Category: Apps

Finding a better iOS calendar: Peek

Peek calendar app iconPeek Calendar by Square Mountains might be the most original calendar app I’ve found for iOS. It wasn’t originally on my radar when I started my quest, but it was a welcome surprise. Peek’s design and interactions make it pleasing to the eye and easy to use (after you get over the slight learning curve). There aren’t many buttons, but swipes, taps and long-presses let you navigate through your events with ease.

It makes more sense when you see it in action, so here’s their promo video.

Supported calendars

Peek works with your local calendars. If you’re using a calendar in the built-in app, Peek should be able to handle it. There’s not a lot of settings to the app, and I didn’t come across any way to add calendars or other services within the app.

It’s worth noting when I first installed Peek it did not recognize my calendars. I had to delete and re-install the app. After doing so, everything was in place. I imagine this is a bug, and may have already been fixed.

Views

Right away you’ll notice Peek is quite different from a standard calendar app. The standard view uses bold colors to display a list of days. The left side of each day displays the day of the week and date, while the middle will say “today” and “tomorrow” followed by the day of the week for the rest of the days. Tapping on a day will expand out (with a nice folding effect) a list of your events. Tapping an event expands it giving more details and allowing you to edit it. It’s a very clean, very simple and fairly intuitive way to see your calendar’s information.

There’s a second view, a month view, which can be accessed by pulling down from the top (above today). It’s again very simple in design, but gives you a somewhat familiar-looking month view. A nice touch here is a sort of bar graph on each day. The more events on a particular day, the taller the bar. Tapping a day will unfold the related events.

As I mentioned, the interface is extremely clean and minimalistic. If you’ve ever used Clear, think of this as the calendar counterpart. The simplicity is refreshing aesthetically, but it also doesn’t offer you a lot of flexibility for viewing your calendar like some other apps. I’d like to see a way to view a list of upcoming events without having to tap each day.

Adding events

Screenshots of Peek CalendarTo add an event, you hold down on the day your event is to take place. It then unfolds options (title, time, location, alerts, ability to make it recurring). Like everything else in the app it’s simple and pretty.

I like the time selector. You hold on the time and a slick slide menu fades in, letting you scroll to the right hour and minute of your event.

I do wish the location field would auto-populate with some database (maybe Foursquare or Google?). Perhaps then you could easily link that place and make it open your favorite navigation app for directions. This isn’t huge, but something I’m seeing in a lot of other apps that I’ve started to really find useful.

Conclusion

I like the look and feel of Peek. I applaud the restraint in their interface design, but I think Peek might be too simple for me. The quick swipes, presses and taps make for a quick and fun way to interact with your calendar, but the lack of view options make it fall short of what I’m really looking for. Peek Calendar by Square Mountains is available in the App Store for $1.99. If you’re looking for something very simple, with a great design, Peek is for you. What do you think? Have you given Peek a try? Let me know in the comments.

Finding a better iOS calendar app: Sunrise

Sunrise Calendar App IconIn case you missed it, I’m trying to find a better iOS calendar app. Next up, is Sunrise Calendar by Sunrise Atelier, Inc.

I first discovered Sunrise when I heard a designer from Foursquare (one of my favorite apps) had left for a new project. Sunrise was the new project. In the beginning Sunrise only offered integration with Google calendars, so I initially wrote it off as not for me.

Fast forward a few months and they updated the app to work with iCloud calendars. I decided it was time to take another look. I’m glad I did. The app has a great look. It’s simple, but not overly simple like the built-in calendar. If you’ve tried Sunrise in the past, but not recently, give it another go.

Supported calendars

It integrates with plenty of services, such as Facebook, Google, iCloud, LinkedIn and Foursquare. This is a unique feature, as it will automatically pull your Facebook and LinkedIn events right into your calendar. A nice Facebook tie-in will even let you RSVP to events right in Sunrise. The Foursquare integration is pretty cool too. it will add your check-ins, so if you can’t remember where you were yesterday for lunch, you can go back a day on your calendar and find out. It’s all easy to set up and covers more than I was even looking for.

Views

There’s two main views in Sunrise. The default view shows two weeks of a “month” view on top, with a list of your upcoming events below. If you swipe down on the two weeks, it turns into a full month. Each day can be tapped to jump to that day in the list view. There’s a handy button in the bottom left of the screen that jumps you back to the current day and time.

