Our favorite iOS Apps, August edition

August 14th, 2014 | Edited by | software


As we do every month, Macworld staffers got together to chat about the best apps they’ve been using recently. Here are some that have recently captured our imaginations (and perhaps a spot on our homescreens), whether they’re tiny apps from budding developers or the top-grossing apps that everyone is using. Our hope is that, while you might recognize some of these apps, others you might never have encountered. All of them, we think, are worth a look.

Serenity Caldwell: Fly


Recently I’ve been experimenting with different ways of filming and stitching together bits of my everyday life, in order to keep in touch with my far-flung family. Fly (free; up to $10 in-app purchase for full features) may be my most recent test, but it’s also quickly become one of my favorites to play with.
The thought process behind Fly is simple: Record up to four videos (either in the app or elsewhere), then bring them into the Fly timeline and use the app’s innovative multi-touch gestures to quickly sew together a fun little video. The emphasis here is on short (under five minutes), visual, musical videos; there’s no way to fiddle with adding text or time transitions. It’s a delightful little app, and it already has me sharing videos a lot more often than I used to. And that’s not even counting its Multi Cam option, which lets you feed in live video from other iOS devices running Fly.

Dan Frakes: Bike Repair


When I was a kid, I loved working on my bike. It was a single-speed BMX, and I would put it together, take it apart, and tweak and tune it in-between. In the intervening years, my bikes have gotten more complex, but my repair skills haven’t kept up. Which is why I’m a fan of Atomic Software’s Bike Repair ($4). This universal app offers 58 repair guides, and 95 “tips and tricks” for fixing problems, keeping your bike in top riding shape, and even helping you avoid common injuries that stem from poor bike fit.
Browse bike components, and the app shows common repairs and maintenance for each component—mostly basic things, but also more-advanced tasks. Choose a repair or maintenance task, and Bike Repair shows you detailed information and an illustrated guide. The app includes over 300 annotated images, and while the font used on these photos looks a bit amateurish, the information is nevertheless easy to read.
One of my favorite features is My Bikes, which lets you document your bike’s parts, specs, and other information—when you’re at the bike shop, you’ve got everything you need to find the right part. (You can also keep a log of all maintenance you perform.) And Price Search checks over a dozen online vendors for the best price on a part or accessory. It’s a handy app for those of us who cycle for recreation and would like to be a little more self-sufficient.

Dan Miller: Timeful


There are plenty of calendaring apps for iOS—and by “plenty,” I mean “way, way too many.” And the one I’ve been using for years—Fantastical—is plenty good. So why am I trying out a new one? Because Timeful does things a bit differently.
Oh, sure, it has all the usual calendaring accoutrements: daily and monthly views; syncing with OS X’s Calendar, Google Calendar, and Microsoft Exchange; alarms; repeating events; to-do lists; and so on. But it also has some things most other calendaring apps don’t.
For example, it’ll intelligently suggest times on your schedule when you could take care of items on your to-do list. (You can also simply drag to-do items from the list at the top of the day’s window to a specific time.) In a similar vein, it also lets you schedule time to work on good habits—exercise, reading, and the like—that often get crowded out of the day because they aren’t on your calendar. I do wish the app synced with Reminders, my current to-do manager, but the developer said that doing so caused them some UI problems. Will I stick with Timeful? Who knows? I suppose I could always add Use Timeful to the list of habits I want to work on.

Dan Moren: PDF Expert 5


I don’t spend a lot of time marking up PDFs, but when I do, I’ve started turning to Readdle’s PDF Expert 5 ($5). The reasons are pretty clear: not only is it a speedy, well-performing app, but it offers a broad swath of options for annotation. But some of my favorite features may seem almost minor, such as the broad variety of font face and size options that are right at your fingertips.
Add in Readdle’s usual aplomb at dealing with a variety of cloud storage and other network sources, and handy file management features, and what you get is a simple, elegant app that handles PDFs extremely well.

