Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review: Reflector 2 for Air Play and ChromeCast Mirroring

Apple hasn’t been kind to Squirrels the creators of AirParrot and Reflector. Features of their AirPlay utility apps have now been integrated into OS X and QuickTime. You can natively share your desktop to Apple TV (formerly an AirParrot-only feature) or record iOS screens (just as provided by Reflector).

Of course, Squirrel’s versions do both a little bit better. AirParrot lets you choose which window to share and offers far more control. Reflector in turn enables you to record video from any iOS device, not just the lightning generation. So if you’re looking to use these features from older OS’s and older devices, there’s no better solution out there.

Now Reflector 2 adds further support to the mix. The newly updated app introduces ChromeCast mirroring so you can set your Mac as a cast destination. Unfortunately after kicking the wheels the newly released app seems just a tiny bit away from being ready for prime time.

I tested the mirroring from Chrome on Mac.  On the same Mac, Chrome mirrored flawlessly (albeit pointlessly) but I encountered errors when attempting to cast from a second Mac. My browser saw Reflection 2 and the connection was successfully acknowledged at both ends but no video was ever presented even after rebooting and updating Chrome.

On iOS, I tested using both YouTube and Pandora, both on iPad and iPhone. My branded ChromeCast hardware appeared in each app but not the Reflector 2 destination. (And, sadly, my first generation Kindle Fire was completely useless for any practical purpose of testing. I couldn’t get any apps, even “ChromeCast enabled” ones, to even show the option.) In all cases, my hardware shared a common network with both the hardware and the emulated Reflector 2 ChromeCasts.

And, of course, both devices worked fine with Air Play and Reflector 2. The transmission came through clear and trouble-free as expected.

Reflector 2 is $14.99 and offers a 7-day free trial. I’m hoping updates will quickly sort out the ChromeCast issues I experienced but even without that support, Squirrel’s AirPlay suite are terrific for anyone developing for iOS or presenting and recording demos from their devices.

Review: DailySales for App Sales in your OS X Today view

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Developer Raffael Hannemann is a CS student, recipient of a WWDC 2014 scholarship, and has developed DailySales to help developers track their iTunes Connect sales figures. His app integrates into Yosemite’s Today View, which is a nice change from other solutions that offer  stand-alone apps or take up precious menu bar space.

If TUAW were still up and running, DailySales would probably be an app that I’d look at and then, to be honest, pass on reviewing. It’s student-written, student-quality, and full of good intentions but it offers a minimum to distinguish itself from other competing products in the market place. However, TUAW is no longer up and running, I don’t have an editor to be responsible to, and Hanneman’s email made a great pitch.

The set-up procedure is a bit of a pain. You have to move past endless screens of legalese. You have to install Java because this requires Java to use Apple’s Autoinjestion class, rather than scraping the iTunes Connect website. It wasn’t a particularly big burden to get started but it wasn’t turn-the-key-and-get-going either.

But once you get past the painful setup, the app works. I’ve had it running over the weekend and I find that it well matches Hannemann’s initial pitch: that the app is “decent and convenient”.

The presentation is pleasant and unobtrusive.  I do wish I could put in a time-out, like “don’t check more often than once an hour or twice a day”. I have other material I use the Today view for, and having the pane update each time is visually distracting.

The app has failed to update a number of times. On these occasions, it directed me to look at the console for errors: (Click to enlarge.) So it’s not always smooth sailing.

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Like other apps in this arena, Hannemann recommends that you set up a sales-figures only account at iTunes connect for extra security, and your credentials are stored using the system keychain.

All in all, I find Daily Sales to offer a promising beginning to a potentially solid application. It fills a need that many developers encounter, and its $5.99 sales price makes it affordable compared to the competition.

You can learn more about Daily Sales and Hannemann’s other software at his WeAreYeah website.

 

 

Review: Barcodes with iOS by Oliver Drobnik

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My general rule of thumb with anything written by Oliver Drobnik of Cocoanetics fame is this: Drop whatever you’re doing and go read it. So when Oliver offered me a chance to look through his latest, a book entitled “Barcodes with iOS”, I jumped at the opportunity. (Before I go any further, I should mention that my latest book includes about 7 or 8 pages of barcode development coverage. In some vast distant galaxy where lawyers rule, that might matter. Full disclosure.)

Barcodes with iOS includes nearly 250 pages of expansive coverage of everything you might ever want to know about barcodes:  their history, APIs, AV Foundation integration, who they date, what they wear to parties, and so forth. I’m being a little facetious, but there is a lot of information here for a topic that many developers may simply add to an app one afternoon and then never think about again in their lives.

Fortunately, this is a Drobnik book, which means many gems scattered among the barcode fluff (Fun fact: did you know that the first barcodes date back to World War II and were developed to help scale increase demands from a newly invigorated economy? Neither did I!) The very best bits deep dive into Passbook and beacons and other technology specifics.

When Drobnik starts talking deep-tech, that’s when things get good. In a way, I really wish the book had focused more on specific solutions rather than trying to cover every single fact related to barcodes, because the material that has to do with step-by-step development shines.

