Monday, March 28, 2011

Cool Camera Apps - Part 1

No subject gets more attention in my newsletter than the apps I review. (Note: in case you haven't heard - "app" is just another name for a program. The term evolved along with mobile technology but is now being used for full fledged PC/Mac software as well.)

I've been pleasantly surprised by how much I use my iPhone camera. It's certainly not a great camera but for many purposes it's "good enough" and, most important, I always have it with me. I divide camera apps into two categories
1) apps that are primarily associated with taking pictures (photography)
2) those that are mostly used for editing pictures (editing)
This distinction is not precise since many apps do a combination of the two. I base the distinction on the primary attributes of the app and what I generally use it for. Some apps modify still and/or video images as they are being taken; others operate on images from the library and some can do both. The following two apps cost 99 cents each.

For the photography apps, you can't beat QuickCam - often described as the camera app that should have come with the iPhone. For general purpose iPhone pictures, I've switched completely to Quickcam. It's easy to use and will start up and take pictures much faster than the standard Apple app. It has a rapid fire mode where you can touch and hold the camera button and take two pictures per second. While you are taking video, you can touch the camera button and take a still picture.

ToonCamera is another favorite. It works on both live and stored still and video images to create a cartoon effect by limiting the number of colors used. This picture of a fox taken in our back yard

Cartoon Fox - original shown in inset
shows the results. If you are familiar with the GIF image format, you get the same effect. GIF works great on art and drawings with a limited number of colors but produces the cartoon effect when used with photographs - like coloring with eight crayons!

Here's a quick list of other favorites in this category (many have free and paid versions)
Timelapse - Set your camera in a window and it can take pictures at regular intervals for a specified time. Then save the results and play them back as a movie - watch a flower grow!
ExternalCamera - Monitor the iPhone camera on your iPad - watch and listen to a sleeping baby or keep an eye on your front door.
CameraFun - Variety of special effects.
SneakyPix - Set the camera to take a series of pictures while you appear to be reading email or talking on the phone - that's sneaky.
CanScan - Use this camera app to snap a picture of a document and automatically rotate, crop and adjust the lighting for a perfect "scanned" document.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tablet Typing can be Improved

Portable devices all suffer from inadequate keyboards - inadequate in that they do not allow rapid touch typing like the "real" keyboards we're all accustomed to. There are ways to speed things up including -

  1. Autocorrect features are generally quite accurate and should be allowed to work. Backspacing and correcting errors is such a natural action we waste time making corrections that are already suggested by the software.
  2. Apple iPad and iPhone users should use the special key actions such as swiping the period key to enter a quotation mark. Because space is limited, some keys are relegated to secondary keyboards so these special actions eliminate the need to switch keyboards. For more info on this subject including easy ways to enter special characters see this article.
  3. Android users who master the Swype app can significantly speed up their routine typing by sliding a finger from character to character and allowing the software make corrections as they go. This brief description will show you how it works.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Luxury Hotels Go Paperless and Mobile

Starting in January, the iPad tablet replaced touch panels in every guest room at The Plaza Hotel in New York City, where it provides guest services and room controls. 

Guests of the Plaza can use the touch screen to order room service, contact the concierge (or make their own dinner reservations), and control their room’s lighting and climate, plus general web browsing. Another benefit is moving away from having a guest directory in the room. 

The paperless benefit of the iPad is also being pushed by The Forty 1 North Hotel Marina Resortin Newport, Rhode Island, which puts in-room iPads on its list of eco-conscious measures. 

Directories, menus, maps, and daily newspapers are all delivered paperlessly to guests using the iPad.
(from CNBC)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Comparing Apple and Android App Review Process

There are going to be hundreds of articles comparing Apple (iPad and iPhone) with the numerous Google Android tablets and phones. Two facts may be more important than any others
  • Fact 1 - At the present, there are thousands of apps available for both the iPhone and Android phones. Right now there only a couple of Android tablets that run the version of the Operating System designed for tablets and there are about twenty apps available. There are 65 thousand iPad apps available.
  • Fact 2 - Apple monitors all apps to make sure they are not harmful while Google does not. In fact the entire process of updating the Android OS is handled by the carriers - the phone companies. This would be like Microsoft having WalMart responsible for updating its software.
Read this excellent article to understand the ramifications of the second fact.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

iPad monthly data plans compared

The roll out of the iPad 2 brings additional monthly data plans - that is if you're willing to change cell phone providers. The follow chart summarizes the various plans available. 

Chart from All Things Digital
The issue of monthly fees and long term contracts will become increasingly important and increasingly complicated as more mobile devices become available. I've mentioned before about the inevitability of "tiered pricing" - different rates for different types and quantities of data.

Purchase price will be less important as vendors attempt to lock users into long term, complicated, expensive contracts.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

iPad 2 - first look

There were no big surprises today when Steve Jobs introduced the latest iPad - except for the fact that Steve Jobs was on hand for the introduction. The iPad 2 is a solid but unremarkable upgrade to the best selling first iPad. I for one look forward to the faster processor - particularly when showing presentations with Keynote - the Apple version of PowerPoint. The Motorola Xoom - the current contender for the tablet throne - compares favorably on a feature by feature basis.

The big advantage the iPad has, and it is a big advantage right now, is the huge app collection. Developers have written over 50 thousand apps specifically for the iPad in addition to over 300 thousand iPhone apps that run on the iPad. Because the Honeycomb version of the Android OS is brand new, there are only a few dozen apps written for the Xoom.

Many people thought that competitors would need to be lower priced than the iPad to get in the game but if anything the Xoom is slightly more expensive than the iPad. The low price point set by the first iPad was a real shock last year and it put to rest the idea that Apple products were expensive.

The tablet market is just getting off the ground; Apple has a commanding lead right now. The fun is just starting! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

NFC - Will this be your next "credit card"

We can now add NFC to the numerous methods of wireless communication. Wireless connections - whether Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or cell phones - are all based on radio signals transmitted through the air. They differ only in frequency (pitch) and amplitude (strength). The amplitude determines how far the signals can be detected - cell phones a few miles from the tower and Wi-Fi a couple of hundred feet from a home router.

Devices are tuned to certain frequencies so a radio will receive a specific station and not broadcast the microwave signals from the kitchen, the x-rays from the hospital down the street or the cosmic rays created during the big bang 15 billion years ago. I'm not making this up.

NFC stands for Near Field Communication. These are very weak (low amplitude) signals that will be used to communicate between your cell phone and billing devices that will replace credit card scanners. The NFC standard dictates the range of transmission to be four centimeters. When NFC enabled phones come out this year, they will replace credit cards in locations that can pick up the signals. Wave your cell phone near a reader and a charge will be recorded. The short transmission distance means you will not likely buy a shiny new BMW just by walking by the dealership.