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.

My iPad Air At Work

I currently spend my days as an executive assistant, juggling my own set of deadlines, and then managing the calendar and upcoming tasks for my boss. My job provides me with a laptop for work purposes, but it’s so heavy and slow that I’ve always felt artificially anchored to my desk because of it.

I’ve recently started bringing an iPad Air in to work to complement my laptop. I use the tablet for quick schedule checks, quick note-taking sessions, and as a third screen for displaying tasks, and I’m really loving the setup. I can’t believe how useful the iPad is turning out to be at work.

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Quick Rant: The iPad’s Incredibly Vague Weather Widget

iOS 7 weather widget

This one’s been a pet peeve of mine for as long as iOS 7 has been out. The “Today Summary” section of Notification Center looks quite clean, and I like how it opts to use text over a set of weather icons, but here’s where it can be plain stupid: it doesn’t always show the current temperature.

Sometimes the summary does show info like “a high of 6, a low of –3”, but other times it just shows vague information like “partly cloudy conditions with low visibility”. Unfortunately, the thing about low visibility is that it doesn’t tell me anything about how many layers I should wear before stepping out the door.

This wouldn’t be as bad if I could simply tap on the iPad’s weather report as I do on my iPhone 5S, but I can’t. The iPad doesn’t come bundled with a Weather app, and I can’t link the widget to open any of the excellent third-party weather services on the App Store. This means that the only way to quickly check the weather on an iPad is to use Siri, which displays the proper highs and lows throughout the day. That can work, but Siri has its own issues when it comes to reliablity (sometimes it takes mini vacations and doesn’t respond to anything).

This is one of those details in which the devil lives. It’s an oversight in Apple’s major move from iOS 6 to iOS 7, and it would be oh-so-easy to correct, if only Apple could catch onto it.

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Due 1.10 for iPad Brings A Gorgeous iOS 7 Visual Refresh

Due 1.10 for ipad

There are many task managers out there, but there’s only one Due app. This is the app that I rely upon on a daily basis to pester me, incessantly, until I get a particular task done. When one of my alerts goes off, Due will bother me every single minute — with a banner alert, vibration, and audible ring — until I load the app up to delay or complete a task. If this sounds annoying, that’s because it is! But that’s exactly what I love this app for.

Due was always a good-looking app, but the lack of any major updates has made its iOS 6-era interface stick out on iOS 7. Thankfully, yesterday’s update to v1.10 changed that with a full re-skin of the entire app. Due now mimics the cleaner overall appearance of iOS 7, and its UI has become much easier to read and comprehend. The buttons for delaying a task by 10 minutes, 60 minutes, or 24 hours, are now much more legible than before, and the homescreen icon has been flattened appropriately. I’d say the app simply feels more crisp, sharp, and precise, and that’s totally approprioate to how Due functions in the day-to-day.

Now, keep in mind that this is mainly a fresh coat of paint to Due. A major overhaul, V2.0, is apparently still in the works. The @Dueapp Twitter account has confirmed that background syncing is on track for the next release, but I’m also keeping my fingers crossed for possible Reminders integration. However, even if none of that comes to fruition, I’m already very happy to have an iOS 7 refresh for Due. It’s still one of the absolute best reminder apps out there, and its combination of natural language parsing and rapidly repeating alerts make it one of my must-have iOS apps. It’s a steal for $4.99, and it’s incredible that the whole package works on both iPhone and iPad.

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iOS 7.1 for iPad Is Faster, More Stable, And Ready For Download Now

Screenshot

iOS 7.1 is out today and you can update your iPad by heading over to Settings -> General -> Software Update. This dot update marks the biggest and bug-fixinest improvement to iOS since the release of iOS 7 last year.
The major features you’ll likely notice immediately are:

  • iOS animations are faster, which makes multitasking and returning to the home screen feel much more fluid on my iPad Air (this is a pretty big deal)
  • Siri has been given an extra set set of less robotic voices for certain Mandarin, UK English, Australian English, and Japanese
  • You can now tap-and-hold the Home button to bring up Siri, dictate your commands, and then release the Home button to signal that you’re done speaking (though you can still wait for Siri to automatically detect that you’re done talking)
  • New dialogue and button designs (e.g. the new shut down screen, which you can see by holding the Sleep/Wake switch)
  • General stability improvements. The 64-bit iPad Air is definitely more crash prone than my previous 1st-gen iPad mini, and discussions of the beta claim that 7.1 is much better, even at memory management

In my brief taste of the update thus far, Safari tabs do seem like they stay in memory longer than before. I can get to about six or seven tabs (news sites and blogs) before any one of them has to reload. It also feels like switching between apps is a hair faster than before, which does make a surprising difference.

