Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Social Ipad

I tend to paddle rather than swim in the sea of networking so this post will just cover the couple of things I do regularly, ie using Twitter to alert the public to the latest doings of my cat and messing about on Facebook, the monster which has replaced e-mail and other 'traditional' things we used to do on the internet to a great degree.

First Facebook. The company is worth billions but unaccountably there's no ipad app designed by them at the time of writing. Of course you can always use their (excellent) iphone app, but that's rather pixelly when it translates to the ipad's bigger screen, or just use a web browser. But there is a paid for alternative, which I reckon will serve fine until Mark Zuckerberg and the Palo Alto minions get around to producing one of their own; it's called Friendly and it retails off the store for 59p.

The screens (above) are much easier to use than messing about with the web page but there's a lot of functionality missing from the site proper, most notably the ability to post pictures and there's no support for the new 'Places' application, but then again you may find that something of a relief. It's all very simple and as friendly as its name suggests.

Twitter is now essential in my business - it was the reason why I bought an iphone - and the service has had an interesting evolution on the ipad since the device was launched earlier this year. The first app available for it was Tweetdeck, which I like on the PC and sometimes use rather than bother with the website itself - because it can silently run under other things and run new tweets as a little window in the top right corner. But of course we don't have multi tasking on the ipad yet, so it loses that advantage when put up against other ipad Twitter apps. The irritating habit of booting and then immediately asking you to set up an account so it can sync your settings across platforms has been abandoned in the ipad application, and it handles lists quite well. I now follow nearly two hundred journalists via Twitter so list management is essential if an app is to be useful.

The only negative thing I can think of to say about it is that it crashes on my machine a lot. It doesn't take down the whole system, but I often find myself looking at the desktop rather than tweets. Sort it out Tweetdeck. It's free, by the way.

Twitterific is by contrast not very terrific and you pay £3 for it. It can't manage lists and seems to lack all the bells and whistles that it's competitors boast. So my advice is not to bother.

Last and not least there's the recently launched free 'official' Twitter app and I think it sets the bar very high for other efforts. One challenge for apps is how to handle the associated web and picture content that so many of us post with our tweets, and this app does that by opening some screen territory to the right of your list and displaying it. Then when you've finished looking at it you simply swipe it off the screen with your finger and get on with looking at other tweets. Neat.

Visually it's very straightforward and appealing, and it does that list management thing very smoothly indeed; infact it's less of a hassle than Tweetdeck's function, and there's a sense the app is well integrated with the original Twitter feed. New tweets you're writing appear at the top in an appealing notebook format and attaching pictures is as easy as you'd expect. It has an onboard URL shrinker for those long web addresses that don't fit in 140 characters, and all in all it's very impressive.

There are lots of other apps that do tweeting, and there's also the Flipboard app I mentioned in a previous post which is a marvellous way of looking at Facebook and Twitter content. There's also that Foursquare thing that demands you 'check in' when you go the pub (utterly ludicrous) but there are some things missing from the ipad's social networking abilities. I'd like a Blogger app (Google are you listening?) and while they're at it I'd like to see Picasa on the ipad and the iphone; not likely to happen in the near future one suspects.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Ipad and News

Every cloud has a silver lining say cloud salesmen, and one side effect of my foot disease (see previous post if your stomach is strong) has been the opportunity to upgrade the apps on my ipad. Naturally there's no shortage of ipad app reviews on the net but I don't see any reason for me not to add mine, together with some thoughts about my experience so far with this allegedly 'magical and revolutionary' device. To start with I'll deal with the device's Operating System and news apps, with the rider that this is very much a personal view, and in no way my employers.

First the OS. While the user experience is smooth and apps burst forth onto the screen in a generally fabulous manner, the tweaking which is due in November cannot come too soon for me. The obvious absence from the original release is multi tasking. It really beggars belief that Apple think its users will be content only doing one thing at once. Even the most basic £200 netbook runs things in the background. A machine which costs up to three times this amount should have had that ability as standard from the off.

But I have become reconciled to the lack of Flash. Its absence is not as crippling as the critics suggest and much web video development is now in the new ipad friendly h.264. But another thing that my £200 netbook can do is print documents and the ipad cannot do this off its own bat. These omissions are irksome, but again will be sorted come the Autumn, so it is said.

