App of the Week: Apple Maps Replacement Edition

Developers:
Lumatic – Lumatic Inc.

Waze – Waze Inc

Compatible with:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch

Requires:
Lumatic – iOs 5.0 or later

Waze – iOs 4.0 or later

Price:
Free

Available here for Waze and here for Lumatic

I don’t like to use the words resounding, embarrassing failure to describe something unless I have to. For one thing, it’s just not that nice and, for another, I like to maintain the integrity of such a phrase, so when it is used you can really appreciate the effect. With that in mind I won’t use it for the new Apple Maps app, but I just wanted you to know that the thought did cross my mind, so you have an idea what we’re dealing with.

Instead I’ll describe the new “Google Map Killer” as a crushing disappointment. Mostly because some features show such promise (the Yelp integration and some of the layout is nice), while other aspects of the app are shamefully bad (just look at some of these screenshots, or this head to head with Google Maps). What’s worse is, Apple has effectively blackballed Google Maps from iO6, and therefore the new iPhone 5. While there are ways of getting around this problem, it is a joke that the superior Google Maps isn’t an easy option as it should be.

Until Apple Maps gets its act together then, you are going to need some replacement apps for map and navigation needs. In fact, to replace the functions and features of Google Maps, without paying a service fee for some of the full fledged navigation apps, you’ll actually need a couple of apps to make up the difference.

The first App I recommend then would be the free Lumatic City Maps. While somewhat limited in scope (it only covers 24 major cities and is mainly for public transportation, not driving) if you do live in an area that support it, it’s a must have. Lumatic handily keeps track of all public transportation options with nice, real world photos, and both transport time estimates and schedules of bus and subway arrival times. The best feature of this app is actually a tie. I can’t decide between the way that selecting a business will automatically provide Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, and Wikipedia information, or how when providing directions, the app will actually reference locations in the area. For instance, it may say make a left turn passing the Starbucks on your right. It feels like a very organic way of providing directions and nicely highlights why this is such a fun and practical app if you live in an area that supports it.

If you don’t, or if you need driving directions, you are going to have to look elsewhere. Luckily there is another free app called Waze that admirably handles those duties. A popular app for a while now, Waze has honed itself into a fine tuned navigation assistant that also features some fantastic layouts and graphics. It’s turn by turn directions are competitive with any app out there, and its location search feature is not only comprehensive, but actually outshines some of the other major apps, especially Apple Maps, in terms of results and information. The integrated social features also allow drivers to communicate updates with each other, and the latest version even shows the price of the gas stations around you so you can choose the cheapest option. Even better, Waze provides gas discounts to certain stations along the way.

I was really hoping that Apple Maps would be as great as Apple was hyping it up to be, so I would have an easy selection this week. While I haven’t given up hope it may one day be worthy, in the meantime I wouldn’t recommend relying on it for any practical purposes. Luckily, you won’t have to navigate your world, or the app market, blindly, thanks to the combined efforts of Waze and Lumatic Maps, my apps of the week.

  

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HP Previews Three New Touchscreen Laptops

Hewlett-Packard (HP) previewed a number of exciting new products on the evening of Tuesday, August 27, most of which will be available in December of this year or January of next year. Unfortunately, there is a non-disclosure agreement in place until Thursday, September 20, for many of these products, so tune in on that day to find out more. For now, though, let’s take a look at three impressive new laptops offered by HP.

The HP Spectre TouchSmart Ultrabook is a sleek, stylish, 4.77 pound notebook with a 15.6-inch screen featuring edge-to-edge glass. It is a multitouch touchscreen device that also features a fully functioning keyboard and a full array of ports, including Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, and HDMI. It is also HP’s first notebook to feature Intel Thunderbolt technology, a new technology similar to FireWire, but not based on it. Also used by Apple, Intel Thunderbolt allows for high-speed connectivity and daisy chaining of multiple devices. The slightly smaller HP ENVY TouchSmart Ultrabook 4 features a 14-inch multitouch HD display with a backlit keyboard and a subwoofer featuring Beats Audio. It delivers up to eight hours of battery life and, like the Spectre Ultrabook, is expected to be available in the United States in December, with a starting price of $1,399.

The HP ENVY x2 takes the touchscreen and keyboard synergy of these devices to a whole new level. The ENVY x2 is a tablet and a laptop at the same time, with a detachable 11.6-inch diagonal HD touch display featuring IPS technology. It has a sleek aluminum finish and an innovative hinge system with magnets that smoothly guide the tablet portion into place with the keyboard, which, when opened, wedges up from the table or other surface on which it rests, providing a more convenient angle for typing. The ENVY x2 features Beats Audio, NFC technology and an optional stylus, as well as two different types of cameras for its two different operational modes: an HD webcam on the front and an 8.0 megapixel camera on the back. It is also expected to be available in December.

With these and other devices previewed recently, HP continues to move in the direction of thinner, lighter laptops without sacrificing its many innovative features. Don’t forget to check back with us on September 20 to see what other exciting new products HP has in store.

  

App of the Week: Solar

Developer:
Hollr, Inc.

Compatible With:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch

Requires:
iOS 5.0 or later

Price:

$0.99

Available here

With all of the entertainment and social distractions that smartphones provide, it’s hard to remember that they were originally conceived with the simple intention of providing a tool to help the hyper active through their lives. In that respect, there are a few essential apps that everyone must have on their phones, no matter how far the technology may have come. They’re apps like schedule planners, calendars, and metal band name generators, which have all become standard regardless of the user.

