Why Follow Friday?

I was asked today if I embrace the tradition that is Follow Friday ( #FF or #followfriday if you will) in order to pick up new followers.
After immediately responding “no”, I explained that Follow Friday is about tipping the hat to people, organisations and services that are helpful, interesting, useful or just plain fun. Why? Because it’s good to share. I find some incredibly useful information via Twitter and enjoy sharing the sources with others.
Simple.
I am @craigt44 on Twitter.

Chromedeck

Yesterday the excellent Chromedeck Twitter (web based) app was released alongside the opening of the Chrome Web Store.

If you are familiar with TweetDeck then you will instantly feel at home with Chromedeck.  While it may not have all the features of it’s desktop older brother (yet) it has enough to make it very useable indeed.

As a netbook user I find it incredibly nimble and fluid alongside the desktop version.  So much so that it’s now my full time Twitter client away from the iPhone.

Try it out, I don’t think you will be disappointed.  Let me know what you think…

I am @craigt44 on Twitter.

Momento for iPhone

Momento is a personal (private) diary app for the iPhone.  It’s forté is that it imports feeds from your favourite social media services to capture a detailed and accurate account of your day (see the list of currently supported services below).

In addition to the imported feeds, the app also allows for the creation of “moments” directly in the app.  These “moments” allow for the entry of text, photo, tags, moods, ratings and location to be captured, ensuring your most detailed thoughts are preserved.

The design of the UI is simply beautiful. The combination of layout, colours and fonts work really well and makes the app a pleasure to use.

Currently supported services:

Tweets from Twitter
Facebook Statuses
Flickr Photos
Last.fm Loved Tracks
RSS/Atom Feeds
Foursquare Checkins
Gowalla Checkins
Diggs from Digg
YouTube Videos
Vimeo Videos.

The Momento app offers a great way to maintain your diary on-the-go meaning you never have to miss capturing anything, as it happens.

Version 2 brings with it a host of great new features, the most important being the ability to fully backup and restore your data.

Have a thumb through the various screen captures below and please post your comments.

The Momento app is available in the app store (iTunes link) for just £1.19.

I am @craigt44 on Twitter.

DataMan v3 for the iPhone

I must admit that I have never really given my data usage a lot of thought.  I have been on an unlimited (cellular) data plan for some time so never bothered to check it from one month to the next.  Couple that with an abundance of WiFi (for the three years prior to March I worked at home) and data usage never entered my thoughts.

However, following recent changes (at least in the UK) to network provider data plans (no more unlimited data) and coupled with a new job working in an office (no WiFi), I have been keeping a close eye on my data usage.  I have been doing this using the data counter built into the iPhone.  It tells me how much (cellular) data I have sent and received and, assuming I remember, I can reset it each month to ensure I am tracking my monthly usage accurately.

The data counter on the iPhone is rather basic though.  The ability to monitor WiFi data usage would be a nice addition, as too would the ability to differentiate between where I am using that WiFi data.  Although I have a tariff that offers me unlimited public WiFi access (via BT Openzone for example), I would still like to monitor how much data I am using via public WiFi.

The DataMan iPhone application allows the tracking of both cellular and WiFi data usage.  It also enables you to geo-tag your usage and view it on a map.  Personally I think this is invaluable as it allows you to differentiate between home WiFi usage (which doesn’t come out of your data allowance) and public WiFi usage (which does come out of your data allowance).

Three usage allowances are tracked, daily, weekly and monthly.  These are customised via the settings menu along with your billing date (so that the app knows when to start afresh with your next months data allowance).

Version 3 of the app (this review is based on a beta of v3) offers up a precise location tracking option (which can be enabled & disabled in the iPhone settings).  Within the app settings are four customisable alert thresholds.  As you reach each of the usage thresholds DataMan sends you a real-time alert.  Again this is great if, like me, you generally forget to keep an eye on the built-in iPhone counter.

Historical usage can be viewed by tapping the “History” icon and then setting the date range of interest.  Total data usage (for both cellular and WiFi) is shown at the top of the page along with a list of each day.  Clicking on a day then lists usage in tabular format or, by clicking the geo-tag icon in the top right corner, on a map.  As I mentioned earlier, this is very useful if you want to differentiate between home and public WiFi usage.

