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.

 

  

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App of the Week: Loopcam

I’m beginning a new mission to try and find the best apps available for smartphones and tablets everywhere. While this mission may one week develop into a noble pursuit of finding useful, game-changing applications, or even just innovative time-killers, for this first edition, I can’t help but share my unhealthy fascination with an app that celebrates one of the greatest and most stupid innovations of the internet age.

I speak, of course, about the animated GIF file.

Short for Graphical Interchange Format, the GIF file is another bitmap image format that is easy to use and fairly versatile. But its real potential wasn’t realized until the 90s when people started to animate their GIF files, allowing for them to display a few precious seconds of motion in a repetitive loop. Then suddenly, after one dancing baby became an overnight sensation, the animated GIF established itself as a staple of internet humor.

Now with the free iPhone app Loopcam, you have the ability to create your own animated GIF files to one day slow down the load time of a webpage and lead to potential seizures. It’s an incredibly simple app that streamlines GIF creation into a few-step process. From there, Loopcam gives you the ability to share your creations with the world via e-mail, texts and all of the usual social media outlets. While there are other, similar apps out there, Loopcam’s user friendly nature and range of features make it the standout of the pack.

The GIF is one internet joke that looks to stay, and that’s largely due to the many, creative “shouldn’t be funny but somehow is” ways that people have used the format. Loopcam allows that same user creativity to thrive anywhere you may be, and for that reason stands triumphant as my first app of the week.

  

The Future of Watches, Brought to You by the Future In Free Market

In a prior article on the Instagram Camera, I said that the potential legions of fans that the prototype would draw should probably take to Kickstarter.com, in a mob like fashion, to make that invention a reality. I meant that somewhat jokingly. Well, in just a short time fund raising on that very site, tech developer Eric Migicovsky, along with his “dream team”, and their invention The Pebble Watch have pretty much guaranteed that no one will be making jokes about Kickstarter ever again.

The Pebble watch, which raised an almost unfathomable $2.5 million in just three days on Kickstarter, is a smart watch that works with iPhone and Android devices. It’s essentially an evolution of the inPulse smart watch, also designed by Eric Migicovsky and Co., which worked with Blackberry devices. The Pebble takes certain apps and functions of your smart phone, like controlling your music playlists or providing a heads up when you receive a text message or phone call, and transfers them to the face of the watch. It has an e-ink display, is waterproof, scratchproof, keeps its’ charge for seven days, and even functions with an app developer program.

I’ve got to confess. As nice as all of that sounded, I wasn’t  particularly impressed with the device at first. Or at least I didn’t understand how a “smart watch” could garner so much interest and cash in such a short time. But to truly appreciate the Pebble’s uses, you have to see the video that accompanies the product on Kickstarter.

 

No this isn’t a world changing device. That would be the smartphone. Instead this is a rare device that realizes that if you can’t beat the smartphone, you could do worse for yourself than to become its’ best friend. The Pebble is practically designed for joggers and bicyclists, as it allows you to do things like view your distance traveled, control your music, and manage incoming messages and calls without ever once having to break your motion. Even for pedestrians or drivers, the Pebble’s benefits of being able to access some of the most practical apps of your phone, without having to reach for it, actually brings your phone back  to being a convenience and not a burden. Not to mention this finally makes the modern watch more than just jewelry, and also brings us one step closer to the sci-fi staple all purpose “wrist computer” (think Fallout’s Pip Boy device).

But really, the Pebble itself isn’t the story here. That belongs to Kickstarter. The idea of a program that could essentially allow consumers to choose the products they really want, without designers having to wade through the machine of corporate funding or personal loans for a project, was merely a vague notion whose successes have been treated as exceptions and novelty stories. But the Pebble has managed to raise over $10 million so far through Kickstarter  (10,169% of  its original goal), which is such an absurd figure that the developers are now pleading with people to stop contributing money as they have too much of it and can no longer meet demand.

Whatever success the Pebble watch has from here on out will be tied directly to Kickstarter. As word of the sites potential spreads, only time will tell if its’ bazaar of ideas will change certain foundations of commerce. But considering many people will be telling that time on their new Pebble watches, my guess is it’s got a pretty good shot.

  

Mobile continues to vex Microsoft

Imagine, just for a moment, a world without the iPhone. It’s tough, I know. Essentially every touchscreen experience you’re having today has been fundamentally shaped or directly influenced by Apple’s smartphone. But today, let’s take a quick step back to early 2007, when Apple had yet to introduce its industry-changing device.

Back then, Microsoft had nearly 40 percent of the mobile market share. The OS it hawked was nothing compared to Windows Phone 7, and not just by direct comparison. Even for its time, Microsoft on mobile was a clunky, frustrating mess. But still, it had 40 percent of the market. Fast forward to today. It’s more than a year since Microsoft unveiled an ambitious, stylish operating system on some very strong hardware (the initial HTC handsets were great) and its market share is plummeting, down 50 percent from the same time last year. According to comScore, Microsoft’s mobile share is down to 3.9 percent of the total market this year, and it isn’t going up.

Microsoft’s modern mobile operating system wasn’t too little. In fact, it’s pretty damn solid. It’s just too late. Way too late. Redmond is still trying to find a way to make things work but everything is a non-starter. Even the deal with Nokia, which has already turned out a device that can rival the iPhone, will do nothing to save Windows Phone 7, and it’s easy to see why. There is no reason to switch.

Last March I was given an HTC Inspire for review. It was my first serious experience with Android and I fell in love. The integration with Google products, the notification bar that has since been cannibalized by Apple, the flexibility and power in different handsets and ROMs – I loved all of it. I dropped my iPhone and haven’t looked back. What does Microsoft have? Bing? Xbox Live? The first might be a joke, but Xbox Live is pretty serious business. If there’s one place Apple and Google fail, it’s social. Could Microsoft find a way to take the world’s most volatile gaming network and turn it into a mobile powerhouse?

Maybe, but it’s hard to imagine users suddenly abandoning app stores for whatever Microsoft might throw together. Of course, it was also hard to imagine a world without Symbian but here we are. Even so, a compelling social offer probably wouldn’t be enough, and Xbox Live is too niche to really carry Windows Phone. Unfortunately for the good people in Redmond, “just as good as those other guys” is not going to be nearly good enough. If Microsoft wants to regain market share of any kind, they need to something huge–I’m talking smartphones embedded on human retinas and eardrums huge–to be relevant in the mobile universe.

  

Music gadgets for gift ideas

We’ve talked about gadget gifts and stocking stuffers, and here we have two items that are great for the tech-savvy people on your list who like to create music.

GuitarConnect Pro

This cool device from Griffin Technology (pictured above) is designed to work with any instrument that has a ¼ inch jack (including guitars, bass guitars, electric violins, keyboards, etc.), GuitarConnect Pro was created to turn iPad or iPhone into a compact performance or practice rig. A built-in gain control wheel allows the user to adjust the strength of the instrument’s input signal. Users gain a high-quality, all-digital connection from guitars and other instruments directly into GarageBand and other audio apps. It’s a simple yet very powerful device and music lovers will really appreciate it. And, it fits nicely into a holiday stocking!

Korg nanoKEY2

Here we switch to keyboards, which is a very popular way to create music. The nanoKEY2 is built with 25 keys and allows full control of pitch. It’s one of the devices in the NanoSERIES2 which are all compatible with GarageBand. Imagine how much fun music-lovers can have playing around with this device.

Even if someone hasn’t tried to create their own music in the past, devices like these two above offer an easy way to get started. They spur the creative process, and for that reason alone they make great gifts.

  

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