All posts by Andrew Kalinchuk

Professional writer in Toronto, obsessed with pop culture and consumer technology, studying journalism at Ryerson University, and probably eating at this very moment.

Twitter takes control with new API rules, plans to limit access for third-party clients

We all knew this day was coming after reading Twitter’s fairly recent blog post on the company’s future plans, but now it’s been made official, and traditional Twitter clients should watch their backs. In another blog post earlier this week, Twitter’s Vice President of Product Michael Sippey outlined exactly how the company plans to control the user experience of its product.

For starters, large Twitter clients using Twitter’s API will have to obtain direct approval from Twitter in order to function. If a developer plans to create an app that requires access to a user’s timeline, direct messages, etc. (which are most traditional Twitter clients), they must seek Twitter’s permission if they plan to cultivate a user base over 100,000. The social media giant isn’t completely unreasonable, however, and won’t limit those applications already sporting over 100,000 users until their user base grows by 200 percent.

Twitter's chart of desirable and undesirable apps

As you may have guessed, “traditional Twitter clients” like Echofon and Tweetbot (both named specifically by Sippey in the article) are in the most danger. Sippey went into a lot of detail regarding the types of applications Twitter approves of and those it would rather not cater to, even creating the graphic above to illustrate his point.

Basically, the apps that fall in the upper right corner are being discouraged, while Sippey would like to see the number of applications grow in the remaining quadrants. Sippey used Klout as an example of a successful application geared towards the consumer and social analytics, an area that Twitter approves of.

Sippey said the changes would take effect “in the coming weeks” and regardless of their effect on existing Twitter applications, developers will be glad to finally hear some specifics after the somewhat foreboding letter to developers that was published a couple months ago.

The first indication of Twitter’s new cut-throat nature came with its decision to drop out of a partnership with LinkedIn. Then, of course, it followed that up with the announcement of high-profile partners like The Wall Street Journal and TIME for its new Twitter Cards.

Twitter has made it crystal clear it’s ready to take business a lot more seriously, and it’s up to developers to keep up to Twitter’s increasingly complex and challenging demands.

Cubby: a simple way to share files across multiple devices

When I first heard about Cubby’s unlimited storage, my immediate reaction was “I must have it.” When I found out that “unlimited storage” meant computer-to-computer syncing I was less enthused. I forgave them, however, because I concede that offering unlimited cloud storage through a free service is foolish at best. And it wasn’t long before I found new reasons to love Cubby.

Unlimited computer-to-computer storage

I soon realized Cubby’s true potential as a power user’s best friend. Basically, with Cubby, you can sync an unlimited amount of date (regardless of file type) between two computers as long as both devices are connected to the internet.

File sync can happen in a couple of ways. Firstly, there is the option to create brand new “Cubbies” and label each one as you please before filling them with files. A second option is to merge the Cubbies with folders that already exist on your Mac or PC, so instead of having to curate two Music folders you could simply merge your Music folder with a Cubby labelled Music to share files more seamlessly between your desktop and/or laptop.

I have been using Cubby to keep files organized between my personal MacBook Pro and my less-used (and ancient) HP laptop. The only annoyance so far has been keeping both computers turned on and connected to the internet. And even that seems a small price to pay for easily accessing my files on both devices.

5GB of free cloud storage

There’s more to Cubby than just syncing between computers. Cubby has a feature set similar to other cloud storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox: 5GB of free cloud storage and a home folder – called “My Cubby” in this instance – to hold all those files you’ll inevitably save there.

As for uploading, I found that Cubby synced my files fairly fast and when put head-to-head against Dropbox there was little difference in speed. However, Dropbox places a helpful syncing icon on files that are in the process of uploading and replaces it with a checkmark once the sync is completed. Cubby has no indication of syncing progress when viewed in the Finder or Windows Explorer window and can only be shown through the desktop application.