I did find that the battery drained a little quicker with geo-location enabled, given the way the app constantly monitors usage, although I haven’t carried out any testing to determine the additional drain.  However, you can turn location services off (iPhone settings > General > Location Services).  I shall use the app with location services turned off and precise tracking on (precise tracking offers more precise tracking of your data usage by checking every 10 minutes) and see how the battery copes (update to follow).

I find the app very useful and it has some great features. The simplicity of the user interface is a key element in making this a good app.  It’s quick to launch and the clarity and simplicity of the UI means the information is very easy to see.

Update 14-Nov-2010: After a couple of days using the app with location services turned off and precise tracking on, I can report that the battery drain is reduced significantly.  The drain rate is slightly elevated compared to having all location and precise tracking options turned off but the increase is very minimal.

Version 2.2 of DataMan is available in the app store now for just £0.59 (iTunes link) with version 3 undergoing approval at Apple as I type this.

Update 17-Nov-2010: Version 3 of the app is available in the app store now (iTunes link) for just £1.19.

If you need to track data and want to track in real-time, then the DataMan app is an excellent purchase, easily worth the asking price.

Have you used DataMan?  What do you think?  I’d love to hear your comments.

I am @icraigt on Twitter.

Geomium: initial thoughts

I have used location based check-in apps for some time with Gowalla being my app of choice right now.  I have also used Foursquare, BrightKite, Rummble and Facebook Places.

I like location based check-in apps as they serve as a way to let family and friends (and thieves and stalkers alike) know where I am and what interesting places I am visiting.  It’s a way to be a part of my life where previously it wasn’t possible.

I am a particular fan of Gowalla as it’s quick, accurate and has some great features (like photo’s, for example).

I think location based services, check-in apps and the like are in their infancy and the future will see them all make much more sense.  There are many ways to develop these services and Geomium is seemingly stepping in the right direction.

“Not another location based social media app?” I hear you cry.  Why, yes it is.  However, it is fair to say that Geomium are helping to take these services along the right path.  Geomium, whilst offering the ability to check-in to places, also lets you see who is nearby (People), what is nearby (Places), what’s happening nearby (Events) and what deals can be found nearby (Deals).

I particularly like the idea of being able to see nearby Deals.  Given it’s relative infancy there is already a surprising number of “Deals” to be found so it appears that Geomium are pulling in some good data.

It is early days for Geomium and I and although I like what I see I know we need to spend a lot more time together.  Consider these my early thoughts.  I will post more as we get to know one another.

If you have the first version of the app I advise you to download the update.  My exerience of the first version of the app was frequent crashes and a very slow UI.  The current version appears to have fixed those issues and it now runs very smoothly and appears stable.

Twitter integration, which in my opinion is a must, is apparently imminent.

Have you tried Geomium?  Have any thoughts?  Please drop a comment and let me know what you think.

I am @craigt44 on Twitter.

2Do Task Management App for iPhone

It’s true I have tried many To Do apps and programs.  It is also true that I have a tendency to stop using them within a few days.

Perhaps it’s because updating a To Do program is yet another thing “to do”.  Perhaps I have a passion for trying out new programs, services and products which, once tested, are abandoned and forgotten the moment something new comes along.  I think, actually, it’s because I have yet to find a To Do manager (be it computer program, web app or iPhone app) that, if you pardon the punn, ticks all the boxes.

Having used so many such programs I have a fairly good idea what exactly I want them to do, what features I need and how I need it all presenting.

For some time now, I have been using Checkvist.  It has a very simplistic UI with some nice features (tags, colouring etc) making it nice to use.  However, I once again find myself “forgetting” to use it.  Again I think it’s because it isn’t exactly what I’m looking for.  Checkvist runs exclusively web based and while that’s perfectly fine (a lot of what I use is web based) I want a To Do list to be accessible all the time and I want it to run very quickly (not having to wait for pages to refresh or, worst, not load at all because I don’t have a data connection).  As I always have my iPhone with me, an app seems the logical choice.

Enter 2Do by Guided Ways.

I have been using 2Do for quite some time, more so recently as I use it extensively for work.  It packs in some great features but, in my opinion, does so in such a way that they don’t interfere with the every day use of the app.  Mostly I want to quickly create a to do item and be on my way.  With 2Do I can do that.  None of the many features ever get in the way.  That’s very important (in my opinion) for an app (program) of this type.  Getting bogged down by (albeit useful) features every time you fire up the app to add a quick item is frustrating and quickly renders the app forgotten.  2Do lets you fire it up, add an item and leave.

