Tag Archives: apple

My 10 Most Important iOS Apps

bestiosappsLike a lot of people, I have come to rely more and more on mobile applications, and less on desktop programs.  I still love my iMac, but the list of things I use it exclusively for (video editing, songwriting, maybe one or two other things) continues to shrink.

One of the by-products of this has been a simplification of my iPhone and iPad app use and flow.  Rather than a hundred apps on my devices, stashed away in folders, I have moved towards having many fewer apps easily accessible from the screen.

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Here are the 10 apps I use the most.  For purposes of this exercise, I’m not going to count the pre-installed apps, like Camera (95% of my photos and videos are now taken with my iPhone), Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Messages and Phone.

Swell

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I’ve already covered this great app in detail, so I’ll just restate that I use it all the time, and more than any other app, including the pre-installed apps.

Life360

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Largely because Find My Friends, an Apple app for crying out loud, is so completely unreliable, this has become our family’s default and oft-used “where the hell are you” app.  It’s not perfect, but it works.

Dark Sky

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I’ve tried many weather apps, and this one comes the closest to the balance between minimalist information and useful data.  I never use the map, which is what got it on the app map initially, but I like everything else about it.  It’s been my weather app of choice for a good while.

Facebook

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While not pre-installed, this is the functional equivalent of a pre-installed app.  I’m not a heavy Facebook user, but it has all the people and they aren’t coming to me.  It’s the virtual water cooler where one must go if one wants to interact with others.  I hate, with a passion, the way Facebook keeps jacking around with my news feed (for example, by changing it back to top stories rather than most recent), but there’s not much to do about it (except immediately change it back).

Fitbit

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I am a big fan of the Fitbit One.  I’ve worn it for over a year, and I check my stats multiple times a day.  Seeing that you’ve got your miles in before the last workout of the day (would otherwise occur) is like waking up at 4:00 in the morning and getting to roll over and go back to sleep.

Evernote

I’m not big on entering notes from my iPhone or even my iPad.  For all its awesomeness, the Evernote apps- and even the desktop program- are hot messes of too much information on the screen and chaotic navigation.  But it has long been my primary file cabinet, and I access stuff all the time.

Spotify

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iTunes is a horrible train-wreck of an experience and probably always will be.  Spotify is the one and only music application you need.  I listen to 90% of my music via Spotify, and the rest via Google Music, which will not increase its share unless it removes the frustrating 20,000 song limit.

Here’s a short little playlist, via Spotify.

 

Yahoo News Digest

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At first, I loved the simplicity of this app.  Eight stories in the morning and eight at night.  I still use it, though I find that, more and more, I am reading things I already know.  But if you want a simple but elegant news app, this is the one.

Feedly

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Feedly is the best Google Reader replacement, and in many ways an improvement over my long-lost love.  I don’t use it much on my iPhone (the screen is just too small for optimum content consumption), but I use it all the time on my iPad.  Reading my feeds is one thing that has moved very decidedly from an iMac thing to an iPad thing.

Dropcam

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I have had more than one frustrating experience with Dropcam hardware, but it’s getting better, and I use the app daily all the time to view my various security cameras.  I pay for the cloud storage of the video feeds and I like the ability to get alerts when the camera senses motion.  As soon as they come out with the long-rumored weatherproof camera, this app will be the only security service you need.

Honorable Mention: Skype (the best way I can effectively video-chat with my teenagers from afar; I prefer FaceTime, but young people seem to prefer Skype), Hue (the hardware is way too expensive, but, you know, colored lights can hypnotize), HBO Go (I use it all the time on my Apple TV- Sopranos FTW), Instagram (last year, it would have been at the top of the list, but it’s fading fast), Kindle (if this were an iPad only list, it would be near the top).

Where I Come From They Call ‘Em Painters

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I was going to tell you all about the forthcoming OS X Mountain Lion release, but this is way better.

I wonder how many more mammals we’ll get before Apple goes to birds?  What with the cloud and all.

I’m already using the Messages beta.  It’s clearly a work in progress, but it is very nice to have iMessages on my Mac.

Brats Behaving Hilariously

One of my favorite things about the internet is the way it allows creative people to compile examples of people behaving badly and simultaneously embarrass them into (hopefully) being a little more self-aware and create clever social commentary.

