Simple notes. Sounds appealing? If it does, then read on. There are a plethora of note taking apps for iOS including the built in note application from Apple, which syncs via iCloud to your various other iOS devices as well as to and from a Mac. Simplenote, a basic note taking application that runs on iOS (universal) and Mac, offers the basic note functionality of the Apple Notes offering but adds a few extra features worthy of consideration for note taking needs.
Simplenote is a universal app which means it run in either a native phone or tablet app UI depending on the device it runs on. But wait, there’s more! There are also Mac, Android, Kindle, and a browser (web) client. Sorry PC owners, looks like you guys are stuck using the browser client. With all of these supported platforms, the ability to sync your data across all of these devices is critical. This is where Simplenote shines. Using the app on an iPhone, iPad, and Mac, the sync was almost intantaneous and flawless. Changes on any of my iDevices were automagically pushed to my Mac and vice versa.
Simple Note excels at entering in new notes quickly and easily. The add new note button (a “+” sign) is always available in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Once in the new note screen, you can type to your hearts content.
Notes are basic text, no fancy fonts or styles or markdown formatting, and no ability to insert or attach an image. However urls to websites are supported. The first paragraph of a note is set in boldface. Pressing return to start a new paragraph returns the text to normal (non-bold) font. At the bottom of the note entry screen is a freeform tag entry box. Tags assist in categorizing notes and multiple tags can be assigned to a single note. Tags can be added or deleted from the note.
While in the note create or review screen, pressing the information button (an “i” button) will bring up a slide-up-from-bottom menu that offers several choices: Send, History, Collaborate, and a trash can, which will place the note in the recoverable trash area. At the top center of the menu is an active word count. On the top right of the menu, there is a “pin to top” option button that when pressed will pin the note to the top of your note list. Pinned notes are marked with a circle with a dot inside prior to the note title. While writing this review using Simplenote on the iPad, I pinned the review to the top of my list and watched the change sync almost instanteously over to the iPhone sitting next to my iPad.
I am an avid Podcast listener. I am am also a co-host on the iOSDocked podcast where I join 3 or 4 other guys in talking about everything Apple and iOS. Selecting and using a podcasting app is very personal choice for me, especially since I listen to various podcasts for news, entertainment, and everything in between. In the iOS App Store there are dozens of apps that will download, stream, and play back podcast episodes. I have tried many of the popular apps such as Pocket Casts, Downcast, Instacast, Podcatcher, and more. However, the Apple Podcasts app is one that I seem go back to from time to time.
Anyone remember version 1 of Podcasts? A certifiable nightmare. Bug ridden, unreliable, feature lacking, you name it, it had it. Most egregious of these bugs was the unreliable nature of iCloud sync where syncing across subscription info, playback position, etc were part of the feature set but like most iCloud apps at the time, not very reliable. However, with the release of iOS 7, Apple has released Podcasts Version 2, and it is finally the app that Apple originally intended to be. It should be noted, like many app categories in the App Store, Podcasts may not be the most feature-ridden in the podcasting category, but it is a solid contender for both casual and hardcore listeners like myself.
First and foremost, the iCloud syncing with Podcast seems to be much improved over older versions. I believe this is because Apple has improved the Podcasts app syncing code as well as made some changes to the backend iCloud sync. Setting up podcast subscriptions on my iMac in iTunes caused all the episodes to be picked up by my iPhone and iPad. Apple is attempting to allow users to listen on whatever device is convenient and have all that information ubiquitous. In my experience with the new Podcasts app, Apple is about 75% there. Syncing back and forth between my iPhone and iPad has been flawless. Episode information such as whether or not an particular episode has been played, and your listening position synced flawless between my iPhone and iPad. However, when it comes to other members of the Apple device family such as the iMac and Apple TV this wasn't the case. Hopefully Apple is able to nail down some of the iCloud sync bugs there and bring both the Mac OS and Apple TV back into the fold.
The Podcasts app has been redesigned to become fully iOS 7 compliant, and it shows. The UI, whether you like it or not, is a bright and clean representation devoid of buttons and clutter. The result is a very easy to use application that focuses on podcast listening.
