Saturday, March 14, 2009

Skill up on Adobe products with free video tutorials

It's no secret that the American economy is suffering, and many of us are experiencing the cold-water shock of abrupt career shifts and planned or unexpected part-timer-ification. Want to spark up your value to an employer, or gain some new skills to improve your freelance mojo? Adobe's free video tutorials may be right up your alley.

The library of CS3-centric tutorials is extensive, and covers most of the content that was delivered on DVD with the products. The CS4 section is a little thinner, and most of the demos are performed with the Windows versions of the apps, but the videos are still valuable for new feature info. Adobe's full training site covers paid and e-learning options for all the company's technologies, and of course there are many respected third parties offering training on the CS4 suite.

Tweets (and whatever else you want) on the desktop with GeekTool

Mat posted a while back about the magic of GeekTool -- it's an app that allows you to run Unix scripts and show logs in a good-looking pane right there on your desktop. Mac OS X Tips recently did a post about how to put your iCal events up there using a script called iCalBuddy, but industrious reader Ben G. has taken this even a step further, and sent along a link to a similar script called twitterbuddy, which -- as you may have guessed -- will send your latest tweets to GeekTool.

As a result, he's got the desktop you see above -- both tweets and iCal events sitting in a transparent pane on top of his desktop background. It will require a little Terminal tripping, but it's pretty easy to do. Just install and set up GeekTool the way you like it, and then make sure the buddy scripts are installed. From there, you can create a New Entry in GeekTool, and run whatever commands you want. It's incredibly flexible, too, because it'll put any Terminal commands you can throw at it right there on your desktop. If you're looking to fill in some of that unused Desktop space, give it a look.

Beta Beat: TweetDeck ripe with potential

Since it's turned into Twitter Thursday around here... In a moment of sheer frustration with Twitterrific, I sent out a call on my Twitter feed for recommendations of a desktop Twitter client. Several folks replied with a nod to TweetDeck, an Adobe AIR-based client currently in development for OS X, Linux, and Windows.

TweetDeck is a pretty neat program. The selling point is the ability to split your main Twitter feed into subfeeds that you can then organize into different groups. You can have Twitter be as narrow as a single column while you scroll back and forth in it, or you can make it full-screen and have your monitor filled with nothing but tweeting goodness.

There's a lot of features as well. If you go over the 140-character limit, you can hit a "TweetShrink" button that will turn some of the words to LOL-speak in order to fit the limit. You can upload pictures -- clicking on the TwitPic button will upload the image file to TwitPic and give you the URL for your feed -- and you can shorten URLs via your choice of service by clicking the "Shorten" button.

Another very cool feature is the ability to translate your tweets into another language. The translation is pretty accurate -- even for more difficult languages such as the Japanese I tested with the application. The program itself is highly customizable, and you can tweak the colors and fonts to whatever you like. You can also set different update times for various feeds: for example, you can have your main friends update every minute, but your private messages every five minutes.

TweetDeck is extremely polished for a beta client and I've yet to get the error messages that plagued me with Twitterrific. If you're searching for a free desktop client for Twitter, it's hard to beat this one.

TweetDeck is in public beta and requires the Adobe AIR runtime, which is a Universal binary and needs OS X 10.4.11 or higher. AIR will be installed during the TweetDeck installation process if you do not already have it.

App Store facing competition from jailbreak app sales?

While we're pondering the consequences of RIM announcing that programs in the Blackberry "App World" must be at least $2.99US, there are alternatives to the iTunes App Store emerging from the jailbreak side of the iPhone world. The Wall Street Journal reports that Cydia is making the transition from package repository to a full app store. There are also plans for an adult-only app store and a new jailbreak service.

The big question at the moment is how will Apple take this? Apple filed a complaint with the US Copyright Office last month claiming that jailbreaking is illegal. They're not going to take firing a direct salvo at the App Store itself lightly. There is competition for the iTunes Music Store, but Apple could argue that the homegrown app stores infringe on its copyright by using modified versions of its software.

It's not a huge shock that App Store competition is popping up; the only surprise is that it took this long to happen. After all, developers are frustrated that excellent programs such as Podcaster are passed up in favor of the latest, greatest novelty app -- then to make matters worse, those same features turned up in an official iPhone update.

