My Top 5 Favorite iPad Apps

Ages ago, listener Tammy sent me an interesting question – she asked me what my top 5 favorite apps were. I asked her Mac or iOS and she said both. I complained that the question was too hard but that maybe I could answer with 5 in each category. The more I thought about it, I realized I can’t answer that either – I have to pick 5 for Mac, 5 for iPhone and 5 the iPad. It’s about time I answered her – I wonder if she even remembers asking me!

I’m going to set some ground rules here. First, I don’t think I’ll include anything that comes from Apple, unless maybe it’s a hidden gem or something like that. Second, even though Clarify IS one of my favorite apps, since they’re an advertiser I think I’ll leave it off the list. I also decided to eliminate apps that maybe everyone knows about so that the list is more interesting. Let’s start with my Top 5 favorite iPad apps, and later we’ll go through my favorite iPhone and Mac apps.

iThoughts Mind Mapping from Toketaware

iThoughts LogoOk, you guys probably saw this one coming, since I spent the entire show 2 weeks ago talking about how much I love mind mapping and how iThoughts is my favorite mind mapping tool. I couldn’t leave it off this list though, since I immediately whipped it open to start making my list of favorite apps! I created a central node called favorite apps, then three nodes form iPad, iPhone and Mac, and then started dropping in my favorites in each. When I noticed that I had too many favorite iPhone apps and not enough iPad apps, I simply dragged one of the nodes and moved it from iPhone to iPad since the app ran on both platforms. iThoughts really helps me organize my thoughts before they’re linear.

LastPass Password Manager from lastpass.com

LastPass logoI struggled with whether to include LastPass because while I use it constantly, and it works really well, I still wish I never had to deal with passwords. LastPass doesn’t make me happy, it just makes me less sad. I guess I get a little bit happy when I push auto-fill and it plops in my name, home address, phone number, email address, credit card number and expiration date, but the whole password thing just feels like a necessary evil. I’m glad LastPass is in my arsenal and I use it constantly, but I sure wish it didn’t have to exist at all!

Captio to Send Yourself Emails from Tupil

Captio about to send a message to meMy next pic will really irritate every hard core Getting Things Done person listening. You know the type, they use Omnifocus to write up their tasks, achieve Inbox Zero and all that nonsense. Don’t you hate those people? Hate may be a strong word, but all that productivity they have makes me crazy. One of the most basic mantras of these people is that you should never use your email inbox as your to do list. Which is exactly what I do. I’m out and about and I realize I need to remember to do something – I send myself an email. It works for me because when I get to my email I realize I have something I need to do – and either I’ve grown bored with the topic by now and I just delete that thing I thought was so critical earlier, or I do it, or I add it to my to do list, Wunderlist.

But I don’t use Mail on my iOS devices to send these emails to myself, I use Captio from Tupil to send the emails. As Tim Verpoorten used to say, Captio does one thing and does it well. When you first launch Captio, you tell it just this one time what your email address is. After that initial setup, from now on you can tap on Captio, type in a message and hit send. Boom – no addressing the email, no subject to mess with, just type and hit send. You can attach a photo if you like, but I’ve never messed with that. Hey – maybe I don’t even have to type – just take a picture of the thing I need to deal with when I get home and be done with it! I must confess I use Captio on the iPhone more than the iPad but it’s a universal app and I have too many iPhone apps I love so I moved it to the iPad list!

Captio might sound like heresy to you but I use it constantly and I seem to get an awful lot of stuff done, don’t I?

Downcast for Video Podcasts from DowncastApp.com

Downcast logoEvery morning while I brush my teeth and have my breakfast, I watch the news. But I don’t watch TV news, because that’s just way too darn disturbing. I watch tech news and analysis. The Daily Tech News Show with Tom Merritt is my current favorite entertainment for my morning ablutions, and Downcast is my app of choice on the iPad. I love how I can double tap on the screen to pause, it flips up to my AppleTV (when my AppleTV is in the mood) and it’s super easy to download video podcasts using either search or entering a url directly. Man, I’m making this sound boring but it’s an awesome way to watch shows!

