I’m being tempted away from my Mac…

XP desktopMy step-mother has a Sony Vaio laptop that has to be about 5 or 6 years old and runs Windows XP. Her needs are simple, but she comes from a generation that really doesn’t get computers. She refers to the hourglass timer as a ‘christmas cracker’ and has no idea that Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer are entirely different animals. When I built the laptop for her I loaded it with all the necessary security software, but for someone who doesn’t have the intuition about what one should or shouldn’t do (or rather click on), then it’s a recipe for disaster (aka repeated ‘support’ calls).

Every so often I completely rebuild the laptop, but it’s only a stay of execution and it’s becoming obvious that she needs something a bit more modern, a bit more simple and a bit more robust. So I’m thinking about an iMac, a Mac Mini or perhaps even an iPad. Email, a very small amount of web browsing and online shopping, being able to look at photos and the odd brief document are all she needs and it seems that any one of these devices will serve her well. To this end I picked up an iPad for her, the thinking being that it was the one device that would do all of the above, be intuitive to use and free her up from locking herself away in a room (much to my dad’s dismay) when she needs to ‘compute’.

It’s a 32Gb WiFi model and I’ve been using it to see what it can do before offering it as her new computing partner (of course she’ll still need a PC/Mac running iTunes plus a wireless router, but that’s another story). I have to say that having had no intention of buying one myself, as I already have my Mac Pro and iPhone 3G, I am now rapidly changing my mind. Firstly, I read a lot of RSS news feeds using Vienna on the Mac. I do occasionally use Google Reader but Vienna gives me the clean interface I want and if you want a free (and ad-free) news reader for OS X then this would be my recommendation. But then there’s NewsRack on the iPad. I can laze on the sofa in the lounge and flick through my RSS feeds so easily, browsing in detail the articles I’m more interested in, or adding them to InstaPaper for later. Yes there are other news readers for the iPad, but NewsRack has a clean and intuitive interface that just seems really natural when you’re coming from an OS X (or even Windows) based reader. What’s more it does this whole Google Reader sync thing if you feel the need to read news feeds on multiple devices, plus has many other features besides.

Then there’s the mail app on the iPad. It works exactly the way you think it should and I find I can process 95% of my mail here, just resorting to the Mac where I need to do something a little more complicated. The result is that I can now go for days without using the Mac to do these routine things. There’s other things too… Weather Pro HD gives me detailed weather forecasts rather than having to use WeatherDock on the Mac. Osfoora HD on the iPad is now my preferred way of monitoring Twitter, while Nambu is my choice when on the Mac, and if I want to read a PDF I’ll generally be doing it in GoodReader on the iPad rather than in Preview on the Mac.

IMG_0013It’s not that the apps on the Mac aren’t any good, in fact they’re the best ones I’ve found in my years of Mac usage. It’s just that I don’t have to go and sit upstairs in front of the Mac to dip my toe into the computer world. What’s more, I’ll often find that when I start using the Mac just to do a quick email for example, I’ll often get sidetracked and then ‘waste’ an hour or two doing something I hadn’t intended to. With the iPad I pick it up, do the email or read the news then put it down. Having said that, the games on the iPad are pretty distracting!

Now don’t get me wrong, the Mac Pro is still great, and for content creation the iPad doesn’t come close. For starters, the WordPress app for the iPad is a bit of a lame duck if you ask me, and I’d far rather use the WordPress dashboard on the Mac to create or edit blog posts. Similarly, for photo editing and processing, long documents, spreadsheets, downloading, listening to music (even though SnowTape and Spotify can run on the iPad), and for many other more involved tasks, the Mac is still king.

So, when my step-mother takes this iPad off my hands will I be tempted to spend the money on getting one myself? Do bears sh*t in the woods?! Hell yeah…Ā  Of course I could just recommend she gets a cheap Windows 7 laptop for her needs and keep this one, but I suspect the whole Windows support cycle thing will just start afresh, and I’m not sure my nerves could take it. Besides, if she has the iPad then there’s always AppleCare to ease my burden šŸ˜‰

By the way, in case you’re interested here’s a few of my favourite iPad apps (note, clicking on links may prompt you to open iTunes):

