Meet Uber, your on-demand private driver

2013-04-11_09h49_14Thanks to the Uber app for iOS and Android, gone are the days of standing outside trying to hail a cab or find a car service. I was recently in San Francisco for work and I met a friend for dinner across town. We were about to leave, and I said to her, “I really hope there are cabs in this area.” She looked at me and said, “You don’t have the Uber app?” I immediately pulled out my iPhone and download the app, within 5 minutes I signed up and had a taxi waiting for me outside the restaurant.

How it Works

Set up an account

First, you download the app to your iOS or Android device and create an account. You must enter a credit card in order to complete account set up. An email will be sent for you to confirm your information

Right now Uber can be used in the following cities: Amsterdam, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Hamptons, London, Los Angles, Melbourne, Milan, Minneapolis-St Paul, Napa, New York, Orange Count, Paris, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Singapore, Stockholm, Sydney, Toronto, Washington DC.

Select the type of vehicle you want

The types of vehicles are listed below; however, not every type of vehicle is available in every city. When you launch the app GPS will locate what city you are in and give you the vehicle options for that area.

Taxi: No flagging or yelling required! Use Uber to request and pay for a taxi, at standard taxi rates plus a $1 booking fee. A 20% gratuity is automatically added for the driver.

UBERx: The convenience of Uber at a lower price with hybrid and mid-range cars in a variety of colors. Seats up to 4 people.

Black: Classic black car option is the default. Choose this and either a high-end sedan or SUV will be curbside in minutes. Note: choosing “Black” and being picked up by an SUV will not charge you the SUV rates. Seats up to 4 people.

SUV: When you’re rolling with more than four people, request only SUVs, for a higher rate. Seats up to 6 people

Use the app to tell Uber where you want to be picked up

You can use the map and your phone’s GPS to tell Uber your current location so they can pick you up. If the GPS does not find the exact location, you can manually type in the address.

www.uber.com
www.uber.com

Wait for Uber to respond

Uber will send you a text notifying you of how long you’ll need to wait before you can expect to be picked up, along with the driver’s name. When your Uber ride arrives, you’ll receive another text to let you know.

Wait for your payment to be automatically charged

Your card will be automatically charged, with the tip already included. You don’t need to manually hand over some cash or your card to the driver before you leave. It’s that simple.

Pricing

Uber’s pricing is similar to metered taxis, although all hiring and payment is handled exclusively through Uber and not with the driver personally. If the Uber car is traveling at a speed greater than 11 mph, the price is calculated on a distance basis. Otherwise, the price is calculated on a time basis. Prices are higher than prices charged by conventional taxicabs and 20% gratuity is automatically added.

At the end of a ride, the complete fare (which includes a tip) is automatically billed to the customer’s credit card. Uber has said that its high prices are the premium that the customers pay for a cab service that is not only reliable but also punctual and comfortable. Check out Uber’s website for prices per city.

Once the ride is over…

A receipt is sent to your email address (great for those who need to expense the ride) along with a survey to rate your experience. I also received an email for $10 off for every friend I get to sign up using the link they provide in the email.

Conclusion

Overall, my experience with Uber was great. The price may seem a little expensive to some people who give it a try, but when you work it out with the tip and realize that you’re paying for more of a high quality and convenient driver experience, it’s actually well worth the cost.

iOS App Roundup: 3 apps that keep me glued to my phone

According to a recent study, the average smartphone user has 41 apps on their device.

It interests me to know how many of these are in regular use. While I have a small set of core apps that never move from my home screen, I tend to go through phases with others. Several things from last year, for example, have fallen out of favor and been deleted. Examples include Words with Friends (there’s only so much Scrabble one can play), iQuit (sadly my giving up smoking attempt failed), and Instapaper (I just didn’t use it enough).

Meanwhile though, other apps have stepped in to take their place and keep me glued to my device for many a waking hour. In this article I list three that have been enhancing my life in recent months.

