eXtensions Diary

Bangkok Diary Friday 24 October 2008: iPod touch Applications (6)


G2 Over the last couple of weeks, I have not only been playing with some new apps, but Apple's local PR office gave me an iPod nano and a second generation iPod touch to play with. The review on the touch should be in the Bangkok Post next week and I will add a link to this page then.

Readers might also want to refer to the five previous articles on Apps that I have written.

Despite the reorganisation of the App Shop, a number of sites have begun to fill the breach, not least of which is the feed from Pinch Media which has given me a number of useful leads to new apps.

This, and a couple of other sources have kept me better informed as someone else is now doing the legwork. Thanks to the feed, all I do is sit in front of my computer and scan through the list of apps as they appear and cherry pick. I have continued to restict most of my choices to free apps with the occasional app that I pay for. With the listings I am reading, I am also better able to compare the pricing and have been surprised in two ways: some are surprisingly cheap and some apps look to me to be priced higher than they may be worth, but only someone who needs an app would be able to judge that effectively.

There were updates to Sports Tap and to the Bloomberg app. Air Sharing was also updated with some new tricks and a new price. Like a lot of developers, the first release is a free one, which gets the app out into the public domain and if it is ueful starts peoiple talking about it. The first batch of users are also able to privide feedback to the developer who can then incorporate some of those suggestions into an update. This app is now shown at $6.99. Some may feel that is a little high -- I do -- but the app itself is so useful that some may forgive this. I must admit being on a lower budget, I need to take care about what I buy. Those in Europe or the US may not be so concerned.

Air Sharing Speed Test Spreadsheet

Another update was that of Newton's Cradle, now at version 1.1 and much more zippy. Stanza, the highly useful free reader was also updated and one of the changes is the addition of Cover Flow to the library.

Stanza Cover Flow This was slow to upload the first time and none of the covers I had were displayed. I will have to figure out a way to bring this up properly.

That old standby -- the restart -- did not bring this feature up. A further dig into the app found what I wanted. By touching the screen, an "i" will appear with other controls.

That reveals information including a Cover Image and there are three ways to select: from the iPhoto images, from the book's own data, or from the web. I mangaged to retrive images for most and cover flow looks rather a nice way to view the titles. Of course, tap on the cover image and the book will open.

Speedtest is still free. It was improved and then improved again. Now at v 1.2 it has improved considerably. The earlier hesitation that was occurring, perhaps partly due to my location in SE Asia, has vanished and I can get readings which are directly comparable to those I can see on the computer: the app is now functioning as accurately as one should expect.

I need to confirm the caveat above concerning location. While I think this is a valuable app, the oddities that surround links to Thailand, mean that on occasions, I am not getting the best throughput. On the other hand, some of the figures (latency of 5536ms, for example) were useful ammunition when I wrote to the ISP this week. When Keith Olbermann's Countdown takes 11 hours, when it usually can some down in 60 minutes, there is something clearly wrong.

Spreadsheet had an update to version 1.0.1 and there were a considerable number of changes. One of the comments concerned the mail function: "Worksheets are now mailed as XML text, rather than UUEncided attachments, since many mail clients could not intepret the UUEncoded attachment."

Well, I tried this and copied the XML code directly into a file that I name with an XML extension and still it let me down in NeoOffice and in the new Open Office 3 both of which recognise the XLS format. I don't -- I won't -- have Microsoft Office, so I have been unable to check if it works in there. Even if it did, this app has been a disappointment.


I found a new download in the form of ToDo's from BRFOS Studios, which has a nicer interface than the basic, but really useful To Do by Erica Sadun. When I downloaded it originally, it was free, but is now $0.99 so hardly breaks the bank. ToDos has a more sophisticated interface, allowing us to grade the importance of an event: low, normal, high. Oddly it is only those events with a high priority that show numbers on the Home Screen ToDo's icon.

With Erica Sadun's app, this number (for all) is turned on or off in the touch settings section, but there is no way to adjust this in ToDo's. As a note here, I know it is a name, so it can be called whatever the devleoper decides, but the apostrophe is not a way to indicate a plural. I see this so much on the internet and it seems to have the same prevalence as "Alot" rather than "A lot".

