2012.03 History: Feb. Feature: "Helper" Apps

Presented by Dave Weston

How to use Apple’s App Store to get really cool utilities and helper apps. (“App” is short for “application”, which basically means “program”. For example, Mail, Safari, Garage Band, Excel, and FileMaker Pro are all apps. So are cute little single-purpose utilities like Snapz Pro, OmniDazzle, Angry Birds, and PopClip. These should not be confused with widgets, which are also tiny little programs but which run in the background and are accessible via the Dashboard.)

The board gave me a couple hundred bux to find some apps that people might find useful. After all the hookers and beer, this is what I was left with: some winners, some meh, some cautionary tales.

I’ve been lamenting the absence of Apple’s Front Row under Lion, but I found something via the App Store called Remote Buddy (~$15) that at least lets me use the Apple remote control (~$20) that used to work like a VCR control for Front Row. It works for many media-oriented programs from Apple and a few other vendors (such as XBMC, X-Box Media Center). This lets me watch my big-screen computer from across the room, under blankets and cats.

One advantage of the App Store is that you can now buy individual components (such as iPhoto out of iLife or Numbers out of iWork) instead of an entire package, and you pay less for it. It’s worth checking out the staff favorites to help winnow the vast amount of stuff competing for your attention.

The nice thing about the App Store is that small developers can find a market for small programs that couldn’t possibly justify packaging, distribution, store shelf space, etc., and the savings are passed along to you, the customer. Indeed, many App Store programs are free. For example, there’s a free app called iBooks Author that lets you use Pages to create a book-like document accessible via the iBooks e-reader, which works on iOS devices like the iPad.

Calibre can let you convert e-books between formats, organize libraries, add cover art, manage digital rights, maintain metadata, etc. It’s shareware, not available thru the App Store. (Shareware is free to download, but they ask for voluntary donations.)

PopClip is useful for being able to cut, copy, paste, and link text right on screen with minimal need to use the keyboard or menus. (Richard testified that it finally made it easy to transcribe name, address, phone, eddress, etc. info from an incoming e-mail or other document into Address Book, but that he uses it literally hundreds of times a day for many other purposes.) A terrific bargain at $5.

Games? Funny you should mention games! There are a few that I really liked. One called Trine is a gorgeous-looking little medieval-magic adventure game. It’s also got a sequel, Trine 2. They’re ~$15 each, today on special for 99¢. I got it because the 1st one was listed as a staff favorite. They are total time sinks.

What does that giant 27” monitor cost, Dave? $1699 base, plus enuf memory to bang it up to 2 Tb total, about 2 grand altogether, totally worth it!

An app that lets you edit metadata within iTunes is called Subler. It started out being able to subtitle films (such as the German-subtitled Metropolis) but expanded to include the capacity to tag the document with things like descriptions, plot synopses, cast and crew list, release dates, etc. — metadata not otherwise accessible via iTunes or other players. Furthermore, it’s possible to share the metadata with other users.

MAME (free) is Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator and lets you use your Mac to run original code from all those old arcade games like Asteroids, Pac-Man, Frogger, Space Invaders, etc. Original sound effects, too. You can get a 3rd-party joystick game controller if you don’t want to have to use the arrow keys. Bonus: The video on a modern LED monitor often looks better due to higher resolution and lack of the long-term burn-in that plagued the old arcade CRT monitors.

The insanely popular Angry Birds is available thru the App Store and looks way better on your computer than on a minuscule cell-phone screen.

BreakTime is a reminder program that dims your screen and tells you to get up and move around after a period of time that you can set. It gives you a countdown timer that lets you know when you can turn back into a sedentary slug, which is how you spent all your time before this little freebie came along. You can bypass or temporarily suspend the “move your lazy butt” warning if you want, but that kind of defeats the purpose.

TeamViewer allows a remote user to control your desktop for demo purposes, or vice versa. It works on both Macs and iPads. Tech-support people love it. There is password permission control at both ends. I use it to control my own iPad and Mac from each other.

IBooks is a free app from Apple that lets you read e-books on an iOS (portable) device such as an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

You have to feed your fish (which adds trinkets to your screen) every day with iQuarium. Can Knockdown gives you something to while away a few idle minutes. They’re either free or super low cost. You can also get a free lite version of more complex programs like Fruit Ninja, which lets you slice flying fruit with a finger stroke. Similarly, Where’s My Water? from Disney mobile asks your gator buddy to take a shower by rubbing out obstacles to the water flow from above. The marketing plan here is to get you hooked on the lite version so you’ll spring actual bux for more bells and whistles.

The App Store provides you with buying advice based on average customer rating.

FileMaker Go (~$25) is productivity software that works on iOS devices and lets you work with databases created on your main computer using FileMaker Pro. It’s really handy for folx with space limitations or who need data on the go.

No comments:

Post a Comment