Instagram Goodies: Web Viewers

Today is the one year anniversary of my first Instagram photo. I thought I would share some fun Instagram goodies with you in honor of that. Instagram is a hugely popular, fun and quirky photo sharing app that you’ve probably heard of by now. Its “hipster” filters and easy sharing to just about any service imaginable, make it a go-to when you want the world to see what you’re up to. Here’s my first Instagram, taken in the little hotel Abby and I lived in while interning in Switzerland.

Many people would say the biggest fault of Instagram is its lack of a web interface. You can click-through to see the photo but there’s no website to browse your history or popular photos. All of this is done in the app. That has meant there are many Instagram viewers popping up around the web. Here are a few of my favorites:

Pinstagram: Claiming to be “the best way to view Instagram on the web,” Pinstagram combines the jQuery Masonry layout (made popular by Pinterest) with your feed from Instagram. It’s a very clean, fast and easy to use interface. You can view your feed, popular photos, nearby photos, search for a tag and even see your likes. I think it’s one of the best web viewers out there. I’m especially impressed with the speed, some of the other viewers can feel very laggy at times.

Statigram: While Statigram does have a viewer and you can search by tags, I think it’s most useful for the stats. They serve up various analytics about your Instagram account and compile it into easy to read and fun-looking infographics. You can even set up reports to be run at certain intervals and emailed to you.

Followgram: This is a very simple viewer that gives you a unique URL to share with others. You can see my Followgram vanity page to get an idea. That’s the biggest difference with this one. Otherwise it has many of the same functions as the others.

Instagrid: Instagrid is along the same lines as Followgram, giving you a unique URL to share (here’s mine) but the user interface is a little cleaner and more responsive. It doesn’t have any extras like tag searching or popular photos. This is just a feed of your personal photos.

Webstagram: If you’re looking for something a little more complete, Webstagram might be for you. This one has your feed, search and popular feed but adds an extra layer on top. You can click-through photos to get a page that lets you post comments and share to various services. It’s a good concept but I think it’s poorly implemented and the user interface leaves a lot to be desired.

There are other web viewers out there but these are a decent sample. After a while they all start to look the same with similar feature sets. Try out a few and see which one is right for you. They’re all free and easy to sign up for with you Instagram account so don’t be afraid to try them all. Did I miss your favorite? Be sure to tell me about it in the comments.

App Review: Clear for iPhone

You probably have heard about Clear, the to-do list app that made a big splash a couple of months ago with its extremely simple and unique interface. It truly is an app that thinks outside the box when it comes to user experience. I immediately downloaded it because the interface was just so different and intriguing I had to touch it. I played with it for a while, added some tasks and lists, deleted some, changed themes and thoroughly enjoyed the quirky little app. Clear is great. It’s ground-breaking even. It totally re-imagines user interactions. That’s all well and fine but is it useful?

Some would say Clear’s lack of fancy bells and whistles is what makes it great. There aren’t any buttons and you add, delete and re-arrange with swipes and gestures. This part really works well and I think it’s an improvement over other list apps I’ve used. To fully appreciate the UI, you really need to use it but this video does a good job walking through it.

http://vimeo.com/35693267

The simplicity that makes it great is also what makes it so frustrating. If you want to view your list on a computer, you’re out of luck. Clear doesn’t synch up with any of your beloved services. You won’t find any iCloud or Google here. I assume they feel everyone has their iPhone with them all the time. While that is true (for me at least) I also am at my computer the majority of the day and would love to have my iCal or Google Calendar to effortlessly synch my tasks from Clear. Sometimes it’s easier to manage these tasks on the device I’m using and not have to pull out my phone and open an app just to check an item off my list. I don’t think this is necessarily a deal-breaker but it’s certainly annoying.

The biggest downfall of Clear is its lack of dates. You can create a task for anything but you can’t assign a due date to it. Sometimes it’s really nice to know a bill is due on such-and-such date so you make sure it’s in the mail on time. I would like these date-assigned tasks to show up in my calendar so when I’m looking at what’s going on today, I can see a task that needs to get done too. Again, this begs the question, “how simple is too simple?”