Back to ToDo's: When one adds a new event using the + icon (top right of the screen), a colourful panel opens. The main section has a description and tapping on this allows us to enter text and the keyboard appears. As neither this screen, nor any of the others in ToDo's uses the accelerometer, we have only the portrait screens to work on. First we have to delete the "New ToDo" text that is already there. Many apps have a litle cross in a grey circle t allow this, but ToDo's has a "Clear text" button at the top left. Pressing this, removes any text.

ToDo's ToDo's ToDo's

The bottom section of that panel contains two parts: a Priority selector with three buttons and a Progress panel. If this is used to select "Mark as in Progress" the index will show a coloured bullet alongside. If we choose to make the event complete we have the option to delete (or not). Selecting "No" leaves the index entry but changes the bullet to a check mark. Pressing Yes, of course, deletes the item.

The main page lists any events and there are two basic controls: the plus (+) sign to add a new item and an Edit button. When this is pressed, a delete icon appears beside any entry except those marked as High Priority. The priority must be changed, or they must be marked as completed, before deletion can occur.

ToDo's ToDo's ToDo's

While I was writing this, toDo's was updated (now version 1.1) and there is increased support for languages: mentioned are French, German and Chinese. There are also ways in which the data can be sorted and, I read, the behaviour of the counter badge has been customised. A useful addition is the ability to be able to set a due date for an event. This has changed the shape of the data entry panel, and also changes information on the main panel, but the changes here are of immense and obvious benefit.

This is a useful little app although I would like to see all current entries shown on the Home Page icon, not just those that have the High classification. The interface is pleasant enough with white text on a black screen, although there may be too many colours used, particularly on the screen for entering data.

ToDo's Clocks Analog Clock

There are a number of clock apps for the iPod touch and iPhone, not least of which are the several that Apple provides -- albeit small -- as part of the original installation.

We have already mentioned "Digital Clock" which I see is now $0.99. A search of the App Store for digital clock shows another 28 apps that use time. What you will not see there, unsurprisingly, is Analog Clock from DS Effects, although if you click on that link, it will not give you any information about this app. Nor will the link to the Support site.

Not, of course, that this should need much support. The screen displays a basic dial clock: hours and minutes wit white hands; seconds with a red hand. The markings on the dial are white and a blue halo surrounds the dial. Beneath the clock is a link to the website which is just as useful as the link from the iTMS: actually less so, as the page just gives a couple of entries and "Coming Soon."

The clock is fine. More than fine: it does just what one expects, with no drama and clearly; and free. If a developer -- any developer -- wants to dig up business then one of the surest ways is a direct, working web link from app to site, with a mail link on the web page. Just a bit more work here. . . .

My day job is academic: I teach English and some Mac stuff to Engineering students at a university in Thailand. My main task concerns writing skills: undergraduates and (harder) graduates. It is not an easy task when these young Thais have never been taught properly how to write (in Thai, leave alone English) and the sign of a good report is a beautiful cover. For high school students the way to a teacher's heart is via the xerox machine, or these days, cut and paste from Wikipedia.

At university here, things get a little tougher, but old habits die hard. It is a task of much stick and some carrot to make students understand that they need to start with their own ideas (in itself a cultural minefield) and support these ideas with expert opinion. Wikipedia is banned in my department.

PuB Search PuB Search PuB Search

When I first saw Pub search appear in a list of new Apps, I nearly let it pass as I thought it was a way to help those looking for a good night out. In reality, this is an app that searches for academic publications and comes from the oddly named DeathrayPizza. Apple classifies this in the Health and Fitness section of the apps, but when I started using the app I could see why.

The app allows one to search for Open Access articles, so when I used search criteria in the search window at the top of the page that were engineering focussed, the list of search results changed that to articles that were centered on how the engineering term was used in health bulletins and articles.

Nonetheless, my search for "wireless frequencies" revealed some 55 articles that were relevant. 10 shirt summaries were displayed on the page with access to the others via a simple click.

Each entry in the list on page one had a small arrow to the right and pressing on the article data produced a full page with title, authors and abstract. One of those in my Wireless frequencies search that I examined at random, came from the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) so may be directly relevant to research in my department. The list page and the abstract page can both be viewed in portrait or landscape view.

At the bottom of the abstract display page is an "Email" button. Pressing this takes us directly to the iPod touch Mail app with the To: section already open and the keyboard displayed. From this panel, of course, we also have access to the Contacts so adding an email address is a matter of a couple of clicks.

