Category Archives: Mobile

I’ve worked at home on and off for most of my career, though for the past five years, I’d been in an office. Now, I have a job enables me to work from home when I’m not on the road, and I am re-discovering some pitfalls. You know the big one: laziness.

I mean, really– how easy is it to not shower, not brush your teeth, and to eat cereal right out of the container when you literally won’t see anyone for hours?

Yeah, can’t do that. For one, I’m not productive. And for two, that reminds me a little too much of some of my darker days after I got laid off this past summer.

Being the gadget geek I am, I’ve turned to several apps to help me reinforce some good habits.

Moves: Moves is an app that tracks your movements and creates a “storyline” of where you’ve been.  It uses GPS and the gyrometer in your iPhone to track distance without having a second gadget. It tracks steps, running, cycling, walking– anywhere where you’re moving (but not cars; I guess they’ve programmed it to realize that humans can’t run 65 mph).  Today, I’ve really only walked around my apartment, but it also reminds me that movement is probably a good thing– and drives me to go out and walk in my urban neighborhood.

Lift:  Lift allows you to check into pre-created habits.  You can create habits like “Floss” or “Exercise”  or “Make the Bed” (a big one for me). You can search popular habits to see what other people are working on VolumePills (and to remind you what you might work on– “drink more water” was a good one for me) and are also organized by categories like productivity, mindfulness and fitness.  You can check on your friends’ activity, and support them with “props”.  It’s like crowdsourced responsibility.

GymPact: Put your money where your mouth is, or something like that.  GymPact makes you pay cold, hard cash every time you don’t go to the gym.  Make a pact with yourself (mine is currently 3x/week), check in when you go to the gym or go for a run, and earn money.  I found the checkins can be kind of buggy, but their customer service very quickly will credit you a gym visit that you missed because of their app.  Users get paid by those who don’t go to the gym. I’ve earned, like, $7 so far– which doesn’t cut into my personal training budget, but hey, it’s better than paying $25 for not going.  Ouch.  If you want to join, they have a “get $5 when you sign up” promotion.  Hey, I’ve never been paid to exercise, have you?

SparkPeople is something I’ve been using for years on and off– probably since 2006.  They are a local-to-me company that is the largest fitness site on the web, and happens to have a great app.  You can track calories, weight, measurements and exercise and it’s all free.  The reporting features is pretty good on the app and even better on the website.  Plus, if you have a Fitbit or other tracking device, you can sync it with SparkPeople’s tracking.

A year ago I killed off my Netflix subscription in favor of on-demand through cable, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. It’s worked pretty well for me, but now I may have to reconsider.

Netflix just inked a deal with Warner Bros for exclusive online rights to several shows, including RevolutionPolitical Animals, Longmire, 666 Park Avenue, the new Kevin Bacon thriller The Following, and older shows Chuck, Fringe, and The West Wing, and “potential future shows”.

Netflix also announced in December a deal with Disney that includes Disney classics and new Disney live-action and animated features, covering Disney, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, and Disneynature.

During the recent election, I marathon-watched all the seasons of The West Wing on Amazon Prime, so this deal may hit Amazon in some key spots.  When Netflix lost their Starz deal last February, then followed that with some inane business moves, I pretty much wrote them off. These two new deals are definitely making me pay attention again.

While Netflix is once again becoming a player, the online content area is now becoming a battlefield. Yesterday HBO secured a 10-year deal with Universal to exclusively the truth about electronic cigarettes carry their content for TV, online and mobile platforms. The deal is actually a renewal, but the expiration date wasn’t until 2016. Basically this keeps the content off of Netflix and scores a win for a pay-cable station.

Additionally, Amazon has recently signed a deal with A&E to up their Amazon Prime content.