The list part of this view is clean and has a colored dot denoting which calendar it came from. In the case of Foursquare check-ins, those dots become larger and include the icon of the venue type. Birthdays have a present icon and if your event’s name is something like “party” or “meeting” other icons are automatically put in place. It’s kind of a nice little touch. If they’re looking for new features, I’d love to be able to add those icons to events manually when they don’t detect one (or rarely, choose the wrong one). In addition to your events, Sunrise also adds in weather forecasts into the list. A simple icon (sunny, cloudy, rain, etc) and the expected temperature for the morning and evening are added to each day. It’s another small detail that makes Sunrise stand out.

Tapping the three lines button at the top of the screen will take you to view two. This is a more standard “week” look. This can be nice if you’re looking to see how your time actually lines up throughout a day. For some reason this only works in portrait mode, meaning you only see three days at a time. I think it’d be a nice addition to add a landscape mode with a full week (or at least five days). Overall, I hardly use this view. It doesn’t offer much the default view can’t.

Adding events

Sunrise calendar app screenshots for adding events

The event add screen is pretty standard. You can add a location that is auto completed by Google’s database. That makes it easy to set the place you actually want, which later means easily getting directions with the Google Maps integration.

There’s not natural language adding, but since you can use your iCloud calendars, Siri is still an option. Sunrise does have some autofill options when you’re adding an event. If you start typing “call” or “breakfast” they’ll show up. A time-saver, but not as great as other options.

Conclusion

Overall Sunrise is one of the prettiest calendar apps. It has a great look and feel, and is easy to use. The small details like automatic icons and integration with so many services are major pluses. If there’s one thing really lacking it’s an innovative way to add events. Maybe that’s not a deal breaker, as the rest of it is so nice. I don’t think I’ve mentioned the best part of this app yet… it’s FREE. Yes, this good-looking, easy-to-use app won’t cost you a penny. I feel almost guilty using a such a quality app for nothing. My recommendation? Give this one a try. It won’t cost you anything and it’s a big step up from the standard iOS calendar.

Have you tried Sunrise? What do you think? Tell me in the comments.

Finding a better iOS calendar app: Calendars 5

Calendars 5 iconEarly calendar apps from Readdle didn’t really wow me. When they released Calendars 5, I finally found something special. I’ve been using it off and on for a few months now and I’m definitely a fan. Here’s an intro video from Readdle.

Supported calendars

Calendars 5 easily plugs into your existing iCloud. When you start the app for the first time it asks for access to your calendars, contacts and to-do lists. It was extremely easy to set up. For those of you using Google Calendars, it can easily connect with those too.

Views

Calendars 5 screens

This is where Calendars 5 really stands out from other calendar apps. The app boasts views for tasks, list, day, week and month.

The list view has a continuous list of chronological events. You can easily scroll through your upcoming events with this view.

The day view focuses in on one day, displaying all hours of said day with events displayed over top. At the bottom of the screen you can easily select another day.

The week view, which displays the current day at the top and the next six days underneath, is a little different from a traditional week view. Instead of being a week-long version of the day view like most other apps, Calendars 5 displays each day’s events as colored blocks (the colors relating to the corresponding calendar). I find this view to be my favorite. It really gives you a good idea of your upcoming week. If you flip your phone into landscape mode, you will get the traditional “hourly” week view, which can also be helpful and is really nice that they included it.

Month view is pretty standard. It’s a traditional calendar view with color highlighted text of your events on each day’s square.

The only problem with the views is that it’s two taps to switch between them. I’d prefer they bar containing them was always present so I don’t have to tap an extra time. I know that’s picky, but all those taps add up over time.

Adding events

Adding events couldn’t be easier. You can type something like “Meet Jim at Starbucks” which brings up a listing of nearby Starbucks, which you can select from and it will auto-fill the location field. If you continue typing “…Saturday at noon” the date and time will be filled in. It’s very similar to the experience of Fantastical for Mac or how you would speak to Siri to add an event.

If you want to directly edit an event the information is displayed below and can be tapped to change. I really like the user interface used for changing times. When you tap the time, a custom keyboard pops up with common hours displayed with common “fractions” (:00, :15, :30, etc.) below. There’s also a date tab that brings up a mini-calendar view to set the right date. You can set the right time and date faster than using a traditional keyboard, and I really appreciate that.

After an event is created, you can add an alarm, change calendars, make it recurring, invite people and a description with another simple tap.

Auto-complete is a big theme in Calendars 5. It’s a useful and time-saving feature. This app really shines in the adding events category.

Conclusion

Basically Calendars 5 is great. I love the unique week view. It’s probably my favorite view of any app I’ve tried so far. Adding events is super easy (and with auto-complete, pretty fast). I highly recommend Calendars 5. It is truly a useful, well-designed, easy-to-use calendar replacement though. As a bonus, the app is universal and will work on iPhones as well as iPads. That might make the $6.99 price tag a little easier to swallow. That’s the downside. It’s a bit pricey (by App Store standards). Despite price, it’s still a great option, especially for power users.

