Holiday Gift Guide 2012: iOS Edition

Some  of the most popular gifts this holiday season will be the iPad, iPad mini, iPod Touch, and the iPhone 5. What if you want to get a cool accessory to go with that iOS device you are giving? Or what if you are giving a gift to someone who already has one of these devices? Sure, you can get them a case, or a screen protector, but what about something different?

Here are a few items you might want to consider ranging from the inexpensive to the not-so-inexpensive.

Toddy Gear Smart Cloth

The Toddy Gear Smart Cloth is one of the best – no, scratch that – the best screen wipe for an iOS device I have tried. I have two of them. iOS screens are constantly being covered in fingerprints and other “gunk” and these cloths are great for cleaning that off the screen.

They are basically a wipe that has one side for cleaning and one side for polishing. No cleaners are needed (I will occasionally dampen mine for a better cleaning). If they get dirty you can throw them in the wash. They start at $9.99 and come in various patterns and sizes. These are well worth the money.

IPEVO PadPillow

Another great gift for the iPad user is the IPEVO PadPillow. What is a Pad Pillow? It is a wedge shape pillow that lets you prop up your iPad like an easel. It can be used on your lap, on the floor, or on a table. I love this pillow and it has changes the way I use my iPad. It comes in a variety of colors and at well worth the $34 it retails for.

Gelaskins

If you are like me you are not a fan of cases unless they have a purpose (for example a case that doubles as an easel). I hate the bulk and weight they add to a device, especially my iPad. As a result my current iPad and iPhone do not have cases. Instead of a case they have a Gelaskin on the back to protect it from scratches and give it some decoration at the same time.

Gelaskins are heavy-duty adhesive skins that go on the back of your device (and front in the case of the iPhone, although I only covered the back). You can choose from numerous designs on the website or you can upload a photo and really personalize your skin. The phone version is $14.95 and the price goes up from their as the device gets larger. The iPad version is $29.95. Non-Apple devices are supported also. You even get a wallpaper file emailed to you for your device.

AirStash

Do you know someone who has a full iPad or iPod and can’t afford to upgrade to the next sized device? You might want to consider getting that person the AirStash (starts at $149.99) by Maxell. The AirStash looks like a USB flash drive and comes with an 8 or 16GB memory card. On the memory card you can store movies, photos, documents, etc that can stream to your iOS device and back through its own wireless network. This works great for streaming video. You use the free AirStash app, and it is compatible with other apps also. It can also stream to multiple devices (think road trip with kids in the back seat and multiple iPods!).

Griffin Cinemaseat

Speaking of road trips, if you know someone who travels with kids in the backseat the Griffin Cinemaseat is a must. It works with the iPad and an iPad mini model is also available now too. It is simply a case with a velcro strap that straps around the headrest of the car seat letting the person behind it watch video on the iPad. This system is less permanent than other headrest systems, is easier to install, and costs less money at $39.99 ($24.99 on Griffin’s website as of this writing).

So there you have it. Five gifts for the iOS user that aren’t something you may have thought of (like that new iPhone case). Happy Holidays!

Seattle shoppers preview Edibly, Bing’s latest mobile shopping app

Microsoft’s Bing has launched ‘Edibly’ for iPhone which will be available in the App Store despite the probable protests from Windows Phone users who feel that the app is exclusively for their platform. The application allows users to browse the Pike Place Market from the portable comfort of their handheld gadgets.

Backing up the move, Microsoft opines that the main aim of the release is to ease shopping stress and help consumers discover new products. The company calls the current release of Edibly a “pilot program on trial” since it currently can only run at a single location in a single city. There are plans for improvement if the pilot programs yields encouraging results.

It is hard to comprehend why a search engine would venture into such an investment. Managing and running this new app will allow Bing to deliver detailed information to consumers hence bettering its portfolio. The fact that the partnership brings more data to Bing is more likely their main goal.

Edibly gives information on what is new in the market and guides you through the entire process of shopping by navigating you through a digital map of whatever shopping site you visit. Apart from giving information about target market goods, the app moves a step further and enables the users to take a tangible action on the good discovered. For instance, entering a query about dinner resorts and reservations will be possible since ‘Edibly’ will morph to state the demand.

Edibly is in trial at Seattle U.S with its developers proposing the following benefits:

  • More shopping confidence courtesy of the market
  • A view page that allows product comparisons thus helping in choosing the best item
  • Save time by navigating through products in the market via a map functionality
  • Discover new products in the market.

Bing’s move to develop ‘Edibly’ shows the search engine’s interest in offering support to local markets by taking them online, where everybody is going. This contrasts against Google’s latest shopping venture that aims at turning the existent US product listings into ad spots. Edibly is currently still on its trial steps with promises of improvement and expansion which will, in due course, be revealed to the public.

