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Great Mac Software

Here are some of the apps I use frequently.

Productivity

  • LittleSnapper is my favorite screen capture app. Like many similar apps, it stores a library of your captures and has hot keys for common use cases.
  • Things is a todo app from Cultured Code. It’s a little expensive (you have to purchase the desktop, iPhone and iPad apps separately), but it adds the right amount of structure without getting in the way.
  • Soulver is a tape-based calculator with the edit-ability of a spreadsheet. Watch the video before you put your $ down. If you find yourself making a lot of calculations for a project and you want to see them all at once – Soulver might be exactly what you want.
  • DropBox is great for sharing files with other people, other computers and even your iPhone.
  • I use Acorn for image editing (including creating the image at the top of this post). I like it, but I know some prefer Pixelmator and others, Photoshop. They are all great options.
  • Fantastical sits in your menu bar, showing today’s date. Click on it to get fast, interactive access to your iCal calendar. I use it most for it’s large, drop down month view.

Utilities

  • Boom at http://www.globaldelight.com/boom/index.html is a fantastic utility that nearly doubles the volume of your MacBook. It’s incredible for listening to podcasts, music and video when the sounds is just a little to quiet. A recent software update fixed my only concern with Boom – it no longer crashes.
  • I prefer VMWare Fusion over Parallels for running Windows apps on my Mac. Historically, it eats less battery life, in my experience.
  • iStat Menus puts CPU utilization, memory usage and other computer-health metrics in your menu bar, along with a very nice calendar.
  • Stock Menulet shows one or more stock prices in your menu bar.
  • Hyperdock emulates some of Windows 7’s best features. Drag a window to the side of your screen and it will snap-resize to fill exactly half of your desktop. Move your mouse over an app’s icon in the dock to see a preview of the windows owned by that app.
  • DaisyDisk: if your hard drive fills up quickly and you find yourself cleaning out media files or downloads frequently, DaisyDisk can help. Like many other tools, it helps you visualize where all your space is going, but it’s much more fun to use than its cousins.

Development

  • xScope provides awesome tools for measuring distances and areas on screen. Magnifying glass, guide lines, etc. I use this a lot.
  • Hues replaces your color picker with something much more useful. Save more custom colors, work with more color formats – it even has better copy/paste and an eye dropper!
  • Transmit is great for FTP, S3, etc.
  • iTerm 2 is a great replacement for the built-in Terminal. Split panes, colored output, scriptability. Good stuff!

Multitasking Accessories for Smartphones and Tablets


Often, while using an iPad or smartphone, I want to multi-task. I don’t mean ‘fast app switching’ or running something in the background, I mean I want to see two applications at one time. That’s not possible with today’s smartphones, so I’ve been experimenting with using two devices at once. 2 screens = 2 apps.

In many settings, this kind of experience is easy. Sitting at a table, you can prop up one device and hold the other in your hands. In other settings, it’s very difficult. On a train, in a comfy chair, in bed, it’s difficult to use 2 smartphones or other multimedia devices simultaneously.

To solve that problem, I’ve tried a number of solutions to fix two or more devices together. I’ve focused on non-permanent techniques, since on device is always my phone and I need to be able to carry that alone.

Attempt 1: Use Shapelock (a plastic substance that melts and re-hardens easily and can be molded by hand) to create a case that holds two devices. That was not successful at all. The Shapelock is just too hard to coax into the desired shape.

Attempt 2: Velcro devices to a metal ruler. This works extremely well. The devices can be rotated to any orientation and the ruler can be bent to put the devices at an angle to one another. Unfortunately, the velcro gets gummy and dirty quickly.

Attempt 3: Combine rubber bands, a small clipboard and those grippy dashboard pads to hold multiple devices in place against a plastic plate (the clipboard). Too complicated. I used it twice, but it was difficult to get the devices situated.

Attempt 4: 3D printed clips that connect two or more devices. I modelled these in Google SketchUp and had a little trouble getting the fit right. The first batch of these that have the right dimensions to grip my iPhone 4, iPad and Droid X correctly just arrived today. I have several more clips coming from Shapeways over the next week or so. It’s too early to say if this approach will be successful, but there are a lot of reasons to believe it will be. The clips are small – they are pocketable. The clips grip well enough to feel confident that nothing will fall (except for the iPad clip-it needs to be a little tighter) if I’m reasonably careful. The clips are modular. Though I have to order a new clip for each device (each device has a different thickness), they aren’t very expensive. The nature of the clips makes it possible to have extenders or angled connectors to get exactly the orientations you are looking for.

In a few weeks, once I have the dimensions cleaned up a bit, I’ll post the final models you can use for printing – at your own risk, of course. If you desperately want the models AS-IS to make your own prints before I’ve had a chance to refine them, let me know in the comments and I’ll send you the files.

Below are a few photos. First, the clips themselves, alone. They look like Tron Recognizers… Second, 2 pieces holding an iPhone 4 and iPad together. Third, a Droid X and an iPhone 4. The multitasking shots are a little contrived (researching Star Trek while watching it; reading techmeme while watching a movie). The more likely use cases involve email, feeds (MobileRSS!!), Twitter, etc. The last picture shows several more clips and adapters that haven’t arrived, yet.

[If 3D printed iphone accessories are your cup of tea, also check out the Glif (although the Glif is now injection molded).]