Since Cubby is still in its beta phase, it’s hard to tell what improvements (if any) they will make in this regard. After all, we’re talking about a brand new piece of software competing with a fairly senior product. That being said, however, it seems like a fairly standard feature to include. Yeah we’re talking to you, Cubby makers.

Cubby is still “invite only” during its beta phase, but you can request an invite if you’re interested in checking it out. There are apps available for Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS (and screenshots below).

What do you think? Would you use Cubby over alternatives like Google Drive or Dropbox?

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Ask the readers: What are your favorite Android apps and games?

Android AppsWe’re back again with another request in the same vein as our previous Ask The Readers where all of you shared your favorite iOS apps and games with us. But we don’t want to stop there — not with so many Android users unrepresented.

So it is only natural to revisit our app list and include Techerator’s favorite applications and games from Google’s mobile platform.

Rather than basing our choices solely on the input gathered from the Techerator staff, we decided to do a little crowd sourcing and see what all of you come up with.

If you’re so inclined, let us know what you’d place on your list of favorite Android apps and games by commenting below.

Here’s a quick recap.

  1. Leave a comment with your top Android apps and/or games.
  2. We’ll gather the results and turn them into a finished list.

Thanks for your help!

Multiple monitor improvements are coming to Windows 8

Multiple Monitors Windows 8

The Consumer Preview of Windows 8 was a bit of a nightmare when used on multiple monitors with the taskbar stretched across both displays, and offered no obvious reasoning behind the odd design. Luckily for us (meaning the collective Windows user base), Microsoft has confirmed via their Windows 8 Blog that positive changes will be coming to the experience. But that doesn’t mean they are going to stray too far from the Windows 7 multi-display formula.

Basically, the way Windows 8 is displayed on multiple monitors completely depends on your unique preferences when interacting with the new software. You can have the Metro Start screen on one monitor with the classic desktop view on the other. You can also have the classic desktop view on two monitors or the Metro screen stretched across both monitors. Of course, you can take any combination of the two and display them on three, four, or more screens.

Customization has been improved as well. Microsoft has enabled smart-selection for portrait-style monitors, improved shared corners, allowed more than one image as a desktop background, and the option to span one panoramic image across multiple monitors. Improvements have been made to the taskbar as well, providing the option to set a main screen to hold all your open app icons, or span the taskbar across all monitors and display app icons on whichever screen holds the corresponding open window.

But there’s more. Gestures are accessible from each monitor, which means Start, Charms, and Settings can be opened by moving your mouse (or finger if your PC is touch-enabled) into the appropriate hot corner. You can also drag-and-drop apps from monitor to monitor, a feature that works with both full-screen and snapped apps.

So it looks like Microsoft will finally do right by their customers with Windows 8, putting the decisions in the hands of their users. The new multi-display functionality allows for any number of configurations and can even keep the Metro Start screen out of the way for those Windows purists who can’t stand innovation.

Manage your to-do list on Android, iOS, and Chrome with Any.DO

Any.DO started as an Android-only solution to the public’s to-do list blues, and it did a damn good job of cheering us up. As a result, Any.DO became a both popular and critically acclaimed app by tech blogs everywhere. Personally, I’ve been a regular user of Any.DO for the past six months or so and I appreciate its minimalistic approach to list-making.

The strength of Any.DO lies in its simplicity. Rather than overcomplicating a simple task manager with endless menus and options, the focus is placed on entering tasks under simple headings like Today, Tomorrow, This Week, or Later.  The app is definitely gorgeous with bold typography and basic colour schemes, and though the Android version is clean and free of cheesy effects, the iOS app is (nauseatingly) made to look like crumpled paper.

It appears that the designers took some inspiration from Windows Phone, but you won’t hear me complaining about borrowing a few aesthetics from the most beautiful software ever. The app displays black text on a white background by default, but a dark theme allows you to reverse the coloration. Above all, it’s clean.