Flipboard 

These days, if I get bored, I go on Flipboard. This simple app aggregates news reports in various subject areas, giving you a brief overview of a story, courtesy of its pleasing “flip” interface, with an easy way to drill down to the full story if it’s of interest.

Flipboard - for iOS and Android
Flipboard – for iOS and Android

It’s something akin to StumbleUpon crossed with Twitter crossed with a standard news app, and if you’re a news junkie, it will occupy hours of your time. It’s available for Android too.

TripAdvisor City Guides

I was recently fortunate enough to enjoy a holiday in the USA where I visited New York and Florida. I downloaded various guidebook-style apps before my vacation, but TripAdvisor’s free offering was the one the really enhanced our trip.

Its best feature is its ability to use the iPhone’s basic compass and GPS functionality to point you at anything in the guide. Want to find your way from Midtown New York to Downtown New York, walking via Chinatown – no problem – you can navigate the streets like a pro. It does all this offline from a downloaded guide, meaning it works well enough with data roaming switched off.

Guides are currently available for over 80 cities worldwide. Finding yourself somewhere new without getting lost gives you a lot more time to see the things you want to. I’ll be using this app in every new place I visit.

Subway Surfers

I had to include a game, and for someone with a short attention span, Subway Surfers has stayed on my home screen list for a surprisingly long time. It’s essentially an “endless running” game, but one that runs at a rather more sedate pace than the likes of the popular Temple Run. There’s also something decidedly retro about it that appeals to the 80s gamer in me.

Also, although it’s a freemium game where you can purchase power-ups and such, it never makes you feel like you need to spend anything to enjoy it properly – which just seems…kind and fair, which is a good thing.

My apps come and go, but the list above consists of three that I think are destined to be “keepers.” I strongly recommend you check them out.

How to use a wireless Bluetooth keyboard with an Apple TV

The Apple TV

With the latest Apple TV software update, Apple added the capability to use a Bluetooth keyboard with the Apple TV. Why would you want to use a keyboard with the Apple TV? Well, it makes it a lot faster and easier to type in search fields when using the YouTube app and the few others that require typing when compared to stumbling through with the Apple Remote. You can also use the arrow keys on the keyboard to navigate through the Apple TV.

How to add a Bluetooth keyboard to your Apple TV

Setting up the keyboard is really easy to do.

  1. Make sure the keyboard is turned on and in pairing mode
  2. Navigate to Settings on your Apple TV
  3. Choose “General”, then choose “Bluetooth”, then the Apple TV will automatically search for your keyboard
  4. Choose the keyboard and the Apple TV will give you a code to type into the keyboard
  5. Enter the code, then the keyboard will be paired with the Apple TV and you are ready to go

Any Bluetooth keyboard should work with your Apple TV. I discovered that a keyboard made for the iPad, like one that might come with an iPad keyboard case combination, is a great solution. These keyboards usually have extra keys for iPad functionality. One of these keys might be a Home button to exit apps on the iPad. Well, that same button will navigate you backwards through the Apple TV like the “Menu” button on the Apple TV remote. This is a very handy feature. These keyboards are also smaller and harder to type on, but it is not like you are typing a full thesis on the Apple TV (unless Apple decides to allow apps one day, but that is wishful thinking for now).

The only downside to using the keyboard with the Apple TV is that you have to make sure it is constantly charged. If your keyboard using regular batteries you’ll probably get more life out of it than a rechargeable model. You also need a place to keep the keyboard. On the plus side the keyboard is a lot easier to keep track of then that little “silver stick”, as we call the remote in my house.

Overall, a keyboard with the Apple TV is a great combination. It may not be something you want to run out and spend a bunch of money on, but if you have an extra Bluetooth keyboard or can find a cheap one someplace it might be worth your while to try it out.

iOS app review: Tie Assistant its great way to learn how to knot a tie

tie assistant 3Knotting a tie can be as difficult. All those twists and turns, and knots and pulleys can get a man dizzy by just trying. How does Tim Cook do it every morning? Well, he probably has Siri do it, or his team of iPhone designers because we all know they haven’t been putting in any effort on that project since the 3G. I’m kidding, I’m kidding (no, I’m not).

