I find myself to have become a big fan of read it later services over the years. Nothing beats storing an article you do not currently have time to read for when you have free time at work or later in the day. While I am currently a big Instapaper user, I recently have found myself a little bit enamored with DotDotDot.
For those who have not yet heard of DotDotDot, it is a recently launched read it later service that focuses more on longer reads and the social aspect compared to other apps. Whenever you import an article to the service, which currently can only be done with a Chrome extension, it shows up on your timeline for people who follow you to view. I know what most people are probably thinking. Do we really need another social network? Well I typically believe the answer is no, I really love how it is done in DotDotDot. Browsing the feeds of your friends or also looking at the global feed is a fantastic way to find new articles to read. Other apps have tried to find a way to show you other hot articles, but this is the first time I believe someone has really done it well.
No read it later service would be complete without a fantastic mobilizer view and DotDotDot has it down pat. Articles that you save to read later are laid out in a book format with you pressing left and right on the keyboard, or swiping on your iOS device, to navigate pages. The site also keep track of how many pages you read which I found to be a very fun thing to look at. I found this book you to be perfect for reading online in a browser and I rarely saw a letter of text out of place. While this app is currently in beta, I am very happy with it so far.
What I think will excite a lot of people about this read it later service compared to others is the ability to highlight text and make annotations. This is something a lot of people have asked for in other read it later services and I believe this one is the first to deliver. The only problem I really had so far that I must point out is the Chrome extension takes a very long time to save pages. The website and app are also a little slow when it comes to refreshing your feeds but keeping in mind that this is currently a beta app, I feel very excited about the future. To me the big thing will be if DotDotDot actually gets other apps to integrate with it in the future
You can download DotDotDot here for free.
The Pebble Smartwatch has already seen a lot of press, with some calling it the most successful Kickstarter project to date. After following the forums, reviews and general discussion, I had eagerly been awaiting finally getting mine. With the Pebble recently seeing delays for color watches, I finally just decided to order a black watch off of eBay. After using it for a few days, I decided to share some of my impressions. This is by no means a review, but just something to let people waiting for their watches or people considering a purchase in on some details.
After opening my Pebble, the first thing I noticed was how nice the glass watch head is. The display is incredibly smooth and the e-ink is fairly detailed, allowing for some gorgeous watch heads. With a flick of the wrist you can activate a back light to see your watch more easily in the dark. The left side of the watch head has a back button and charger connector, and the right side has an up, down and select button. While the watch head is nice, one thing that I found incredibly disappointing was the included wrist band, which feels incredibly cheap. This is definitely something that I will be replacing soon.
On the software side, while Pebble has finally released an SDK, so far it only allows for development of new watch faces. We will still be waiting a little longer for an SDK to develop apps. So out of the box, with firmware 1.10 (the most current), all you can really do is change watch faces, use the music app, and get notifications.
Now a little on how all those work. So far the music app works quite well, offering the user the ability to skip, pause, play or go backwards. It works with any iOS app that can be controlled with the system’s music controls, including Spotify, Pandora, Audible, and Downcast. Changing watch heads is done by opening the iPhone app, selecting a watch head, and having it download to the watch. This is also how firmware updates are applied. This is a smooth process and I like how it is handled.
Now the disappointing part: notifications. For Android, they all seem to work perfectly. But on iOS, this is a different story. Notifications either come through inconsistently, or not at all. This a Pebble OS problem, and it is promised to be fixed down the road, but it must be pointed out. Now some good news. If your phone is jailbroken, you can download an app from Cydia called BTNotificationEnabler which, after reconnecting your watch to your device, will then send all notifications to it. Using this app, I have had no problems at all with notifications, but before the app I barely got any. So unless you are patient or plan on jailbreaking your iPhone, I would hold out on a Pebble watch for now.
So how do notifications work? Pretty well actually. The Pebble will vibrate and light up alerting you that you have a notification. It will then display so much of the notification, letting you scroll up and down with the buttons on the side of the watch to see more. While longer notifications will be cut off, I found this to be a great tool for deciding if something needed action taken immediately, or can be ignored for later. When a phone call comes in, the Pebble will even vibrate non-stop to alert you, allowing you to answer or ignore the call from your watch.
Would I recommend you buy a Pebble now? No. It still feels too much like a beta project. While I can see it being something special in 6 months, right now I would only advise you purchase one of these if you want a taste of the future. I really like mine so far, but this is definitely more of an early adopter thing to see where wearable technology will be in a few years.
