Category Archives: Technology

Tweetdeck for iPhone – follower management finally goes mobile

Tweetdeck has long been one of the most highly regarded Twitter management applications, offering the ability to break down your Tweets of your followers by groups.

Although a single Twitter timeline can be manageable initially, an increase in users you follow can quickly lead to many posts being missed. Twitter users also typically contact users with a variety of shared interests and before long the a need develops to group users by theme enabling more efficient tracking of conversations and highlighting the posts of users of most interest. This is where Tweetdeck steps in; offering the best grouping and management of Twitter timelines currently available.

Naturally Tweetdeck developed as an application for desktop computers but has now, at last, made the jump to iPhone, allowing the same level of timeline management on the go. Best of all, the desktop and mobile versions sync with each other, ensuring the same groups are available on both devices.

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The return of the shared experience through Twitter

The fragmentation of audiences due to modern multichannel and multiplatform media has lead to a decline in shared experiences. In times past, much of the population would have watched the Morecambe & Wise Christmas Special. This created common cultural experiences for a nation; reference points, shared feeling and identity.

These days, the population has grown but most programmes struggle to manage a few million viewers. Viewing habits are diffused; it’s more difficult to share experiences and feel a common identity as a result. Yet while technology may fragment audiences, it also holds the potential to rekindle these shared experiences once more.

Yesterday was Eurovision day; not a high-point of musical talent perhaps but it still draws significant audiences. It’s the first Eurovision contest since Twitter really hit the mainstream and a huge number of users simultaneously commenting on the event was clearly in evidence. A sizeable chunk of my Twitter followers were commenting with celebrity Tweeters such as @wossy creating a lot of activity.

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National Rail UK iPhone app review

One of the most useful app functions on my iPhone has been the ability to check train departure and running times. Until the end of March this was offered free of charge by MyRail Lite and it did a fine job. However National Rail refused to renew their license to distribute real-time train information and do this app was discontinued. Replacing it now is an app from National Rail itself. The cost is £4.99 which has led to no shortage of anger with users of MyRail Lite, feeling that National Rail is crushing competition and charging top dollar for a previously free. The National Rail app does offer more features than its predecessor, however, so let’s have a look at these now:

Live Departures & Arrival

The main feature of the app is to check upcoming departures from a chosen station. You can choose your station from a searchable A-Z list; nearest, which using the GPS function of the iPhone lists the nearest 50 stations and handily also displays the distance from you to the station; recently viewed stations and; favourite stations.

Live arrivals screenshot
Live arrivals screenshot

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Truly useful apps: my iPhone home screen

The iPhone offers up to 9 pages of 16 apps. Sounds like a lot but with the number of apps out there offering an immense wealth and variety of functions, combined with the trial and error required to find truly useful apps, these can quickly fill up.

As iPhone app pages fill it becomes all the more important to organise the pages, making the most useful close to hand; those apps that are called upon daily to organise, plan, inform or entertain. Below is a guide to the iPhone apps I regard as essential and hold pride of place on my iPhone’s home screen. Now naturally the prominence of apps is something of a personal choice; each person probably places a different amount of weight on different tasks and their respective apps. These simply are mine. I don’t profess they’re the life-changing for everyone but I would certainly feel poorer without them. Non-default apps in bold.

Home page iPhone apps
Home page iPhone apps

1. SMS – Yes there’s e-mail and Twitter but many tasks still require the simplicity, immediacy and obtrusiveness of the text message. The iPhone’s SMS display is the best I’ve ever accounted, displaying messages to/from each contact in the style of a conversation.

2. Clock – Yes other, more attractive clock apps are available and I’ve got a couple installed but when it comes to setting the alarm for work I still call upon the default clock.

3. Calendar – To be fair I don’t use the default Calendar a great deal but it has its uses, such as the alert. For tasks to-do I use Things, below.

4. Weatherpro – A fine improvement over the default weather app. I’ve reviewed Weatherpro in detail separately but its highlights include detailed weather forecasts for throughout the day, animated satellite and rain radar maps and favourite cities, all combined with the best weather information for Europe available on iPhone.

5. Maps – The default Google Maps and still the best, utilised by many of my favourite apps. Simply superb and indispensible.

6. Settings – Default iPhone apps, always useful to have handy.

7. Contacts – Again, necessary to have at hand.

8. Night Camera – An improvement on the default camera app, Night Camera’s most useful feature is the movement detection, whereby it takes a photo only when it detects the camera is still. This makes it superb for clear, unblurred photos in all manner of conditions and I have it on this setting by default. Also offers timer and normal camera modes.