The only headline feature of 7.1 that isn’t available on the iPad is Carplay, which improves hands-free and car control integration … but only on iPhone 5 and up, and then only on certain new 2014 car models.

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TwelveSouth’s SurfacePad for iPad Mini — A Slim Leather Cover With Built-In Stands

SurfacePad for iPad mini

TwelveSouth, makes of premium Apple-only accessories, recently announced their SurfacePad for iPad mini. It’s a svelte Napa leather cover that adds very little to the iPad’s dimensions, while offering scratch protection, the texture of actual leather, and the convenience of a few built-in stands. The magnets hidden in the front of the SurfacePad act just like a Smart Cover for sleep/wake action, and the kickstand and magnets hidden along the rear panel help prop the iPad up in two viewing angles, and one typing angle. I also like how TwelveSouth made the cover rigid, allowing you to fold it behind the iPad and hold it easily. That addresses one of my pet peeves with the Apple Smart Cover: the fact that the three (or four) panel design can often hang limply underneath the iPad during use.

I previously reviewed the SurfacePad for iPhone and was quite pleased with it, so I’m glad that TwelveSouth decided to adapt the idea for the iPad. In fact, I think the overall design is a much better fit for the tablet, as the cover will likely be heavy enough to stay closed at all times (instead of occasionally swinging open, as it did on the iPhone 4S). Having several viewing and typing angles is fairly standard in the iPad accessory field, but what’s impressive about the SurfacePad is that it does all of this while keeping a very low profile.

TwelveSouth released the $70 iPad mini edition first, but I do plan on reviewing the version for the Air when it comes out in a few weeks. In the mean time, do take a look at TwelveSouth’s terribly slick product page.

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Clear from Realmac Software is Free Today

Clear is free for 24h
Clear is free for 24h

Clear is a task manager centered around dragging and re-arranging your to-do list. There are no due dates, no tags, and no notes section (though I do miss the latter). All you do in Clear is choose a task list, then pull down to create a new task. It’s beautifully simple.

If that has piqued your interest, you’re free to try the app out for yourself, because it’s currently free for 24 hours. The developers at Realmac Software have made the decision to pull one version of the app, Clear+, from the App Store and leave the original Clear as a universal app. If that sounds a bit confusing, this letter from the developers should explain the situation.

However, the takeaway here is that there’s a great $5 task manager has gone free for the day. If iOS Reminders are a bit too cumbersome to create, and hardcore apps like OmniFocus or Things are too complicated, then Clear may be perfect for you.

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Why Don’t We Have WhatsApp, Kik, or LINE for iPad?

With the recent release of Hangouts 2.0 I’ve been thinking about messaging services, and how convenient it is to have conversations syncing seamlessly across platforms. You start chatting on your Mac before you leave work, continue it on your iPhone as you head home, and then idly chat as you browse on your iPad in the evening. Hangouts isn’t the only service to offer that kind of experience of course. iMessage and Facebook also offer something similar.

iMessage promises that a fluid experience in theory, but the reality that it offers is one of inconsistent notifications, late message delivery, and duplicate chats with the same contact. I like iMessage well enough, but it is definitely inconsistent when it comes to syncing messages across multiple devices. Some messages are sent only to the iPad then appear hours later on the iPhone … and certain message simply never reach the Mac app, even after a restart.

Facebook is far more consistent in my experience, but it simply isn’t used for chatting by my friends and family. They use Facebook to post events or exhibit photos, but they don’t tend to sit and talk there. Instead, I’m more likely to find friends on (the newly acquired) WhatsApp, Kik, or LINE (which is huge in Japan, and capitalizes on insanely cute stickers). The unfortunate thing about these apps, however, is that they just aren’t on the iPad. Each of the app websites states explicitly states that iPads (or “iOS tablets”) are not supported by the service. I should state that the Kik and LINE iPhone apps can work on the iPad, but they aren’t universal apps, and LINE logs you out of your iPhone if you try to use the service on your iPad. It’s a sub-par experience all around.

It could be argued that the chatting services somehow revolve around phone numbers, and so a smartphone might be required for their use. However, LINE Messenger is available on OS X and Windows 7 + 8, with native clients on each of those desktop platforms. If it’s viable enough for companies to put time into making desktop apps, I’m honestly very surprised that we aren’t seeing more of these popular messaging services on the iPad. Even a simple blown-up version of WhatsApp or LINE on the iPad would be more useful than having nothing at all.

I can’t be the only one here who wants to message more on the iPad, can I? Or is chatting really an activity that most people feel is best left for smartphones, even in the presence of a tablet?

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