I have long been a fan of Dark Sky for iOS for providing me with pretty darn accurate weather notifications. Nothing beats getting an alert that it may rain soon right before you leave the office, ensuring you bring with you that umbrella you normally would leave behind.
Today the minds behind Dark Sky announced that they are now taking the API behind Dark Sky and making it availiable for use in other ways. They launched a website called Forecast that is a gorgeous website and proof of concept of their data. It seems likely we will start to see other apps integrate this backend to provide us with more accurate weather prediction. But right now, we have a cool weather web app that I know I will be using a lot.
With its 2.0 update today, Flipboard essentially just became a social network. The app now allows users to save stories to their own magazines, which can be shared with friends and on social networks. A user can have multiple magazines, with the ability to name them, choose their category, and even select a cover photo. Flipboard even added push notifications for when a friend likes, follows or comments on your magazine.
I feel like this is a big move on Flipboard’s part. With a massive user base, Flipboard has now made a push towards becoming the go to social network for sharing news. I am sure many users will forgoing sharing to other services like Twitter and Facebook and instead share simply to their magazines. This also seems to hint at how Flipboard will monetize. With users now spending more time in the app sharing magazines, Flipboard will be able to throw in some ads (which likely won’t be a bad thing if they are as non-intrusive as their current ads) and start serving up a profit. Either way, I am quite excited about where this is heading.
Unlike most people, when I heard Real Racing 3 was going to be a freemium game I was actually excited. As someone who had played the first two titles in the series and never gotten past the halfway point, I was excited that I would now be able to play the game for free and still not finish it. While most people are already lining up to criticize EA, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. In the past I had played plenty of other freemium games that I ended up really enjoying so I figured I would hold out until the game was released.
After playing the game since its release, I can say the initial crowd that reacted angrily to this announcement was right. What makes this painful is that the gameplay is fantastic. This title is just as good, if not better, than the previous two entries in the series. The graphics are amazing. The car selection is fantastic. But at the heart of it you always feel that something is wrong.
What is exactly wrong? I will first begin by explaining how exactly the freemium model has been implemented for those who are not familiar. I will then go into detail why this ruins the overall experience.
In the past entries in the series, you would earn cash by completing races. You would then use this cash to purchase newer, better cars so you could enter other contest. This remains true in the third entry as well, however, a new feature has been added. Not only do you have to pay cash for the car, you can have to wait for the car to be delivered to you! That’s right. All that hard work that went into earning cash to buy the car and you are rewarded with a 15 minute or longer wait. However, there is good news! You can use the game’s other currency, gold, to speed up the wait process and have the car instantly! Did I mention that gold is incredibly rare? You basically only get it by leveling up from winning races and even then you get very few pieces. But of course you can buy gold, and you can also buy cash. Neither of which is very cheap. To compound matters, your car accrues damage during races, causing your car ‘s performance to degrade. So when you inevitably have to prepare your car, it requires the in game cash. To make it even better, after you pay the cash you again have to wait for the repairs to be done. You even have to wait for upgrades to be installed! But of course, your old friend gold is standing by waiting to speed everything up.
If none of this has turned you off of the game yet, I will now explain to you how this model completely breaks the game. First of all, the beginning of the game is basically designed to make you commit to some type of in app purchase. Whether it will be buying the starter pack for $2 or buying additional currency, you will likely find yourself spending money or waiting a long time. The reason for this is you will find is that your car gets damaged quite quickly and therefore you will have to repair it and since you only start with one car, you are out of luck while your car is getting repaired. Some people have suggested buying multiple cars to mitigate this, but it does not change the fact that you constantly have to spend money to repair your car. This itself would not be a problem if the game actually rewarded you handsomely for winning races. But it does not. This leads to another problem.
Winning races typically pays very little. The problem is, especially in the beginning, you will not find yourself winning many races. Many of the competing cars are much faster than your car and you often times find yourself coming in second or third if you are lucky and most likely finishing out of the top three. When you get better cars the situation improves, but it takes a long time to get better cars. Keep in mind while you are winning your pittance of an award, you have to pay to repair your car. The better car you have the more it costs to repair. So coming in second or third in a race may just barely cover your car repairs. This leads to you very slowly accruing currency. So if you want a good car or another car without having to commit a ton of time to the game, you will likely find yourself leaning towards an in app purchase.
