Category Archives: apps

Looking for the best Google Reader replacement, don’t forget the plumbing

the feedly rss reader app on androidGoogle is shutting down Google Reader, its RSS feed collector, in July. Google’s bare bones reader web site was never the greatest way to actually read your RSS feeds, automatically updated collections of all your blog post subscriptions. There were plenty of alternatives for that function — I was using Reeder on my iPad and Press on Android, for example. But Google did provide a couple of essential behind-the-scenes functions and it provided them extremely well.

While I’m not going to miss the bland web site, I will miss Google’s ability to quickly and reliably update blog feeds and, maybe most of all, synchronize my reading history across all my devices. Even though I might read a few blog posts in Press on my Galaxy Nexus or with Reeder on my iPad, it was Google that kept track of which articles I had read and where I left off. Quite a few RSS reader apop makers have promised to build their own replacement back-end but there’s still a problem for omnivorous gadghet users like me — most of the app makers stick to one platform. So if Reeder and Press each start offering their own back-end to sync RSS feedss, that won’t help me because Reeder is mac and iOS only and Press in Android only.

That has me searching for a multi-platform reader replacement, much as I switched to Postbox for my email and 1Password for, well, passwords. So far, the only one I’ve found that I like is called Feedly. It works on the web, iOS, Android and Kindle. It’s also beautifully laid out and designed. I have my RSS feeds split into topical folders. As you can see in the picture above, Feedly lets me know there are fresh posts in a folder by showing it with a bright color. Folders with no new posts are grey. I also looked at Newsblur, which covers the web, iOS and Android. But it costs $24 a year if you follow more than 64 feeds and I didn’t think the apps were as good looking. It also has some social sharing features that seem a bit too intrusive to me.

Right now, Feedly is still running using Google’s back end, so I just had to sign in to my Google account and Feedly grabbed all my feeds and kept my whole folder structure intact. Phew. I also changed one setting. By default, Feedly shows you a sort of spread out, magazine-style view of the latest posts in your feeds, much like Flipboard, but I prefer a simpler list view. So I went to the app’s settings, tapped ‘advanced settings’ and changed the default view from Magazine to List.

It remains to be seen if Feedly, Newsblur — or anyone else — will be able to replace Google Reader’s plumbing with as reliable and speedy a service. I have my fingers crossed but I’ll report back as soon as the new services start coming online.

For additional coverage and suggestions, TheVerge had a good rundown of possible replacements, as did Lifehacker.

iPad, Nexus, Kindle Fire – which tablet should I buy?

Compare the ipad, nexus and kindle fire tablets

What a crazy time to be shopping for a tablet computer. There are so many, many choices. Which tablet should you buy? I have some advice — and please give me your intelligent feedback in the comments section below — on the biggest sellers, all of which I have personally used: Apple’s iPad line, Google’s Nexus family and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD offerings.

Unlike past years, the competition at the beginning of 2013 is hotter than ever, making a decision more complicated than ever. To to simplify, let’s review three basic factors and then I’ll have some advice at the end.

budget | content | uses

budget

How much do you have spend for a new tablet? If you want to hit that magic $199 price point or less, it’s between Amazon’s 7″ Kindle Fire HD and Google’s 7″ Nexus. If you can go up to the $300 to $400 range, you can reach the 10″ Nexus, the 9″ Kindle Fire and the 8″ iPad mini. Heading to $500 and over, you reach the full 10″ iPad.

Adding a mobile broadband radio, which you may want if you plan to travel a lot with your tablet, costs more:

+$100 to the minimum Nexus 7 (also doubles your memory) = $299

+$200 to the entry level 9″ Kindle Fire HD (and more memory) = $499

+$130 to iPad mini = $459

+$130 to the big iPad = $629

(The Nexus 10 and 7″ Kindle Fire HD aren’t sold with built in mobile broadband)

content

A lot of people will tell you that the easy way to decide on a tablet is to review your so-called ecosystem, or the existing collection of digital music, books, movies and TV shows along with any premium apps you have bought. Just stick with your ecosystem, they say. But I think it’s not nearly so simple anymore. Ecosystems matter less than ever.

First, for music, the vendor is all but irrelevant. Music files now a days are no longer locked to any company’s devices with digital rights management, or DRM, software and can be easily (and legally) trafficked among the brands. The new cloud services, Apple’s iTunes Match, Amazon’s Cloud Music Player and Google Music, all keep track of your songs and let you download them onto multiple computers and devices. And how important is owning all your music? At least in my house, the kids today are far more interested in using subscription music services like Spotify and Rdio, which work great on all the devices, too.

Next come ebooks, which sadly do still carry DRM locks. But even here, for most users, ebooks can travel onto many kinds of devices. That’s because the two leading sellers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, provide software to read their ebooks for all the different platforms. I’m a Kindle fan and I’ve read my ebooks on devices not just from Amazon but also from Apple, Google and BlackBerry. Google offers ebook software for Android and the iPad but Apple sticks just to iOS (for what it’s worth, I think that’s reason enough to avoid them completely).

