Category Archives: General

iPad nutrition tracking apps: MyPlate vs. MyFitnessPal

This review compares the nutrient-tracking apps MyFitnessPal, by Under Armor, and MyPlate, by Livestrong. While both offer the ability to track your weight, activity level, and several other parameters, this review focuses on their nutrient-tracking ability. I’m reviewing the free versions of the apps: both have paid versions that offer more intricate tracking and reporting. In the end, they’re both top-notch, and your choice will depend on your priorities.

About a year ago, I moved from Washington, DC, to Kigali, Rwanda to work for a year. In Washington I had a long walking and Metro (subway) commute. According to my Fitbit, I walked about 12,000 steps a day as part of my daily routine. Here in Kigali, my commute is a seven-minute walk to the office. This, combined with my wife’s excellent home cooking, had the waistband of my pants growing tighter and tighter. With my return home in sight I decided to start tracking my food intake, as I also ramped up my gym and walking habits. I’ve used the MyPlate web site in the past, but their new iPad app looked even better, and I started tracking my food intake with it. A few weeks later I read this excellent post from Jim Dalrymple of Loop Insights, one of my very favorite Apple-focused bloggers. If you haven’t read his inspirational post about using the Apple Watch and the MyFitnessPal (aka MFP) app to lose over 40 lbs, I highly recommend it. I decided to give MFP a try based on his good experience. There are pros and cons to both apps, so read more below to help decide which is for you.

Setup

On both apps setup is very simple: enter your height, weight, gender, goal weight, daily activity level, and how many pounds per week you want to lose. The app then generates a goal weight for you. The apps also generate nutrient goals (e.g., how many grams of protein you should have) automatically.

Verdict: tie

Data entry

170The worst part of tracking your diet is entering every morsel that you put in your mouth. Nothing can make it completely effortless, but both apps help by having a huge database of every restaurant and grocery-store food you can imagine, and by remembering what you eat frequently so you don’t have to search for the same thing over and over again. In both apps, you first tap on the meal you want to track: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks. Doing so brings up an entry panel where you can scroll your list of frequently eaten foods and pick one, or search for a new food. The apps are about equal in terms of searching and finding the right food. Items from most fast-food restaurants are included in both, as well as packaged and fresh foods of every kind. I’ve even searched for what I thought were relatively obscure foods like Ethiopian njera or shiro wat, and found a dozen choices for each.

173When picking frequently eaten foods, MFP holds the slight edge, as it remembers your portion size, where MyPlate always presents the stock portion size that you may have to adjust. For example, I frequently eat Cheerios with ½-cup of soy milk. Even though the stock portion size in both apps is one cup, MFP remembers that last time I only used ½ cup, so presents me with that portion so I can just tap the check mark and be done. MyPlate makes me change “1C” to “1/2 serving” every time. This is a small complaint, but remember we’re trying to make the process as painless as possible.

Verdict: MFP, by a nose

Daily nutrient reporting

At the end of the day both apps let you assess your intake of calories, the three macro-nutrients (fat, protein, and carbs) and some micro-nutrients. If you’re interested in the most detail possible, MFP has the edge again. If you’re interested in a quick, easy-to-read, at-a-glance summary, MyPlate is better.

Verdict: tie

Tracking progress

MyPlate presents large, colorful graphs that let you track several nutrients across a week, and 1, 3, 6, or 12 months. You can track calories (the one I always look at), but also macronutrients, sodium, cholesterol, sugars, and dietary fiber. I find MyPlate’s colorful graphs more visually compelling (including those damned red bars when I go over my calorie goals), but that could be a personal preference.

171What MyPlate won’t show you in the free version is a daily average over these same periods. For example, it would be useful to me to know my average daily calorie count in June as compared to August. This isn’t a big deal for me as I pull calorie data into Apple’s iPhone Health App which does show daily averages, but it’s a two-step process, which is less convenient.

174MFP shows all the same info, including daily intake averages, over whatever time period you chose. As with daily reporting, MFP offers more nutrients to track over time, but honestly I don’t use them. If you want the most fine-grained tracking, and in-app daily averaging, MFP wins here.