And that is why the game feels broken. The beginning of the game feels like they are trying to immediately get you to make an in app purchase. The fact that the starter pack is $2 and the rest of the packs are $5 or more leads me to believe that they at least wanted to get you to buy one or two packs. Once you get further in the game and unlock a lot of cars and different classes some of these problems tend to alleviate themselves, but you very rarely will ever have a large surplus of money. Because of this it always feels like the game is trying to reach into your wallet and grab more money. What makes this especially painful is even if you have a ton of cars, you cannot escape the way when buying new cars or making repairs. At best, you can mask a lot of the games deficiencies by having multiple cars, but you can never quite fix them. That is what makes this game a tragic letdown. Unlike a lot of other premium games it is incredibly fun but ultimately suffers due to this change. Personally, I’m going to give the game another week and will likely end up deleting it only spending the two dollars.
Like most people, I have been eagerly anticipating the release of Mailbox since it was first announced in December. I was not so much anticipating the app’s unique way of handling email as I was more just anticipating a new email app for iOS. For whatever reasons, and there are many, email apps are quite scarce on iOS and since the demise of Sparrow I have been antsy to try the next big thing.
The first thing that must be mentioned about Mailbox is that it allows new users in based on a reservation system. This is done in order to prevent the Mailbox servers from overload. Many people have complained about the seemingly glacier pace of the system (I know I did), but when the app’s servers crashed a few days ago it seemed to legitimize the decision. While the wait can be annoying, it seems to be the best the Mailbox team can do at this point to provide a solid product. Keep in mind, if you are a privacy anal person, that Mailbox does pass your mail through their servers. I personally do not mind this, as the Mailbox push notifications actually seem faster than the Gmail or Mail.app notifications which is great, but I know there are always privacy conscious folk out there.
Upon opening the app you are treated to a handy tutorial on how the gestures work. To sum it up, swiping right archives mail and a longer swipe right deletes it. Swiping left delays your email for a set period of time that you choose, and swiping further left allows you to add your email to a list such as “To Buy” or “To Read”. The whole goal is routed in the GTD philosophy in that you should complete an email now if it is something that can be handled immediately, or else defer it until a more proper time to take action on it later. Once you reach inbox zero, you are treated to a nice image and can tweet about your greatness.
So what makes Mailbox great? It is both stylish and lightning fast. The UI is clean and simple, looking like a more modern take on the ancient Mail.app. The app pushes your email to you almost instantly, and loads just as fast. While other email apps like Gmail or Yahoo! mail are pokey opening up, Mailbox feels just as fast at the default mail app when opening which makes a huge difference in terms of its usability. If you enjoy reaching inbox zero as well, Mailbox will be huge for you. One small feature I like is that the icon badge displays how many emails are in your inbox, not how many unread emails you have. This is good design which forces you to either take action on your emails or defer them until later (provided the badge annoys you as much as it does me). Thanks to Mailbox I almost never leave email sitting in my inbox anymore for days on end.
With the good there is usually some bad, but not much with Mailbox. One thing that must be mentioned (but is not necessarily bad) is that Mailbox does not support Gmail’s labels. For heavy label users such as myself, this is a little disappointing. I would like if Mailbox would eventually let you use your own existing labels in their list function. I have resorted to keeping the official Gmail app on my phone for the occasional emails I have to label and put in folders. Mailbox is, if you have not guessed it yet, Gmail only, so if you are not a Gmail user you are out of luck for now. The Mailbox team has promised more email providers will be supported down the road as well as more devices. As it stands, the app is great. Even if you do not want to subscribe to handling email the way Mailbox wants, it is still a great client due to its speed and design. I hope to see it expand soon to the iPad.
