Top Must Have Changes in iOS 7

iOS 7 is going to need revolutionary instead of Apple’s standard evolutionary changes. This is what I think they need to be for iOS to be innovative again

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Introduction

When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, it brought PDA/PIM data together with your cell phone, your music and videos, and made everything work, and work well. Since its introduction a few years later, Android has matured, and matured well. Windows Phone has been reinvented and revisioned and now the iPhone isn’t the only player on the block that knows how to do convergence and content consumption.

The iPhone turns six soon and it’s still got the same interface and launcher introduced with. It’s time for an interface refresh. So, here are my suggestions for the upcoming release of iOS 7.

Redesigned Launcher

Currently, iOS users can put app shortcuts on any number of home pages.  Users can also organize icons and create folders to hold application icons by placing one icon on top of another. The interface has remained largely unchanged over the past 6 years.

A launcher is nothing more than a way to sort, manage and launch applications. The launcher in iOS is used on all iDevices, and its clearly in need of some improvement, update or change.  Android allows users to install a number of different 3rd party launchers; and while I’m certain that Apple isn’t going to allow users to install a custom launcher, a lot of ideas can be gleaned from apps of this type from other OS’.

Have at it Apple. Wow us and give us something modern and new.  However, choice is important. It would be nice if in giving us a new UI, Apple would allow users to revert to the current UI as well.

Changes to the Notification Tray

This is one of the most valuable features in Android, and it’s been there for quite a while.  While the iOS notification tray is nice, it could, and should, do a whole lot more.  Shortcuts to specific device functions – like turning radios on and off, or pairing with specific devices – would be very valuable.

I’d like to be able to include info from other apps, like recent phone calls or place shortcuts to favorite numbers there so I can call them quickly. I’d also like to be able to customize this a bit, so please, give me more than can fit so I can put my own personal spin on things, or change things as my needs change.

Settings Redesign

A general reorg of settings would be helpful and seen as a big improvement. Some of the options in this area  are quite buried.

One of my biggest complaints with iOS 5 was that it was really difficult to get to the settings switch to turn Bluetooth on and off. You had to go into Settings, get to General, Wireless and then Bluetooth before you could get to the switch.  iOS6 changed that a bit, by bringing both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings up to the top of the Settings menu.  However, you still have to dive in to each category to get to the on/off switch and any other options, like pairing with a specific device.

I’d really like to see a complete tear down and rebuild here. The way Apple has all of its underpinnings and options setup and configured is long in the tooth.  I know I’m likely not to get what I want here, but it would be nice to see some work on organization and logical groupings. It isn’t always clear what is and isn’t stuffed into Settings and what might be tweaked in the actual app.

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View blocked internet content with Hola Unblocker

holaiconOnline video streaming is one of the more popular ways to get content to the mobile device of your choice.  However, it’s not all sunshine and daisies.  DRM issues aside, sometimes, you’re not allowed to view certain content due to your geographical region.  When you bump into this type of problem, you should take a look at Hola Unblocker. It’s a web extension for use on Windows machines.

Hola Unblocker has been available as a Chrome and Firefox extension since December 2012. It has recently been expanded to include websites like CBC, Fox and BBC’s iPlayer TV. All you have to do is installing the extension, and then go to the website with the region-blocked content you want to access. You don’t have to restart your computer.  You don’t even have to restart your browser. The main difference between Hola Unblocker and other VPN/proxy services that we’ve found so far is its ability to unblock content without slowing everything down.

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There have been some reports of the extension suddenly not working on a particular site, as well as a few glitches here and there. The developer indicates that BBC iPlayer TV worked in Chrome, but not in Firefox. Hulu also worked as advertised. The software is still technically in beta as of this writing, everything seems to be working as designed.

download Hola Unblocker

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Take control of your digital darkroom with Scarab Darkroom

Scarab DarkroomI love digital photography. Unfortunately, I was bitten by the camera bug quite a while back, and I am constantly on the lookout for a new lens, new picture tweaking or developing software and new information to help my pictures become more professional looking. Tools like Scarab Darkroom really fit the bill, too. This Windows based app is something that most every owner of a supported camera should have.

Scarab Darkroom is a digital camera file converter with support for over 100 different camera models. Many digital cameras can take pictures and save them directly as a JPG or other compressed file format, but doing so really limits your ability with what you can do to the file, post production. Many cameras have their own native formats, often called RAW. Most image editing apps don’t support them out of the box. Scarab Darkroom does.

Scarab-Darkroom

The compression algorithm in JPG’s is popular as a storage format – files are usually small and easily transported from one computing system to another. JPG’s are also very popular with web sites like Facebook , Flickr, and Shutterbug. However, when you try to tweak a JPG, you lose a lot of information and detail.

Scarab Darkroom provides support and tools for editing RAW files directly. It allows you to edit fill light, brightness, contrast and black levels and provides a way to edit simple tone curve adjustments. You can also tweak color temperatures and gives you the ability to pick white balance from a gray area in the picture, among other editing options. When you’re done, it provides a lightning fast conversion with excellent detail rendition using a proprietary demosaic algorithm. Basic editing options – crop, resize, etc. are also supported.