And if you’re in the market for a new task manager there’s never been a better time to pick up this app, especially now that it syncs across all the major platforms (only Windows Phone 7 is missing). Syncing is automatic once you register with the service or choose to sign up via Facebook.

The iOS App

iOS Any.DO - Home in Landscape
Any.DO on iOS in Landscape

Additional gesture-based controls have been implemented in the iOS version: drag down from the top of the screen to enter a new task (hold down after dragging to enter an item with your voice) and swipe right to cross out a completed task. Additionally, when entering an item for your list the app attempts to predict what you’re trying to type. It’s moderately useful at times — finishing “Buy” with “milk and bread” saves a bit of time) — and when the app adds a handy phone button beside names that exist in your address book.

Tapping on a task brings up a menu that allows you to set it to a higher priority, move it to a specific folder, assign a due date or note, or share it with friends. You can also drag items around to reorder and prioritize certain tasks over others, much like in the Android app. The iOS version takes better advantage of screen real estate than its Android counterpart, however, displaying a calendar alongside your task list when the device is in landscape mode. But with luck, this feature will appear on Android soon.

The Chrome App

Any.DO Chrome - Web Browsing
Any.DO while browsing in Chrome.

Of course, given its home on conventional desktops and laptops, the Any.DO Chrome app lacks the gesture-based controls of its mobile brethren. But the aesthetic remains consistent, though you’re unable to change the color scheme from the default white. Check marks are used to indicate completed tasks instead of swiping, but can still be reorganized by clicking and dragging. The app opens from an icon to the right of the address bar and drops down over your current browsing session — no need to open a new tab or window. But the option to pop Any.DO out into its own window is there for those of you who’d prefer.

Conclusion

As a light user of task-based apps, Any.DO is the one and only solution to my needs. The new Chrome and iOS apps mean I can finally sync lists across my Nexus S, iPad, and MacBook Pro (running Mac OSX and Windows 8 Release Preview).

The fact remains, however, that if you’re a heavy user the lists can get a bit cumbersome. Most items end up lumped into the Today category if they don’t have a due date so lists can get out of hand if you don’t pay attention. I still think it’s worth a try for anyone in need of a new task manager since it’s free and using folders may lessen the organizational load. If you do try it out, let us know what you think.

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Microsoft Says Farewell to Aero Glass in Windows 8

When I first booted up into Windows 8 with my beloved Samsung Focus mobile phone at my side, I was appalled by the jarring visual differences when switching back and forth from the Metro start screen to the traditional Windows desktop view.

On one hand, there was this amazingly simple Start screen with a bold interface daring to standout from the crowd. On the other, an ancient and tacky faux-glass-themed, cluttered, and – quite frankly – ugly desktop interface.

I found it incredible that after putting so much thought into the Metro UI’s design, Microsoft seemed to forget about the desktop altogether. I thought they changed. I thought they cared about details, the user experience, and beauty! My disenchantment became so bad that up until a week ago I had given up on ever experiencing a truly simple and beautifully designed version of Windows.

What changed? Microsoft is getting rid of Aero Glass in Windows 8, baby!

First introduced with the debut of the ill-fated Vista, the Aero desktop design has outlived its relevancy. The days of transparency, gradients, and shadows are long behind us and especially do not belong in a modern interface like Metro that relies on flat icons and bold colors to garner attention. According to Microsoft, they also see the drawbacks of their current design and promise to start “flattening surfaces, removing reflections, and scaling back distracting gradients.”

Microsoft doesn’t see the desktop as a mode, but rather “a paradigm for working that suits some people and specific apps.” But Microsoft isn’t willing to forfeit compatibility with existing programs by drastically changing the desktop UI. To preserve their existing user base, Windows 8 will continue to use black text on a light-colored background as opposed to the white-on-saturated-color look of Metro.

In short, Microsoft gave their desktop UI a mini Metro makeover. The default color that surrounds the windows is white, rounded corners on icons and windows are now squared, and the taskbar blends even more into the desktop wallpaper. Even the ribbon will see some changes with icons treated to the same squared-off edges and stripped of all gradients to “make them feel more modern and neutral.”

