Posted on June 25, 2012

If you haven’t discovered TED talks yet, now it is easier than ever before. The TED app for iPads is an easy way to experience the ideas worth spreading in a convenient location. This app is easy to use and takes advantage of the iPads clear display screen, playing movies in full screen mode (or in a smaller window). If you are on the run but want to listen there is a listen only feature available for most videos.

I particularly like the “inspire me” feature. If you don’t know what sort of video you are looking for you can ask this app to find you a courageous, funny, persuasive, ingenious, jaw-dropping, beautiful, fascinating, informative, or inspiring video that fits into however much time you have (from five minutes to an hour). This app also offers the option to download any of the videos for offline viewing, which is especially handy for plane rides or if you find a particular favorite you want to hang onto. I think that this is a great app, it’s a fun way to get some of the featured ideas that TED is working to spread. There are a few features that the website online has that this app is lacking, mostly that you cannot comment on any videos or read other people’s comments. However you can share, bookmark, and save videos or browse for related videos. Overall I believe that this app is a fun tool to find some of the trending themes as well as to explore past ideas.

Photoshop Touch

Posted on May 02, 2012

Photoshop Touch is the latest app from Adobe for the iPad. Like the name suggests, it’s Photoshop, but with touch screen functionality. While this incarnation obviously does not have the same functionality and features as CS5 (or CS6 since it’s on its way), it still represents a great step forward for the iPad. Since the iPad camera isn’t the best, those who want to use Photoshop Touch with higher quality photos will have to rely on their DSLR or digital camera. With an iPad Camera Connection however, you can transfer photos directly from a camera (SD card or USB connection) to an iPad. It’s just one more step towards mobile and gesture based computing.

Even though it is a great step forward, it does lack a lot of the features and functions that Photoshop has. Photoshop Touch is in no way a replacement for the desktop version. Besides the fact that it is less powerful, it is also significantly less precise. If you plan to use it, a stylus is the best investment you could make. It’s certainly possible to use a finger to create masks, but a stylus will provide an entirely different level of control and precision. Even with a stylus though, it is difficult to attain the same level of precision that one could get with a mouse. Photoshop Touch has good points, but doing things with masks and multiple layers is not one of them.

Where Photoshop Touch excels though is in on the fly color correction and minor editing. Using curves seems so much more intuitive with a touchscreen. The clone stamp tool is essentially the same as Photoshop and easily covers up blemishes or other small visual discrepancies. However, it’s easy to get carried away with the Clone Stamp and try to edit out an entire person. While it’s certainly doable, the same issues with precision come up.

Perhaps the best feature of Photoshop Touch is the tutorial section. When it opens for the first time it asks you if you want to go through the tutorials. There are a number of them covering color correction/replacement to using layers/masks to making a photo look vintage. It’s a really great way to introduce people to the various features of Photoshop Touch while explaining how to use them in an effective manner.

Photoshop Touch also allows you to search for images (presumably to use) using Google within the application. Images can be uploaded to Facebook as well as viewed within the application. Furthermore, the app connects directly to the Adobe Creative Cloud and it allows you to open layered documents in CS5. Finally, if an image comes out perfect in Photoshop Touch, it is integrated with AirPrint to wirelessly print images.

In conclusion, Photoshop Touch is not a replacement for Photoshop. Nor is it a revolutionary piece of software. It’s essentially Photoshop Lite–designed for quick, on-the-go adjustments to small details like fixing red-eye or exposure. It has excellent sharing options and it allows for communication between the iPad and a desktop or laptop with Photoshop CS5.

Photoshop Touch is available on the App Store for $9.99.


An example of editing in Photoshop Touch

Penultimate 3.3!

Posted on April 23, 2012

Penultimate has long been a favorite in the apps department. After all, it is one of the best note taking apps for the iPad! However, with the 3.3 update Penultimate has been taken to a new level.

To start, they’ve upped the level of Dropbox integration. Now it is possible to send pages or whole notebooks directly to Dropbox. And if backing up is something you worry about, don’t worry anymore! Penultimate now has automatic backup.