While there are a lot of really terrible apps out there that have no place on the App Store -- I won't even begin to tell you about one adult app pitched to TUAW, we do want to remain a mostly family-friendly site -- there are a lot of good software that get turned down because of Apple's stringent developer's agreement. These developers want an avenue to distribute their programs, and homegrown app stores are one answer.

New Tap Tap Revenge slammed with network issues

Tapulous unveiled the latest version of its megapopular iPhone music game franchise, Tap Tap Revenge 2 (link opens iTunes), a few days ago. While it has become the top free app in the App Store, the program is plagued with several issues due its massive popularity.

An update posted on the App Store yesterday lets users know that Tapulous is experiencing network problems that are leading to issues with music downloads and online play -- in addition to the app itself crashing. Tapulous has promised a resolution to the network issues as soon as possible, and there should be an update to Tap Tap Revenge 2 over the next few days.

Tap Tap Revenge 2 features more than 150 free tracks and three ways to play with friends -- Challenge mode, Two Player Split-Screen and Online Play. You can also progress through Career mode and share your results with that as well.

Tap Tap Revenge 2 improves on an already fantastic game, and retains the same free price as the original. However, you may want to wait a couple days for the network problems to be resolved in order to take full advantage of the update. You can check out Tapulous' blog to see the progress on these issues.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Boxee launches update, "App Box" and Hulu RSS support

My favorite media center software, boxee, has just released a new alpha update for Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5 users and Apple TV users. This update, which the boxee team classifies as bleeding-edge (which means, if you don't want to deal with any potential bugs, wait for the more stable release scheduled for March 24, 2009) adds the "App Box" -- boxee's version of the App Store, automatic updates, and most excitingly, a new video-optimized RSS reader. The new RSS reader allows users to access Hulu's public RSS feeds directly from boxee.

Two weeks ago, boxee was forced to remove Hulu streams from its service. As boxee noted in its blog, users aren't going to wait around for Hulu's content providers to get with the program, or for an official agreement to be ironed out. Within hours of the initial Hulu shutdown, industrious coders created alternatives anyway; those alternatives were thwarted, rebuilt, thwarted again, and the game continues on. Although the RSS feed implementation isn't as slick or as quick as boxee's stand-alone app was, it's a start. Plus, on my 40" Samnsung HDTV, the quality wasn't bad at all. Playback was a little more stilted than via the direct boxee app, but it is certainly more than watchable.

Boxee's "App Box," which is similar to the Plex App Store, utilizes a lot of video source plugins previously available from places like BoxeeHQ. Now the installation process is one-click, and not a bunch of steps. Right now, the only repository of apps set by default is the official repository, which contains add-ons built by boxee or trusted sources, but you can easily add access to additional sources as they crop up ( will get you access to every BoxeeHQ app). Some of the new sources that are especially cool: TED Talks and Boing!Boing! video. BoxeeHQ is prepping a PBS app for the March 24th boxee release, so lots of cool stuff is on the way.

To download the latest boxee release, head over to, head over to Download and download the Mac version. Apple TV boxee users just need to go to Downloads in the Launcher menu (where Boxee and XBMC are located) and grab the latest version (it'll say test version) that way. If you need to put boxee on your Apple TV, head over to the ATV-USB Creator page and you can get all the information you need to create a patchstick.

Tweetie 1.3 rejected for displaying "offensive language"

Update: Cooler heads appear to have prevailed, and Loren reports that Tweetie 1.3 has cleared the App Store bluenose barrier and should be showing up later tonight.

We saw this hit the fan early today, hot on the tail of the AMBER Alert post. Apparently the 1.3 update to Tweetie, a popular Twitter client for iPhone we've covered before, has been denied release in the App Store because the app could potentially show "offensive language."

As you may know, blatantly offensive apps (like really "adult" content) are verboten on Apple's store. Unfortunately, that rule was probably intended to keep X-rated content (maybe hard R as well) off the store, not inadvertently prevent an update to a popular Twitter client. In this case, the offensive material could pop up in Twitter trend searches -- never mind that you can find much worse using Google's search app or mobile Safari itself.

This latest episode plus the Amber Alert app's delay and many other examples continue to shine a light on what is clearly a broken approval process. As Engadget's Nilay Patel says, "It's time to drop the seemingly-random black-box approach... and actually work with innovative developers like Tweetie's Loren Brichter to push your platform forward in the face of newly-stiff competition."

