Monday, June 6, 2011

Bloomberg Businessweek+

The Bloomberg Businessweek+ app is a must-have for print subscribers, mostly because it's free.  If you're already paying for the print edition you can quickly get free iPad app issue access by providing your account number.  If you're not a print subscriber I'm not sure you'll find the $3 per iPad issue much of a bargain.  You're probably better off signing up for a $20/year print subscription with free iPad access instead.

As far as features are concerned, there's nothing unique or special here.  You'll find the print content in digital format without a lot of bells and whistles.  So while the app is simple and effective, it's not pushing the envelope of what's possible in the digital world.  Heck, you can't even download an issue in the background, so don't bother hopping to another app while waiting for this week's issue to appear.

Although you'll also find all the requisite social networking options at your fingertips, can we think bolder?  Let's start with the simple: A dictionary is built in to almost every ebook reading app these days, so why not do the same with a magazine app?  I still come across a word or two every so often I'd like to look up; am I asking too much to be able to do that right within the magazine's app?

One feature I have to give them credit for is the "Related" option in most articles.  There you'll find links and summaries for companies and industries related to the one you're currently reading about.  This is all done with a slider frame, so it's unobtrusive but there if you want to explore.  Nicely done.  But if you're going to offer access to content within the Businessweek empire, why not also let me grab the same type of related links from the Wikipedia or Google News from within the app?  Turn it into a one-stop news portal, not just an gateway to Businessweek content.

It might not look like it, but I'm trying to encourage more functionality and not necessarily complaining about the app itself.  I plan to keep my $20/year print subscription alive but this is one of those few situations where I'll probably read it almost exclusively via the iPad app.  Bloomberg, you've done a decent job up to now, but please keep adding new features to help me broaden my horizons!

Monday, May 23, 2011


I spend a lot of time trolling the likes of Google News, Techmeme, Digg and countless other news sites and apps.  I'm always on the lookout for something new, especially if it turns out to be a reliable resource and timesaver.  That's exactly what I've found with the Hitpad iPad app.

Hitpad is a terrific visual way to quickly see what's hot.  It offers six categories of news: top stories, entertainment, business, sports, technology and the ever-important Canadian news.  (Yeah, I don't spend a lot of time on that last one.)

When you select one of those main categories you'll see the the subtopics within them that are trending today.  Touch any of those subtopics and Hitpad displays columns with the latest news, tweets, videos, websites and photos related to that trending topic.  It's the iPad user interface at its finest.  Facebook, Twitter and Instapaper support are all built in, of course.

My one complaint about Hitpad is that the main categories are pre-defined and can't be changed.  So if you want to add a new main category you're out of luck.  It also doesn't offer personalized recommendation content like Zite, so I find myself using both.  The Hitpad developers include a link to what they're working on for the next version though (nice touch!) and it includes saved searches and better personalized content support.  I can't wait.

Hitpad is yet another one of those wonderful free apps.  Perhaps they're just trying to hook us now and planning to charge for an update later.  That's OK with me.  I'd gladly pay $4.99 for this one.  Do yourself a favor though and get it now while it's free!

Monday, May 2, 2011

TuneIn Radio Pro

There are quite a few radio apps for the iPad out there so how do you know which one to download?  I vote for TuneIn Radio Pro.  It's earned a coveted spot on my home page for plenty of good reasons.

First of all, there's the breadth.  The app claims it offers access to more than 40,000 stations around the globe.  I don't know the exact number but I can tell you I've never searched for something specific and came up empty.  All the stations I care about are least so far.

Next, and this is by far my favorite feature...  I can record stations and listen to them later.  Yes, it's like a DVR for radio.  I never thought I'd care for something like this but I'm discovering regular radio programs that are on at inconvenient times, so I just queue them up via TuneIn's recording feature and listen later.

Be forewarned that there are some glitches with TuneIn's recording capability though.  Every so often I'll set the app to record a station and it doesn't.  I haven't been able to narrow down the culprit but it seems to be tied to whether TuneIn was the last app running before the recording is to start.

TuneIn Radio Pro is a universal app, so the 99 cents you spend on the iPad version also gets you the iPhone app.  The iPhone app is even more quirky when it comes to recordings.  You have to make sure your phone is plugged in or it won't record; that's not a problem with the iPad app as I've made plenty of recordings without plugging it in.

This one's a steal at 99 cents.  Even if you don't think you listen to much radio today you'll discover a whole bunch of interesting stuff you've been missing out on...and you'll be able to record and listen when you have time.  Highly recommended!