Bitcasa just launched a few days ago. For those who do not know what that is, I will make it brief. Picture your hard drive, but in the cloud. Oh, and its unlimited. Yes, unlimited. And it only costs $10 a month. That is what Bitcasa is. And I believe that this is going to be the future. For my more tech savvy readers, imagine if Dropbox and Crashplan had a baby. That baby would be named Bitcasa
Let us get the negatives out of the way first. Bitcasa is a bit ugly. The web interface looks like a glorified iPad app, which does not translate well to the web. The iOS apps are pretty ugly, looking almost like a metro style gone bad motif. The iOS apps are also pretty buggy, with them crashing often or failing to load new files without a quick pull to refresh. They even lack the ability to use “Open in…” to send files to them! Oh, and most of the good features are coming soon. Shared folders? Not yet. Hell, making folders? Not at all. All of this sounds rather bad, and to an extent it is, but Bitcasa is more an exercise in potential than something that stands on its current merits. Right now it still feels more like a beta than a 1.0, but after perusing the forums and seeing how many changes were made before getting to this point, I feel confident the team can deliver and craft a more “whole” product.
So why do I love Bitcasa? Because there is a lot to love. The biggest feature is obviously the unlimited space. Called the Infinite Drive, Bitcasa allows a user to mirror their computer to its online drive after downloading an app to your computer. Think Crashplan, with your Infinite Drive always being available to you whether on your mobile device or desktop, and always backing up your files. Bitcasa also works on PC, Mac and Linux, making it possible to back up any combination of computers your household has. I really like that I can backup both my MacBook and Windows PC without having to worry about space constraints. And, just like Dropbox, Bitcasa also allows you to upload files to the cloud as well. And since it is unlimited, you could store hundreds of gigabytes of pictures, all your HD movies, or whatever else crosses your mind.
Bitcasa tries to go all iCloud on you by automatically organizing things into categories including music, videos, photos, documents and folders. Folders baffles me because it seems to include everything you upload, not just folders, but the rest are self explanatory. It is really nice that Bitcasa does this, but I would prefer the ability to make my own folders. It is great that when I click on photos I know every single photo can be found there, but with over 2000 photos now, I would love to categorize them in folders. I am not sure if this is an intentional omission or not. It is possible to indirectly make folders by opening the Finder (or Windows Explorer) and creating them there while sorting stuff in the Finder, but this seems like a ridiculous workaround. I hope a simple solution comes soon.
Bitcasa also has a third party API which they will be opening up soon. Because mainly the techy types would be the kind of people that would want unlimited storage, and they also are the ones that make apps, I am hoping that we see this integrated into some apps soon. I feel that many of the problems Bitcasa suffers now are due to it being young. Its ugly UI and lack of sharing features will evolve over time. Right now, they hit the right spots with the unlimited storage and pricing. Awhile back I wrote a piece on whether I would go with Google Drive or Dropbox for additional storage. I now decided to go with Bitcasa, and I am going to cancel my CrashPlan account as well. I feel that Bitcasa is going to be the future. I definitely prefer living with all my information in the cloud instead of in various harddrives. I prefer when I get a new computer to have to do a little as possible to transition over, and this makes it much simpler than ever. Now I can backup everything I want, to my hearts content, without having to ever worry about running out of space.
Two days ago, Twitter launched the recently acquired video service Vine, which many are already calling the “Instagram of video”. Of course, like with anything that has to do with the internet, people already have been misusing it. The tech media, as they are keen to do, have already been exploiting the situation for page views with such titilating titles as Twitter’s Vine Has a Porn Problem and Warning: Graphic Porn Invades Vine. Don’t lie, as a guy, there is no way you skipped clicking on at least one of those, which is exactly what they were counting on.
Other daring souls are already questioning if Apple will pull the app for making it easy to find pornography similar to what they recently did with 500px. Personally, with how fond Apple is of Twitter, I believe this gets swept under the rug with Vine getting a chance to figure out how to solve this before any action is taken. But this leads to another important question: where does Apple start and stop drawing the line on policing the App Store?
As many people can guess, or personally experience, Safari is built into iOS and it allows the user to search for porn. I don’t see Apple pulling their own app (sarcasm). Some would argue that parental controls exist in iOS for this reason, but they also exist for preventing downloads from the App Store. Apple cannot start a trend of banning every photo app that shows sexual content, or else it will gradually escalate to video apps, and then beyond. Heck, do a hashtag search in Tweetbot for porn and you can find your fill. I constantly see naked spam photos browsing my Facebook stream. Apple’s solution either leads to total censorship or to playing favorites (targeting only popular apps or apps that draw attention). Solution? People need to grow up and accept that sexual content, within reason, is part of life. I obviously do not want to be on Vine and see a GIF of some dude playing with himself, but if you want to view sexual art on 500px, that seems to be your prerogative. The sooner Apple understands this, the better off all of our apps are.