Sony’s abysmal UI

I went to Sony’s site and ranted a little.

Upon Posting received the following error.


Isn’t that nice of them. A quick scan of the text saw 4 single quotation marks surrounding two words, and sure enough expunging them did the trick.

To be honest, by this point I was hoping the error was due to my making some words bold and others italics, but their html held solid once I’d ridded the post of the offending ‘.

So thank you Sony, for making things simple.

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OmniOutliner and iThoughts, Harmony or Dissonance?

I’m a person who loves to study, learn, and research. As such my productivity apps on my iPad are many. One of my favourite tools to take notes with is a mind map. I’ve used nearly every one that is available for the iPhone, iPad and computer but only two remain on my device. iThoughts HD and myMind Grande. iThoughts is good for robustness while myMind is awesome for super-quick composition. Fortunately I can start a mind map on myMind and bring it into iThoughts for tweaking.

One of my favourite companies recently released an outliner for the iPad called OmniOutliner. I reviewed it in another posting. My review wasn’t exactly favourable but it is a first release. I trust that Omni will iron out some of the programs faults in time. What I’d like to talk about here is just how well this outliner works with our favourite mind mapping tool.

They are actually radically different ways of dealing with information and it’s likely you’ll start in one place and finish up in the other. Some of you will start with a mind map and then later work it in an outliner. Others of you will outline an idea and then bring it into a mind map so you can see a bigger picture. Both methods are valid.

So how do they dance? Or do they stumble?

iThoughts HD to OmniOutliner for iPad

To get a mind map from iThoughts HD into OmniOutliner you need to export it as OPML. To do that you need to look in the Transfer menu (that’s the little box with an arrow pointing from it) when viewing a mind map.

At the bottom of that menu is a command called Export Options. Open that up and make sure that OPML is ticked. It doesn’t matter if other formats are also ticked though you’ll end up with a file for each when you export. All you need for OmniOutliner is OPML.

Backing out of the export options you’ll see that you have a number of export methods: WiFi Transfer, Send to Dropbox, and Send Email are a few. For our example we’ll use Send Email but if you’re a subscriber to DropDAV you can use that for Dropbox support in OmniOutliner as well.

So send via email to yourself. Ensure that the OPML file is attached to the email.

Next, launch the mail app and retrieve your brand spankin’ new email. Tap the OPML file with your lovely finger and choose the Open With… command. Pick OmniOutliner from the list and VOILA! Your iThoughts HD mind map opens in OmniOutliner.

You’re not quite done yet though!

In your documents browser in OmniOutliner find your OPML file. Don’t open it, instead tap the boxed arrow icon and choose the Convert to OmniOutliner. If you do not convert it to OmniOutliner then any styles that you apply to it will be LOST when you close the file. No warning, just gone.

Once you have converted the file to OmniOutliner, style away!

What comes over: node content in the first column, notes in the notes field, links in a link column.

OmniOutliner for iPad to iThoughts

The steps for getting an OmniOutliner outline into iThoughts HD are as follows:

1. In the Document Browser in OmniOutliner for iPad find the outline you wish to transfer.
2. Tap the Export button (the square with an arrow extending from it)
3. Choose Send

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OmniOutliner for iPad Review (updated)

It’s like paper…except it’s nothing like paper at all

OmniOutliner is an outlining app that supports multiple columns, images, and named styles. It isn’t much more than that, for £11.99 is it worth it?

After a couple of weeks of working my ass off to fit OmniOutliner into my workflow as full time designer and full time student who loves outlines, I have given up. OmniOutliner for iPad is UNFINISHED and any praise that you see for it on the Web is not based on real use. There is no good way to transfer outlines from OO into any usable format except OPML for other outliners. You can’t even copy/paste text into a word processor from OO. It’s BLOODY USELESS in the real world. I’m a huge fan of OO on the Mac and other Omni products and think it’s a tragedy that such a great little company can release such a crippled product.

The Good Stuff

Named styles – This is a BIG one. The ability to create, name, and template your styles is absolutely huge. Pages doesn’t even do this and it NEEDS to before it can be taken seriously. I would bet that Omni spent a lot of development time on this in order to get it right.

Basically you can create a style, give it a name, font, size, colour, background colour, and more. You can then specify that children of rows with that style also have a specific style. You can do this ad-infinitum. Very cool!

Colours galore! – Along with style comes colour. Yes, you can colour the text but you can also colour the background of the document as well as individual rows. You can also alternate colours for zebra striping. Yes, you can make some very pretty outlines that don’t even look very much like outlines. You can’t print em or export them in a truly usable format…but they do look pretty!

Multiple columns – Is this a spreadsheet or an outliner? Summary columns, popup menu columns, free-text columns, currency columns, number columns, and checkboxes. What is particularly cool about these columns is that you can resize them without going into a mode and scroll them independent of the first column. This is also something I’m sure Omni spent no small amount of time on.

OPML – All in all, OmniOutliner’s handling of OPML files seems robust enough. Tests were run with CarbonFin and iThoughts HD. iThoughts mind maps were brought in with hyperlinks intact in their own column. I thought that was rather slick.

HTML export – Kind of cool though not sure how useful it will be. You can export outlines in simple HTML or dynamic HTML which includes javascript to open and close levels of your outline.

The Bad Stuff

What? The bad stuff already? Are you sure this thing costs 20 (US) bucks?! C’mon, it’s a first release product and is bound to have some flaws!

No Dropbox – A productivity app of this price to not include dropbox is inexcusable. OmniOutliner does support iDisk and webDAV so one can use DropDAV when it works.

No copy-paste from OmniOutliner – Yeah, a text editor that you can’t copy text from. This is probably something that got by the testers. I can’t imagine they’d actually do this on purpose.

