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Search Chordie iTunes script

Posted on Jun 7, 2010 in Featured, Mac, Opinions

If you play guitar, you’ve probably tried the various tab and chord sites out there. I recently discovered Chordie.com and it has quickly become my favourite.

One thing I often do is look up chords for songs I’m listening to in iTunes. I do it so often that I decided to put together a little script to make it a bit easier to do.

Head on over to my Projects page to download Search Chordie and to find out how to use it.

Download Search Chordie

Search Chordie is based on Search Wikipedia by the fantastic Doug Adams – check out his other iTunes scripts at DougScripts.com.

Thanks also to Chordie.com – if you play the guitar, you’re going to love this fantastic resource.

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Grassroots UI Innovation

Posted on Apr 6, 2010 in Featured, iPad, iPhone, UI Design

When Apple introduced the iPhone and later the iPhone SDK, they established a series of UI metaphors, interaction models and conventions, that have served as a template for nearly all third party apps. Gestures such as swipe to delete, or UI elements such as springy lists are simply expected.

Apple has done such a great job of establishing best practices for nearly all types of UI interactions that it’s not often you see news kinds of UI interaction introduced by third party developers.

But when Atebits introduced Tweetie 2, it also introduced so-called “spring reloading”. Basically if you pull down past the end of a list, causing it to spring back, you can refresh the current list of tweets.

Many reviewers noted the ingenuity of this design, as it effectively turned a habit of many users (namely playing with the springy lists) into a useful feature. This design has since been adopted by several other applications and seems as though it may become a de facto UI convention on the iPhone OS.

Here is the original Tweetie 2 design:

Foursquare is basically a straight up copy:

This is Gowalla’s take on it – the logo appears to let you know you’ve pulled down far enough:

And the Wikipedia app Articles uses the design to lock or unlock your screen orientation:

It’ll be interesting to see if this convention is adopted by more applications going forward – or if Apple will even perhaps add it to their own apps. But at any rate, it’s nice to see good UI innovations from a third party developer being adopted by others. I can’t wait to see what Atebits and others come up with for the iPad.

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3 Mac apps with perfect UIs for the iPad

Posted on Jan 31, 2010 in Featured, iPad, Opinions, UI Design

For the first time ever, the iPad gives developers the chance to design desktop-class applications for a multi-touch based user interface.
Here are 3 Mac applications with user interfaces that I think would work really well on the iPad:

1. Times

This fantastic RSS reader is already multi-touch aware and is a dream to use on MacBooks with multi-touch trackpads. You tap to read full articles, 3-finger swipe up to return to the overview or 3-finger swipe left and right to switch between sections. The gorgeous UI is the closest thing to reading a real newspaper on your Mac and Times could be a perfect match for the iPad.

Times RSS.png

2. CoverScout

The coverflow-esque UI in CoverScout is a perfect fit for the iPad: You can swipe through your albums, double-tap to start a search and then drag a cover from your search results to an album to apply it.
The search results bubble introduced in CoverScout 3 is also very reminiscent of the new popover list UI element introduced for the iPad.

Whilst you can certainly argue whether this is the type of application you would use on the iPad, the interaction style seems as though it would be an ideal match.

3. Djay

If there’s one application that would really work well with a touch-screen UI, it’s Djay. Being able to use a MacBook multi-touch trackpad as your DJ controller is nice, but a 9.7 inch touchscreen control would offer a much better, hands-on experience. Currently it looks as though access to the music on your iPad will be restricted though, making a real port of Djay unfeasible.

DJay.png

2010

It’ll be interesting to see which Mac applications will be turned into iPad versions and what level of sophistication iPad apps have. Will they stay simple and iPhone-esque? Or will we see Mac application developers come out with truely desktop-challenging versions of their products? 2010 should be an exciting year for developers…

If you like this article, shop at amazon.com and support Jetplane Journal.

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Review: Keyboard Maestro

Posted on Jan 25, 2010 in Featured, Mac, Reviews


If you use your Mac professionally, chances are you often find yourself typing out certain bits of text over and over again. Whether it’s a URL, a file path or email snippets, typing these snippets over and over again can waste a lot of time. That’s where utilities such as Keyboard Maestro come in handy: they allow you to define keyboard shortcuts that will type out phrases or execute commands for you.