That last point is important, because hardware companies are working hard to avoid an iPod-like market lead for the iPhone. Last night's demo of the Palm Pre had my eyebrows raised, to be sure. If Apple can't quit shooting the feet of some of the best developers out there, it'll be all too easy for them to switch to a platform that provides less restrictions, less doubt and less uncertainty.

submission process

Jonathan Zdziarski, who has appeared on this pages before for other iPhone-related hijinx, has written an open letter to Apple about the AMBER Alert iPhone app he's written. Apparently he's worked in conjunction with government agencies to set up an iPhone app that can easily and quickly send sighting reports of children gone missing in the United States. And he's unhappy with Apple, because they haven't yet approved it.

His letter, which you can read in full over here, complains that we've got tons of fart apps already approved on the store, but his app still sits in approval purgatory. He actually sounds kind of selfish in the letter to me -- he says he doesn't care about how the App Store works, and that he just wants someone to "pick up the phone" and push his app, which could save children's lives, through.

We've got nothing against the AMBER Alert system, of course, and if it's true that this app can get more reports in and possibly help kids who are in danger, then great. But do we really want Apple picking and choosing which apps get kicked to the front of the line?

Update: looks like the app has been approved. The question remains: what was the holdup?

There are thousands of apps already on the iPhone store, and probably many, many more waiting to go through. In this case, sure, you could definitely make the argument that this app could help a lot more than a random piece of software that makes farting noises. But do we really want Apple making that decision? In this instance, clearly, you'd want the AMBER Alert app to go through. But what about the next time, when Apple pushes the wrong app forward, just because the developer of that app raises a stink? Shouldn't Apple stick to apps in the order they're presented, rather than actually monitoring the 'usefulness" of every app that shows up to see which gets to go first or not?

Not to mention that it's a simple matter right now to send a report on any AMBER Alert child that may have gone missing, from your iPhone or any other wireless device. Considering that the functionality is already easily there, you could even question whether there is a pressing need for the app itself. Maybe Apple has already made its decision, and determined that because the functionality exists there already, it doesn't need to be in the store. Though if that is the case, it would have been nice for them to actually tell the developer.

There are definitely issues in the App Store that need fixing, and the approval process clearly isn't perfect. But asking Apple to kick certain apps to the front of the line just because they're perceived as more important than others isn't a solution.

iPhone app phones home to foil pirates

Like many iPhone developers, Ben Chatelain is frustrated to see cracked versions of his project, Full Screen Web Browser, showing up online. Following the usability suggestions of John Gruber, Ben has chosen to do something about it. The latest version of his app has detection capabilities for pirated instances, and reports the UUID of the device back to his server. After 10 days of running a cracked version, users are presented with a "trial over" dialog box and given the option to buy up to the legitimate version.

As antipiracy measures go, this is about as benign as you can get, and it's in good alignment with the stated 'we crack so we can try before buying' philosophy that the crack community espouses; the alternative approach from RipDev may block piracy altogether, but it also involves more work and more cost. There might be some legitimate purchasers who balk at any phone-home capabilitity that includes personally identifiable data, but Ben claims his implementation only pings back from cracked versions.

With the pingback code running, his preliminary stats show that about 10% of the users of his latest version are running unlicensed copies -- that's very low compared to some popular games, where whisper numbers estimate that more than half of all users never paid for the app. It's important to remember that pirated copies ≠ 'lost sales,' at least not at a 1:1 ratio, as most users of cracked copies would never have bought the app at retail. Ben's approach at least gives those users the opportunity to choose a legit copy over a cracked one.

MarinerCalc for iPhone: A spreadsheet in the palm of your hand

The wizards at Mariner Software have been around the Apple world for a long time. Their first product, a HyperCard stack that charted stock prices, came out in 1989 as a shareware product. After twenty years of developing cool Mac apps, Mariner has just released a useful product for the iPhone: MarinerCalc, a feature-packed spreadsheet application.

During the past few days, I've been putting MarinerCalc for iPhone (US$9.99, click opens iTunes) through a series of tests on my iPhone 3G. My assessment is that MarinerCalc is an excellent spreadsheet app. If you have any need to manipulate, create, or even just view spreadsheets on your iPhone, this is the app to get.

