Inbox makes email meaningful again by filtering out the noise and allowing only those emails that actually merit your attention into your inbox. If you’re a gmail power user and haven’t tried Inbox yet I highly recommend taking it for a test drive.
Apple’s design accomplishments are legendary. Their design prowess in most ways sets the benchmark. Their feats and are often credited with inventing new categories of products we never knew we needed when I think they actually are simply the best at perfecting ideas. With that said what if that prowess extended far beyond the technology stratosphere and reached many of the simpleton things we encounter on a daily basis. Here’s my list of 5 things I wish they did just that.
- Vending Machines. Vending Machines universally suck. They constantly rip you off. They’re giant, orca giant, and noisy. Can you say, “Siri, can I have a Milky Way please?”
- ATMs. Also universally suck. “Siri, give me a Benjamin please.” “Certainly, how would you like that?” “Three 20s, two tens, two fives, and the rest in ones will do.” Notice I never had to select my language preference in this exchange and yes I’m aware of Apple Pay but the vending machine I frequent isn’t and is perfectly content stealing my cash.
- Microwaves. Now these don’t normally suck but how cool would it be to pop in your tv dinner, shut the door and it started automatically because it read some NFC tag or bar code that in turn translated to the proper wattage and heating time. It will even pause to tell you in Siri’s wonderful voice it’s time to remove the wrapper over the refried beans and stir them. Oh and the door makes virtually no noise to open or close. Why are microwave doors always so loud anyway? Loud buzzers, forget about it, just Siri’s delish voice. Step out of the room when the timer ends no problem, a gentle notification to your iPhone or Apple Watch will let you know your dinner is ready. It would also alert you when it detected metal and not operate until it is removed.
- Automatic faucets. You know the kind in public bathrooms. Seriously why do these never work when I put my hands under them and why do they stop when I haven’t removed my hands?! The urinals usually work as do paper towel dispensers and air dryers why not faucets?
- A Kid’s Tablet. Because my 5 year old has access to a LeapPad, a Kindle Fire, a Nintendo DS, and a Xbox Kinect but almost always prefers my iPhone 6 I believe because it offers the most hassle free experience for him. This may not qualify to be on this list because it’s still a tech product nevertheless I just want to see what Apple would do with a product designed from the ground up exclusively for kids.
2015 has rang in and you’ve decided this is going to be your year to read the Bible cover to cover so to speak. I’ve put together a short list of apps to get you started. There were many worthy Bible Apps to choose from but I’ve narrowed the list down to my three personal favorites. The good news is you can’t really go wrong with any app that brings you…well the good news right?
The Bible App by YouVersion is the most downloaded Bible app at 166 million downloads and counting. It’s been my go to Bible app for at least the last 6 years. The Bible App is best known for giving away free unfettered access to virtually any translation or language you might fancy and a robust selection of devotionals to boot. You’re most likely to find a devotional by your favorite author, pastor, or publisher in its library. Part of the reason for its success is the fact that you’d be hard pressed to find a single platform it’s not available on. This past year saw the addition of a social feed to discuss your favorite verses and insights with friends and video content most notably from the Lumo Project and the popular Bible Series that aired on The History Channel. I personally love that I can easily switch between any Bible translation and find a plethora of devotionals and reading plans on any topic to suit my mood or need. In fact one thing I’ve struggled with is staying current on a one year reading plan while being teased with so many tempting (pun not intended) choices. Bonus if you’ve got kids, check out their accompanying free The Bible App For Kids. It’s chock full of interactive storyboard kids’ games of popular Bible lessons.
If you’re familiar with Logos Bible Software then you’re already likely aware of their suite of Bible apps. One of them is the Faithlife Study Bible App and I’ve listed it here because I stumbled on this gem last year and found myself even more distracted from my traditional one year reading plan in The Bible App. Basically it’s a free study bible complete with maps, pictures, exhaustive study notes, and even videos. It’s library is so huge it can actually be a bit daunting. The only caveat is the only free translation is their in-house Lexingham English Bible (LEB) translation unless you’re willing to pay for popular translations like the NIV or NLT which are available for free on the aforementioned Bible App. Nevertheless it’s a feast of biblical knowledge and even serves up a daily dose of sharable Bible word art each day. If you’re serious about going deeper in your Bible study this is a must download and is available on most major platforms and the web. Tip- be sure to create an account for their Logos content store because I was pleasantly surprised at Christmas time with a free $20 to spend on anything which I used to buy the NIV translation which is transferable across their suite of apps and services including the next one in this list.