Are you watching online content? Is it in addition to cable or supplementing? I admit I don’t have a fancy cable package because Comcast’s Xfinity online service gives me access to shows, such as those on TNT, for which I don’t have a cable subscription. Additionally, Hulu lets me watch most (not CBS) of my favorite shows whenever and wherever I want, although there does seem to be a certain selection only accessible from my computer and not a mobile or other device. Finally, I’m using Amazon Prime to catch up, commercial free, on shows like Downton Abbey, The West Wing, Stargate SG-1, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Each online service provides something different for me but all of them can be accessed from my networked Blu-Ray player, my Tivo, or my Apple TV.

 

It’s been a banner year for stuff. I admit, I like playing with stuff and testing, tweaking, fiddling, and generally exploring new devices and gadgets. Unfortunately, I don’t get free stuff to test out — when I “adopt” I am all in. Thank goodness I’m a Silver rewards member at Best Buy — I get the 45-day return option. For the most part, I end up stacking a lot of unused gadgets in the corner of my home office, however, there are a few things that bubble up and become indispensable. So as we close out 2012, I thought I’d itemize some of the stuff I got this year. Each one of these items, except one, landed a secure, comfy spot in my precious man-bag. Can you guess which item got tossed out?

iPhone 5

In September of this year, Apple released iPhone 5 — a complete overhaul of its flagship smartphone.

Pros: iPhone 5 was a big release (literally) — sporting a longer, larger screen and a new, zippy A6 processor. Add to that a top-to-bottom redesign resulting in the slimmest, lightest iPhone yet.

Cons: The new Lightning connector caused a kerfuffle with all the 32-pin accessories and cables I already had. And I won’t mention Maps…, yeah, no need to mention that.

 

iPad mini

The first new “product” released under Tim Cook without the approval of Steve Jobs, iPad mini is a lighter, smaller cousin to iPad.

Pros: Just the right size: fits comfortably in the palm, and can still maneuver the keyboard. Much better with the “lean-back” experience while reading, surfing and watching videos. All the almost 300,000 iPad apps work on mini.

Cons: No retina. Big mistake, Apple. Pricey. There are several tablet options with sharper screens at lower prices.

 

Microsoft Surface RT

Microsoft started out 2012 with a bang, moving aggressively into hardware. Their first flagship release is a complete overhaul of “the tablet experience” combining the best of a laptop with the best of a tablet in one form factor. If you are into productivity with a tablet, go Surface.

Pros: The new Metro interface is leaps ahead of anything best electronic cigarettes Apple or Samsung have come up with. An easy-to-use UI that screams to be touched. The Surface I got was zippy, responsive, and easy to navigate. I used it to present at conferences, create and edit Office docs and watch Hulu and Netflix movies.

Cons: Not enough apps. The Windows Store is like a Soviet Grocery store. There are two keyboard options: dumb and dumber. And you need a keyboard and a flat surface (literally). Not a real “lean-back” consume content type of tablet.

 

Leica X2 Digital Camera

Leica moved aggressively into the prosumer digital market with the release of the X2 digital camera.

Pros: With a 16 megapixel resolution and a Zeiss lens, this camera takes digital to the next level. Although it comes with a fixed 24mm lens, the shots are spectacular (and no need to worry about zooming). A stunning, 2.7-inch LCD display helps you to capture just the right composition for your shots.

Cons: Pricey at ~$2000.00. However, if you’re considering this camera, you probably already have gotten over sticker shock. The fixed lens means you’re kinda “stuck” if you find yourself needing a closeup or wide angle shot.

 

HTC Windows Phone 8X

HTC has historically been an Android specific phone maker. With the 8X, HTC has landed with a big statement to the Lumia: I’m gonna be lighter, thinner, and more powerful than you! This phone is the rockingest smartphone release of 2012.

Pros: Fast processor, great LTE speeds, hardly any bloatware and a nice comfy grip make this phone (available in several colors) a very close competitor to iPhone. I loved how the HTC would read me my texts while in my car. Say goodbye to Siri!

Cons: The power button at the top is too flush, making it a bit hard to turn off/on quickly. Call quality is not as great as iPhone.