Apps are an in-between case. Many are free or cost just 99 cents, so the lost investment of switching platforms is pretty small. Remember just a few years ago when switching, say, from Windows to the Mac meant spending hundreds of dollars just to restore a few key apps like Microsoft Office. In tablet world, this so-called “applications barrier to entry” is almost non-existent.

And many of the most popular apps are available on all three platforms. Amazon has the most limited supply and Apple tends to have the best new apps. But if you’re wondering, it’s pretty easy to see which apps you may be able to keep if you switch platforms by checking the web stores of Google and Amazon.

There is still one area where you might have serious investments locked to one ecosystem: movies and television shows. Apple’s iTunes store has been around for a decade and I know we’re not atypical with our vast holdings of hard-to-transfer iTunes videos. Likewise, movies and shows bought from Google won’t play on the iPad or Kindle. Amazon has built an app to let you watch its videos on the iPad, though not yet on Google’s Android devices (you can watch via the web site on the Nexus if you are willing to install Adobe Flash software).

Like music, however, video is an also an area where the ownership model is slipping away. Do you watch most of your shows on Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go or some other subscription service app? Those apps are offered on all three platforms.

A final consideration is Amazon’s amazing deals for anyone subscribing to its $79/year free shipping service known as Prime. If you pay for Prime you get access to a ton of movies and TV shows for free. That can save a lot of money in the future in addition to any savings by buying a Kindle Fire now.

So take a survey. Ignoring music, do you have tons of video and possibly ebooks that you bought from Apple for your iPhone or iPod touch? And is it the kind of stuff you want to come back to and watch or read over and over again? That could be a lot of lost value if you switch tablets just to save a little on the upfront cost. On the other hand, Amazon’s ebooks and video can play on the iPad (and sort of on the Nexus) and you get all the free stuff if you subscribe to Prime. Google’s ebooks but not video play on the iPad.

There’s also the rest of our digital life’s ecosystem to consider. For file storage and syncing, calendars, contacts and email, some people are deeply embedded in Apple’s iCloud. Others are all Google, all the time. What do they say about Harry Potter and Voldemort? Neither can live while the other survives? Apple-istas will do best sticking with the iPad. iCloud doesn’t do Android. Google-ites? In the past, I have found syncing Google data to iOS devices to be a huge pain and subject to major limitations, but I should point out for more experienced users, Google has made the process easier recently, as explained by TheVerge. Nexus devices, obviously were made for it. You can also sync your Google account with the Amazon Kindle Fire’s calendar, email and contacts apps but, again, nothing for iCloud.

usage

What are you actually doing with your tablet? When I reviewed the very first Kindle Fire, I said it was a good deal because it could do most of what you wanted to do on an iPad for less than half the price. And that’s still true today. If you want a tablet for mostly web surfing, reading ebooks, watching video, playing the occasional game and doing light email, the Kindle Fire HD line is hard to beat. Amazon has a smaller but more cultivated app store than Google and lags far behind Apple. But the actual hardware devices are pretty nifty, with really good screens, and at a bargain price. They also have the most innovative child control software by far.

Are you going to be doing “real” work or using your tablet as a laptop replacement? In this case, the Kindle Fires are a lot less appealing. They don’t play as well with other platforms. The iPad has plenty of software for writing, making presentations, editing photos and all that plus it benefits from the widest choices of keyboards. The Nexus works really well if your work is often via Google Docs and other Google services.

What about sharing a device or and handing one of these tablets off to your kids? The iPad stinks for sharing, absolutely stinks. Signing in and out of email accounts, iCloud accounts and the like is inconvenient and apps and movies and what not can’t be shared between iTunes store accounts. Given how annoying it already is to move and arrange apps just the way you want them on iOS, having other people move your cheese is no fun either. The Nexus is much better in this area — a recent software update added true multiple user accounts. And the Nexus is smart, storing only one copy of an app or other content that appears in more than one user’s account.

Amazon’s child control feature, called Freetime, brings sort of, kind of the notion of multiple user accounts to the Kindle Fire. It does offer by far the best and smartest child controls of any tablet if a kid is the primary user. The iPad child control screen is a nightmare.

And how much traveling will you be doing? While it’s possible to use the wifi hot spot feature on your phone to connect your tablet, it’s so quick and convenient to have built-in mobile broadband. It’s not free, typically adding about $20 a month to your cell phone bill, or $10 if you have a family plan on AT&T or Verizon. There’s nothing like the feeling of flicking on your tablet and getting right to work without having to mess with wifi sign ons or other devices to get connected.

bottom line

If you’ve considered all the the issues above, you may have already come to a realization about which tablet to buy. People deeply invested in either the entertainment or business-y ecosystems of Apple or Google probably have the most obvious answers. If not, I would suggest that for the most budget-minded, for those planning to use their tablet mostly at home and for more for entertainment purposes, the Kindle Fire HDs are a great bargain. The savings come not just in the lower price but also with all the free content you can access from Amazon.