Also from the folks at Faithlife /Logos Bible Software and recently released in December. You see both The Bible App and the Faithlife Study Bible App are robust at what they do good which can be a bad thing if all you want to do is open the app up and just pick up reading the Bible where you left off distraction free. Enter the Every Day Bible App with its straightforward top to bottom reading design. It’s literally a Bible app devoted solely to a one year reading plan. You can’t select chapters or verses, study notes, maps, social feeds, or even highlight individual verses or phrases. You simply open the app each day, start at the top, and read to the bottom where you check a box marking that day complete. It serves up a mix of old and new testaments with some nice Bible Word art mixed in and if you’re faithful with it then 365 days later voila you’ve read the Bible through and start over. It’s become my choice to read the Bible through this year and thanks to the aforementioned $20 gift I’m able to read it in my preferred translation. I will still flip to the Bible App for shorter devotionals, topical reading plans, and social feed but the Every Day Bible App will be my workhorse year round solely due to its simple and fast formula. Note it’s only available on iOS and the web for now.
* It should be noted the Bible App by YouVersion is a ministry of LifeChurch.tv, a multi-site church based in Oklahoma of which I’m a devoted member of.
I lauded the arrival of iOS 7 more than another other iteration of Apple’s mobile software mostly because I was so ready for its new flat look but it doesn’t remotely compare to my anticipation for iOS 8 and with it the arrival of third-party keyboard support. Apple’s stock keyboard has been much maligned for every successive iteration of their software and for me has been the single greatest point of frustration with iOS. Reasons for my frustration are quite simple and don’t really have much to do with snazzy gestures or pretty color templates so much as it has to do with accuracy. I simply just can’t master typing on the stock keyboard. It’s really quite maddening how poor I can be at times. It’s not rocket science but for reasons both known and unknown I can nary type a single sentence without an error and at this point I’m honestly resigned to the fact that I just suck at it. I had great hope that some third-party keyboard would come along and rescue me from my unmanageable thumbs. By the title surely you’ve guessed by now I was disappointed with the results. So here’s what lead me to the ultimate conclusion that I am ditching all third party keyboards for the stock Apple keyboard.
Somewhere in all the buzz leading up to the launch of iOS 8 and with it third-party keyboard support I came across news that a third-party app available on other platforms had set the Guinness World Record for fastest typing. Its name was Fleksy and after reading up on it I was immediately sold on its gesture based predictive algorithm. It seemed so fluid and quite slick. You see my crutch is simply typing accurately. I can spell just fine. I know how to structure a sentence. Still it’s a mystery to me why I err so much because I don’t have fat fingers, I consider myself very dexterous, and my thumbs keep in shape playing Xbox nevertheless I’ve always sucked at typing on the iPhone. The UI presented to me by Fleksy just seemed to hit the sweet spot because unlike most other keyboards including Apple’s it doesn’t try to predict as you type instead it just tries to predict what you just typed. Translation, it basically auto corrects your spelling. After downloading iOS 8 Fleksy was the first new app I installed. Frustration set in immediately as the keyboard crashed the very first time I took it out for a spin. After about a day of constant crashes I would learn that all iOS 8 users were experiencing the same thing and that the issue was baked into iOS 8 and affected all third-party keyboards. I would stumble on a couple more days until I just turned off the keyboard entirely to wait for Apple to offer up an update to fix what was a widely reported major bug. The first update supposed to fix the bugs we would quickly learn could brick phones and a successive update for the update would promptly come out soon after. I gave things a couple more days to smooth out before downloading that update. What’s important to note here is in that brief period while Apple was ironing out the kinks to the kinks so to speak I got some time with the updated stock Apple keyboard and discovered as advertised it had improved by leaps and bounds over the last one. It’s prediction engine was quite good and I would have to say did cut down my errors to some extent. That didn’t stop me from reactivating Fleksy once I finally downloaded the iOS update with fixes for third-party keyboards. I had after all already made my mind up to ditch yet another stock Apple feature for a better alternative something I have successfully done with practically every other stock Apple app or feature to date where alternatives existed.