The big switch with ipad and news is one of power, which has moved away from journalists and towards their readers listeners and viewers. There's now an abundance of choice which is accessible via the web and the many apps, but the apps themselves allow the user to choose news priorities and sources. Added to that is the flexibility with the ease of display and it's easy to see how the real fight for survival traditional news providers already have is going to intensify as tablet use takes off.

For there are some great news orientated things to use with the ipad which has made it my favourite device around the house and work and has rendered the idea of leaving the building to actually buy a magazine or newspaper superfluous. Chief among them is flipboard which makes your Twitter and Facebook feeds into a delightful colourful magazine which you can flip through, as the app title suggests. This app really does take advantage of the tablet's display and touchscreen in an impressive way, and hints at the future of magazines and media generally. For with Flipboard you are the editor, choosing sources of information which display in the order you want. As well as social networking the app allows you to display blogs and some magazines web feeds in the same way. This app in itself could be very bad news indeed for conventional magazines. It's free, by the way.

I'm a fan of the Metro newspapers ipad and iphone app. The Metro lies about on Tube trains and is a rubbishy pest which puts people off buying proper papers. But it works well online, loading down into the ipad the full newspaper imagery, which you can blow up with your fingers as you would a webpage. For a free app it's very versatile, even allowing you to choose your background music from the ipod app as you browse the stories. It even includes the Metro's magazine. And you can download the paper to read later, when for example, you're on the tube and so offline. Great.

But other magazines and newspapers are struggling with the ipad's challenge. Maclife comes close to getting something worth having; it's free and worthwhile if you like your geekery apple shaped. Other techy print merchants are having a go too; Wired has done a demo version for the ipad which is well worth a look, but I can't see how to buy other editions from the app store or even see how much they'd be. I wouldn't pay more than 50p for it since the ipad means the publisher has neither to pay for printing or distribution, but at the moment the business of selling the magazine electronically seems to elude them. Which is ironic when you consider Wired's speciality.

The electronic media has adapted much more quickly and easily to the ipad and here I have to bow the knee to my employer which has issued the natty free BBC news app which has boasted over a million downloads to date. There's an array of text and video treatment of stories from the various World Specialist and UK fields, together with a video feed of the news channel when you're within wifi range. And yet there are odd omissions. Why no way to listen to Radio 4's PM or Today through the app? Or select Five Live's news offerings? Radio generally doesn't get a look in. And I can't see how to search. And unaccountably there doesn't seem to be a way to send stories to the BBC through the app. Sky News has an iphone app which does allow users to interact, and which translates to the ipad from the iphone quite well, but it's not custom built for the bigger screen so the stories have a pixelly feel.

There are other news apps on the platform which are highly professional in feel. Reuters has a beautiful news ipad app - it's called the news pro - which is the best presented news effort on the platform combing the cream of their written journalism with their stills photography and video. Sumptuous and free. Their competition in the agency business, Associated Press has also delivered an accomplished app which showcases their stories and video. It's a little too US dominated for my personal taste however and there's a plan to sell its content through the app. So far though, it's free.

Other news providers are experimenting with the ipad interface and offering things which are plain gimmicky, like the US TV channel's abc's news globe - it gives you the stories in a globe which you can revolve and touch to make stories leap out, which is pretty but ultimately pales beside the Reuters or BBC's approach which may be duller but allows for a quicker and more efficient browse. I also like Newsy which sources US news outlets for pictures and treatment of stoies, and allows you to build your own running order. TV bulletin editors watch out. Pulse was initially quite interesting - infact it was so interesting publishers initially managed to get Apple to remove it from the app store - but I now find I less compulsive than Flipboard. Pulse just displays stories from other people's websites in moveable rows, which is a swift way to assess coverage but which is visually less than appealing. Again, you can choose your sources, as you can with Flipboard. And it would be wrong not to mention the NPR app which is a magnificent way to access the US public radio output and which the Beeb would do well to have a good long look at.