I watch Don McAllister’s ScreenCasts Online podcast at the gym when Dorothy deserts me, and I can’t tell you how much attention I get when I’m watching my own personal TV. Most normal people still don’t know what a podcast is – don’t you feel sorry for them?

You’ll be interested to note when I get to the iPhone apps – I don’t use Downcast, but rather another pod catching app.

Notability from Ginger Labs to Take Notes

Notability logoI’m not a fan of writing things by hand any more, but the one place it still seems to fit is in taking notes during a meeting. Somehow I get more distracted with spelling things correctly and formatting when I type, and hand writing allows me to pay attention and focus on the speaker. I might even want to sketch something out too. Then again, sometimes I do like to type notes. I want to be able to do all three. I also want my notes organized.

There’s a problem to be solved though with hand writing on an iPad. It’s simply not possible to write clearly as small as you can with a pen and paper so you end up getting maybe three lines on screen at a time and your handwriting looks like a 1st grader’s script.

My app of choice to solve all of these problems is called Notability from Ginger Labs. Notability lets you flip back and forth typing notes, handwriting notes, sketching and even doing voice recording. They also cracked the code on how to allow you to write by hand and yet not have the letters be huge. At the bottom of the screen you can pop up a magnifier section. You handwrite comfortably in the magnifier, but your text comes out nice and tiny on the main screen.

I’m not going to go into all of the details of Notability today because I actually did a full review on show #360 in April of 2012. I think it says something that two years ago it’s still one of the most useful apps on my iPad.

iOS Access for All

iOS Access for All book coverApple has really made a huge difference in the way a lot of us think about accessibility. Where it used to be a fringe subject, it’s now mainstream because they build it into all of their iOS devices, into their apps and have even made it part of the central theme during keynotes and in their videos. Even with these great advancements, I often get asked for a resource to get in depth help in using accessibility features. I’m no expert, I just dabble in this for fun, but I know an expert.

This week, Shelly Brisbin has released her long-awaited book, iOS Access for All. Shelly is visually impaired, but she didn’t just write about blind accessibility in iOS, she covers tools that are built in for the hearing impaired, and how to enable switch access for those with motor control disabilities. I would say there’s more in the book about accessibility for the visually impaired, but I think that’s because that’s where more of the challenges and advances have been in iOS. She not only covers the tools for low-vision but also for the blind, especially using VoiceOver.

iOS Access for All is available at iosaccessbook.com. It comes in as an ePub format which is great because you can put it on your iOS device and get full access to the embedded links (and make it easier to read if you’re blind!) but you can also use a tool called Calibre to convert it to work on a Kindle or other device.

Shelly is brilliant in person and I think it’s brilliant that she’s come out with the very needed instructional book for only $20. Tell your friends! Now if someone would just write a book like this for OSX…

Screencasting Fun Challenges

As you know, Don McAllister has enlisted my services to create screencasts for his tutorial series, ScreenCasts Online at screencastsonline.com. While it’s a LOT of work to create these, it’s also a lot of fun because of how much I’m learning. I did screencasts when I was working, using Windows 7 and the worst piece of software I’ve ever used in my life, Camtasia Studios for Windows.

My hate for Camtasia Studios stemmed from how buggy it was, especially for $300 a copy. I was constantly battling bizarre audio problems (Techsmith would tell me it was audio driver problems). My personal favorite was when the visual representation of the audio waveform would suddenly go flatline, even though the audio was still there. I should point out that my buddy Slau who is completely blind and owns his own recording studio thinks it’s hilarious that I can’t edit audio if I can’t see the waveform! To him that makes zero sense. In any case, when I was working with Camtasia Studios, you could constantly hear non-girlscout-safe words coming out of my office back then.