Read more about MarinerCalc by clicking the (you guessed it!) Read More link below, and be sure to visit the gallery for plenty of MarinerCalc screenshots.

To be a usable spreadsheet on a handheld platform, an app should do three things very well:
  1. Read, write, and edit Excel spreadsheets
  2. Easily transfer spreadsheets to and from a desktop or notebook computer
  3. Provide the functionality of a desktop spreadsheet within the constraints of a handheld device
I'm glad to say that MarinerCalc performs the first two of these functions very well, and performs the third as well as can be expected with a first-generation app.

Read, write, and edit Excel spreadsheets
Microsoft Excel is the de-facto standard of the spreadsheet world, so it's logical that any other worthwhile spreadsheet application would be able to read, write, and edit Excel spreadsheets. I'm glad to say that MarinerCalc does this job well, although it wants to see everything in the .xls file format, not in the newer XML-based .xlsx format. For the time being, that's not an issue since the flagship Microsoft spreadsheet also reads and writes the "old" .xls files.

My estimation of how well a handheld spreadsheet package works is based on two things; how the handheld displays the desktop spreadsheet's formatting, and if all of the mathematical, statistical, and data functions come across from the desktop world. MarinerCalc does an outstanding job of keeping the formatting perfect between the two platforms, and it has a full function set (more info below).

One issue that I ran into when opening spreadsheets on my Mac that had been created on the iPhone is that I often needed to force calculations on the Mac. In other words, the document would open with all cells containing formulas showing "#VALUE", and I had to highlight the formula cells and press the Return key to get the calculated values to show up. This was not the case when I went in the opposite direction (from Mac to iPhone).

There's an edit function that you probably wouldn't expect in an iPhone app, but it's in MarinerCalc. There is actually a way to cut, copy, and paste cell values or formulas. This is an absolute necessity for a spreadsheet app, and it was good to see it implemented well in MarinerCalc.

MarinerCalc does a pretty good job of fitting full-size spreadsheets into a tiny iPhone screen. You can use the standard iPhone gestures to zoom in or out, flick left or right to scroll, and double-tap on a cell to edit it. Text and numeric / accounting / date formatting is made simple through a series of choice wheels from which you choose and apply formatting, colors, fonts, and more.

Easily transfer spreadsheets to and from a desktop or notebook computer
Mariner Software made a great design decision when they created this app. They could have tried to create a desktop application for Mac and Windows to allow transfers between the iPhone and the computers. If they had been truly daring, they could have figured out a way to transfer documents directly between MarinerCalc and Excel using some sort of plugin. But they took the safe route, and that path has provided a simple and fast way to move spreadsheets to and from the iPhone.

To transfer a file to the iPhone, you begin by tapping the file transfer icon at the lower left of the MarinerCalc screen. This displays the Files screen, which lists all of the spreadsheet files that are currently stored on the iPhone. At the bottom left of the Files screen is a Sharing icon. One tap of the icon turns on sharing and displays the IP address at which you can reach MarinerCalc on the iPhone.

Next, you fire up your favorite web browser and point it to the IP address displayed by MarinerCalc. What you see is an image of an iPhone showing the MarinerCalc Files screen. To download a file off of the iPhone, you click on the file image and it is immediately downloaded to your default download location on the Mac. To upload a file from your computer to the iPhone, click on the Choose File button and a standard Mac or Windows Open dialog appears. You select the file, click Open, and the file is immediately transferred to the iPhone.

Could Mariner Software have developed a special desktop package to do the transfers? Of course! But I'm glad they didn't. Every Mac and PC has a web browser, and that's all you need (in addition to a common Wi-Fi network for the desktop and iPhone) to move files back and forth. I applaud Mariner's decision to use web browsers for file transfers and focus on the core functionality of the spreadsheet app instead of trying to make Mac and PC clients.

Provide the functionality of a desktop spreadsheet application within the constraints of a handheld device
It is in this third category that MarinerCalc needs a tiny bit of work. When you consider that it is the first release of the package, it does its job very well. But compared to a full-functioned Mac or Windows spreadsheet package like Excel or MarinerCalc for Mac, it is missing some capabilities.

