16 Essential iPad Applications

I have been using my iPad for a couple of months now and have grown accustom to certain applications and ways of using them. This is basically a list with my most used and loved applications for the iPad, and what better day to write this article than today, the day the iPad is officially released in Sweden. A lot of people interested in Apple and the iPad have already imported their own ages ago, and Swedish media have been writing about the device for months now. This is however the first day when everyone in Sweden easily can get ahold of one.

The built-in applications will not be mentioned in this article, even though some of them are used extensively by me. Let’s start with the fun stuff.

Media and Entertainment

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Air Video

Forget about converting your video library for some movie viewing. If you get Air Video and install the server on your Windows or Mac, you can enjoy super crisp high-definition video on the go without having to convert and copy the media to your iPad. The server can transcode just about anything to fit your current bandwidth. This is a universal application, so you can install it on your iPhone too!

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IMDb

If you enjoy movies and want to view plot information, reviews or even watch a trailer, be sure to pick up the excellent IMDb application for the de-facto movie source on the internet.

Productivity

Cover ArtOmnifocus

The best tool for Getting Things Done is definitely Omnifocus. There are applications for the Mac and iPhone as well, and they can all be easily synced together. While having a premium price tag, it makes up for it for being the best task manager available. Some features are even better implemented and more usable than the desktop version.

Cover ArtSimplenote

If you want simple and fast note taking on the iPad, Simplenote is the way to go. It synchronizes with their web service, which means that you can access your notes anywhere. Simplenote only supports standard text, which means no rich text, images or any type of attachments.

Cover ArtEvernote

If Simplenote sounds too simple, Evernote may just be the thing for you. In addition to writing standard text notes, you can upload images and just about any type of file. There are clients for Windows, Mac and the iPhone too, and together with their free web service, you can access your notes everywhere.

Adobe IdeasAdobe Ideas

This excellent and free application is perfect when you need to be creative and create mockups, or just to doodle on while listening to a boring presentation. It has a rather basic tool set, but I find that it works great for anything I want to create. If you need more control and functionality, have a look at Sketchbook Pro instead.

Reading

Cover ArtReeder

If you get your news and website updates in Google Reader, Reeder is for you. With its beautiful, clean and legible interface, going through your daily feeds is a breeze. There is a client for the iPhone available too, and a Mac version is on the way.

Cover ArtRead it Later

You know when you find a very interesting article to read but just don’t have the time to finish it at the moment, Read it Later handles it for you. Adding a site done just by clicking a bookmarklet, and reading the articles on the iPad works exceptionally well.

Cover ArtiBooks

iBooks is the official application from Apple to read books with, and has support for epub and PDF files as well. Being in Sweden however, the store only contains free books, which makes it hard to buy books at the moment.

 

Cover ArtKindle

Kindle in contrast to iBooks makes it possible to buy ebooks directly on your device from the Amazon Kindle store. It even has an iPhone client and syncs notes and reading position between the devices.

 

Cover ArtZinio

If you are into international magazines, you can get PDF versions of most magazines for a great price using Zinio.

 

Cover ArtQiozk

Qiozk is like Zinio, but targeted to the Swedish market, which offer many of the most popular magazines.

Cover ArtThe New York Times

The New York Times application covers a wide range of areas, and will be free until early 2011.

 

 

Cover ArtHuffington Post

If the New York Times is not for you, then perhaps Huffington Post can be the bringer of news and interesting articles. It is a free application which has a lot of sections for viewing.

Other

Cover ArtTwitter

If you are into Twitter, the official application is excellent and provides everything most people need in a Twitter client.

 

Cover ArtiTap RDP

If you need to use Remote Desktop, iTap RDP is the best I have used. Even though it is somewhat pricey, it is rock solid and has innovative features for quick and easy navigation and usage of the remote system.

 

Rethinking Email

I have been a long-time Gmail user and prefer using their web interface for my personal email, which I love for a number of reasons. For instance, when receiving a new reply to an archived email, the entire conversation is always shown, regardless of where the individual emails are located.