Unlikea more general-use utilities such as LaunchBar or Quicksilver, Keyboard Maestro is designed primarily for text manipulation and keyboard shortcuts rather than general purpose file system actions and macros. Having said that, it can also replicate some of the functionality those programs offer as well, giving it a bit of an advantage over more basic text replacement tools such as Typinator or TextExpander.

Performance

If there’s one thing you need your text-replacement utility to do, it’s reliable text replacement. You want it to work immediately, regardless of which application you’re working in. If it causes any extra delay, it would interrupt your thought and you would probably be quicker off typing things out yourself.

Keyboard Maestro performed very well in this regard and worked instantly every time, regardless of which every application I tested it with.

Advanced Commands

Once you’ve become accustomed to basic text replacement, you start thinking about more advanced things.

I for instance use a number of text replacements that allow me to create URLs based on file paths I’ve copied. So by copying the path “/images/example.jpg”, I can simply type the shortcut “..imgloc” to turn that file path into the URL “http://jetplanejournal.com/posts/images/example.jpg“.

But Keyboard Maestro can also trigger non-text events, such as mouse movements, system events (e.g. volume, disk ejects etc.) open URLs etc. The Keyboard Maestro website has a number of ideas and suggestions to help you optimize your workflow.

But there’s more…

So Keyboard Maestro is a text replacement utility, a keyboard hotkey tool and a time saver. What other tricks does it have up its sleeve?
Well, it can also:

  • Store your clipboard history and manage multiple clipboards
  • Remote control your Mac from your iPhone using its built-in macro trigger webserver
  • Run regular scripts and jobs for you
  • Record GUI-based scripts

Gripes

Keyboard Maestro is a very powerful utility, but manages to be easy to use thanks to a fairly simple and straightforward interface. However, the UI could do with a little bit of extra polish here and there and one or two Macros that are enabled by default may be confusing:

  • Some of the icons could be more obvious, e.g. you enable and disable macros by clicking a (stateless) check mark. A “no entry” icon is used for delete instead of the conventional “—” icon.
  • To finish editing a new macro, you can either close the actions pane, or click the “+” icon, neither of which is particularly obvious.
  • By default, Option+backspace is remapped to forward delete, which left me scratching my head for a few seconds, as I generally use that shortcut to delete entire words.
  • Similarly, Ctrl+Tab is remapped to Keyboard Maestro’s own application window switching function (which is similar to the Dock expose feature in Snow Leopard) – I use that shortcut extensively to switch between tabs in Safari.

But these are all minor gripes that won’t annoy you at all once you have everything set up the way you want, so I offer them mainly as feedback to the developer.

What about the tools built-in to OS X?

I know a lot of users prefer to use the tools and functionality built-in to OS X whenever possible, so you might ask what’s wrong with those tools…

Well, although text substitution service has been beefed up significantly in 10.6, it’s still lacking the customizablity you’ll find in utilities such as Keyboard Maestro. You could also replicate a lot of the functionality in Automator, but in my experience, Automator is so slow to execute a command, it’s not worth the effort.

Conclusion

Keyboard Maestro is a great utility for anyone that spends a lot of time working with text on their Mac. Whether you might be thinking of using it to help you quickly answer repetitive email, create blog posts or just to map certain mouse-based actions to a keyboard shortcut, it’s definitely worth checking out.
I’ve tried a number of similar utilities, but in terms of extendability and scope, Keyboard Maestro seems to take the cake. At $36, it’s not cheap for a utility, but considering the time it’ll help you save I think it’s a fair price. I’d recommend you try it out and see how well it could fit into your daily workflows. A free demo is available.

Recommended.

Disclaimer: Peter Lewis, maker of Keyboard Maestro kindly provided me with a license for this review. All opinions are however, of course my own.

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An iPhone user’s review of the Palm Pre

Posted on Jan 3, 2010 in Featured, iPhone, Reviews

I’ve been using my original iPhone since early 2008 and use it every single day. But the iPhone isn’t necessarily the right phone for everyone: The pricy contracts, issues with carrier coverage, a preference for physical keyboards or an objection to Apple’s App Store policies are all reasons some users are looking to alternatives.

Take Germany for example. The iPhone is only available with a 2-year T-Mobile contract. The contracts T-Mobile Germany offers are significantly more expensive than comparable contracts from other providers, so alternatives such as the Palm Pre have received a fair amount of interest. In the US, the situation is similar, but it is primarily AT&T’s poor network performance that has customers looking at alternatives.