Can’t resize images – You can copy/paste from your camera roll or another graphics app but you cannot resize the image once it is in your document. The sample screenshots that Omni used in its advertising literature are a bit misleading as they show thumbnails. Not only do you have to make those thumbnails in another app, there is also no way to link them to larger size images.

Can’t drag and drop images – The teaser video showed a user dragging an image on her notebook to a place in her outline. Unfortunately you can’t do that.

No import image, only copy paste – There is no import from camera roll option, you have to copy paste an image in. Kind of non-standard. Fortunately you can copy paste from many places (graphics programs, omnigraffle, etc…)

No carriage returns in rows – Each paragraph must be its own row in an outline. You can make notes for each row and those notes can have paragraph breaks in them. This seems a bit of an oversight for a text editing tool.

UI is cluttered – There is no way to hide the two toolbars. If you’re writing you don’t want the UI cluttering up your screen. Unfortunately you don’t have a choice here. Couple that with the fact that there aren’t many tools and you wonder if Omni couldn’t have dispensed with one of the toolbars altogether. This would have given more screen space to what is important to us: our data.

Oh and the UI is brown. Whose idea was that?

No PDF – PDF export would be kind of obvious given the styling options you have available. You can create some really pretty outlines. Too bad nobody will see them.

No real way to get your outline elsewhere – It’s got OPML which is great for iThoughts and other outliners but if you want to bring your outline into word or pages, forget it. The HTML export puts bullets in front of all your outline items whether you want them or not. To some extent you styles are saved but you’ll have to redefine them in Word once the file is there. What we need is a good solid word processing format output.

Cover flow for document management – Probably the biggest workflow issue of all. If you have more than 20 or so outlines (and most of us will) then the cover flow method of organising them is absolute FAIL. Couple this with the fact that they are sorted by recent modification date and you might as well just write it off. Until this is fixed and we get folders and a file list this program will be more toy than tool.

The Mediocre Stuff

External Keyboard Support – It’s okay to a point. If your insertion point is at the start of a row then tab or backspace will indent/outdent the row…most of the time. Sometimes backspace will back up to the previous row. It’s not always predictable.

It’s a no-frills affair when it comes to the external keyboard, which is unfortunate really.

But is it an outliner?

Over the last few days I’ve been wondering if OmniOutliner can even be classified as an outliner. I mean, it does indents and numbering like an outliner should but are there other facilities that are inherent in a tool that we’d call an outliner? The ability to collapse all of a certain branch level of a tree is conspicuously absent. This feature seems to be fundamental to reviewing outline material. Instead a user has to manually collapse each branch.

Also, an ability to export the outline in a format that is accessible by word processors is also noticeably absent. Isn’t an outline a mechanism for organising one’s thoughts in preparation for a report or paper or book? Why do I have to jump through hoops in order to get the outline into a format that Pages understands? It seems the very process of outlining was forgotten in this revision and what we got was an outlining engine in its absolute simplest state. Let’s hope subsequent releases put some meat on these bones.

Better than CarbonFin Outliner?

If you like ‘pretty’ outlines then OmniOutliner wins this battle hands down. If simple functionality is all you need then it’s almost a draw. CarbonFin’s web integration is hard to beat. You also get one extra row (16 instead of 15) when the iPad is horizontal. CarbonFin will likely have DropBox integration soon as well. If your wallet is the deciding factor then you can’t really lose by choosing CarbonFin over OmniOutliner as you’ll get a very slick functional outliner with a better file management system than Omni’s.


Omni bills its products as premium products and in the case of OmniGraffle and OmniFocus for iPad that holds true. OmniOutliner is an exception that I hope Omni rectifies in the coming weeks. OmniOutliner works when you work within its limited scope but that scope is very limited.Even if you dig the text stylings and the scrollable columns, when it comes to actually using the program for a productive task OmniOutliner for iPad breaks down. It’s worrying that the Omni Group is already ‘voting’ on additional features when what they’ve released is nothing more than a sketch. OmniOutliner is an incomplete product and for it’s cost it just isn’t worth it.

If Omni makes good on the product I will update this review and let the world know. This is a product I want to work well. I need a good outliner on the iPad and I believe Omni can do it. Their Mac product is awesome. Until then, keep it honest and avoid the hype.


OmniOutliner iPad Forums


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Taking notes on the iPad – Noteshelf and Boxwave

Just a quick note that will hopefully save some new iPad owners some money.

I love to take notes on the iPad. The ability to scribble away on in a virtual notebook is just freakin’ cool. That being said, I still do my serious (as serious as it gets with pen and paper) writing in traditional notebooks. Still, if you want to take notes on the iPad there are some choices to make.

After spending far too much money making bad decisions, I found that some of my first decisions were the best. Here’s a summary.

The Pen: Boxwave brand stylus. Hands down this is the best stylus you can buy. Gone are the cruddy foam tips of old, this slick rubber job slides across the iPad’s screen like a dream. I’d suggest you get one with the built-in pen for its length…the pen is nice too I guess but the longer stylus in the pen model feels a little more like the real thing than the pen-deficient models.

The Apps


Might as well get the best out of the way first. Noteshelf is the best of the note taking apps out there (for hand written notes). There’s no typing in this app and image insertion is limited to some stamps. However, this app’s responsiveness to the pen is unrivalled. Every other note taking app (‘cept Penultimate) seems…clunky. This app has a fantastic zoom writing feature which helps with legibility. Explort to dropbox, and the usual others (email, iTunes, etc..) is also supported. Forget the rest, get Noteshelf.