Source: www.macworld.com

Apple announces OS X Yosemite, deepens its ties to iOS

July 31st, 2014 | Edited by | software


Apple on Monday 30th jun announced that the next version of the Mac OS—dubbed OS X Yosemite, after the popular National Park in California—will be available as a free upgrade to the public this fall.
The jam-packed operating system update features a significant user interface overhaul, rich with bright colors and translucent effects, plus numerous changes to the visual identity of almost every system app that brings them closer to their iOS counterparts. The interface now also comes with a “dark” mode, which dims system elements like the Menu and Dock and allows apps to be more prominent.
The changes, however, are more than skin deep, as many system components have been updated and improved. Spotlight, for example now appears as a convenient text box in the middle of the screen and provides access to information from a large variety of sources, including the various App Stores. Notification Center is now fully customizable—and includes support for third-party widgets.


Among Apple’s own apps, Safari now sports a slimmer interface that leaves more room for content, and includes improved support for advanced Web technologies such as CSS and WebGL. Mail’s improvements include the ability to annotate and even sign messages and attachments directly within the app, and sharing them with others.
The company’s services ecosystem will also experience several improvements when Yosemite hits the digital shelves: iCloud gains a new Drive feature, which offers access to file-based cloud storage à la Dropbox. A new feature, called Continuity, allows users to begin tasks on one device and continue them seamlessly on another, and is based on the same technology as AirDrop, which will finally work across both iOS and OS X.
Speaking of iOS, the integration between Apple’s mobile and desktop operating systems now extends to the ability to easily share cellular phone calls and SMS messaging, with support for both baked right into OS X, which will be able to make and receive calls seamlessly, so long as an iPhone is within reach and paired via Bluetooth.
In a departure from tradition, the company will also institute a public beta program that will allow users to test the new operating system before its general availability, regardless of whether they are part of the company’s developer program.

Source: www.macworld

Apple tech note illuminates purported ‘backdoor’ services

July 29th, 2014 | Edited by | software


Just a couple days after a security researcher alleged that iOS contained “backdoor” access to user information, Apple has posted a knowledge base article explaining many of the systems that were under scrutiny.
In the article, iOS: About diagnostic capabilities, Apple calls out three services: a packet capture tool called “pcapd,” one called “file_relay,” and a third dubbed “house_arrest.” According to Apple, all three of these technologies are used “to help enterprise IT departments, developers, and AppleCare troubleshoot issues.” The company also emphasized that users must unlock their devices and connect them (via a cable or iTunes Wi-Fi Sync) to a trusted computer for the information to be retrieved; and even then, data transferred between the two is encrypted, and the keys are not shared with Apple.
Only a brief overview is provided for each of the three tools. Pcapd is intended for diagnostic packet capture—that is, network troubleshooting—and determining problems with third-party apps and enterprise VPN connections. Further information is available in documentation on packet traces in Apple’s iOS Developer Library.


File_relay, which security researcher Jonathan Zdziarski called the “biggest forensic trove of intelligence” on iOS devices, is, according to Apple, intended for “limited copying of diagnostic data from a device.” The company also says it’s separate data from backups that user makes, can’t access everything on the device, and respects third-party encryption. It’s specifically used by Apple engineering on internal devices and, in some cases, by AppleCare, for diagnostic purposes.
Finally, house_arrest is the tool underlying iTunes File Sharing, letting you copy documents to and from third-party apps that support it. Xcode also uses the service to transfer test data for apps in development.
While Apple’s tech document may not allay all concerns about these tools—specifically that they, in some cases, seem to have a broader access than is really necessary for certain diagnostics—the fact that Apple unabashedly posted a tech document describing them does take a certain amount of air out of the argument that any of these are “secret backdoors” intended for snooping on users.
More to the point, Cupertino appears to be continuing to uphold the transparency that it’s touted around privacy issues. That’s the attitude we’ve come to expect from Apple, and it’s good to see the company live up to that.