Like this hilarious indictment of both the ungrateful and the banality of social networking in general, and Twitter in particular.

Awesome.

Confessions of an Ex-Windows User

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It’s been almost two months since I dumped my last Windows computer, and returned to full-time Apple fan boy status.  It’s been great.  Almost perfect, in fact.

Here are my observations, two months in.

1. Macs are beautiful.  Period.  That may seem a little silly to those who are still beating away on their dusty, loud and aesthetically challenged Windows computers.  But think about it.  Many of us spend large parts of our day tethered to a computer for one purpose or another.   There’s something really Zen-like about sitting down in front of my cordless, contained iMac, compared to the mess of gear and cables that used to percolate on and under my desk.

All I have to do is sit down there, queue up All Things Must Pass (buy @ Amazon), and I am good with the world.

2. With only one exception, I don’t miss any of the software that isn’t available on Macs.  For one, the cloud has made much installed software irrelevant.  I only use 5-6 local programs regularly, and all but one of them have Mac versions.  As Macs continue to gain market share, we’ll see less and less Windows-only applications.

3. Much of the core Mac software is wonderful.  I absolutely love iPhoto.  Love, love, love it.  iMovie is not as powerful as Video Studio Pro, but it is incredibly easy to use.  And not owned by Corel.  I expect Final Cut Pro is plenty powerful, but I haven’t tried to tackle it yet.

I can’t really talk about video without mentioning… the Guy on a Buffalo.  I’ve watched those videos teens of times, and they are still hilarious.

4. The Magic Trackpad  lives up to its name.  I was such a fan of Microsoft’s Trackball Explorer that I bought a bunch of extras when they stopped making them.  But after a week or so with the Magic Trackpad, I can’t imagine using anything else, by choice.  I still have to use a 5 year old, dusty, crash-prone Dell box at work.  My morning buzz-kill-of-a routine consists of booting up that dinosaur, and waiting for it to crash when I try to email a big attachment.  If I had my way (sadly, I don’t with the IT folks at my company), I’d bring my own iMac up there, install Parallels, let them put all the corporate bloatware in there, and otherwise maintain my computing efficiency and karma.

5. The day to day experience is, well, just better.  I added iOS 5 to three iPhones and two iPads this week, which also required updating iTunes and other computer programs.  The process was really easy on Macs.  But on the one remaining Windows computer in our house- my daughter’s laptop- it was kludgy and hard.  The Windows navigation system seems cluttered, and the laptop touchpad is almost painful to use.  I really hate having to add software to that computer.

But it’s not all perfect in Apple land.

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Anyone who believes that Macs never lock-up or crash, hasn’t used one very much.  They do.  Not as often as Windows machines, but it happens.  I have had a few moments where I wanted to find every beach ball in the world, and rip them to shreds.

But, all things considered, I can’t imagine ever going back to Windows.  That just doesn’t seem, you know, fun.

Sadness

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Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

MacAge: iPhoto Hates the Cloud

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I’m now well into my latest Mac era, and things are generally going well.  I adore my iMac.  I like iMovie.  And I love iPhoto.  With one exception.  iPhoto does not play well with the Cloud.

Once I took my Windows computers and my Windows Home Server offline, I decided on a two-part, redundant back-up plan.  First, I replaced my wireless access points with two Airport Extremes and a Time Capsule.  This did four important things for me.  One, it allowed me to attach some external hard drives to that equipment to replace the network storage (not backup; just regular storage for raw video production files, music production files, etc.) I had on the Windows Home Server.  Two, it allowed me to create a roaming wireless network, since all of the gear is Apple.  With a roaming network, you connect at one location, and then your connection automatically switches to other access points as you move around the house.  Three, it allowed me to install a mobile Airport Express that I can use to stream my music to other places in and around the house.  And four, it allowed the Time Capsule to back up the various computers.  Time Capsules make backing up your Mac about as easy as possible.

So as far as the local network goes, I’m all set.

Then, the cloud.

