CalcPad for iPhone/iPod touch/iPad

In my line of work I deal with a lot of numbers and it can be hard to know if, after you’ve punched in everything, you made any typos which might throw off your calculations.  At work we have access to proper tape adding machines but, as with much of the office equipment we have, it is a relic that makes a sound similar to a dot-matrix printer when it outputs anything.  I have a regular calculator that is nice and quiet but you are forced to do things twice just to make sure you get it right and that can really slow you down when you have ridiculous amounts of work to do.  I really wanted a way to have the benefits of a calculator that outputs to paper tape but with the quietness of something a little less war-surplus feeling.

I’m sure there are programs for the PC that would let me do this but the machines at work are locked down for security reasons.  Luckily, I found an app on iTunes that would do everything for me and it only cost $1.99. That may sound high considering there are free calculator apps for the iPad – and the iPhone and iPod touch come with a nice calculator built-in, but CalcPad gives you a virtual paper-tape reel that lets you see what you’ve input and, if you make a mistake, it lets you scroll through the tape and fix your error and then it automatically updates the entire calculation so you don’t have to redo anything.

If you just need a basic calculator for everyday tasks then by all means go with any of the free versions out there, but if you have to deal with lots of numbers and have little time for errors, then CalcPad is a must have addition for your iPhone, iPod touch, and even the iPad. You can find it here.

CloudReaders for the iPad

I’ve been looking for a PDF reader on the iPad for some time, there are a couple of paid versions that are fairly cheap but I refuse to pay for something that is built into the operating system that I’m not given access to for some arbitrary reason that only Apple knows about. I know that PDF support is built in because I have been emailing myself PDF documents that I am using as part of my thesis research and they open just fine through the mail application. They don’t open through Pages and there is no “Preview” application built into the iPad that would let me move over the documents I need and then read them.

I stumbled across CloudReaders for the iPad and it does just about everything you could want a PDF reader to do, in that it reads PDF files. It does more than that though, it also lets you read CBZ and CBR documents too. These are apparently common formats for comic books and online books. The great thing about this application is that it lets you sync your PDF documents through iTunes with no hassle, and if you don’t have a cable handy or just really don’t feel like plugging your iPad into your computer, you can use your network to share documents. In the lower right hand corner of the screen there is a small icon that looks like a wireless signal meter, when you tap it it takes you to a wireless configuration screen which gives you an IP address to type in on your computer. Once you’ve typed it in you can share documents easily over your wireless network.

There is no annotating or note taking whilst looking through your documents, which is a bit of a downer, but you can adjust the screen brightness from within the app which is a nice feature. The app is free and is available here.

iPhone leak to hurt Apple Sales?

Apple recently claimed that the leak of the iPhone 4 will seriously harm Apple and its profits. The reasoning behind this is that people will hold off buying a new iPhone until the 4th generation model comes out.

Will the leak of the new iPhone hurt the sales of the current model? Yes, it will, but not by as much as Apple seems to be saying. The reason for that is simple — even though the leak got a lot of coverage in tech blogs and a little bit of coverage on regular news outlets, not that many people pay attention to those. The hardcore tech enthusiasts will certainly hold off, but their numbers are not large, the Apple die-hards already own whatever the latest model iPhone is and were likely waiting to upgrade until the next release anyway, not many sales lost there. The average consumer who spends their time watching reality TV shows and playing Zynga games on Facebook would likely be unaware that the leak had even taken place.

Apple will lose a small percentage of the sales it would have had from the time the leak took place until the time the new phone is introduced — which should be very soon considering that the current iPhone has been out for nearly a year. The leak was an embarrassment, but it won’t damage the company in any real sense.

How to stop Steam from launching on start-up in OS X

If you’re on a Mac and you recently installed Steam, you may have noticed that the program starts every time you turn on your Mac. That isn’t very Mac like behavior and I’m willing to bet that none of you want to see Steam ads pop up every time you boot up. Here’s how to get rid of it:

  1. Close the Steam application
  2. Go to your System Preferences pane through the Apple logo at the top on the menu bar
  3. Go to Accounts and make sure that your account is highlighted
  4. Make sure that the padlock icon in the lower left hand corner is open, if it isn’t open then you need to click on it and type in your password
  5. Click on Login Items
  6. Hi-light the Steam application and then hit the minus button in the lower left hand corner of the Login Items window
  7. Close the System Preferences pane

Next time you start up your Mac, Steam will do what it is supposed to do and wait quietly until you open it.

The iPad as a tool for parents

I’m not suggesting that adding an iPad to the mix will turn someone into a better parent or that their children will grow up to be smarter than kids that grew up without the benefit of an iPad, but what I am saying is that the iPad is a great tool for parents to have. The reason it is such a great tool is because it is essentially a do-everything entertainment device for children. It’s like a 500 dollar digital pacifier for kids that are too big to be calmed by a real pacifier.