I found the icon for MarinerCalc for iPhone to be a bit misleading. It shows a standard spreadsheet column/row grid with a pie chart emblazoned over it. I immediately expected MarinerCalc to provide charting functions, which it does not. It turns out that MarinerCalc for iPhone uses the same icon as the MarinerCalc for Mac file icon.

WIll those charting capabilities be added in the future? That's up to Mariner Software. At the present time, though, the app has a plethora of functions -- 145 functions, to be exact. Thost functions are divided up into math, financial, trigonmetric, statistical, lookup, logic, date/time, text and info functions.

There is no macro capability, so if your spreadsheet solution requires you to run macros, you're out of luck. Likewise, you're not going to get some of the advanced functions that you'll see in Excel -- like pivot tables or advanced data analysis tools.

While a handheld spreadsheet app probably doesn't need all of the bells and whistles that a desktop application does, a minimal ability to view and edit charts would be helpful, and I hope Mariner Software takes this on as their next revision to MarinerCalc.

Another thing you currently can't do -- no fault of Mariner Software here -- is print a spreadsheet from the iPhone to a wireless printer. I'd love to see Mariner work with HP to see if they could extend iPrint Photo to work with MarinerCalc. Can you imagine making changes to a spreadsheet on your iPhone on the way to a meeting, then printing out copies of it over Wi-Fi to a nearby printer? Maybe next year...

Tutorial and Help
I was happy to see that Mariner provided a short tutorial document with the app. The tutorial is in the form of a multi-page spreadsheet covered with text instructions on everything from how gestures work on the iPhone to how to make a reference to another sheet in a workbook. This tiny mini-manual is enough to get anybody started if they're smart enough to launch the app, since it appears on the Files screen when MarinerCalc is open.

In case you don't remember what all of those 145+ functions can be used for, there's also a built-in help capability for functions. Just highlight one and tap the Help button, and a transparent dialog appears on the screen with helpful advice.

What are the available alternatives to MarinerCalc for iPhone? A quick spin through the iTunes App Store showed the aptly-named Spreadsheet (click opens iTunes), Spreadsheet LX, Documents / Document Free, iSpreadsheet, and Plus, among others. In the near future, you can expect DocumentsToGo from DataViz, which should be a huge competitor to MarinerCalc for iPhone.

The reason I prefer MarinerCalc for iPhone over most of these other iPhone spreadsheet apps is that it comes from a company with a good long history of doing quality software development in the Mac world. Sure, the iPhone isn't a Mac, but that experience really seems to come across in terms of the user experience with this application.

I am more impressed with MarinerCalc than I thought I would be. I've been working with handheld spreadsheet apps for almost ten years, and MarinerCalc for iPhone is the first that I've felt I could actually use. It's fast, has a great user interface, a full set of built-in functions, and it's easy to transfer spreadsheets to and from other computers.

If you're using another of the iPhone spreadsheet apps, let us know how you like it in the comments section. MarinerCalc users? Let us know if you concur with my evaluation of this app.

iPhone prototype yanked down from eBay

A set of iPhone prototypes from 2006 briefly made the eBay rounds this morning, with bids running more than $2,000 for the two phones (one non-working) before Apple managed to get the listing yanked sometime during the day [although we now have reports that a sale was completed before the listing went down -Ed.]. The seller also made a YouTube video documenting the features on the phone -- while that too was pulled down due to Apple exerting its copyright, Engadget managed to salvage it and now has it up on its site.

The prototype hints at several features that did not make it to the final version of the iPhone, including a possible option for video phone calls and games. The video is well worth watching. Even though the auction was pulled, we still manage to get a peek at the process that led to the phone unveiled in early 2007. We also have a glimpse of the iPhone at its most basic levels, something that will be an asset to developers.

Further thoughts on the Kindle iPhone experience

It hasn't been a week since Amazon released the Kindle for iPhone app [App Store link] but the aftermath has been almost seismic. Kindle for iPhone has remained in the top ten free apps list since it was released. For a few days, it was number one. It looks like it was a good gamble for Amazon, and probably for Apple as no other smart phones (so far) have this app available. The Kindle for iPhone app also runs on the iPod touch.

How is it to use? Actually, pretty darned good. Readability is high, and you can change the font size to your liking. Turning pages is just a matter of swiping your finger across the screen. A single touch gives you access to the table of contents of any book, and you can bookmark pages.

