iOS 7 Beta 3 Improvements or Status Quo?

ios_7_icon-250x249Beta 3 of Apple’s next version of its mobile OS – iOS 7 – was released on 2013-07-08. Let’s take a quick look at how things are progressing

 

 

Introduction

If you recall, I posted a tear down of Apple’s latest mobile operating system – iOS 7 – a few days ago. Beta 1 of the OS was usable, but it was painful. Beta 2 made things a bit better, but the experience was still FAR from what you would expect from a completed system, meaning that Apple still had a great bit of work to do. Apple released the third seed in its iOS 7 development effort on 2013-07-08. Let’s take a quick peek at how things are progressing.

Music App

The Music app has seen a slight redesign from Betas 1 and 2. It has new icons and a rearranged set of controls. Ratings have also been reimplemented. I have almost 10 gigabytes of music on my iPhone. Without a doubt, music takes up the bulk of my onboard storage. Every time I restore my iPhone, it takes quite a bit of time to sync all of my content back to the phone.

I installed iOS 7 Beta 3 Monday 2013-07-08, late in the evening. I went to bed before midnight. When I got up at 4:30am Central the next morning, I expected all of my content to be restored to the device. It wasn’t. I started the sync again and saw content come over to the device. While it didn’t finish the sync before I had to leave for work, about 1/2 of my music had been synchronized to the device. Unfortunately, I found that none of it was actually recognized as being on board. It became clear to me that in order to be able to listen to my music, I’d have to blow the device and set it up as a new iPhone. Thankfully, though that process took a while, it solved the problem.

iOS-7-beta-3-launched-with-problems

Podcasts

Apple’s Podcasts app is now functional. However, I initially had issues with my synched content being recognized by the app. As I stated above, it was for this reason that I had to blow my iPhone again, reinstall iOS 7 Beta 3 and setup my iPhone 5 as a new iPhone.

Calendar

Calendar’s Month View has been updated to include a display artifact to indicate which days have scheduled events. The Calendar app is still a bit touchy. Its force closed on me more than once when trying to go from the default Day View to Month View.

Redesigned Fonts

One of the biggest points made with iOS 7 is its redesigned interface, which includes a thinned out, flat look. Many of the fonts used in Betas 1 and 2 have been replaced in beta 3 with a heavier weighted font. While thinner fonts make for a cleaner interface, heavier fonts provide increased readability. This is a much welcomed change in Beta 3, as the display in the first two betas was difficult to read.

You can see clear evidence of the heavier fonts in Messages, Weather and Notification Center. You should also have an easier time reading the Settings menu as well.

Apple also increased the size of the font used in the status bar, making your carrier name, signal strength, remaining battery life , etc. easier to read.

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Take complete control of your multiple monitor configured PC with DisplayFusion

displayfusion_iconToday, Windows compatible displays are actually very affordable. You can get yourself a decent HD setup for as little as $199 USD if you watch the sales and play your cards right. For that kind of money, it’s very easy to set yourself up with more than one monitor. Multiple monitors give you the ability to run a number of apps windowed while running a few key apps full screen. This is especially important when one key app or document requires full use of your screen real estate to be effective.  This is why DisplayFusion is an important utility to have. It helps you manage your multiple monitor setup on your Windows box.

DisplayFusion has powerful features to make your multi-monitor, Windows configuration easier to manage and use.  With tools like its Multi-Monitor Taskbars, TitleBar Buttons and its other customizable functions, it’s a no brainer.  The utility will make managing your multiple monitors easy for everyone.

DF-002

With DisplayFusion’s Multi-Monitor Taskbars, you can keep your windows easily organized by adding a taskbar to each of your monitors. The taskbar on each monitor can be configured to show all of your computer’s open windows, or only the windows that are running on that monitor. You can use button grouping, auto-hide, window previews, shortcuts, as well as a Start Button to help make working with your apps on each monitor, easier.

If wallpaper is your thing, then you’re in for a treat.  DisplayFusion has powerful wallpaper management features that let you use images from your own computer, or load images from online sources. You can tile, stretch, scale, crop, position and even tint your images If you’re looking for a way to completely customize the look of your desktop, this is one of the best ways to do it.