Visually, Clear isn’t much to look at (but in a good way). It’s basically just rectangles of tasks. That’s pretty much all it needs to be. They offer a variety of themes that change those rectangle’s colors. You can earn “bonus” themes by having other apps (for example, Path) and games installed or following team members on twitter. I’ve even read that completing 100 tasks unlocks a theme. That’s a nice little Easter egg. It would probably be nice if you could design your own themes. It probably wouldn’t be hard to allow you to pick your own set of colors, but that complicates the app and goes against the simplicity they’re going for.

Screen shots of the Clear app

Overall I like Clear. I still use it but to-do lists for me always seem like such a great idea until I forget about them. Clear is fun and useful. I’m making an effort to remember to use it everyday. I wish it had a few more features to it (perhaps due dates with alerts could remind me to use it more) but its unique interface is very refreshing and might just make up for its lack of features.

You can check out Clear in the App Store.

Living in the Cloud

With the recent release of Google Drive, “the cloud” is once again all anyone can talk about. There are plenty of options but now that the big boys like Apple and Google are on board, just about everyone is starting to use some form of cloud storage.

I’m personally a huge fan of the cloud. I love having access to stuff anywhere, anytime and on any device. I actually use multiple services to maximize free space (and because I’m a little too paranoid about my data to put all my eggs in the same basket). Here are a few popular cloud services I’ve tried out:

Dropbox – I started using Dropbox a few years back at an independent contracting gig. It was a really simple way to transfer files between my laptop and the office desktop I was using. It was even more useful to have a shared folder with other team members so any of us could get access to the latest files at any time. Since leaving that job, I still use Dropbox all the time. It’s simple enough that I really don’t have to do anything at all. I love that it works across so many platforms so effortlessly. There’s been multiple times where I’ve needed a file when I wasn’t near my computer and could still get to it with someone else’s computer through the Dropbox website (This isn’t just a feature of Dropbox but most of the cloud services). When you sign up for your free account you get a decent chunk of space (2GB) and you can earn more space with referrals (up to 16GB total). There are paid accounts that up your storage space considerably, but I haven’t reached a point where that’s necessary yet. I think they also have “team” packages with lots of space designed for sharing on a project or in an office.

CX – This one is almost completely a clone of Dropbox (I’m not sure which came first, maybe Dropbox is the clone). They have the same effortless synching between devices and  CX works across plenty of platforms too. What I do like is their style. It’s bright, it’s fun and it’s very clean. The other big advantage to CX is the space. You start with 10GB, which is the largest free amount I’ve come across. You can even earn up to another 6GB by referring friends. If you’re looking for space, you can’t beat CX.

Google Drive – Google finally rolled out the much-rumored Google Drive. It essentially upgrades Google Docs to 5GB that you can use to store all of your files on. They’re accessible online (compatible formats can still be opened/edited like old Docs) and there is a nice desktop app that behaves (as in effortlessly synching) exactly like Dropbox and CX. There’s an Android app that I haven’t tested and apparently an iOS app is in the works. I’ve been an avid user of Google Docs for a while now so Google Drive is a nice upgrade for me. Google has a bit of an edge with integration. They’ve already announced a few partnerships (Lulu for example) and a number of browser plugins to extend it. I think done right, they can grab a lot of market share with tie-ups like these.

iCloud – This is Apple’s take on the cloud. Like many things Apple does, they don’t want you to even realize it’s there. They want to give you what you want when you want it without having to worry about where it lives. I haven’t come across many apps that are integrating with it yet but I’m sure they are coming. All of my iPhone pics are automatically available via photo stream in my iPhoto when I pop open the laptop. It’s stupid simple and for that I have to recommend it. Your mail, contacts, calendars, bookmarks (for Safari), photos, docs and even iPhone backups work without you having to do anything (beyond enabling it). As an added bonus they’ve added “find my Mac/iPhone” into the mix so you can locate your misplaced device. The downside is your synching is mostly limited to Apple products and services. If you’re using any of those though, it totally rocks.

Cloud App – This one is very different from the rest. It’s something I use nearly everyday but not in the same way. Basically it’s a service to share files. You just drop a file on the little cloud icon in your menu bar (on a Mac at least), it uploads and generates a tiny URL for you to share. You can even have it auto upload screen captures (again, on my Mac at least). One of the really cool features of the app is “rain drops.” These are essentially plugins that extend the usefulness of Cloud App to other apps. My favorite mail client, Sparrow, also integrates with Cloud App for sending attachments. I couldn’t find a definite total space limit on Cloud App’s site but you are limited to 10 files a day at up to 25MB a file. For most things that’s perfectly acceptable. They’ve got pro plans that up that space and add other cool features like custom domains for sharing. This isn’t something that will replace your Dropbox but I use both everyday for very different work flows.