Occasionally I want to create a project and embed multiple tasks within it.  2Do lets me do that.  Sometimes I want to tag an item, set a reminder alarm, add a picture and so on.  2Do lets me do all that and a lot more.  The features are all there but they never get in the way.  That, to me, is key to why I find this an excellent app.

In addition to that, there’s a very well thought out and implemented UI that is both pleasing to the eye (I love the leather theme!) and easy to use.

Overall this is by far the best task management app I have used and remains key to my every day productivity.

The fully blown app retails for only £2.39 although there is a “Lite” version to enable a test drive.  The Lite version limits use to 3 calendars and up to 25 To Do’s in each calendar and dispenses with Push/local/email alarms (which alone are worth the small price to upgrade).

Do you use a Task Manager?  What do you think?  Please drop a comment below.

I am @craigt44 on Twitter.

iPhone Visual Voicemail Problem: Solved

After a recent upgrade from non-iPhone to iPhone tariff, I decided to take a look at the previously unavailable “Visual Voicemail” feature.  So, I tapped the call icon, then the voicemail icon and was presented with the following screen.

I entered the required PIN number (and again to verify) and selected the standard greeting (I’m in a deathly quiet office and didn’t want to bellow out the voicemail greeting for the fear of ridicule and torment).

I called my phone, ignored the call and left a voicemail.  The icon changed to show a new voicemail message and I could play it via the Visual Voicemail interface (see below).

I deleted the message and then cleared it from the deleted messages screen.  So far so good.

As I don’t like leaving apps “running” in the background I killed the phone app and went on my merry way.  Curious and wanting to try it again (yes, sad) I launched voicemail again only to be confronted with the setup screen. Strange. I tried this process a couple of times, called 1750 to ensure voicemail was enabled and power cycled the iPhone but every time the phone app was switched off all voicemail settings were apparently forgotten.

So, I carried out a “Reset All Settings”, re-installed my wallpapers, tweaked sounds and other settings back to where I like them and then ran through the process of setting up the visual voicemail, leaving a message and verifying that everything was now working.  It was and is.

Are you missing anything by not having visual voicemail? No.  Other than a visual indication (badge) that you have new voicemail it’s just a different way of hearing your messages.

I am @craigt44 on Twitter.

Motorola TK30 Pro-Install BT Car Kit

For the last three years I have been using a Motorola IHF1700 Pro-Install BlueTooth car kit.  It’s an excellent kit, with full voice control and a nice, simple to navigate, user interface module (UIM) comprising 5 buttons for volume up and down, on-hook, off-hook and a central menu button.

The kit works well but it has it’s limitations.  There’s no A2DP support for streaming audio via BlueTooth, no AVRCP for controlling the connected device and no PBAP to transfer the address book to the kit.

So I welcomed the arrival of the Motorola TK30 Pro-Install BlueTooth car kit.  The kit features an up-to-date UIM featuring four push buttons and a job wheel, also with a push to select feature.  Alongside the buttons is a single line display which is a particularly welcome feature over the old kit.  Obviously the display allows full menu navigation as well as displaying caller ID, the song you are playing and so on.

Features

Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR
MultiPoint (connect 2 phones at once)
HFP (Hands-Free Profile)
A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile)
AVRCP (Audio Video Remote Control Profile)
PBAP (Phone Book Access Profile)
iPod/iPhone connector for playing music and charging
Noice reduction
Voice prompts
4-channel, 60W hi-fi sound (4x15W)
OLED display
Multiple connection options (BT, iPod/iPhone, 3.mm, USB)
Upgradeable software
Full duplex audio
ISO connection for ease of installation

The full low-down of features is available via the Motorola website.

Installation

Installation is very straight forward.  The TK30 uses standard ISO connectors so actually connecting the kit was simply a case of plugging it in.  The MIC and UIM obviously need to be carefully placed and the corresponding wires routed but it’s a very straightforward process and the installation instructions are very clear about how to place each.

The only issues I had with my installation were the placement of the control box and the size of the UIM.

While you could argue that the control box isn’t that big it does have connections along both sides.  This means that you aren’t just looking for space for the control box but also for the connectors and a length of cabling on each side of the unit.  I wasn’t able to place the control box in the same (and very convenient) location as the IHF1700 control box (underside of the drivers side dash) and had to opt for the (very tight) space above the stereo head unit.  This is a temporary location as there is a storage unit that fits above the stereo which has left everything very tightly packed in.

