All posts by Thomas

My name is probably Thomas (yes, it is). I'll be able to help you figure out why Evernote isn't syncing, or recommend your favourite new RSS reader to you. That's partly because I am enamoured with the iOS ecosystem and hardware, but mostly because I'm Canadian.

Quick Tip: Use iTunes to Transfer Files to Compatible Apps On Your iPad

File Sharing tab iTunes

Here’s a tip we published almost four years ago, but seeing as I used it quite recently at work, I thought I’d give it a refresh. Now that iPads are infiltrating the office space and boardrooms, I see more and more co-workers wanting to take videos and other files into meetings with them. This isn’t a problem on a PC or Mac because they can just use USB drives, but iOS 7 devices like the iPad aren’t as easy to transfer files to (iOS 8 will change this a bit with iCloud Drive, but it’s not here yet).

Fortunately, as long as you have a computer running a recent version of iTunes, it’s fairly easy to transfer files to an iPad using the USB cable (30-pin or Lightning, depending on your device):

  1. Load up iTunes on the computer
  2. Plug the iPad into the computer
  3. Select the iPad from the left-hand side of the iTunes sidebar
    • if the sidebar is hidden, use the View menu at the top to access it again.
  4. If iTunes ever offers to sync with the computer, cancel it.
  5. Head to the Apps tab of the iPad within iTunes, then scroll all the way down to the File Sharing list.
  6. Click on the app you’d like to send your files to, and then drag your files into the right hand side of the window (labelled Documents)

If you’re looking for good candidate apps to transfer files to, VLC can play most any kind of video you throw at it, and Good Reader 4 can display most any other kind of file you’d want to manage on an iPad.

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Giving iTunes Match Another Try

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iTunes Wi-Fi Sync only seems to work about half the time I try to use it, so a few weeks ago I decided to take another chance on iTunes Match. If you’re unfamiliar with iTunes Match, it’s a $28 annual subscription service that scans your Mac or PC’s iTunes library. Any songs that are matched with existing tracks in Apple’s iTunes catalogue are simply made available in 256kbps AAC, and any songs that aren’t in the iTunes catalogue are uploaded to iCloud. Once the scanning and uploading is complete, your full library of songs is available to stream to up to 10 devices (PCs, Macs, or iOS devices).

The main benefit of this switch has been to eliminate any need to manually sync my iPhone (my main music player) with my MacBook, but a cool secondary benefit has been the ability to stream all of my music directly to my iPad, without having to use up any of my 32 GB iPad’s storage space.

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Review: TwelveSouth’s SurfacePad for iPad Air

SurfacePad 2

TwelveSouth’s SurfacePad for iPad Air is like a much more elegant execution of Apple’s own Smart Cases, except this accessory is really a very clever two-sided cover. Installing it is as simple as sticking it to the rear of the iPad. The cover provides adequate scratch protection for transit, but no extra shock protection for the sides of the device. This is an accessory that compliments the premium appearance of the iPad, and doesn’t detract from it in order to provide a bit of extra protection. I’m very happy with this tradeoff, since the SurfacePad does a great job of preserving the Air’s clean lines and chamfered edges.

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The Silly (But Functional) Mystery That Is iCloud Backup

icloud backup

I took a leap last week and jumped onto iOS 8 beta 2, and although I was really impressed with the new QuickType keyboard and Continuity features, a few of my essential apps still aren’t compatible with the beta. Luckily, I had a double set of backups to return to: one in iCloud and one in iTunes.

I’ve tried iCloud backups before and they work well enough, but they also take up a lot of time. You’ve got to wait for all of your apps to download again, and apps that sync with cloud services (e.g. Evernote) don’t always remember your login credentials after you restore.

So this time around I decided to try restoring from my manual iTunes backup, from the night before I decided to try iOS 8. The downgrade to iOS 7 went off without a hitch, but I was a little spooked to find a very blank iPad upon my first restart. There were two pages of apps, but each screen was nearly empty, and consisted only of the default Apple apps.

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Dual iPad Bluetooth Keyboard Review: Belkin QODE Thin Type and QODE Ultimate

Belkin QODE Ultimate 4

Belkin was kind enough to send over two of their QODE (pronounced “code”) Bluetooth keyboards for review: the QODE Ultimate and QODE Thin Type. To be honest, the Thin Type is the keyboard I was initially looking forward to, but the QODE Ultimate turned out to be a pleasant surprise, with its clever use of magnets and all-in-one design.

The keyboards on each product are almost identical, with the exception of the combined function and number keys on the QODE Ultimate. The action on the keys is shallow, but there’s a satisfying thud that accompanies each keystroke that preserves the connection to the typing experience. The keys aren’t too clicky or noisy either, so you won’t be annoying any neighbours at Starbucks. The only thing I really don’t like is how the colon key was moved to the right of the spacebar. It’s something I can get used to, but even two weeks in, it still feels awkward.

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Surface Pressure Is Coming To Paper App for iPad This Fall

FiftyThree is making great strides to make the Paper and Pencil experience feel more like the real thing with technology they call “Surface Pressure“. By leveraging new APIs in iOS 8, the devs at FiftyThree have figured out a way to make the iPad aware of how much of the Pencil stylus is making contact with the screen, and then draw or erase accordingly. This will allow users to draw with the thin side of the stylus tip, and then shade large areas with the broad side, as seen in this video:


http://vimeo.com/98146708

This new feature on its own is already great news, but I also think it’s worth noting that these features will work on the same hardware that people can own today: an iPad and a Pencil stylus. This makes the Pencil stylus seem like a much better investment, since it will actually have gotten better since its release last winter.