If you are looking to get some business done, it’s time to spend a bit more for the iPad, which not only has a far more robust and diverse selection of apps but also a better selection of accessories like keyboards, cases and other add-ons (blood pressure monitor anyone?). The Nexus line is second best here by a fair margin but totally workable and far better in the realm of Gmail, Google calendar and voice and all that.

As far as whether to go for 7″ to 8″ screens or the larger screens, think again about your budget and your usage. Small screens are cheaper and work best on-the-go. They’re also good for reading. Try holding a full size iPad in one hand for more than a few minutes – forget it. I don’t love the screen resolution of the iPad mini — both the 7″ Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 are much sharper. But after a short time using a lower resolution screen, it seems not many people can even tell the difference, so I wouldn’t get too hung up on that one spec.

By the way, if you can’t even decide whether to get a tablet versus a laptop or e-ink electronic book reader, I have looked at that question as well.

Best apps for Amazon Kindle Fire tablets

Looking for the best apps for your new Kindle Fire HD tablet? Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t give you easy access to the Google Android app store with its hundreds of thousands of offerings. Instead, you get just what is in Amazon’s much more limited store, missing plenty of good stuff especially Google’s own apps. But there are still many solid choices. I’ve had the 8.9″ Fire HD for about a month now and I have some recommendations for great apps. I’ve provided links to Amazon’s online web app store when I could find them but some apps can only be downloaded from on board the Kindle Fire itself.

Kindle Fire HD tablet

You may have purchased a Kindle tablet just to get easy access to Amazon’s pretty good collection of free and rentable video selections but there are also apps to access video from other services you may subscribe to, including Netflix, Hulu Plus and HBO Go. If you have any movies on the Hollywood studios Ultraviolet system, you can watch them using Flixster. For music, I had no problem matching my entire iTunes library to Amazon’s excellent Cloud Player — Apple, for the love of god PLEASE copy Amazon’s simple “cloud/device” interface — but there are other options including Spotify, Rdio and Pandora.

Among games, our family is currently obsessed with the brain teaser Flow Free, which requires that you draw lines or “pipes” to connect dots on various size grids. Sure, it starts easy but it gets harder and harder. Race against the clock and then hand off to someone else in your family to get the adrenaline pumping. On a different note, the latest version of Need for Speed lets you race around the world in exotic cars while pushing the Kindle Fire’s graphics capabilities to the max. On a more relaxing note, I am zoning out with the “Zen like” puzzle game Quell lately, on sale for 99 cents. Finally, I really don’t need to go through the motions and give you links to Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Words with Friends and all those other super popular titles you can easily find yourself, right? Well, I do love Sudoko.

There are gazillions of weather apps, not surprisingly. I prefer Weather Bug Elite (it’s $2) for the full featured interface and ease of switching locations. Weather Geek Pro ($3) is also cool, offering the real weather symbols and some simplified models used by meteorologists so you can track storm systems and make your own predictions.

On the finance front, I’ve noticed that more and more of the big banks have converted their apps to work on the Kindle Fire including Bank America, Wells Fargo and Chase. It took me a long time to find a good stock tracking app, though. A lot of the apps are junked up with distracting backgrounds to misdirect you from noticing the limited functionality. One clean and simple app is Wikivest HD. It can import your current holdings from dozens of firms or you can enter stocks yourself and it has simple charting and news functions.

I’m a new junkie so I have plenty of apps loaded up to keep me informed. I use the Pocket read-it-later service and their free app is excellent. There is an official Twitter app but it’s not particularly great in any way. I have switched around a couple of times, starting with Tweetcaster, which is a little busy for my taste, before switching to Tweetcomb, which is only available from inside the Kindle Fire’s own app store. For my Google Reader RSS needs I have gReader and for Reddit, I use the popular Reddit is Fun reader app, $2 without ads. I am also trying out the more tablet-y BaconReader Premium, also $2, which seems to do better in landscape mode. There are also apps from the big players in news and I especially like NPR and the Huffington Post. ESPN Sports Center is here, of course, but I am also using ScoreMobile for its sports blogging links. My employer, Reuters, has no apps here yet which is a real shame.

Speaking of work, I rely on Evernote for work writing, blogging and generally keeping track of any scrap of important information in my life. I am also a big Google calendar user so I bucked up and spent $6 for the versatile Calengoo app. You can also just sync Google Calendar to the built-in Kindle Fire calendar app for free. Astrid is an excellent and free to-do list manager syncing with Google Tasks. I also sucked it up and paid $15 for the full version of Documents to Go, which I have been using on different portable devices for what seems like a decade to read and edit Microsoft Office documents. You can also use it to read PDFs and for your Google Docs. The official WordPress app works great as a blogging tool.