The rest hardly bear mentioning. Penultimate is responsive but lacks zoom mode which limits its ability to take good dense notes. Notes Plus, Note Taker, PhatPad, and WritePad all convert your text to line art, smoothing it out. I find this very annoying. It also lowers the responsiveness of those apps considerably. My handwriting is bad enough as it is, I don’t some app making it look worse!

I’d love to recommend Note Taker HD but sadly it’s text conversion (icky response) combined with some major redraw issues in zoom view (no data loss, just very disconcerting seeing what you write disappear and reappear randomly) and some UI clutter make it less usable than Noteshelf.

In an ideal world I’d like to see a program that could combine typewritten notes with handwritten notes but nobody has done it seamlessly. I want to be writing and then immediately switch to the keyboard (I’ve got a bluetooth one) and have my typewritten text follow my handwritten notes.

Every app that combines media makes me jump through hoops to switch between modes and that is just too slow for my needs. I’d rather double-tap my home button and immediately be in Notebooks (my typewritten note app of choice) than fiddle with some cumbersome UI.

The handwriting recognition in PhatPad and WritePad are nothing more than a novelty. Albeit one that works better than I expected…I just don’t want to be forced into a ‘mode’ for it to work and it’s not up to the rigours of heavy note taking by any means

I love doing research with the iPad. If anyone has stories to tell about their trials and tribulations please comment below.


Filed under iPad, Research, Writing

Top iPhone Productivity Apps – October 2009

If you’re like me then you lead a very, very busy life. I wouldn’t be able to keep track of it all as easily as I do without my iPhone. Here are some of my favourite productivity apps that keep my life in order. I use each of these at least once a day, many of them I use throughout the day. I hope you find this list useful.

ListOmni Lists – This is one of the best list maker apps on the iPhone. It’s competition List Maker, is also excellent but I prefer ListOmni because it is what I’m used to. One can create lists of any sort, each of the fields in a list item can be drawn from user-customisable dictionaries. It’s robust. The company that makes this app also makes apps for specific lists (like groceries) but this one can handle it all.

ShapeWriter – One of the coolest apps I have on the iPhone, this one is a keyboard that types as you draw your finger over the keys. Instead of tap-tap-tapping each letter, you just start at the first letter of a word and trace over the letters in the word in order. The program works surprisingly and amazingly well and you can even add custom words to the dictionary that are recognised as easily as the built-in ones. Very, very slick. Has a Lite version that is not free.

Newsstand – is my rss reader of choice. I’ve divided all my feeds into categories and I usually pick one or two categories to read on the train to work in the morning. Combined with a ReadItLater account I can easily mark articles for later reading when I have more time. Very necessary, this app is.

Read It Later – This app stores web pages for later reading. It downloads the page to your iPhone so that you can read it while offline. You can view pages as just text as well. I find this far better than bookmarking all those read-once articles. Again, another app I find very necessary. Also has a free version.

Pocket Informant – There are dozens of todo apps on the market. I use Pocket Informant because I like its user interface. There are times that I’d rather just have a simple todo list but for the times that I need complex scheduling and prioritising Informant comes through. Also has a Lite version.

Snapture – this is my camera app of choice. I like its 3-picture technology and the ability to sort pictures before saving has come in real handy.

HanDBase – I’ve reviewed this app elsewhere. I use this database every day. I’ve over 30,000 records in one of my databases and it handles it flawlessly.

HiCalc – I don’t need a calculator all the time but when I do this is the one I use. It’s amazing, has more features than I’ll ever need. This puppy does thousands of conversions (even clothing sizes!), graphing, any base calculations, RPN or standard, and well, much much more.

Concise Oxford English Dictionary – As an American living in Britain it comes in handy having a dictionary that displays the local language. This edition has a sound module that I find to be an incredible waste of space. Many of the pronunciations in the dictionary do not match the pronunciations of my colleagues at work. We’ve had a great laugh over the dictionary’s pronunciation of words like “typo,” the dictionary says “tippo”.

Weatherbug Elite – I use this instead of Apple’s weather app. This app has considerably more  detail than the built-in iPhone weather app. Of course, living near the coast one can hardly count on a single description for weather throughout a 24 hour day…

Simple Mind – I’m using SimpleMind more than iThoughts these days. This will probably change with iThoughts’ next version but who knows? Simple Mind is quick and easy mind map creation. I use it to help  me organise complex problems, to sort details and to see them later in a context that is understandable.

Awesome Note – This is my notebook of choice, there of dozens of notebook apps to choose from, I just happen to like this one’s visual thing. I do most of my writing in Shape Writer and this app just acts as a storage place.

momo – Probably my most used app on the phone. This keeps track of those random thoughts I have throughout the day. I can type em, tag em, and forget em. They are date-stamped and tagged so I can find them easily again. What a neat thing. It’s like a personal twitter, diary thing.

Pocket Money – this is my budgeting app. Keeps track of my accounts and spending. I like the UI on this one, it has a big number pad for entering amounts and that feature alone makes it better than those that don’t have such a keypad. The graphical display showing budget amounts, amount spent, and progress of the month is excellent. It has a lite version that you try before you buy.

I use many more apps on and off but these are my mainstays. What are some of your most-used productivity apps?


Filed under iPhone, iPhone App Reviews

iMandalArt for iPhone reviewed, will it transform your life?

iMandalArt is an unusual piece of softare; that fact, coupled with it’s high price tag, will cause a lot of people to pass it up. Is it worth the big bucks or is it a bomb? With something like iMandalArt, that is entirely up to the user and if iMandalArt’s very non-standard way of organising information is compatible with said user then the marriage might just work. So how does iMandalArt organize information?

iMandalArt’s interface consists of a grid of 9 squares, each of those squares except the centre one expands to a similarly organised 3×3 grid, and so on. The centre square serves as a path back up through this tree. Double-tapping on any square opens that square for editing. You can type text, record voice, or drop a picture, or a combination of all three.