I have a ton of SugarSync space (get additional free space by signing up via that link), and have used it happily for many years as my primary cloud backup service.  As I’ve noted before, it’s a pain to switch computers in SugarSync, because you have to re-upload all the stuff you’ve already uploaded.  If you have hundreds of Gigabytes, that can take a while.  So I decided to put all of my previously uploaded photos in a SugarSync storage folder, and only back up my iPhoto Library, where all of my current and future photos will reside.  In other words, all of my existing photos will stay right where they are, and only the new ones will get uploaded from my iMac.

Great plan, right?

Nope.  Because SugarSync cannot sync or adequately backup the iPhoto Library.

iPhoto imports your photos into a file bundle, which shows up as “iPhoto Library” on your computer.

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That’s fine and dandy, but it makes it impossible to sync your photos via SugarSync or another cloud-based service.  Even worse, it makes it very hard to back up your photos in the cloud.  In fact, to prevent users from corrupting their libraries by trying to sync their iPhoto Libraries, the iPhoto Library doesn’t even show up in the SugarSync file manager.

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This is what those of us in the know call a BFP.

There is a work-around that will let you back up the original photos, which iPhoto stores in a “Masters” folder within the iPhoto file bundle.  But that’s not what I want.  I want to backup my entire iPhoto Library, so I can download it and restore everything in the event of a catastrophic data loss.

Some will claim that the forthcoming iCloud will be the answer.  Maybe, but if 50 Gigabytes of space costs $100 a year and your iPhoto Library is triple Gigabytes, it looks like you’re out of luck.

There’s a newish service called Dolly Drive, that let’s you back up data to the cloud using Time Machine.  That sounds like a perfect solution, but I don’t want to pay for yet another cloud, and am not willing to trust my data to just anyone.

So…

I dig my Mac.  But I am frustrated by the inability to set up an automated, incremental, cloud based backup for my photos.

Mars Edit Update: I’m trying.  Really.  But after using Live Writer for so long, Mars Edit feels like writing in quicksand.  Or concrete. Need a small example, of many?  There is no way to set link targets, so links open in a separate page.  Really.

The Mac Age

I warned you.

And now, it has happened.

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Look for a slew of posts as a guy who started on a Mac in the 80s and moved to Windows in the 90s re-enters the Mac Age.

I’m In Love with My Air

Queue the Queen song (Spotify link) and change a couple of letters.

So here’s how it went down.  First, Delaney made all A’s for the entire school year, thereby earning herself a MacBook Air.  She loved it from the first minute.

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Then Raina killed her 30th or so computer via some combination of misuse, her weird electrical charges and bad luck.  I talked her into getting a MacBook Air.  My thought was that it would be harder to kill than her 31st Windows desktop.  She loved it from the first minute.  It’s still alive after a couple of weeks, so it’s already outlived several of its predecessors.

Then I realized that I couldn’t really travel for more than a day or two without a laptop.  I love my iPad, but I have to have the ability to edit Word documents and whatnot.  I looked at my old, massive, HP laptop.  And said “hell no.”  No way I’m lugging that thing around.

So I bought my own MacBook Air.  And I loved it from the first minute.  The trackpad takes some getting used to at first, but after a day or two, you realize how well it is made and how logically it works.  I like it heaps.

In fact, after finally figuring out how to get video files from my camcorder into iMovie (the secret is to plug the entire camera into the computer, and not just try to import the stripped out video files; which is an annoyance, but by no means a deal stopper), I started thinking about going all-in.  I probably will, when my aging HP desktop bites the dust.  I see an iMac in my future- maybe.

I do miss Live Writer, though.  Not enough to install Parallels, but a lot.  It’s too bad there isn’t a Mac equivalent, but there isn’t.  And yes, I’ve looked at the available options.

So, I am now fully Apple where mobile technology is concerned.  MacBook Air, iPad and iPhone.  All that’s standing between me and complete Apple capitulation is a shiny new iMac.  Somehow I think resistance is futile.

Earl is going to tell me he told me so.  And he did.

In the Game of Clouds, You Win or You Die

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That collective sigh of relief you heard today came from Amazon and Google, happy that they will live to fight another day in the war for the cloud.

When Steve Jobs, the formidable Warden of the West, took the stage at WWDC today, much of the world expected him to land a killing blow to the aspirations of Amazon Cloud Drive and Google Music.  It didn’t happen.  While interesting, the much anticipated iCloud is not going to march through cyberspace like a host of digital Lannisters and ascend to the aluminum throne.