Some popular apps available on iOS and Google Android have yet to reach Amazon’s app store but there are unofficial substitutes. Instafire lets you access your Instagram photo flow. It’s $3. The Chrome Browser is not here but Chrome Sync will bring your Chrome bookmarks over to Silk for 99 cents.

I’ll update this post as new apps arrive and impress me. Feel free to leave more suggestions in the comments. Thanks.

Instapaper isn’t Instaworth it anymore – switching to Pocket

I think I was one of the earliest fans of Marco Arment’s ingenious Instapaper service. I even wrote up a rave review back in March, 2009. This is the original thing that let you save long web articles to read later in your browser or on your phone or ereader. The amazing feature that first hooked me was Instapaper’s ability to compile a bunch of saved articles into a personalized newsletter and email it once a day to my Kindle. Genius. Just think how many trees have been spared by the reduced volume of printing out long web pages.

But times change, competition grows and it’s now time to move on from Instapaper and its $12/year subscription fee (not to mention the bucks spent on separate iPad and iPhone apps as well as unofficial and finally official Android apps).

The main reason to leave is that competing products are more than good enough and cost less. Pocket, for example, has entirely free apps and a free service. It does almost everything Instapaper does that I need and it looks good, too. Adding the oddly named crofflr service to do the Kindle emailing trick costs a one-time fee of $5.

I’ve switched over to Pocket for the past two weeks and have had no problems at all on my iPad, iPod Touch, Galaxy Nexus Phone and Nexus tablet. Everything syncs nicely. The apps look really good and have enough font sizes to let me read in all conditions. Instapaper has a greater range of font choices but that’s not a critical issue. Pocket’s single serif and sans serif fonts are “good enough.”

To ensure that my reading material is downloaded to each app for offline use, I did need to tweak a setting. Under the “Offline Downloading” section of each Pocket app’s options, turn OFF “Download Best View” and then turn ON “Always Fetch Article.” Otherwise, Pocket sometimes wants to download an article from the web when you go to read it instead of keeping a cached copy available all the time.

Pocket also has those little snippets of code known as bookmarklets that you can slap on your browser’s bookmarks bar to instantly send the current web page over to your Pocket queue. And it has an array of other helper bits, like an extension for Chrome, to do the same. I’ll insert the usual Android brag here: just by installing the Pocket app on an Android device, you can send web pages from any other app directly to Pocket via the sharing menu.

The site’s extensive FAQs and discussion forums offer tips for connecting to other services. I wanted to have Pocket show up on the “send to” menu of Google’s online Reader, for example. A quick Google search found the instructions here.

There are, of course, times when we all pay more than we absolutely must for a product or service because of other benefits we receive or maybe just because we want to support a place we like. I often shop at local stores like Wellesley Books and Lower Falls Wine Co. in Newton, even though there are places to buy books and liquor cheaper, because I value their selection and service and I want to support local businesses and local jobs.

With Instapaper, though, it’s just the opposite. Marco Arment, who I once dubbed “the Mouth of Brooklyn” back in the day, is a one man mis-truth squad when it comes to too many of Apple’s competitors. His wacky theories and misstatements about Android are legion and he’s over-the-top on Amazon’s Kindle products, too. Personal favorite? When he whined about the build quality of a Kindle USB cable because, you know, Apple never has build quality issues or ships new hardware with imperfections or whatnot.

So — much credit to Marco for his beautiful and innovative reading service but time to move on. Sayonara and happy trails.

Finally, serious Lightroom photo syncing on the iPad – no iPhoto required

Old workflow for getting cool pictures I’ve taken from my camera to my iPad:

Import photos into Adobe Lightroom. Throw out junk, make fixes, sort and rate. Choose photos I want on my iPad and export to a folder on my hard drive. Drag said folder into iPhoto. Make newly imported photos into a new iPhoto album. Hook up iPad for sync via iTunes. Place check mark on new album in iTunes iPad photo syncing tab. Wait.

New workflow for getting cool pictures I’ve taken from camera to iPad:

Import photos into Adobe Lightroom. Throw out junk, make fixes, sort and rate. Choose photos I want on my iPad, drag to Photosmith publishing service, hit sync.

What a great program, though it does cost $20. What I’ve just described, using the app to send pictures or albums right from Lightroom onto your iPad, is worth more than $20 to me. You also have to install a free Lightroom plugin on your computer to make to all work.

But the other side of the app is for doing field work on photos using just your iPad, which I have not done much in the past but may get more into. Using Apple’s Camera Connection Kit, you can import photos right off your camera into the Photosmith app, rate them, tag them, flag them for deletion etc. You can also directly upload them to a couple of services such as Facebook, Flickr and Dropbox. Then just get near your Mac, open up Lightroom and sync back to your computer. Sweet.

photosmith app screen shot

Annoying limits I’ve encountered so far?

You can’t sync iPad screenshots back to Lightroom. That’s because the iPad makes them in the PNG format which Lightroom doesn’t support. But a fix is coming.