I use mine all the time for keeping my son entertained everywhere from restaurants to the living room. From watching Blue’s Clues at a noisy restaurant to keep him from getting too fidgety or trying to get away from the table to watching Thomas The Tank Engine on Netflix at home so the rest of us can watch something more grown up in nature to reading him a bedtime story without having to have any of the lights on at night – the iPad is a do-it-all entertainment powerhouse for parents.

It could easily be said that any laptop or tablet computer would be able to do all of those things, but none of them can do it for as long on a single charge or fit as effortlessly into any diaper bag; or be so rugged. I would freak out if my son hit my laptop screen but the glass screen on an iPad was made to be touched and handled and has had no problem taking the abuse his 21 month old fists of fury can dish out. It would be even better for older children as they are much less likely to try and slap the screen whenever they see one of Blue’s paw prints.

You could say that an iPod or iPhone could be just as useful, and that might be true if your child isn’t fond of throwing things from time to time, but mine is. We’re working on that one, but in the meantime, it is much harder for him to chunk an iPad than it would be for a smartphone.

Pocket Pond for the iPad

Pocket Pond for the iPad is, not surprisingly, a virtual pond that can… well, it’s for the iPad so it really won’t be fitting in anyone’s pockets. It is a free download with an option to upgrade if you want to do things like fish in the pond or some other trivial things. Other than the upgrades, you really just have a virtual fish pond.

This doesn’t sound that great and if you are over the age of six it would probably just be something to download for a quick laugh — it would then be quickly deleted in order to save space. The age thing is important. Children love this type of application. My son was mesmerized by the fact that he could touch the water and have it move and make splashing sounds. He liked watching the fish swim around and scatter when he hit the water. To make it even better, the app supports, by my count, five points of contact at a time. That may not seem like a big deal but when a very young child, in this case under two, starts touching the screen with his whole hand and the app responds without any weirdness it makes for a more enjoyable experience — it also makes for a more stable application.

Is this an app I’ll be keeping? Yes. I’m keeping it because it will be a useful tool in keeping my 21-month-old son happy and distracted when he gets a little too excited or fussy and he needs something to focus on.

If you have a child and an iPad, you should get this app; if you don’t, then you can probably pass this one up.

Portal free on the Mac and PC for a limited time

Steam, purely out of the goodness of its heart, has decided to make Portal free on the PC and the Mac until the 24th of May. You have to install the Steam client in order to get it, but that doesn’t take more than a few seconds of downloading and maybe a couple of minutes to set up a free account.

Here’s the link.

sobees for Facebook free for limited time

Facebook is an overly popular social Web site that has an OK iPhone/iPod touch app, but it has yet to release a dedicated iPad application. In steps sobees to fill the void with a, free for now, application that puts Facebook’s own app to shame.

If you’ve used Facebook’s app on the iPhone or iPod touch, you know that it gives you access to things like pictures and status updates – the sobees app does that as well but it does it with much nicer visuals. You can browse all of your friends’ photos form within the photos tab, see all upcoming events through the events tab, and see the latest posts, links, videos, and photos all from the sobees front page… but best of all, and the reason I am ditching the Facebook app altogether for this, is that it does not show any updates from any of the hundreds of annoying Flash games.

Facebook on my iPad is littered with updates about who found what in Treasure Island and who is having a barn raising in Farmville; the sobees app excludes all of the content you don’t want and gives you everything you do.

You can find the app here, or go to the iTunes store and grab it. It’s currently free but there are plans to charge for it later.

Income budgeting for the rest of us – Pocket Lint review for OS X

There are a lot of finance and budgeting programs available for the Macintosh platform but they all have one glaring flaw, at least according to the fine people over at BravoBug Software, and that is the assumption that the people using it have money to begin with.

Their software, called Pocket Lint, makes no such assumption. It is a simple piece of software that lets you input your wages either by hour or by month and then subtract expenses on a monthly basis. The software lets you decide how things are paid, such as by check, direct debit, credit card, or by a collections agency. It features a handy “Joe Pesci” proximity alert that is supposed to let you know how close debt collectors are as well as a “Win the Lottery” button that lets you play a fictional lottery in an attempt to make yourself feel a sense of hope about your dire financial straits.

At first glance you might think it has a useful graph function to let you keep track of your expenses; once you actually click on it you find a generic chart showing your finances dropping through the floor and a few supportive statements written in crayon that are designed to make you feel slightly better about your impending financial collapse.

