The Best iPhone Apps

April 14, 2010

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 With last weeks iPad release and iPhone OS out there, I thought I’d share my top 10 favorite apps for the iPhone.

  1. Meebo – Meebo to me is the definitive chat client for the iPhone. I’m a big fan of their web based chat client, and when I saw they were releasing a version for the iPhone I jumped on it. Who wouldn’t love a single sign on chat client to AIM, MSN, YIM, Google, etc.?
  2. Kindle – If you’re a big reader like me there’s pretty much no reason to not have the Kindle app, except for maybe if you have a Barnes & Noble Nook. Some may complain that it’s tough to read on such a small screen, but with all the settings I find it to be an enjoyable experience.
  3. Pandora – Even with gigabtyes upon gigabytes of music on my iPhone, I still find myself spending more of my music listening time on Pandora. It just makes listening to music easy.
  4. Facebook – The best social networking app for the best social network. Pretty much everyone now a days has a Facebook account, and having an app on your phone to keep yourself up to date is a must.
  5. Dropbox – Want to access a file on your PC from your iPhone? Dropbox is the answer. Not only is Dropbox great for keeping data in sync and transferring data between computers, but this app also allows you to access all those files from your phone.
  6. Plants vs Zombies – This is my current favorite game on the iPhone. It’s a simple tower game, but it’s the simplicity that I love. Who doesn’t love killing zombies?
  7. MLB.com At Bat – I’m a big White Sox fan and I’m a big fan of this app because of it. This app allows me to watch every White Sox game I want and keep up to date with the latest stats from around the league.
  8. Marvel – I’m not really a big comic book guy, well at least I wasn’t until I tried this app. This just makes it so easy to read comic books, that it seems to me that I might finally be pulled into the comic book world. May I recommend the Astonishing X-Men from Joss Whedon of Firefly fame?
  9. CardStar – Pretty much everyone I know has a wallet full of frequent shopper cards. They’re a must now a days, every grocery store, pharmacy, and even sporting goods store has them. I don’t cary any, with this app on my phone I can just punch in the number on the bar code on the card and it acts as the card for me. It can even be scanned by cashiers.
  10. TV Guide – Sure every cable and satellite box now has a TV Guide built in, but I sometimes find myself wondering if there’s anything good on TV while I’m not at home, at a restaurant perhaps. This app lets me know.

Technology Ruins The Olympics

February 17, 2010

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Here we are at the Winter Olympics once again, the home of patriotism, teamwork, athleticism, and technology? Yes, technology, the Winter Olympics is full of it. Just two years ago I can remember reporters discussing how changes to swimsuits have lead to faster swimming, and even then I couldn’t help but think of how much bigger a part technology plays in the Winter Olympics, and how much of an effect it probably has on the outcome.

The Winter Olympics definitely outweighs the Summer Olympics in the “gear” category. From bobsleds to skis, from ice skates to guns, gear is the name of the game at the Winter Olympics. It might just not be the best man who wins, but the man with the best equipment who wins in Vancouver.

I believe the king of the Winter Olympics technology has got to be the bobsled. In a sport where every second counts the quality of the equipment is going to matter that much more. An olympic bobsled can cost upwards of $100,000 USD. This is just an insane amount of money, you want to talk about a sport for only the rich. Polo has nothing on bobsledding.

I can’t help but imagine how well a $100,000 USD bobsled would perform compared to a $5,000 USD bobsled. With years of testing in wind tunnels, scientists fine tuning every angle, and air drag cut down to near zero, I’d hate to believe that the difference between gold and silver medals might come down to the research and money put in by the host country to develop a high quality sled.

I just don’t believe that technology should play such a large part in the Olympics. I think the winner of the gold medal should be the most dedicated and talented team, not the group of guys thrown together in a sled that costs more than the combined income of my wife and I. That is just ridiculous. In this day of multi thousand dollar snowboards and uniforms made of materials originally designed for NASA, I’ve got to say, what’s the point?

Apple In the Cloud

December 16, 2009

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Recently the New York Times has reported that a deal has been struck between the online music application Lala and Apple. Although the specifics have not been released the deal has been speculated to be around $80 million. This purchase could mean big changes for Apple’s iTunes.

Lala is an online-based music application that allows users to “buy” streams of music for 10 cents a track or a dollar and album. Users are also able to purchase full MP3 tracks for 89 cents each. I love this service and currently use it daily. I’m anxious to see what Apple does with it and how it integrates this service into iTunes.

Apple has claimed that they are not really interested in the company behind Lala, but the people. They are buying the ideas and engineers behind the program. This means that they are interested in getting the experience Lala engineers have in streaming music distributed from a cloud. This could mean quite a few different features brought to Apple’s iTunes.