Sadly Fleksy would turn into a maddening disaster. The predictive gestures were fun but what sunk it for me from almost the first day was its over corrective tendencies. How can you over correct the spelling of a word you ask? Simple really. Take the word “gun” for example. Typing it correctly would often yield a different word like “fun”. It begs the question how does this happen really? Wouldn’t in the hierarchy of rules a correctly spelled word take precedence over really any other rule? With Fleksy replacing a correctly spelled word with another word entirely happened astonishingly frequently. This left me altogether pissed off frankly. If I couldn’t correctly type in a word and have it accepted (especially since we’ve already established how much trouble I have typing accurately to begin with) then what is the point really? I researched the 3 major keyboards getting buzz at launch (Fleksy, Swype, and SwiftKey) and I’m not sure if I made it past two full days with my first choice, Fleksy, before moving on to my next choice. SwiftKey.
The lure for me about SwiftKey was really 3 things. First it was free which helps considering I had to purchase Fleksy, next it incorporated swipe to type gestures and learned your typing patterns getting better the more you used it (allegedly), and last you could always tap away if you didn’t want to swipe. I was at first really impressed with it but quickly discovered that learning your typing patterns was too much of a good thing. If I incorrectly misspelled a word in the same way a couple of times well…the incorrect spelling became its default first prediction thereafter. After 2 or 3 weeks I found myself full circle with the keyboard over correcting too often albeit now with a slew of misspellings. I could easily reset the keyboard to rid myself of all my polluted predictions but as I stated with Fleksy what’s the point of using their keyboard then? Truly frustrated I took a brief hiatus from third-party keyboards and went back to the stock Apple keyboard. At this point though I found that I had grown quite fond of the swipe to type gesture. It just felt more natural for one-handed use especially with the bigger iPhones that have virtually eliminated the ability to type one-handed so I finally convinced myself to drop a buck and download my third option. Swype. As luck would have it Apple would make it the FREE app of the week the very next day. Go figure. Nevertheless I found myself as with SwiftKey quite smitten with it I think mostly because it worked better (at first) than the previous keyboard I had tried, but not perfect. In fact Swype‘s fatal flaw is no different from all the others for me. Over correction. I don’t understand it really. I found it had trouble acknowledging swipes for words with two identical successive letters but not in the way you might think. For example I can’t tell you how many times it replaced “to” with “too”. Such a common word…too pun intended! Ultimately I concluded I was spending just as much time correcting Swype‘s predictions as I was correcting my own typos in the stock Apple keyboard so like I’ve stated the other two times what then is the point?!
I’ve been mulling this question over for some time as my frustration level has continued to build. Not mentioned with these three different experiences is the one factor that is the same across the board that muddles all of these third-party keyboard experiences. Crashes. Yep they are still a constant despite Apple updates meant to address these crashes. I know it’s not just my phone because in the middle of this experience I actually switched iPhones (for other reasons) starting from a clean slate rather than restoring from a backup. Users still complain of the constant crashes. They’re certainly better than at launch but nevertheless they are a daily miff. Honestly it’s astonishing really how prevalent they are and how little attention it’s getting. There’s another factor that has influenced my choice to spurn third-party keyboards. Emoticons or lack thereof. Support for them varies between the apps I tested with Fleksy doing the better job nevertheless emoticon support seems more or less an afterthought. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it’s a combination of both iOS restrictions and/or lack of creativity on the part of third-party app makers to incorporate them better. It seems petty to include this as a deciding factor but I must admit to embracing emoticons as a significant portion of my day to day mobile communication and to have it buried sometimes 3 taps back is off-putting to say the least.
It’s taken me two and a half months to finally throw in the towel but I finally did. It really boiled down to simple math for me. In the negative column you’ve got a common theme of over correction, constant crashes, and a case of emoticon denial. In the positive you’ve got an improved stock Apple keyboard that at least is stable and better at offering you up predictions while not jamming them down your throat. Ultimately though the deciding factor for me was my general level of frustration. When I use a third-party keyboard I have this expectation that it will work better than the stock one and that some launch bugs are expected but not to this degree. I expect it will not just be pretty but actually make the task of typing easier or more efficient for me. None of these have remotely been up to the task. I got more frustrated using third-party keyboards than with the stock keyboard which I guess in part is because I have come to accept some level of frustration already over the years with the stock keyboard. I’m left now with only one choice to return to the Apple stock keyboard.