Speaking of customizing your PC, when it comes to screen savers, DisplayFusion can help you there as well.  You can span your screen saver across all of your monitors, or even display a different screen saver on each monitor. You can use default Windows screen savers, or you can install your own screen savers.

If you have more than one monitor, this is a must have utility. DisplayFusion makes working with what has traditionally been a complex, custom setup easy and painless. Its licensing terms are really very reasonable.  If you have more than one PC at home with more than one monitor, for $35 USD (a standard Pro license is $25 as of this writing), you can license any and all of your at home PC’s. Its very reasonable and one of the best reasons to register the software.

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Play, stop, start, pause and control your multimedia playback with Flutter

flutter_iconMicrosoft’s Kinect is hot right now.  Controlling your game console, and multimedia equipment – which the Xbox also doubles as – with hand gestures is pretty cool. Many PC owners would love to be able to do the same thing – control their PC with their body.  Well, now with Flutter, a web cam and your PC, you can do just that – but only with your multimedia apps. Flutter allows you to control playback of your favorite media with some of your favorite aps. Let’s check it out to see if it’s going to become part of your PC toolbox.

Flutter uses gestures detected by your web cam to play, pause and skip media. Flutter supports YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, Grooveshark, iTunes, Netflix, among others.  If you’re an Apple Keynote user, you can also control your slide show presentation with hand gestures.  The cool thing is that Flutter works even when the app you want to control isn’t in focus, and is playing media in the background.

FL-01

Flutter is an interesting app; but not one that I think will last long. Maybe I’m too old to get it; but with an effective range of 1-6 feet, I can’t see how taking my hands up away from the PC and waving them at the screen is easier or better than controlling media playback with a keyboard or mouse.

I can see where this would be really awesome at say a party or perhaps in a business setting where you were playing a slideshow with Keynote and wanted to control the app that way.  However, I can see things heading way south after a DJ says, “Put your hands in the air..!” I’m just sayin’…

Flutter is coming out with additional gestures and with support for additional apps. We’ll have to see how well this gets adopted, but until then, while really cool, I am going to stay firmly planted on the fence.

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Listen N Write Free

Quickly transcribe lectures and audio conferences with this handy Windows app.

Being a college student isn’t easy. Life expands exponentially after high school graduation, and many students are caught unaware of the changes in  academic expectations.  When it comes to taking notes in large lecture halls during your college career, it’s easy to miss important points while trying to copy down something your professor just said. This is one of the reasons why applications like Listen N Write Free are important to have. It’s a transcription app for your Windows machine, and it’s a must have.

LNW-01One of the biggest things that college freshman have to adjust to is the college lecture. You don’t necessarily have any guarantee that what is lectured on is actually relevant course material, but in many cases, it is; and you’re going to need to memorize it and perhaps recall it for an exam.  It’s for this reason that students, and even conference attendees, or lawyers – basically anyone who has to transcribe recorded audio – should try Listen N Write, It’s a free tool designed for transcription.

Interestingly enough, LnW doesn’t use speech recognition or automatic transcription. The app is a media player bundled with a text editor. However, don’t stop reading yet. The media player has subtle but clever differences that make it a great tool for playing back recorded lectures and speeches and writing down what you hear. Its skip arrows move the recording forward or back by just a few seconds, ending the ever-so-frustrating back-and-forth as you try to zero in on a single word or short phrase. When you hit the Pause button, Listen N Write’s media player reverses the recording by one second, which helps keep words from being truncated or garbled during playback-pause-playback activities.

LNW-04Listen N Write’s interface consists of three pieces: the media player and the optional text editor and a bookmarks box.  Only the media player and text editor open by default. You can hide or show the bookmarks and text editor via the media player’s View menu.  The rest of the menu bar’s entries should be familiar to most users.

The media player itself is extremely simple, just a file title field, an Open File icon, playback controls, a volume slider, and a progress bar. The Text Editor has the usual toolbar full of controls. The Bookmarks box is simple.

The app is easy enough to use. The pause button pulls the recording back a full second so you really won’t miss anything.  The biggest problem I have with a tool like this is that it doesn’t use speech recognition to automate the transcription. You have to do it all by hand, which was totally NOT cool.

