple Watch: The Musical

applewatch

This is excellent.

End of an Era: RIP Macworld Magazine

persistenceofmemory

Time is a funny thing.  It marches on, making us older and making many things we once enjoyed obsolete.

I laugh (sometimes to myself, unless it’s Fox News and then out loud) at people who design their evenings around the television news hours.  I haven’t watched traditional television news in a decade or so, and I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone under sixty reading a newspaper anywhere other than the restroom.  I didn’t mourn the obsolescence of television news or traditional newspapers- I was happy to have the internet to access information that interested me.  Faster, and on my schedule.

I didn’t even mourn the obsolescence of traditional records, even though I write songs for them and occasionally receive royalty checks.  The greedy, inept record label cartel led me to embrace the new era of Apple, Amazon and direct distribution, even if it costs me money (though I really don’t think it does).

But even though I no longer subscribe to any magazines, the death of two of them has led me to stop for a moment and reminisce over days gone by.

stereoreview

The first was when Stereo Review became whatever it became, on the way to whatever it is now, if anything.  Stereo Review, back in the Julian Hirsch era, was a wonderful, wonderful thing.  Back in the day, I would go to bed early on the day my copy arrived, so I could relish the stories, reviews and analysis.

The second was today, when I read that the print edition of Macworld is ceasing publication.  I subscribed to Macworld for a long time, but I confess to being part of the problem, as I have not subscribed to the print edition in several years.  Nevertheless, I remember learning about some of the coolest devices I ever experienced in the pages of that now shuttered publication.  This copy has a permanent place on my bedside table.

macworldjobs

Sure, Macworld will continue online in a vastly reduced form.  And thankfully, Jason Snell managed to save Clockwise, one of my very favorite podcasts (Jason, if you need some non-paid help in keeping that wonderful podcast going, let me know.  I’m in.).  But knowing that Macworld, in its traditional, obsolete-or-not, hard copy form will soon cease to exist makes me sad.

Maybe it was inevitable, but it’s still sad.

New iCloud Pricing Is Out: Is It Worth It?

Icloud_logo

So Apple announced its new iCloud pricing today, in advance of the forthcoming iCloud Drive.  It costs more than its two main competitors, Dropbox (get some free storage by signing up via that link) and Google Drive.

iCloud_Pricing

1TB of iCloud storage is $20 per month ($240 a year).  That’s cheaper than it was, but significantly more than Dropbox ($10 per month or only $100 for a year) and Google Drive ($10 per month or $120 per year).  I have a 1TB plan from both Google Drive and Dropbox currently.  Would I dump one in favor of a pricier iCloud plan?

Maybe.  It depends, but only on one thing.  The forthcoming new Apple Photos app.

Space is space, and no one should pay double or more for space at one trusted brand over another trusted brand (I love the cloud, but only at names I know and trust: names like Amazon, Apple, Box, Dropbox and Google).

But space to use along with a powerful app that solves a terrible problem?  You bet.  I’d happily switch to iCloud if the Photos app would:

1. Look and work elegantly, like most Apple apps (excluding iTunes, which is a bloated wreck).

2. Easily assimilate and combine my current iPhoto libraries, of which I have three because they do not sync between computers.

3. Thereafter automatically upload, sync and manage my photos from whatever Apple device they originate on.

Photo management is a mess currently.  I love much about iPhoto, but the process of keeping your photos together in one place and managed logically is somewhere between burdensome and impossible.

If Apple can do that and combine it with some storage, I would gladly pay more for iCloud space.

If not, I’ll pass.