It seems like you can’t use the iPad app to re-arrange photos imported from Lightroom among your collections or make them into a new collection and have the changes sync back to Lightroom. Only new photos imported directly from a camera to the iPad (or taken with the iPad, god have mercy on your soul) sync back to Lightroom.

 

Microsoft has great news for retina display Mac users

One of the biggest problems for Mac users wanting to upgrade to a retina display has just been resolved. Microsoft issued version 14.2.4 of its super popular Office suite today expressly to include support for the higher resolution display. That means millions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint users on the Mac can now safely upgrade to a retina display without all of their writing suddenly looking like total crap. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s no longer the “worst of times” to buy a new Mac. It will be even less worse, maybe even a great time, if Adobe quickly follows suit with retina-ready upgrades and/or Apple issues that rumored 13″ retina MacBook Air.

Now if only we could upgrade to iOS 6 without fear of driving into a ditch.

John Gruber spills 2000 words on the importance of pixels and typography and the awesomeness of the new MacBook Pro with Retina display without ever mentioning that most apps look like ass and relegating to a footnote that the fifteen inch laptop size is a jack of all trades master of none that fits few people’s needs

(Update: On September 19, a couple of months after the retina MacBook Pro came out, Microsoft updated its Office apps for the higher-resolution display. And then in December, Adobe finally updated Photoshop. Most other Adobe apps remained non-retina ready.)

Along with all the usual crop of rave reviews from Apple publications of Apple’s latest flagship notebook, the 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina display, John Gruber’s is probably the most disappointing. The Daring Fireball author offers lofty praise for the new notebook and its dazzling screen:

Like no Apple device since the original 2007 iPhone, the new Retina 15-inch MacBook Pro feels like a device from the near future, something slightly beyond the ken of today’s cutting edge.

But the main thing is the display. That display. This display. Oh my.
-Daring Fireball, Monday 13 August 2012

Funny thing about fonts and that gee-whiz display, though, funny thing Gruber forgot to mention. And Macworld forgot to mention in its even longer review. And a lot of other people forgot to mention. If you sling your words in almost any non-Apple program, the fonts look like ass. Total ass. Total, unmitigated ass¹.

Although Gruber says you wouldn’t be able to appreciate Retina crispness on an older display², I snuck this screen shot off a Retina MacBook Pro today which was running OS X “Mountain Lion” with all the latest upgraded apps. Click on the picture below to see a much larger version of the image.
Good and bad font display on retina macbook pro

The program in the upper left corner is Microsoft Word. Look at the jaggies in that 12 point type. Ugly. Now look over to the top right. That’s Apple’s own Pages program with the same words in the same font also at 12 points. Yummy. Likewise, in mid-screen is Apple’s TextEdit program. Smooth as a baby’s bottom. And in the lower foreground, Adobe’s Dreamweaver with text that looks like, well, like ass as Gruber might say.

But, hey, the guy at the Apple store tells me everything will look a lot better as soon as other software makers update their apps to take advantage of the Retina display.

How long will that take for Adobe, which showed a pre-release version of Photoshop at Apple’s Retina display press conference? No one knows. It’s helpfully “in the future,” says Photoshop kingpin John Nack. What about other text-heavy Adobe apps like Dreamweaver? No clue. Or what about Microsoft, not exactly known for ever bringing its popular Office apps like Word and Excel up to the latest and greatest OS X features? Absolutely no idea but sounds pretty far off. So we’re talking about the most popular programs that professional Mac users use every day. Seems worth mentioning in a review, no?

So, okay, the MacBook Pro with Retina display — It’s a not-ready-for-primetime-player of a Mac, a rare misstep in Apple’s lengthy track record of getting things right.

But the lack of Retina-ready apps isn’t the only problem and probably not even the most serious one. There’s also the question of who exactly needs this 15″ portable powerhouse that’s a lot bigger and heavier than a Macbook Air but lighter than a breadbox. Even Gruber seems a bit confused on this score, although he relegates his doubts to a footnote:

When I’m at my desk I want a big standalone display; when I’m away from the desk I want the smallest, lightest MacBook possible. The 15-inch retina MacBook Pro doesn’t fit this model. It’s way heavier and clumsier than the Air when used as a portable (especially on airplanes, a frequent mobile use case for me), and it would be criminal to put this machine on my desk only to hook it up to a fat-pixeled non-retina Cinema Display.

As I wrote about recently in my “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times” post, Apple’s current line up is annoyingly out of step with customer needs right now. The Retina display is ahead of its time and comes only on a tweener notebook size and weight that’s falling out of favor faster than Gotye’s last music video. But more desirable MacBook Airs don’t have a Retina display and the desktop line doesn’t even have the latest Intel processors, flash hard drives standard or even USB 3.0 yet, not to mention the lack of Retina-ready external displays. What’s a poor Mac lover to do? Hurry up and wait, I’d recommend.

