Gadgets

Why I like Uber

Uber has been in Sydney for a year now, and I really like it (Although it has not quite changed my life, like it has others‘). Let me explain why:

I live in Bondi, a beach suburb of Sydney. Cabs in Sydney were not very user friendly in the past. The cab licensing was highly restricted with plates going for several hundred thousand dollars. Drivers were not well rewarded and often lacked the knowledge required for a good passenger experience. Payments were monopolized by cabcharge, which added 10% automatically to any bill paid not in cash. Cabs were hard to get: for me calling a cab from my home was unsuccessful more often than not. Cabs just didn’t turn up, there was no way to find out if one was on the way, phone lines to the booking centre were usually busy and it was not a rarity to spend 20 minutes on the phone just trying to find out if a cab had been despatched.

There are a lot of hire cars and limos in Sydney, but they are not easily accessible to private clients, they can’t be waved down on the street and they are expensive.

On busy evenings in the city outside of busy night spots cabs wait and look for attractive fares. They ask before you are let in, and if you don’t live far away you won’t get taken. I walked home many times from the city because there was no cab willing to take me for the 20 minute trip.

I don’t use cabs very often, but when I did or tried, it was almost always a frustrating experience.

Uber (Story of Uber’s foundation and growth) has the potential to change that and has certainly made a difference to me.

Calling a car via the Uber app gives instant feedback about who has accepted the job and how far he/she is away. You also get the driver’s contact number, so if there is anything to discuss or clarify, you can. Uber drivers have to accept any destination, so you always get a ride. All payments are made by pre-registered credit card, the transaction happens automatically as soon as the job is closed, the bill is emailed to you immediately. The direct connection and the fact that Uber drivers are rated by their passengers result in a different relationship between driver and passenger, much better in my experience. Not only drivers are rated, so are clients, I understand that if a client has a bad rating their success when calling a car will be limited.

Uber does put a booking charge on every fare, nowhere near as much as the ten percent I had paid previously, however Uber uses surge charging in busy times, for which the company has been criticised.

For me Uber has made taking a cab much easier and reliable. I can understand that they are often seen as the first step towards a better personal transportation: If I was able to combine this system with driverless cars, could I live without my car, just calling one from the pool of cars as I need it? If you have experienced Sydney’s traffic you’ll understand the attraction. Uber also has started a low cost car sharing option, Uber-X, which enables anybody to make money and offer a ride via their platform, but there are insurance issues to be solved.

To continue dreaming: could cars park (themselves) somewhere else than in our city streets (Carless cities?) and make cities less car dominated, more human liveable if there was personal transportation on demand?

Unpacking the Replicator 2

It has arrived! The Makerbot Replicator 2 is here. It came in a practical carry bag, although I’m not sure it will move too much. The Rep 2 is a desktop printer, not much bigger than an MFD.
Unpacking and setup took less than an hour, thanks to an easy to follow manual and very simple setup software. From memory my last print-on-paper device took longer.
Levelling the plate is easy through an interactive script that runs on the Re2 as soon as you switch it on.
Inserting the filament is a matter of seconds and after a couple of minutes of heatup the printer prompts you to start a first build.

The List Of Must Try IOS Apps

Below my favourite IPad/IPhone apps.

This list is dynamic, please name your favourites in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.

Managing Documents

The IPad does not have a filing system like a PC and exchanging and managing files needs getting used to. These applications make it easier:

Instapaper

This indispensible app allows you to store web pages for later reading when you’re offline or when you find the time back on the sofa at home. Instapaper makes this very easy by installing a button in your browser(s), it is also linked to by many reading apps like Flipboard and most Twitter clients. (Free/Commercial) Link

Docs to Go

Documents to go is a file management and file format translation app. It can view many popular file formats and it can edit word and excel files. Doc to go can sync with cloud services and it can also synchronise automatically with your PC through the free Windows/Mac app. (Free/Commercial) Link

Good Reader

Very good at reading even long pdf files and able to read a number of other file formats. (Free/Commercial) Link

News and Magazines

Flipboard

Beautiful, magazine style display of your customised news feed. Pick your sources from your twitter feed, your facebook stream, linked in, news papers and magazines and Flipboard will compile a digital magazine that is perfect for the IPad. Articles you like can be shared or sent to Instapaper for archival. The IPhone app is also worth downloading, making good use of the small screen. (Free) Link

Zite

Another digital magazine, grouping news into sections and learning from your choices. Zite learns what you like and gets smarter every time you use it. (Free) Link

news360 degrees

The idea here is that you get a number of sources for the same news article, so you can compare how the New York Times writes about the US elections to the Sydney Morning Herald, which can make for interesting reading. (Free) Link

