Hike- Not just another messaging app

Hike- Smart Instant messaging for Android

I came across this app at Beautiful pixels. There are two standout features in this app which makes it a significant alternative to WhatsApp (my goto messaging app now):

  1. Great design.
  2. The ability to send text messages (SMS) from the app to any contact.

I have tried many messaging apps in the past, none trumping whatsapp. But I think this one will. I can’t wait for this to be released on iOS.

The steep learning curve of Photoshop

In an era where most interfaces are uber-simple to use, Photoshop and its other Adobe cousins from the creative suite are certainly not one of those. I came across this amazing piece at ‘Rands in repose‘ where the author compares Game design and Application design. On photoshop’s design Rands writes:

The plethora of online Photoshop tutorials demonstrate its power and its flexibility, but I believe they also demonstrate its poor design. Think about it like this: what if each time you plunked down in front of World of Warcraft, you had to spend an hour trying to remember, wait, how do I play this?

I have always wished that Photoshop were easier to use. The learning curve is way too steep and could lead to endless hours of frustration. Perhaps its more about a form vs functions thing for Photoshop’s developers. The functions are way too many that it outweighs the importance of form and design. Usability gets crushed under all that overload of features. And when you realise that, you start thinking; ‘its indeed a herculean task to create a photoshop that’s at least half as simple to use as the current versions.’

But then, when I thought further, I realized that the truth is not what it seems like. The major problem with Photoshop is that it tends to be over-ambitious. It does too much, and in the end as I said, Usability is crushed. It would be much better if Photoshop had a strict goal of photo-editing and some other functions. Not just that, there are other reasons as well. We, the users are also to be blamed for using Photoshop as a one-stop tool for all our creative needs. There is a reason why dedicated tools like illustrator, fireworks and the like exist.

It’s all easier said than done. While we can endlessly rant about how poorly designed photoshop is, one can’t take anything away from its mighty capabilities. As Rands writes in the article ‘Two universes‘, some games/applications have too much reliance on exploration and some have too much reliance on explanation. The day when Photoshop’s creators strike the right balance between explanation and exploration, it will be a win-win for all of us- the creative community, the end user and Adobe.

The best free iPhone apps

iMore’s authoritative guide to the best free iPhone apps

iMore has a good list of the best free apps for the iPhone. I would like to add a few more which I think are great but left out there.

    Zite: a very good news app. A good alternative to flipboard.
    Wunderlist: a very simple to use, cross platform service to keep your to-do lists in sync.
    Simplenote: its the best notes service which sync across all platforms. The UI is super simple to use and helps you focus just on writing.

How Bump’s Photo upload feature works

Technology never fails to amaze me. When I think about it, even a normal phone call seems like an amazing wonder of technology. A lot keeps happening in this field. Especially in the smartphone era, developers keep coming out with clever ideas to surprise us and make our lives easier. One of the most recent apps which brought a clever feature to us is ‘Bump’. It is a sharing app for Android and iOS users which allows users to simply bump each others’ phones and send text, contacts, photos etc from one device to another. That’s something bump has been doing ever since its inception years ago. Recently, they added a photo upload feature which allows a user to upload photos from a phone to PC by simply bumping the phone with the PC keyboard’s spacebar. Here’s a small graphic below which instructs the user about the new feature:

You just need to go to photos.bu.mp and get started. Once you have bump on your phone installed, that is.

When I first saw this, I was extremely impressed. On hindsight, this looks like a feature which makes you think..”How do they really do this?”.. Then I thought about figuring this thing out. Its actually a very simple trick.

The system requires both your phone and PC to be on the same network. That is the reason why they ask for location sharing when you head to photos.bu.mp. As shown above, you need to bump your phone with the spacebar to get things started. Well, it turns out that’s not the only way to do it. I took my phone and bumped it with a table, while pressing the keyboard on my PC at the same time. And bam! both the devices got connected. All the app does is to use a keyboard press + a bump anywhere to authorize the connection. The rest, as you know, works just like a normal wireless transfer would.