App review: Calmighty is a well-designed iOS calendar app that integrates with Facebook

Calendar apps have become a must-have download in today’s fast paced digital society. Making the move from a paper calendar to a digital one might seem like a daunting task if you are unsure of which calendar app to choose. There are millions of productivity apps in the Apple app store but if you are looking for a download that will help manage your events in an efficient and stylish way then Calmighty may be the iOS app for you.

Calmighty is a gorgeous calendar app that is well designed, easy to use and integrates with Facebook. The app has a clock interface that offers its users a new and unique way to view your daily calendar of events. The interface is set up like a traditional clock with an hour hand moving from one to twelve, and as you drag the hand through each hour of the day it will show you what events you have scheduled.

Calmighty will also show your scheduled events the old-fashioned way in the monthly calendar view or even as a daily or monthly list—choose whichever view is best for you.

The app connects your built-in iOS calendar to Calmighty for a seamless integration between both your calendars. The app also integrates with Facebook and will automatically sync your events from the social media site straight to your calendar. The Facebook integration is an excellent feature to have and makes managing your digital schedule so much easier. For those readers who use social media as a way to manage events, Calmighty will be a welcomed new app.

The design on the app is one of the best features. It is simply beautiful and stunning. Calmighty is easy to use and makes inputting events a quick and simple process – unlike other calendar apps that make the process difficult and complicated. This is an app where the user can immediately see that the developers put extra thought in the design of the interface. I have never been a fan of digital calendars as I have found them too complicated and cumbersome at times, but Calmighty has converted me to the digital calendar team, and quite frankly I don’t know how I ever survived without one.

Overall, I thought Calmighty was an excellent calendar app that bridges the gap between your digital events that may be spread across multiple calendars. There are probably many fantastic calendar downloads in the Apple app store but Calmighty does such an efficient job of organizing your digital events that there is no need to look further in your calendar app search.

Cost: Free download

Rating: 8/10

Apple Releases a New iPod Touch in the Wake of iPhone 5’s Hit Release

It has been one week since Apple unveiled the new iPhone 5. As if the mere release of the fifth generation iPhone was not enough, the giant gadgets designer also dropped a newly revamped version of the Apple iPod Touch. The iPod Touch can be defined as an iPhone without the phone, meaning that the device delivers the other functionalities of an iPhone apart from the calling functionality.

Bigger screen, thinner device

This new iPod Touch still perpetuates Apple’s trend of releasing gadget updates that are slimmer, more power efficient and smarter than their predecessors. The gadget features a 4-inch retina display with an aspect ratio of 16:9 to enhance on video and gaming experiences which are the core functionalities of an iPad.

Weighing in at 88 grams (from the former 101 grams) with a super-thin depth of 6.1mm, the device is now powered by a dual core A5 processor, an improvement from the former A4 which is aimed at improving general processing capabilities to better on the execution of heavy-weight applications.

To cover the iPod, Apple designers have dumped the tapered chrome backing for a flat aluminum panel, a move that rhymes with the casing change of the iPhone 5 and is believed to add to the versatility of the gadget. The sleek cover is punctured at the front top part to host a secondary camera that can support 720p video and facial recognition with its pixel power left classified during the release.

At the rear of this new gadget that now features an internal speaker detaching you from the constant need for earphones and 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi radio making it compatible with Apple’s AirPlay Mirroring feature, is a new 5-megapixel camera complete with LED flash that supports 1080p video capture and other iSight capabilities.

Released in a variety of colors that include blue, silver and black that are bound to create an illusion of diversity fromone gadget to another, the new iPod Touch will come with new earbuds dubbed “EarPods” to enhance the audio quality delivered to the user.

An impressive cut down on power consumption will definitely reduce the need to get plugged in and juice up the iPod. Statistics released put music playback time to a record 40 hours.

Pricing

It is speculated that the iPod will be selling at a retail price of $299 for the 32GB model and $100 more for an additional 32GB of storage to lay hands on the 64GB model.

Everything you need to know about the new iPhone 5

The much anticipated iPhone 5 is finally out and from a glimpse of the gadget during the launch,
Apple did not make us wait all this long for nothing. Measuring 0.30 inch thick, the iPhone 5 is 18%
thinner than its predecessor and Apple claims that it is the thinnest and lightest (3.95 ounces) phone
around.

Network

In bid to tackle areas where the influx of Android smartphones is poking holes in iOS, the company has incorporated high-speed 4G-LTE networking capabilities which will add to the already impressive list of supported networks (GPRS, EDGE, EV-DO and HSPA). LTE will have a dedicated single chip  for voice and data, another for radio, and a dynamic antenna that will surf through different networks automatically.