Verdict: MFP, for in-app daily averages and detailed reporting

Connection to HealthKit

I’m using Apple’s HealthKit as the hub of my fitness tracking. I feed activity info from the iPhone, nutrition info from these two apps, and am shopping for a better way to get my cycling data into HealthKit as well (If you have a recommendation, please let us know in the comments below.) I also manually enter some info, keeping HealthKit as the hub. This is where MFP fails badly. Setting up MyPlate in Apple’s Health App couldn’t have been easier, and the data transfer to Health Kit is seamless and almost immediate. Connecting MFP, by contrast. was an exercise in frustration. After deleting MyPlate to ensure I wasn’t getting double data, I searched for a while on the MFP forums to find the instructions for connecting to Health Kit. I followed the many, many arcane steps, and finally got them connected. But then the data stopped transferring and I got the dreaded “no data” message from the Health app. I asked for help on the MFP forums, sent email, and even tweeted a plea for help. I got several referrals to the original instructions. I got a Twitter response that referred me to the same email address from which I never received any help. In the end I gave up and went back to MyPlate. But! If this connection to Health Kit isn’t important to you, please disregard this entire section.

Verdict: MyPlate (MFP failed completely)

Summary

These are both polished, easy-to-use apps that will help you get important information about your nutrition. I, and many others, find this information invaluable in trying to eat healthy and lose weight. Both sync seamlessly with their web and iPhone apps. If you want connectivity to Apple’s Health Kit, use MyPlate. If you don’t, take your pick based on the info above. Happily you won’t go wrong with either app. Me? I don’t have a scale here, but am down one belt-notch and all my clothes fit again. If I keep it up I might just fit into my 1997 motorcycle leathers by the time I hit the US. MyFitnessPal and MyPlate are both free in the app store.

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Continuing to Explore the Notes App on iOS 9

  
It’s been difficult to write about Notes in iOS 9 because I really want to like the app, but it just hasn’t clicked yet.

It isn’t due to a lack of utility. The share extension is great, the way that pictures, drawings, and links are formatted is very tidy. In fact, the extension is even more flexible than I’d thought. I can share attachments right from Mail or Dropbox and pop them into Notes, which means that, if I had a Mac at work, I could probably Notes in a similar way to Evernote. I tend to make a single note for each project and drop related files into that note, just to keep everything in one place. The key difference is that I have yet to install the public beta of El Capitan on my Mac, so I don’t know how well the OS X version of Notes works.

Continue reading

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So Long, Hope to See You Around the Interweb

 

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Well, it’s been 5+ great years of having a blast writing for and running iPad Insight, but now my faithful Deputy Editor Dawg and a I are going to hang up our keyboards.

This site that has been like my little baby for all those years. It kept me busy (sometimes crazy busy) and helped me make a living while fighting and recovering from cancer. It let me work at something I was excited by and passionate about, and let me show my daughter that you can do that kinda thing – you don’t always have to settle for 9to5 in a cubicle. Maybe most importantly of all, it meant I never had to wear long pants to work for all those years.

About a month ago I sold the site, and now it’s in very good hands – with new owners who have exciting plans for it. And with Thomas, Rob, James, Marc, F’reez, and Wesley our developer, cranking out great content and making it a top site to visit.

For a little over 1.5 years now I’ve been strong enough to return to my long-time ‘day job’ as an IT consultant and network engineer – and I have remembered every day how much I love that job.

I’d like to say a huge thanks to everyone who has visited iPad Insight over these years. You made all of the above possible, and I’ll always be enormously grateful for that.  Also thanks to all the great writers and guys mentioned above, you’ve all been awesome to work with.

I’ll still be sharing plenty of thoughts on tech and mobile devices and other random nonsense whenever I find time. If any of you are interested, you can find me at my little baby Tech & Nonsense site and on Google+.

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AppleCare+ Now Covers iPad Batteries That Fall Below 80% Capacity

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 12.07.09 AM

I actually saw this news last week on MacRumors, but I think it’s still bears mentioning as it has to do with AppleCare+ becoming more worthwhile. I’ve only bought AppleCare once in the past five years, and it never actually helped me out because all of my device issues happened within the first year of ownership (and Apple devices get a one-year warranty by default). However, the recent change to the policy indicates that batteries that fall below the 80% of their original capacity are eligible for free replacements during the coverage period.

That’s a much lower and more realistic threshold than the previous 50% that the plan offered. Regular usage of my iPhones, for example, tends to get the battery below 80% of its original charge over the course of a 1.5 years, so I know the plan would prove useful to me for ensuring I have a “fresh” battery as it comes time to sell.