On the professional side of things, I use Apple Mail, which I am sorry to say is starting to get fairly outdated. It does not have the above mentioned feature where email replies are automatically shown together regardless of location. It doesn’t even support using SSL client certificates for connecting to the email server. The latter can fortunately be remedied by using stunnel as a proxy.

Thunderbird

I have used Thunderbird ages ago, so I decided to install the new version and add both my personal and professional email account and see what has happened these last major versions. To my surprise, Thunderbird has been cleaned up considerably and has lots of new features like tabs, smart folders and a unified inbox.

The coolest new feature in Thunderbird 3 has to be the new search interface. It is just a beauty to see the data mining ability and the ease of refining the search terms as you go. There is for instance the possibility to visually drill down on the year, month and day to find just the thing you are looking for.

Thunderbird Search

Thunderbird Search

Then I recalled trying out Postbox a while ago when it was in beta. It is a commercial fork of Thunderbird, with its own unique set of features and looks, and although many Thunderbird plugins work with Postbox, not all do. I ended up giving this some thought.

What can a commercial company do with Thunderbird that the Mozilla foundation can not do themselves?

I decided to yet again give it a go. The installation is as easy as it can be on the Mac — just drag the application to the applications folder and you are done. The account set-up was super easy, with most things detected automatically, and that even includes the work account. Being a Thunderbird derivate, I knew that it would support SSL client certificates, so I just added mine and it worked instantly.

Postbox

Postbox

The interface of Postbox looks a lot like Thunderbird, but there are some not-so-subtle differences too. First of all is the polish — Postbox looks and feels more like a commercial product with its clean interface and modern color palette. The only interface section I liked better in Thunderbird is the main toolbar, which is a lot cleaner. It mostly has to do with Thunderbird having support for showing button labels beside the icons instead of below. That small setting makes all the difference in the world, esthectially speaking.

The first technical thing I noticed was that there is only one folder view — you have your accounts on the top, and the folders (including the inbox), changes below depending on the account you select at the top.

I am not a big fan of unified inboxes, and I had a hard time finding a view I like in Thunderbird (not to mention Apple Mail). Postbox, while only having this single view, get how people work with email. Having personal and professional mail in the same unified inbox just adds to the clutter and distractions we try so hard to get rid of.

Making the accounts completely separate is the perfect recipe for me, and lets me focus on one thing at a time, while not being distracted by Facebook alerts or Twitter messages and other things that may pop up in my personal inbox.

Thunderbird Single message

Thunderbird Single message

The conversation view in Postbox is excellent too. It works exactly like in Gmail, with collapsible replies and a beautiful interface. There is also this thread and message summary to the right of the message which collects all links, photos, files and other types of attachments for easy access.

Postbox for some reason, even has integrated support for posting to Twitter and Facebook. While I would use a dedicated application for this like Tweetdeck or Echofon, I will definitely try it out and see what they have done with it.

A last thing to mention about Postbox is the built-in tagging support. If you would like to tag email with certain action tied to them like “Follow Up”, “Waiting For” or other tags, it is possible to do so without having to resort to putting these emails in separate folders.

Postbox Single message

Postbox Single message

If you are not into sorting incoming email to different project folders, you will definitely enjoy the archive feature, which is available in Thunderbird as well. Pressing “a” will move the selected messages into the archive, which is a regular email folder. The thinking behind this is that since Postbox and Thunderbird index all email, you could just search for what you want.

I am personally fond of having separate folders for different projects and mailing lists. Everything else is put into the generic “archives” folder.

The latest version also features support for Things and Omnifocus, which means that it now is as easy as using Apple Mail to get emails into your GTD in-basket of choice!

If you want to purchase Postbox, please consider using my Postbox referral link. This will save you $10, and you will support this site too!

FogBugz 7.3 Now Available

FogBugz 7.3 Now Available. Highlights include:

  • New Plugin: Case Event Edit
  • New Feature: Bulk Reply
  • Upgraded Feature: Bulk Editing
  • Upgraded Plugin: Project Backlog
  • IMAP Support
  • Resizable Case View

… and lots of smaller features and fixes. See the site for details.