Yeah, its not a huge discovery, but it shows how the devs have used a simple idea and cleverly packaged it as a magical feature. One more good thing about this feature is that its a great way to transfer photos from a phone to the desktop PC. You can also use Photo stream to do this and more if you have an iDevice, but this is kinda cool.

And because a picture is like a thousand words, here’s my illustration explaining the same as above.

Use Photostream to quickly transfer photos and screenshots

Photostream iconOur smartphones and desktops come with some really cool features and most of us use it only in the way it has been advertised. However, no matter how subtle it may be, there are various angles to any particular feature. Photostream on iOS has one major use: ‘to find all your photos from your iphone/ipad on your desktop/mac’. iCloud takes care of this. When you click a picture on your iphone, it goes to iPhoto on mac and to a user specified folder on windows.

Porting screenshots

A lot of designers and developers use screenshots to study the design, post screenshots of their apps or for various other reasons. I came across this post by John Marstall (via Shawn blanc) who gives us a quick rundown on transferring screenshots to a Mac. Since Photostream for Mac uses iPhoto, and not folders (like windows), his method to create a custom folder is very useful and handy.

On windows : Apple offers a software for windows, aptly named ‘iCloud control panel’ . This app keeps your bookmarks from safari, contacts from outlook etc; in addition to photo stream in sync. Users are required to point the software to two folders, one for downloads and another for uploads. You take a screenshot/pic, and its there in the downloads folder instantly. The original purpose is to find all your photos from camera roll, but since screenshots are directly saved to camera roll, I find it as an easy way to transfer screenshots.

Transferring photos

Back when there was no iCloud, I used iTunes to transfer photos from my PC to iPod. I never liked the way iTunes handled the transferring of photos. But now, its very easy to ditch iTunes. I just copy photos I want to transfer into the uploads folder and find it on my iPhone’s photo stream album. Then, I create new albums and copy the photos into their respective albums. Simple.

Its a lot easier than connecting my phone to iTunes and wait for everything to sync.

So those were two new dimensions to how you can use Photostream. Thanks for reading.

Download links: iCloud control panel for windows

Setting up iCloud on Windows or Mac

Metro Twit: the twitter app for windows that is visually rich and delightful to use

Let’s face it. Good looking apps are hard to come by on desktops and esp. Windows in general. When it comes to twitter apps, there is a sea of them on almost all platforms. And each app tries to make a mark by introducing new features and some go unique through their design. Metro Twit does the latter. Its more about the design and less about the features. Lets keep the best for the last and talk about some new features first.

Undo tweets

This is the biggest features of all, and one of my favorites. Undoing a tweet doesn’t mean deleting it. Its an equivalent of editing tweets. When you undo a tweet, it deletes the tweet first and takes you back in time so that you can edit it and resend it. However, I found that it lets you undo only the most recent tweets. I am not sure how long recent is here, but it seems like it won’t let you undo tweets more than 20-30 mins old. Still, its a pretty nifty feature and a godsent one for those who fire off tweets without giving it a second look.

Columns, filters ,image previews and Multiple accounts

Columns aren’t new in Metro twit but it feels more polished to use in the new version. There are enough options that come with columns . You can re-size, rename and manage notifications for the columns apart from Pausing updates, refreshing them and a few other standard options. Filters also work the same way as they do in other apps. There’s global filters and account filters. Image previews have a small issue . Even though image links open inside the app, you cannot view thumbnail previews in your timeline. I couldn’t find a switch in the settings to enable that. Not a big issue, and maybe the developers thought it won’t fit into the metro UI and will make it look cluttered. Next is Multiple accounts. Adding multiple accounts is very easy and quick ( they have a dedicated button to add more accounts). Its a new feature in Metro twit but the sad part is that its supported only in the Pro version. The Pro version also removes the ads which appear in the free version.