You’ll probably want to scan through the book’s table of contents before purchase, to find which bits you’ll want to focus on. Barcodes with iOS is currently selling for about $37 over at Amazon.

Review: Fresh Air offers beautiful weather forecasting

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Yesterday it was cold. Today it is cold. Tomorrow it will be cold. Apparently, it’s going to be cold for the foreseeable future and there’s no place near me to drive to where it’s even the slightest bit warm. Thank you, Mr. Gore.

If the cold is getting you down, let me point you to a beautiful new weather app called Fresh Air. For just $0.99, it provides beautiful screen design, great interactive weather forecasts, clever date book integration and more. It’s not going to improve the outlook but it gets you that information in a visually appealing way.

With it, you can scroll hour-by-hour through the upcoming forecast, with overnight and daytime trends presented with colors, graphs, and icons. There’s a lot of information packed into its sparse design. I particularly like how you can view calendar events with temperatures. That Moms get together at the park on Thursday? Maybe that should move to Starbucks instead.

The app includes several built-in discoverable features and it introduces these with minimalist training hints. The occasional “tap here” or “swipe there” reminders expose these features, without requiring an excess of labels that would kill the presentation. While the app is immediately usable, this kind of training philosophy ensures the best user experience over the long term.

If I had one major complaint about the app, it’s that I can’t remember the name. “What’s that new weather app? That thing? The one I just installed? Was it something something weather something?” In fact, no, it’s Fresh Air, and trying to remember that without having to hop into iTunes to figure out “what is the most recent app on my purchases list” is going to take me some time.  It’s the sort of app you have to remember by putting it in a particular place on your screen but it’s also the kind of quick-reference that you’d want to promote anyway.

Fresh Air is narrow in its scope. It does one job, it does it well, and it’s extremely well priced.

Unreadable PDF. Who knew? (An ode to @ecammtweets)

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My son’s school recently emailed me some forms. I was about to acknowledge their receipt when I discovered I could not read them. Instead of seeing the forms they’d sent, I could only view some message about my PDF viewer (Mail and Finder in this case) not being able to display the file.

“If this message is not eventually replaced by the proper contents of the document, your PDF viewer may not be able to display this kind of document.” It then instructed me to upgrade to the latest version of Adobe Reader, a suggestion that in context seemed slightly hilarious as I wasn’t using Adobe Reader in any fashion at the time.

It turns out that some Adobe PDFs have this marvelous property: They can only be read by Adobe software. It took a bit of googlage until I finally found a site that explained the situation. No Adobe, no read.

Fortunately, I have a version of Adobe CS 4 still installed on my Mac, although it’s held together these days by spit and bandaids. Hello 2008. I was able to get Acrobat Pro running and sure enough, I could open the doc in the app and it was readable.

Naturally, I tried to use OS X’s built-in PDF rendering to print to file. Bzzzzzt. That (of course) was not allowed.

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Thank goodness for Ecamm. Instead of printing to “file”, I used my copy of their Printopia extension ($19.99) to print to my Mac instead. Instantly my unreadable PDF file transformed to a readable one. I simply pulled the rendered PDF out of my Documents/Printopia folder and it was ready to use. Printopia saved the day. Thanks, Ecamm. And hopefully this write-up will be googlable for anyone who encounters the same kind of problem with a PDF file that cannot be read in OS X mail.

As a final note, I’m told that you might be able to contact the person who prepared the PDF and ask them to switch the limitation off and resave. This would allow the document to be opened in any PDF viewer. When dealing with low-level administrative staff employed in the public school system, however, you might just want to know about alternative approaches so you can go-it on your own.

Tokens developer introduces Top Hat for App Store sales reports

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I am a  Tokens fan. Developed by Oisin Prendiville and Padraig Kennedy, Tokens enables you to distribute and track app codes with a beautiful click-to-redeem experience. It’s professional and clean for both you and the reviewers you send the codes to.

Now Supertop, the makers of Tokens, have launched Top Hat. This “sibling” app offers quick access to sales figures via your Mac menu bar. Click on the little hat and view your top downloads and revenues for the day. Top Hat provides instant gratification, with both its immediate overview (as in the screenshot at the top of this write-up) and live links to your iTunes account.

My only complaint is its iOS-only support. My #3 seller is actually a Mac app: the folderol utility that customizes folder icons. With my recent press push (if you want to review it for your blog, please ping me by email!), I am monitoring sales a little more intently than usual. I could not find an option anywhere to enable Mac app stats in the top downloads/revenues list, which lowers the usefulness as I do develop for and monitor both platforms.

The app costs $9, which you commit to after a free 7-day trial. For the price of a couple of beers you get a well designed app by a company that’s built its reputation on solid, well-maintained titles. (And hopefully, one that will soon support OS X reporting as well as iOS. Hint hint hint.)

Top Hat, $9.

Update: The developers sent me a beta that includes Mac support. I’ve run it and can confirm the OS X / iOS joint reporting functionality. They promise they will push this release out quickly.