  • WeatherPro HD – detailed weather for your location for the next seven days.
  • Pages – I’m just a sucker for being able to write stuff wherever I am, and as a Pages user on the Mac…
  • Life Browser – iPad Safari is good, but in many ways I prefer this.
  • Instapaper – great way to save web pages for later consumption.
  • NewsRack – elegant and intuitive RSS reader with all the right features.
  • Evernote – wouldn’t be without it, whatever device I’m using. (I think my brain is backed up to Evernote!).
  • DropBox & SugarSync – love ’em both and can’t decide which I prefer.
  • Osfoora HD – does all a Twitter client needs to do for me on the iPad (and lots more besides).
  • Magic Piano – I’m no impresario but this makes me sound like one!
  • GoodReader – is to PDFs what FireFox is to the web.
  • IMDb – how cool to watch a film and be able to learn more about it as you watch?
  • eyeTV – let’s me wirelessly stream recordings on the Mac to my, ahem… the iPad. It can do live TV too, but I’ve got a TV for that. (Note, you need eyeTV on your Mac for it to work).
  • tChess Pro – attractive and challenging chess game with all the features I need to remind me I’m rubbish at chess!
  • Angry Birds HD – ok you have to catapault various types of birds into pigs. Sounds daft, but it’s very entertaining and the sound effects are just lovely.
  • Words with Friends HD – sort of a multi-player (across the web) Scrabble clone. (Multi-player as in my friends can mock me with their prowess!).
  • Real Racing HD – first person racing game with incredible graphics and gameplay.
  • Hexius – a bit like Bejewelled but perhaps more challenging and complex… and with multi-player capabilities.
  • Soosiz HD – a platform game where gravity isn’t always what you’d expect. Good fun.
  • Monkey Island 2: SE – Monkey Island meets the iPad, this game is entertaining, funny and looks fantastic.
  • Osmosis for iPad – mesmerizing, challenging, addictive, relaxing, a must if you have an iPad.

IMG_0012And one final word on usability. The father of a friend of mine has Parkinson’s disease and finds it extremely difficult to interact with the world around him. Trying to show him photos on a laptop and to let him feel he has any sort of control was frustrating for him, and printed 4×6 shots were just too fiddly (let alone time consuming to create). It was great to put an iPad on his lap and to see him smile and enjoy the photos in a way in which he can be in control.

PS – Both iPad wallpapers are from VladStudio, a talented artist whom I heartily support.

What’s on my iPhone (3G)?

iPhone screenIt’s fair to say that I take a certain amount of stick for being a Mac user, and in particular for being an iPhone user. Many of my friends seem to think that using an iPhone is more about it being a fashion statement than of any real practical use. That couldn’t be further from the truth because it’s the apps that make it what it is for me. As phone’s go, I’d be the first to agree that it does have it’s shortcomings – not so great battery life (and a battery you can’t easily change yourself), ‘only’ a 2 megapixel camera, limited Bluetooth support, the albatross that is iTunes, etc. However for me it’s the apps that are a real part of my life, and it’s wanting to continue using these apps that will see me upgrading to the iPhone 4.

So, what are these great apps that make the iPhone so worthwhile?