I liked the idea of the Kindle app so much, I actually broke down and bought the Kindle 2. The two devices interact, and you can have all your books on both devices. In fact, the iPhone Kindle app will come up on the same page you left off on the Kindle 2, or vice versa. I thought that would be an automatic function, but you have to tell each device to sync when you leave. Your mileage may vary, but that's what I am seeing.

Of course, even that rather cool function is a bit tricky with the iPhone, because its smaller screen can't display as many words as the Kindle 2 screen. Even though you are synced, you won't get a page that looks exactly the same. No big deal, though.

Read on for more...
Illustrations look pretty good, and you get color on the iPhone screen, while the Kindle 2 remains grayscale. I'd like to be able to zoom in on those images though, which is something I can do on the Kindle 2.

What are the other downsides of the Kindle for iPhone app? I'd like to be able to read in landscape view, but the app only supports portrait. The dictionary feature is missing. On the 'real' Kindle you can move the cursor to a word and get a dictionary definition.

Finally, there are no magazine or newspapers subscriptions available on the iPhone side. Even if you have those subscriptions on the Kindle 2, they won't show up on the iPhone. Rumors are that they are coming, but nothing yet.

Apple's App Store gatekeepers didn't have to approve this application. It is to their credit that they did, especially given some of Steve's prior comments about reading and the Kindle.

I expect the Kindle for iPhone app will sell a fair number of books for Amazon, and maybe even a few Kindles as well. If buying books is not your thing, this site has thousands of books already in Kindle format ready to download. There are also thousands of free books available for the other iPhone readers like Stanza and eReader. In fact, Stanza will now sell you books for money, and like Amazon they have several selections from the New York Times best seller list.

As the market opens up, more choices will appear. That's all for the good. A few years ago it would have been hard to conceive of reading Dostoyevsky on my cell phone, but it has come to pass. Imagine what the next 5 to 10 years will bring.

Voodoo Pad 4.1 adds iPhone client

VoodooPad (which we've covered many times) is a bit of a different take on the classic snippet / information manager app, allowing you to create a personal wiki with entries for whatever you might like to keep track of.

With the recently released version 4.1 Gus Mueller has added an option to export documents to his new, free iPhone client (iTunes link) for access to your wikis on the go. Like most iPhone / iPod touch syncing solutions, this works over WiFi on the same network as your Mac. This is in addition to the previously offered WebDAV syncing and iPhone optimized pages.

VoodooPad comes in three versions: a free lite version, a $29.95 regular version, and a $49.95 Pro version that adds a few features, including a built-in webserver; demos are also available. The iPhone / iPod touch client is a free download from iTunes.

iPhone app update: JetSet Expenses 1.2.1

TUAW did a first look of BriteMac Software's JetSet Expenses 1.1 for iPhone last September, and with time the app has added functionality and stability. JetSet Expenses 1.2.1 (click opens iTunes) has recently appeared in the App Store, and the changes look great:
  • Expense type detail reports now have totals so that they have the same level of detail as summary reports
  • Mileage totals are now in the detailed expense report
  • Billable expenses are now broken out and totaled separately
  • A report is now marked as submitted when it is emailed or sent to Google Docs
  • Now supports up to 6 different payment types
  • A personal balance shows the difference between the expenses you paid versus expenses allowed to you
  • Can now mark expenses as either billable or reimbursable
  • Mileage support for business, medical, charity, and one more user-defined type
  • JetSet Expenses now follows local currency and date formatting
  • An improved user interface; you can enter as much or as little data as needed for reporting
I use JetSet Expenses to track my business travel expenses, and the latest version has improved an already good app.

There's a two-week sale on JetSet right now -- the usual US$9.99 price has been halved to US$4.99. BriteMac has also released a free version for those who want to test-drive JetSet Expenses. Version 1.3 is forthcoming in the future, with support for multiple currencies. wants to be your iPhone's photo sharer

We're at a new juncture in the course of iPhone development, I believe. Twitter has basically monopolized the "text exporting" function of your iPhone -- if you want to broadcast text from a mobile device, most of us do it through Twitter. But now, we're seeing a whole host of sites and services aiming to be the distributors for your richer media: photos, audio, even video (as well as the iPhone can handle it, anyway).