There are some advanced podcast app features that are missing from Apple's app. For example, there are no custom time settings for scrubbing forward and backward during episode playback. Podcasts scrubbers are fixed at 15 second intervals while other apps offer the ability to set how much time to move forward and backward. Another glaring omission is the absence of advanced show notes and the display and support for URL links. However, Podcasts does display show notes within the Now Playing screen where as older versions required you to exit the playing screen to see notes. I do hope that Apple continues improving the show notes view as clicking on URL's can be very helpful when trying to get more information about a given topic that is discussed during a given show.
The Podcasts app now also supports iOS 7's background downloading. This feature allows the Podcast app to download episodes to the device even when the app is not running. According to Apple's specification on background downloading, an app that supports this feature receives an invisible push notification and is given the ability to run temporarily in the background to download the data. I have found that this function works well. When I launch the Podcasts app, my episodes are ready in my unplayed list and ready to play. Where this functionality does not work is if the podcast file is over 100mb which will not be downloaded due to Apple's file size limitation over a cellular connection. However, if you are on WIFI there is no limitation so downloading is not an issue. If an episode is not downloaded, it is available for streaming. The settings for performing refreshes, downloading, and episodes to keep locally are in the iOS 7 settings panel and are customizable for each podcast episode.
One of my favorite features of the Podcast app is the integration with my car stereo. The app uses a native database that stores the episodes you have on the device. That database is readable by the car stereo system which means selecting and controlling podcasts can be done using the built in car display. While most late car systems allow for BT streaming for playback and control, the ability to navigate thru podcast lists is very convenient while driving.
Overall I am quite pleased with the progress and impovements of Apple's Podcasts app. From those early bug-ridden days to a very polished (yet not perfect) application, Podcasts V2 has become a very serious contender for iOS users to consider when selecting a podcast catcher application. It has just enough features to keep both the casual and power-podcast listener happy. I hope Apple continues to support this app in terms of bug fixes and new features. For myself, I will be using Podcasts as my primary app on both my iPhone and iPad. That's a hardy recommendation coming from me considering the number of really good podcasting catching clients in the App Store.
Apple Podcasts - Universal - Free
Contrast Software (formerly App Cubby), the company that brought iOS users Launch Center Pro, Trip Cubby, @Timer, and Mirror have released Perfect Weather - NOAA Radar and Forecast for the iPhone. Perfect Weather might not exactly be perfect, but it sure is one hell of an app for the iPhone and feels right at home on iOS 7.
The main screen of Perfect Weather displays locations that you add (including your current location) in tabs similar to Apple's Passbook application. Adding new locations is extremely easy, just press the Edit button and you are presented with a search screen that accepts both city or zip code. Once your city or location is selected, it is added as a colored tab in the location list. The tab colors seem to be random and there currently is no way to customize them. When a tab is selected, the information for that location is brought to the forefront and that's when the app magic begins.
Once the location tab is selected, a weather card is displayed which contains current conditions and tempurature, a 6 day forecast with high and low temperatures , percentage of precipitation for the day, and an interactive radar image of the surrounding area customizable to show clouds or rain patterns. However, what is first shown by default is not all the information offered by the app. A quick horizontal swipe on the forecast area reveals a temperature line graph and another swipe shows information such as sunrise/sunset, humidity, wind speed, and barometric pressure. It is amazing how much information is packed into a card. Kudos to the Perfect Weather design and development team for making the information readable and very accessible in a small amount of screen real estate. My only complaint, and one that might be prevalent in many iOS 7 apps, is the use of a light and thin font which against a white background can be a bit difficult to see at times. From my interaction with the Perfect Weather team, subsequent updates to the app might include changes to these fonts for better readability.
The information displayed on each card can also be customized by a press and hold on the tab "carat" which when dragged with your finger will collapse and expand the data sections accordion style to show as much information you care to see.