UPDATE: Thanks to John for linking back here just now. He asks: “I’m not sure what Pressman’s argument is, though. It’s no different than any previous transition — PowerPC to Intel, classic Mac OS to Mac OS X, etc. Apple ships first; developers like Microsoft and Adobe catch up later.”

Easy answer: I’m not seeking “complaining” but reviews of the Retina MacBook Pro ought to clearly let people know that a lot of apps not only don’t get Retina-quality text but actually look worse than they do on older, non-Retina displays. I’m not blaming Apple or anyone, really. It’s just a highly relevent fact to a potential buyer.

Having read a bunch of early reviews, similar to John’s, I went into the Apple store in June thinking I might actually buy one soon. But I was shocked at how poorly some of the apps displayed text. So the apps aren’t ready yet, hence the bottom line: hurry up and wait.

Notes:

¹There is this vague bit but it doesn’t make clear that non-Apple apps are screwed and implies it’s only a problem on web sites: “Retina text looks better on the MacBook Pro than on the iPhone or iPad, even when you move in pretty close to the screen — and non-retina text and graphics (on the web, or UI elements in not-optimized-for-retina-yet apps) look far worse on the MacBook Pro than they do on the iPad or iPhone”

²There’s at least one other minor, if glaring, error in the piece. Gruber says the new Retina Macbook Pro is “noticeably and appreciably thinner and lighter than any previous MacBook Pro.” But at 4.46 according to Apple’s specs, it weighs exactly nine-tenths of one percent less than the 4.5 pound 13″ MacBook Pro (like the one I’m typing on right now), which doesn’t count as either noticeably or appreciably lighter in my book.

A Day in the Life: iPhone versus Nexus

(People are wondering should I get the iPhone 4S or is the Galaxy Nexus better. Am I a man or am I a muppet, smartphone style. Everyone’s got their own needs and wants from their gadgets. Turns out, mine are best met by the Galaxy Nexus phone. The iPhone 4S? Tried it for a few months and got fed up. One man’s experience comparing and contrasting.)

Pleased with the galaxy nexus

Hearing the the slightly muffled tones of Cee Lo Green’s “F–k You” emanating from your pocket, you slip out your phone with your right hand without putting down the New York Times business section in your left. There’s that familiar, comfortable feel as you reorient the phone rightside up in your hand and then glance over and use your thumb to flick across the screen and answer the call.

Done chatting with Uncle Abe, pull down the notifications screen and see what’s up. Thumb flick away notices from Twitter and Facebook – you’ve got work to do.

But looks like you missed a call earlier – must have been driving through the Ted Williams Tunnel. Google Voice has got your back. The notice shows who called and the start of a transcription of the voice mail they left. Just the dentist’s office reminding you of next week’s appointment. Even if you hadn’t seen the notification, it’s right there on your home screen thanks to the Google Voice widget, too.

No need to call back but let’s make sure that oral appointment is down, shall we? Hit the big fat button for the list of all apps. CalenGoo is right where you expected it, sitting in alphabetical order. Handy. Looks like the appointment is all set. Hit the back button and you’re back in the list of apps.

Near by the Calengoo icon, there’s something new. Last night, after the kids went to sleep and you finally got your hands on the iPad, you read about a new Android app for Twitter that sounded cool, Boid. Zipping over to the web version of the Android Market — oops — Google Play Store, you checked it out and sent it to install on your phone right from the iPad. Play around with Boid for a few minutes and then back to work, salary man.

At lunch time, walking down the street, you decide to text the wife and tell her she’s sweet. Pull out the phone, swipe unlock and hit the microphone icon. Say “Text Whitney Connaughton I love you baby.” Watch as the phone calls up a blank text message and transcribes almost in real time. Hit send. Dictation fails when there’s no signal but you’re comforted that Android warns you immediately without making you waste time bleating into the void first.

Thinking of the wife, she wants you to get on your contractor, Chris, about those new windows. Hit the phone icon, then favorites. Scroll past those cute pictures of your favorites and there’s a handy-dandy list of frequently called numbers Android keeps up to date automagically. Of course, Chris is here — he’s not the world’s most reliable contractor. You can also get to him quick via the contacts app. There’s a button for groups and you’ve got one set up with all the numbers of folks working on the window replacement project. Done harassing Chris, it’s time for a sandwich. Pocket the phone and dig in.

On the walk back, call up some tunes in the Amazon MP3 player. It’s got everything — everything you ever bought from Amazon, saving a ton of bucks from Apple’s not-so-customer-friendly prices, and everything sucked up from iTunes, too. New Springsteen album got mixed reviews but we’re going to check it out for ourselves, aren’t we? It’s not on the phone yet, so hit the “Cloud” tab instead of “Device,” scroll to “Wrecking Ball” and start streaming it. “Heaven knocking on the door that holds the throne…”

Time to go home. Check how bad the commute’s going to be with a glance at the traffic widget on your phone. Yellow? Not good. Better grab a podcast. Love that awesome Pocket Casts app. It’s Friday so there’s a new episode of Hypercritical. Download it in about 30 seconds over Verizon’s super-fast LTE network.