The UIM is, inevitably, quite large as it now incorporates an OLED display.  This makes placement of the UIM also tricky (at least it does in a 2003 Laguna II).  The issue I faced was finding a large enough flat area on which to mount it.  In the end I opted for the included bracket and ball jointed mount, as can be seen below.  While this provides for a convenient location of the UIM I do find there’s a lot of flex in the mount when pressing the various buttons.  It doesn’t feel like it’s going to break but the movement caused by the flexing is a little off-putting.

Motorola TK30 Pro-Install BT Car Kit

The UIM does come with the top and bottom buttons apparently missing.  In fact, these are left for the installer to fit as the device can be mounted in either right-hand or left-hand orientation.  The in-built installation menu (accessible by holding the button closest to the display whilst turning the unit / ignition on) enables the display orientation to be set as well as other features such as language.  The buttons are then simply pressed into place (sticky backed).

In use

In use the TK30 offers very good audio quality.  I always make a point of asking the person I’m talking to how they find the call quality and I’ve not had any complaints.  Most have said it is very good.

The phonebook sync feature (PBAP) is particularly welcome, giving full access to the whole of  the address book on my iPhone (the IHF1700 didn’t have this feature which meant manually entering contact details).

iPod connectivity via the iPod connector is also a very welcome feature.  Previously I had a separate iPod Nano wired in to the stereo head-unit’s CD Changer port via a Connects2 adapter.  Now I have full access and control of the iPod functionality on the iPhone (you can also stream music over BT but of course this doesn’t offer any control via the UIM of the car kit).

The quality of the audio when playing music (via iPod) is very good and there’s an equalizer option to tune to your specific tastes.

Control of the vehicle entertainment system works very well, pausing all relevant audio sources for incoming calls and resuming when the call completes.  When playing music the UIM also offers up control of the volume via the jog wheel.

Issues

I have noted a number of issues which have all been reported to Motorola in detail and most are specifically related to interaction with the iPhone.

The most obvious issue I’ve noted is a lack of audio when connected via the Apple dock connector.  It’s seemingly hit or miss as to whether audio is routed through the connector or not after the first connection of the iPhone.  Motorola report this as an iPhone issue and that despite being plugged into the dock connector, the iPhone defaults to routing audio via BT when the BT connection happens before the physical dock connection.  Disconnecting and reconnecting the dock connector fixes this for now. iOS4.1 doesn’t do anything to address this unfortunately.

Another obvious issue happens when connecting a call.  Upon making an outgoing call, the UIM display alternates between the connected call and “call ended” three times before correctly displaying that the call is connected.  There is a corresponding click as though the audio channel is opened and closed in accordance with the on-display messages.  More an annoyance than problem but again this is reported to me as an iPhone problem (again iOS4.1 doesn’t fix this).

Other issues I’ve noted and reported include poor management of audio routing during playback of music.  I have noted on several occasions, when reducing the volume to zero via the TK30 UIM, audio is still routed to one or both of the right-hand speakers.  Likewise, at higher volumes it appears that audio is not routed correctly to some of the speakers as they appear muffled.  The TK30 does seem to eventually catch up and correct the routing but it seems fairly random as to when this happens.

Conclusion

The Motorola TK30 is a great kit.  It boasts some good features, audio quality (both in-call and music playback) is very good and the UIM is reasonably well thought out and implemented.  Installation is very straightforward, especially if your stereo head unit already sports ISO connections (if it doesn’t it just means plugging in an adaptor cable which will need to be purchased separately).

The issues with the iPhone connection (which according to Motorola are iPhone specific) leaves the TK30 a little short of where I want it to be.  The features are all there they just don’t work as they should.  Whether this is the TK30 or the iPhone has yet to be fully determined.

What’s next?

I like the kit and shall continue to use it.  I am hopeful that between Apple and Motorola that a fix to the issues are imminent.  Having said that the problems aren’t critical.

As always, if you have a TK30 I would love to hear your feedback or comments, especially if you use an iPhone.

The Motorola TK30 retails for around £120 (based on a quick search via Google).

Visit the Motorola product page and the fact sheet for further information and detailed specifications.

Disclaimer: I should point out that I am an ex-Motorola employee although I am no longer connected to the company and therefore offer up this review as an independent individual.