The Design

As I said, Metro Twit is less about features and more about the design. Metro is one design language I love a lot, and MetroTwit oozes with Metro. I still wonder how Microsoft’s designers could come up with a design which completely relies on words and typography and yet be so good. With the final release of Windows 8 fast approaching us, Metro Twit is already in line to be called as one of the more established metro apps out there. I look at MetroTwit and Metro in general as a chocolate bar embedded with raisins. There’s something to be discovered in every bite and the end result is a delightful experience. There are some nice words thrown all over the app which greets the user whenever an action is performed. Here’s an example of what the app says when you change the theme of the app:

No peeking 😉

There are plenty of places where you will find the app playing with words, but that’s just a part of how good Metro UI is. Everything from the icon to the various elements used, its all about simplicity and elegance. That said, the app’s UI could get too busy at times, when there’s too much happening and a lot of those delightful words are flying around.

Conclusion

MetroTwit tries to cater to both casual and power users and succeeds to an extent. There’s still a lot of scope for improvement as power users will find some features like scheduling still missing. Its a great app, especially for those who love metro apps. Also, its no slouch, as its fast and sleek. Metro UI takes some time getting used to, so please give the app some time to impress you.The app used to be buggy earlier, but it has shed all that baggage and is in its best avatar now.

Those of you who don’t really like metro, but love twitter, should check out my post on the Top Twitter clients for windows and mac.

Top Twitter clients for Windows and Mac

While stats show that most people use ‘Twitter.com’ or twitter web to post and view tweets, its always good to have a native twitter client. I have found two clients to be the best for Desktop PCs( even though there are many available):

1. ECHOFON: This is a popular client on mac and their firefox add-on is also very good. Recently, they released their Windows version as well. It is a simple-looking yet powerful client which has an easy to use interface.

Pros:

  • View user profiles quickly without leaving the client( very useful if you are on a slow connection)
  • Very fast
  • Inline photo previews.
  • Syncs with the Echofon app on iPhone (you last read tweet is marked and synced).
  • Filter tweets.

Cons:

  • Lists cannot be managed
  • Not many options for Photo upload services.

2. METRO TWIT: The Metro-app from Australia is now more robust and is still as beautifully designed as it ever was. It has always been touted as the Tweetdeck that’s dressed in Metro UI, but its only in version 1.0 now that it lives up to that reputation… And more.

Pros:

  • Fast
  • Visually rich
  • Inline image-previews
  • Fairly customizable
  • Easy to use
  • Undo tweets

Cons:

  • UI is busy at times
  • No thumbnail previews for images ( you can view them inside the app though).

Read my review of Metro Twit here: Metro twit full review

3. TWEETDECK: It is one of the most powerful clients for twitter. There ‘were’ tons of features but the latest version by Twitter themselves has annoyed users at large. Still, its unique interface which provides multi-column view is a feature which not many clients provide. Other than that, tweets can be scheduled and, facebook accounts can also be added.

Pros:

  • Highly customizable.
  • Multiple columns
  • Facebook support
  • Scheduling
  • Snappy interface

Cons

  • Many features like tweet longer and support for other social sites removed in new version
  • No inline photo views. (Update: The newer version released in Mar ’12 brings inline media support).

Some other noteworthy clients:

Echofon and Tweetdeck are very good clients, but there are some other options as well which are worth a mention.

  1. Destroy twittter : don’t go by the name! Its much better than that.
  2. Seesmic Desktop : Similar to tweetdeck in terms of features, but is sluggish.

Even though these are good in their own ways, they have way too many cons when compared to the positive points. Thus, according to me they are not up-to the mark when it comes to using them as primary clients.

Final words: Between Tweetdeck ,Echofon and MetroTwit, I would go for Echofon. But fans of the multi-column view will be more than pleased with MetroTwit and Tweetdeck. Go ahead and try all of them.

And again, thanks for reading this post.

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