Unfortunately, the Release Preview hasn’t fully abandoned the Aero theme and it won’t be fully replaced until the final release of Windows 8. We would have liked to see what it looked like in action, but it just wasn’t in the cards.

If you’ve ever wanted to read a comprehensive history of Windows design over the years, then hit up this post from the Building Windows 8 blog.

Ask The Readers: What Are Your Favorite iOS Apps and Games?

iOS AppsWe know “Top 10 Apps” lists have been done to death, but their proliferation in tech-based media doesn’t dilute their usefulness, especially in a frequently changing market like mobile apps.

We had planned to exclusively poll the writers and editors of Techerator for an upcoming article series, but realized we’d be cutting out a hugely knowledgeable group of people… Yes, we’re talking about all of you readers.

So here’s what we need from you. In the comments section below, let us know what your favorite iOS apps and games are.

After the comments fill up with responses, we will gather the reader picks and add the favorites to our own choices.

In the end, we’re hoping to have a list of the “best” iOS apps and games according to the Techerator team and our faithful readers.

Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Leave a comment with your top iOS apps and/or games.
  2. We’ll gather the results and turn them into a finished list.
  3. If you like the final product, spread it around.

Thanks for your help!

Windows 8 Boots Too Quickly to Be Interrupted

Boot Options Menu

We previously told you that Windows 8 could manage a cold boot in eight seconds flat, and that still holds true, but now there are reports that an SSD-equipped PC can manage it in under seven seconds. It’s not a huge difference in boot time, but it does create a minor and rather curious problem. Mainly, the user no longer has enough time to interrupt the boot menu.

Chris Clark, program manager at Microsoft’s User Experience team, explains in a Building Windows 8 blog post that a mere 200 millisecond window is all the time available to users if they want to make changes to a PC’s boot setup.

A new method

Since the Windows software and general computer hardware have become too fast for us puny humans, the days of reading “Press F2 to enter setup” are over and Microsoft recognizes the need to offer an alternate way of accessing the familiar boot menu. They found their top tappers could only manage about a 250ms frequency and catching that elusive 200ms opportunity was based a lot on chance. In other words, the added speed became the opposite of user friendly.

In response, the team came up with three solutions that work together to solve the issue. Clark notes in his post that “no one should need to learn how Windows is built” and the team wanted the new boot options to “just work”. A refreshing choice of words as Windows is notorious for requiring complicated work arounds for simple problems depending on hardware, software version, and general computer skills of the user. But keeping with their new, simplified design aesthetic Microsoft has decided to make a single menu for every boot option.

How it works

Microsoft’s solution is a three-pronged approach:

  1. The various boot settings that have previously been scattered from one end of Windows to the other will now be available in a single boot options group
  2. The menu will automatically appear whenever Windows is prevented from booting up correctly
  3. Microsoft is providing the user with plenty of different ways to bring up the new menu at will.

Basically, although you will no longer be able to access the boot menu from the start up screen, you’ll still be able to check it out once your PC has finished booting up. Specifically, you can bring up the menu through Advanced startup on the General tab of your PC’s settings. From there, you can choose to Restart now and choose a new start up volume during a reboot.

There’s an even quicker method built-in, simply holding down the Shift key while click Restart in your computer’s shutdown menu will cause Windows 8 to reboot into the boot menu as well.

One important note is that these changes are only applicable to newer PCs with UEFI BIOS. This exclusion, according to Chris Clark, can be chalked up to the speed restricitions of older hardware, meaning they will spend enough time booting up for a user to interrupt with the F8 or F2 keys.

Windows 8 ‘Release Preview’ Brings New Apps and Updates the Old Ones

As we assumed when various apps in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview were marked with an “App Preview” tag, the core Metro apps have been updated in the Windows 8 Release Preview. The updated applications feature some improvements to the user interface (there were some apps that really needed it), a unified app settings bar, and even some all-new applications.

