Morningstar Launches an Uninspiring iPhone App

Morningstar, the company that, via Bank of America, CarMax and Western Union stock recommendations, recently surpassed Jim Cramer as the single biggest source of my epic stock market losses, has a new iPhone app (iTunes link).  The free app offers investing ideas, real-time quotes, analyst research, financial news, Morningstar ratings, company profiles and more.

imageNotwithstanding all my losses, I am a long-time and more or less satisfied Morningstar subscriber.  Everyone has lost money in the stock market over the last year or two, and at least Morningstar isn’t brokering the stocks it recommends.  I want some sort of stock market analysis, and I still think Morningstar is less bad than just about any other source.

Morningstar’s web site is full of data, analyst reports, portfolio tools and news.  At the moment, I am pretending I never heard of the stock market, but when my head gets above sand level, Morningstar is my primary investing idea and analysis source.

The iPhone app, however, is no great shakes.  The app does not allow access to all of Morningstar’s premium content or the stock portfolios and watch lists you have set up on Morningstar’s web site.  In fact, the app is not even tied to your Morningstar account.  As a result, there’s very little this app does that you can’t get in another, more mature financial app.  There is a dearth of content- and there’s no reason for Morningstar to be so stingy, given the massive amount of resources on its web site.

On the plus side, you can get access to portions of the Morningstar analyst report for stocks and mutual funds, quotes and the Morningstar rating.  If I wasn’t a Morningstar subscriber who is used to having all of the premium content accessible, I would probably feel a little better about this app.

A premium app with “enhanced functionality” is promised for “later this year.”  That’s very close to perfectly vague.  If Morningstar releases a premium app that syncs with your Morningstar paid account and allows access to a lot more Morningstar content in an iPhone-centric design and has the good sense not to charge paying members for it, they’ll have a winner.

Until then, I’d look elsewhere for my iPhone financial information.

First Look: Skype is Available @ iTunes

The much awaited Skype iPhone app is now available via iTunes.  I just installed it, so let’s take it for a spin.

Download and installation was a breeze.

Note that the Skype app requires a wi-fi connection.  I’m at home, where one is available.

Here’s the sign in screen.

skype1

Sign in was easy, leading to the All Contacts screen or this Online Contacts screen.

skype2

Can’t call Mike, since he’s in the midst of audio hassles.  But a Skype Test Call worked perfectly.  I could hear well and my voice was loud and clear.

Here’s my profile page, complete with a recent photograph and my slogan.  Maybe I’ll get my Skype-out number back so I can call land lines.  More importantly, my kids are going to be all over me to put Skype on their iPod Touches to turn them into semiPhones.

skype3

One expected buzz kill is that the lack of background processing means you have to sign back in to the Skype app every time you leave Skype to do anything else- like email the screen caps above.

But it is still very cool to have a Skype created, Skype looking app on my iPhone.

So far, so awesome.

In Search of: iPhone Blogging App

I have officially given up on iBlogger. It just doesn’t play well with Blogger-published blogs. So I am trying BlogPress

Unlike Live Writer, which is wonderful to use, but very difficult to configure with remotely hosted Blogger blogs, BlogPress was easy to configure.  But the joy ends there. Part of the post disappears when you move back and forth from the "Write" screen. You can get it back, but it’s a huge pain.

And I see no way to add links (the links in this post were done separately via Live Writer).  Links are the big challenge for mobile blogging apps.  Theoretically, you can add photos.  But the one I tried to add below via the Picasa integration didn’t work.  Again, I had to fix it later.  I also had to fix some formatting issues.

Here’s some white board art Cassidy and Delaney did at my office last week. I wish Photobucket and Flickr were integrated photo storage options.

I also wish someone would make a decent blogging app for the iPhone.

Frustrating. . .

Essential iPhone Apps Scoreboard

The other day, I summarized what I believe to be the essential iPhone apps.  Since then, I have uninstalled some apps and added some others.  Here are the recent changes.

pboard i.TV (free) has been uninstalled.  As I noted, I think it tries to do too much.  I want something simpler with better Netflix integration.  In its place, I installed Now Playing (free) (iTunes link).  I like the Netflix integration much better.

iTalk Recorder ($4.99, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried) is gone.  As noted, I use Note2Self ($1.99) for all my audio recording needs.

I added Pinboard ($1.99)(iTunes link), largely because I thought it might be useful as an outlining tool in connection with speeches and other public appearances.  It needs three tweaks to be a good tool for that purpose.  The ability to color the note boxes, the ability to change the note box color on the fly (e.g., when you have covered the outlined topic) and the ability to have multi-page pinboards.