Those are just a few options that I’ve personally been using. Each one is a little bit different and for me at least, no one service can do it all. I like each for specific reasons and will continue to use them all. Since you can try them all for free, I suggest you do and find what works best for you. Do you have a favorite I didn’t mention? Tell me about it in the comments.

Starter Kit: Casual iPhone Games

The next installment of my “Starter Kit” series is all about casual iPhone games. Mobile gaming, especially for the iPhone, has become a HUGE market. There are all types of games and with the power these new devices offer, some of the games are absolutely stunning. Not only in terms of graphics but in gameplay and mechanics. I’m going to start with casual games. These are great for just about anyone and usually don’t require much effort or time commitment and while some are great looking, it’s usually more about fun than killer graphics. Think of these as “standing in line” or “waiting in the doctor’s office” kind of games. I’m sure I’ve missed many (there are literally thousands), so please feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

Action Hero: This is a good-looking side-scroller. You run along jumping, ducking and punching your way across the top of a very long train. As most of the games listed here, it’s a good way to kill a little time. Check out Action Hero.

Air Hockey: There are a bunch of these and each have a little plus and little minus. I’ll just suggest you check out Super HockeyGlow Hockey 2Touch Hockey: FS5 or Air Hockey and let you make up your own mind.

Angry Birds: If you haven’t heard of Angry Birds, you’re probably living under a rock. This is pretty much the most popular casual game of all time. Basically a bunch of punk pigs came and stole all your bird eggs. The birds decide to go all kamikaze on the pigs and their forts for vengeance. That’s a basic description but this addicting game has you sling-shotting a variety of birds, each with their own abilities, at the pigs. It’s a ridiculous amount of fun and hard to put down. It’s so popular there are lots of different versions. I recommend the original Angry Birds (free and paid full version), Angry Birds Seasons (free and paid full version) and the latest, Angry Birds in Space. There is also Angry Birds Rio (free and paid full version) but I’m not as big of a fan of that one.

Doodle Jump: This one has you tilting your phone to direct the doodle guy to various platforms and bonuses like trampolines or jetpacks all with the hopes of reaching new heights. It’s nice to see a simple game with an interesting control scheme. Check out Doodle Jump in free or full paid versions.

Draw Something: This one is one of the hot games right now. It’s a super simple version of Pictionary you play with your Facebook friends. It’s turned based, so you pick your word, draw it and send if off to a friend. That friend watches your drawing, guesses the word (hopefully) and then picks their own word, draws it and sends it back. It’s fun to make drawings and laugh at them. Since you’re drawing with your finger on a tiny screen they can be quite hilarious. There’s a free version with ads and paid version without ads and more words to choose from.

Flight Control: This frustrating but oh-so-fun game turns you into an air traffic controller. You draw paths for airplanes to reach the landing strips. It sounds easy but only certain aircraft types can land on certain runways and some are faster than others. It gets progressively harder the longer you play. Another great game to kill time with and another great game that is hard to put down. It’s also available in free and paid full versions.

Fruit Ninja: This one is great. You use your finger to swipe across the screen to destroy fruit. It’s really a lot of fun. Fruit Ninja Lite is free but you’ll probably enjoy the extras the full version can offer.

Jetpack Joyride: This is one of my favorites. You’re a dude with a jetpack (already cool, right?) and you’re using that jetpack to navigate through a lab all the time collecting coins, avoiding electrofied-balls-of-death and completing odd missions. You can use the coins for upgrades to your wardrobe and jetpack too. It’s a blast and probably the game I come back to the most. Check out Jetpack Joyride.

Line Runner: Stickman games are very prevalent in the App Store. This one is a side-scroller where you have to avoid obstacles by jumping and ducking. It’s simple and fun and probably harder than you’d expect. Check out Line Runner.

Mr. AahH!!: This is a really simple game. You’re a little guy on a string and you’re trying to land on the next platform. The platforms are different sizes and sometimes there’s wind to factor in. The closer you land to the center target area the more points you get. Sometimes the most simple games are the most frustrating and addicting, as is the case here. This one has a free Lite version and the full paid version.