The first possibility is that Apple will directly port the Lala service to iTunes, allowing people to purchase the right to stream music for a cheap price instead of having to pay full price for other music formats. This seems unlikely to me as Lala’s business model doesn’t seem to be working currently and the other options seem to be more Apple friendly.

The next option is a subscription music service. Many of iTunes competitors already offer this already. Napster and Rhapsody allow you to have “all-you-can-eat” music for one low monthly price. They even allow you to download the music to portable mp3 players for listening on the go. Apple could leverage Lala’s streaming music service to bring a subscription streaming service to iTunes.

The final possibility I see Apple possibly considering is custom web radio. The current up and comer in the online music world is Pandora.

Pandora is probably one of my most used web applications. Pandora allows you to rate music you like and chooses new music for your online radio stations based on your ratings. I love Pandora, it does a great job, and it’s growing at a fantastic rate and I can’t imagine that Apple doesn’t want to get into this. Apple already has a recommendation engine with their music Genius, they could easily incorporate Lala’s streaming service to build their very own Genius radio to compete with Pandora.

What to Expect from Google Chrome

November 30, 2009

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What to expect from Google Chrome OS

Speed

Chrome OS is going to pretty much be a web browser that acts as an operating system. There will be added functionality to the traditional web browser such as a file system and hardware support that will help it function as a true operating system, but at it’s heart Chrome OS is going to be just a web browser.

This will allow Google Chrome to be lightning fast compared to other operating systems like Windows or Mac OS X because Chrome will not have to worry about much of the overhead that the other operating systems have to deal with. All of the applications on the system will be web based out in Google’s cloud and should not be processor intensive on the machine.

The majority of processing should take place in the cloud.

Security

With most if not all of the operating systems applications residing on the cloud along with the majority of the files, security becomes much easier for Google to maintain. They can insure that applications are constantly up to date and files are free of viruses by checking for them in the cloud itself. The downside here is that Google is going to insure all applications are up to date, you probably won’t have a choice of keeping an older version of a product you prefer instead of updating.

A New Computer

This operating system is a brand new take on what a computer should be, and for now if you want to run it you are most likely going to have to buy a system built to run this operating system. There are most likely going to be several system requirements for this operating system, the one I know of for sure is the requirement of a solid state drive for a hard drive. This isn’t really Google’s fault because you can’t expect them to write drivers for every bit of hardware imaginable to allow it to run on their operating system.

The good news is that Google is releasing Chrome OS to be open source, so if the operating system takes off the hardware producers can write the drivers themselves. You won’t be locked in to specific hardware as much as you are with Mac systems, but won’t have the same extent of freedom you do with Windows machines.

Several PC manufacturers have already begun developing hardware for Chrome OS, including HP, Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Qualcomm, TI, and Intel. So I won’t be too worried about being price gouged on a new Chrome OS machine as there will be plenty of competition out there.

A Greater Dependency on the Internet

As you can imagine with an operating system that is built upon a web browser the Internet is going to be very important to any machine running it. The majority of applications and files used by the operating system will exist only on the Internet. This means if you don’t have an active Internet connection your machine will most likely be a brick. However, this already seems to be the case for most people. When I’m without Internet on my computer it seems the only thing I ever do is play solitaire or listen to music, things I’m sure you’ll be able to find ways to do on Google Chrome without the internet as well.

I also foresee Google partnering with one or more wireless carrier to allow users to be able to use a wireless data connection easily with Chrome OS to access files and applications on the cloud.

I even believe we’ll see wireless carrier branded machines running Chrome OS natively. Wireless data isn’t just for cell phones anymore.

Editor’s note: our friends at 40tech.com recently discussed their own experience with Google Chrome OS.

Editor’s second note: Did you skip The Soap Boxers last due to Thanksgiving? Obviously, many of you did – we missed you! We kept a full schedule – here is what you missed.

Dropbox

October 21, 2009

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Do you own a USB key? Have you ever emailed a file to yourself? Ever deal with the frustration of going to access a file and then realizing it’s on another computer? Those days can now be left behind. I bring to you Dropbox.

Dropbox is a tool I have used for quite some time since it was in its early beta stages, and have found it very useful and thought perhaps I should share it with you. Dropbox is a software that syncs your files online and across your computers. You just install Dropbox on all of your computers, and practically like magic you can access any files you save to Dropbox through any of those computers. It keeps all of your files in sync, when you save a file on one computer it’s as if you saved it on all of them. This gives you the ability to work on any of your computers and have access to all of the files you need.