That is pretty much the functionality of iMandalArt in a nutshell. It’s really up to the user to use it however he or she wishes. The software does provide some guidance in the form of almost zen-like instructions. I wonder if the writing is less zen-like and more esl-like but still, it adds a sense of indistinctness to the software that might put people off. The top level of the software only has 3 editable tree bases, if you will. They are labelled GET, MANDA, and LA. Supposedly GET represents the things (ideas, needs) you wish to get, MANDA represents editing those things over time (a diary, goals), and LA represents accomplishment (adding LAs requires things in GET).

If you still don’t know what iMandalArt is then welcome to the club. After purchasing it, you’re still not likely to understand it for some time. This, despite its simplicity.

I suppose what it comes down to is a compatability between the user’s thinking process and the iMandalArt’s methods. What can you do with this tool that you couldn’t do with an outliner? Not much really, but then you wouldn’t get the cool paper-folding interface of iMandalArt if you used an outliner. Am I glad I spent my hard-earned cash on this? The jury is still out, I’m afraid. I want to say that this app is the answer to a distinct need but its lack of focus means that it will likely be a bit longer before I fit it into my day to day. If I could export what I’m putting into it (PDF would be great) then I’d say it was worth its asking price. As it sits, take a close look at the screens at the iTunes store and see if it clicks with you.

EDIT: Please do take a gander at this kindred soul’s site for an interesting (and I suspect accurate) take on iMandalArt


Filed under iPhone, iPhone App Reviews, Uncategorized

My iPhone, Part Two

As promised, here is part 2. iTunes decided to try to synch all 450 of my apps onto my 8gb iPhone last night so I took the opportunity to reorg. I lost a couple pages of apps but gained some space. Anyway, here’s the list of what is left. I’m not including the dozens of games in folders because I’ll make a separate post about games. The ones out on my main pages are the ones I play most now anyway.

Page six, pick up sticks

Strip Designer blows away Plasq’s entry into the comic strip maker genre on the iPhone. Feature rich and full flavoured, this app delivers multi-panel goodness.

Alone At War is an awesome game. Your character, armed with but a bow and endless quiver, faces an endless onslaught of baddies. The graphics look as if they are drawn by a child which adds a lot to the game’s very simple charm. One of my more played games I consider this necessary.

Void is another fantastic game. I’ve been playing for about a week now. Essentially you pilot a ship (and there are many to buy), equip it with parts and weapons (that you find and buy), and mine/steal from asteroids and other ships. Physics of space are well handled in this making it a challenge to control. I’m enjoying its steep challenge.

Chess Problems is another one of my ‘most played’ games on the iPhone. It has over 300 problems from throughout the game’s history. No solutions are provided and that makes it so much more fun. No hints, no answers, it’s legendary.

Flight Control – Do I really need to say anything about this? I thought everyone had this game. It’s a blast.

Sudoku Unlimited is probably the best Sudoku game available for the iPhone and that is saying a lot since there are so many of them. Limitless tables in a wide variety of themes complete a very awesome way to play.

I Dig It is an amazing little game in which you play a digger (ala Dig Dug) who has to burrow underground to unearth buried treasures. You can upgrade your mining vehicle and have to be careful not to run out of fuel or overheat. Very challenging and fun.

Great Chess Games is an app that has over 10000 great chess games that have been played in history so you can watch each move. Just a nice thing to look at when one’s head is focused on strategy.

The Deep is one of the finer pinball games on the iPhone. Actually that opinion is completely invalid because The Deep is the only pinball game I’ve played on this device. It is good though, check it out.

Boggle because I like word games.

Dungeon Scroll, speaking of word games this one is pretty unique. You’re in a dungeon with monsters attacking you and you’ve got to spell words out to do damage to them. The bigger the word, the more the damage. There is no real dungeon to this game, just pictures of dungeons. Still, it’s uniqueness works in its favour.

Page seven – The stars, our destination

Weather Planet is a globe of the earth as viewed from space. The catch is that the clouds as displayed on this globe are actual satellite images of cloud cover worldwide and no greater than 3 hours old. This app still needs some work but it’s pretty amazing in and of itself. The developer of this one is the developer of Distant Suns, a famous astronomy app that has been on many platforms.

Distant Suns is an astronomy application with thousands of objects logged in it. You can do just about anything in this one, but that can be said of the others in the genre as well. Some of Distant Suns more unique features are an ability to put yourself anywhere in the solar system. The author is highly accessible and has added features that even just one person has asked for. A real gem.

Sky Voyager is a great little app with tons of information, it even looks good. Sadly I have to say it’s my least favourite of all my astronomy apps. That isn’t saying it’s bad, just that I generally gravitate to the others sooner than Sky Voyager. I do like the amount of information this has on each and every star in its database though.

Grand Tour is another app by the Distant Suns author. It will put your perspective of our solar system into form better than any app on the iPhone. You can travel from planet to planet, and each of the planets moons. Seeing one planet disappear into a point whist moving to another truly gives you a sense of the enormous scales in our solar system. A very neat toy.

Pocket Universe is another really great astronomy app. It has a huge database of stars like the others. Nothing really makes this one stand out from the others though…

Go Sky Watch is like these other astronomy apps but it’s graphics are really lacking. It does have one feature that I do like though and I use it just for that purpose. When your crosshairs centre over a stellar body in the sky a small image of that feature appears, an image that has been taken from a telescope. I’d like to see this feature in other apps as well.