The iPhone really needs an easy way to exchange vCards that is not dependant on both parties having an iPhone or the same card sharing app installed.  I have not found a solution yet, but my current best hope is Easycontact ($2.99) (iTunes link).  Apple needs to add this functionality to the OS to ensure universal compatibility.  In the meantime, at least Easycontact makes it easy to email a card.

Finally, I’ve used Byline ($4.99) as my mobile feed reader for a while, but the promise of faster Google Reader synchronization was enough for me to give Feeds ($2.99)(iTunes link) a try.  I won’t keep both apps, but right now they are fighting it out for a place on my screen.

With those changes, here is my current iPhone app lineup, not including games, which I’ll cover in a later post.

American Heritage Dictionary ($29.99, but I wouldn’t pay that much if I could start over)
AOL Radio (free)
AroundMe (free)
Beejive IM ($15.99)
Bloomberg (free)
Box.Net (free)
Byline ($4.99)
CameraBag ($2.99)
Darkroom (99 cents, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried)
Easy Wi-Fi ($1.99)
Easycontact ($2.99)
Evernote (free)
Feeds ($2.99)
Google Mobile (free)
GothPix (99 cents)
iBlogger (99 cents, at least for the moment)
iSports (free)
Juxtaposer ($2.99, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried)
Melodis Voice Dialer (free)
Mobile Fotos ($1.99)
Mobile News (free)
Note2Self ($1.99)
Now Playing (free)
Pandora (free)
Pinboard ($1.99)
Pocket Aid ($1.99)
Remember the Milk (free, but requires a $25/year premium description at Remember the Milk)
Sportacular (free)
Squiggles ($4.99)
TouchType (99 cents, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried)
Tweetie ($2.99)
Urbanspoon (free)

Tech for Grownups: The Essential iPhone Apps

Unlike just about everything else we in the tech blogosphere love to write about, the iPhone has crossed over into mainstream America in a big, big way.  Over half of the adults in my close circle of friends have iPhones and many of the kids are training for future iPhones with iPod Touches.  Everyone I know who has bought an iPhone and tried even a little to understand its many features and benefits has fallen in love with it.

iphoneheld But just having an iPhone is not enough to fully appreciate it.  You have to locate and install the right apps.

As the neighborhood technophile, I get asked all the time by non-facebooking, often technophobic grownups to tell them what iPhone apps they should install and why.  To save time and to give those who don’t live inside the so called social networks a primer on the beauty of iPhone apps, I am going to list the apps I currently have on my iPhone, describe what they do and tell you how often I actually use them.  Lots of iPhone apps are cool, the trick is to indentify those you will use on a regular basis.

I will also note the ones I consider must-have apps, and designate five of them as the top five essential apps.  I’m not going to address the apps that come pre-installed on your iPhone.  If you don’t know what those do, go explore your iPhone some more.  If you still get stuck, leave a question in the Comments and I’ll help you.  I’m also going to defer for later a discussion on games- which are an integral part of the enlightened iPhone experience.

Links are to the app’s iTunes store page, where you can read reviews by other users and, if you are so inclined, buy and immediately receive the app.  You can also buy and download the app via the App Store button on your iPhone.

A few cautionary notes.  Many apps have both a paid and a free version, with the free version supported by in-app ads.  If you’re like me and put at least some premium on ad-avoidance, be cautious with the free versions.  With one extreme exception, all of these apps are inexpensive.  Consider avoiding the ads and supporting hard working developers by buying the paid version of the app.  On the other hand, many apps are completely free, with little or no ads.  The ones only noted as free below only come in free versions.  You can get them for free, either via iTunes or the App Store button on your iPhone.

So, in no particular order, here we go.

Google Mobile (free):  This must-have app puts Google search and other Google apps (calendar, etc.) in an easy to read and use iPhone format.  It also allows you to search Google via voice.  Given that general web surfing via a browser is not the most effective way to find info via the iPhone, this is a must-have app and one of the top 5 essential apps.  I use it all the time.

Box.Net (free):  I’ve used Box.Net as my online storage space since the private beta before it launched.  I don’t need online space much, but when I do Box.Net is my choice, at least until Google’s rumored G-Drive comes out.  The iPhone app is well done and easy to use.  I use it regularly, but it’s not a must have app unless you need online storage.

Melodis Voice Dialer (free):  This was one of the first apps I installed.  When it works, it lets you dial from your iPhone’s Contacts (e.g., address book) by saying the name of the person you want to call.  I’ve had mixed results with it.  I rarely use it and will probably uninstall it at some point.