Display

To compete with other high end Smartphones like Samsung galaxy S111 or the Nokia Lumia 920, the Retina Display screen has been increased to an impressive 4″ which, though still less than that of its competitors, delivers better display at 326ppi (1,136×640) at an aspect ratio of 16:9.

The extra screen dimensions mean more icons can be crammed into the home screen reducing the time to locate certain services. Other applications that will take advantage of this real estate will be the calendar which can now give a full five day view and iWork apps. However, third-party apps without updates will have to work framed in black borders to avoid stretching or scaling.

Hardware

Encased in an aluminium unibody stellar quality shell does away with the fragility of its predecessors, the iPhone 5 packs an A6 chip that is two times faster than the current A5 chip. The chip, which in the real sense is 22% smaller than the A5, will deliver faster speeds effectively doing away with the lagging common in the 4th generation iPhones when they run heavy apps.

Battery Life

Powering all this awesome hardware under normal circumstances is expected to make consume more battery life.  Apple is however promising longer battery life – an alleged 8 hours for 3G talk, 8hours of 3G and LTE browsing, 10 hours for Wi-Fi browsing and video playback, 40 for music playback and a whooping 225 hours of standby time – something we won’t be sure of until it is tested.

Camera and Additional Features

Other cutting-edge features include a primary “iSight” camera at 8 megapixels featuring backside
illumination, a hybrid IR filter, five element lenses and a f2.4 aperture, a secondary camera, additional three more
microphone, improved noise cancellation feature, a new and smaller connector (Lightning) and SIM card and a new OS, iOS 6.

The 16GB is $199, the 32GB is $299 and the 64GB is $399.

A closer look at the iPhone 5 Mockup

With the release of the latest-generation iPhone around the corner, the web has registered numerous leaks about the device from multiple sources around the globe. The latest bit of information comes from a set of videos and still photos of a full mockup of the iPhone 5 at the 2012 IFA convention in Europe. The mockup was first spotted by GSM Israel field agents in a booth for an iPhone case maker.

The news caught up like wildfire after being translated and posted on The Verge, stemming a lively discussion about the real meaning of the mockup. Commenting on the same, a reporter said, “We are told volume production of the form-fitting cases have already begun, with a view to shipping to retailers in a week’s time.” He went a step further to state that, “The mockup we got to see today confirms absolutely nothing about Apple’s plans, but at least one company is confident enough in the dimensions on show to start producing accessories for the expected iPhone 5.”

The Verge claims to have stumbled upon the mockup that is shown below courtesy of the CEO to a major cover and case manufacturer. The mockup rhymes with all the iPhone 5 rumors floating around in the sense that the gadget is taller than existing iPhones and features a bottom-placed headphone jack and a two-toned back plate.

Among the expected upgrades on the iPhone 5 will be a larger 4-inch screen, a slimmer design, and a redesigned charging dock with fewer pins. Other features to expect in the new model will be 4G LTE connectivity, NFC capabilities and a longer-lasting battery.

With the launch anticipated to be a real game changer, other handset rivals are rushing to share the glory ahead of the iPhone 5. Nokia announced some new devices yesterday, including their new flagship Lumia 920, while Amazon is rumored to debut a new Kindle Fire on September 6th.

iPhone app review: Checkmark

iOS’s built-in Reminders app is pretty good, but not great. The location-based reminders are a bit time-consuming to set up and the whole app is pretty basic and doesn’t offer up a whole lot of features. Checkmark, on the other hand, is an extremely intuitive reminders app that takes location-based reminders to a completely new level.

First off, it’s extremely easy to set up any kind of reminder in Checkmark, and there’s two kinds of reminders you can set for yourself: “When” and “Where.” When, for time-based reminders, and Where, for location-based reminders. You switch between the two using When and Where buttons at the bottom of the screen.

For “Where” reminders (location-based), you just add your most visited locations on the home screen, like work, home, the grocery store, your parents’ house, the bank, etc. You can add a location multiple different ways: By using your current location, searching for a point of interest, importing an address from your Contacts, or manually entering an address. You can also choose a radius of a location, so that notifications will alert you within a certain distance that you specify. I found the radius feature to be extremely helpful, since I was able to know far in advance that I needed to pick up a few things from the grocery store before I got near it.

After you add a location, tap on it to add a location-based reminder for that specific place. The next time you arrive there or pass by, you’ll get a notification reminding you of the task you need to get done at that specific location. Any location you add will automatically be saved to the app’s homescreen for future use.

“When” reminders are a little more basic. When creating a reminder, you simply enter in a title (and some notes about the reminder if you wish) and choose the day and time that you want to be alerted. When it’s time for the reminder to be delivered, you get a notification.

There are also other small features that can be really handy for a lot of users. You can sort your location-based reminders by distance, and even delay notifications until after you’ve been at a location for a certain amount of time.