After dinner, kids having grabbed all the iPads, you’re left surfing the Internets on your phone. Boston Globe too pessimistic about the Celtics chances this year? That got your juices flowing for a strong counter-argument to mount for your buddies on Facebook. Hit the share button, type in your unbeatable refutation and post. While you’re at it, jump over to the photo gallery and post that picture of your bike ride from last weekend to Facebook, too.

Time for sleep. Hit the microphone on the phone and say “Set alarm for 7 am.” Click okay. Head hits the pillow before the phone’s out of your hand.

Fade to black…we fade back in to: Three months earlier

Frustrations with the iPhone 4S

Hearing the familiar if far away bleating of the “Marimba” ring tone, you do nothing. Must be someone’s iPhone around here. But the music doesn’t stop. Better check your phone. Grab that sharp slab of metal encased glass and take a look. Upside down again? Flip it over and answer the call.

Done chatting with Uncle Abe, pull down the notifications screen and see what’s up. Try to hit those tiny little buttons to get rid of the Twitter and Facebook stuff – you’ve got work to do. Stab madly a few times and finally give up. Make a mental note to change the default on notifications for Twitter and Facebook so they don’t hog so much of the notifications list.

Back on the home screen, looks like you missed a call earlier. Back to the list of notifications. How did you miss that Google Voice listing? Must have been pushed down below all the Facebook and Twitter junk. Here on the notifications screen, Google Voice tells you who called and adds a transcription of their voicemail. It’s a reminder for your haircut. Wonder for the fortieth time why the notice always adds “Voicemail from [the caller]” at the beginning of every transcription – it already told you who called on the line above. Tap, tap, tap at that tiny “x” to try and clear the listing. Never mind, you just hit the home button.

Got to check the calendar about that hair appointment. We’ve got CalenGoo on the iPhone, too, you self-satisfied Android fanboys, you think to yourself. Now where the heck did you put that icon? In the folder called “utilities” on your home screen? Nope. Slide over to the left, second screen, nope, third screen, nope. Wait, wasn’t it back on screen two in the folder called “organized life”? Right. Okay, tap CalenGoo and you’re all set.

Back on the home screen, seeing the icon for the official Twitter app reminds you of something you were reading last night on your iPad. You bought a new Twitter client app. The app store downloaded it to your iPad, but where is it on this phone? Oh right, just go to the app store app, click on update and then purchased items. Hit the “Not on this iPhone” tab and wait…and wait. Here’s the list, tap the new app and it’s downloaded and installed. Enough time wasted — back to work for you.

At lunch time, walking down the street, you decide to text the wife and tell her she’s sweet. Pull out the phone, hit the home key twice to call up Siri and say “Send a text to Whitney Connaughton I love you baby.” Wait a few seconds, then a few seconds more. “I’m really sorry Aaron. I can’t do that right now. Please try again later.” Doh. Resisting the urge to hurl Siri into the Fort Point Channel, you call up the messaging app and type it in.

Next tap the Google Voice app to call that contractor you just hired to put in the new windows. Hit contacts and a huge list of your iPhone’s contacts come up, straight out of the Address Book on your Mac. Ugh. Google Voice on the iPhone still can’t get to your Google Voice contacts? Right. But don’t worry, you’re syncing Google contacts with Address Book and you have the contractor in the group called “Window Project.” Hit the groups. Oh right, the syncing feature doesn’t sync groups so that group’s not here. Back to the list. Scroll down the list to find his name. Sure is neat-o the way it bounces to a stop.

Grab a sandwich and on the walk back it’s time for some tunes. Bought the new Coldplay album the other day. Is it on the phone? Check the music app. Not here. Purchased? Hmm, weird not there either. You’re so sure you bought it. Oh right – it was on sale at Amazon for like $5 bucks less than iTunes. Wasn’t iTunes Match supposed to match stuff even if you didn’t buy it from Apple? But on the phone iTunes Match can only show either every single song in your entire library or just what’s on this phone. And since the setting to change the view is buried somewhere, you’ve got it just showing local stuff.

Head back to settings, dig around, flick the switch. Wait a while for everything to get up to date. Find Chris Martin’s latest without thinking about his sham marriage to G. Paltrow. Hit play. No, no play – that’s download. Wait for the songs to download. Deep sigh. Wonder about Verizon’s faster LTE service while you wait. Unhappy thoughts. Hit the app store to install Amazon’s MP3 app. No go — it’s not available. Wouldn’t it be cool if Apple’s music app had tabs for on the device and in the cloud? Deeper sigh.

Time to head home and you’re wondering about the commute. Find that darn maps app on side screen four, open it up and click on the traffic overlay. Looks pretty messy. Let’s grab the new episode of Hypercritical. Downloading, downloading, downloading, some day my Siracusa will come.