Another popular application is Evernote and now Penultimate supports it. Notebooks and pages can be sent to Evernote and the handwriting recognition system is great.

Images can now be copy-pasted into Penultimate and copied ink can be taken out to other applications. It’s also possible to “open” notebooks and pages in other apps.

It all sounds wonderful, but there are some issues with these new features. Though I tried a number of different apps, I was unable to copy and paste any ink. Furthermore, I was unable to open any of the existing notebooks in other apps. While I’m sure these features do exist, I was unable to find a list of apps that support these new features. On the bright side, images look great inside of Penultimate and I had no trouble copy-pasting them from the web or other sources. The updated Dropbox integration also worked smoothly. If we ever enter an era in which iPads or similar devices are used in lieu of paper, it’d be great if I could do an assignment in something like Penultimate and then upload it to a class Dropbox instead of turning in a hard copy.

Images in Penultimate

ProfHacker on the best iOS app for annotation & note-taking

Posted on October 30, 2011

Finding the Best iOS App for Annotation and Note-Taking

There’s more at the link above!

choose iOS apps
read the full article (linked at the top)

Here’s a quote to get you started:

A good annotation tool can make the iPad a powerful companion for any teacher and scholar, especially if combined with a stylus for writing on the screen. But a bewildering variety of apps now exist to satisfy this need. The hard part is figuring out which is best suited to higher education.

Everyone takes personal notes differently, but faculty members share certain specific needs. We all annotate and review scholarship, and we all try to give students detailed feedback on their work. The best mobile applications for these purposes have a range of features:

  • PDF/Notes
  • Highligher
  • Zoom
  • Dropbox etc.
  • Images
  • Ease of Use
  • Appearance
  • Palm rest/shelf

SightSpace 3D

Posted on October 07, 2011

As computing becomes increasingly mobile, it becomes more and more important to take your work with you. Laptops were enough at one point, but now computing is becoming more and more touch based. iPads, though they are wonderful machines, do lack a lot of functionality when it comes to certain programs. Luckily, Boulder based start-up Limitless Computing has created an application for taking Google Sketch-Up models with you! At its most basic level, SightSpace 3D can carry around and display Sketch-Up models that you have created. Using touch based controls (pinch to zoom, two fingers to pan, one finger to rotate) you can check out models in greater detail. But, if you have created a GPS coded Google Maps model, or if you would like to download a GPS coded Google Maps model, you can literally walk around using the Augmented Reality (AR) feature. I have no complaints about this application, especially since it supports DropBox!


SightSpace 3D is $14.99 on the AppStore.

Demibooks Composer

Posted on October 04, 2011

When the Kindle and the iPad began offering books, it started a movement towards a new type of book. Demibooks Composer is all about creating these “new books”, namely, interactive books. Using a bevy of intuitive tools, you can create interactive books! It comes with a brief tutorial and three example books. The wonderful thing about the example books is that you can open them in the creation mode and toy with the animations and the links as well as just inspecting them to learn more about the creation of interactive books. It’s clear that Demibooks is taking many cues from Adobe’s Creative Suite and those of you who are familiar with the Suite will feel right at home.

Demibooks Composer is FREE!

Daedalus Touch

Posted on July 06, 2011

The iPad’s touch screen interface was paradigm shifting when it came out. Likewise it only makes sense that the word processing applications do the same. Daedalus Touch is one of many applications that have risen to the occasion. When it comes to word processing, the first thing that will come to mind for many people is Microsoft Word. Certainly, while Word is an incredibly useful and versatile piece of software, it is a bit obtuse to use. A matter of personal preference, Daedalus is either brilliant or idiotic in its minimalist interpretation of word processing software.