Going from Things to Omnifocus

I have been a heavy Things users since the beginning, but there have always been certain features that I have found lacking, such as sub-projects and a distinction between areas of focus.

Omnifocus has had all necessary features since I can remember, so I finally decided to give it a go for real. All active projects and areas from Things have been migrated to Omnifocus, leaving the someday/maybe list for if/when I commit to using Omnifocus for a foreseeable future.

The one thing I will have to live without for a couple of days until I can commit, is buying the iPhone app. That means I will be using Evernote on the iPhone to capture actions and projects on the go.

I am really looking forward to be able to use sub-projects and see if that increases my productivity and peace of mind about large projects. Perspectives are also something I look forward too, since that means being able to focus on just work or personal, even though there are deadlines arising in both places. In Things, everything is meshed together and it is practically impossible to completely separate all focus areas. There is an option to disable an area of focus, but that is a too inconvenient workaround.

Modern source control using Mercurial

Version control has historically always used the traditional client/server model. This means that the server is always the “master”, and clients may commit updates to this central repository. The information available on the client is generally minimal, with the base revision for easy diff and status checks.

The two main contenders are CVS and later Subversion, which has taken over most of the market. While Subversion is using the exact same model as CVS, it is more reliable, has atomic commits and is generally easier to work with.

Something new has been brewing these last couple of years though — distributed version control.

The main idea behind distributed version control is to use a decentralized versioning model (duh). This means that there is no centralized server in a normal fashion, but the repository is instead distributed among everyone who are working on that very project.

This part might be a bit hard to grasp at first, especially if you are a traditional Subversion user, but with the decentralized model the whole repository is right there at your fingertips and not somewhere remote. That does however not mean that there can not be a central place for the project, on the contrary, the central server servers as mere member of the entire mesh of clients. The server essentially becomes a client, but usually with special permissions allowing others to fetch and modify the contents.

Mercurial

This article focuses on Mercurial, which is surprisingly easy to use, but there are of course other version control software that works in a decentralized fashion. The most notable are Git and Bazaar, who have attracted quite the following.

One reason for using Mercurial instead of one of the others is ease of use. The basic commands are using the de facto CVS style standard, while more advanced commands relies on more knowledge of Mercurial itself. This essentially means that most people who have been using any kind of version control previously will feel right at home without having to relearn from scratch.

Workflow

The workflow of Subversion where you first do a checkout from a server, then make all the changes you want, to later finish off with a commit is a usual way of using source control. To mirror this in Mercurial, there are certain not-so-subtle differences to consider.

The first task is to create a local copy of a repository from a server, which is similar to checkout in Subversion. The command is called clone, and that is exactly what it does. Clone makes a perfect copy of the repository on the server, with its entire history, including all available branches and tags. This might at first seem like it uses a lot of extra disk space, but it does in fact not take up more disk space than a Subversion checkout.

After the cloning process has finished, you would start working on your changes just like before. When you are finished, you will do a commit, this too just like before. When you do the commit however, you are only committing the changes to your local copy of the repository (remember, you cloned it earlier on), and nothing is sent up to the server.

You may continue to work offline like this, changing and committing as you go along. When you have reached a point when you want to share your changes with the other developers, you will want to push the changes to the server. That is in fact the name of the command. Hg push sends all your commits to the server, but if someone else has made a push before you, you will be notified by a perhaps not so clear message about you creating new remote heads on the server.

This means that there will be multiple heads on the server (essentially a branch) if you were to force the commit. Normally you would do the opposite and to a pull to get the latest changes from the server before you push your own updates. This is were you will have to take care of merging other people’s code into your own. In 99% of the time, Mercurial will solve everything for you. Remember that Mercurial has a complete history of the project, so it knows if blocks of code or entires files have been moved around. This eases merging in whole new level.

When all merges have been completed, you may push your changes to the server and others may pull your changes to their own local repositories.

This has been an introduction to the conceptual differences between classic client/server version control system and the modern distributed kind. If you want to learn more, head over to Hg Init where you can dive into the concept and learn everything your need to know to get started.