ScreenCasts Online logo in iTunesI bring all this up because I’m having great fun learning to use ScreenFlow on the Mac now that I’m doing some occasional guest screencasts for Don McAllister’s ScreenCasts Online tutorial series. I’m actually pretty lame at it so far, not a master like the Don. I feel clumsy but I’m getting better at it, learning the keystrokes and trying really hard not to grab the wrong controls. Don is spoon feeding me tips along the way which is great, and of course he does this by making me little videos to follow along.
Continue reading “Screencasting Fun Challenges”

More Advice on Password Management for Unsophisticated Users

A few weeks back I talked about how I’m struggling with what to recommend to my in-laws for password management. To recap, they’re highly motivated and very concerned about security so I don’t have to sell them on that part, but my father-in-law in particular has a high degree of difficulty with the computer when it doesn’t act consistently. For that reason I was concerned about recommending either LastPass or 1Password because often websites aren’t designed in a way that these tools can recognize the fields in which they should auto-fill passwords. That would drive him bonkers, and I’d hear about it every time.

Listener Ralph wrote me a thought provoking letter on the subject. Let me read you a few bits of it.

The typical evolution of password management is an journey from the basic to the sophisticated ……. from relying on memory, to Post-It notes on the monitor, a list under the keyboard, a field book in the pocket, and then the big leap to an unprotected text file on the computer, a protected text file on a computer, a basic app that does one thing and does it well, to the robust solutions like 1Password, LastPass, Roboform etc. We need to keep in mind that moving too quickly on this continuum can be like drinking out of the fire hose ……. Overwhelming. Managing the evolution is much more important that picking the tools

I think this is a brilliant observation. Maybe when we work on this for other people we need to assess first where they are in their journey and judge how far we think we can pull them along each time we work with them. I think he’s onto something. With my in-laws it’s a little tough because I’ve already been working with them and we’ve jumped all over the map. While they are still concealing their passwords, they are using very complex and long passwords on my advice. Because I didn’t pull them along on the journey in a logical way I’ve gotten myself into more of a pickle, but maybe his advice can help you with others.

He agreed with Bart’s suggestion to get them a powerful password management app, and to take small steps. He suggested this path:

  • Buy a powerful password management app (1Password is Ralph’s app of choice) and take small step
  • Enter all existing passwords in the app,
  • Lock it up with a secure password.
  • Set up syncing as required for the devices in use
  • Print out a paper copy of the passwords, store it in a safe place and destroy all the post it notes and hand written notes. (Provide the blanket and Burn the Boat!)
  • Let the parents decide if they want the sense of control using copy and paste, or the efficiency of auto fill.
  • Allow time to get familiar with accessing and or adding passwords from/to the app. This is a key building blocks

He pointed out that there’s no sense going any further until the parents have a firm grasp of the basics of storing and retrieving passwords. After they’re comfortable with the basics, it’s time to take the next steps.

I like this and I’m going to use his steps for sure. I am still struggling on whether to get the 1Password that I don’t use, and don’t know well, or to have them use LastPass which I know extremely well but may not be as easy for them to use. When people ask me if they should get a Mac or a PC, I ALWAYS tell them to get the computer that the person they’re going to call when they get stuck told them to get, because if they don’t they won’t get any help. I’m inclined to use that same maxim here.

I do own an old version of 1Password so I’m fooling around with that to see how it feels, and I think I’ll make a dummy account on LastPass just to see how it would feel for a newb. Been using LastPass so long I can’t remember what it feels like to start with it. Anyway, thank you so much Ralph for the interesting and useful perspective on this. If anyone else has advice for me on this I’d sure appreciate it!

Why Would Microsoft Choose to Compare the Surface Pro 3 to the 13” Macbook Air?