Mashable

The best tech blog! (Free) Link

Social Networking / Branding

Facebook

IPad and IPhone app. No need to explain. (Free) Link

Google +

At this time IPhone version. (Free) Link

Linked In

At this time IPhone version only. (Free) Link

TweetBot

A customisable Twitter client. (Commercial) Link

HootSuite

A Twitter client with multiple columns to follow several accounts. (Free) Link

Productivity

IA Writer

If you need to write a text with more than 144 characters, IA writer is best. It is for writing only, nothing else, no frills, no fiddling with fonts and formatting. The keyboard has all the controls you normally miss on the IPad keyboard, which means that you can actually control the cursor. Writer counts words and letters and that’s about it. Documents can be saved locally or with several cloud services. (Commercial) Link

Pages

The Apple word processing software, compatible with word, and therefore required if you are part on an MS office workflow. (Commercial) Link

Keynote

The Apple presentation software, compatible with powerpoint, and therefore required if you are part on an MS office workflow. There is also a remote control app, which lets you control a presentation on your IPad from your IPhone. (Commercial) Link

Prezi Viewer

Prezi is a web tool that allows you to make presentations that don’t just move from slide to slide. The viewer allows you to store and display prezis set up on a web based app. Funky presentations using free software. (Free) Link

Education and Learning

ITunes U

There is so much good content accessible via ITunes U, and it’s totally free.
(Free) Link

Khan Academy

Thousands of educational videos, at this point mostly sciences and maths, available for free. Videos can be downloaded to the IPad to view when offline. (Free) Link

Inkling

What digital textbooks should look like. Inkling has interactive materials from major publishers like Pearson. Books have to be bought on the web (used to be in-app) and are not cheap. (Free) Link

Google Earth

The best atlas, perfect for the IPad. (Free) Link

CIA World Factbook

Facts about every country, always there, even when not online. (Commercial) Link

Working with Images and Movies

Apple IPhoto

IPhoto does most of the things you need to do with images on the fly, quick tuning, crop, minor adjustments. (Commercial) Link

Snapseed

Very good application to tune your pictures with one touch. Many predefined actions make it quick and easy to get the best from your snaps. (Commercial) Link

Adobe Photoshop Touch

Not quite the functionality of the desktop application, but the app to work on pictures. (Commercial) Link

IMovie

Cutting and post processing videos on the iPad. (Commercial) Link

Music

Garageband

A fantastic app to compose music on the IPad or IPhone, multiple tracks, range of instruments, “smart” assisted mode makes almost anyone sound like a . (Commercial) Link

Books and Magazines

IBooks

Apple’s free app reads epub and pdfs, and it reads them to you if an audio file is supplied. (Free) Link

Kindle

The Kindle app (Free) Link

Google Play Books

Gives access to Google’s book shop (Free) Link

Our Choice

Al Gore’s follow up book to An Inconvenient Truth is a multi media book with movies and infographics, well worth the 5 bucks. (Commercial) Link

Zinio

Magazines on the IPad (Free) Link

TRVL

Beautiful travel and photography magazine (Free) Link

Utilities

 

IPad 2 & 3 display comparison

Got it! Could not resist, I went into the store just to have a look. Despite the hype it wasn’t that busy on the first day, and they had almost every model on hand.

Ok, so now I have the new IPad. Setup took hardly any time and I really appreciate Apple shipping with a full battery. It is slightly heavier than version 2, and a little thicker. Obviously we still have a long way to go in battery technology. It feels a little faster when calling up apps, but that could be only the screen.

About that screen: even to my slightly aged eyes it looks great. A comparison to the v2 model looks like this:

Text display comparison IPad 2 / 3 (click to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

When looking at the display with a loupe, the added pixels show:

Close up comparison IPad 2 / 3 and print (click picture to enlarge)

 

iPad 2

I have finally got an iPad 2, here’s a quick review.
It took me a while to decide whether I wanted to upgrade, I quite liked the original iPad and was not really sure that I could justify the expense. But then klaus came with his new toy and showed me, that with the new version, everything on screen can also be shown on an external screen or projector, using a via or hdmi connection. That means that for a presentation you can show anything that goes on your screen, no matter which app you are using.
Apart from this feature, there are not too many new features.
There is the camera, front and back, but the quality is so bad that I doubt it will get much use, especially when the iPhone4 is near.
The processor is quicker, and you do notice it. You notice it in complex apps. IMovie for example only runs on the new pad, and it runs really well. Video editing with a touch interface, very easy and a lot of fun, GarageBand was already available for the iPad 1, and it is just as great on the new model.
The iPad is slightly lighter, but still too heavy when reading without a rest or in bed, which is not really a problem.
The shape of the iPad is rounded to the back, similar to the iPhone 3, that is not a problem in itself, but the controls on the side and at the top do now stick out of the curved shape more, and I can see that something might get caught.
I did get a magnetic cover with the iPad. It seemed like such a magic accessory. But after the novelty wears off, it is not really that useful. It does not cover the back, no surprise there, so if you want a scratch free gadget, you need another cover. It rolls up, to turn into a stand for typing and for viewing. However, when you compare it to the original apple cover for the iPad 1 it is just not as functional. It can hardly be used on your lap and – because it is magnetic – it does not feel as safely attached when carrying it around. I am sure there will be cool and useful looking covers making use of the magnets soon, and I’ll be replacing this one as soon as I have found one.