Note2Self ($1.99):  Every iPhone needs the ability to record notes while on the go.  This app does that and much, much more.  I can record a note and immediately have a voice file emailed to my secretary for dictation or other action.  It’s very handy, and I use it a couple of times a month.  It’s a must-have app.

Remember the Milk (free, but requires a $25/year premium description at Remember the Milk):  Every iPhone also needs a to-do list, and there are many to choose from.  I have used Remember the Milk since before I got an iPhone.  It’s a great web-based application that allows you to have various tasks and due dates, with notifications for the tasks that are due each day.  But at $25 a year, some may choose other options.  I still use it weekly, but if I can find a consolidated note taking and to-do list application, I would be inclined to switch.  Now that I’ve switched from Google Notebook to Evernote (see below), I hope Evernote comes out with to-do list features.

Evernote (free): Even if you don’t know it, you need a central place to keep notes, web clippings, registration numbers and all sorts of other data that you can access from anywhere.  Evernote is that place.  The iPhone app is elegant.  The web-based access needs a lot of work, but the free desktop application is fabulous.  You probably don’t think you need Evernote, but trust me, you do.  Not only a must-have app, but also one of the top 5 essential apps.  The Premium version ($45/year) allows you to add and store image files, PDF files and other files, all of which are accessible anywhere.

Beejive IM ($15.99):  Yes, that’s a lot by iPhone app standards, but if you use text messaging or, like me, have kids you want to stay connected with that do, this is a must-have app.  It lets you text- and send voice messages and photos- to other cell phones and to people on AIM and other instant messaging services.  Because it uses an instant messaging network to transmit data, it avoids the cell provider’s text messaging charges.  Saving those dollars is only the start.  This excellent app does a lot more, including working with iPod Touches to allow the iPhoners-in-training to send and receive text messages.  Clearly one of the top 5 essential apps.

Pandora (free):  If you like music, you want to start with this app, which is an iPhone optimized front end to the wonderful Pandora music service.  There are tons of radio stations to choose from or you can make your own.  If you like alternative country, I offer Newsome.Org radio.  If you like blues, here’s Kent’s Blues Mix.  And if you like an eclectic mix of classic rock, alternative country and blues, there’s my personal favorite, Rancho Radio.

AOL Radio (free):  My other music favorite.  This app, which is populated by CBS radio, offers tons of radio stations to choose from.  To give you an idea of the depth of choice, one of my favorite stations plays only classic rock cover songs!

CameraBag ($2.99): The camera on the iPhone is pretty good, but it’s still a cell phone camera.  CameraBag enhances your iPhone photos with several effects, such as “1962” (dynamic black and white), “Instant” (Polaroid looking, with those familiar borders), and “Helga” (washed out highlights and old-school vignetting).  I don’t use this one as much as I thought I would.  It’s a neat app, but not a must have.

GothPix (99 cents):  I really wish this was an effect in CameraBag (see the picture here for an example of the effect).  I use this one more than CameraBag, even though it’s a one-trick pony.  Not a must-have app, but close- at least for me.

Juxtaposer ($2.99, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  If you want to put your mother in law’s head on a monkey or something, this is the app for you.  I think it’s a really cool app, but I don’t use it very much.  It’s one of those “really cool” apps that you may install and rarely use.

Mobile Fotos ($1.99):  If you use Flickr, which is by far the best photo storage and sharing site, you must have this app.  It allows you to flip through your Flickr photos, and to upload additional photos to your Flickr account.  It also supports geotagging.  It is a must-have app, as is a Flickr account if you don’t already have one.

Darkroom (99 cents, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  This app, which used to be called SteadyCam, makes it easier to take non-blurry photos with your iPhone by waiting until the iPhone is steady to snap the picture, and by increasing the size of your shutter button- no more feeling around for that little shutter button.  It is a must-have app.

Squiggles ($4.99):  A full featured paint and image manipulation program for the iPhone.  It allows you to draw pictures, add cartoon captions to photos and to write or draw onto photos.  I got this one because my kids have it and were constantly playing with it.  It’s a neat little app, but I rarely use it.

Tweetie ($2.99):  I run hot and cold on Twitter, but a lot of people live on there.  Tweetie is the best app for Twitter, and I actually find myself using Twitter more because of Tweetie.  If you use Twitter, it’s a must-have app.  If you use Twitter, follow me and give me a shout.

Byline ($4.99): Now that you’ve followed my advice and set up a Google Reader account, use this must-have app to read your feeds via your iPhone.  It seems awful slow at times, but Byline is still the best way to read your feeds on the go.  It synchs with your Google Reader account and has an offline reading feature.  It’s one of the top 5 essential apps.