Radar is one such service, and they'd really like to handle any photos you want to send out into the world. But unlike a site such as Twitpic, they're not content with being just the repository. They want to host, share, and deliver. Whenever you want to mess around with pictures on your iPhone, whether that be taking them and sharing them, browsing your friends' pictures from Flickr, or looking at funny shots from CollegeHumor, Radar wants to be there.

They gave TUAW an early look at their new software, just released to the App Store, and we were duly impressed -- they've got hooks into a surprising number of places, and it's clear they've worked hard to make themselves fit somewhere into your photosharing flow. But is it worth it to have yet another site acting as a go-between for you and your photo content? Read on to find out.
The process starts simply: you need to make an account at, and of course install the app on your iPhone and sign in to it there. At its core, Radar is simply a picture sharing program -- you take a picture on the iPhone, and then can upload it to the site with a short title, where others can see it and even comment on it. In that sense, it's not much different than Twitpic or Flickr or Snap My Life or any of the other photo sharing apps out there.

But where Radar starts to set itself apart is how it connects to all of the other services you're using. If you put in your Twitter credentials, it'll tweet as you upload a pic. If you sign up for their app on Facebook, it'll send your pictures there automatically. And the app doesn't just send pictures out, it can bring them in as well -- you can browse pictures from your Flickr friends by signing in to that service, and even browse a "Gallery" of Radar accounts, some of them from official sites or bands (you can see some pics from one of my favorite bands, Bloc Party, in the gallery above).

In short, Radar wants to be your one-stop shop for picture sharing: take a picture and share it with Radar, and they'll make sure it goes everywhere else you want it to go. But is it worth it? In return, they get to host your content -- every time someone clicks on a link to your picture, they'll see Radar's site and likely get sold something there (even if there are no ads on picture pages right now, as appears to be the case, there's at least a pitch to join Radar). And Radar has even put Admob ads on lots of the app's UI screens: even while browsing my own "posts," I was dodging ads that floated above the UI as I scrolled down the screen.

The app itself is free, and of course they've got to make money somehow. But then again, if I really wanted to make sure my Facebook and Twitter friends knew I'd shared a picture, there are already ways to hook up those two services and make sure my pictures get broadcasted to the right places.

So it's up to you -- as a one-stop shop for picture sharing, Radar can be helpful in tying all of your different services together. If you're sharing lots of pictures from your iPhone and need some help in organizing and sending them out, it could be very helpful. And we also have to mention that the app itself is very solid -- even while flicking through pictures, there was never any lag or big loading waits, and the "fullscreen" viewer is so good and responsive to the multitouch screen that it even beats Apple's official Camera viewer -- you can spin and rotate and zoom in and out with ease.

But the Radar service replicates a lot of what's already available, and though it won't cost you anything, you can expect to spend a lot of attention on the various ads you'll see in the app and service. It's worth checking out if you do a significant amount of photo sharing (and if you have a lot of Flickr -- or even Radar, though the network is fairly new -- friends whose pictures you browse often). But for people who only occasionally twitter about a pic they've taken and already have Facebook hooked up to a Twitter or Flickr feed, it'll probably ask too much for too little.

iTunes gift cards cracked

This seems like bad news for Apple, to say the least. A few Chinese websites are now selling $200 gift certficates to iTunes for less than a few bucks, which means that it's likely hackers have figured out the algorithm to determine gift codes on Apple's music store. As with most online codes, iTunes gift certificate numbers are generated by a formula somewhere -- figure out the formula, and you can generate your own codes (though it's of course tough to do and highly illegal).

The good news is that this might be an easy fix for Apple: they'll just have to re-figure the formula. The tougher thing to do will be to determine which of the old codes to honor -- they'll want to make sure to approve all of the cards on the shelves at Best Buy right now, while still trying to catch all of the illegal codes generated by hackers.

But then again, we're talking about a digital store that's already making cash hand over fist. Maybe even if one hacker on a shady website has figured out how to generate iTunes codes, Apple isn't too concerned about losing a few thousand dollars when they're still selling millions of dollars worth of music and content legitimately.

Fixing syncing between iPhone and iPhoto '08

This is a pretty selfish tip, because this issue has happened to me personally a few different times, and despite my many searches around the 'net, I've never found a quick, simple solution. So here you go: my suffering can be your gain.