Starmap Pro has the largest database of stellar objects. It is a full-featured professional astronomy tool with telescope tracking (others have this too) and many, many more features. It’s also the most expensive.

Star Walk is pure bliss for astronomy apps. It’s beautiful, truly. It’s interface is a thing to behold. It’s not as hardcore as Distant Suns but it’s so damn fun to use that it doesn’t matter. Above all it is the one app I’d recommend for someone with a budding interest in the stars.

Collider is a simple app that simulates the collision of galaxies. You can watch up to five galaxies do their thing in glorious particle dances. It’s keen but only does this one thing.

GeoTimeScale is a free geological time chart. It’s a handy reference for when you want to tell the difference between the Carboniferous and Devonian eras in Earth’s evolution.

APOD Viewer – APOD stands for the Astronomy Picture Of The Day. Nasa puts a new one up every day. APOD viewer is an app that lets you browse these in a format good for iPhone. The Pro version allows you to save large versions of the images and save favourites to a cached area.

Page eight, more entertainment and creativity

The Quest is the largest RPG available for the iPhone. It’s first-person dungeon crawling goodness. Very deep, very well done. With two expansions available.

Monopoly Worldwide Edition – got this to play with my girlfriend on her iPod Touch. It’s a well done rendition of the game, no surprises.

Hitchcock is a story boarding app like none other. With it you can arrange sketches and photographs, edit camera movement and timing. Basically it allows you to create dynamic, animated storyboards. Very powerful and also quite pricey.

Outliner is an app for outlining (duh). It’s got nice features and does the job well. It hasn’t moved to a productivity page yet because I’ve not gotten around to it (same with Hitchcock).

MindNode because I sure needed another mind map app on my phone. This one isn’t bad, I like the dragging of children from wells but I wish the wells moved into view when they scroll off screen.

AppBox Pro – I bought this on a whim and have yet to really use it. Best selling app in the store world wide so I’m probably missing something…

Tap Quest – awesome little RPG, totally 8 bit and fun to play.

Tower Smash – Got this one for my son. He enjoys it though not as much as Real Racing…he has good taste.

KalimbaLive is a virtual Kalimba. Actually, it’s a whole gaggle of virtual Kalimbas including metal ones, wooden ones, all scales, all keys, a mixer and recorder, and more. It doesn’t feel as responsive as I would expect but then I’m wondering if it’s to simulate that the note doesn’t sound on a real Kalimba the exact moment of contact but a fraction of a second later. Anyway, it’s awesome this application’s flexibility for such a cool instrument.

Ocarina is, well, a simulated ocarina including the blowing into the iPhone to get it to play. A neat feature of this is the player’s ability to upload songs and have them heard by others. I like.

Leaf Trombone – like Ocarina you can upload your songs but even better, you can play live in front of judges. It’s quite the trip and well worth investing in.

Page…Oh wait, we’re out of pages. I do have a ton of games in folders which I’ll look at some other day. After yesterday’s article iTunes decided to synch ALL my apps (450 apps on an 8 gig iPhone…riiiight) so I had to manually rebuild all of my pages. I trimmed the collection a bit.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this and I apologise it was cut short. Blame iTunes and Apple.

Thanks for your time.

Upcoming articles: include one on games, a review of an iPod Touch/iPhone pen, and more…

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Filed under Graphics, iPhone, iPhone App Reviews, Uncategorized

My iPhone, Part One

This is part one of a two part article. These are the apps that sit on my iPhone. I go to page five today but expect some surprises tomorrow as I have nearly a whole page of apps devoted to something specific coming up and it’s NOT games! To be sure, I’ll be talking about some games too. Anyway, enjoy these first five pages and feel free to comment, make suggestions, ask questions, etc…

The First Page – Necessities

ListOmni is like an ultimate ‘list’ app. I use it for grocery lists (they make a reduced version for just that task) and for a quick todo list, for todos that I don’t want to schedule on my scheduler. I also use it to track apps that I’m interested in. You can really use this app for any kind of list. If you enjoy keeping lists of things then this is your tool, or toy.

Budget is a nice and easy to use budget app. I would like it better if it used a larger keypad for entering amounts of money. This is a small complaint though and for the price you really can’t beat its feature set. I’ve only been using it for a couple of weeks, I’ll have a more thorough opinion of it after I’ve spent a month under its watchful financial eye.

AwesomeNote is, as its name implies, a notepad. It’s actually as many notepads organized in as many folders as you want. It has a beautiful UI and supports portrait and landscape modes. It doesn’t need to do more.

PocketInformant is my todo list/schedule organizer. I’ve been through a few of these, all bloody expensive. This is the latest one and I hope to stick with it. Its feature list is vast so I won’t even bother iterating it here. I like its weekly view of my schedule most. Products abandoned while searching for this one: OmniFocus, ToDo.

Maps is the default mapping application on the iPhone. I’m sure there are better ones out there and I’ve tried a few. None that I’ve tried are as quick as Maps and, well, it just works.

AppStore being on my first page is probably a mistake. So easy to get to, so easy to use…it’s the devil!

Contacts is the basic contacts app for the iPhone. It does the job and syncs with my Mac. I need nothing more really.

HanDBase is an awesome database with relational capability. It’s not pretty like Bento but Bento is a piece of crap for not letting you backup your data without buying their desktop product. HanDBase offers a wealth of features not found in other iPhone database apps. Products abandoned: Bento, TapForms Database.

HiCalc is a feature rich (that is an understatement) calculator. The manual for HiCalc is huge. Truth be told I’ve not used it much but when I do need a calculator, wow, I’ve got an awesome one.