So my news addiction is well catered for , but other media efforts are less compulsive. The Guardian has an excellent iphone app, but has yet to revise it properly for the ipad. Instead they send you a photo a day through their eyewitness app, which while worthy is scarcely competition for the other news providers. I was recommended Newsrack, which is an ipad RSS reader but its workings have eluded me so far, my fault I suspect. Some iphone news apps have been installed on my ipad and get used, most notably the excellent Manchester Evening News and the Evening Standard, but hurry up chaps, please do a bespoke ipad effort for this journalist.

Of course there are many other news apps. I have found the Wall Street Journal too demanding of both money and e-mail details to be compulsive, the New York Times has yet to update its iphone offering for the ipad, preferring a patrician 'Editor's Choice' effort, so wholly missing the point of the power switch that's occurred - we as consumers have the choice now, not the editors.

My next post will cover my take on social networking on the ipad, and also look at games if I get time.

Monday, September 06, 2010


Hospital stories are the pits aren't they? Yet somehow I want to write mine. It all boils down to a series of snap shots.

A funny pain in the back of my knee and sweating a bit in Bristol on Thursday lunchtime. The full on shakes and hospitalisation in London in the wee hours on Saturday. Waiting to be seen by doctor with drunken shouty people in Kings College Hospital A and E. Phone ringing every twenty minutes to announce the decks being cleared for shooting victims.

Eventually seeing a succession of doctors one of whom draws around large spreading red areas on my leg with a biro. These lines quickly treated as irrelevant by spreading red areas. Leg begins to look like the Atlas of the World drawn up during the heyday of the British Empire. An IV drip being connected to my arm for the swift input of industrial amounts of antibiotics. The offending leg proceeding to behave like an infectious lava lamp. Surgery of a radical nature suggested by young turk of a doctor, then as quickly discounted by an older hand, mercifully.

The Bank Holiday weekend spent in the Oliver ward which if anything is noisier at night than it is during the day. There's a man who shouts all the time. And I mean all the time, every two minutes. ("Nurse! .....Nurse!.......Can someone be appointed to talk to me?" Ad nauseam. All day and all night.) Eventually they take him away. Then they replace him with another man, who shouts AND vomits all day and all night. Where do they get the energy from? I could do with it, I reflect sourly as I ram the ipod headphones further into my ears at 3 am.

Reading a book a day while watching the leg slowly change colour. Red. Then a bit yellow, then blistering like the surface of an alien planet, suitable for a drive by the Mars Rover (see above. I've not included the upper thigh. Just be thankful) Posting on Facebook from my iphone but realising photo of leg is unsuitable for the internet, could actually get me imprisoned. Two brilliant nurses, Andrea and Angela, who keep me sane, calm and above all going while the doctors stay semi detached, at times preferring to look at a computer screen round the corner rather than actually come and see me. Am I that boring, I wonder.

Eventually start shuffling about but it feels as if my leg is in a vice. Epic of endurance to get to the shower, so don't bother for four days. As days accumulate I continue walking about, sometimes in the middle of the night to get a bit of peace. Consider sleeping in the hospital garden. Reject idea as might annoy nurses.

Lots of visitors. These are welcome in one sense, ie proof I am clearly not terminally unpopular, but really just want to sleep or read and get strength back. Have appetite again, despite the antibiotics, but food in hospital incredibly bland. On the other hand it is delivered by Howard, a friendly Chinese bloke who is a star. Try to eat it in order not to disappoint him, but vomiting ward-mate puts me off by projectiling into the bin at 1pm and 6pm on the dot. He is spectacularly rude to the nurses and refuses his medication. Why is he here?

Bonkers messmates aside I start to find hospital delightfully stress free, a bit like Yossarian in Catch 22, so make a face when senior doctors turn up on Tuesday and decide I'm bed blocking. Consider hiding under the bed. Reject idea as might annoy the nurses. Ms T, who saved my leg by insisting on me seeking help the previous Friday then turns up and drives me home. She looks exhausted, I realise humbly that sometimes it's worse watching people being ill than actually being ill yourself.

Leg now almost the right colour, although still limp about like Long John Silver, and foot swollen from time to time. What is this thing? None of the doctors seem to really know though the catch all term is cellulitis. Some insect may have bitten me, it appears, or maybe a small cut let the bacteria in. Just bad luck.

Drama over. Back to work Wednesday, hopefully.