If you are a tech geek that couldn’t knot a tie to save your hard drive from crashing, or just someone who loves to combine a great looking tie with any outfit, dressy or casual, then do we have the app for you: Tie Assistant. If you are new to the underground world of ties, or simply need a fresher on all the various types of knots to use, Tie Assistant is the perfect place to start.

The app, which is available for all Apple iOS devices, is a free download in the Lifestyle category, and will give you a step-by-step tutorial on how to knot virtually any type of tie that you please. It also may become the new favorite app for tie aficionados everywhere.

Tie Assistant is great for tie experts or beginners alike. The free version of the app has tutorials on six different types of knots, ranging from the simple ‘Kent’, all the way to the exotic, and, not for beginners, ‘Hannover’ knot. The charm of the app is its extensive list of knot types that tie beginners, or even experts, might not have known about if they were simply searching for instructional videos on the internet.

tie assistant 2

Tie Assistant also has a paid version of the app for $0.99 that will give you access to 22 different tutorials on how to knot your tie. Yes, 22 different ways. I am not kidding. The paid version of the app will teach you the Double Windsor, the Half Windsor, the Kelvin, and the Cavendish — and, no, I am not making up any of these names. And, that’s not even the half of it either, because there are over 80 ways to knot a tie, and the Tie Assistant app continues to add more and more tutorials into its system.

The tutorials themselves are simple and easy to follow. They are pictures of a shirt and tie that will walk you through each turn of the tie step-by-step. I tried tying a few different knots that I was not familiar with, and was able to get the process down quickly and without any major issues. The high-resolution pictures were a big help and easy to understand. But, of course, I only tried the simple knots. I don’t know that I am ready for the crazy eight-step knots like the ‘Hannover’—the force is weak with me.

tie assisant 4

Tie Assistant is an excellent app to have stored in one of your Apple device. It is available for both the iPad and iPhone, and could be a life saver during one of those James Bond 007 moments where you need to tie an exotic knot before you have a martini—shaken, not stirred. Or a Heineken… I’m not entirely sure what James Bond is drinking nowadays.

Overall, Tie Assistant is a stylish and easy to use app that could really come in handy when you need to knot a tie. With over 22 different ways to do so, it is definitely worth the price at only $0.99. I would recommend that you try out the free version of the app first, and if it turns out to be something that you like, then go ahead and splurge on the full version (you can upgrade at any time while using the app). Your ties may just thank you for it later.

I rate Tie Assistant an 8 out of 10 and it is definitely an above-average iOS app.

3 apps to make grocery shopping easier

grocery appFor most of us, heading to the grocery store can be a huge production. Even if it’s just to pick up that box of baking soda a new recipe just can’t do without. There are the canvas bags we always forget to bring in, carts that take up the best parking stalls, and hoards of people all trying to do the same: shop as quickly as possible. I usually come in with a list, but there’s no rhyme or reason to the layout. I’ll pick up frozen veggies, backtrack to the peanut butter, and become forever overwhelmed with the hundreds of cereal options that await.

That is, until I stumbled into the world of grocery apps. Free and easier than I would have ever imagined, now I can easily list, navigate, and save my way through the aisles with the help of a single app. Of course many options are available, but here’s an outline of some of the most popular (AKA best working) grocery shopping apps.

Grocery IQ

More than just a list, Grocery IQ allows users to put in their needed items, arrange them for maximum store efficiency, and even hear suggestions for sales in the area. A cohort of Coupons.com, print or email coupons straight from the site. As for the “IQ” bit, this app remembers most purchased items, allowing you to add them to future lists with ease.

OurGroceries

Perfect for families with multiple smartphones, OurGroceries lets users create and sync lists from multiple locations. Update, change quantities, or create different lists to suit each store; one for groceries, one for cleaning supplies, one for the hardware store, and so on. Homes with multiple smartphones often opt for this more versatile version.