  • Maps – yes the built-in Maps app is actually really useful. Only the other day I was out with the family and faced with a diversion in an unfamiliar area, I was able to use Maps to help navigate the driver back to somewhere familiar, and even take in a few new interesting sights on the way.
  • Shazam – hardly needs any introduction. Numerous times I’ve heard something I like and have been able to use Shazam to find out what it is. The Record industry should be paying these guys commission!
  • Trains – live arrival & departure information. Sadly you can no longer download it (you’ll have to getĀ  National Rail’s own offering), but it still works just fine for me.
  • MyBus – if you ever need to catch a bus, this little app is indispensable. Tells you where the bus stops are, what buses stop there and what time the arrive.
  • ATM Hunter – need to find a cash machine when you’re somewhere unfamiliar? This app couldn’t make it easier. It’s not perfect, but worth a download as it’s free.
  • DropBox – while I don’t do much file processing on my iPhone, but this at least keeps me in the loop with my Mac Pro and Mac Mini and even my Windows laptop (that I have to use for work).
  • Evernote – being able to take a note and have it sync’ed to every other device I’ve got is a real marvel (especially for someone as disorganised as I am).
  • Flook – tell others where the great places are. Find somewhere great to visit, a fantastic pub or restaurant, some hidden local secret? Just Flook it! Discover the great places that others have found nearby, and collect/follow your favourites.
  • 1Password – allows me to sync passwords and other secure info between my Mac(s) and iPhone. If I’m away from my Mac and need a password, e.g. to log in to a website on a friends PC/Mac, then it’s all in there in my pocket.
  • WalkMeter – fascinating app that logs where you’ve walked, how long it took, how many calories you burned, and even emails you a Google map of the trip! In fact it does even more, so best way to find out is to use it.
  • ConvertBot – if you’re old school like me (remember feet, inches, miles, ounces, etc.?) then this makes life a whole lot easier to deal with. Superb interface too. Note – I still can’t think in kilometers!
  • Postage – Take a photo of a scene, dress it up and send it to friends for fun. Kids seem to love this one.
  • RAC Traffic – very handy for spotting traffic jams before you become a part of them!
  • RedLaser – I have saved a few quid while out shopping thanks to RedLaser telling me I could buy something cheaper online.
  • Facebook – while I’m not a huge Facebook user, I can still dip my toe into that particular social quagmire when I need to thanks to this mobile app.
  • Osfoora – until recently my Twitter client of choice on the iPhone was Twitterrific. It’s still a great app, but Osfoora looks just as good and is taking the lead on features.
  • Doodle Jump – the most addictive game there is for the iPhone, and the best 59p you’ll spend. End of story!
  • Wurdle – cool little word game for when I want to tax my brain a little.
  • Frenzic – marvelous for getting the old hand/eye co-ordination back to full strength. What I would love to know is how the global high scores are so… high?!
  • t Chess Pro – I have always found chess fascinating, and if I’m feeling cerebral, then t Chess gives me a mental workout (and usually reminds me that I really should practice more).
  • FlightControl – such a simple idea, that very quickly gets completely out of control. Love that old style music as well.
  • Angry Birds – the sound effects alone make this worth it. Even so, it’s a great game.
  • Diamedic – a great way to track your blood sugar and other related info, and then have it easily to hand when the doctor needs it.
  • WiScale – paired up with the Withings WiFi Scale I purchased a while back, it’s a fun and informative way to keep your weight & BMI on track. Ok the app is free but the scales cost Ā£100 – even so, they look really cool and work a treat! In fact if Apple design a bathroom scale, they’d probably look like this.

These aren’t the only apps on my phone, just the ones I use the most and there are many more I could mention like – CalenGoo, Tube Deluxe, Air Sharing, The Good Beer Guide, National Trust, FlickIt, ShowTimes, Family Tree, Road Trip LE, Skype, AirVideo, Spotify, Snowtape, SnowRemote, Glyder/Glyder 2, Crayon, Traffic Rush and Tap Tap to name a few.

It’s the sheer wealth of apps, many of which are very high quality, that make life just that little bit easier… and if you ever needed an excuse to buy an iPad, well many of these are available in iPad-specific ‘HD’ versions too.

Goodbye old friend(s)

Today CleanApp is doing its stuff on two applications which I have used a lot in my Mac days.

The first is NetNewsWire. I’ve been a fan of this app since I got my Mac, having been a FeedDemon user on Windows. It’s clean uncluttered layout was just what I wanted and the fact that in the early days I could keep my feeds in sync whether I was using NetNewsWire or FeedDemon was really handy. Truth is though, I only use Windows for one or two specific tasks these days and reading RSS feeds isn’t one of them so the sync feature is not really critical any more. Also, even though I installed NetNewsWire on the iPhone, it was more out of curiosity than anything else as I much prefer to read my news on my 24″ monitor. The actual nail in the coffin was the introduction of adverts in the newest releases of NetNewsWire. Yes I know I posted a tip on how to block the ads using LittleSnitch, and someone commented that you can also use your Hosts file to the same effect, but it’s more a case of not wanting to have to. How long would that tactic last before blocking ads would somehow mess up the app completely?

Vienna

Vienna

So have I abandoned news feeds altogether? Not at all! I have switched to using Vienna instead. It has the same sort of nice uncluttered interface and most of the features that NetNewsWire had are there or will be at some point. Sure there are a couple of things I miss at the moment, like not being able to flag a news item from a button on the toolbar (you have to right-click/Ctrl-Click and choose from the menu instead). Also, if I double-click an item to see the full article in my browser, the colour of the item doesn’t change in Vienna to indicate that I’ve done this (in the past this proved useful for a few items I forgot to flag). Still, these are minor points and Vienna works just fine at the moment. Oh and one other thing… every time I see the word Vienna that song by Midge Ure in his Ultravox days pops into my head!! Please make it stop!

The other application that CleanApp has worked its magic on is Nambu. Now it seems these days that there’s no end of Twitter clients out there, each with their followers and for me Nambu was the one I used the most. However, the developers of Nambu have called time on it so it’s days are numbered. The Tr.im network is closing at the end of the year and they’ve said it’s unlikely Nambu will be developed any further. It’s a great shame but I respect their decision.