Source: www.macworld.com

Apple patents solar-powered MacBook

February 22nd, 2014 | Edited by | hardware


Apple was awarded a patent for a MacBook that would be powered with solar cells (photovoltaics), meaning your laptop could be powered or at least recharged through light.
The patent, titled “Electronic device display module” describes a two-sided display for the lid of a portable computer, such as Apple’s MacBook. The front of the lid facing the user would still sport the typical display screen but the rear would serve as more than just a cover.
The patent describes a rear plate made of “electrochromic glass” also known as “ smart glass” or “switchable glass.”
”Electrochromic glass, which is sometimes referred to as electrically switchable glass, may receive control signals (e.g., voltage control signals) from control circuitry,” the patent submission states. “The control signals can be used to place electrochromic glass in either a transparent (light-passing) state or a translucent (light-blocking) state.”
A sketch of the proposed laptop, which uses an electrochromic glass back panel that can be made opaque or translucent through a small electrical charge. The back panel would have solar cells embedded in it to collect power from light.
In the light-blocking state, the interior of the MacBook’s display would be hidden from the exterior view; the rear panel would appear opaque or translucent.
In the light-passing state, the rear panel would appear clear and allow images or other light output from status light-emitting diodes or other light sources, Apple stated.
The solar cells would be placed under the electrochromic glass layer on the rear plate.
”For example, photovoltaic cells may be interposed between a glass layer (rear plate) and liquid crystal display structures for display,” the patent states. Photo voltaic cells produce electricity when exposed to light.
When the laptop is near a light source, the light rays would pass through the electrochromic glass that forms the rear plate.
The solar cells would take in light as it passed through the glass, converting it into electrical power at a rate of 10 milliwatts or more.
Apple proposed that the solar cells would be capable of producing from 100 milliwatts to 1 watt “or even more” in order to charge the laptop’s battery or power the computer while it is in use.
The rear smart glass could also be used to display Apple’s logo by incorporating an additional light emitting diode layer as well as backlighting.
”To ensure that display is evenly illuminated, the back light unit that provides backlight for display… may be provided with light-emitting diodes that are arranged along more than one of the edges of the light guide layer in the back light unit,” Apple stated.

Source: www.pcworld.com

Fifth-generation iPod touch is faster, finer than predecessors

November 21st, 2013 | Edited by | hardware


There’s a new iPod touch on the block and, in many of the ways that most matter, it’s a doozy. While it’s tempting to compare it to a phone-less iPhone 5—particularly given its similar height, weight, thickness, and Lightning connector—the iPod touch is a device intended for a different audience. An audience that skews younger than the iPhone’s and one that desires a cool media and game player that can stand on its own rather than feel like an iPhone’s hobbled sibling. And for this reason, a comparison to the fourth-generation (4G) iPod touch is more apt.
That said, there’s really no comparison. The latest touch—in 32GB (4.5 of 5 rating) and 64GB (4.5 of 5 rating) flavors—is umpteen times better.

Playing outside

To help define exactly what I mean by umpteen, let’s begin with the outside. Like theiPhone 5, the latest iPod touch is taller than the previous model—measuring 4.86 inches  versus the 4G iPod touch’s 4.4 inches. It’s also quite thin at just 0.24 inches thick. And, like the iPhone 5, it’s surprisingly light when you first pick it up. (Though taller than the previous model, it’s almost half an ounce lighter.) A couple of family members picked mine up unbidden and their first remarks were “Wow, it’s taller… and lighter!” So yes, you can feel the difference.
The last iPod touch had severely beveled edges. With those edges, I found it clumsy to feel around for the On/Off and Volume buttons. They invariably seemed a little too far back on the case, which caused me to lift up the left side of the iPod to adjust volume. The edges of the new touch still curve around to the back, but not at such a steep angle. In this case, the buttons feel like they’re perfectly placed. I hit them every time without having to shift the iPod around or look at it. Similarly, with the less-angled bottom edge, the headphone port feels easier to access. With the 4G iPod touch, I felt like I should be inserting the headphone jack diagonally rather than straight in.
And then there’s the Lightning connector (a Lightning-to-USB cable is included in the box). When fumbling with the old-style Dock connector in an ill-lit room on my old iPod touch, I’d try to jack it in the wrong way round at least half the time. Having the new Lightning connector, which goes in regardless of which way the plug’s turned, is a welcome change.
The new iPod touch looks different in another way. Available in gray, silver, pink, yellow, blue, and Product Red, this is the first colorful iPod touch line. Each features a white face save the gray model, which offers the black front that we’re accustomed to on previous models. Colors cover the back and wrap around to the sides. The colors lean toward pastel rather than bold, but they give these iPods a fresh, more playful countenance than their somewhat antiseptic looking predecessors.