So the Pre might be less expensive and on a carrier with better coverage than the iPhone – but can Palm match the great overall user experience Apple offers?

Disclaimer: I received a 10-day loan of a Palm Pre review unit with Touchstone charger from O2 Germany to review, which was returned at the end of the review period. I received no other compensation and the opinions stated reflect my honest impressions. Having said that, if you like this review you can save a few bucks, support the site and buy your Palm Pre at Amazon.

The short version

There’s a lot to like about the Pre: Multitasking, the quick-launch bar, the messaging application and background notifications are just some features that I would welcome on the iPhone. Occasional slowdowns, poor build quality, a tiny keyboard and the smaller number and somewhat simpler nature of 3rd party apps means the Pre is just shy of being a true iPhone alternative. Here are my top pros and cons for both devices:

Unboxing

Your initial experience of opening a product can set the tone for your overall impression. Apple’s attention to detail really shows in this area and Palm’s legion of ex-Apple employees seem to have brought this thinking with them to Palm: The Pre comes in a sleek white box that is very clean and uncluttered. This packaging is somewhat marred though by the plastic wrapper with specs that O2 insists on wrapping it in. When you first turn on the device, you’re forced to create a Palm Profile before you can start using the device. The Pre then launches an interactive tutorial, that shows you how to navigate around its interface and explains some of the gestures. This is important, as WebOS requires the user to use gestures to navigate back through menus.

A nice mood-video completes the initial setup and does a good job of leaving the user with a good first impression of the device.

Hardware

The device itself looks very attractive: the screen is flush with the body and the glossy black plastic enclosure is quite fetching. The back same glossy plastic is used on the default battery cover, which feels slightly slippery in your hand. Luckily, this can be swapped for the Touchstone-enabled back, which has a rubberized matte finish, that looks and feels much nicer. You can’t see where the screen ends and the housing begins when the screen is switched off, which gives the front a very smooth look. When closed, the Pre is a very nice size and fits nicely into your hand and most pockets.

Build quality

The single button on the front of the device has a nice “clickiness” to it, but the other the physical buttons on the device are all very mushy and feel extremely cheap (the power button is particularly nasty). For a phone with this price tag, these buttons feel almost unacceptably junky. Luckily you won’t need them very often though.

The Pre’s slide-out keyboard is hidden by a sliding hinge mechanism, which is easy to open in one hand. When the keyboard is hidden though, the screen can be wobbled slightly – quite the contrast to the iPhone’s sturdy fit and finish.

The Pre’s USB connector is hidden behind a small plastic cover on the side of the device. The cover is flush with the rest of the casing, but this does make it a bit fiddly to open. Since you’ll need to open the cover quite a bit to charge the device (more on battery life later), I’d definitely recommend investing in the Touchstone wireless charger instead, to save yourself the hassle.

Other Hardware Details

The device uses one of the various micro-USB connectors that you see on consumer electronics instead of a regular mini-USB jack. This means your existing USB cables probably won’t fit. If you plan on transferring media to the device on a regular basis, I’d recommend buying a second USB cable, as you’ll also need one to charge your Pre.

The standard 3.5mm headphone jack is nice. The Pre also comes with a wired headset, complete with a clicker for accepting calls and pausing or skipping music. The earbuds have little magnets on the side, so you can stick them together when not in use, which should help prevent the cord from tangling. The sound quality doesn’t quite match Apple’s earbuds though and the headset feels fairly cheap overall. Still, it’s nice to have and I hope we’ll see third party accessory makers offering compatible headsets in future.

Keyboard and typing

One feature many smartphone users would like to see on the iPhone is a physical keyboard. I’ve only ever used T9 text input on a regular phone keypad, so the iPhone keyboard was actually a welcome step up for me and I had high hopes for the Pre.

The keyboard is fairly tiny, so it actually offers less typing space than the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard whilst the width of the keys is about the same. The only way I was able to accurately hit a key reliably, was by using the very tip of my thumb, which slows you down a bit. On the iPhone, I can just type away and worry less about hitting each key exactly. I also feel that typing special characters, such as an apostrophe, comma or period slows things down as well: the iPhone usually autocompletes these, or has a shortcut. On the Pre, you have to hunt for the modifier key first. With some autocomplete intelligence built-in, the keyboard would be far better.