But just because an app is standard, though, doesn’t mean it has to be ordinary. Consider the weather app on your phone. Everyone has one, everyone uses it, but unless you’re one of those guys who spends their free time watching mudslides in Honduras on The Weather Channel, using the basic weather app probably doesn’t constitute the highlight of your day.

Thankfully Hollr, Inc. and their app “Solar”, are looking to change that. “Solar” provides all of the usual weather information (current temperature, forecast,etc), but does it in a genuinely engaging way. Using a minimalist design, “Solar” uses a dynamic color palette on each half of the screen to represent the current weather conditions. The top half shows the weather, while the bottom half reveals the temperature, producing a stylish visual for your phone. Scrolling up on the app provides a forecast for the day, that also modifies the screen design appropriately to match the expected weather, and scrolling down gives you the three day weather report. Extra functionality is provided by double tapping on the screen to set up multiple weather locations, which can then be accessed by scrolling left and right on the app. More than any single feature though, the main selling point of “Solar” is its ability to turn one of the most basic features on your phone, into the most stylish.

Even though this app is discounted right now to the low, low price of 0.99 cents, you probably have some reasonable doubt about buying a weather app when so many good ones are available for free. Plus, for all of its incredibly slick design features, “Solar” still does include the standard text read-out weather temperature as its go-to measurement, and lacks some of the more specific details of competitive apps. But the fact is, you really only have two options for how to check the weather each day. Like a guy who’s trying to see if he needs an umbrella, or:

And if you fall into that later category, the only way to really do it is with “Solar”, my app of the week.

 

  

App of the Week: Twist

Developer:
Twist and Shout Inc.

Compatible With:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch

Requires:
iOS 4.0 or later

Price:
Free

Available Here

Do you know somebody that’s just impossibly perfect? They’re always impeccably dressed, are constantly in a good mood, and never seem to be late?

That last one’s just not natural. I mean, I rarely intend to be late (unless its work, school, or dreaded social obligations), but things just happen sometimes. Yet for as inevitable as running late is, it still manages to complicate your life in tremendous ways, as the act of running late has seemingly become socially understandable, but the acceptance of having to wait on someone running late has not. So what’s the answer? Do we all just work to become that perfect individual who leaves on time, anticipates delays, and keeps to their word?

Well, thanks to the new app Twist, such self improvement is no longer necessary. Twist recognizes that you’re going to be late no matter what amount of traffic, directions, and planning apps you already have on your phone. Rather than combat the inevitable, Twist simply helps you adjust your life to accommodate it. Using a GPS system, Twist allows you to see exactly where your friends are en route to you, or vice versa, and can alert you as to their progress. Not only that, but the app provides an estimated arrival time, as well as functionality with other applications. An example would be if you see your friend is lost. You could use your phone to then send the appropriate directions from their exact location (especially helpful as it keeps them from having to use their phone in traffic, or in the middle of a crowded street). More than just serve as a social convenience, though, the developers of Twist are also using it in an effort to cut down on dangerous acts like texting while driving.

Very few of us can get through the day without meeting somebody, somewhere, in some fashion. Besides the life saving features it incorporates for people running late, Twist also allows for a tremendous level of communication between people meeting up, even if the timing is right. While it’s another app that borders somewhat on stalking if used in the wrong hands, it does mean we may finally be able to end the sitcom scenario of being late for your date and madly scrambling to keep them in touch regarding the wacky events that transpired leading to your tardiness.

For that, this is a no brainer app of the week.

  

Microsoft dropping CES – part of Steve Jobs’ legacy?

Steve Ballmer.

Earlier this morning, Microsoft made waves by announcing that it would be pulling out of the Consumer Electronics Show. The announcement was made by Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s head of communications, on the company blog. CEA, the organization that runs CES, claims the opposite, that they chose to give Microsoft the boot. In any case, this is a pretty serious blow to the trade show, and it points to the growing sentiment that trade shows have lost their relevance. As I’m sure some of you remember, Apple did essentially the same thing when it backed out of MacWorld in 2008.

Really, it doesn’t much matter who dropped whom; the end result is the same. CES just took a huge hit, and it’s a hit the CEA should have seen coming. For my part, I’m willing to bet Microsoft backed out. As the company stated, their product releases haven’t lined up with CES keynotes, which is certainly true. There was this other company that held its own keynotes for major product releases, where it would show off finalized versions of products that were ready to ship the same day. You know, that company with the second largest market cap in the world. I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.

Also, as the CEA, why kick Microsoft off the keynote? Who will take their place? Remember, this is the CES. This isn’t a developer’s conference. There won’t be major web properties making keynotes for CES. So who fills Microsoft’s space? More importantly, who forks over the cash to do so knowing the CEA may give them the boot next year? No one. That’s who.

If anything, Microsoft is trying to take control of its hype cycle, in exactly the same way Steve Jobs took control of Apple’s. There is one key difference – the products. Microsoft hasn’t gotten into the hardware game, which makes a product keynote much duller than the Apple counterpart. So much of Apple’s product launch success is tied into showing off a complete product. Microsoft can’t do that, at least not without the help of manufacturers, and manufacturer issues remain a huge source of complaint against Microsoft products. Still, I think moving to Microsoft-sponsored events gives the company a chance to more closely connect with its own fanbase, which Microsoft could really use.

The idea that the CEA would kick Microsoft just makes no sense. Trade shows have been losing traction for years. The last thing the CES needs is a disappearing act from one of the biggest draws for the show.

  

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