Overall, Perfect Weather is a slick weather application that deserves a look from those who appreciate finely crafted (and certainly accurate) applications. The application is certainly not perfect (is any app?), and I have only minor complaints. In addition to the font changes for readability, I would like to see the city name displayed in the current (Your Location) tab,
Also, as its full name suggests, Perfect Weather pulls weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). which means that it is only for use in the United States. Aside from these minor quibbless, the application is a wonderful balance of design and functionality.
Download Now - $2.99
Personal Information Management (PIM) apps are the Swiss Army knives of mobile devices. Full featured PIMs assist in managing Calendar events, Tasks, Contacts, and notes in a single application. Extreme Agenda by Birdsoft is a full featured PIM application that competes with the likes of other popular apps such as Pocket Informant, Calengoo, SaiSuke Calendar, and other full featured calendar apps for iOS devices.
Extreme Agenda’s strength is calendar management. Several views are offered: Year, Month, Week, Day, and Agenda. Extreme Agenda uses the native iOS calendar database so all of your iCloud, Google, Exchange calendars are available and synced by the application. As is the case with most calendar applications, you can easily include or remove calendars from any view within the application. I personally spend most of my time on the month view which usually provides me a quick view of the entire month.
New events can be added to a calendar either by clicking the always available "+" icon on the upper right hand corner of the screen or by a press-and-hold on the day/date that the event should be added. The press-and-hold will generate a dynamic pop-up submenu giving options to add an event, task or favorite. The availability of what can be added is dependant on what view you are currently in. For example, you add a task in the month view by selecting a day, but cannot do so by performing the same action when in the Today view. I found this inconsistency of selection choices frustrating at times.
Extreme Agenda uses a customized new event screen which allows for the usual data points needed for event entry. There are several tools that assist in quickly entering informaiton that is repeatable or used frequently. First, there are templates, which are pre-saved events that can be used to quickly fill in information for a new event and can be used many times as needed. Set up correctly, templates can really speed up new event entry. For example, I have a generic template set up for each of the doctors I visit regularly and saves me the effort of entering the same information each time I have a doctor appointment. All I need to do is use the template and update the time and date. Another entry tool is predefined text phrases such as "Call with ***", "Meeting with ***", which are available for subject field, and "Home" or "office" for location field. Each list screen provides the ability to add or remove the standard text phrases that are available when entering a new event. I should also mention that Extreme Agenda has one of the most extensive repeatable event selection criteria of any calendar/PIM app I have used. One screen shot alone does not show all the available options, which are shown specific to the day/date that you are currently on. This is a definate plus for entering events that re-occur over time. One feature that is lacking is the ability to add contacts to an event (as an invitee) and have the request emailed. I know that the functionality is available in the standard UI Apple provides for calendar entries, so maybe the developers of the app will implement this feature in future updates.
Application Navigation and Controls
Navigation is facilitated by horizontal gesture swipes to move the active calendar view forward and backwards. Buttons to return to the current date, settings, and category filters are available on the top menu bar. The bottom menu area is customizable by going to the "More" tab and clicking the Edit button. A configuration screen is displayed which allows drag and drop of functions to and from the bottom bar, similar in functionality to the stock Apple music app. The customization settings also allow you to forgo the tabbed UI and go with a grid style function selection screen. In this mode, Extreme Agenda displays a smaller menu bar at the bottom of each screen with various functions and a grid icon to return back to the menu selection screen. The application also has a global setting to allow integration with TextExpander, a data entry utility that allows shortcuts to be used for longer and more complex information input.
Agenda Extreme offers a rather vanilla approach to listing contacts. What I found rather odd is that the only way to add a contact to an event is from the contact screen. Even then the only field I could add a contact to was the subject of the event (as I mentioned, there is no invitees field when entering a new event). When you select a contact in the contact tab, a pop up window is displayed with the contact information which can activate a call, SMS, new email, or opens a Safari web page depending on the information type.