Height matters

The iPod’s height makes a difference in a variety of ways. That extra screen space, like with the iPhone 5, allows an additional row of icons on the Home screen, which may mean paging through fewer screens to find your apps.
Apps that have been built to take advantage of the taller screen are just as nice. With the Photos app, for example, you can see six rows of thumbnails instead of four and a half. Pull up the Settings screen and you will find 10 entries on a single screen rather than eight. And then there are the apps written for the larger display that provide more elbow room.
Fire up the Videos app and watch a widescreen movie on both this and the previous iPod touch and you will discover that when viewing a movie in the non-widescreen mode, you actually see more of the image on the new touch—less material is taken away from either side when the top and bottom of the video is expanded to fill the iPod’s screen. Switch back to the widescreen mode and both models show the entire width of the movie, but the new iPod touch’s black bars above and below the video are narrower as the display was designed with widescreen video in mind.
I also found picture taking more comfortable on this taller iPod when snapping shots in landscape orientation. With the older iPod, my hands felt too close together and, invariably, a finger would stray in front of the lens when holding the iPod with the Volume buttons facing up. I didn’t have that problem with the new iPod. My hands spread out a bit more and either because of the weight, the iPod’s dimensions, or a combination of the two, it felt easier to hold the camera and snap the shutter with the Volume Up button.
Some iPhone 5 users may dispute the Apple commercial that claims the average thumb can perfectly traverse the iPhone’s display from top to bottom. I fall into the group that finds comfortably accessing the entire display requires you to edge the device out on your fingers a bit more than previously and angle the device in. It’s not uncomfortable to do this, but one-hand operation does change because of the taller display.


Performance improvements

This fifth-generation iPod touch uses the dual-core A5 processor found in last year’s iPhone. The 4G iPod touch has the older and slower A4 processor. While you will feel no discernible difference between the new iPod’s performance and an iPhone 4S’s, there’s a dramatic difference between this iPod and the last one in regard to snappiness. For instance, starting each iPod from a complete shutdown, the new iPod did so in 21.1 seconds. The 4G model took 32.5 seconds to perform the same task. Apps open more quickly on the new iPod than they do with the older model—GarageBand, for example, loaded noticeably faster on the 5G iPod touch. Graphics performance in games is also improved. And this isn’t simply a matter of stop watches and charts. This is a difference you can feel. Where the old iPod would hiccup, the new one marches on.
The new iPod’s display is also noticeably brighter at its highest setting. Place it side by side with the 4G iPod touch, crank up the brightness on each, and the 4G iPod looks bluer and gloomier in comparison. Unlike with the previous iPod touch, the new one has no auto-brightness switch. I don’t find this to be a loss, as I found the old iPod too dim when auto-brightness was engaged.