Apple devices are built well enough that their hardware usually lasts years, but batteries are consumables and will degrade over time. Having better battery coverage built into the AppleCare+ extended warranty really makes me consider it for my next purchase.

At $99, AppleCare+ costs exactly as much as a battery replacement for the iPad, but it also includes an extra year of warranty coverage, as well as a $49 optional iPad replacement if the tablet falls vicim to accidental damage (drops, spills, or worse). If you’re a heavy iPad user, this is liking buying the battery replacement up front and getting the extended warranty as a benefit. Just make sure you buy AppleCare+ within two months of your iPad purchase, as you won’t be able to buy it after that.

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My Biggest iPad Pet Peeve: The Lack of a Home Button Shortcut

  
This post is all about one of my greatest iOS pet peeves: the lack of a Home button shortcut on Bluetooth keyboards. I’ve got ZAGG’s newest keyboard to test for the iPad; and although I’m only a few hours into using it, I’ve already run into an issue that has plagued many Bluetooth keyboards before it: the lack of a dedicated Home button.

ZAGG should have made it a priority to include a dedicated key to simulate the Home button for iPad and iPhone users, but I also think that Apple shares the blame here as well. Of all the keyboard shortcuts that power users need at the OS level, it would be keyboard shortcut to emulate the Home button. I honestly can’t believe this is still an item on my wishlist with iOS approaching its ninth iteration, but it’s true. Unless hardware keyboard manufacturers specifically include a dedicated Home key, there’s simply no way for users to switch or leave apps without reaching up from the keyboard to tap the Home button.

This is obviously purely a matter of convenience and efficiency, but the solution just feels so tantalizingly close and simple that it bothers me that much more. After all, for the Home button on certain Bluetooth keyboards to work, that must mean that Apple provided a certain way for manufacturers to emulate the Home button. Why not bake a simple shortcut like Cmd + H or Cmd + Escape into iOS? It would save so much hassle and make keyboards — which are items that power users usually buy — that much more efficient.

I very badly want for Apple to address this somehow in iOS 9, or at least make software keyboards stable enough to make them a viable alternative.

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The Apple Watch Has Made Me Hungrier For More Device Awareness

  
I got an Apple Watch last week and it’s showing me how amazing it is for devices to be more aware of one another. The iPhone is smart enough to stay quiet when I’m wearing the Watch, but the Watch will stay quiet when my iPhone is unlocked (because it knows I’ll see notifications on that screen). 

The odd man out is the iPad. I’ll get notifications while I’m using the iPad and still get occasional buzzes on my Watch because those two devices aren’t specifically linked at the OS level. I understand why the Watch doesn’t pair with the iPad (it’s not something you carry on your person all the time), but I also think there was a missed opportunity to pair with an iPad when the tablet is present. The Watch shouldn’t buzz while I’m using the iPhone or the iPad. 

The Watch has almost created a wedge in my family of iOS devices. The iPad and iPhone used to be best pals. I’d write text messages to my mom on the iPad, which I could send via the iPhone’s cellular connection and the Continuity features introduced in iOS 8. My iPhone and iPad were in sync using iCloud, often even more so than the iPad and Mac (because some iOS apps like Drafts just aren’t available on the desktop). However, with the Watch on my wrist, that dynamic has shifted. It’s the synchronization between the Watch and my iPhone that I now trust the most.

I’m being dramatic here because I still send texts through the iPad (it’s awesome), but the Watch has definitely shown how Apple can step up their game in terms of device awareness. I’d love to see a continuity of the thinking behind Continuity in iOS 9 this summer so that the iPhone, iPad, and Watch start to feel more like a system, and less like a series of devices. 

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WordPress 4.8 for iPad: The WYSIWYG Editor Saves The Day!

After suffering through years and years of an incredibly shoddy interface, I’m really happy to announce that the iOS WordPress app is now fun to use. Not only does the app now have a great what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) post editor, but image uploads and previews are now usable as well!

Previous versions of the app required you to enter text in raw HTML. There were a few shortcut buttons to add things like links or rich text tags, but for the most part, I’d write posts in Markdown using other apps (like iA Writer Pro) and paste the raw HTML into WordPress. I’ll actually probably still do that because I like keeping my writing drafts elsewhere, but the new WordPress WYSIWYG editor really just works. For bloggers who prefer to just write and have software take care of formatting, this is awesome.