Tasks and Lists
Extreme Agenda also provides in-application managment of tasks and Lists. Tasks are simple "check the box" type items. At the current time, tasks are internal to the application and are do not leverage the iOS API's to access the native reminders database, a feature that will hopefully be implemented in a future update. Lists however, are a bit more flexibile than Tasks and allow for things like grocery shopping lists where an items can be added as well as the price can be added. As you add items and their prices, the totals are automatically summed. Another nice feature is the ability to share your list with other people using Bump technology (Bluetooth transfer) by touching phones (ala Samsung Galaxy SIII). Lists can be shared with others who use Jot List, a dedicated list application also available from Birdsoft. I did not test the functionality, but I have used Bump before with other iPhone users and the technology works as advertised.
Notes are free form text stored within the application. Like Tasks, they are also not linked to the native iOS counterpart. Also, I was not able to link notes stored in the application with new events. The new event field for notes did not link to the application notes database and only presented the option to enter free form text. It would be nice if a future update allowed for either free form text entry or option to select a note from a list. The notes function does allow for sending a particular note in the body of an email and as an text attachment.
Extreme Agenda is a powerful PIM app for iOS. It offers one stop shopping for PIM management. However, there are a few things that keep it from being my primary calendar app. At times the application felt disjointed and not fully integrated across the various functions of the application. The UI of the app for the most part is clean but there are spatterings of small touch points and over use of sub-popups which are a bit inefficient and frustrating to use at times (i.e. little 'x' to close a pop-up window, ellipses ("...") that activate sub-menu popups in contacts, etc.). I would have also appreciated some customization of font sizes in the calendar month view. I found the standard font used a bit on the small side. I would have to say that the closest competitor to Extreme Agenda is WebIS PocketInformant, another all-in-one PIM solution. In terms of features, PI offers a quite a bit more in terms of in-app integrations (modules that work and share information together), as well as integration with iOS reminders for tasks (a big feature add for me). While Extreme Agenda has lots of UI and feature customizations, PI offers a bit more in terms of customizations and the overall UI feels a bit more polished than Extreme Agenda. However, that being said, Extreme Agenda is no slouch and is an all-in-one solution that I would recommend to anyone that doesn't mind the issues that I have outlined in this review.
Extreme Agenda - $9.99 (Universal)
Starting the app brings you to the primary information screen which displays the current temperature and conditions, a chart showing the tempurature progression for several hours and a 3 day forecast at the bottom. As you can see, Check The Weather (CTW) follows what I call the "clean" look that many UI's are standardizing on, a white background with use of selective font typefaces. I find the presenation style of CTW very plesant to look at.
CTW is very quick to refresh its data which cannot be said for some other weather apps that I have used in the past. In terms of accuracy, I am not sure of the source that the developer is using but I have found that CTW is usually on par with another one of my favorite weather apps, Weather HD which uses Accuweather for its data source.
To obtain more detail, the UI supports swipe gestures from the sides of the screen to access other panels of information, including extended hourly and daily forecasts. A swipe from the bottom will open a doppler radar map that integrates with Dark Sky, an extremely accurate information source for precipitation levels and chance of rain for a given area.
Extended Daily Forecast (Swipe to Left), Extended Hourly Forcast (Swipe to the right), and Doppler Radar (Swipe from bottom):
Hazardous weather alerts from the National Weather Service are also displayed on the main screen when available.
CTW uses the iOS location service to poll GPS coordinates and report the weather from the current location. Other locations can be added by pressing the location bar at the top of the screen which will slide down a panel which will list other locations and provide the opportunity to add addtional ones. CTW's minimal settings controls (24hr time and Celsius/Farhenheit) are also accessible from this panel. One of the minor issues I found with the reporting of locations was that app did not report my town as the current location but rather the larger New York City metro area. Sometimes the difference in weather conditions can be significantly different based on the granularity of the location, even in the same city. I contacted the developer of CTW and he informed me that the weather information is based on the GPS coordinates that are read from the device and that the labeling of the location may not be as accurate. The developer mentioned that he will attempt to improve that reporting in possible future updates. This is a minor quibble, just as long as the weather is being reported accurately for my current location.
Overall, CTW is yet another very well designed weather application for the iOS platform. The app is is priced at $1.99 USD. If you are a fan of elegant design and accurate weather data, Check The Weather is the app for you.