The program, at its core, is still useful and you can turn off all the comical items through the preferences menu. What you are left with is a very simple monthly budgeting program with a price that is perfect for the permanently cash-strapped. It’s free.

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Microsoft out of the tablet market?

Archos recently announced they would be bringing a tablet computer to the market running Google’s Android; ASUS is also following suite with an Android tablet. HP killed off the much-hyped Windows 7 powered Slate after lackluster reviews and has moved towards using recently acquired Palm’s WebOS in its place. When Lenovo designed its convert-able hybrid tablet it used Windows 7 for the laptop and a version of Linux for the detachable tablet. The tide against Windows in the tablet space seems to be growing and I don’t see anything that Microsoft currently has in the works as changing that.

If you want to blame the iPad for that you’d probably be correct. It showed that you don’t need, or even want a full blown desktop operating system on a tablet device. The slew of Windows 7 tablets that had been announced just before and following the iPad’s release seems to be dwindling, replaced by tablets running Android. Microsoft might still have a chance in the tablet market with the Windows Phone 7 operating system, but they seem to be scaling back their tablet push. They recently killed off the Courier, which had a couple of very popular concept videos and overwhelmingly positive coverage from tech sites.

Does Microsoft have a future in the tablet space? It is looking more and more like they do not. The coming tablet battles look like will be fought exclusively through Apple, Google, and possibly HP.

Flight Control HD – iPad Game Review

Flight Control HD, from Firemint, is an air traffic control simulator where you must guide different types of aircraft to their designated landing strips. The planes and helicopters are different colors, those colors let you know where they should land. Each of the different colors of planes and helicopters have their own speeds and there are generally two types of aircraft of each color: each of those have their own speeds as well.

You are in charge of setting the aircraft’s flight paths but you do not have any control over their altitude. Every plane flies at the same altitude so your only mission is to make sure they don’t cross paths on their way to the runway. The controls are very simple, just touch a plane and then drag your finger to show where it should go. You can change the flight path of the planes by touching them again or by touching anywhere on their flight path line and moving it.

The game has no upgrades or missions, you just play until someone crashes. There are 9 airport maps to choose from with difficulty ratings ranging from one star to five stars. There are 5 regular maps, 1 3D map, and 3 HD maps. The HD maps are larger than the rest.

There are some unexpected features in the game, such as the ability to turn off the game’s soundtrack and replace it with your own iTunes playlist from within the game, and a multiplayer mode that can be played with two iPads or with one iPad: each player taking a side of the screen. One unexpected feature, or lack thereof, is that when you buy the iPad version of the game, the much cheaper and much smaller iPod touch/iPhone game is not included. There are many programs in the App Store that give you both for the same price, and it would have been nice if this game had done that as well. The game costs 4.99 in the app store and the regular iPod Touch/iPhone version goes for 99 cents. Is the game worth 4.99? I think so; it’s the kind of game you can pick up instantly yet have no problem putting down when life requires you – which I think fits the iPad perfectly.

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Will the iPad create a viable market for Windows based tablets?

There have been a fair number of new tablet computers recently running everything from Android to Windows 7 – they all seem to be chasing after the iPad market , which says a lot about the perception of Apple because not a single iPad has been sold yet.  After watching some videos on these “iPad killers” I have come to the conclusion that these devices are pretty much the same tablet computers we have seen in the past.

These Windows based tablets suffer from the same problems as their past iterations – no one wants them.  People have had the option of getting a tablet from computers running full operating systems with Flash support for years, and aside from doctors’ offices and hospital staff, no one really ever bought them.  Why do PC makers and tech writers now believe that tablets running a full desktop OS will suddenly be what people are looking for?

All of these products have been failures; riding on the coattails of the iPad might sell a few devices, but this tablet fad will go away once the numbers come in.  Microsoft, to its credit, seems to understand the failure of the tablet computer – which might be why its current tablet focus is on the Courier.  The Courier does not pretend to be a computer replacement; it is a digital journal, a simple device to jot your thoughts into.  It does Web browsing, email, maps, and that is about it.  Devices like the iPad and the Courier are the future of the tablet market – specialized devices that do a few things very well, that are not intended as computer replacements, that don’t require or use a full desktop operating system, and that have interfaces deigned from the ground up for touch.

Windows Phone 7 requirements a turn off to manufacturers?

Microsoft recently showed a preview of its upcoming Windows Mobile platform, which has the slightly clunky name of Windows Phone 7. The technology press from Engadget to Gizmodo seemed to go crazy for the new operating system. After watching the videos and reading the articles written about it… I’m not going to say how I feel about the phone, because there is plenty of room in the market for more than one type of phone. What stood out to me were the new system requirements that Microsoft is setting forth in order for manufacturers to use it. Manufacturers have to use the same screen resolution and the same screen size, they have to have three dedicated buttons on the front — one of which is dedicated to Bing, they all have to use a specific type of touchscreen, and they all have to run a stock install of Windows Phone 7.

