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Appsolutely fabulous

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A pick of some of the best smartphone apps

IF you have a cellphone contract and recently got an upgrade, you’re likely to be in possession of a smartphone. A smartphone is basically any cellphone that has a complete operating system and is able to connect to the Internet and other devices wirelessly. To put it simply, a smartphone can be thought of as a handheld computer.

A fully functioning operating system allows users to install and run more advanced applications. It also provides a platform for application developers to create apps. There are now thousands of smartphone applications available across cellphone networks and brands — some free and others available for purchase. The Apple iPhone App Store alone boasts over 200 000 download-able apps. Many of them are utter rubbish, but there are a few gems among the rough that may be worth downloading.

Apps have become the building blocks for making your smartphone unique and range from travelling guides to learning how to do yoga. Also remember that there are several applications that do the same thing (some better than others), but this also means that an appealing application that appears to be exclusive to the iPhone, for example, may be found for your particular smartphone brand under a different name. What follows is a few particularly interesting and potentially useful smartphone apps.

eSkyGuide app logoApplication: eSkyGuide
Platforms: Blackberry and iPhone
Cost: $5 (roughly R35) per year

This traveler’s app allows you to look up flight schedules, airport codes and other critical travel information straight from your smartphone. This particular version also lists phone numbers for airlines, hotels, international emergency numbers and car rental services.

GoodFood app logoApplication: GoodFood
Platforms: Blackberry, iPhone and others
Cost: Free!

The GoodFood app is a popular restaurant guide for smartphone users. Using your smartphone’s built-in GPS, GoodFood automatically locates your position and shows nearby restaurants. It also displays the ratings for each restaurant submitted by other users of the app. “Find one with a high score, enjoy your meal and post your own rating to share with fellow travelers. – goodrec.com

The Essential Garden GuideApplication: The Essential Garden Guide
Platforms: Multiple platforms (also available for iPad)
Cost: $0.99 (about R7)

The Essential Garden Guide app is a comprehensive guide that covers everything you might need to know to start your very own garden of abundant produce. The app has been created from a collection of 15 years worth of contributions from renowned agricultural. It includes basics such as soil preparation as well as extensive information on all types of fruits and vegetables.

Fuel Saver app logoApplication: Fuel Saver
Platforms: Available on multiple platforms
Cost: Generally free

There are several fuel saving applications available for different smartphones that all aim to help users prevent wasting petrol. This particular version uses your phone’s accelerometer to sense when drivers are speeding, accelerating or braking too hard and other bad driving behaviour that uses excessive petrol. The app emits a series of beeps when bad driving is detected and is aimed to teach users how to drive in the most fuel-efficient manner.

Anti-mosquito app logoApplication: Anti-mosquito
Platforms: Samsung Wave and others
Cost: R11 (for Samsung Wave)

This app supports the belief that certain sonic frequencies repel blood-hungry insects such as mosquitoes. Also known as “Sonic Insect Repeller”, this app turns your smartphone into an insect reflector that is claimed to be effective, chemical-free and safe to use around children and pets.

Flashlight app logoApplication: Flashlight
Platforms: Available on multiple platforms
Cost: R11 (for Samsung Wave)

A handy little app that could help you find your way in the dark or get you out of any Blairwitch Project situation. Flashlight apps work by allowing you to switch your camera’s flashlight on for as long as you need or emits a strong beam of light from your entire screen. Very useful for finding lost keys in the dark or signaling for an emergency.

The Apple of my iPad

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APPLE IPAD: Hands-on, touch technology at its best

DIGITAL entertainment technology has a nasty habit of being released onto the market too soon — usually before it can be fully tested, optimised, fine-tuned and sold at a fair price. The Apple iPad, on the other hand, couldn’t have come soon enough, and is the perfect balance between a smartphone — such as the iPhone — and a netbook or MacBook. It is also one gadget being marketed at a very reasonable price.

Apple iPad iBook storeWe South Africans, however, may have to wait a little longer to get our eager hands on iPads and experience them for ourselves. Nonetheless, several bloggers and tech experts have been raving about the iPad since it’s unveiling on January 28; but not all of it has been positive.

Techsperts are arguing that the biggest downfall of the iPad is that it is trying to be the best at everything and failing to be the best at anything. It’s great if you already own a laptop and an iPhone, they say, but perhaps not so great as a stand-alone device.

I would argue differently, and propose that the iPad is perfect for people who own neither an iPhone nor a netbook — or any Apple product for that matter. For starters, you would only be paying for one gadget (it is the cheapest of the three), which is able to do what the netbook and iPhone can … even if not as well.

What is an Apple iPad?
The iPad is a tablet computer. It is a flat, magazine-sized device with a multi-touch screen that allows users to surf the web, watch video content, send emails and read online media and ebooks (electronic books), among other things.

The real technology lies in the high-resolution, multi-touch screen, which is essentially what the iPad is. It requires no input devices such as a keyboard and mouse; everything is performed with the touch or sweep of a finger. A virtual on-screen keyboard appears when wanting to type something such as an email.