Monday, April 11, 2011

iPad Lessons Learned After One Year

Was it really a year ago that I got up at the crack of dawn, stood in line at the local Apple store and left with my new favorite gadget, a 32G wifi-only iPad?  The last 12 months have been an interesting period and I thought it would be fun to share the iPad lessons I've learned in that time:
iPad is great for consuming short-form content... -- In fact, it's unbeatable when it comes to browsing websites, reading articles, etc.  When I think back to the "old days" when I used to subscribe to The New York Times on my Kindle I shudder in horror.  I can't believe I was paying $14/month for that Kindle service.  It was awful and remains awful, for that matter. 
...but it's not the best for long-form content -- I've definitely rethought my original assumption of my iPad replacing my Kindle.  For almost 12 months I ditched my Kindle and did all my long-form reading on my iPad.  The result: OK, but not exceptional.  I still do a lot of long-form reading on my iPad but I also recently bought a new Kindle and use it as an accessory for my iPad.  The combination is a terrific solution, or at least till Apple does something with their proposed patent on a hybrid eInk/LCD display
Content consumption? Yes. Content creation? Not so much -- I haven't been able to ditch my laptop on road trips.  It's just way too awkward typing on the virtual keyboard for more than a tweet or two.  I've also tried a Bluetooth keyboard but it's less than optimal constantly having to move your hand from keyboard to screen and back.  Maybe a Bluetooth keyboard with a built-in touch pad would work...
Some of the best apps are free -- Zite is a great example.  It's a fairly new app but it's quickly become one of my favorites.  Thanks to Zite I'm finally at a point where I can see my iPad replacing the daily paper. 
Instapaper is a must-have app for every iPad owner -- 'Nuff said. 
MLB knows their At Bat app users are addicted -- Why else would they charge $14.99 for the iPad version and another $14.99 for the iPhone edition?  Yeah, I was a sucker last year and bought both but this year I limited myself to just the iPad version.  I'm using one of the many free ESPN apps for MLB updates on my iPhone. 
My battery isn't as strong as it was on day one -- I haven't closely measured this but I'll bet my battery only holds a charge for about half as long as it did when I bought my iPad.  Speaking of which, does anyone else find it odd that reading an ebook (with the Kindle app) sucks the battery dry faster than, say, watching a movie for the same length of time?  Btw, you can't blame multitasking for the battery issue.  I noticed the drop-off before the multitasking iOS update ever arrived. 
Discoverability is still a huge issue in the app store -- That's why one of the last things I do each night is check out the new releases that day.  There's got to be a better solution (and I'm afraid the genius feature isn't it).
I have no use for the iBookstore -- It all comes down to content use on a variety of platforms.  I buy all my ebooks from Amazon because I know they offer reader apps for all platforms.  Why would I buy an ebook from Apple knowing that they'll only let me read it on one of their devices? 
Why upgrade to iPad 2.0? -- I certainly don't see a reason to.  Yes, it's thinner and offers cameras but I'm quite happy with iPad 1.0, thank you very much.

Monday, March 14, 2011


The Zite app has won a coveted spot on my iPad's home screen.  It's only a few days old and quickly became my most-used app.  I spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more a day in Zite.

So what is Zite and why do I love it?  The app is described as "a personalized magazine."  The personalization comes from your Twitter account and/or Google Reader feeds.  I configured Zite to pull from both on my iPad.

Zite pays attention to what you read and suggests more articles in those same areas.  The more you use it the more it learns about you.

I gave up trying to stay up-to-date on all the RSS feeds I'd gathered over the years but Zite is a great way to dip back into that stream.  I know I'm not catching all the feeds but I'm reading from them a lot more than I used to and it feels like I'm coming across significantly more relevant content than I did using an RSS reader.

Zite is terrific but far from perfect.  It tends to be slow and often refreshes itself when it probably doesn't need to.  If it just checked my feeds 3 minutes ago there's really no need for it to refresh them again now.  This should be a user-configurable setting not something that automatically happens all the time.

My bigger complaint has to do with the customization options for new content sections.  There's a box where you can "enter your own" section but that's misleading.  In Google News I have a bunch of custom sections set up to search for specific phrases.  You can't get that granular with Zite.  If your search string isn't one of their existing sections you're out of luck.  That means I still have to use Google News to track all these other items.  I hope they'll let you create truly customized sections in a future release.  It's a huge opportunity to make this an even more compelling app.