Not by a long shot.  In fact, Instapaper and Dropbox probably suffered more casualties today than any of the others who aspire to rule the cloud.

First of all, iCloud is not a streaming music service, in the way we have come to expect.  It’s more like a semi-automated Dropbox that syncs your music between up to 10 devices.  That’s great, but it is not a game changer.

Second, it doesn’t, at least as far as I can tell, create a remote backup of your music files in the cloud.  That would be pretty hard to do with only 5 GB of space.  Maybe you get to almost the same place if you can bulk download your songs, but even that would be Ned Stark to the neither rational nor reliable music industry, and the term and terms of its license agreements with Apple.  Stated another way, if I have to choose between the mild hassle of a one time upload of my music library (and the resulting certainty that I have accessible files that I own)  and $25 a year for the rest of my life (with only the right to access the songs based on the terms of the iTunes Match agreements), I’ll probably gut it up and upload, so I can keep the money, and the files.

At first blush, I think the music labels may have been clever like a fox in agreeing to this deal.  It must be refreshing for them to focus on something other than trying to find the digital cat to stuff back into the obsolete bag.  In that regard, I’d be shocked if part of the discussions that led up to Apple’s license with- and payment of big bucks to- the music labels wasn’t some express or implied assurances that the music label cartel will march against the digital lockers of Amazon and Google.

Third, how many people want all of their music converted to AAC format?  I have MP3s and don’t know that I want to move to another format just to avoid some uploading time.  A better bitrate is nice, but not enough for me to completely change formats.  Accordingly, anyone wanting to preserve their non-iTunes music in its current state would have to manage and backup two separate sets of music.  Their existing MP3s and the converted AAC files.  That is not the sort of cloud convergence I was hoping for.

Fourth, iTunes.  Frickin’ iTunes.  Even with all the automation promised by iCloud.  Even with the ability to sync wirelessly.  We still have to live with that blight and bloat called iTunes.  If Apple wants to change the world, it should start with iTunes.  Never before has a program so badly needed a do-over.  It needs to be completely rewritten.  It does not need to be the vanguard of Apple’s host- in the cloud or on the digital battlefield.

And finally, time.  Amazon Cloud Player (to all) and Google Music (to some) are available right now.  Presumably, Spotify is going to finally and officially launch in the United States at some point.  Meanwhile, iCloud is coming “in the fall.”  The fall, in online time, means a long time from now.  You can be assured that Amazon and Google know that winter is coming, and are hard at work trying to expand their lead.  It will be very interesting to see how much those services improve between now and the arrival of iCloud.

At the end of the day, consumers are caught between three armies, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Amazon has integration with Amazon’s MP3 store.  That alone will carry it a long way on the path to fealty.  But Amazon’s web player is a little kludgy (though less so than iTunes).  On the downside, there is little chance that an Amazon Cloud Player app will find its way onto the App Store.

Google has the most elegant interface.  It is the one I use the most, with Spotify looming as a contender, if it every officially launches in the United States (I still think Spotify is pretty cool, but I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to officially use it).  But there is no embedded music store, and the process of getting your music into Google’s cloud is not as simple as I’d like.

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Apple has iOS and the hardware that runs it, and, more importantly,  the keys to the App Store, which is almost dragon-like on the battlefield.  I have an iPhone and an iPad, and whatever apps I use are going to have to work on those devices.  And, of course, Apple has the Warden of the West, who can sell ice to Eskimos purely on personality.  But, again, the feature set of iCloud is pretty underwhelming.  And the entire infrastructure is tainted by the mere existence of iTunes.

Generally speaking, competition is good for consumers.  That’s probably the case here.  However, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that there will not be, at least any time soon, a one stop cloud for all of my digital content.  I was expecting to be blown away today.  Instead, it looks like cloud music will require a combination of services, and maybe some work-arounds.  Much the way Google Voice requires some work-arounds to dial out.  It works, but not as well as you want it to.

So here we sit, Ned Stark like, in the dark, waiting for someone to free us from our digital dungeons.  Wondering what’s going on out on the battlefield and worrying that whatever happens probably won’t be what we planned.

Here’s hoping Amazon and Google unite their banners and lay siege to the scourge that is iTunes.  It probably won’t happen, but it would make things interesting if it did.