Now the question is what to replace it with? Well possible candidates are Twitterrific ($14.95) or Tweetie ($19.95 or ad-supported), but I really would prefer one that’s free and doesn’t contain adverts. My other main requirement isĀ  that it doesn’t require Adobe Air in order to run, so the search is on….

Addendum – there’s a new lease of life for Nambu. The developers aren’t going to can it and are currently working on the beta of a new version. Check out the Nambu blog for more information. Me? I’ve already registered for the beta!

My brief encounter with Tweetie

twitterI’m new to the Twitter phenomenon and with the small group of friends and other people/companies I follow, I am probably not what you’d call a power user. For one thing, while I can understand the power of the search feature, I still don’t get how you discover breaking news without already knowing about the news… before it breaks?! Anyway, as is typical with anything I do on the Mac I try to test out all the possible software options before deciding on which one suits me. I’m also fickle, so if something better comes along then I have no problems with changing, although there is one proviso… Adobe Air. I don’t currently have Adobe Air installed on my Mac and I don’t plan to any time soon.

tweetie-largeAnyway, there are quite a few Twitter clients for the Mac and the number seems to be growing with the latest big thingĀ  being Tweetie. Now I first became aware of Tweetie when reading TechCrunch and when they start waxing lyrical about a piece of software it’s usually time to sit up and take notice, so when it was released earlier this week I decided to give it a try. Currently my Twitter client of choice is Nambu, but if the Tweetie screenshots were anything to go by then it was already off to a good start – I’m a sucker for a nice interface (I think SnowTape is currently top of my ‘that looks cool!’ list).

With customary ease, Tweetie installs just prompting you for your Twitter username and password before presenting you with a neat list of tweets from people you’re following in what it calls the Timeline window. Icons down the side then let you switch between this view and Replies, Direct Messages and a search function, with slick transitions as you move around. Ok the basic views are there and they look nice, so how about the extras, the productivity features? The first thing I noticed is how nicely Tweetie lets you see tweets from others simply by clicking on their name in a tweet. Their tweets take over the Timeline window from where you can easily choose to interact with them (follow, reply, message) or simply navigate back to your own Timeline, and you can do this from any of the four views that Tweetie offers.

Tweetie also lets you use multiple accounts on Twitter, and while it’s not something I’ve needed I can see just how useful that can be to others. That sort of covers it as far as Tweetie features for viewing goes – so how about posting new tweets? Well again with the slickness you expect from this app, you click on the pen and paper icon bottom left and out pops a floating window ready to receive your 140 characters of wisdom. The first nice touch is that URLs are automatically recognised and it takes just a single click to shorten them using your chosen service. Next up it’s pictures and again it’s comendably easy to add a picture link just by chosing ‘Add image’ and bowsing to the image you want, which is then automaticcaly uploaded to the hosting site you’ve specified in the Preferences.

That pretty much covers it as far as the main features go. The Preferences let you tweak a few settings and set your default services for images and URL shortening and that’s about it. So it covers the basics well and has a pleasant interface that fits in well with the overall Mac OS X feel, but given that they’re asking $14.95 for the version that isn’t ad supported, I can’t help thinking I’d want a few more bells and whistles before parting with my money. Things like:

  • Better notification of unread tweets – like a badge on the dock icon or menu bar showing a number.
  • Audible notification of new tweets.
  • More control over the interface, like a choice of colours or some transparency options perhaps.
  • A way to see a list of links you’ve received in tweets.
  • A way to see who you are following and who’s following you, and a way to group these users.
  • The ability to store searches and come back to them later.
What exactly is the problem?

What exactly is the problem?

I could go on but maybe you get my drift. The final point is an obscure error that’s popped up once or twice and says nothing more than Error (null). I guess it’s still early days for Tweetie and there are still a few ghosts in the machine. So for now I’m sticking with Nambu on my Mac, because while Tweetie probably has a slight edge on having a slick feel to it and will suit a lot of people, Nambu is pretty good looking itself as a Twitter client and has those extra goodies that I use for now. Sure, Nambu doesn’t let you choose from a selection of URL shortening and image hosting services, it just gives you a standard two but I can live with that.

So, Tweetie is still on my list of ones to watch and if it starts to gain features on the Mac platform then maybe I’ll reconsider. But there’s one final confession I should make. The Twitter client on my iPhone is… Tweetie! It just so happens that I only want the basics on my phone and Tweetie is perfect for that.