Advanced English Dictionary uses a public domain dictionary but it’s interface is really slick and it’s very zippy. I use this and one other dictionary, both are on my first page…

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary is on my phone because I need to look up British English words all the damn time. This is probably the best app store dictionary for doing just that.

QuickOffice is used less that I’d like it to be. I work with a lot of word documents at work and wanted a way to edit them whist commuting. I find that my commute is spent more on reading than writing, however. It’s nice to have the ability to edit documents when I do need to though.

Wikipanion Plus is, from what I know, the best Wikipedia browser on the iPhone. It has a feature that I simply adore. If you are reading an article and see a link you’d like to delve into, you can click that link and it will download the page in the background so that you can read it later. You can sae as many pages this way as you like. It’s great.

Weatherbug Elite is my forecaster. Pretty reliable and lets me know not only the weather but a detailed five day forecast as well.

Snapture is a great camera app. I’ve got a few others on my phone but this one is my main just point and shoot app.

Settings is on my first page because I’m always going into it and adjusting stuff for better battery life.

The Second Page – Visual Creativity

Photos is the built in photo browser. Yawn.

iMandalArt is a strange beast. I can’t even reiterate what the creator of this thing advertises because the English is so bad. It’s supposed to be a life organiser, editor, thingy kind of tool. It consists of 9 panels that exponentially expand into groupings of nine more panels. You can put text, pictures, and sound on any panel and each panel acts as a doorway to 9 more panels. You can group and refine thoughts this way. It’s a very odd beast and I wish that the developer had given more information about the Hypercard stack on which it is supposedly based.

iThoughts is my mind mapping tool of choice. Of all that I own it’s the most fluid and easy to use. I wrote a lengthier review of it on a previous entry in my blog.

LessChart is a flowcharting app. It’s not as functional as I’d like but it does the job, abliet a bit crudely. I can’t bring myself to recommend it however it gets good reviews at the app store which leads me to believe I’m missing something.

Headspace is another mind mapping app that is a bit of an oddball. You can only create one ‘map’ at any given time so it’s better suited for organizing one’s thoughts if the interface is something one is attuned to. I am not really but one day I might need it for something so it stays.

TinyPixels is a program that I was going to write for the iPhone. I would have done it differently but hey, it does the trick. It’s a pixel-by-pixel painting program meant for drawing old-school bitmaps or (as I use it for) icons. The one feature I’d like to see in it is the ability to set your document size.

Brushes is one of several painting apps I have on the iPhone. A longer review is posted in a previous entry of my blog.

Inspire is another painting app and of all of them is the most Painter-like. For those of you unfamiliar with Painter, think ‘natural media’ and specifically: oil paints. It simulates dry brush painting, palette knife scraping, and all manner of oil-paint-like things.

Layers Is yet another painting app.

Colors and again, more painting appage.

PaintBook – I really can’t get enough of the painting apps, can I? This one is nice, it allows for really fine-line drawings and uses a vector algorithm to smooth out your strokes. It works very well. Great for sketches.

NetSketch is yes..another painting app.

SketchBook – more painting…

iShodo is a Japanese calligraphy program that simulates not only the result but also the tools. It’s a very nice app that is well implemented.

ZeptoPad is the god vector-art program that I’ve previously reviewed. It’s not illustrator, it’s more like Expression but without a lot of the natural media aspects of that program.

iDiagram – I just started using this one. Will give it some time. It’s a vector based program that tries to be a bit Illustrator-like but fails due to lack of real Bezier editing.

The Third Page – Communication & Reading

Tweetdeck – this is my twitter client of choice. It has a fantastic UI that syncs with the desktop version. Very slick.

Facebook – this is here just so I can have a mobile interface to Facebook. I’d rather not clutter my apps menu with it but alas, it’s the best there is for the job.

AirMe is kind of cool. It allows me to snap a photograph and then instantly post it to Facebook with geo-coordinates so it records where the photo was taken. Problem is that it also posts a bunch of other tags. I believe I have control over what it posts and doesn’t but I’ve not fiddled with it yet.

Cooliris is a google image search browser. Simply enter keywords and images matching those keywords are returned. No control over image size returns limits its functionality a bit but it’s a nice way to browse google’s image search.

ClearCam is a jailbroken iPhone app that lets you take 4mp pictures. It does so by overlaying several shots to rid the image of noise. It does a fairly good job of it too.

xGPS is another jailbroken iPhone app. This one gives you turn-by-turn GPS tracking. Sadly I’ve found it to be too slow to be useful. The first time I used it I was impressed but haven’t gotten it to work so well since then.

Terminal is a, well, terminal for the iPhone. It can only be run on jailbroken iPhones but it’s kind of cool to be able to access the iPhone this way. There are a few features you can change by doing so.

Interactive Periodic Table – there are a ton of periodic tables for the iPhone out there. I thought this one, from the screenshots, was the prettiest. It has a ton of data and different ways to view the table and loads of neat pictures.

Great Books is a huge collection of free books. One can get any of these books free elsewhere and with a free viewer. I’m not sure why I’m keeping this one around, probably will do so until I’ve gotten through the books in its vast database.

Good Reader is without a doubt the best pdf reader for the iPhone. It’s new feature of being able to extract the text out of a pdf and view it at any font size is worth the price of admission alone. It can handle abnormally large PDFs as well.

Google Earth – I don’t use this much but DAMN it is cool having it on my phone.

Stanza lets you browse, search and download books from free and paid sources on the net. I use stanza to house all my public domain folktale and fairy tale books. I’ve about 300 of them.

Tome Raider 4 – a nice collection of free (public domain) books that I’ve yet to get to reading.