 

Take a guess at which one got tossed out in the comments below. As for 2013: I look forward to acquiring a lot more stuff, but in my opinion 2012 was a banner year for us gadget freaks! Happy New Year!

I generally loathe predictions, so I won’t really refer to the following as “predictions” and instead refer to them as a “natural evolution for tech in 2013”… although “natural” may not be the best work either. However, these are some of the topics that I think will become more prominent in our lives in 2013:

Less Freedom Online
The Internet will become less open and more regulated by government agencies. Along with commerce on the Internet being taxed, governments will exert more control over what its citizens can access. The “foundational” period of an open Internet with no government intervention is dying. Proof is that just this month a  majority of the 193 United Nations member countries approved a treaty giving governments new powers to close off access to the Internet in their countries. China and Russia led the treaty because they realize that to continue to control their citizens, they must control the Internet, unfettered. So the Internet becomes geographical, like the rest of the world, divided in two camps: the open Internet and the closed Internet. The UN treaty takes effect in 2015, but the process of closing it off begins now.

The Cloud becomes De Rigeur
The cloud has already moved past the state of buzzwordiness and into practical integration in our lives. The only thing holding back the complete immersion into the cloud is bandwidth speed and device fragmentation. But even my grandmother understands “The Cloud” as a term now. It’s achieved mainstream.

The “Platform Curtains” Begin to Fall
As the big three (Google, Apple and Microsoft) compete against each other with their hardware/software platforms, they are no longer “playing friendly” with each other by continuing to support their apps and services across different platforms. Each company, to varying degrees, is lowering their “platform curtains” and walling their consumers in. Google just recently announced it will not develop apps for Windows Phone, and will curtail access to its APIs. Apple tried to boot Google Maps off its platform, and if it wasn’t for the debacle of its own offering, would have succeeded. Microsoft is the short-term loser here since its App Store resembles a Soviet grocery store: lots of empty shelves to stock, but very little bread on them. Consumers will be faced with choosing devices not based on hardware alone, but based on platforms. In the spirit of building walls, it will mean that sharing and connecting to each other will eventually be more difficult since your friend with a Windows online blackjack for two players Phone may have to jump over a wall to share a photo with your iPhone. Let’s hope common sense prevails and we don’t have to go dark and live in our own East Berlins for 50 years.

Online Access Inches Toward Ubiquity
I’ve always said Wi-Fi access needs to be like electricity. I hope someday we have a network grid similar to our electric grid. And maybe it should be regulated by the government as well. With Google trying out fiber-optic connections in the heartland, and Comcast providing Wi-Fi access anytime/anywhere to its subscribers, there are more options to staying connected as we move around our communities. Frankly, I’m tired of buying mobile devices with cellular connections just so I can be assured that if I desperately need to answer an email while waiting for the train, or if I just MUST have that new Taylor Swift single while riding the bus, I can get online to whet my appetite for digital bling. Although we’re being extremely over-charged for cellular connections, there are glimmers of hope that the providers know they can’t keep charging us like the 80s when we bought $25 CDs in cardboard long-boxes… they feel the pressure to provide faster service with less hassle. Now, if only we can do something about those $4 lattes in Starbucks…

Your Computing Experience Transformation Continues
Unabated, your options are many, and as you quietly and quickly move away from a state of tetherness, you still demand multiple devices to do different things. The hope of one smart device that you can hold in your hand to get everything done is anything but realistic, and not really what you want. You like 10” tablets for your lean-back experience. You like your smartphone tucked safely in your pocket, just two fingers away from you at all times. You’ve even found yourself sleeping with or near it. You like the e-ink lightness of that latest Kindle/Nook when you get all literary and actually read, and you like your big-screen TV to take you on those harrowing blu-ray journeys to far away places… and, yes, now you’re thinking that little 7” tablet would be a great gaming device. You’re not a one-screen kinda gal, but what you want is a seamless experience moving between all your screens. It’s getting better everyday, and 2013 will make that experience just a bit better although you may have to make some hard decisions about your own loyalty to one of the Big Three.