To give you an idea of how fast I was able to type, here’s a short comparison video – but bear in mind that I have much more practise typing on the iPhone:

WebOS

When Palm announced the Pre, the OS is what had everyone most excited. Palm had been floundering for years with several failed new OS projects, none of which were ever released. Palm OS was long overdue for an overhaul, but few people believed Palm would be able to produce anything to match the iPhone in the near future. Palm responded with WebOS – an entire mobile operating system built on web technologies and designed for a multi-touch interface.

WebOS feels quite snappy, but opening apps can be a little bit sluggish at times. This video demonstrates opening the phone  app on both phones:

However, in contrast to Apple’s iPhone OS, WebOS is designed to enable application multitasking via it’s “card” metaphor. Open one application and it will take up your entire screen, just like iPhone apps do. But press the home button and the app will zoom out and you can launch another app beside it. You can then switch between two or more apps at any time with a simple press of the home button. Swiping up across a card closes the application.

Here’s multitasking in action:

Swipe and pinch are supported on the Pre just as you would expect from a multitouch device and it even has a few more tricks up its sleeve: Slide your finger up from the area around the home button (the “gesture area”) and you can bring up the Dock-like launch bar, for instant access to your 4 favorite apps. Swiping from right to left across the gesture area will take you back in menus and dialog screens. The back gesture could be a bit sluggish to respond at times and I don’t really a huge advantage over a soft, on-screen back button.

Unlike in the iPhone OS, taps are visualized by a small dot pointer and wave animation, that indicates exactly where you tapped (like a mouse pointer). Certain menu items, such as the wifi options in the menu bar require quite a bit of accuracy to hit, as the targets a quite a bit smaller than a finger. This is compensated somewhat by the visualization of your taps, but Apple’s approach of making every UI element in the iPhone OS finger-friendly is definitely a better solution. I sometimes found tapping UI elements in WebOS a bit challenging.

WebOS is also not quite as responsive as the iPhone OS. Scrolling in lists in just one example of the slight sluggishness you sometimes feel on the device. Overall though the responsiveness is still fairly impressive and the ability to open multiple apps makes up for the occasional slowdown.

My favorite feature in WebOS might be the global search feature. Unlike Spotlight on the iPhone, that requires you to go to the Spotlight home screen, global search doesn’t need any additional steps to get to: just open the keyboard and start typing to search within your applications and contacts. If no results are found on your phone, WebOS will offer to search Google, Google Maps, Wikipedia and Twitter.

Phone and contacts

The phone application is fine and the on-screen number pad for dialing without the physical keyboard is very useable. You can easily access your contacts and voicemail as well. Speaking of contacts, one of Palm’s heavily touted features is “Synergy” – the ability to sync and merge contacts from multiple sources. If you sign into your Google and Facebook accounts, those contacts will be displayed in a single unified list. Depending on how tidy you keep your Facebook contact list, this feature may vary in its usefulness.

Messaging

This is a bit of a mixed bag. Similar to the “Synergy” feature for your contacts, the Pre displays SMS text messages and IM messages in a single application. This makes a lot of sense, but can be confusing at first. Overall AIM and text messaging worked pretty well though and it definitely beats the iPhone, which doesn’t offer IM support at all out of the box.

Mail

The mail application is fairly basic. It has a nice “favorite” feature, that allows you to create shortcuts to your most frequently used mail folders. But it lacks batch move and delete commands you’ll find on the iPhone. It does have more advanced attachment capabilities though, so you can grab documents, videos, audio files or pictures and attach them to any mail message. On the iPhone, you’ll need to go to the respective application and either copy & paste your attachment, or select the email option in the app.

Connectivity and browsing

The iPhone 2G only has EDGE (which is fairly slow), so I mostly stick to RSS readers and dedicated apps for mobile data access on the iPhone. Apps such as Netnewswire, Facebook or Tweetie have little overhead and load data fairly quickly – even on an EDGE connection. But browsing the web is usually too slow on EDGE to be of much use, so I was interested to see how much fast browsing over 3G on the Pre is. Truth be told I was slightly disapointed: webpages still took quite a long time to load and the browser is slightly more sluggish than the iPhone, so it wasn’t the leap forward I had hoped it would be.

The browser itself is webkit-based (as is WebOS itself) and is quite snappy. Scrolling isn’t quite as smooth as on the iPhone, but overall it’s a very capable mobile webbrowser.