Good:
Mirroring, anything on the screen is projected.
Faster processor.
Slightly lighter.

Not so good:
Controls on side (volume, screen lock) stick out.
Camera disappointing.
The magnetic cover.

The IPhone as a wireless access point

The Personal Hotspot in the Settings MenuWith IOS version 4.3 Apple added the Personal Hotspot feature to the IPhone. This functionality is not new, it had been available before to jailbroken IPhones and it has been a function on Android phones for a while. A similar function was tethering, which you could use to connect your IPhone to your PC or other device to the internet via the Phone’s 3G data connection.

The Personal Hotspot function is very easy: go into Settings -> Personal Hotspot, set up a password and turn the function ON. The IPhone becomes a WiFi hotspot, with the name of the phone as the identifier (displayed in the settings). You can now connect three devices via WiFi to use the IPhone’s internet connection or to each other. I have tried this sucessfully with my laptop and IPad. I was also able to provide the participants in a meeting online access.

Hotspot OnThe Personal Hotspot feature is a life saver when no other connection is available. It is also an option to save on access fees for your gadgets and reduce the number of online plans you may have. It is obviously no replacement for WiFi at home or in the office and it does drain the battery of the phone very quickly, but it does the job. Luckily the telephone companies in Australia don’t charge any additional fees for tethering or the hotspot feature, AT&T in the US does and several companies in Europe also increase fees to make this feature available.

Filmink – an IPad Magazine done right

 

Filmink has launched its new IPad magazine and it shows the possibilities of publishing to tablets.

Horizontal Navigation

Filmink have realised the magazine using the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite for Creative Suite, familiar from other tablet magazines such as Wired and already used for over 100 tablet publications. Articles and ads are arranged  in a horizontal sequence, multipage articles are read by scrolling vertically. The Adobe solution allows for the embedding of media elements, so that the magazine experience can be had offline, without a high speed internet connection. It offers interactive elements such as sound, video and interactive multi state areas, that change and show different contents in an area on a page, depending on a reader’s choice.

The first edition of the magazine weighs in at about 700 MB, download times depend on your bandwidth, I had it on my IPad in ten minutes.

In ad movies

The Filmink IPad edition has over a hundred pages of text, equivalent to the print edition. It uses trailers and interactivity in ways that make sense and complement the text content of the magazine, unlike in other magazines there is no media for media’s sake.

Multistate object: many reviews on one page

Navigation is well thought through, it is easy to jump to articles from the contents. The different sections are clearly marked and separated.

A lot of the content goes beyond the possibilities of print: Ads contain videos with trailers or supplementary materials. Links lead to websites and online content.

Multistate objects:
A multistate object changes depending on user selection. On this page the navigation bar on the left lets the user chose which movie review to display.

Filmink is a smart and entertaining  IPad application and sure to be a successful publication. It shows what can be done now with standard software and good media and content. It also makes you want more and hints at future possibilities in e-mags:

Closer links in to news updates in shorter intervals: As a magazine Filmink only gets updated once a month, current news is on the website. If the IPad mag combined access to both in app, content could be updated as news happens. This would mean a cross between a magazine and a newspaper and might require a subscription, but why read outdated contents on an e-reader?

Database connectivity to older or more extensive content: Current reviews are in the mag, could older reviews be made available by accessing a database? Could the app tell me when this feature is showing near me?

User generated content, voting and other participation are currently all are channelled through the website. Contents, articele snippets or links to trailers cannot be sent through the app to others. Social networking applications could let me invite friends to the movies, post opinions to my peers etc.

Shelving and archiving: As far as I know the shelving and rchiving of older issues has not been solved for any of the IPad mags. A stack of print magazines gives very quick access to older volumes, e-mags need to find an equivalent. At 700 MB an issue they can’t be kept on the IPad.

 

IPhone app – Dragon Dictate

The free app Dragon Dictate can be really handy for transcribing spoken word to text.

It basically records what you say, recognises it as well as possible and gives you text, which you can then email to yourself.

If you have an idea while driving, if you want to write a letter, if you always remember something you want to write when you’re away from a keyboard you can use Dragon Dictate.

Speak into your phone and it will transcribe your words and type what you say. Voice recognition software has come a long way, this one is pretty good, even with a strange German accent the recognition rate is acceptable.