Why Chrome OS Will Change the Way You Compute

Sadly, I haven’t received my Cr48 yet, even though (are you listening Google?  Email me and make me happy) I am a devout lover of Chrome and have moved most of my computing life into the cloud.   But there is no doubt that Chrome is about to change the personal computing landscape.

Paul Thurrott explains why it is a huge threat to Microsoft in the latest installment of his excellent Google Chrome Vs. the World series.  If there were a Pulitzer for blog writing, this series should win it.   Probably the best tech read of the year, in part because a guy who likes Microsoft is trying to save Microsoft from itself.

Yes, Chrome is going to hurt Microsoft, and yes it will further extend Google’s empire.  And it will be very good for consumers.  Shoot, if I ever get a Cr48, it will immediately become my primary mobile computing device.

But I think Chrome will also help Apple, by being the final element in a lot of peoples’ decision to leave Windows forever, if not for Chrome, then for OS X with Chrome, in browser form or otherwise, installed.  Sound crazy?  Then consider this.

Just about everyone has capitulated to the iPhone.  Yes, some geeks like Android, and there is no denying that it is a good option.  But it just doesn’t have the penetration into the non-nerd set that the iPhone does.  I know one person in the real world (e.g., people I regularly see face to face) who has an Android phone.  I know one person in the real world who doesn’t have an iPhone.  It’s the same guy.  NOTE: Yes, I am excluding the sad masses who are chained to Blackberries because their companies have not realized that Blackberries are on the Palm road to obscurity.

Apple is soundly winning the handset war, at least for now.  The new battle is for the everyday computing device.  You know, what netbooks (ugh!) were supposed to be, but were not.  Make no mistake, this battle will be fought in the browser.

And as I have told anyone who will listen, Chrome is by far the best browser.  It’s not even close.

There are only four things I have to do regularly that I can’t do right now in a browser.

1. Edit photos with Photoshop.  I can’t do that (yet) in Chrome, but I can on a Mac.  Imagine if you will a MacBook, with the Chrome browser (if not somehow the OS in a Parallels-like configuration) installed.  I could do just about everything in Chrome, and drop into OS X when I need to work with Photoshop.  Nice.

2. Edit videos in a sane, easy Format.  I am on record as to my dislike of the Mac video import and editing process.  I certainly can’t (yet) edit videos the way I want to in a browser.  For people like me who do a lot of video, this is a big issue.  For most people not so much.  Plus, at some point someone will come up with a workable cloud-based video editing solution.  All of this doesn’t scream for a MacBook+Chrome device, but neither is it a strong enough chain to bind many folks to Windows.  Yes, I know that many people believe Macs are infinitely better for video.  I disagree, but all of those who feel that way are certainly not likely to choose a Windows-based computer over a Mac.

3. Manage iTunes.  I’m also on record about the train-wreck, Apple-hampering mess that is iTunes.  I hate it, but I have to use it for my iPhone and iPad.  Once again, a MacBook+Chrome device would let me drop into OS X when needed.  Certainly no reason to stay with Windows.

4. Write Blog Posts with Live Writer.  How bizarre is it that Live Writer is the biggest thing tying me to Windows?  I can’t overstate my love for Live Writer.  But like Romeo and Juliet, it is a love that won’t last.  There are too many forces aligned against a desktop based editing app and pointing to the cloud.  The standard WordPress editor is not horrible (unlike the iPad app, which is).  At some point I will have to say farewell to Live Writer.  Unless, oh please, it finds a home in the cloud.  Then I could use it in a browser.

Taking all of this into account, it seems to me that there are three paths to travel.

A. Chrome OS on a Cr48 or its successors.  I sure would like to try this, Google. . . .

B. A MacBook+Chrome device.  But for the video thing, I’d probably be there now.  At a minimum, I expect Chrome in some form to become my primary day to day computing platform.

C. The status quo, via Windows. I’m not going to sell my Windows-based computers, but I am beginning to wonder if I’ll replace them when they grow old or die.  Even now, the large majority of my computing is being done via the Chrome browser.

All paths involve Chrome in one form or another.  One path definitely benefits Apple.  Unless something unexpected happens, Windows may end up on the path less traveled.

As a less desirable metaphor.