Shopping List

Powered by recipe.com, this free app is great for regular site users; simply add ingredients straight from a recipe page and into Shopping List. Read items into your phone for voice recognition to pick up, scan, or type lists to receive area sales.

Conclusion

While it’s true that many of these grocery list-based apps hold similar traits, it’s also true that they help make life much easier. Find one that works best for you (free ones; many are paid but offer few upgrades from their no-fee counterparts), or choose the one that comes with a familiar face. All options will allow you to save time, cut back on funds, and save some stress along the way.

Thanks to these and other grocery-themed smartphone apps, shopping for food never looked easier.

Leo’s Pad: An educational gem for children on iPad

Leo's Pad icon

While there are many educational apps available for the iPad based on kids television shows and movies, there are even more apps that have nothing to do with popular characters. These are the apps that get the most play in my house. However, every now and then an app comes along that has nothing to do with any television or movie characters and my son loves it. Leo’s Pad Appisode 1 by Kidaptive, is one of these games. Not only did my son love it, I loved it too.

While the app is not based on any popular characters, it is like watching an episode of a TV show made exclusively for the iPad. The story follows a young boy named Leo (Leonardo DaVinci) who is making a birthday present for his friend Gally (Galileo Galilei) and taking it to him. Leo also has a little pet dragon who tags along as his sidekick. As the story unfolds there are a variety of activities your child has to complete. These include building the telescope (which is the present), launching and flying Leo on his glider, and more. The activities are fun and educational at the same time. I’d say the entire game took us about ten minutes to complete.

What really sets this apart from other apps I have seen is the graphics, animation, and music. The graphics in the apps are fantastic. The artwork is beautifully rendered and the animation that goes with it is smooth and well done. The music in the app is a nice support to the story and the voice work was great. It truly felt like watching an interactive television show.

Screen shot from the Appisode 1
Screen shot from the Appisode 1

As of right now there are three appisodes in the Leo’s Pad series. Appisode 1 is free at the time of this writing and well worth downloading. Appisode 2 cost $1.99 and is definitely worth it. After finishing Appisode 1 my son was so engrossed in the story that I immediately downloaded Appisode 2, which is equally well done and fun. Appisode 2 continues the story of Leo and Gally with a third friend Marie (Marie Curie). The story leaves off where the first stopped and your child helps the friends build a rocket and go into space. Just like the first appisode, this one is a combination of story and activities that move the story along.

The only disappointing part of the second app is that the third part of the series is not available yet. I would have bought it right away and will be buying it as soon as it hits the app store. If you are a parent of a preschooler this is one app series you don’t want to miss.

The hidden method for deleting apps on your iOS device

Have you ever been on your iOS device (iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, or iPad mini) and gotten a message that you do not have enough storage left for the app you want to download? What do you do? Well, that message is your indicator to start deleting apps, and preferably the big ones that take up a lot of space on the device. (I also suggest purging any apps you have not used in the past thirty days. You can always reinstall them, but you will find you won’t miss 99% of them.)

There are two ways to go about deleting your apps. You can use the “regular” way of long-pressing an app icon until they all start to jiggle with the “x” on the corner. Touch the x to delete the app. The problem with this method is that you have no idea how much space these apps are taking up and how much space you are freeing on your device. You could delete ten apps but only free up 5 MB. That won’t be much help.

The better, hidden way

The second method is the hidden method for deleting apps. If you open the Settings app and choose “General” followed by “Usage” you will be presented with a screen that has a section called “Storage” at the top. In that section you will see a list of apps on your device and how much space they are using. This list is only a partial list of your apps. Scroll down and tap “Show all Apps” to see the complete list.

Once you are on this list, tapping an app will give you a screen where you can delete the app. As you delete apps you can track your free space at the top of the list.

IMG_0385

You might also notice apps in the list that you have already deleted. This is data left behind from those apps and I have found it to be several hundred megabytes in some cases. You definitely want to get that space back.