I’m actually starting to feel sorry for Microsoft. This week they had their big announcement of the Surface Pro 3, and it was actually kind of sad. I saw the big unveil and watched about 20 minutes of it. After 7 minutes they were still talking about the kickstand. I’m not saying a kickstand is a bad idea, on a tablet it might be kind of useful actually. I actually buy a case for my iPad that has a kickstand. But I wouldn’t do a keynote presentation about it. The first Surface had a kickstand as did the second, but the giant advancement they were so twitterpated about was that it now supports a lot of different angles. Think about the good lawn chair you bought with all the nice angles to relax. Sure it’s a cool lawn chair, but did you call your friends to tell them about it?
Another problem with the Surface 1 and 2 was that you couldn’t hold it in your lap easily. The vertical angle of the kickstand was the first issue but the magnetic snap on keyboard was kind of floopy, so even if the angle had been good you wouldn’t be able to type on your lap. They’ve redesigned the keyboard magnets so you can kind of fold it around the bottom of the tablet to hold it more firmly in place. So after all this, the Surface Pro can sit on a lap. It’s pretty long now though with the kickstand and the keyboard, looks like it might be impractical at that length.

They actually did have some cool stuff to announce but they spent so much time on kickstands and magnetic keyboards. Impressively the Surface Pro 3 comes in a Core i7 model that’s only 800 grams (1.76 lbs) and .36″ thick. That’s crazy light and thin. The screen on this device is crazy too – 2160 x 1440, or what Microsoft is calling Pixel Free (think way better than retina). Awesome screen.

They’ve decided to market the Surface Pro 3 as better than a Macbook Air. They point out how it’s thinner and lighter (even with the keyboard). They point out that it’s got a higher res display and that it comes with a stylus. They point out it’s got a touch screen. All of this is true. Remember though that while Microsoft Office is touch enabled on the iPad, it is not yet available on the Surface. But ok, all of this is true and a winning argument.

Until you price out the Surface Pro 3. Apple is always slammed for having high prices, but the Surface Pro 3 is WAY more expensive than the 13″ Macbook Air! It’s hard to believe, but Microsoft has priced this between $130 more and $330 more as you go up to the Core i7 model with a 512GB SSD and 8GB of RAM.

chart of prices showing Surface /> Air but $330 at the top end

Source: Microsoft.com and Apple.com

In the announcement Microsoft talked about how much they’d improved the battery life. I’m sure it is a lot better, but it’s 9 hours vs. 12 hours for the 13″ Macbook Air. So, yeah. I think Microsoft made progress with the Surface Pro 3 but they made a big tactical error in choosing to compare it to the Macbook Air.

30 Year Apple Fan Girl Chooses Roku Over AppleTV

Lamarr Wilson calls me a sinner for hating on the AppleTVI’ve been a fan of the AppleTV since it came out. Steve and I rent a movie pretty much every Friday night from iTunes, and we love using Airplay to play video podcasts from my iPad to the TVs around the house. We have been powering through every single episode of Game of Thrones on HBO Go through the AppleTV (we actually watched it all in about three and a half weeks!) So what’s the problem?
Continue reading “30 Year Apple Fan Girl Chooses Roku Over AppleTV”

NosillaCast is Now on Alpha Geek Radio

Alpha Geek Radio announcement of NosillaCastI am really excited to announce that the NosillaCast is now available on Alpha Geek Radio. Rather than try to explain it to you myself, here’s what founder Todd Whitehead sent me:

“Alpha Geek Radio is an association of independent Internet Radio hosts and Podcasters, dedicated to advancing the cause of Geek Culture in all of the marvelous forms that it takes. In addition to regularly scheduled talk radio shows and a 24/7 music channel run by Coverville, the network also provides live streaming of annual conventions and shows such as Phoenix Comicon, w00tstock, PAX, and Nerdtacular. The station streams 24/7 on all channels, with recent repeats of episodes playing whenever a live show is not on the air, so there is always good, nerdy content available whenever you may tune in.”

I’m really excited because the other shows in there are so awesome – everything Scott Johnson and Tom Merritt – some of my favorite geeks! If you go to AlphaGeekRadio.com any time of the day or night you’ll see three regular channels, the Coverville music channel and a special events channel. The channel shows the cover art for whatever is currently playing and you simply tap on it and hit play.

At first it was hard for me to get used to this idea – it’s streaming, not on demand, so you pick up the show wherever it is in the stream, just like, well, radio! But you actually can pause and rewind unlike radio, so if you miss something you can back up.