Now that I’m reluctantly all in on the Apple keyboard train I offer a couple of thoughts for the masses who might agree with me. Why can’t we have different colors schemes for the stock keyboard baked in? It’s surely not because it’s not possible; I find a different color themed keyboard when I’m utilizing spotlight search versus Messages already. How about long presses to a secondary keyboard much like Swype already employs? Yes I know there’s already the trick to long press the 123 button already to get to that secondary keyboard but it’s nowhere near as intuitive as the Swype keyboard in this regard. What about adjusting the size of the buttons like Fleksy offers? This one really seems like a no brainer especially with the bigger screens for the new iPhones. How about the option to add a top row of numbers or characters so I can easily tap out #comeonalready? Am I asking too much…really? Final parting thought, I wonder how long it’s going to take me to untrain all the different gestures and shortcuts I’ve learned the past 11 weeks and just get back to my normal pace of error laden typing? Er I feel worse off than when I started.
Price: $149.95 Apple Store
Goodieness: Comfortable design. When those LEDs come to life you really get that cool factor. Beautiful and useful accompanying app. Displays time.
Crummieness: Not a true pedometer. No GPS. Tied to Nike’s formula for Fuel Score which there’s just no benchmark for. App only available for iOS.
Though on the market for over a year now (Feb. 2012) it’s still Nike’s forerunner piece of tech gear for tracking activity with no replacement as yet announced. Recently there have been a slew of competing products from the likes of Fitbit and Jawbone to hit the market so I thought it prudent to go ahead and post a review of my current choice of activity tracker.
The device comfortably snaps to your wrist and comes in three flavors; smoke, ice, and black. Personally I prefer black for two reasons. First black hides natural build up of dirt and grime. Second is the wow factor. The other colors are somewhat translucent so you can see some of the electronics inside them so when the LEDs light up it’s not much of a surprise. When those LEDs come to life on the black it really does turn heads and has proven to be quite the conversation starter on several occasions. The band itself is fairly nondescript and aside from a slide-fit metal clasp there’s only an oval shaped button visible. The magic happens when you press the button and a bank of LEDs lights up to display steps, calories burned, NikeFuel score (I’ll cover that later), and current time. Built inside the band is a forward thinking battery design, accelerometer, and Bluetooth. Unsnapping the clasp gives access to the power and syncing port which utilizes a unique charging station included in the box.
Goodieness: If Gmail is your primary mailbox service and you have an iOS device you’ll never have a cluttered inbox again all without ever having to dispose of a single email. Sorting mail is literally addictive, like playing Angry Birds.
Crummieness: Besides not being available before….only syncs with Gmail.
With one quick download my pile of emails almost instantaneously got sorted. I can honestly say that never has an app ended up straight to my main app dock so quickly. Same day in fact. Mailbox by Orchestra, Inc. is exactly what the name suggests. It’s a mailbox for email, Gmail specifically and exclusively. It’s currently available for Apple’s iOS devices only. If you fall into both camps then this is good news for you particularly if you’re inbox is cluttered which so easily happens nowadays as you pretty much have to subscribe to everything online.
I read the buzz about this app a couple months ago and decided to take the plunge. It was still in beta which meant going to the App Store and downloading it only put you in a long line to getting a link to downloading it. I was given a number (750K and change) that I could check daily by opening the app icon to see it tick down. After about 6 weeks a notification popped up allowing me to grab it finally. I was not disappointed. Note it’s now available for download instantly. After a painless sign in screen to my Gmail account the sync began. Then a really helpful tutorial ensued. The first thing you’ll notice that’s different about its approach to mail is that my icon badge defaulted to listing the number of items in my inbox (approx. 454 for me at time of download). It did not distinguish read from unread items. Before you get in a tizzy over that, realize this is the whole point of mailbox, it aims to help you clean out your mailbox and keep it clean in a fun and visually pleasing way. In fact there’s even a reward for doing it! I’ll get to that soon.