Have you tried Calendars 5? What did you think? Sound off in the comments.

Finding a better iOS calendar app: part one

iPhone screenshot of calendar appsI’m not a big fan of the standard iOS calendar app. I’m glad they simplified the user interface in iOS 7, but it’s almost too simple now. It may be even a bit harder to see and use over earlier versions. I’ve been on a quest over the last couple months of testing new calendar options.

The criteria

There are a few things an app needs to do well for me to make the switch full-time. First, it needs to integrate with iCloud calendars. I’m already set up on them, and I don’t plan on re-creating my workflow (again, since I already did that a few years ago with the switch from Android and Google calendars). I currently have a number of iCloud calendars and I am subscribed to a handful of other standard iCal feeds. The setup works pretty well for me and allows easy synching between my phone, my iPad and my laptop. My new app will need to easily plug into these calendars. Integrating Facebook is a major plus, but not a necessity.

It’s also important for me to have multiple views. Sometimes I have a day with six events and the next might have only one. I’d like an easy way to see my busy days versus my free time. Sometimes it’s important to see a whole month at a time, but often a good week view is preferred. I need to be able to drill into a day too. Just having colors on a day doesn’t tell me what’s actually happening that day. Basically, I need options. No one view will work all the time.

Next, I’m looking for something with a simple way to add events. It needs to be easy to do on the go and maybe most importantly, it needs to work quickly. I hate being slowed down as an app catches up with me. On my laptop I use Fantastical. It’s amazing; very quick, responsive and always in my menu bar ready to work. I know iOS is used differently, so I won’t find the same thing. I’m just looking to find something that’s fast and easy to use. Converting plain English like Fantastical on the Mac does would be a good start.

So now what?

Over the next few weeks I’m going to write-up some reviews of various calendar apps. To start, I’m going to take a look at Calendars 5, Fantastical 2 and Sunrise. What do you use? Tell me why you like it, and maybe I’ll add it to my review list.

Coin: One Card to Rule Them All

What’s your wallet look like? Mine is huge and full of everything. For years I’ve searched for a better way to carry what I need with me, without filling all of my pockets. Enter Coin, an all-in-one card that might just be the answer.

An overstuffed walletI’ve seen this concept floating around for a while. A special card that can hold multiple credit cards so you don’t have to carry around a wallet full of them. Coin impressed me the most. So much so, I immediately ordered one. That’s out of character for me. I’m usually the research-it-to-death and look-at-all-the-options guy. I think I’ve followed this new class of device for so long that I jumped at the first one that seemed truly useful and possible.

Coin does more than just stores a few credit cards. It can work in place of any magnetic strip card (think gift cards, reward/loyalty cards). With the tons of cards I have at any given moment, that truly excites me. No longer will I be checking out at a store, only to realize my gift card is at home. I won’t lose reward points because that rarely used rewards card was left at home for extra wallet space.

With a few taps you can select between cards. While the actual Coin device only stores up to eight cards, the mobile app can store an unlimited number. You can easily use Bluetooth to switch which cards are loaded to the Coin device at any time. Coin swipes just like any standard card would and includes identification right on it, so it should be accepted anywhere. As long as your phone and Coin are around, you’ll never be without the card you need.

Security is always and issue, but luckily the creators have thought through this. In many ways they’ve made using Coin safer than using a standard credit card. Your phone will notify you if you’ve walked off and forgotten your Coin. It can also notify you if you card was swiped more than once (for when that shady looking waiter tries to steal your info in the back room). There’s even a lock function so the Coin can’t be accidentally switched to a different card after you’ve handed it over to pay. Still unsure? Check out their frequently asked questions page for other concerns.

I’m very impressed with Coin and how well thought out of an experience it seems to be. I think adding a Coin to my life will greatly improve it. More cards in my pocket, with more space to spare, now that’s a win.

What are you waiting for? Make your life easier and get in on a Coin before the price doubles.

 

Review: GroupMe

GroupMe logoGroupMe is a service I’ve been happily using with my friends for years now. It’s great for sending messages amongst a group of people. It’s device independent, in fact even people without smart phones can receive and send messages via SMS.

