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.

Theming Gmail: Make G-mail look better

A lot of talk has been going on ever since Google decided to change the design of all its web services. Not many care about google+ etc, but when it comes to how gmail looks, people certainly care. Last week, I came across this post by Jason crawford where he shows us what his gmail inbox looks like. Crawford states in his post:

Reports are coming in from around the Internet that the Gmail redesign, which we were previously able to stave off with “revert to the old look temporarily”, is now forcing itself upon us. I too have succumbed to the new design, and have been forced to find ways to cope.

Unlike him, I personally like the new ‘layout’ better than the old one. I say ‘layout’ because I am perfectly ok with the flow of the interface, but not with all the white space and red ‘call to action’ buttons. That blood red compose button in gmail is always annoying. Moreover, all that white space is also not pleasing to the eyes. I have overcome all these niggles through some simple steps.

Switch to cozy view

Under the gears icon in gmail, three different view options are available. Comfortable is too spacey and compact is too cramped. Cozy is the view which strikes a balance between the two.

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Switch to the blue theme

Under the gears icon, go to themes and select the blue theme. Trust me, there can’t be a color more pleasing to the eyes than blue. For one, its not a distracting color and helps stay focused. Also, the blood red buttons and white space is gone in this theme.

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Before/After

Screenshots of how it looked before and after..

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Before..

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After..

….

This is just my personal opinion about gmail should look. If you have customized your gmail in a different way, let me know in the comments.

Gmail tricks: best of the best

Top 10 gmail tricks

Lifehacker has some of the best tips and tricks for gmail. The ones invoked by google scripts are really good.

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.

Sync Google calendar with Windows 7

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img via open clipart

I love to use all web services from all my devices. Contacts, Notes, To-do lists; and Calendar is no exception. Google Calendar has got to be one of the best services out there. I already access Gcal from my iPhone and iPad through Exchange. But accessing the service from my Windows desktop PC has always been a pain. There is nothing to take away from the web interface, but I like to view appointments in a simple and quick manner without much point and click. Gcal syncs with outlook but even that isn’t simple and minimal.

What you need

Windows live calendar gadget

How it works

  • Sign into Google calendar, select the calendar you want to sync from My calendars, access the dropdown menu and openCalendar settings. Under Private address, click ICAL and copy the address shown.
  • Right click anywhere on your desktop, go to gadgetsand drag and drop the Windows Live calendar gadget. Select options, and now paste the URL you copied in the previous step. And that’s all there is to it. All your events will now be synced with Gcal.

Do remember that this gadget cannot be used to add events. Its just to view your events- A trade-off for all the ultra-simplicity you get.

This will be a revolutionary touchscreen for the iPad 3

This will be a revolutionary touchscreen for the iPad 3

  • This will make iPad revolutionary and not evolutionary.
  • Skeuomorphic interfaces will thrive and shine because you can feel textures.
  • Will be one big leap for touchscreen devices.

Update: Nothing of that sort. iPad of 2013 could sport this. Maybe.

Improving the iOS spotlight screen

I have always felt that the spotlight area in iOS( the universal search screen) is underutilized. There’s a lot of screen real estate there which can be put to better use. In iOS 5, Apple introduced the ability to tap and hold any word and see its definition(The tap and hold feature doesn’t work in spotlight area strangely). Handy feature, but it can be further enhanced if we could simply type any word into spotlight search and view its definition. Just like in the pic below:

A simple define option would be just great. This would make the inbuilt dictionary functionality even more useful. Right now whenever I need to find the meaning of some word, I just go into messages app and tap and hold to define.

Bring some siri-like functions for non-siri users and more

Almost a year ago, Palm added a feature called just type to its WebOS. The same idea can be applied here as well. There should be options like Tweet, Update FB status, Message etc for whatever I type in the text box.

Now to some siri-like functions: How about typing in weather and see a nice weather widget slide in? Type 2+2 and show the calculated result? There is a lot that can be done. Simple questions which we ask Siri ; “Do I need a raincoat?” , “How many bytes in a kilobyte?”  when typed should show some quick results just like Siri answers. Or something like “wake me up at 6 am” should just let me set an alarm right  from the spotlight screen.

You must be thinking that this feature wouldn’t make any sense for 4S users. They already have siri. But let us be honest. Siri doesn’t always get things right and its not always possible to speak to our device for eg. when we are in a meeting, etc. And Siri doesn’t understand some accents yet. During such times, you can quietly write your iPhone/iPad some instruction to get simple things done. Of course, there is an issue with throwing too many options at the user while typing, but some intelligent algorithms and Apple’s elegant design can easily take care of that.

This kind of a feature will make iPhones even more smart. Easier to use. I really wish Apple tried to implement something like this in iOS 6.

Windows 8 registry shows nine separate flavors to choose from

http://www.engadget.com/2012/03/02/windows-8-versions/

One of the few things I don’t like about Windows. Why can’t they go for one universal version? Or a maximum of two: Home and Business.

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