With over 275,000 apps in the App Store specifically optimized for iPad, and what seems like a million more for iPhone, it gets a bit overwhelming to discover the apps that can benefit your life — especially when you consider the average person only downloads 60 apps to their iPad. Here’s a list of the 5 that have earned prominent positions on my home screen, never wiggling to be tapped out of existence… in other words, the ones I can’t seem to shake off:

Bloomberg TV
I’m not a big “stocks” guy, and my financial portfolio consists of lots of credit card balances and too-high interest rates. So, I’m probably NOT the target audience for this iPad app. However, I am compelled to tune in every morning — they have diverse coverage of what’s going on in business, with a razor-sharp focus on the tech industry. I find their commentary to be witty, succinct and spot-on. You can register and synchronize content across your devices, create custom playlists, and oh yeah, you can get stock portfolio updates if that’s your thing. On my iPad mini 4G (Verizon), there’s never a hiccup in performance either.

 

The Magazine
I would like to find the individual at Conde Nast that made the decision to just port their print magazines to a “pdf” style iPad edition that requires me to sit and stare at the download meter as each 600mb edition downloads. This is the experience you want to provide your end-users? I don’t want a big, thick, glossy, tree-killing tome ported to my iPad. Just when I’m about to give up and go back to lugging around magazines heavier than my grandmother’s Bible, Marco Arment steps in to save the day. The creator of Instapaper, he has redefined the “magazine” experience for us on-the-go tablet geeks. Just imagine: instant download, simple, clean design, TEXT to READ, no stuffy, 25mb .jpgs, and no intrusive ads and lame videos. Just content. Marco’s vision is to “go beyond technology” and deliver big-picture content experiences. I hope product managers, or those in charge at the Big Media Companies, will get a chance to download this app. Maybe then they’ll re-think what they’re doing… and save me some precious space on my almost-filled-up iPad.

 

TED Books
I know, I know. TED is now a Big Brand, and a bit over-exposed. It’s kinda like South by Southwest now… it’s surpassed being “trendy” and is almost at Payday Loans that annoying state. However, I found this app this year, and find it almost all-consuming. There’s a Newsstand-like UI filled up with short ebooks about the human condition and what you can do to be an active part of making things better. I find the selections to be uplifting and some quite controversial. Most are in nice, bite-sized chunks as well.

 

 

McSweeneys
Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re thinking, “Oh he’s trying to prove he’s a literary fellow”. But what I like about the McSweeney’s app is less the “liberal Mother Jones” kinda bloviation and more the diverse writing that never ceases to surprise me. Even today I was able to tap in and read about how Yoga is able to help people who are struggling with tragic circumstances in their life, learn about self-driving tractors, and laugh at the “pain” of playing sudoku. All that and then add that I get a monthly Greil Marcus column. Can’t be beat.

 

 

Tom’s Guide
There’s no shortage of tech apps and sites to get your fill of whatever it is you’re jonesing about at any particular moment. It’s a tad overwhelming, actually. How many Engadgets, TechCrunchs and Verges do I need in my daily tech news Favorites list? Well, I discovered Tom’s Guide this year. And what I like most about it is its simplicity in the face of a constant stream of information. “Tech” as a subject is big, and Tom’s Guide takes the low-fi road in presenting it. Text with a small picture, when appropriate, and a very easy navigation scheme. It’s one key app I use to get the tech news I need for my day.

 

 

Tied for 5th: Tappestry
Disclosure: I know the developer of this app. Having said that, Tappestry opens up a new way of sharing, debating, and dialoguing with communities around almost any subject. You start out by broadcasting what you’ve learned, read, tried, achieved, or want to do. Anything. It won’t take long for someone to have something to say about your post. There’s much more going on behind the scenes though: Tappestry represents what I like to call the “achievement broadcast complex (ABC)”… it’s the first app that I know of that facilitates you being able to record what you’ve learned, take it with you wherever you go, and discover like-minded people that add to your learning and offer you new perspectives.

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