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CONFIRMED – Windows 8.1 Ships in August 2013

Despite the bugs they’re currently touting as features, according to Microsoft, Windows 8.1 is on track to ship in August of 2013.

microsoftheadquarters

If there’s one thing that I really like about MaryJo Foley, its that she has her fingers on the pulse that is Microsoft’s life blood. She knows what’s going on and is kind enough to share it with the rest of us. I’ve had a number of conversations with her and I’ve always found her to be if not 100% dead-on-right, at least accurate enough to help me stay current and relevant.

I saw an article earlier this week (Monday 2013-07-08) where MJF is confirming information that had been previously leaked by “individuals close to the situation.” Windows 8.1, code named, “Blue,” despite its bugs, is still on target to ship before the end of August 2013.

Also interestingly enough, the GA (general availability) – i.e. availability to consumers already running Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 Preview – of the new OS is said to be either same day as its released to manufacturing and to OEM partners, or shortly there after (meaning days and not weeks or months).  This type of behavior is unusual for Microsoft who normally schedules GA for 4-8 weeks after any specific software title RTM’s. Perhaps this has something to do with the retirement of TechNet. Perhaps it doesn’t.  Either way, its still a very interesting change in behavior.

So, if you’ve got Windows 8.1 Consumer Preview installed, you won’t have it installed for long; and you’re going to need to rebuild your machine in order to install the production bits.

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Et tu Blue-te..? – Is Windows 8.1 Your New Best Friend?

The Public Preview of Windows 8.1 is out. Is it what we really wanted and needed, or not? Here are my initial impressions of the revamped OS.

Introduction

Microsoft has taken a huge beating over its implementation of Windows 8.  The problem isn’t the OS itself, which is fast and very much, (user noticeably,) bug free.  The problem is its hybrid user interface that works well with its Surface RT, or more tablet oriented hardware; and not its Surface Pro (which is more an ultrabook than a tablet) or 3rd party desktop machines.

When asked, I usually offer the following advice – if the PC your considering purchasing or upgrading doesn’t have a touch screen, don’t bother with Windows 8. Its just going to frustrate the daylights out of you.

In response to this (consistently reported, user) issue, Microsoft has introduced Windows Blue, now formally called, Windows 8.1.  While simply a point-release, many are calling Windows 8.1 a major release and not a simple upgrade.  Is it the Microsoft operating system you’ve been waiting for?  Will it save Microsoft and bring them back to the land of relevance; or is it simply prolonging the inevitable? Let’s take a look and find out.

Major Changes

There are several changes to Windows 8 in Windows 8.1.  This is not an exhaustive list, but I’ve tried to highlight the most obvious changes to this article. If I’ve missed something, I’d love to hear what you have to say in our comments and reactions section. A link to that area can be found near the bottom of the article.

Start Screen

Believe it or not, there are some really nice changes to the Windows 8.x Start Screen in Windows 8.1.  The biggest and best change is its new tile sizes. For tiles like Weather, Finance, Sports, etc. large tiles are truly awesome. They give you full access to scrolling data (though they don’t always update like you would expect them to, especially after you’ve run the associated app…)

Tiles can now also be placed in named groups.  For example, you can put all of your Office tiles together and name the grouping with an appropriate name.  Any tiles can be grouped with others in custom groups.  Placing tiles is still a bit tricky, and I’d really like to have more control over that.  Tile sizes aren’t always available for all tiles, either, which seems silly; but again, that’s just me.

Screenshot-3

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All Apps Screen

If the live tiles just don’t do it for you and you’d like a lot more functionality at your fingertips, you can have the Start Screen go right to the All Apps Screen.  This is really great for PC’s that don’t have touch.

Like the Start Screen, the All Apps Screen, is quickly accessed by clicking the down arrow at the bottom of the Start Screen, and is also customizable.  You can arrange apps in groups, making it easier to find them without searching. Also, note the “new” designations on recently installed apps.

Screenshot-2

The Start Button (not Start Menu) Returns

Speaking of the Start Screen, I know that many people are excited, or think they’re excited, about the return of the Start Button.  If they are, they’re in for a bit of a disappointment.  The button may be back, but the functionality that everyone was really wanting, was the Start MENU, not the button.