Battery life

I was asked by several iPhone 3G and 3GS users if the Pre’s battery life is any better than the notoriously power-hungry iPhone with 3G enabled. Whilst I don’t have exact measurements, I’d have to say probably not. My original iPhone can go about 2 days without a charge, but the Pre was usually nearing empty at the end of the day (and was probably being used less than I use my iPhone during that time). You could argue the Pre has an advantage due to its user-replaceable battery, but honestly for day-to-day use you don’t really want to have to rely on battery swaps. It is nice to know that when the battery reaches the end of its useable life, you can easily pop in a new one though.

Third party applications

Palm includes a handful of common apps with the Pre, but you can also download & install additional apps via the Palm App Catalog. The Catalog currently only has about 1000 apps, but you’ll already find apps for a lot of popular sites and services. I downloaded apps for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, weather, music services etc. and found them all to be quite useable. Strangely enough, the App catalog has a lot of subcategories, despite some of them being empty. I understand this may be due to regional restrictions, but it does seem as though the subcategories are far too detailed considering most general categories often only had a handful of apps.

The apps that were available all felt slightly less sophisticated than comparable iPhone applications – Facebook can only display and post to your news feed for example, as opposed to the near-complete experience its iPhone counterpart offers. The twitter applications I tried were similarly limited. Most of the time, they offered the main functionality I was looking for though, so they serve their purpose. The WebOS SDK is also less mature than Apple’s iPhone SDK (don’t forget, it is already in its third iteration), so I’d expect to see the apps improve in future. But by design, WebOS will only ever offer an experience comparable to a web app (but as webapps become increasingly sophisticated, this limitation will become less significant).

Background notifications

Since 3rd party applications can run in the background on WebOS, it doesn’t need the klutzy push notification system you’ll find on the iPhone to send you messages or updates that you receive whilst using another app. Notifications appear along the bottom edge of the screen and tapping a notification will open the corresponding app. Occasionally I also received notifications for applications that I had closed, but I guess that feature is limited to Palm’s own Mail and Messaging applications.

Syncing

This is one area that Palm doesn’t really compete in at all. While the Pre launched with iTunes compatibility, a few iTunes updates soon put a stop to that practice, so the Pre now only shows up as a regular mass-storage device. You can easily drag music, videos and images to the corresponding folders on the device, but that still leaves you with no way to manage applications, podcasts, purchases etc. I know some users prefer the ability to manually manage content on a device, but I think nowadays most users will prefer the iPod-like syncing offered on the iPhone.

Overall

The Pre is a great phone. But is it better than the iPhone? I’d have to say no. Launching apps and most UI interactions feel quite a bit more sluggish on the Pre than on the iPhone (and remember – I’m comparing it to my original iPhone, which is considerably slower than the new 3GS). Whilst this isn’t a huge deal breaker, it does emphasize that most other smartphones can’t match the overall quality of presentation the iPhone OS offers. Web OS is very pretty and there’s plenty of love and polish on display – but it’s just not quite as polished as iPhone OS.

The apps are also just slightly less sophisticated, which seems at odds with the slightly more advanced gestures and multitasking support in WebOS. It’s a geekier, sleeker smartphone, but the apps seem better suited to less demanding casual users.

If the iPhone isn’t an option for you, the Pre is a great device. It has a lot of the features that make the iPhone special and is almost definitely a step up from your current phone. But if I had to choose, the iPhone is still an easy pick.

Liked this review? Save a few bucks, support the site and buy your Palm Pre at Amazon.

Already own a Pre? Get the Touchstone dock kit at Amazon.

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5 Reasons the 27″ iMac Could Be Your Next TV

Posted on Oct 27, 2009 in Featured, Mac, Opinions

  1. stariMacA twenty-seven inch screen is big enough for dorm rooms & apartments
  2. Add an equinux TubeStick TV tuner to watch over-the-air HD or cable TV
  3. You may be able to use it as a display with your blu-ray player / games console
  4. It’ll be perfect for watching Hulu or those movies and TV shows you’ve downloaded off bittorrent purchased online.
  5. Front Row rounds out the package as your living room media center

It won’t fit the bill for everyone, but I can see a lot of college kids or people with combined office / livings rooms considering the new iMac instead of a regular TV.

In our house, my desk is positioned that I can swivel my display around to face the couch. The iMac would work really well in this kind of apartment layout.

Like this idea? Support the site and buy your shiny new 27″ iMac at Amazon.
(Who are we kidding? Get the
quad-core version)

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