Read It Later – this neat tool lets you download web content and read it offline. It’s helpful for grabbing sites that I want to read but not necessarily bookmark. Since I don’t need an internet connection to read the downloaded pages I can save on battery.

ezShare – meh, this is the kind of software that should not be necessary. The iPhone should mount as a disc on its own. Anyway, if all you need to do is move files about then get an app that will double as a data holder like GoodReader or something.

The Fourth Page – Expanding page three

IdeaGenerator – I have this on my iPhone as an experiment. I’m slowly building a word library appropriate to my own creativity and hopefully it will do the job of kicking me from a rut when I find myself in one.

Japanese – awesome Kanji Dictionary. It’s the JEDict of the iPhone world.

Koi Pond – the best relaxation app IMO. What a wonderful gem this is and by the download count I imagine most others think so as well.

iKalied – I like Kaleidoscope apps and this one is a lot of beautiful fun.

Kooleido – Another nice Kaleidoscope app.

World Factbook 2009 – This contains a wealth of information on every country in the world. Sure, Wikipedia probably has the same info but this is well laid out and nice on the iPhone’s screen.

Trailguru – want to geotrack? This is the tool! This app will record your progress in user definable increments. You can even upload your track to a public or private website and then view them in GoogleEarth. Very nice app, unfortunately requires that it be running while recording a track. You can listen to music while tracking, however.

Camera Genius has features the built in camera app should have. Anti-shake, self-timer, grid overlay, and voice control.

Oxford Beginners Japanese English Dictionary is a fine Japanese dictionary. This should really be next to the Japanese app but alas, this is a page-by-page analysis and I’m going to stay honest.

101 Photo Effects has 101 filters to process pictures with. Some of them are quite cool, others are useless.

Xkcd is a necessary comic viewer. I love this dearly.

Fluid Motion is a trip. Truly, you ‘paint’ in a viscious liquid over which you have control of many parameters. It records your motions and allows you to overlay new painting strokes on the recorded motions. It’s quite amazing.

Cycorder – video recording on a 3g? You betcha! But only with a jailbroken phone. The videos that you can capture are not half-bad and I HIGHLY recommend this app for any jailbroken 3g with a little room left for videos.

Toy Camera – I’m not big into auto-processed photographs but this one is really neat. It runs photos, as they are taken, through any number of filters and makes them look…well…old and cheap. It’s far better than I make it sound!

Perfect Photo is a great photo editing tool that allows for cropping, rotation, levels editing, balance, etc… Good for those times when you don’t want to wait for a synch and Photoshop session. – why in heaven’s name do I need three English dictionaries on my phone? I really don’t but this one is free and quite good so it’s there. Sigh.

Page five – more of the same

Cydia is the app store for jailbroken iphones. They only have a limited selection of pay apps but who is going to complain when most of the stuff is free. I’m quite surprised at the number of ad supported apps there are but I suppose I shouldn’t be. If your iPhone is jailbroken then you have Cydia, there’s no way around it.

Icy is another developer’s idea of how Cydia should work. It’s a bit faster for getting a specific app, Cydia tends to be better for browsing.

WinterBoard gives you control over a lot of the iPhone’s functionality that you would otherwise not have including wallpaper all the time and custom themes (there are hundreds out there). I have found that some of the features are not compatible with everything and so I’ve disabled much of the ‘cool’ things.

Categories lets you put apps into folders. The idea isn’t as slick as you might expect but it does work. I’ve got most of the game that my son plays in folders so they don’t clutter up my app menu.

iBlueSky – another mind mapping app that I’ve reviewed in another blog post.

MindMeister – yes another mind mapping app, move along.

Spawn Illuminati – this is a neat little visual trip. Wait to purchase it though because one of its cooler features (symmetry) wil be available free with the next update.

Pulsar – is another visual trip thing. I find these apps make good starting points for abstract artwork.

BeatMaker is amazing. It’s a drum machine, sequencer, and editing deck all in one app. Professional musicians use this in live concerts, that should give you some idea of how utterly awesome and powerful this is. Watch the youtube videos of this thing in action and be amazed.

TypeDrawing – I have this on my phone because it’s a drawing app and it’s unique. I never know when I’ll need to draw something with text. When that need arises, TypeDrawing will be there!

a2z Pro (Unit Converter) is by far the best unit conversion tool available as you can download conversion tables made by others (and there are dozens) as well as create your own. Amazing that this puppy is free.

My O2 is the app I use to keep track of my allowances for my calling plan. I never even approach my limits so it’s just occupying an app space on my phone and doing nothing really useful.

Skype – I’ve only used this a couple of times but it seems to work okay. It’s Skype for the iPhone…move along.

Brain Challenge 2 is the first game on my list and we had to get all the way to the last icon on page 5. I only bought it yesterday so haven’t had a lot of time with it. I exercise my brain enough without games like this to occupy my time but it’s nice for what it is doing.

That is it for today. Tune in tomorrow when I talk about the rest of my iPhone. To be sure I have a few surprises coming up!


Filed under Graphics, iPhone, iPhone App Reviews, Painting

HanDBase, the iPhone Database, a Review

I’m a big fan of databases, particularly relational ones, it’s an issue, I know. One of the first apps I got for the iPhone was Bento. Bento is FileMaker’s personal database for both iPhone and Mac desktops. I liked Bento for what it did but I loathed it for what it didn’t do. It didn’t allow me to export data in any format except that which could be read by the Bento desktop application. I felt that this was criminally negligent on FileMaker’s part, to require that users purchase a desktop application in order to back up their data.

Quickly abandoning that piece of dirt (yes, I’m bitter) I migrated to Tap Forms Database. Yes, I’ll get to HanDBase in a minute, bear with me here… Tap Forms Database allows a user to build databases just like Bento only with the ability to export and import CSV files. I quickly built a database of about 600 records when Tap Forms Database started showing its weakness: speed…or lack of it. The database I was building would eventually grow to about 3000 records and I was afraid that I’d bring Tap Forms to its knees, so I searched again for the database tool that answered all my needs.