This syncing also in turns creates a perfect back up utility. The 2 gigabytes of storage that comes with a free account is more than enough for most people to store their important documents, but more space is available with paid plans. Every time you save a file in your Dropbox it’s saved on their server, so it something drastic happens on one of your computers you can easily access files in your Dropbox from another computer or from that same computer once you have got it working once again.

In addition to keeping your files in sync across multiple machines, Dropbox also keeps a history of your files for you. Dropbox can help you undo changes you saved to a file or even undelete a file you deleted by mistake. On more than one occasion I’ve accidentally saved changes to a document that I didn’t mean to save and then exited the program I was using. At that time the programs undo history becomes useless, but with Dropbox I have been saved. By default, they keep 30 days of history on your files, but you can enable it to unlimited with their “Pack-rat” option.

Not only can you use Dropbox to keep your files in sync across multiple computers, but you can also use it to share your files with other people. You can easily share files or entire folders with Dropbox. There’s even a nice feature that allows you to share your photos (or other images) as a photo gallery. Simply put the folders you want to share in your Dropbox and invite people to those folders. You can even create a public url for your files to share specific files within your Dropbox. I use this feature in Dropbox for projects at work to easily share files and documentation with other people I work with.

Overall, I love Dropbox and I thought you might too, so I felt it’d be best to share. I use it both for business and personal uses. It replaces having to worry about email attachments, USB keys, and backup software. It’s all there in one nice and, in most cases, free package.

Building a Web Presence – Networking

September 16, 2009

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As the Internet continues to grow, it continues to become more and more a part of our everyday lives. The sudden explosion of web capable mobile devices and social networking has lead to almost everyone having a presence on the web. As the web pervades every day life, we must take advantage of the opportunities it presents.

Social networks give us the opportunity to network with people across the globe. Gone are the days of easily losing touch with old friends or classmates when people move across the country or even across the globe. With the advent of social networks we can now easily keep in touch with colleagues and share information. This is not just useful for finding out about Chuck getting married or Sarah having a kid, you can also leverage social networking to build a strong professional network.

When most people think of social networks they think of MySpace and Facebook. While Facebook may be useful for professional networking I would warn people to stay away from the abyss that is MySpace. When using Facebook I would also make sure to be cautious of what is public viewable. A better example would be LinkedIn, a business-oriented social networking site. LinkedIn allows users to post resumes, gain references, and even help other users with professional questions. You can also find other users linked to your network that might be able to help you in that job you’re applying for or that project you’re working on.

In this day and age a strong web presence is needed in this new Internet friendly professional world. Many employers now google prospective employees, do you really want the pictures of that party you got totally smashed at to come up when a prospective employer is considering you for employment?

Using Facebook for more personal contacts combined with LinkedIn for your professional network you can easily build a quick web presence that can easily be found on the web. This is only the start, from here you can build write a blog, twitter, or even build your own site.

Microsoft Overlooks Windows 7 Upgrade Process Issues

August 19, 2009

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Today, we welcome James Bathgate on board as the technology writer.  He will write a monthly column, Reality Bytes.

It has been 3 years since the release of Windows Vista and a new version of Microsoft’s operating system is just around the corner. Windows 7 looks to be a more streamlined and user friendly version of Windows Vista. The developers at Microsoft have taken strides to make their operating system more secure, easier to use, and less of a general headache that Windows Vista was. Microsoft, however, seems to have overlooked one area when designing Windows 7.

When upgrading from Windows XP to Windows Vista many PC owners had to upgrade their machines in order to run the new operating system. This caused confusion in some of the users of the operating system who did not know how to upgrade their machines.

Now, when upgrading to Windows 7 it seems the majority of people upgrading are going to require a clean install. This means that anyone who does not qualify for an “in-place upgrade” is going to have to back up all of their data from their system before doing the upgrade.

(Click to enlarge)

windows-upgrade-chart-small

A user who bought their machine pre-installed with their operating system which included software bundled with that operating system will now lose that software. Even worse, people who do not understand what a clean install means will end up wiping out all of the information on their machine without knowing. In many ways, I think this is even worse than requiring people to buy some new hardware for their machine.

Some may argue that it is a necessary task for people to wipe their machine and reinstall everything now and then and I agree with that, but I do not think anyone should be forced to do this without knowing what they are doing in order to upgrade their operating system. This upgrade is going to cause some unknowing grandmother to permanently lose the pictures of her grandchildren. Some confused self-employed person is going to lose some indispensable business data. Some poor student is going to accidentally lose an essay they are working on when they upgrade their operating system. There has got to be a better way.