Monday, May 6, 2013

Choosing the Best Apps (Update)

Getting the most out of your tablet depends on selecting the best apps for it . Most are free. Others cost very little. 

There are few sources recommending a comprehensive group of basic apps. My posting on apps was the most popular posting I have ever had, probably because it addressed that need. It now needs an update. 

But first, installing apps is easy. You just go to an online app store, or your tablets apps drawer and search for the app you wish to install. You then tap to install it and in a very short time it appears on your device. 

Since my original posting much has changed. There have been many new and upgraded apps. I have become much more knowledgeable about apps. But the biggest change has been that more and more apps can be used on more and more devices and platforms.

 Just this week Apple opened up access to Google Now and Barnes and Noble also opened up to the Google App Store. The new Google Now app, which reminds and anticipates, is therefore available on iPad, along with Assistant, which enables conversation. 

New devices have also appeared such as Windows 8 Surface and Chromebooks. These may or may not have touch screens but do have apps. Chromebooks can be considered as tablets without touch screens. Even your older computer now has apps if you have installed the Google Chrome browser. Tap on the right most tab for apps. 

What are the most important apps? This time I will take apps mostly in the order of importance. 

The number one app for most users will be e-mail, and Gmail reigns supreme. Gmail is available on almost all the devices and also synchronizes them together. Once a Gmail account is established, a whole suite of Google applications is then also available, such as Google Docs, which works like MS Word, even offline. 

It is a bit of a nuisance to set up your Gmail account. Be very careful in setting up and remembering the correct password. 

You will find Google itself already installed on most tablets. Other browsers are neither as universal or as capable. The Google browser also works with voice input, which may need to be installed as a separate app. This is a big bonus. With Google Gmail installed, you now have access to the Google Docs word processor and Google Drive data storage. There is also Google Music and Google Maps.   Google Now anticipates providing information you may need, depending on where you are and what you are doing.

Now, with mail and word processing covered, what is next? 

For many this will be Skype, which is usually installed already. It is also possible to text from Skype, such as to grandchildren, who may not communicate in any other way. Talkatone is a popular telephone app. There is Google Talk. On the Chromebook Skype is accessed via Google Plus Hangouts. 

That then covers initiating documents. The next area needs to be accessing media.

If I had to pick the app I use most for accessing media, it would be Google's Reader app, which is unfortunately going away. This app simply aggregates various news sources of your choice.

So, what to do? Feedly would be most popular next choice, but there are others, such as Newsblur. There is News Republic.   The Old Reader is a look-alike, though, but not an app---access it via browser.

Flipboard is the most elegant aggregator in that it turns everything into a magazine format. Pulse and Currents and BBC and Taptu have similar formats. They will search out the latest from many sources or genres. Reeder is a popular for Apple devices.

Next in apps would be ereaders such as Kindle, Nook, and Google Readers. These mimic dedicated devices for reading. They do not all read all the formats so that you will need either more than one or a more universal reader such as Mantano, which willl also read out loud. An older reader app is FB reader.

The Overdrive app now gives easy access to library ebooks and audio books, and for those who want universal access, the Calibre app. The Librevox app accesses free audio books.

hat then covers the basic reading apps. There are also media apps of other types such as simply radio listening, the most popular being Tunein. Tunein will also record on schedule. Some of the other media apps already mentioned do include audio and even video.

Popular video apps are NPR which may also be better accessed as a bookmark from your browser, and Imedia which also accesses Video & TV media. Imedia also delivers to TV if you have an Apple TV box. Recorded TV episodes are also available from other apps such as Search for TV or video in one of the app stores. Live TV apps are rare but do include al Jazeera and NHK Japanese TV dubbed in English. German and French recorded TV are available from your browser. Search for them.

There are a host of apps which access music. Pandora is the oldest, learns your preferences and finds similar music you may not already be familiar with. Pandora is the old mainstay music app which everybody loves. Newer is Spotify which gives access to almost any music or performance you have ever heard and a whole lot more. This may require a low cost subscription for full access.

If you have CDs these may be transferred to the cloud for access anywhere. I find the best way to do that is to load them into iTunes from an old computer CD drive. Then they need to be uploaded to a service like Amazon or Google and accessed from apps for these, Amazon MP3 Player and Google Music being the most popular. More troublesome is to convert your old LPs for access using a special turntable which will create mp3 files. Takes a lot of time.

Photography has its own set of apps. Apple has apps unique to its tablets, and other devices use apps like Pixlr and online tools available within browsers. The Google Google+ accesses the Picasa app and the Picasa Web app which stores pictures and edits them. Search for these.

Other than for searching, speech recognition as yet offers only a few apps. I use one called Write, as I doing as I write this posting. Apple has one called notes. There is also PaperPort. Speech recognition, however, is very good and it is speaker independent universal recognition which requires no training. It works by sending your speech patterns up to a super computer for conversion to text. Speech recognition can also be used for texting, such as to other tablets or to phones.

Texting can be done from Gmail and a number of other apps such as Skype. Texting vastly simplifies communication and is much easier to use than the telephone once you learn how.

That reminds me of the YouTube app which gives you access to YouTube and a wealth of tutorials on how to do anything, especially how to use your tablet. YouTube is second only to Google for obtaining information. Just use it like Google. The YouTube app also accesses vast music and video and now even live telecasting. It has been much improved for use with tablets. With an account you can keep track of what you have been accessing. In most cases YouTube will be on your tablet without your needing to install it.