[Note: The author of Tap Forms has informed me that optimisations have been made to the engine that will allow it to handle huge databases quite elegantly. This doesn’t surprise me, Tap Forms is EXCELLENT in so many ways and I expect it will only get better and better. If a flexible, easy to use database is what you want then Tap Forms IS the one.]

Enter HanDBase. This app wasn’t pretty but it did proclaim optimisations, flexibility, and get this: relational functionality. What?! A relational database for the iPhone? How cool is that?! Okay, don’t burst my bubble.

Despite its tacky name, HanDBase lives up to its claims. You’ve got all the standard iPhone database bullet points in addition to

  • Multiple customisable views per database with custom column widths
  • Advanced searching on any field including optional case sensitivity
  • Permissions governing nearly every action on a database
  • Encryption
  • CSV export (Tap Forms actually wins here, their exports rock)
  • Variable font sizes on forms (application settings in the settings app)
  • Relational functionality, serious w00tage here

Oh wait, this is a REAL database application. Let’s go over these things one at a time, shall we?

Multiple views per database. How sweet. Besides the obvious of giving the database a name you can also tell the view to switch to another database. When filters and sorting change you can specify whether the view updates or not. You can define which fields appear on the view as well as the default sorting. Finally you can also set default filters for the view.

Advanced search on any field is what you’d expect. Actually I was hoping for wildcard searches but being able to search on a specific field is better than Bento so I’ll keep quiet about it. You can make your search case and location (starts with…) sensitive.

Permissions and encryption in HanDBase are handled very, very well. You can set permissions for opening the database, adding records, editing the records, deleting records, editing popup menus, setting database properties and deleting the database. Whew. Furthermore you can set one of four encryption modes: Encrypt marked fields on DB Close, on Record Close, Manual Encryption, or Disable Encryption. Basically you can do pretty much anything you want with encryption and password protection.

You can export in CSV format or synch with HanDBase for the desktop. Kind of weak on the export/import side of things but it does the job. You can set the font size of forms with a slider in the app’s settings.

Last, but certainly not least, you can build relational databases in HandDBase for iPhone. There are two kinds of relational fields: Link/Linked and Relationship. Both serve a similar but distinct purpose and to be honest I’m still working out how they work.

Speaking of fields, HandDBase supports the following field types: Text, Integer, Float, Pop-Up, Check-Box, Unique, Signature, Date, Time, Link, Linked, heading, DB Popup, Calculated, Relationship, Conditional, and External. External fields can link to Photos, Camera, Phone Number, or Web Site.

Yes, this is the database for the working person in a big way. The developer is a very nice person who is trying to do his best for this product. HanDBase has been around for a long time on handheld devices and desktops and this version represents many years of hard work. It shows. Another fine app that comes very highly recommended by me.


Filed under iPhone, iPhone App Reviews

ZeptoPad for iPhone review

ZeptoPad review

ZeptoPad is billed as a vector-based drawing app for the iPhone.

Shapes are dropped into the work area and then modified using oversized handles. Lines have two handles, squares and circles four. If you want your shape to be very small then the handles will munge together, the solution is to simply zoom in but I’d like to see, instead, the handles stay distinct no matter the shape size.

Manipulating objects in the drawing area can be somewhat tricky but I found most of the issues were resolved by zooming into the object I wanted to change. You point and drag anywhere on an object and it moves. You use two fingers to zoom and rotate objects. You read that right, you can rotate any object on the page. The app offers some text functionality as well though you cannot change the typeface. You change the size of the of the text the same way you resize other objects and it works fairly well.

The app also gives the user a clipboard and full cut, copy, paste functionality making it one of the few graphic apps on the iPhone that does. Its editing features don’t stop there either. ZeptoPad also supports grouping and ungrouping as well as sending to back and bringing to front.

ZeptoPad does have a few features that really do shine and were added as a direct result of some previous reviews. Early in its lifecycle it referred to itself as a mind mapping tool but received some criticism for that claim as building a mind map with it involved far too much work. As a result the developer added shapes and what are called ‘connectors.’ These connectors are lines that automatically attach to objects when their endpoints are dragged to an shape. You can then move the shape around and the line moves with it, staying attached. The feature works relatively well and even supports detaching easily. You can assign an arrow tip attribute to the connector so you can have the line terminate in an arrowhead.

The feature list for ZeptoPad is nearly endless. Gradient fills, alpha blends, realtime display of drawings on your computer screen, P2P sharing of files without wifi…breathe. The program is vast and I thought I’d have a hard time saying this given its cost but, well, it justifies its price tag.

I like it when a developer builds a UI to suit his app and doesn’t try to shoehorn a huge list of features into Apple’s UI standards. I like it even better when it works well. I have to say that it works fairly well in ZeptoPad. Things are a bit small but with a careful finger mistakes will be quite few.

I’m finding very little to make issue of with ZeptoPad. Like any powerful tool on the iPhone it is going to have its quirks but after using it a while the quirks feel a little less annoying because you realize that no other app on the iPhone can do this very powerful task.I’m going to give ZeptoPad a huge recommend. This isn’t something I thought I’d say when I first started using it but given the response of the programmer to his users and the good times I’ve had with the app I think it’s warranted.

[Edit: The Help in this app is almost impossible to understand and in some cases out of synch with the features of the app. I put forward the offer of rewriting the help files if the author of this app is interested. I’ll do the task for free.]

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Filed under iPhone, iPhone App Reviews