The basic idea is you have various people assigned to groups. Then you can send a message (whether that be an SMS to a dedicated number or a message using one of their apps) and GroupMe takes care of delivering that message to all members of the group. It’s really handy for a group of friends who regularly hang out. No longer do you have to send out a mass text only to get various responses from people and then having to send out another message to let the rest of those people know who replied to the first one and what they said. With GroupMe, you send one message that everyone in the group receives and their replies are also sent to everyone in the group.

Why use GroupMe? It’s easy. It’s free. It takes very little set up and you can add new groups with ease. Do I need to continue? It’s really a big time saver. Trying to get the family together for the holidays? Set up a GroupMe and everyone can stay in the loop. Going to the beach on Saturday? Start a GroupMe so everyone can plan what they’re bringing and where you’re meeting.

Various phones using GroupMeWhile GroupMe is designed to work with SMS, it really shines at its brightest with their apps. There are apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. With the native apps you can opt to have messages routed through the app instead of SMS (you can still be notified of new messages via push messages). This gives you the benefits of seeing all your groups in one place. Managing current and new groups is a breeze right in the app. Other app features include a “typing” indicator, profile pictures and an easy way to see who’s in each group.

The design of the app feels very native to each platform. They’ve done a nice job using their own design language, but within the expected experience of each platform. You know it’s a GroupMe app, but you’ll feel at home using it whether you’re an iPhone or a Windows Phone user. You won’t see one of those crappy ports here.

Over the years they’ve continued to improve the GroupMe experience. They’ve added the ability to send photos and videos with your message, and you can even include a location, so it’s easier to meet up with friends. There’s also a Web interface to make sure you’re always able to connect with your groups. One thing to note is that with the app or website, you can stay in contact with your friends when you’re out of the country (as long as you have an Internet connection). No huge roaming SMS fees; now that’s a bonus.

GroupMe has done a fantastic job with their service. It makes texting with multiple people a breeze, regardless of their phone type. I’ve experienced very little downtime while using the service, and anytime there is a problem, they seem to jump on and fix it very quickly. I highly recommend giving GroupMe a try.

Happy iOS 7 day!

Screen shots of Apple's iOS 7.The highly anticipated update to iOS is finally here. While initially iOS 7 left me with a few concerns, I’ve found it to be an improvement and for the most part, very satisfying. I’ll go into more detail after I’ve used it day-to-day for a longer period.

So what do you need to do to get updated? I recommend a manual backup of your phone (even if you normally backup through iCloud). It’s easy and doesn’t take to long. Open iTunes, plug-in your phone, select it in the upper right corner and look for the “Back up Now” button. It’ll do it’s thing and in a few minutes you can eject your phone and upgrade to iOS 7 without fear.

So now you’re rocking the fancy new iOS 7, but besides the eye candy, what’s new? Wired wrote a great little article detail many of the changes in iOS 7. It’s worth a read.

iOS 7 is great and all, but the real treat today (and for the next few weeks) will be all the great UI updates to your favorite third-party apps. Wanting to stay relevant and not look out-of-place, many app developers have worked hard on getting their apps to reflect the new style in iOS 7. TapFame set up a page detailing some of the before and after screen shots. I find some of these third-party updates even more exciting than iOS 7 itself.

Have you installed iOS 7 yet? What’s your favorite feature? How about third-party apps, who’s done the best job translating their app into the new iOS 7 design language?

Kreyos Meteor Smartwatch

Kreyos Meteor smartwatchesThe idea of a smartwatch has always intrigued me. I’m constantly pulling my phone out of my pocket and being able to do those checks right on my wrist. I thought the Pebble might be the answer, but I missed out on the pre-order. Maybe that was meant to be, as I’ve just ordered another smartwatch, the Kreyos Meteor.

Billed as “the only smartwatch with voice and gesture control,” the Meteor brings a whole new level of cool to the smartwatch game. Sure seeing notifications from your phone on your wrist was cool, but it’s even cooler if you can interact with those messages without pulling out your phone. That’s what sets the Meteor apart from the crowd. With this device you’ll be able to get all your messages, emails and more. You’ll even be able to answer phone calls and reply to messages with your voice, all while your phone stays tucked away in a pocket or purse. This device will finally let you have the communication device you’ve dreamed of for years.

The Meteor also lets you control your music, post to social media and even supports fitness tracking. There will be a full SDK so other apps can tap into it.

There are a ton of unique features to this watch, and instead of listing them all, I suggest you check out the Indiegogo page. Watch the video, read through and you’ll see why I jumped on this. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be sure to review it as soon as it comes in (they expect before Christmas).