Scarab Darkroom is a decent application. Its support for many RAW file formats from Nikon, Sony, Canon, Olympus, Panasonic and others is something that can provide value to a great many enthusiasts. The anticipated Pro version is said to have all of the freemium features as well as others including more color controls, a grayscale mixer and noise reduction, among others. A Mac version is also anticipated next year.

Download Scarab Darkroom

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More Noise about WinRT – Microsoft Getting in its Own Way

I’ve heard more noise about Windows RT needing to die over the past few weeks. It doesn’t need to die; but MS needs to get out of its own way…

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Despite what everyone says, Windows RT doesn’t suck. It doesn’t… IF its viewed in the right way; AND if it gets a few needed tweaks.

I’ve heard recently that Windows RT holds just .04% of the market. I’ve also heard that analysts are urging Microsoft to dump the misunderstood OS in favor of Windows 8. While that may not be a bad idea, what most people are missing is that Windows RT could be very good at what it does IF and ONLY IF it were marketed as what it truly is – a tablet OS.

The OS is misunderstood. End users don’t understand that Windows RT is the Microsoft answer to iOS. Microsoft also didn’t help itself by using the Windows branding with it, either. To most PC users, Windows is Windows, and having Windows on a tablet is an interesting experience… Provided I can get all my software on it… or at least that’s what most users think.

Windows RT’s biggest problem – aside from a really weak to non-existent software store and an anemic ecosystem – is its Desktop mode. Its needs to leave that behind. Windows RT is NOT a desktop OS, and Microsoft needs to help users get over it. Everyone I know who has seen Windows RT doesn’t understand why they can’t get their older Windows apps to work on it.

Surface RT needs a marketing remake if it’s going to survive. It needs developer subsidies so that developers write RT based applications. And I mean USEABLE applications. Windows RT doesn’t need 50 bazillion different farting and pull my virtual finger apps.

Despite what everyone might think, I really believe that Microsoft has a decent chance to compete in the tablet market. However, it needs to make a few needed changes. If it can do that, then it can crack the tablet nut. Unfortunately, the marketing blitz needed is something that I really don’t think Microsoft is going to do, and that more than anything, is the biggest disappointment I’ve seen out of Redmond is a long time.

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Identify and troubleshoot wireless networking connections with inSSIDer

inssider_iconMost everything that computes today is wireless.  There’s more wireless networks broadcasting signals near where you are right now than you might think. The problem is, connecting to a network you’re authorized to connect to isn’t always easy. Its for this reason that apps like insider are an important part of any Windows utility toolbox.

inSSIDer for Home helps you measure the signal strength of available Wi-Fi signals and networks and attempts to estimate their performance. The app can show you how walls, stairways, and doors affect your wireless network coverage, and can most likely help you choose the best place to put your wireless router, access point or signal repeater.

All Wi-Fi must share channels with other electronic devices, including other wireless networks and signals.  If there are too many networks sharing or overlapping a channel, your network speed and performance can suffer. inSSIDer helps you find the best channel for your Wi-Fi network.

inSSIDer

Many local governments and municipalities may require your Wi-Fi signal to be secured.  Running your wireless network wide open so that anyone can use it isn’t really a good idea.  If you have a bandwidth cap, it can easily be exceeded.  There have also been reports of people hacking corporate networks with unsecured Wi-Fi signals.  Securing your network is important, and inSSIDer can help you set and determine which security settings your Wi-Fi is using, reducing the risk of unauthorized access into your home network.

iSSIDer is an interesting app. I wish I had something like this on the Mac side of the world. Its displays are cool, and provide you with the information it needs to get your network running well. I had a great deal of trouble installing the software however, especially on my Windows 8 machines (I have two…) It failed to install on both of them. The app requires .NET Framework to run, but does not include the components as part of the installation file, and it needs to.

download inSSIDer

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Do Your Homework – T-Mobile Uncarrier Plans are NOT Harmful to Consumers

I can understand being confused by these new plans, but public figures, like an Attorney General, need to be informed before they make this kind of mistake.

Working and living without a smartphone in the United States is becoming harder and harder.  Nearly everyone that I know has one, and they are a huge convenience for getting in touch with someone.  The biggest problem, however, is usually the costs involved.

Unlocked phones can be very expensive, and even though many carriers offer subsidized prices for smartphones.  What isn’t very well known, however, is that even though you end up paying a little now, you end up covering not only the price of the device, you end up paying a higher price for the service plan over the life of your 2 year contract.

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T-Mobile’s new “uncarrier plans” attempt to address this inequity.  You can either bring your own compatible device to the party, or you can purchase one from T-Mo.  If you purchase one from T-Mobile, they’re going to charge you full price for the device.  You make a down payment at the initiation of the contract and then pay it off in monthly installments or in dedicated payments, your choice.  However, once the phone is paid off, your overall monthly bill with T-Mobile’s Uncarrier Plans drops.  After the phone is paid off, you stop paying for it.

There’s been a lot of hubbub in the news lately about T-Mobile’s new plans. They buck the system and unfortunately many people are so used to the subsidy model of purchasing a smartphone they don’t understand how these new plans are structured.