Another benefit of deleting apps this way (besides seeing how much storage they are using) is that it is a lot easier and faster to find apps you want to delete. There is no hunting through pages and folders for apps. They are all right there in one clean list.

Of course if deleting apps doesn’t give you the free space you need it is time to delete videos and music. However, that is another article.

Astrid is a near perfect to-do list for both iOS and Android

Logo_Astrid-320Calendars for 2013 are still fresh off the printing presses, and even though we are only a few weeks into January, I suspect that most people’s New Year’s resolutions are being broken by the minute. I started with six, but unfortunately they are being picked off faster than zombies on the Walking Dead. So, in order to keep the three resolutions I have left, I needed to do something drastic.

Get. A. To. Do. List.

Yes, an actual to-do-list. I’ve avoided them for years – but in order to stay productive during the year it was my only option.

In my despair I download Astrid, a to-do-list app available for iPhone, iPad and Android. And to my surprise, the app was fantastic and the best thing to ever happen to my productivity.

Astrid has a smooth and efficient design, and is easy to use as well. The app is a free download, but also offers a premium service for $4.99 a month or $39.99 a year, which offers file storage, voice recording, and document backups.

But don’t worry; it’s not essential that you fork over your hard-earned cash for the premium service, because Astrid is still a fantastic app even if you only use the basics.

iPhone-personal-list

The app has a simple and sleek design that lets you compile a standard to-do-list with the traditional boxes to check mark a completed task. You can also input tasks with specific dates and times, in order to remind you what needs to be done. One great feature about the app is that Astrid will categorize your tasks into four separate lists: tasks that are late, due today, due this week, and tasks that have no due date. You can also categorize your tasks under home, personal, shopping and work, or even customize the categories to fit your needs.

iPhone-shared-list

Another fantastic feature offered by Astrid is the ability to connect with friends or family on Facebook and share or assign tasks via the app. My wife and I use a shared to-do list, which makes running our busy household so much easier, and, to be honest, fun. I went from despising to-do lists to actually enjoying using them, and now consider Astrid to be an indispensable app on my iOS devices.

One area where Astrid has come in handy is during my workouts (which, by the way, were one of my New Years resolutions). The app sends push notification reminders when it’s time for me to workout – but where it really comes in handy is by sitting in my ‘late’ box if I do not complete it on time. It irks me to no end to see a workout that I have skipped sitting in the ‘late’ box.

iPhone-speech-to-text

There are so many features on the app that I might have missed a few, so here’s a quick list of all the features that Astrid offers.

  • Cloud sync with push notifications
  • Voice recognition
  • Share tasks and list over e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter
  • See friends’ public tasks and give them encouragement
  • One-time or repeating reminders
  • Add notes and set priorities
  • Calendar integration
  • available for both iOS and Android devices

Overall I love Astrid, and have become completely addicted to using to-do lists. It may also be the best productivity app I have used in a while. If I had to rate the app I would give it a 10/10, and call it a must have for anyone looking to increase their productivity and get their lives more organized. It’s also a great way to keep your New Years resolutions on track. Astrid is a great app and I highly recommend it.

Game review: Bastion comes to iOS, and brings style with it

I’m always worried when developers port their games from the original platform to a new one. Console to PC, PC to Mac, console to mobile; whatever the case, the results usually suck (especially Mac ports). The new platform rarely gets the same support or attention as the original, and the ported game usually runs much slower because it’s running through some sort of emulator like Wine or DOSbox.

That being said, I hope other developers are paying attention to Supergiant Games’ release of Bastion on iOS.  This is the rare case where the ported game may be better than the original.

Gameplay

Bastion is an action RPG in which you are put in control of a character named “The Kid”. An apocalyptic event has occurred in the near past and it’s your job to “make things right” by collecting various items throughout the game world. There are several mini-game challenges that help build proficiency with the different weapon types that are introduced, but you’ll spend most of your time running through the levels, killing monsters.

Gameplay is straight-forward and seems to be a mix of equal parts Zelda and Fallout; it’s hack, and slash, and shoot. Weapons, skills, and even the buildings at your home-base can be upgraded as your character levels up.