Zite is a must-have app for pretty much everyone.  Best of all, it's totally free.  I wouldn't be surprised to see them offer a premium version for pay.  Heck, if they'd add that full custom section feature I'm looking for I'd be more than happy to pay $5 or even $10 for this one.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why I'm Sticking with iPad 1.0

I couldn't be happier about Apple's iPad 2 announcement.  I was worried they were going to show so many killer features I'd have to spend at least $500 upgrading.  Whew.  Thankfully for me and my bank account, I consider this new product more like iPad 1.1 than iPad 2.

Thinner?  Nice.  Dual cameras?  Don't need 'em.  Smart covers?  Need 'em even less.  iOS 4.3?  I'll take it, but I don't have to upgrade the hardware to get it.

Honestly, I've been wrestling with the notion of switching from Apple to Android in a few months and I was sweating the thought of having to upgrade my iPad so soon.  My iPhone contract is up in June and everyone I know who has switched from iPhone to Android seems to love the latter.  Now I can wait till this summer, knowing both my iPhone and iPad will be more than a year old and I won't guilty about switching so soon after a major purchase.

I am looking forward to iOS 4.3 though.  iTunes Home Sharing will be nice.  I've purposely kept all my music off my iPad so that I'd have more memory for videos, books and apps.  As a result, there have been countless times when I've sat down to read, wanting to listen to some background music but couldn't.  When iOS 4.3 hits I'll be able to just stream all that music from my Mac.  Nice.  I'm also looking forward to the new version of Safari that comes with 4.3.  Then there's the ability to customize the side switch's function.  Like many, I never understood why Apple decided to take a dedicated screen lock button and turn it into a mute one instead.  It's so easy to just turn the volume all the way down with the rocker switch, why take away my ability to quickly lock the screen orientation?  I'm glad they're righting that wrong with iOS 4.3 and letting the user decide what the button should do.

Finally, if you haven't already seen it, be sure to watch the hilarious short iPad 2 ad from Conan O'Brien:

Monday, February 28, 2011

This Day in Led Zeppelin App

I wish all my favorite bands had iPad apps like this one.  I'm talking about a wonderfully rich product called This Day in Led Zeppelin.  The title makes it sound like all you get is a Zeppelin-themed calendar but it's much more than that.

For the bargain price of $2.99 you get all the Zeppelin trivia you can handle as well as a quiz to test your knowledge.  Then there's my favorite part, the Zeppelin song notes.  Every song from every album is covered here.  The Rain Song is one of my favorite tunes and I just learned it was inspired by George Harrison.  In fact, the first two chords of the song are similar to the opening of Harrison's wildly popular Something.

I never made that connection, but was immediately able to do so within this app.  That's because This Day in Led Zeppelin looks through your iTunes collection and knows what Zeppelin songs you own.  If you're reading the song notes for a tune you own you'll be able to play it within the app (while you're reading the notes).  The app also knows which songs you don't own, so it features a "buy" button on those notes screens taking you to the track's album in the iTunes store.  Very cool.

Additional links in this app take you to sites where you can buy Zeppelin sheet music and merchandise.  I wish they'd just open up within the app but unfortunately you have to visit those pages via Safari.

If you're a Zeppelin fan you need this app.  And if you just want to see an example of how a great band app is constructed, spend the three bucks on this one.  You won't regret it.

P.S. -- In addition to all these entertaining features, as the app's name says, it also includes notes about what happened on this day in Led Zeppelin history.  For example, did you know that on this day (February 28th) in 1970 the band played a gig in Copenhagen under an assumed name because Eva Von Zeppelin, a relative of the airship designer, threatened to sue if the family name was used in Denmark?  You'll need to buy the app to see how that interesting story ended for the band...

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Daily App

I've had The Daily app for a week now and as a free service I'm sure I'd use it from time to time.  As a paid one, and even for the low, low price of $1/week, I don't feel it's worth it.

For every cool user interface feature in The Daily there's one that gets on my nerves.  For example, their use of the cover flow option to scroll through the pages sounds nice but quickly becomes frustrating.  What should really be a nice, smooth scroll is painfully choppy.

But it's not really the UI features that turn me off.  The content is so-so, and to be brutally honest, I find Google News is a much better solution for my needs.  And, of course, Google News is totally free.

And here's the kicker: If I ever feel I'm missing anything from The Daily I can always just go read it via this nice (free) Tumblr index.  Now if I could just automate Instapaper every day to grab everything linked to off a page I could pretty much replicate The Daily app experience for free...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Rediscovering TED

The TED website has been one of my favorites for several years.  You'll find videos of many of the most popular TED talks there, all available for free viewing.