The button is nothing more than a visual place for users to click to get to Windows 8.x’s Live Tiles or All Apps Screen. While many people were screaming for the return of the Start Button, what they were really wanting is Windows 7’s Start Menu, and it’s easy to use, easily understandable program layout and PC searching capabilities. Microsoft has apparently moved on from that and has embraced the tile paradigm.  They’re just waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

Screenshot-7

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Foxmail – The Fireless Fox

logoThe email is basically the most used method to communicate today. There are plenty of email clients and each user can choose the one that suits better for his needs. I’ve chosen to test Foxmail, because I found it recently, and from some other reviews I learned that it’s quite something. The version 7.1 is expected to be lighter and faster, and is trying to cover all the needs that a user has: Standard email, Address book, and meetings, appointments, and RSS Feed.

Foxmail indeed is light and easy to use, once you figured out how to set it in english (we’ll get to that a bit later.). I’ve configured my Gmail email address very fast (just my email address and password), and the program detected automatically the port settings and all my emails were there in a flash, with all the folders set in my local language, according to my gmail settings. So, it’s a basic email client, with a basic design. On top of the menu bar, you have only 6 options: Check, Compose, Reply, Reply All, Forward and Delete. Of course, when you compose an email, you have advanced settings, like priority and so. You don’t need more from a basic email client.

foxmail

Now, the downside: The installer is in Chinese language, and you DON’T have an option to change that in the installer. I consider this a BIG drawback for the application. Even so, because it’s a standard Next-Next-Finish installer, I managed to install it and to configure the email address. And after that, I made a “blind” search to find out if there is any way to set the program to english. This is what you have to do (see the picture below about how to change this email client into english.). After all the changes applied, you have to restart the application in order the changes to take effect. EVRIKA! It worked! Now the program suddenly came out of the dark.

Foxmai-Instructions

Foxmail it is indeed the lightest email client I’ve worked with. But they really need to implement the select language option in the installer, and to set as default the english language for the application. The meeting and appointment features work great and you will be notified about every new email you get in a small and nice pop-up balloon in windows. Anyway, if you don’t want a little adventure with the Chinese language, I don’t recommend you to try it. But, if you do, and you need a basic email client, this is the right application for you.

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OUYA hits the gaming market for real

Since Nintendo released WiiU, Microsoft announced its new gaming console XBOX ONE and Sony is ready to deliver the new PS4, new developers are ready to hit the market with new gaming consoles. And what better way to become a well known competitor but to release a console using Android. This means low hardware requirements, a very active community that is eager to develop new games for any Android gadget and free to try products that offers the user a complete view of their quality. Boxer8 is the company responsible for the first gaming console based on Android operating system called Ouya.

Everything started as a Kickstarter project back in 2012 when Julie Uhrman decided it’s time for a change in the gaming industry. Along with designer Yves Béhar and Muffi Ghadiali as product manager, the project became an immediately hit in the Kickstarter community becoming the second highest-earning project. As a result, Ouya became reality and is already being shipped to the first costumers for the price of $99.

ouyascreen

The great value of this gadget comes from its simplicity. A single gamepad and a small block almost the size of a Raspberry Pi brings your TV back to life in 1080p. The ‘free to try’ philosophy promoted for each game released on Ouya’s own marketplace means that you can try the game for free for a limited period of time and if you like it only then you can buy it. All you’ll need is a valid credit card, debit card or redeemable code. Flexibility is another strong point of this console. They are offering a free developing kit in order to give the chance for any game aficionado to develop and publish their own creations.

From the technical point of view, Ouya features a NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of internal storage (expandable via USB), WiFi and Ethernet. You can download games, stream videos or music from Twitch.tv, Crunchyroll, iheartradio, TuneIn, XBMC, Plex and Flixster in Full HD quality. An interesting fact is that the company encourages the user to unscrew the device and do some modding without losing the warranty.

The Ouya controller is similar in design with the Xbox controller featuring dual analogue sticks, a directional pad positioned under the left stick, 4 buttons (labeled O, U, Y and A) and the usual back bumpers and triggers. The single-touch touchpad in the center of the controller is the thing that differentiate both gamepads. It may be possible to use alternate controllers but only for compatible games.

On a market ruled by titanic black boxes Ouya is a small ray of light. It is the most user-friendly console on the market with an open minded character giving the user the chance to modify and even root it without voiding the warranty.

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