The preview pages of some revised apps have been floating around online via the Windows Store, but this is the first time we are seeing the new apps in action. Though it isn’t surprising that the core apps have been updated, we are still extremely excited to see the makeover results. Some of the apps were just plain difficult to use and lacked cohesion, ease-of-use, or basic functions.

To kick things off, we begin by applauding the unified look of the app bar that drops down from the top of the screen. The options may be app-specific, but it’s nice to see a cohesive design structure being employed.

Updated Apps

Photos

The new Photos app (pictured above) features a new smart screen complete with a full-size background photo chosen from your own collection, and smaller thumbnails pulled from your local library, SkyDrive, Facebook, and Flickr are displayed overtop. It’s very easy on the eyes and closely resembles the Windows Phone version.

Calendar

In the Consumer Preview, the Calendar app was missing a simple search function. Maybe not a problem for the average user with two or three appointments in a week, but incredibly troublesome for the power user with a growing number of time commitments. Thankfully that search function has been implemented in the latest release and answered our dearest prayers.

Music

The most exciting change in the Music app is the integration of Zune Pass, which means all of your cloud-based music is finally accessible via the Windows 8 desktop.

Mail

When we first started working with Windows 8, the Mail app haunted our nightmares. It was unreliable and clumsy at best, and though the new version still lacks threaded conversations (really!?), it’s been optimized and crashes a lot less often. The user experience has become actually, well, usable now.

Inboxes are listed on the left-hand pane, doing away with the hellish way of switching inboxes in the App Preview, which involved pressing the back button a whole lot of times. You can also pin specific accounts to your start screen in order to choose whether to check your personal or work email before launching the app. It’s still not as feature-packed as say Gmail or Hotmail, but we must admit that it’s gorgeous.

Web Browsing

The most interesting and innovative change to IE this time around comes in the form of “Flip ahead”, a feature that uses crowd-sourcing to predict which web page a user will click on next. So instead of needing to click on the suggested page, you can simply swipe or click the on-screen forward button to navigate there. At the moment it works best for flipping to the second page of an article, but hopefully with time the algorithm will prove more useful. “Flip ahead” will be turned off by default, so you’ll have to enable it manually.

Sharing options are built-in now, which isn’t too exciting, but worth noting. Flash has been enabled as well, which was inevitable. But what rocks about Metro IE’s implementation is that it’s plug-in free by default so Flash works without any additional setup.

Weather and Maps

Nothing much has changed here. The Weather app is still beautiful and information-packed. We thought Maps lost it’s dedicated search function, but it was only moved into the Charms bar.

Lock Screen

The lock-screen saw a mini-refresh as well. You can now adjust the volume and pause or skip tracks without unlocking your device, which we love.

Brand New Apps

Most of the new apps are Bing-centric, which makes sense for Microsoft’s clear dedication to all things Bing. The moniker of Bing seems a bit redundant since the apps are obviously powered by the search engine, but you can’t blame a company for tooting its own horn. Besides, each app is gorgeous, works great, and beats the pants off the competition.

Bing News

The Bing News app opens up to the top story of the moment and as you scroll right, you’ll find more top headlines pulled from several different categories. The app bar serves as a way to drill down into specific sources or trends. Of course, you can pin any category or custom topic to your start page for quick access to personalized news feeds.

Bing Travel

Basically a Metro version of the site’s trip planning feature, Bing Travel lets you do research and flight / hotel booking. If you don’t already have a destination in mind, the home page serves to inspire you by displaying a collection of pictures and travel articles from featured destinations. Once you choose a place to visit, the app provides you with plenty of helpful details ranging from maps to weather stats and local prices.