Valid Foursquare Venues

Foursquare logoI’m a huge fan of Foursquare. I use it everyday. For a while now, I’ve also been a “super user,” meaning I can make edits and suggestions to the Foursquare database. With the help of 4sweep, I’ve been busy tracking down invalid and/or inappropriate venues. There are so many “bad” venues out there, I thought I’d share some thoughts on what makes a valid Foursquare venue.

Foursquare defines a “good” venue as, “Real places. Places people can meet up. Places that already have a Foursquare category. Places where people like to check in.” That’s a pretty good description, and if people lived by those rules, we’d be fine. The problem is new venues are popping up every day that don’t fit that mold.

The biggest offender I see is venues that are actually actions. “Watching The Big Bang Theory” or “Running a mile” are not valid venues. You can’t meet up at “running a mile.” Those are shouts and you can add them as you check-in to a valid venue. For example, check-in to a park and shout “out for a mile run” or check into your buddy’s house and shout “watching Big Bang Theory with Todd.”

The next one is mis-categorized homes. I know you like to think “Sally’s Pink Palace” is a castle, but we all know it’s just your apartment. The same goes for your home brewery operation. If it’s your home, just make it a home. It’s more beneficial to you too, because it will be more private and you won’t end up with a random person showing up at your door, demanding a can of PBR from your dive bar.

I can’t tell you how many car venues I’ve cleaned up. Cars are not venues. They just aren’t, so please stop creating them.

Getting too specific is also a large problem. You can check into “Dunkin’ Donuts,” but you shouldn’t be checking into “booth #4” or any bathroom, anywhere, ever. Let’s keep it simple and uncluttered. Your Xbox is not an arcade. Your big screen TV is not a theatre. No seats, no toilets and no desks. Please and thank you.

Vague check-ins like “Work,” “Planet Earth” or “The Store” don’t work either. Foursquare venues are there for more than just your personal fun. Foursquare has created a huge database that can actually help people explore their surroundings. It becomes less helpful when you create a burger joint called “Work all day long.” These are the kinds of things you can shout in your check-in to a real venue like “McDonalds” or “BigCorp Headquarters.”

Those are just a small sampling of some of the bad venues I’ve been coming across. I hope it was helpful to learn a few dos and don’ts for Foursquare venue creation. What’s the craziest venue you’ve come across in Foursquare?

iOS 7 gets flatter, more transparent

iOS 7 logoUnless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that Apple was overhauling iOS. The rumors had been swirling for months saying that Jonny Ive had led the design team in a new, flatter, minimalistic and all around, exact opposite of the current iOS. Gone would be the leather stitching, cloth textures and strange skeuomorphic experiences.

Well, the rumors were pretty dead on. iOS 7 will be a completely new beast (visually at least). During the big keynote at the World Wide Developers Conference yesterday, Apple took the wraps off the new iOS. It’s definitely flat, definitely not skeuomorphic and the textures are kept to a minimum. Transparency and sense of depth are design themes. The standard Apple apps have all been rethought. The interface seems to do a much better job of getting out of the way and let you see the content. Safari, for example, has its navigation “chrome” disappear so the Web page you’re viewing can take over your screen.

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 10.26.26 AM

Overall, I’m impressed. They’ve gone into a bold new direction. Sure a lot of the ideas are borrowed from jailbreak hacks or other operating systems, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t great. Many of the cries for a sleeker interface and easier to use quick functions have been answered. Swiping up from the bottom gives you access to switch on and off wifi, bluetooth, do not disturb, screen brightness, etc. It’s simple, not ground breaking, but it’s what they needed. Notifications, multi-tasking, app switching and much more have all been overhauled. The type alone is worth upgrading. It’s big, beautiful and used to communicate effectively. This truly is a big update for iOS and I cannot wait to install it.

iOS-screenshots

At this point, it’s probably important to note I haven’t used this hands on yet. That said, my biggest criticism right now has to be the icons. I’m all for flatter, less glossy icons. That really works in some cases. In others, I just don’t get it (in the case of Game Center, what are those bubbles for?) or I just feel uneasy about them (I’m looking at you Safari, perhaps it’s the stark white square you sit in?). Maybe in my hand they’ll look better, or at the very least I’ll get used to them.

The second thing that worries me is the transparency. It’s cool in the screnshots they provide but how will it actually react with your own photos as backgrounds? How will it work in the sunlight? I hesitate to critique it too much without using it, so my final judgement on transparency will have to wait.

I won’t ramble on too much more, but I will add you should definitely check out the iOS 7 teaser page at Apple’s site. There is a lot of change coming to an iDevice near you this fall. I, for one, am chomping at the bit to start playing with this new design direction. It might not be perfect, but it’s a step in a new direction and that was much needed. What do you think?