Flight Control – revisited

I recently tried out Flight Control, a game for the iPhone which puts you in charge as an air traffic controller. It is your job to route the different planes to their respective runway. With iPhone OS 3.0 came a feature for Bluetooth PAN (Personal Area Network), which means that the iPhone is now capable of creating ad-hoc networks with nearby phones on the fly. The new Flight Control update takes advantage of this new feature to bring multiplayer!

In multiplayer mode, two iPhones share the same air space, but are in charge of landing strips for different kind of aircraft. You then have to work together to route the planes to the correct landing strip without crashing the planes into each other. This brings a whole new dimension to this already highly addictive game, so if you haven’t downloaded it already, buy it from the App Store.

iPhone App: Flight Control

I recently bought Flight Control from the App Store, hoping to find an easy, yet challenging game. I found it.

Flight Control puts you in the air traffic controller spot, and it is your duty to route the various planes and helicopters on a safe landing route. You have to watch out for crossing trajectories, different speed air planes, and other traps which could lead to your demise.

See additional screenshots and videos on the Flight Control website.

Things vs The Hit List vs Omnifocus

I have been using Things for a long time, both on my Mac and iPhone. While being very good at what it does and being visually beautiful, I have lately been having lots of trouble finding a good solution for a “Waiting For” focus, planner, setting a starting date, subtasks and other minor things. Their support forum is full of these requests and many other too.

Both The Hit List and Omnifocus do not suffer from these shortcomings, and have other benefits too. THL has a very nice planner where you can see items due today, the next days, next week, month etc. It makes it very easy to get an overview on what and when things have to be done.

The one thing missing in THL at the moment is iPhone sync, which is where Omnifocus shines! It has a very competent syncing framework and a native iPhone client (a bit pricey though). Omnifocus follows the principles of Getting Things Done almost to the letter, which may be too rigid at times, and it does not have support for tags at the moment.

What to do? I have invested in Things for the Mac and for the iPhone, but I have considered the idea of moving to Omnifocus for the moment, and maybe returning to Things when it has matured somewhat. I like THL quite a lot, but without syncing with an iPhone application, it’s useless for me.

4 Essential Mac Applications, and 1 bonus

perianMy brother was recently in the market for a new laptop, and I helped him with the reasearch as usual. He ended up with a Macbook in the end, and being a first-time Mac user I of course helped him get started.

What I didn’t realize is that there are some essential applications I have collected over time, which everyone may not know about. They tend to make things much easier.

One of the “features” that need fixing in OS X is the way sleeping is implemented. When you close the lid of the computer, it enters sleep as usual, but it also does the hibernation step – meaning that it saves the contents of the memory to disk, in case of a power failure.

While this may have its benefits, I find it mostly annoying and it means being careful handling the computer until the disk has stopped spinning. Well, no more. There is a smart program called SmartSleep which makes it possible to reap the benefits of both sleeping methods at once!

The idea is that since you probably won’t need the hibernation functions until your battery is almost depleted, it will only be enabled when the battery charge becomes low (configurable threshold)! This means that the computer will go to sleep much faster in normal circumstances, and when the power is critically low, it will revert to the default sleep plus hibernate option. This makes it possible to resume the session even when the battery has been totally depleted.

Media! The Mac needs to be able to play the various media file formats out there, such as Matroska and Windows Media. Perian and Flip4Mac takes care of all your codec needs, and since they provide filters for Quicktime, you may continue to use your Quicktime Player or even iTunes for viewing this content!

The final application for this time is Growl, which provides a system-wide and well supported method of providing unobtrusive user notifications. This may not seems like a big deal, but it makes it easier to focus on what’s important.

gammaJust one more thing! This isn’t an application, but it something Mac users should be aware of. If you have noticed that your pictures, videos or other things look washed out, it might be time to modify your gamma settings.

The default gamma on the Mac is set to 1.8, while most other use 2.2. Experiment with this and see what you prefer. G Ballard provides some more insight and howtos on this issue. There are even some rumors floating around that Apple will change the default gamma to 2.2 in the upcoming Mac OS 10.6 – Snow Leopard.

Download links