With the exception of the Bing button, I really don’t have a problem with a uniform look and feel to the operating system across different manufacturers; if anything it will make the experience for the end user better because an application designed for Windows Phone 7 should behave exactly the same no matter what make of cell phone it is run on. However, it is not likely that the phone makers will want have the same specifications and the same operating system with no enhancements. Is it reasonable for Microsoft to think that it has the clout in the mobile market to demand that phone makers move to its new platform, create phones the way that Microsoft has demanded, and have no way to differentiate themselves from the competition? I believe that phone makers will choose to abandon the Windows Mobile operating systems in favor of Android because Android has no requirements to use it, it will allow them to create their own application store, and to enhance the operating system to differentiate themselves from others in the market.

It does not seem reasonable to think that cell phone makers will hang around for the rest of the year waiting to be told what they can make from a software maker whose mobile platform, at this point, is a gamble.

News Corp. deal with Bing for exclusive content?

Microsoft and News Corp. have been discussing an alliance that would remove the news and entertainment corporation’s content from Google’s search results and news page and move them exclusively over to the Microsoft Bing site.  This is a hit or miss deal, on one side you have the need for news agencies to be paid for the content they produce and on the other side you have the problem of exclusivity with Microsoft being a limiting factor for who is able to find their content.  I do not disagree that news agencies have been hurt by the ability of online content aggregators to reduce the number of viewers those agencies have to their sites – thereby reducing ad revenue.  I think it is very important that we have a news media that can sustain itself while still being able to pay for reporters to do their work.  If you haven’t noticed, the trend has gotten very bad recently.  You can read four or five different newspapers and find the exact same stories written by the exact same AP or Reuters reporters without every finding original content written by someone who actually works with the paper.  That means that the number of viewpoints you are likely to see on any given issue is extremely limited.

What the deal with Microsoft would do for the news would be to lay a foundation for search engines that create news pages to pay for the content they pull.  I’ve heard it said that print media is dead and I’ve heard it said that the future of news is blogs and social media sites like Twitter that can offer unfiltered news the moment it happens.  I don’t agree with that assessment at all.  Blogs are not written by journalists, they don’t have to go through fact checking or through an editor.  They don’t have the ability to work on a story for weeks or months in order to get it right.  I would say that most of the new media sites do nothing more than offer opinions and repackage news they read from real journalists.

Like it or not, the news media does need money in order to pay for the services they provide.  The deal with Microsoft would provide for that, and I think Google should pursue a similar strategy with the news agencies that appear on the Google News page.

Is IE9 worth getting excited about?

At the 2009 Professional Developers Conference a couple of days ago Microsoft gave a quick preview of the next version of Internet Explorer – version 9.  What they showed was a browser that was moving slowly towards being standards compliant, to a certain degree.  The point was made that standards were not everything, and that the browser should have some new and exciting features that might go beyond the standards developed by the W3C.  It was surprising to see Microsoft bragging about scoring a 32/100 on the Acid3 test, and it did not bode well for web developers who desire to have a fully standards complaint browser for them to work with in the future.  Having all major browsers following the same set of standards would make their lives considerably easier.

Speaking of the web developers and how they felt about the introduction of another version of Internet Explorer… over at the official MSDN blog, the comments were largely negative.  Many developers seemed to be of the mindset that Internet Explorer’s time had come and gone and that Microsoft should either ship a competitor’s browser or just make IE9 a webkit based browser.  Webkit is the engine behind Apple’s Safari, Firefox, and Google’s Chrome browsers.  Safari and Chrome both score a 100/100 on the Acid3 test and are fully standards compliant.  [EDIT: Firefox uses the Gecko engine and scores a 93 out of 100.]

Perhaps the biggest complaint about the new IE9 is that it uses hardware acceleration technology that has not been ported to Windows XP, leading to speculation that XP users will be stuck on IE8 as the top choice.  While that isn’t really a big deal to the average consumer, it does mean that web developers will have to develop websites and test them for compatibility with IE6, IE7 and 8, IE9, and webkit based browsers.  Some developers have gone so far as to exclude IE6 browsers from their testing, instead directing users with the older browser from Microsoft to upgrade to Firefox.

Microsoft’s decision on IE9 to go their own route and try to force everyone into both upgrading their operating systems from XP and into developing websites that take advantage of the as-of-yet unnamed new features of IE9 while still making sure sites are backwards compatible with IE6, 7, and 8 instead of using a standards based browser make the development and eventual release of IE9 a virtual non-starter for most.