For those tablets which also have GPS, there are a number of apps. Google Maps is probably the most popular one, although an application called Navigation is probably already installed on your computer if it comes with GPS. I use Copilot which does cost more than most apps but which also provides detailed voice navigation. If your tablet has 3G or 4G Copilot can also access traffic information.

Even better for traffic information is an app called Waze. Waze relays realtime information from other nearby drivers direct to you. I use it whenever we go anywhere. Tablets can be made to augment TV in finding listings and even, for some tablets, controlling your TV itself. There's TV Guide. There is the TiVo TiVo app for those who record TV with the TiVo set top box. There is the LocateTV app, and for those tablets which also work as TV remote, the SmartRemote app.

A popular app is IMDB, the international movie database, absolutely essential for movie buffs.

So far I have not mentioned the shopping apps, the foremost of which is Amazon Market. Major stores are easily accessed from browsers.

There are many other apps such as those to read barcodes, keep notes, and so on. I use Evernote to index my notes. A new notes app is Google Keep.Drafts for Apple is another newcomer. I also use Pocket to keep items in one place to read later. It took me a long time to understand the benefits of pocket. I now use it every day. What happens is that as I am researching a subject, I save documents to cull through later.

Once you have your basic apps in place you may want to add widgets which are really live apps which do things like displaying your email without tapping on an app to start it. I use widgets for news, texts, readers, YouTube, and for most of the music apps. These are activated from your app drawer. Just tap on your apps icon, then Widgets. Apple devices do not have widgets.

For printing, Cloud Print or AirPrint provide printing for tablets. Cloud Print relies on printers attached to computers and both CloudPrint and Apple AirPrint relies moere directly on selected newer printers. Printhand works directly for non Apple tablets, and Fingerprint for iPad . PrinterShare is also available.

Sooner or later you will want to find your way around with files. The principal apps to do this are Documents To Go and ES File Explorer. An app called Downloads is probably already installed on your computer initially. X-plore lets you move files between your internal and external memory. This is a great help when you start running out of space. That will not happen soon because most apps take very little space.

Dropbox, like Google Drive, stores your files on internet.

Dictated and published from my Samsung Galaxy Tab2 7.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Some Seniors Need it Still Simpler

Seniors need it simple. With or without computers seniors need simplification of their lives. 

Computers can provide that simplification if not riddled with hassles, viruses, slow ups, and high cost. Sometimes it is more work to maintain an old laptop than to use it.

Most seniors, who are not Windows or Apple addicts, mainly want to keep in touch by using email or browsers. More and more they need to do such things as shopping and managing money and communications with health services. They need to check out and read library books. 

They may also eventually want Skype or even texting to keep in touch with the family, including grandchildren.

I have scratched my head about how to provide this. For a long time there was no simple way. It took a major effort to learn to use a computer. It was even like learning to play a piano. It should not be that way. 

The whole idea of computers is to simplify work, not to make things more complicated. That is what I used them for in industry and social services. 

When tablets came along these offered new possibilities. They are free of the host of problems associated with older Windows and Apple technology. Tablets do offer a major simplification but do require some learning up front. They are my personal choice for ultimate ease of us but are not for everyone. 

There are those who want a keyboard and those who like Windows or Apple if only there were not major drawbacks. The drawbacks are unusual complexity and costs. Unfortunately these drawbacks are getting worse. Windows 8 puts an unfamiliar desktop over the old already complicated desktop. The local Apple store is not friendly to seniors. 

I needed a better way for those I try to help. One resident surveyed her contacts asking the best recommendation for a new computer. It would need to be inexpensive, simple, and have a keyboard. No cluttered menus and sub menues, no viruses, no slow ups, no malware, no need for support calls, no error messages, no hassles, no loss of data. 

By the time she got to me she had already asked other acquaintances and contacts for their suggestions. I showed her all the options and she made her selection. It happened that Best Buy and I and others had all suggested the same solution.

This was the Chromebook, a product from Google. This device has had a major upgrade since it was introduced just two years ago. 

The Chromebook is a computer which simply eliminates the hassles of the past. It accomplishes this result by eliminating most of the complexity. Few menus, no hard drive, no CD, minimum memory, and not much to learn. 

Eliminated is the duplication of functions carried out locally and those carried out on the so-called called Internet cloud. If the functions of many computers can be handled at a single location in the cloud, then why duplicate them in every laptop? If this had been accomplished with the smartphone and the tablet, then why not apply it to the laptop? 

The result was the Chromebook. Although it looks just like the nicest featherweight laptops of the past , it is new. It certainly represents a fine device for seniors who mainly want do emails and browsing and want the familiarity of laptops of the past without the hassles. 

But where are the limitations? But could it do the job for a more demanding user? 

I have been putting it to the test. It is really hard to find any downsides.

I have had in the corner original Chromebook introduced two years ago. It indeed had its limitations. Slow, no Skype, and so on. 

However, the basic system has been upgraded to the point were those limitations are gone. It now even runs basic office apps away from internet. Although the newer updated Chromebooks are much faster, however, I was able to do a few tweaks to bring my "prototype" up to speed. 

Newly it runs Skype under Google+ hangouts. There are even online photo editing tools. In other words, nearly everything has been moving to the Internet cloud, without which the Chromebook would be more limited. In fact, it is nowadays normal to do most work on the Internet cloud with any laptop. 

The older laptop no longer offers any extra benefits, as it just includes a lot of unnecessary hardware and cost. 

So why have any other laptop? Why be bothered with the troubles of the past? The new Chromebooks are solidly made, very nearly indestructible, sleek and lightweight, and under $250. 

What do you think? Has the day of the older laptop passed? 

Dictated and published from my Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7 tablet.