Fun Stuff This Month


The Glif Kickstarter projectjust hit $100,000 funding. They only asked for $10,000! Glif is an iphone stand and tripod adapter. Kickstarter is a great place which connects project teams with people willing to fund those projects. My first taste of Kickstarter was donating to the Makerbeam project last year. Both of these projects followed the best practice of making donations the equivalent of pre-orders for product.

Lego Universe, Fable III, Borderlands ClapTrap Revolution DLC and DoubleFine’s Costume Quest all come out this month. I’ve already spent significant time with Lego Universe and the Borderlands DLC. Both were terrific. High hopes for Fable III and Costume Quest.

The new PP3DP $3000 High Resolution 3D Printer is shipping. Tempting. Very Tempting. Probably means high quality desktop 3D printers at a sub-$1000 price are only a couple of years away. Meanwhile, the Shapeways service continues to improve. You can now print Sterling Silver. Crazy.

Apple’s Back to the Mac event is October 20th. The big rumor is a smaller MacBook Air. If it has excellent battery life it could be a winner.

Project Tuatara is under-hyped. A gun shaped controller with a gyro sensor and an embedded projector giving you the ability to pan around in 3D space. Watch the video (you can safely skip to the middle).

By the way – new favorite game for the iPhone and iPad. No, Human. Play it.

iPhone 4 Bumpers

I hate phone cases. Over the years, I’ve tried many. It started with PalmOS PDAs, continued with smartphones and on to the iPhone. Cases generally bulk up the phone more than I’d like and the protection offered doesn’t outweigh the reduction in utility and comfort.

However, the iPhone 4 Bumper from Apple is great! For the cost of very little added bulk (and $29), I now have the following added utility:

  • The small grippy edge on the back of the case lets me rest the phone at an angle on mugs, books, walls – whatever is handy – to get exactly the angle I want for browsing Instapaper or watching video. Without the grippy edge, the iPhone will slide off of anything I lean it against.
  • The slightly raised edges on the back and front of the case protect the screen and back against falls.
  • By minimizing the amount of grippy rubber on the case, the sides of the phone are ALMOST as smooth as the bare metal.

There are some issues with the case.

  • It does add a small amount of bulk and it hides the beautiful metal edge of the device.
  • The vibrate switch is slightly harder to access.
  • Not all 3.5mm patch cables and and headphones will fit through the hole in the case. Anything that works with the recessed jack on the original iPhone should work with this case.
  • With the Bumper on, you can’t put the iPhone in a dock. I don’t use a doc, so no biggy for me.

My Favorite iPhone Games


Robert Scoble mentioned that there are some great iPhone games that haven’t been ported to Android, yet. I agree – it’s one of the things that keeps me on the iPhone (along with a number of other categories of high quality apps).
Here are my favorite iPhone games (and 2 distractions for the kids):

Sword & Poker (iTunes, official site, video)

Solomon’s Keep (iTunes, official site, video)

Canabalt (iTunes, official site, video, flash version)

Dark Harvest (iTunes, official site, video)

Flight Control (iTunes, official site, video)

Angry Birds (iTunes, official site, video)

Space Invaders: Infinity Gene (iTunes, official site, video)

Helsing’s Fire (iTunes, official site, video)

Talking Carl (iTunes, official site, video)

Bebot (iTunes, official site, video)

iPhone 4, iOS 4

Some rapid fire thoughts on the WWDC 2010 product announcements.

  • iOS 4: The Folders feature isn’t great. With the release candidate installed on my phone, it’s very hard to tell two stacks of icons apart from one another, so you have to rely on the tiny text with the name of the folder to tell the difference. Apple should let you choose an icon for your Folder.
  • The design of the iPhone 4 is remarkable. Watch this video to see that all visible metal on the device is either a button or an antenna. Also, the front and back are a new kind of glass that is stronger than most plastic and very flexible.
  • I can’t imagine using FaceTime (video calling) much. I’m not the target for that feature, though.
  • iMovie for iOS (video cutting and editing on the phone) looks great. I expect that it won’t be very responsive, even with the A4 chip, though. We’ll see.
  • I’m jazzed about the faster processor and larger battery. If RAM is limited to 256MB like the iPad, though…. What are they thinking? It’s not enough and will impact the usefullness of multi-tasking.

Overall, I’m looking forward to the iPhone 4 release. The A4 chip is blazing fast in the iPad and I’d love to see that speed on my phone. The better screen, front facing camera, gyroscope, 720p video recording, etc wouldn’t have swayed me, though. Battery life, speed and the possibility of better reception were the key announcements for me.

Other misc notes:

  • I’m not bothered much by the AT&T switch to $25/2GB of Data. It seems very reasonable, especially since an additional 1GB is only $10.
  • I would very much like MIFI-like tethering in iOS. Being able to connect multiple devices for data would be more enticing than single device support. For now, I’ll keep paying for my MIFI rather than depend on iPhone tethering.
  • I’m enjoying the iPad. It’s my primary machine at home, now, unseating my MacBook Pro, in that context, for most things. I don’t use it at all at work, though, since I need a fully equipped computer all day. I am not surprised that many people don’t see a place for an iPad in their lives, yet, but this form factor is here to stay.

iPad Paint Apps Compared

Here is a quick comparison chart I created in Numbers on the iPad. Sketchbook Pro is the best of the bunch, I think. I looked at Brushes, Sketches 2, Sketchbook Pro, Layers and ArtStudio.

[Update: Had to replace the table with a better image. Couldn’t find a crop utility for the iPad with decent output quality.]