Variety can be added to combat by mixing up different sets of weapons to match the fighting style you prefer. My preferred kit was the machine gun and a blow torch, whereas one of my friends liked using the pole-arm and a sniper rifle.

Bastion originally debuted on Xbox Live Arcade and was built around the Xbox controller. The crew at Supergiant have done an excellent job in revamping the control scheme for a touch device. The controls are intuitive, frustration-free, and fun.

Fightin' off a giant scumbag.
Fightin’ off a giant scumbag.
Image credit: Supergiant Games

If I were to choose one word to describe the game, it would be “polished”. The art design, music (seriously, this is one of the best game soundtracks… ever.), narration, and controls are all top-notch and draw you into the game. Played on the iPad with a set of good head phones, the gaming experience is more intimate than on a TV screen or computer monitor, more akin to reading a good book. This is where I think the iOS port improves upon the original. It’s a more personal experience.

Pricing & availability

Bastion is available through the App Store for $4.99. It’s also available on Xbox Live Arcade, Chrome Web Store, Steam (for Mac & PC), and on the Ubuntu Software Center. Sorry, Android users!

Final Thoughts

The one area of the game that falls short of the rest is the story, which is oddly something that many critics have praised. Compared to a game like Braid (or literally any decent book), the narrative is a tad generic and falls apart toward the end of game. If you come away from the game thinking “that was profound”, I recommend reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan as a comparison of something that’s truly thought-provoking.

None of this stopped me from pulling out my guitar and learning all the songs from the soundtrack though.

Manage your gift cards with Gyft app

Gift cards can be a convenient gift for the holidays, but who likes carrying around all those useless, environmentally unfriendly plastic rectangles? Certainly not me, which is why the free application Gyft is perfect, an application that not only aggregates our gift cards, but allows us to buy and gift others with gift cards from a variety of major retailers like Gap, Amazon, Target and many others.

Gyft provides a gift card platform for consumers and retailers that enables customers to upload, buy, share, and redeem gift cards conveniently from their mobile device. Gyft is seamlessly integrated with Facebook so users can send gift cards to their friends around special events. Around 200 of Gyft’s some 300+ retailers also support deeper integration with their own systems, allowing users to check their gift card balances from Gyft’s app as well. One of Gyft’s goals is to try to overcomes current issues that limit the potential of gift cards, which often end up lost, stolen, or forgotten.

How it works

Adding a gift card

Simply download the Gyft app from the App Store for iOS or Google Play for Android. As a bonus, those downloading the Gyft app will be given $10 in free cards.

  1. Select Add a gift card under menu
  2. Select the store and enter the card information
  3. You can also optionally add the expiration date and scan the back of the card
    • If you have an iOS device you can also add it to Passbook
  4. The one downfall is you need to know the initial value of your gift card

Add gift card

Regifting a gift card

For those who have received gift cards and really and do not plan on using it, you can also use the app to resend to a friend:

  1. Click menu and send a gift card
  2. Select your friend/family member under contacts or Facebook (if you have integrated the app with Facebook, you must let gyft access your contacts)
  3. Select From my wallet and choose the gift card you want to regift
  4. You then choose the delivery method either email or text. You can also change the time you want it delivered and select confirm

Regift

You are all set and your gift card is on its way!

Send a gift card

You can also chose to send a new gift card to family and friend from the app. Basically the steps are similar to regifting:

  1. Click menu and send a gift card
  2. Select your friend/family member under contacts or Facebook (if you have integrated the app with Facebook, you must let gyft access your contacts)
  3. Select Buy a Card and choose the store and denomination
  4. You then choose the delivery method either email or text. You can also change the time you want it delivered and select confirm
  5. Finally you have to enter your Payment Details

Delivery options

Gyft estimates that gift cards will account for 20% of holiday sales this season. In addition to record gift card sales, mobile commerce has reached an all-time high, making Gyft a must-have app.