What comes around

The 5G iPod touch benefits from some features inherited from the iPhones 4S and 5. Delve into the Camera app, for example, and you’ll spy the HDR and Panorama features found on the iPhone. Siri is also on board this latest iPod, and it works just as well (and I’ll let you be the judge of how well that is) as it does on the iPhone—provided, of course, that you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. (The iPod touch lacks cellular connectivity, making Siri useless when you’re out and about.) The latest iPod touch also has an LED flash next to the camera on the back.
The 5G iPod touch ships with a variation of Apple’s new EarPods headphones. What makes them different is the lack of an in-line three-button remote control. And that’s too bad. It’s not that the EarPods that contain this remote sound any better. The touch is one of those iPods that cries out for a remote, as many people keep their iPod in their pocket or purse, with the headphones trailing out. And with Siri now part of the package, we’re more likely than ever to talk to our iPod. The last iPod touch didn’t merit anything other than the bare-bones headphones and, in Apple’s eyes, this one apparently doesn’t either. I disagree, and think it’s a bad move on Apple’s part.
We reviewed the EarPods separately and I have little to add other than that they fit my ears far better than the original white Apple earbuds. And like our reviewer, I found their sound okay, but not great.

About those cameras

The 5G iPod touch packs two better cameras than its predecessor, and it shows. The new iPod clearly outshoots the old one. The fourth-generation iPod touch held a 0.7 megapixel camera capable of shooting 1280 by 720 (720p) HD video and 960 by 720 stills. The front-facing camera offered a bare 0.3 megapixels at a resolution of 640 by 480. The new iPod touch houses a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera that shoots 1080p HD video and still images at 2592 by 1936. The front facing camera shoots stills at 1280 by 960 and video at 1280 by 720.
But the improvements are far greater than resolution. The new iPod’s camera reveals far more details, is better in low light, and its color accuracy is a big step forward. The old iPod’s camera tended to drench images with a blue hue and produces very grainy results in low light. Indoor skin tones are warmer with the new iPod, whereas with the 4G iPod they tend toward pink.
The flash isn’t a great help in very low light. It can produce results good enough to embarrass your friends on Facebook, but otherwise tends (like the iPhone) to blow out subjects in a dark setting. It’s better to reserve this feature for fill-flash when you want to brighten up backlit subjects who are standing in a reasonably bright environment.

New and missing

The one wholly new feature on the iPod touch is the wrist strap and the accompanying spring-loaded post for attaching it. Flip the iPod over and you will find, in the lower left corner, a silver disk a little smaller than the head of a thumbtack. Push on it and it pops out slightly. In this position you can slip on the included color-coordinated wrist strap that allows you to dangle the device from your wrist, purse strap, or belt loop. The strap seems plenty sturdy, and I can see it helping to prevent iPods from taking a deadly tumble. It’s something I’m unlikely to use, but Apple makes it easy to ignore. Just leave the post pushed in and treat it as a decoration.
Those seeking the legendary “iPhone without a phone” are as close as they’ve ever been to an iPod touch that matches the capabilities of Apple’s mobile phone, but there are important differences outside the device’s ability to make and receive phone calls. It holds no GPS circuitry so Maps’ turn-by-turn powers are lost on it. And because it can’t communicate over a cellular network, FaceTime conversations are, of course, limited to Wi-Fi.
I mentioned that Siri is dead unless you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. This seemingly introduces a problem that didn’t exist on the previous iPod touch—spoken music navigation. On the 4G iPod touch, you could press and hold the Home button to initiate voice control. With that control you could tell the iPod what music to play, which was very helpful while driving. If you have Siri switched on, voice control doesn’t work unless you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. So, if you’re on the road and want to tell your iPod to play a song, you can’t. However, there’s a way around this. Go to Settings > General > Siri, and switch Siri off. Now when you press and hold the Home button, the old Voice Control feature appears, allowing you to play music by command even when not connected to Wi-Fi.
One other thing that’s missing is a $199 price tag on one of these iPod touches. Apple continues to sell the 4G iPod touch in two capacities—16GB for $199 and 32GB for $249. The 5G iPod touch is available in 32GB and 64GB capacities for $299 and $399, respectively. With its new look and continued appeal to younger users (and the parents of these users who’ve relied on avoiding a two-year iPhone commitment for their kid by slipping an iPod touch under the holiday shrubbery instead), that $100 difference may be significant. $200 isn’t cheap, but $300 may be something of a stretch. And frankly, once a kid lays hands on this new touch, they’re unlikely to leap for joy when they unwrap the older model.

Source: www.macworld.com

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