The only downside that I see with Checkmark is its lack of integration with iOS and OS X. Checkmark is only available on the iPhone, so there’s no syncing between multiple devices. Checkmark also doesn’t integrate with Siri, so you can’t just quickly add a reminder in Checkmark using Apple’s virtual assistant.

However, Checkmark’s location-based reminder system is leaps and bounds above Apple’s offering, and I’ll gladly take that over any kind of integration with Apple’s ecosystem.

Checkmark is available in the iTunes App Store for $2.99.

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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How to identify planes and planets with your mobile phone

Last Saturday found our family sitting outside on a warm evening, relaxing after a barbecue. The sky was so clear that we were able to clearly make out two contrails and the shape of an aircraft. This was way above our heads and clearly not a plane using the local airport.

While my relatives discussed its likely route and estimated its height, I quietly took out my iPhone. I felt sure I had heard of an app that could tell you about planes overhead. Leaving them to their discussion, I asked Google.

Plane Finder AR for iOS

Within a couple of minutes, I had used the 3G network to download Plane Finder AR.

I tapped on the app, pointed my iPhone’s camera at the plane and within seconds I knew that the plane was en route from London Heathrow to Morocco. I also knew its flight number and its height (which turned out to be within 1000 feet of my grandfather’s estimate).

Plane Finder on iPhone
Plane Finder on iPhone

Sometimes technology can leave you speechless and this was one of those times. I spent quite a while looking out for planes after that. Every time, just pointing the app at the aircraft told me its origin, destination and various other information.

Thinking about it, the combination of publicly available flight information, a compass and a reliable GPS is probably all that it took to make this app, but that’s really not the point. There was nobody at that barbecue that wasn’t truly amazed by what it could do.

SkySafari for iOS and Android

Looking at planes isn’t the only reason I have found to point my iPhone at the sky.

We are lucky enough to live in an area with very little light pollution. On a clear night, we have a superb view of the stars. As a result, SkySafari was one of the first apps I downloaded for the iPhone (it is also available for Android).

Sky Safari uses GPS to overlay a map of the solar system when your mobile phone is pointed at the sky, making it easy to identify individual stars and planets. It’s then possible to drill down to specific information about each of them.

SkySafari gets a little technical. I know nothing about astronomy, so some of the information at my fingertips is a mystery to me. However, it is great when someone points and says “I think that’s Venus,” and I can whip out the iPhone and confirm it!

Another great feature of SkySafari is its “SkyWeek” functionality that informs you about significant events in the sky such as eclipses and other phenomena. For those keen to learn about astronomy, this information is a great starting point.

Although neither of these sky-based apps are things I use daily, they are fascinating demonstrations of the things that smartphones can do. Two of our Saturday night party members have now ordered iPhones – not because they are great phones, not because they are good for browsing the Web and not because they are fantastic media players.

They’ve ordered them because they can point them at planes and see where they’re going.

Inside Apple’s USB Power Adapters

If you own an iPhone, you most likely are in possession of Apple’s 5W USB power adapter, a great little contraption that charges your iPhone via a wall outlet using your normal USB cable. From the face of it, it’s a fairly elementary device. It simply takes alternating current from the wall and turns it into five watts of five volt power.

However, according to Ken Shirriff (who recently tore open one of these power adapters), the circuitry is “surprisingly complex and innovative.”

Shirriff conducted an exhaustive analysis of the 5W iPhone charger and posted about it on his blog. He found out some pretty amazing things about Apple’s tiny USB wall charger. For those that are knowledgeable about circuitry and the like, you’ll find Shirriff’s writeup to be both extremely informative and interesting (with circuit diagrams drawn out even), but for those who just want to know why the damn thing costs a whopping $30, Shirriff has this to say:

Apple’s power adapter is clearly a high-quality power supply designed to produce carefully filtered power. Apple has obviously gone to extra effort to reduce EMI interference, probably to keep the charger from interfering with the touchscreen. When I opened the charger up, I expected to find a standard design, but I’ve compared the charger to the Samsung charger and several other high-quality industry designs, and Apple goes beyond these designs in several ways.”

Some of the ways that Apple went above and beyond are apparent when looking at the small details. Apple used “super-strong AC prongs,” as well as a “complex over-temperature / over-voltage shutdown circuit.” Overall, Shirriff says that Apple’s 5W USB power adapter packs an impressive amount of complexity into such a small space.

However, Shirriff notes that even though Apple’s 5W USB power adapter is higher quality than most other USB adapters, that doesn’t mean that the $30 price tag is necessarily worth it. He says that Apple’s USB charger probably only uses about a dollar more on parts than other, less-expensive chargers that cost $6-$10. So essentially, Apple is making a huge profit off of each power adapter that they sell.

Image Credit: Alan Levine