First off, the moment you open it up you are greeted with a friendly and somewhat tongue in cheek tutorial that explains the exquisite UI. You have a series of “stacks” which look exactly like their name. Swiping left and right lets you move through the stacks and double tapping or using the zoom pinch motion opens your selected stack. Then all the pages in that stack are spread out in numerical order. Once again, double tapping or zoom pinching opens up the selected page. To exit a page, using the zoom out pinch motion brings you back to the stack, and repeating that motion brings you back to the list of stacks. And that is Daedalus Touch in a nutshell. You can then edit each page of the stack as you see fit, like you would with any other app. It also boasts syncing capabilities with Dropbox and MobileMe as well as exporting a stack to other apps on you iPad (i.e. Pages or Evernote).

And now for the downsides. You cannot change the size of text. You only have three (albeit pretty) fonts to choose from. You cannot zoom in or out while within a page. Deleting a stack is a bit difficult. And that’s it. To be honest, it does lack much of the functionality of something like Pages for the iPad, but it doesn’t matter. Daedalus Touch is not trying to be a full blown word processing application for tablet computing. Aimed primarily at people who want a well built, and more importantly well designed application that has been stripped of everything but the essentials, it succeeds in that quite well. Touch screens and gesture computing are certainly on the horizon and it won’t be long before desktop and laptop computers begin to incorporate the kind of gesture based UI that Daedalus Touch has into their more powerful word processing applications.

Daedalus Touch is $3.99 on the App store.

Naxos Music Library

Posted on July 04, 2011

Carleton College subscribes to Naxos Music Library, which provides a fairly extensive collection of average performances of classical music. It is usually accessed through the library catalog Bridge, which links you to Naxos where you stream samples. The problem was, when I used the browser on the iPad to do this I couldn’t open the Naxos page because it runs using Adobe Flash – and that is not supported by this lovely piece of technology. (The inability to run Adobe Flash is one of my two major beefs with the iPad). So to get around this Naxos created a free app, NML. The following are my step-by-step instructions on how this works:

  • a student accesses NML through the Carleton library catalog on a desktop/laptop computer
  • they select the playlists tab near the top of the page
  • they select “sign up” near the upper right corner
  • they enter the required info, including Carleton email and any password they would like to use for this account
  • a confirmation email will be sent, with a link to activate the account
  • this same login (email, password) can be used on the app to give them access to the entire NML catalog. It is organized by precreated playlists, but also has a search function. Students can use their login to create playlists on the desktop/laptop interface that can then be accessed via the app.

Now that I’ve completed this initial set up, I do not need to use the desktop/laptop. I can add to my playlists by accessing Naxos through the library catalog or through the NML app. Since moving between programs is so fast, I feel that the NML app was a good way around the Adobe Flash problem when using an iPad.

After I completed all of this, I began to wonder if I could sign up for the playlists by using the browser on the iPad and completely bypass the desktop/laptop, or if there would be authentication issues. If you try it out, leave me a comment and tell me how it goes.


Posted on June 30, 2011

In the same way that there was something nice about flipping through The Yellow Pages, there was also something nice about flipping through a Dictionary, looking at the illustrations, reading the words that caught your eye. Of course, as we progress further and further along we find these resources online. For both the iPad and the iPhone (as well as many other smart devices I imagine) there are a lot of Dictionary applications. But none has managed to capture the sensation of reading a dictionary quite like Terminology.

To start, it’s pretty. Really pretty. It is fairly simple, a menu bar on the left with six options and a very nice, almost sepia toned, paper texture. Starting from the top you have your Search option, Favorites, History, Typeface options, App and Web options, and the ever helpful copyright and information option. While there is no option to just start at the beginning of all words and reading through, there is a rather powerful and extensive search engine. It suggests words as you type, much like Google’s search bar, which I find useful. Once you’ve found whatever word you are looking up, it appears to the right with a definition, synonyms, antonyms, as well as “less specific” and “more specific” words that are applicable as well. If you have an internet connection (though Terminology functions perfectly as a dictionary/thesaurus offline), you can look up the word with Wikipedia, Wiktionary, or Wordnik. There are many more options that you can choose to use as well, like Google, and you can link to specific apps on your iPad.