Another killer part of the update is that images now upload in-line. Every version before this one would append images to the butt end of the post, which meant that I’d have to repeatedly scroll to the bottom of the page when I wanted to attach multiple images. Adding images in-line as I edit my posts just makes sense — and is a much more enjoyable experience.

Finally, I’d like to add that the preview functionality now works properly for me. Instead of seeing a borderless, formless, double-spaced version of the article I’d just written, I can now preview posts just as you readers will see them.

I’ve enjoyed writing on the iPad for a number of years now, but posting from iOS has always been a pain with the first-party WordPress app. As of two days ago and the release WordPress 4.8, writing and blogging on the iPad just got a whole lot better.

Here’s an App Store link for WordPress; it’s FREE to download and use, so if you’re a blogger, you’ll want to pick this up immediately.

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Koder for iPad: Take the Hell out of HTML

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One of the computing classes that I teach at school is HTML, and being a 1:1 iPad school I wanted to refresh my scheme of work to take advantage of using the iPad. Now, let’s get one thing out of the way, coding on the iPad may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, the fact that I can work on it in class and get the students to take the same software home and continue working is a real bonus for me. I had a good look around for an app which would fit my needs and zeroed in on Koder. My reasons for choosing this were mainly because it offered a browser preview of your code and it also wasn’t rated 17+ (Apple rates pretty much any app with a browser 17+ for unrestricted web access unfortunately). It is worth noting that it offers other coding languages, but for the purposes of this review I’m going to concentrate on HTML. Continue reading

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Happy New Year iPad Wallpaper

Happy New Year iPad wallpaper

Happy 2015! Hope all of you are enjoying the holiday season and looking forward to a healthy and happy new year.

Above is a fun Happy New Year iPad wallpaper, courtesy of the always excellent Pimp Your Screen app. I think it looks suitably festive on my iPad Air 2’s lock screen.

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Using iCloud Photo Library for Storing Videos

icloud photo library for video

I’ve now got all of my home videos across all of my devices, accessible via iCloud Photo Library. I’ve done a little bit of testing over the last few weeks and can now report on how iCloud Photo Library performs for on-demand video viewing.

First off, videos don’t ever appear to download as optimized versions. iCloud Photo Library has two storage options: downloading everything to your device, or downloading only “optimized” versions of your media. I chose the latter in order to save space. As such, in order to play anything that isn’t already downloaded, I’ve got to tap on a video thumbnail, tap on the Play button, and then wait a good 5–10s until the video begins to play. Even over Wi-Fi, playback at this point can still be a little spotty, and there have been multiple occasions where my videos have stopped in order to buffer more.

In practice, this delay in playback has actually killed a few opportunities to show a cool video I had on my iPad. I wanted to show a few workmates a choreographed dance I had filmed a year ago, but the buffering took embarrassingly long to happen, and we just ended up spending a good 30 seconds staring at a static screenshot of the video. Tagging a video as a “Favourite” doesn’t help pre-load it either. For iCloud Photo Library to be useful for video, an option to queue a video for download is needed (badly).

Photos also really needs to show which files have actually be downloaded — and to what extent. I want to see a simple icon or colour indicator over videos that have been downloaded to my device, instead of having to tap on thumbnails and just guess.

I like iCloud Photo Library well enough for photos, but it’s not really performing as expected for video. Given that I have it set to “optimize” my photos and videos, I would want my iPad to automatically download lower-res versions of all of my videos for quick playback, and then an option to download the full-res version for high quality playback. I understand that videos — especially at their current 1080p resolution — take up a lot of space and are tricky to stream, but this current system of tapping and guessing is not the right solution. iCloud Photo Library’s current setup doesn’t feel like the magic solution it’s marketed to be — and it’s ruining the illusion of the cloud as a reliable and immediate file system.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Many Thanks iPad Wallpaper

For any of you who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving. For those who don’t Happy late November Thursday.

Today I’m hugely thankful just to be here and healthy, and for family who are here today, friends, the beautiful day and the beautiful city I live in.

I also want to say thanks to all of you who visit iPad Insight – for reading our articles, for adding your comments, for sharing our posts on social networks, and just for visiting. Hope you’re all having a great day.

Image: via the excellent Pimp Your Screen iPad app

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