TouchType (99 cents, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  TouchType allows you to compose and reply to email in landscape mode, which, along with cute and paste, is one of the main yet-to-be-added native iPhone features.  I thought I would use this app all the time, but I never do.  I will probably uninstall it at some point, but if landscape emailing is important to you, you will find this app handy.

iBlogger (99 cents, at least for the moment):  I looked at a bunch of options before settling on this iPhone blogging application.  If you blog, this is the app to get.  If like the rest of the 99.999999999999999% of the world you don’t, move along to the next app.

Mobile News (free): Now we’re moving into the news and sports apps.  Lot of key apps coming up.  Mobile News is the Associated Press’s iPhone app.  It has news, sports, finance, local news and more.  It’s well designed and easy to use.  A must-have app and clearly one of the top 5 essential apps.

Sportacular (free): This was my first sports app.  It’s great for getting schedules and scores for various sports.  My favorite feature is the ability to set up a favorite teams list and get info about all of the teams you follow from a single page.  It’s not nearly as content-heavy as iSports (see below), but it’s great for quick score checks.  At least one of Sportacular and iSports is a must-have app.

iSports (free): iSports has a lot more content than Sportacular, including daily trivia games and live stats for some events.  If you’re stuck in an airport with some time to kill, iSports is the ticket.  I think iSports and Sportacular do different things, so I use them both regularly.  At least one of Sportacular and iSports is a must-have app.

Bloomberg (free):  For reasons I can’t really explain, I have always avoided the Bloomberg television channel, but the iPhone app is a different story.  It’s the app to get for stock quotes, market and business news.  A must-have app.

American Heritage Dictionary ($29.99):  I can’t believe I paid thirty bucks for a dadgum iPhone dictionary.  Granted, it’s a full featured dictionary, with pronunciations and whatnot, and I keep it by my side during family Scrabble games.  But there are cheaper alternatives out there.  I wouldn’t buy it again.  What was I thinking?  Stupid purchase.

Pocket Aid ($1.99):  A neat little app with first aid guides for insect bites, bruises, burns and other mishaps as well as how-tos for the Heimlich Maneuver, CPR, etc.  I bought it because we go camping a lot, but for a couple of bucks, it would be a good addition to any iPhone.

i.TV (free): I really wanted an app to show me TV and movie listings and to let me manage my Netflix queue.  This app does that and more.  Too much more, in my opinion.  It overwhelms me and I never use it.  I am going to uninstall it, but lots of people love it.

AroundMe (free):  This excellent app uses the iPhone’s build in GPS to locate restaurants, coffee bars, hotels, gas stations and many other points of interest in your immediate vicinity.  I use it frequently- a must-have app.

Urbanspoon (free): Another very popular GPS-based app, Urbanspoon locates restaurants in your vicinity and provides links to menus, editorial reviews and user reviews.  You can filter your results by neighborhood, cuisine or price.  I never (and I mean never) use the “shake for a random restaurant” feature, but I use the “near me” feature frequently.

iTalk Recorder ($4.99, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  This was my voice recorder before I discovered Note2Self.  It has a desktop application that will download the audio files to your computer.  It’s a neat app, but I like Note2Self better.

Easy Wi-Fi ($1.99):  One of the many wonderful things about iPhones is that you have free access to ATT wi-fi hotspots.  I have not travelled much since I got my iPhone, but I suspect this app, which automates the sometimes cumbersome process of logging into ATT hotspots, will be a big timesaver.  Based purely on potential a must-have app.

That’s my app list.  I’ll cover games in a subsequent post.

What are your essential iPhone apps?  Add yours to the discussion in the Comments.

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Mobile Blogging

ibloggerI’ve been looking at the various blogging apps for the iPhone. I wish there was a Live Writer iPhone app, but in its absence, I settled on iBlogger.

iBlogger seems to work reasonably well, though I don’t understand why links end up a couple of lines below where I try to add them. The link building form is a nice touch, but blogging from an iPhone really drives home the need for cut and paste.

The biggest drawback is that you cannot add photos if you use Blogger as your publishing platform, as I do. This feature is spposedly forthcoming, and it better get here soon. Photos are a must-have component in any iPhone app.

The jury and the camera are still out, but I think iBlogger has a lot of potential.

App a Day Blog

Undoubtedly in honor of my recent switch to an iPhone, Dwight Silverman and friends at the Houston Chronicle have started the App a Day Blog, covering smartphone applications.

I think this will be a great blog, until the writers, one by one, install Bejeweled 2 (iTunes link) on their phones and become strung out Bejeweled junkies, unable to post or work.  Like me.

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