9. TubeStatus – This free app tells me the status of each of the London Underground lines. Clear, nicely laid out at-a-glance guide to how my commute will be.

10. Pro RSS – All the newspapers and other news sources you want easily at hand with what’s widely regarded as one of the best RSS readers for iPhone. I check the news and tech news websites each morning on the way into work.

11. WunderRadio – This glorious app turns your iPhone into an Internet Radio. It seems to be regarded as best in class and certainly offers the best selection of stations of any such app that I’ve found, including, crucially, all of the BBC radio stations, often with multiple bit-rate options.

12. Facebook – Does what it says on the tin, the Facebook site optimised for iPhone through this app. I like it a lot of quickly and easily checking what everyone has been up to. I find the chat element of it doesn’t work so well but on the whole it does the job. Allows you to update your status and post images, so it’s a good on-the-go option too.

13. MyDiary – Simply a replacement for a written diary. I use Things to remind me what I need to do, however MyDiary is a fine app for logging the progress of the passing year.

14. Things – An excellent to-do app which does have a desktop Mac equivalent that I haven’t yet used. I find this app does a fine job of managing my to-do requirements as it is and I know I don’t use it half as much as I could (and probably should) do.

15. YouNote – While Things reminds me what I need to do and MyDiary logs what I have done, if I come across something in my travels I need to quickly note down, be in in text, as an image or in audio then YouNote is the eminently flexible way of doing it.

16. Tweetie – Last but certainly not least – as I find the bottom-right location really quite handy – is this very well regarded Twitter app. It does pretty much everything I’d call upon a mobile Twitter app to do with its location-based features adding an impressive extra dynamic to Twittering. Not only can you search for Twitterers nearby (my favourite option) but you can also use the GPS to update your profile location and post your location in a map link.

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Twitter: reaching critical mass?

It’s been almost impossible to avoid Twitter in the media over the past few weeks. Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross, two of the most popular UK Twitterers (user names @stephenfry and @wossy respectively) discussed Twitter on the return of Wossy’s show last night. Philip Schofield (@schofe) gave Twitter a mention on This Morning – which is about as mainstream and ungeeky as it comes – and just now passed a total of 7,000 followers to his Twitter stream.

London was recently proclaimed the top city for Twitter use, indicating that the cult of Twittering has taken hold in the UK more than anywhere else with Twitter now the 291st most visited website in the UK. This excludes the considerable mobile use of Twitter, which is massive with iPhone users and would surely push the stats higher still.

If you’ve hitherto failed to hear about Twitter, it’s a social media system allowing messages of up to 140 messages to be posted and shared with the world. It’s rather akin to the status updates on Facebook and you can choose to follow the Twitter streams of others, whose updates you can be instantly alerted to. It’s the immediacy of the system which is part of its success as is its simplicy, which has nevertheless been employed to share a huge variety of information.

We’re not just talking about people boringly posting the minutiae of their lives. Although there’s an element of this, which in itself leads to users sharing experiences, knowledge and interacting socially, Twitter is also used more broadly to alert and offer the opportunity to interact. Most major newspapers and news organisations feed their headlines through Twitter with some actively engaging with the userbase and requesting input on the stories being covered. The potential for enhancing interaction in the democratic process is also being explored with a number of MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates on Twitter, conveniently indexed on the Tweetminster website.

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iPhone app UK review: Wikipanion

Standard Wikipedia entry view
Standard Wikipedia entry view

One of the iPhone’s most outstanding features is the combination of unlimited data transfer through the mobile network combined with wifi to allow access to information almost anyway. It’s a logical step then to create an iPhone optimised interface for that greatest online oracle of information: Wikipedia. Although iPhone’s Safari browser does a superb job as ever of displaying the full Wikipedia website, there’s something to be said about the speed and ease of access that an app can offer. Thinking about it, a number of my favourite apps could easily be replaced by visiting a website, however having the information a single tap away in a format that’s clear and doesn’t require resizing and scrolling is naturally going to be more appealing.

So it is with Wikipanion. This application has proven a little gem when it comes to discovering the answer to all manner of questions, factual disputes and trivia ponderings when away from home. However as we’re rarely talking about matters of life and death, these are items of information that you want to find quickly. This is where Wikipanion really comes into its own compared to browsing the Wikipedia site. The search box is located in the top of the screen for immediate searching. Search results appear in a iPhone-screen sized page as you might expect with the various columns being displayed one at a time, which fits nicely and clearly enough.