Bing Sports

As you may have guessed, Bing Sports helps you keep track of your favorite sports teams and general news stories in the realm of athletics. A top story is displayed on the home page by default and as you swipe to the right you’ll be greeted by more articles, game schedules, and a place just for you called “Favorite teams.” This section of the app is pretty self-explanatory, type in a team name and you’ll receive personalized information relevant to that team like standings, rosters, player stats, etc. And from the app bar up top, you can filter news stories by sport if you could care less about specific teams.

Conclusion

What do you think? Will Windows 8 be the next big thing or the next big flop? Sound off below!

If you’d like a more in-depth look at the Release Preview, a slideshow of all the apps (new & improved) has been provided for your viewing pleasure.

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The New iPad: Everything You Need to Know

Just iPadMost of the rumors posted in our recent iPad 3 post came true today when the new iPad was unveiled. Of course, there were a few things we all got wrong. Like the name for instance. But we all had it right where it counted. Welcome to the future of iPad.

Dropping the Number System

Despite numerous guesses at the name for the newest Apple tablet (the 2S, 3, or HD), they decided to simplify the naming system and just call it the “iPad”. It’s simple, clean, and I really like it. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Apple doesn’t number their MacBooks or iMacs do they? So removing the numbers from the iPad makes Apple’s various product lines seem even more in sync. Here’s hoping they extend this treatment to the iPhone lineup because numbers aren’t so cute once the years start adding up. The iPhone 11S doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

The Retina Display

Tech blogs everywhere (at least those lucky enough to get their hands on the device) are positively blown away by the new screen. Laptop Magazine said they “could sum up the visual experience in a word: whoa.” and Engadget said that the new iPad’s screen “is something that really needs to be ogled to truly appreciate.”

It looks like the screen lived up the hype and though it may have slightly less ppi (at 264, resulting in 3.1 million pixels on one screen) than the required 300, Apple is still calling it a Retina Display. The title of Retina Display still counts because when held at a normal distance (15 inches), the pixels are not visible. The resolution is as expected (2048 x 1536) and they say it has 44 percent more saturation than their previous IPS technology. And if the reactions around the web are to be believed, then new iPad really needs to be seen in person.

Camera Upgrade

My dreams of an HD front-facing camera have been dashed, though I am the first to admit that they were too good to be true. Instead, the new iPad features a new camera around back. Basically the same set up as the iPhone 4s, but with 5MP instead of 8. But it’s still rocking the 5-element lens, side-illuminated sensor, and infrared filter.

And that’s not all. The new camera is capable of recording video in 1080p HD at 30 fps. Apple has included temporal noise reduction that detects which pixels are actually moving and then using that information to decide what is noise and what is actual detail. Translation: Videos will look much clearer.

Brand New Guts

The new iPad is equipped with, not an A6 chip, but an A5x chip. Regardless of the name, the A5X still comes with a quad-core graphics module. Apple says the new chip has four times the graphics performance and twice the speed of a Tegra 3.

Faster Data Speeds

We all knew it was coming and now it’s official. 4G LTE connectivity will be supported, giving the user data speeds estimated at 21 Mbps on HSPA+ networks, all the way up to 73Mbps on LTE connections. And now I’m drooling… No. More. Waiting. The device will also be able to connect to GSM, UTMS, and CDMA networks.

More Memory

No actual confirmation on whether or not the new iPad has more RAM onboard, but it is pretty obvious that it would need some extra juice to power all those pixels.

Odds and Ends

The product dimensions remain virtually unchanged, measuring a mere 0.03 inches thicker than the iPad 2 and weighing in at 1.5 pounds.

Apple says battery life will stay at the beloved 10 hours.

The release date for the US, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia will be March 15.

Prices are set at $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB, and $699 for 64GB. Nothing shocking there. LTE capabilities will cost you $629, $729, and $829 respectively.

All in all, I am pretty excited about the newest iPad. I can’t wait to put my greasy fingers all over that Retina Display and abuse that LTE speed. Maybe I will round it all out with a few hours of Infinity Blade II. I guess it’s time to make another trip to the Apple store!