Update: I am using a development build of SW on the TK30 although the issues reported above are common to both the release version and the development build.  The development build does improve the general responsiveness of the kit and allows much faster scrolling through the menus as well as fixing a previous issue of the unit crashing when selecting “Genres” via the iPod menus.

Update 16-Sep-2010: Update: 15-Sep-2010

I have run the TK30 with the iPhone upgraded to iOS4.1 for a week now and can report the following:

The existing issues (as I noted in the original review) have not been fixed.  All the issues, as reported, remain evident with iOS4.1.

In addition to the previously listed issues iOS4.1 has introduced an annoying problem whereby it drops the BT connection.  On several occasions I have noticed a couple of variations of the bug.

The first is that, once connected, the link is dropped momentarily and then re-established.  This may happen immediately after the initial connection or a few minutes afterwards.  The good news is I haven’t noticed it drop more than once.

The second is that the kit and iPhone don’t automatically connect and I am forced to manually connect the iPhone via the TK30 menu.

iOS4.11?

@icraigt

Kensington Travel Battery Pack & Charger for iPhone

It’s arrived!

So, a couple of first impressions.  I will update the post again after I’ve had chance to charge it and the iPhone.

So first off, I was surprised how small it was.  Although I looked at the dimensions before buying it, for some reason I didn’t picture it quite this compact.  That’s a good thing as it will travel with my other gadgetry in my *cough* man-bag *cough*.  It’s also incredibly light.

The specifications are as follows:

Battery Composition: Lithium Polymer
Input: 0.5A @ 5V
Output: 1A @ 5V
Capacity: 5.5 Wh
Length: 95.5mm
Width: 37mm
Depth: 20mm
Weight: 95g

The output (1A @ 5V) equates to that of the (for the 3GS at least) wall charger supplied with the phone so I anticipate (obviously) a similar charge time.

As for the design, I have to admit to a momentary scratch of the head when I looked at the oddly shaped cover over the iPhone connector. A brief play revealed the reason for the odd shape.  The cover folds back through 90 degrees and acts as a stand, supporting the charger and phone at an angle (see below).  The face of the lid that the charger rests on has a rubber pad to prevent slippage.

At the other end of the charger is the USB connector for plugging into your computer to charge the internal Lithium Polymer battery.  The connector stows away in the body of the charger until needed, flicking out for connection to the computer.  I found the retrieval of the USB connector a little fiddly as there’s no tab or similar aid with which to pull the connector from the body of the charger.  It requires the use of a nail, picking at the moulded housing to tease it out.  That said it does rotate out of the housing through 180 degrees, which is a good thing as the sockets on my netbook require the connector retracted fully through all 180 degrees (see below).

Another point to note is that, fully retracted, as I have it in the photo above, the connector feels as though it’s meeting a little resistance, as though it’s straining the internal cable connection.  This may not be the case, it may just be the housing, but time will tell.  Having been on many a design team making devices like this, I put faith in the knowledge that these things are scrutinised and tested very thoroughly.

The device has a single push button and a bank of 5 blue LEDs.  The push button gives an indication, via the blue LEDs of the charge remaining in the device.  The above photo shows the location of both of these.

On the rear side of the device there are the usual array of product regulatory markings, in this case the FCC mark for the US, CE for Europe and the C-Tick for Australia, along with a recycle mark and the WEEE mark.  The device is “Designed in California” and “Made in China”.

So, charge tests to follow (likely to take a couple of days to get a good feel for it).  I will post an update accordingly.

Price: £19.99 from Amazon

Update 26-Aug: Initial results

Ok, this is based on the first charge of the iPhone, from flat.  I am not sure if the Kensington charger was itself fully charged so am reserving judgement until I’ve done a couple more thorough tests.  However, the iPhone charged to 74% on this initial test, easily enough to get you through a few more hours.  I’m happy with that at this stage but am hoping that the next couple of charges yield better results.

The Kensington charger is now charging (one note here… the user manual gives absolutely no clue as to when the charger has itself finished charging… I’m guessing it’s when the blue LEDs stop flashing but it would be nice if this were stated somewhere).

More thorough results to follow.

Update 01-Sep: Initial results

After a few more tests I can confirm that the Kensington Travel Battery Pack & Charger for iPhone is averaging an 80% charge of the iPhone.  This is based on only 4 tests so I will update as I conduct further testing.  I think that’s a reasonable charge level given how compact the device is and certainly provides enough charge for my typical “heavy use” day.

If anyone has any insight, feel free to drop a comment.

@craigt44