Case in point, after reading a press release from the Washington State Attorney General, I hung my head and nearly cried.  The guy just doesn’t get it.

When you buy a phone for service at T-Mo, you buy the phone. Period. You can buy the device out right or pay for it over time. If you cancel your service, you don’t get to return the phone. You have to pay it off. T-Mo won’t allow you to “return” the device.  This seems like standard practice to me. You buy something, you have to pay for it.

The WA AG accused T-Mobile of deceptive practices and filed an injunction against them, stating the following:

“After an investigation of the company’s practices, the Attorney General’s Office learned that the company failed to adequately disclose that customers who purchase a phone using the 24-month payment plan must carry a wireless service agreement with T-Mobile for the entire 24 months— or pay the full balance owed on phone if they cancel earlier.”

Here’s the kicker –

“Consumers who cancel their wireless service face an unanticipated balloon payment for the phone equipment – in some cases higher than termination fees for other wireless carriers depending on how early they cancel. Instead of a “two-year sentence” for wireless service, consumers face a different two-year “sentence” to avoid a lump-sum balloon payment for the phone.”

Right. Hello!  You still have to pay for the phone you bought. It’s not a subsidized phone. The phone was purchased at full retail price and got you reduced SERVICE pricing.

It’s clear that the WA AG just doesn’t understand how this “new” pricing plan works, and T-Mobile did the wise thing and just signed whatever the AG put in front of them to make the issue go away. Otherwise, the AG would have been totally embarrassed.

I’m embarrassed; and I wasn’t even involved!

T-Mobile later released a response –

“As America’s Un-carrier, our goal is to increase transparency with our customers, unleashing them from restrictive long-term service contracts – this kind of simple, straight forward approach is core to the new company we are building,” T-Mobile said in a statement. “While we believe our advertising was truthful and appropriate, we voluntarily agreed to this arrangement with the Washington AG in this spirit.”

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Office 2008 for Mac Dies

If you’re using Office 2008 for Mac, you may want to look at alternatives…

735500_0_originalIf you’re using Office 2008 for Mac, you may or may not be aware that the product officially went out of active support on 09-Apr-2013. That means that Microsoft is no longer going to provide updates, security patches and fixes to the software. However, don’t panic.

The software is still usable. You can continue to use the software as long as you wish. HOWEVER, in a connected world, the likelihood that you’ll catch a a virus, worm or other malware targeted at Office 2008 users drastically increases.

There are a couple of alternatives, including subscription, pay and free options.

  • Upgrade to Office 2011 for Mac

Office 2011 for Mac is equivalent to Office 2010 for Windows and will be supported by Microsoft until 12-Jan-2016

  • Purchase an Office 365 Subscription

If you have more than one compatible computer in your house that needs access to Office, an Office 365 subscription allows you to install Office on up to 5 different computers, either Windows PC’s or Macs. This will get you Office 2011 for Mac today and allow you to upgrade later.

  • Switch to OpenOffice.org or to LibreOffice

Both of these are decent office replacements and both are free. Both provide decent alternatives and offer a general sense of compatibility to Microsoft Office. More complex formatting, however, may not survive revisions in one of these alternatives AND MS Office, so don’t be surprised if your elaborate tables or other figures get wonky after saving in one, the other, or both.

A new version of Office for Mac is expected either later in 2013, or early in 2014.

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Amnesia: The Dark Descent – the first person survival horror

Its time to take a break…I think. At least, that’s what I think I remember… This is one of the reasons why taking a break is important. When you do take a break, you just might like Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It’s a first person adventure game for Windows.

Amnesia is an first person shooter adventure game. The game allows for physics-based puzzles and interactions such as opening doors and fixing machinery. In-game objects are operated by toggle. To open a door, for instance, you hold down a mouse button and then push (or pull) the mouse. This gives you stealth, allowing you to peek out a barely-opened door or to open it slowly and sneak away. This also adds a degree of difficulty to the game as it is now possible to push open a “pull” door while something tries to sneak up behind you.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Health is not the only attribute indicator displayed in the game. You also have to manage your sanity. For example, being in dark too long, witnessing unsettling events, or staring at monsters will reduce your sanity, causing hallucinations, which in turn will and draw the attention of more monsters. Light sources help restore your sanity, and if none are available, you can use a tinderbox to ignite candles. You can also light an oil-burning lantern found near the beginning of the game. Unfortunately, tinderboxes and oil are both limited; and standing in a light source also makes the player easier to spot by monsters.

If a monster spots you, you must flee. Amnesia don’t have any weapons. You have to find hiding places or barricade doors with rocks, chairs, etc. Unfortunately, monsters are able to tear down doors and to kick obstacles out of the way. They’re also fast once they’ve spotted you. Players can also choose to hide in the shadows, but again, if you hide in the shadows, you risk loosing sanity points.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a cool looking game. The graphics are really well done, and the story line is mostly interesting. The game doesn’t provide you with any weapons, so if you want to survive, you’re going to have to think on your feet.

Download Amnesia: The Dark Descent for Windows | Download Amnesia: The Dark Descent for Mac

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