I sent mail to my Mobile Me account (hence also back to the iPod touch) and to a PPP account. It was easy to copy and paste text into another application (not from the touch of course).

Pub Search costs $0.99 for the basic app, but there is a PubSearch Plus for $2.99 which gives access to more articles. believe me, if you need this, you need it and the price is nothing for the ease with which this can be done from your armchair, or even on a bus (if you are using the iPhone).

As a much younger person, I grew up using the Underground system in London, usually referred to as The Tube. It was (and is) such an essential part of London's infrastructure that its occasional hiccups can become national disasters. I have tried the systems in Chicago and New York and neither, despite their people-moving srengths, can compare to the fullness of the London system, creaking as it is these days. As someone who live sin Bangkok now, with its foetal system and where reliance on buses and cars creates its own forms of daily chaos, the Tube is one thing I do miss about Blighty.

Tube Status Tube Status Tube Status

Tube Status is a useful and free text-based app that keeps commuters (and those who have to go into Londown on occasions -- business, theatre, shopping) abreast of what conditions are and what they may be: planned work at the weeekend can help predict where delays might occur.

An English friend who turned up for me to look at his Mac just loved this one. In comarison with what we have in Bangkok, the Tube system in London is far more complex and because of that, its age and its integration into London's transport systems, it is important for travellers to know the status: no point turning up at the station to find there are no trains: early planning helps no end.

Tube Status report It is updated often as he status will obviously change during the day: a broken train at Euston Square will play havoc with services on the Circle Line and Hammersmith and City lines, for example.

Each of London's Tube lines is named and colour coded, which makes it much easier when looking at the main map. New to me are a couple of terms here. I was aware of the Docklands Light Railway, which starts in the city and goes east, past the Docklands Airport, terminating near the largest sewage plant in Europe although you cannot see it from the station. What I did not know was the Overground which is the former Silverlink Metro line, a suburban route running through West, North and East London, so Transport for London tells me. Part of John Betjeman's Metroland.

This is another app that has its page on the iTMS wrongly linked to "Local Host" bringing up the Apache web pages for my own computer. Fortunately, the Support link is written correctly and takes us to Malcolm Barclay's site.

Also Tube London City $9.99 And Tube London $9.99 provide an interactive map-based way of looking at the city with links to several other types of information. The former uses the London Transport diagram of the network, while the latter superimposes the system on top of a street map.

Tube News ($0.99) is a more colourful information service for the Tube with some extra data concerning platforms and times. London Tube ($3.99) provides similar information to Tube News but also factors in your location, which would be better suited to iPhone owners who are actually in London. Among the other extra ways information is disseminated here, there is a journey planner. There is also London Envi that might well be pefectly suited to thse visiting London with the way it offers data taken from Michael Brein's Guide to London by the Underground.

I got into the mood of transport while looking at those others and also found Subway Shuffle Lite which is a game that requires the player to move a virtual train from its start to another end station. The problem is there are other trains in the way, each of which can only move on its own line, indicated by colour. The Lite version has a limited number of levels and games that can be played, and there is also a Subway Shuffle ($2.99) that has (currently) some 80 levels and they are working on 81. This is a somewhat addictive game, as all the best games are, and rather than a straight forward press a button, receive a grape, this one takes a fair amount of analysis and calculation, especially at the higher levels.

Shuffle Shuffle Shuffle

Both of these are from Aubrey's Puzzles and there are screen shots and a YouTube video on the page that comes up.

Still on the subject of transport, this is actually a fertile area for developers and thre are a number of these apps now available for various cities. I have written before that it would be easy to write an equivalent app for Bangkok's commuter lines although far more useful might be a guide to buses. Or maybe not as timetables are non-existent in the City of Angels.

I see also that there is a Singapore Bus Guide. This is priced at $0.99. I am not sure I would want to pay $9.99 for the HK bus service data even if there is a search engine, time-table and bus fares can be calculated. It would also be useful if there were an English version. That is not entirely clear as on one place on the info panel Traditional Chinese is given as the language, while on another, it is English. All screen shots show Chinese characters only.

Coming soon: Blackjack Trainer, Bytes (for programmers), Tides for sailors and Fring with which I was able to dial out using Skype on my Generation 1 iPod touch (I could hear but not speak of course).


Made on Mac

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