Rope’n’Fly: You take your guy from building to building via rope. You try to avoid falling to your death on the ground. Sometimes you can hop on a plane and ride it for a while. The object of the game is to get the farthest. I enjoy it a lot. Another easy to play for just a few moments or quite some time. I especially like some of the achievements in this one.  I’ve only played Rope’n’Fly 3 but there is a Rope’n’Fly 2 as well.

RunStickRun!: You’re a stickman on the run. Jump from platform to platform in this simple side-scroller. It’s fun, but nothing too fancy. I’ve still spent a bit with RunStickRun! and had a good time.

Safari Party: This is one of those “swap to make a group of matches” kind of games. It’s kind of like bejeweled with cute little animals, although the gameplay is slightly tweaked. It’s fun and a favorite of my Fiance’s (probably for the animals). Check out Safari Party.

Scramble with Friends: The turn-based games with your Facebook friends is a very popular category. This one is a scramble game, where you get a grid of letters and you try to connect letters to make words. The longer the words the more points. I like this style of game to begin with, so the added element of competing with friends was a nice addition. There is an ad-supported free version and an ad-free paid version for this as well.

Stickman Cliff Diving: This game is extremely frustrating. That said I find myself playing it often. You’re a stick figure and you’re diving off cliffs. Before each round you’re given a certain time of dive you should be attempting. If you complete the dive correctly you move on. Simple in theory but difficult in practice. Stickman Cliff Diving is worth wasting some time on.

Temple Run: In this one you tilt your phone to “steer” a guy running through ruins. You swipe to make sharp turns and jump or duck. It can definitely be frustrating but also a lot of fun. It has a lot of copycats now so it must be good, right? Check out Temple Run.

Tiny Tower: When I first got my iPhone I really got into this game. In a lot of ways it reminded me of the classic Sim Tower game I used to play (albeit badly) on my old Mac LC II. To be perfectly honest it can be a little “pesky” having to constantly stock your tower. It’s a “hurry up and wait” kind of game but it is still fun to expand your tower. I don’t play it anymore but when I did, I enjoyed it. Check out Tiny Tower.

Woolcraft: This is a puzzle game where you have to get sheep from point A to point B. It gets increasingly harder as the levels go on (which game doesn’t I suppose). I like that it makes you really think and plan ahead. Check out the full version Woolcraft as well as the free Lite version.

Words with Friends: This is another turn-based game to play with your Facebook friends. This time it’s all about Scrabble (but they won’t say that due to copyright). It’s fun to try and squeeze every last point out of your letters and having the opportunity to “reply” to your games at your convenience is appreciated. Sometimes that 62 point word needs a bit of time to come to you. This one is also available in a free, ad-supported free version and an ad-free paid version.

Venn Diagram Generator

I’ve always been a huge fan of Venn diagrams. They’re a wonderful way to express so many different types of ideas and with such simplicity. For a few years now I’ve been running a fairly popular Venn Diagram Tumblr and this past fall I started a pet project for an online Venn Diagram Generator. I wrote it with HTML5 and a little JavaScript. I spent just a few days on it before getting side tracked with other things. It started as a very simple web app and I kept adding features and released a few versions. It’s currently in a “beta” release and could use a little more work. To be honest I kind of forgot about it but I think I’m going to revisit it soon. Feel free to leave any suggestions or feedback in the comments and I’ll post about it again as it progresses.

venn diagram describing my venn diagram generator

Starter kit: iPhone Apps

I’m continuing my “starter kit” series with another chunk of info I send friends. This time it’s all about iPhone apps. I was extremely excited to get my iPhone and quickly downloaded literally hundreds of apps within a few days (who am I kidding, hours). Here’s a bunch I enjoy. The list is unfinished and probably slightly outdated by now but enjoy!

You’ll want some type of flashlight app. I use one called LED flashlight that uses my camera flash and it’s quite useful. I’m pretty sure any of them would work fine though.

Music: Pandora is a must although I’m intrigued by Songza and it could replace Pandora for me. Turntable.fm is a really cool concept of social DJing. I’m a fan of having Shazam to identify music, even if it only works for me half the time. I was using GoMusic to access my Google Cloud Music, but that appears to be gone, Melodies looks promising to fill that void. The standard music player is decent enough and does have the advantage of  iTunes synching.

Wikipanion is a good Wikipedia app. It’s faster than using the wiki website but has access to all of the content.