TED also offers video access through an iPad app I downloaded awhile back.  I hadn't used it much till I discovered a very important feature: the ability to download and save TED talks locally on your iPad.  I always figured I could access TED videos on their website as easily as through an app.  There's also an option to download the talks from their website but the "Save Talk" button in the app is a much more convenient solution.  I wound up downloading about a dozen talks initially, queuing them up at the same time and setting my iPad aside while they came in.  I've only had time to watch a couple but it's nice knowing they're all with me and immediately viewable regardless of whether I'm online.

TED also recently announced another new extension you might be interested in.  TEDBooks is a collection of short non-fiction works in digital format.  The first three are being distributed via Amazon's new Kindle Singles program.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Warning: Don't Buy InvisibleShield from Zagg

Shortly after I bought my iPad last year I bought the only screen protector that was initially available.  It's called InvisibleShield and it's from a company called Zagg.  Here's a link to the original review I wrote about it.  As with so many consumer goods, everything was fine with it...until I made a replacement request.

You may recall that InvisibleShield was very high-priced (and still is).  I hated all the smudges on the screen and was willing to pay the premium though, particularly since they hyped a lifetime replacement warranty.  Earlier this week the protector got scratched and now needs to be replaced.

I just tried to get a new one and discovered two annoyances with their replacement policy.  First, they charge you the full amount, as if you're a totally new customer, and then promise to reverse the charge a day or two later.  Huh?  I asked the customer service person why and she had no reason.  It's just how they do business.  Second, and even more aggravating, they insist that you to ship your torn protector back to them.

No, I'm not going through the hassle of making sure my credit card charge is reversed and then running to the post office to send them a torn piece of plastic.  It's much easier for me to just stop by Fry's and get a new screen protector for $10.  (Btw, I neglected to mention that Zagg also charges $4 shipping for warranty replacements.)

Very disappointing.  I can't get my $30 back but hopefully I can convince you to not buy anything from Zagg.  They won't get another nickel from me.  These guys could really learn a customer service lesson or two from Zappos.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Revisiting the ESPN Mag iPad App

Now that I've had the ESPN Mag app for a few months I figured it's time to clean things up and delete some of the older issues.  After all, I don't hang onto the print editions after I'm finished with them and I certainly don't want them hogging up memory in my iPad.

I spent a few minutes poking around the app and couldn't find a way to remove an issue.  Rather than waste more time searching I decided to send their customer support an email about it.

Guess what?  It can't be done.  That's right.  Every issue you download has to stay on your iPad.  They sent me a nice enough reply, saying my suggestion "will be forwarded to the appropriate department for review", but this is a a feature that should have been in the app from the start.

I suppose one workaround would be to delete the app from my iPad, re-download it and start over.  That seems silly though, don't you think?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Instapaper App

Offline Pages was one of the first apps I bought for my iPad.  Everyone raved about Instapaper but I stuck with Offline Pages...until recently.  Both apps offer roughly the same functionality and are each priced at $4.99 (although there's a Pro version of Offline Pages selling for $9.99 which includes the ability to save entire web sites, not just individual pages).  Instapaper has at least one significant advantage over Offline Pages though: it lets you save pages in folders rather than just dumping them all in one bucket.

There are two features I'd love to see both of these apps add though.  The first is the ability to sense when an article spans multiple pages and to grab them all.  I can't tell you how many times someone has sent me a link to an article and I click the "Read Later" button on my browser only to discover later (usually when I'm out of a hotspot) that the link only goes to the first page.  To avoid this problem you have to scroll to the bottom of the article in your browser to see if it's all on that page or not.  If not, you typically need to use the Print option on the web page to have your browser render a version with all the content and then click your "Read Later" button.  Why can't these apps scan the page and see if the telltale signs like "Page 1||Page 2||Page 3" links are there?  If so, they could at least warn me that I'm about to only save a portion of the article.  Better yet, they'd have the ability to find the Print option, render the full article and then save it off for me.

The other feature I'd love to see involves marking up articles and sharing them.  I recently read a great article about the news industry that I wanted to annotate and share with others.  I put it in Instapaper and the whole time I read it I kept wishing for options to highlight excerpts, insert comments, etc.  How about we start there and add the ability for me to make notes to myself like this in the version I see in Instapaper?

But let's take it a step further and give me the option to share that marked-up version with my friends.  Either within the Instapaper app or somehow in the version of the web page my friends load, I'd like them to see my comments about that article.  Yes, this request is a bit more challenging than the multi-page one mentioned earlier, but it's quite achievable and something that would add great value to the offline reader app.  What I'm getting at is the need to enable more social networking functionality with these offline readers; not just sharing links but including someone's additional notes about it.  It's a great service to customers wanting to share content as well as publishers/authors of that content who would benefit from the increased visibility.