After dinner, surfing the net on the phone, the urge hits to post an article about the Celtics to your Facebook buddies. Hit the share button. Hmm, no Facebook here, just Twitter. Can’t you just add the services you want? No? Not at all? What the…okay, well then let’s load a photo to FB. Can’t do that either, just Twitter again. Damn you Twitter, how much did you pay Apple for this annoyance-enhancing exclusivity? Go to FB app and post the pic. Then go back to laboriously cut and paste the Celtics article URL into another FB app post. Annoying.

Time for sleep. Double press the home button and say “Siri, wake me up at 7 am tomorrow.” “I’m really sorry Aaron, I can’t…”

Screen wipes to dead TV channel static.

(Coming later, my teen-age daughter’s rebuttal and why she loves the 4S and hates her brother’s Droid 4 with a passion)

Phone to Desktop Computing, Nexus style

I got a little excited by some recent experiments of folks hooking their Galaxy Nexus phones to desktop computer set-ups: big monitor, speakers, full keyboard and track pad. Pretty sure that within a few years, we’ll have just one computing device in a phone form factor that can hook up to different size screens and is powerful enough to do all we need. So has the future arrived, Nexus style?

Well, it’s pretty cool at a rudimentary level. Using a Samsung-made HDMI adapter cable, I hooked my Galaxy Nexus up to a 23″ HP monitor. The screen is bigger than needed since the phone can only output video at a 1280 by 720 pixel resolution. But the HP was the smallest inexpensive monitor I could find with an HDMI port. I also wirelessly linked via Bluetooth an Apple portable keyboard and magic trackpad to the phone. As soon as you connect the HDMI cable to the monitor, the phone shifts to a horizontal orientation.

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The trackpad lets you use the computing set up without touching the phone. When you put a finger on the trackpad, a small white dot appears on the monitor signifying where your virtual finger would be on the screen. Taps, double taps and drags all work as expected. It’s easy to watch videos, read via a browser or other app or do pretty much anything you would do on the phone — even make calls using the speakerphone.

The bigger screen and full size keyboard also make it a breeze to get serious writing done — something that’s challenging to say the least using any smart phone keyboard.

Caveats and issues? As mentioned, the resolution is not that great for a desktop computer. I think some of Motorola’s Android phones have a separate operating system or shell called Webtop that can use more screen real estate. Also, the set up at least with the cables and adapter I have was incredibly sensitive to being jostled. In fact, I had to try three different HDMI cables before I got a solid connection. And you’re limited to Android apps. That’s less of a limitation than I thought initially. But with things like Linux for Android on the horizon, that won’t be a barrier for much longer, it seems.

And, by the way, I wrote this post using the set up as described with the WordPress for Android app and it was pretty easy. Adding photos might be even easier than using the full blown WordPress editor.

A true marketplace for privacy in mobile apps

A huge controversy erupted the other day when a savvy programmer discovered that an app on the iPhone called Path was secretly uploading the entire contents of users’ address books to Path’s own servers. Then stories spread that many apps on the iPhone uploaded the contents of the address book. Turned out Apple had left the barn door open on address book data. Oops. But how could ordinary users tell if any of their apps were raiding the address book? No way to know for sure.

Here’s what’s not a great idea to solve the problem: add another alert dialogue box like the one apps must present if they want to access a user’s location. Sure, today’s crisis revolves around the address book but what’s the next piece of important personal data people will want protected? And the one after that? The dialogue box permission model is right out of Windows Vista. Shoot up enough and people will completely ignore it.

Another problem with the dialogue box permission model is it only presents the information to the user after they’ve already gone ahead and installed the app. There’s no way to compare app privacy policies – or personal data snatching policies – when choosing among different apps. And that’s a lost opportunity because if privacy is important to a lot of potential customers, there’s an incentive for apps to compete on the basis of better privacy protection.

The better solution is the one Android already employs in its market. Issue a standardized list of permissions and then list all the permissions an app wants in the app market. And if the permissions subsequently change in an update, the app is required to notify the users specifically about what has changed.

The obvious benefit is that everyone knows before they download or update an app what data it will access. It’s not only crystal clear disclosure to app customers. It also allows marketplace competition on privacy protection as a feature, a reason to pick this Twitter client over the myriad others or that sports news app over all the others. Developers also have the chance to explain why they need certain permissions and how they will use any collected data on their app description page.

As an added benefit, whenever a controversy or rumor arises, users can go back and check which permissions their apps required.

UPDATE: Sounds like the California Attorney General has secured an agreement from all the mobile platforms (Amazon, Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Research In Motion) for just such a system:

“This agreement will allow consumers the opportunity to review an app’s privacy policy before they download the app rather than after, and will offer consumers a consistent location for an app’s privacy policy on the application-download screen. If developers do not comply with their stated privacy policies, they can be prosecuted under California’s Unfair Competition Law and/or False Advertising Law.”