I love the way there are all these amazing ways to listen to shows these days, and Alpha Geek Radio is a great example of fun innovation getting the content out to more people. Todd also turned me onto an app for iOS, Android AND Windows Phone for Chris Ashley, and even for BlackBerry that lets you listen to live radio including Alpha Geek Radio, and it’s called TuneIn from tunein.com. Install TuneIn and you’ll get a search area where you can browse local “real” radio stations, music, sports, news or talk station, and then Top Podcasts. If you do a search for Alpha Geek Radio you’ll see all of the channels there too. Be sure to favorite Channel 3 of course because that’s where you can hear the NosillaCast!

One more thing I should explain, he will be playing the live show, well, live, on Sunday nights at 5pm Pacific time so it’s another great way to hear the live show. In between those live shows, he’ll run the NosillaCast from that week, together with other shows on that same channel. Let me know what you think about it – I think it’s awesome.

1Password vs LastPass for Unsophisticated Users?

LastPass vs. 1Password poll results as I'll describe in textSteve’s parents are VERY security conscious and like all of us struggle with multiple passwords. Ken and I have spent a great deal of time discussing what makes a good password, and he trusts my advice on how to strengthen his own. I’ve showed him Steve Gibson’s Password Haystack where you can learn what the effect of adding more characters and more types of characters can do to affect how long it takes it to get cracked. I like this tool because it helped me illustrate how a password generated by the first letter of every word of a phrase isn’t all that hard to crack since it was only 8 characters long. Even substituting a number for one of the letters didn’t take more than moments to crack in an offline scenario with a good compute server. With Password Haystacks I was able to show him how padding his password with some meaningless special characters (even repeating characters) took it in to the hundreds of centuries to crack if he doubled it in length. He was delighted that there was an easy solution to making it secure.

However, Steve’s parents are so security conscious that they don’t yet trust the idea of a password manager. Having all that information in one place is a concern and so far I’m just barely getting a crack into them that their own ability to create and safely secure a good set of random passwords is much worse than the possibility of something like LastPass or 1Password even being able to be cracked. Continue reading “1Password vs LastPass for Unsophisticated Users?”

Can OneNote from Microsoft Replace Evernote?

I’ve been experimenting around with something that might shock you – OneNote from Microsoft. You might think that’s crazy, but hey, it’s free, it runs on all of my iOS and Mac devices, so why not give it a try and see if it solves some problems, right?

OneNote on the Mac showing a bunch of glop I threw on screen
If you love Evernote and every time you open it you feel happy and it thinks just the way you think, then you should probably tune out and go read or listen to something else. I like Evernote, but I’m never entirely comfortable in there. It seems to be a bit hinky at all times – formatting is weird, finding things seems harder than it should be with all the tagging and such, and I just don’t reach for it as often as the true believers do. I don’t dislike it but I don’t love it. OneNote has SO many fans on the PC side, I figured there must be something awesome about it so I decided to give it a try. When Don McAllister did a screencast on it over on ScreenCastsOnline, I got even more excited. Let’s dig in and see how OneNote works. Continue reading “Can OneNote from Microsoft Replace Evernote?”

Add Apple Remote Functions to Any Headphones

Steve and I are both runners, and we love listening to podcasts while we run. We both used to use the little square iPod Nanos (loved them) but when Apple got rid of the clip version we knew it was time to start finally using our iPhones. We weren’t totally against the idea of switching, especially since it would free us from using iTunes on the desktop and all that syncing nonsense.

Belkin and iLuv adaptersThe reason we hesitated to use our iPhones for running was because we both hated all of the ways to hook them to your body. I hate armbands in particular – I’d used one ages ago on the long-form iPod Nanos and it was always slipping and I was always messing with it. When Rod Simmons of the SMR Podcast told me about the Spibelt, I had my solution. I told you about the Spibelt a few shows back – it’s a thin, adjustable belt with a stretchy pouch that you can squeeze your phone into. I wear mine on the front, Steve on the back and in both positions it stays firmly against us, no slipping, no bouncing. We have a great solution. Continue reading “Add Apple Remote Functions to Any Headphones”

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