Basically, iPhoto '08 and the iPhone don't always play nice -- sometimes, you'll take a bunch of pictures on your iPhone, bring them back to sync up with iPhoto '08, and whoops, iPhoto doesn't see them at all. You can see them on your iPhone, but iPhoto's "Import All" button is greyed out, and they're not showing on your screen (sometimes, I've gotten dotted lines where the pictures are -- I think this all has something to do with a corrupted cache that iPhoto keeps of what's on the iPhone). Fortunately, though it's frustrating, there's an easy fix. Open up Image Capture (you can find it in Spotlight or even Quicksilver if you swing that way) with your iPhone connected, hit the "Devices" menu item, and then "Browse Devices." You'll get a screen just like the one above, with your iPhone's name instead of mine.

Uncheck the "Connected" box, and then recheck it, and boom. Image Capture, and thus iPhoto, will see all of your pictures and happily upload them. Is it voodoo? Sure -- we still don't know why iPhoto loses its place every once in a while (like I said, I'm thinking a corrupted cache somewhere along the line). But it works.

Apple event will highlight iPhone OS 3.0

Earlier today, Apple issued a press event announcement that promises to offer a "sneak peek" at iPhone OS 3.0. It'll go down at 10am Pacific on March 17th in Apple's Town Hall building in Cupertino.

As usual, the whole thing is rather cryptic. From the "blueprint" graphic and text, it sounds like the event will be limited to an overview (but not a release) of iPhone OS 3.0. Perhaps we'll learn a bit about any changes to the SDK as well.

What would you like to see? Copy and paste, for sure. Push notifications for 3rd party apps next. Anything else?

Finally, we don't know who will be doing the talking. Typically, we just assumed it would be Steve.

The Hit List 0.9.3 introduces repeating tasks

Potion Factory's The Hit List introduces repeating tasks to the GTD-style client, but in a pretty neat way. Instead of the traditional method of indicating how often a task should repeat, users can type directly into the "repeating" field, using natural language to describe when and how many times it should reoccur. For example, if I wanted a reminder to return my library books, I simply would type in "every 3 weeks on Wednesday." Then a short menu appears indicating how often I'd like for that particular task to repeat itself. Once I complete that chore, it'll jump ahead to the next date it's due.

Repeating tasks is something that's been requested since the program debuted, and I really like how you can dig into the specifics of creating them. Potion Factory's Andy Kim acknowledges in his blog entry that the one huge drawback to this feature right now is localization. It's just not there at the moment, but that issue will be resolved once the code itself has been hammered out.

Other features in this update, as seen on the release notes, include:
  • AppleScript support.
  • Different way to tweak tasks including smart-folder-like capabilities and disabling the auto-completion of parent tasks when sub-tasks are finished.
  • Duplicate any list, folder, or smart folder by right clicking in the source list.
  • When emails are dragged and dropped into a task, it adds the sender's name and email address in addition to the subject.
  • Various keyboard shortcut tweaks.
  • Many more bug fixes and small features than we have room to list here.

MyCal: custom calendars for your iPhone

Here's the question: what day of the month does next Friday land on? You pull out your iPhone, turn it on, unlock it, navigate to the Calendar and switch to Month view. Got it. March 20th. Of course, being the self-proclaimed efficiency expert that you are (isn't everybody?), you quickly decide that was way too many steps for such a simple task. If you regularly need this particular type of information, you're going to have to find an easier way. You could (A) carry around a printout of the calendar for the month, or (B) check out MyCal.
MyCal is a single-purpose app from Chillix, the same developers to whom our faithful readers offered their offbeat to-do lists a while back. It allows you to pick a background -- from a wide variety of built-in images or from your own collection -- select a calendar style and set transparency levels. When you're done, it outputs a wallpaper image you can use to get a quick view of the month without even unlocking your phone. To be clear, it won't show you any appointments or tasks, just a good-looking calendar that's readily accessible. A recent update to the application fixed some issues with blurriness, and I give it two thumbs up for simplicity and usefulness. If you fit into the description in the first paragraph, you might just want to check it out. The user's guide offers a comprehensive preview, and it's available in the App Store for 99 cents (US). Chillix has built up a fairly extensive collection of iPhone apps; check out their website for some other gems.