The iPad really resembles a large iPhone, but does not have built-in phone capabilities. However, the iPad is not marketed as a phone and it is still possible to web chat and communicate using social media websites and services.

Size and specs
The iPad is two centimetres thin and weighs just 0,7 kg. It features an accelerometre, compass, speaker, microphone, headphone jack, dock connector, 802.11n WiFi networking, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, 16/32/64GB of storage, and Apple’s brand new, super-fast A4 1GHz processor.

That’s one tight package with a lot of talent. Some iPad models will also feature 3G connectivity to cellphone networks. Battery life is said to be 10 hours during active use and one month during standby.

What does the iPad do?
Apple CEO Steve Jobs punted the iPad’s capabilities as an electronic reader of books, newspapers and magazines. In this way, it operates in a similar manner to the Amazon Kindle; one is able to browse and download ebooks onto the device to be read on the screen. This saw the birth of the iBooks application, which users can use to find, purchase, and download e-books from the iBook Store using their iPads.

Users can also download podcasts and vidcasts or buy music, TV shows, movies and applications from the built-in iTunes Store and App Store. All applications that currently work on the iPhone will run in an iPhone-sized window or in a maximized view on the iPad. Apple’s latest iPad model — the SDK — will allow developers to further customise applications for the larger screen size.

iPad Apps
The iPad comes with several built-in applications, such as Safari, Mail, iCal, Address Book, Google Maps, YouTube, Photos, and Music (to name a few). All these applications (which already existed in the iPhone) have been redesigned and optimised for the large multi-touch iPad screen. Data can also be synchronised with a Mac or PC via USB cable.

iPad features and shortfalls
Jobs showed off various features of the iPad during the unveiling ceremony, which include browsing the web, checking email, working with spreadsheets and charts, playing videogames, listening to music and watching video. That’s a lot to ask for in just one device, yet it still lacks a couple of important capabilities.

Apple iPad - NY TimesSome critics predicted the iPad would become the best-selling electronics device of 2010, while others pointed to its shortfalls, complaining that it has no built-in camera, cannot multi-task, can’t be used as a phone and doesn’t support Adobe Flash.

The lack of Flash support is possibly the major shortfall, as many websites today incorporate Flash for rich media content. Several news websites make use of Flash video and banners, which simply cannot be viewed or accessed using an iPad.

iPad Pros
The iPhone has been hailed as a revolutionary device. Since its release, a huge library of thousands of applications has been developed and made available to iPhone users – for nominal fees, of course.

It is not incorrect to say that the iPhone acted as a sort of testing ground for new applications, as it was the only device that could make first and proper use of them. It is also not incorrect to state that many of the applications were borderline useless and often left iPhone users who had purchased the applications feeling a little ripped off.

The iPad, on the other hand, had the advantage of determining which iPhone applications were most successful and popular, and the best ones have been incorporated, with considerable upgrades to them.

What I would argue is the strongest selling point of the iPad from a consumer perspective is that it is simple and easy to use. Microsoft Surface showed how quickly all types of people can get to grips with hi-end technology by using natural hand gestures to operate it.

The iPad has no right or wrong way of being held — whatever is on the screen will rotate and orientate itself to how you hold it. Clicking on links, playing video content, resizing and zooming in on images, using Google Maps, playing games … is all done intuitively, using your fingers. It is hands-on technology at its best.

iPad Cons

“The iPad isn’t the transformational device so many Apple enthusiasts were hoping for. It won’t turn all the content industries upside down, it won’t be your primary computing device and it’s not even a bigger, better iPhone.” — Mashable.

Without Flash support the iPad is unfortunately not the best web browser, which is what Apple is claiming it to be. However, it is still highly capable and can do a lot more than just web-browsing. It is not meant to be used as your primary computing device and it will not replace your cellphone.

Battery life, however, may be an issue. There seems to be a major focus on making gadgets as small and lightweight as physically possible these days, which can hamper functionality. The Apple iPad is just two centimetres thick. Battery life is said to be 10 hours. I would much prefer a thicker device with a larger battery if that means I can use it for longer.

Yet the iPad’s ease-of-use appeal and links to Apple’s online music, book and applications stores will make it an entertainment gadget that appeals to a broader group of people than previous attempts to market tablet computers.

iPad Prices & Release Dates
Apple has said that the basic iPad would be available worldwide in late March at a starting price of $499 (roughly R4 000). A 32GB version will cost $599 and a 64GB version will cost $699.

All iPads can access the Internet using WiFi, but Apple will also be selling versions of the iPad that connect to high-speed 3G wireless networks. These will cost an additional $130 (roughly R1 000). It is important to note that the 3G versions will also require an Internet data plan.

If sales speak any truth
Steve Jobs said that due to iPods, iPhones, and MacBooks, Apple is the largest mobile devices business in the world today – generating more revenue than Sony, Samsung & Nokia. Add the iPad to that list and Apple seems unstoppable.

PS: I’m hoping to get my paws on an Apple iPad when they are released and write a proper, full review. Until then, watch this space …

Related post: Microsoft Surface – touch technology