As you might expect though this does make for long pages from a site which is known for in-depth content. Fear not, however, as a couple of handy features make the longest of entries quick to access. The first lists the contents of the page, which allows you to jump to the various sections of the entry nice and quickly. The second button links to other, related entries. Combined these make for speedy navigation around and between Wikipedia entries. Highly recommended.

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The absence of Fotopic and the reaction of the blogosphere

The online photo gallery service Fotopic has been offline since the 2nd January which immediately gave rise to speculation about Fotopic’s demise. Although nothing official has been forthcoming, e-mails forwarded to forums purported from Fotopic’s former owner and others indicate a technical issue with the site’s host Kingston Communications. Contradicting this line are a number of blog and forum posts from other sources claiming all is not well and that the plug has been pulled on the Fotopic website by KC.

What the outage of one website has gone to show is that the blogosphere and online fora more widely are insatiable for news. We’re talking about a 24-hour, worldwide network of users and publishing outlets operating at an astonishing pace. Three days without news and furthermore access to thousands of users’ photo galleries has led to some considerable concern and consternation already. When official word is absent and everyone can hypothethise, the rumour-mill steps in and it becomes extremely fogged as to what is actually taking place.

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Essential apps for UK iPhone users part 1: WeatherPro

Having spent the past few weeks tracking down the best apps to integrate it best into my life, I can now start recommending some of the must have iPhone apps. As a British iPhone user I’m specifically looking at iPhone apps from a UK perspective. A great many apps simply aren’t relevant for day-to-day use in the UK, however they’re still featured in the UK app store on the basis that should you travel to that part of the world it would come in handy. It would be nice at some stage for some form of regional filter to be added to iTunes to help separate the wheat from the chaff. However until that happens it’s down to iPhone users to recommend the best apps to each other for their own country or part of the world.

The British are renown for liking to debate their oft altering weather, so let’s have a look at the best app for UK and indeed European weather forecasts. Having read the reviews of a number of the weather apps available in the apps store it becomes clear that the majority are North America-centric and offer limited if any UK and European coverage. Fortunately, as we’ll be discovering throughout this review of apps, there are some absolute gems of apps available for those who seek them out.

Free apps are unsurprisingly the most popular downloads from the app store, however some apps are worth forking out for, which is just what I decided to do with our first app under review…

WeatherPro location weather overview
WeatherPro location weather overview

1. WeatherPro

Don’t get me wrong, the standard weather app that comes with the iPhone isn’t bad; it offers plenty of locations and provides an at-a-glance forecast for the days ahead. Grand. However for a weather-focused culture such of ours, do we not hanker after something more? Just that bit more detail. “Ooh, wind’s got up, hasn’t it… And with that wind-chill it must be -2C … Could do with setting the mercury … and know if the weather front will reach us later”. All these questions are more can be answered with WeatherPro (link to app on iTunes.) Currently at £2.39 it’s not the cheapest app, but as its no.1 in weather apps on the UK app store attests, this is an app worth having.

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The Guardian’s 100 sites for the year ahead

The Guardian has featured the 100 most influential websites for the year ahead. Definitely worth a look and although I must admit many of the features site have hitherto passed me by, some will surely prove to be worthy gems. I’ll hopefully post more on the pick of the bunch soon.

The Guardian's top 100 websites for the year ahead

Another interesting article linked to this is a comparison with their 100 sites from 2006 and 2004. How quickly the times change…

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Live news channels on your Mac or PC for free: Livestation and Zattoo reviewed

Long have I been a news junkie and just as long have I yearned for a finer selection of news channels than I possess. Fine if you have satellite, limited if you don’t. Now, happily, it is possible to tune in to many leading TV news stations (and a few others) without it costing a penny in subscription.

Livestation is a fantastic application for Mac or PC which allows you to stream a number of TV channels to your PC. The quality in most cases isn’t bad. It’s not as good as broadcast TV, as you do get some pixelation when the screen is moving quickly, however on the whole its perfectly watchable. If you’re a lover of European or world news as am I, you’ll be similarly thrilled at the prospect of watching Euronews, DW-TV, France 24, Al Jazeera, and there’s even an ITN channel I never knew existed. All looking very fine in full screen on my laptop, and I reckon not bad when connected to the TV, although I’ve still to try this out.

Essentially you receive the main news channels you’d get if you had Sky, although I suspect many of these are also available with Freesat. Either way, now they’re available without the added house hardware of a dish and a decoder.

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