Update: Version 1.2 was just released and is available in the App Store. The major feature for this version is the app is now universal and runs as a native iPad app. To keep the app data looking uncluttered with the larger screen iPad, the extended data can now be seen by running your finger along the weather graph. At each data point, a little pop up window shows the detailed information for that time.
App Store Link
I love weather apps. Even going back to my Palm and Pocket PC days I was a sucker for a good weather app. Today, a new weather app called Weather Neue by Switch Soft Technologies was released in the Apple App Store. It's clean, extremely simple to use, and does not bombard you with tons of information and maps that other, more complex apps provide.
Upon launching the app, you are presented with a slight animation of the weather UI "sliding" into place. The app uses location based services to obtain your current location. I prefer this type of GPS use as opposed to some of the other apps that force you to select given locations as part of a set-up process. Those type of weather apps definately have a purpose, allowing you to select locations other than your current to see what's going on in a particular location. However, Weather Neue is a "right here" type of app which I prefer to use as a quick look at what the weather is like.
There's not much to the UI. The main screen is a simple current conditions with the today, and 3 additional day forecast at the bottom of the screen. The app uses the very clean Helvetica motif and I must say works really nicely. The weather can be refreshed at any time by shaking the device.
A simple settings screen transitions in nicely by tapping the location at the top of the screen. Temperature measurements (fahrenheit and celcius) are toggled by an on/off switch. I did find a bit of an annoying bug of the setting being reset each time the app is launched from scratch. The app developer tweeted that the next update submitted to Apple will correct this problem.
The app currently only works on the iPhone and is not universal. Attempting to install it on the iPad gives a message that "The App is Incompatible with the iPad - This app requires GPS". From what I have heard from the dev, the next update should also address at least being able to install on an iPad.
Overall, I am really enjoying Weather Neue and I think it will make a fine addition to my primary iPhone home screen. Oh, did I mention? This app is FREE. What are you waiting for? Go Download.
App Store Link
Technology is moving at the speed of light. Well, maybe at the speed of business. Moments after my manager's approval via the company procurement system, I received instructions and authentifcation information to install and use the Good Client software for iOS.
Installation was quick and easy. I downloaded the client app from the iTunes app store (link). On first launching, the application asked me for my login information and the private key sent to me via email. Before I knew it all of my corporate Exchange emails, contacts, and calendar events were synced to my device. In all, it took less than a five minutes to get all of the information on to my device. At the current time, Good limits the number of emails downloadable to the device at 1,400.
The Good application supports push notifications and application badges, but has very limited notification and lock screen support. This means that you will get a notification that a new email has arrived or calendar event is due to occur, but unlike the native email or calendar, the information details contained in each are not visible via banners, alerts, or lock screen notifications. In addition, it is important to note that all PIM information as well as email is contained within the application. There is no integration with the standard iOS contacts, calendar and email functions. Good does provide an option for IT admins to allow contact sharing from the device to the Good app, but that feature has been turned off by my company's IT admin. Information security policies make it evidently clear as to why many organizations are implementing this type of "walled garden" of corporate data. On a personal level, I actually prefer this implementation as I like to keep my corporate separate from my personal information.
When you open the Good app, you are presented with a password screen (if your session has timed out), and a typical iOS-type bottom action menu consisting of Mail, Day (agenda), Contacts, Month view, and preferences.
The full complement of event management features are offered such as accepting/declining meeting requests and creating meetings with invitees. Adding invitees supports corporate Exchange server searching as well as determining availability so adding people that are not on the local database is not an issue.
Email attachents are also viewable within the application using a built-in document viewer. The document viewer can handle standard office documents (Excel, Powerpoint, Word), text files, as well as PDFs.
The preferences section is pretty extensive allowing for:
Bye Bye Blackberry.
Update: As of Feb 2013, Good has still not updated the application to take advantage of the iPhone 5 screen!
As an avid tech fan I look forward to sharing my tech experiences both personally and professionally with those that have similar interests and passion for technology.