I mentioned earlier that Terminology captured the feeling of looking through a dictionary. While it certainly does, it does so with an eye to the future. Each of the synonyms and antonyms as well as the “more/less specific” words serve as hyperlinks. Touching one looks it up, making the whole experience a bit like browsing Wikipedia. Terminology could benefit from an A-Z mode where you can just browse words, but if that isn’t for you, then this app is flawless. I can imagine my English major friends swooning over it.

Terminology is $2.99 on the app store.

Avid Scorch

Posted on June 24, 2011

It was only a matter of time until somebody created an app for the iPad that allowed it to function as a sheet music reader. Sibelius, the popular music software company, has created that app. Avid Scorch functions primarily as a reader, but it also has many other features. The basic interface is rather simple and looks almost exactly like Apple’s iBooks app. It comes with a number of sample scores among which is a very helpful “Getting Started” guide. While it certainly shows scores very well, its true talents lie elsewhere. Since you can only use scores that have been bought from the Sibelius Store (included in the app) or that have been uploaded from Sibelius, the app is able to read the music and play it for you. While working with a particular score, you have a variety of options like changing the tempo, transposing the piece, changing the instruments used, using the built in metronome, and of course, playing the piece.

First and foremost, let’s look at the tempo change feature. While most people who use Sibelius are probably quite familiar with 120 or 60 as tempo markers, Avid Scorch decided not to include that in the interface. Instead each score comes with a set tempo which you can then change the percentage of. So the Liszt piece that comes with the app starts at 100%. Lowering the percentage slows it down by that amount, and increasing the percentage increases it by that amount. I don’t really understand why they thought this was a good idea. Personally I would have liked the numerical system that all music students are taught when they learn to read music, but after a few uses I don’t mind it as much. However it does create problems since there are some pieces that change tempos rather dramatically.

The transposing feature works fine and allows you to transpose by either key or interval, which I think is a great feature. If you touch and hold a specific measure, three options will pop up. One is “Play from Here” which does exactly what it says, playing the piece from whatever point you touched. The second is “Change Instrument” which also does what it says and changes the instrument of the line you touched. It also changes the key since different instruments play in different keys (it’s still possible to transpose with an instrument change too). Sadly the instruments aren’t very good quality and their idea of a Violin or a Soprano Sax leaves much to be desired. Even sadder is that there do not appear to be any plans to release higher quality instruments. The third and final option is “Guitar Tab” and it changes the sheet music into guitar tab format.

I’ve already criticized the Tempo feature and explained why, but I’m sorry to say that there are more critiques of Avid Scorch. One of the features that comes with the app is called “Musicstand Mode” which takes away the menu bars and things so that it is easier to read the music. However, while that is all well and fine it suffers from a number of defects. The way it works is quite simple, there is a purple bar that, after calculating the tempo, moves through the sheet music helping you keep your place. When it reaches the end of a sheet it turns the page. As I’ve already mentioned, it is not possible to have tempo changes built into the music, so if a piece were to suddenly pick up and got ahead of the purple bar, the player would be unable to read the sheet music on the next page. The page turn also has a bit of an annoying flash, but I suppose that that is something one could get used to. The iPad functions in two orientations, landscape and portrait, but Avid Scorch has some problems with Musicstand Mode in both. For a piano piece, I put the iPad in landscape mode and quickly realized that even though the purple bar was moving, when it reached the end of a bar, it wouldn’t scroll the sheet music up so I could see what was coming next. Similarly with a larger piece (8 parts), portrait mode had the same display issues. The obvious solution is that a piano piece should be viewed in portrait and a larger one in landscape, but you would think that they would have considered this issue.

I’ll wrap up this surprisingly long review with the thing I take the most issue with, the sheet music store. First off, I think everything is overpriced, second there is no way to preview what you are buying. I found multiple versions of the same song, all of which I assume are different in some way, but there is no way to tell what that difference is. A review on the app store noted that it was possible to buy the “Easy Player” version of a song when you intended to buy the full thing since there is no way to tell the difference unless it is explicitly stated in the title. All in all it has some potential as an application and sheet music reader, but it suffers from what appears to be a lack of insight and the limitations of the technology.

Avid Scorch is $4.99 on the App Store.