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Track Your Favorite Shows On Your iPad With TeeVee 3

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I recently took pains to re-establish my IMDB account to track all the movies and shows I actually want to see. This has been working well for movies, but it’s inelegant for tracking TV episodes because there’s no easy way to mark an episode as “watched”. I track movies by adding them to a watchlist and then removing them once I’ve seen them, but it’s just too much work for individual episodes. Thankfully, TeeVee 3 is perfectly set up for this kind of task.

I stumbled upon this app recently thanks to a post on Beautiful Pixels, and it’s quite a looker. Its layout is reminiscent of recent Windows software, so you’ll find a lot of thin lines and highlighted text functioning as the primary means of navigation. TeeVee 3 feels open and fresh as a result, and the backdrops and cast shots serve as part of the UI.

The first launch of the app presents you with a set of posters, each one representing a TV show you may be interested in. I scrolled through a few pages and tapped on a few titles, then conducted a text search for a few series that weren’t in the initial poster lineup. That was the entirety of the setup process, and it took less than two minutes.

TeeVee 3 can send notifications as each new episode in a series airs, but I’ve turned that off. What I really want this app for is for tracking my progress through all the shows I’ve been meaning to watch, and it does this very well. Tapping on the first episode of “24” S09E01 prompted me to mark that and all previous episodes as “watched”. iCloud sync is also remarkably well done. I downloaded TeeVee 3 on my iPad, set it up, and then installed the app on my iPhone and watched as all of my shows populated my phone screen.

The only thing that could work better is the Cast section. You aren’t able to check the cast members for a particular episode, and although you can see the top-billed cast, you won’t be able to find out anything else about them. I don’t think these are necessary details for TeeVee 3 to be functional and helpful, but they do feel like a bit of a missed opportunity to be a one-stop shop for TV series lookups.

Tracking TV shows isn’t stressful, but TeeVee 3 makes the experience so easy and fun that you’ll end up wanting to use the app to do it for you. It’s currently $3 on the App Store.

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A Thoughtful Take On RSS: Unread for iPad

 

Unread for iPad

There’s a new RSS app in town, and it’s called Unread. I haven’t had hands-on time with the recently released iPad version, but from the reviews I’ve read thus far, it does sound like a blown-up version of the iPhone app (which isn’t really a bad thing in this case).

I did use the iPhone version of Unread for a while, and my favourite things in the app were:

  • support for any RSS service I could possibly use (FeedWrangler, Feedbin, Feedly, Fever, NewsBlur)
  • a clean spacious layout with generous headlines
  • large swipe areas (no need to swipe from the very left side of the screen)
  • a fun gesture-based UI
  • a built-in web browser that remembers its history across launches (e.g. you can go back to pages you visited within Unread, even if that was a few days ago)

I ultimately stopped using Unread because I found that there were a few too many steps in sharing something to Instapaper and other services, so I prefer to stick with Reeder across my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. However, if you tend to do a lot of your reading within your RSS reader, you’ll want to check out Unread, because it offers one of the best in-app reading experiences around. It’s also one of the few RSS apps I’ve seen that really does try to take a different angle on feed reading, and I’d snap it up for $5 if I wasn’t already very happy with Reeder.

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Quick Look: Writer Pro for iPad

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I’ve now spent a few days with Writer Pro on my iPad and it’s feeling more like a puzzle than a tool.

Writer Pro is built to brute-force a certain approach to writing. There are four modes to the app: Note, Write, Edit, and Read. Each of these modes features a different font type and cursor colour, and each mode serves as a different folder for your text. The idea is that these subtle differences in each mode will lead the writer to think about a piece in a different manner. The Note mode features clean variable-width font, Write features the Nitti Light mono-space font that iA Writer was known for, and Edit and Read feature a font that feels more at home in iBooks than in a writing app.

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Republique Is Apple’s Free App of the Week

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Republique is Apple’s free App of the Week, so I decided to check it out for a bit earlier today. This title is interesting to me for a few reasons:

  • it plays like premium stealth title and runs beautifully on the Air
  • the game’s development was funded by Kickstarter
  • the voice actors include Jennifer Hale (female Sheppard from Mass Effect) and Steven J. Blum (basically every game ever and Spike from Cowboy Bebop)
  • the controls really feel like they were optimized for touch

I’m only a little ways into Episode One, but if it’s good enough, I’d consider investing $15 to buy episodes two through five. Of all the types of games that really fit an iPad form factor, stealth-based and adventure games seem like the most comfortable, and Republique feels like a mix of both.

It’s fun to see old triple-A console titles like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on iOS, but I think it’s the growth of this newer segment — of IPs that are born and bred on a touch platform – that we should really get excited about. If iOS is going to take off as a more serious contender to the consoles and PC, Republique is the caliber of game we need to see on the App Store.

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iA Writer Pro Is Just $5 This Friday

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I didn’t realize this until today, but iA’s Writer Pro is currently on sale for $5 (normally $20). The sale ends when WWDC ends, which is pretty much today.

The jury is still out on whether this app’s various modes really enhance the writing and editing process, but given how much I enjoyed using iA Writer, I’m willing to give Writer Pro a chance for $5. It’s missing the Dropbox sync of iA Writer, but the devs have announced that it’s only a matter of time until that comes along.

I’m also really curious to see how specialized writing apps — complete with custom keyboard layouts — will fare in iOS 8 with third-party keyboards in place. Will keyboards like Fleksy and Swype be limited to specific dimensions on the screen, or will they be free to come up with funkier split-keyboard takes, and larger key sizes?

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