Navigation: I like Waze a lot. It gives you all the spoken turn-by-turn navigation with a little social twist that alerts you to construction, accidents and the popo. It’s leaps and bounds better than the stupid Maps app Apple includes and it’s free so you don’t have to shell out $50 bucks for Garmin or something.

Photos: The quality of the iPhone’s camera is outstanding. I don’t even know where my point-and-shoot camera is anymore. In terms of apps, Instagram is my favorite. All those hipster filters and easy sharing make it a must have. IncrediBooth is a fun photobooth app. DerManDer is an easy to use panoramic camera. Shoebox is a cool app that makes scanning old photos super easy. Piictu is a fun social network of images. You basically add to streams of various topics, it’s kind of a game and very amusing, even if you’re just browsing.

Check-ins: Foursquare goes without almost saying. It’s a wonderful way to explore your surroundings. I’ve got a blog post about getting started on foursquare if you’re interested. If you want to go beyond that, check out Untappd for beer check-ins and GetGlue for movies, TV and video game check-ins. GetGlue will even mail you the stickers you unlock. Cheers and Stamped are both beautiful apps that are kind of “I like this stuff” apps. Soundtracking is basically the foursquare of music and Foodspotting is for food. Most of these are also good for discovering things and many of them will push your check-ins to other social services if you so desire.

ESPN ScoreCenter is actually a very handy app. I’m not a huge sports fan but it’s nice to get score and game alerts for the Red Wings.

IMDB, pretty self explanatory and necessary to settle arguments.

Flixter for movie times, trailers and watching any Ultra Violet digital movies (you probably “accidentally” got one with a DVD) you may have.

News: I can’t sing the praises of Flipboard enough. It’s pretty, easy and fun. It’ll even bring your social media feeds. Alternatives are Pulse and Google Currents but neither is quite as visually pleasing as Flipboard.

QR / Barcode: I have something just called Scan. It does the job, although I rarely use it.

Video: Vimeo, Tout and Apple’s iTunes Movie Trailers are good apps. Tout is video snippet sharing, Shaq’s really into it. If you have a NetflixHulu PlusU-verseHBOXfinity (Comcast) or Showtime subscription, check out their apps and watch on the go.

Coupons: It never hurts to save a buck or two and Groupon, Living Social, Campus Special and Coupon Sherpa can help.

Lots of stores have apps. I like the Best Buy (also check out their Reward Zone app), Target and Amazon ones. Google Shopper can be helpful to compare prices. There is a separate Amazon PriceCheck app that lets you scan barcodes in a store and see the Amazon price to compare. Walgreens is handy if you fill prescriptions or print photos there. You can do both right in the app.

Reading: If you’re into books, you’ll be happy to know you’ve got options. You may already be invested in some e-book service and they probably have an app. Apple’s got their iBooks, Amazon’s Kindle, and of course Barnes and Noble’s NOOK.

Dropbox is one of my favorite services. I use it across all my computers and my phone to easily keep files in the cloud and accessible from anywhere. Sign up for it now!

Google Translate is helpful and fun.

Tasks / To Do: Apple’s built in tasks doesn’t do a lot and you might need something more. It’s biggest advantage is integration with Siri. Try Awesome Note or Wunderlist. Both are pretty slick apps and I believe both are free. Some people like Evernote but I find it overly complicated. Lately I’ve been using Clear for it’s awesome interface.

Getting More Apps: A handy app to find on sale and free apps is called AppShopper. Discover Apps takes a look at your current apps and recommends new ones.

Foodily is a neat recipe sharing and browsing app.

RunKeeper is a good running/exercise logging app. It will even chart your activities with GPS. If you get it, be sure to link your account with foursquare on their website so you can earn special badges.

Skype is available and works.

Cards: Lots of cool greeting card and postcard apps. Postagram, Sincerely Ink, Apple’s Cards, Jiffygram, and Red Stamp, just to name a few. Most of them will let you create a card, then they print and mail it for you. Usually for a buck or three. A couple of them let you email or send a text of the card for free.

Square Card Reader is a little app lets you accept credit cards on your phone. You’ll need the small attachment (free if you request from their site) that plugs into your headphone jack.

Games: I’ll do another post on games, there are too many.

There you have it. An intro to iPhone apps. Did I miss your favorite? Do you think my suggestions just totally suck? Tell me about it in the comments.