App happy

vector-set-of-app-icons-913-1935As we become more mobile, technologically speaking, and have ready access to the Internet from anywhere, our use of apps—applications—has grown exponentially.

We communicate, consume and create content, work and play, make time and kill time, all on the go. Apps have changed us and our culture, and that’s big.

Even so, the mixture of apps that we maintain and use on our devices is personal. Apps help to shape our identity. If you’re not sure about that statement, consider how you spend time these days versus five years ago.

On that note, I thought I’d share and rate (on a 5-star scale) a few of the apps that I use all the time, either because they help me get things done or make things just a bit more enjoyable. I hope you’ll use the commenting tool to share some of your favorite apps, as well.

iCloud Pages

Rating: ****1/2

Pages_IconApple’s iCloud Pages is an easy to use word processor and desktop publishing application rolled into one. You can use it to write reports, create your résumé and write cover letters, publish newsletters, make flyers—anything that requires text, typography, and occasional graphics.

Apple refers to iCloud Pages as a beta product. If you recently purchased an Apple device and have an iTunes or iCloud account, you can use Pages, and other products in Apple’s iWork cloud-based suite. Those other products are iCloud Numbers, a spreadsheet application, and iCloud Keynote, a presentation application.

If iWork sounds like a replacement for Microsoft Office, it’s not an accident. Apple would like nothing better than you purchasing its hardware, so is happy to provide you with the incentive of perfectly functional—and free—software. This is even more relevant, given that Microsoft this week announced Office for iPad and tied it to its Office 365 offering.

I don’t really use the other iWork applications—yet—but I use iCloud Pages a lot. For me, one of its best features is that it is accessible from any PC, Mac, iPhone, or iPad that has Internet access. It works with Safari, Google Chrome, and Internet Explorer browsers.

Using iCloud Pages, I write and edit the tech-52 blog post each week. Usually I don’t write the post in one sitting. I write and edit parts of it when I have a free moment or two, or an idea that I want to write down before I forget it.

And I can do this from any device within reach, be it my Mac, iPhone, or iPad. Since the latest version of the document is always in the cloud, I can access it any time and from any device, and continue working on it. Very powerful.

Pages-screenshot

Each week my goal is to have the tech-52 blog post written by Friday, and to have most of my links and artwork chosen. Then on Sunday, I copy and paste the article into my WordPress publishing tool, hook up all the links, insert all the graphics, do a final edit, and then publish.

It’s a lot of work, but iCloud Pages makes it much easier than it might otherwise be.

Dropbox

Rating: ****

dropbox_iconDropbox (www.dropbox.com) is a cloud storage company that gives you 2 gigabytes of storage for free. If you’re a heavy user, and need more storage, Dropbox offers a variety of for-cost options.

I mainly use Dropbox on my Mac for sharing files (photos, songs, videos, etc.) that are too large for email. On the Mac, Dropbox is integrated right into the menu bar, so I can quickly open it.menu_bar

When you open the Dropbox folder, it looks just like any other folder on your desktop, and you can drag and drop files right into it. Those files are immediately moved to the cloud. This means the local copy on your Mac or PC is removed.

Dropbox-folder

However, you can also copy and paste files into Dropbox if you want to maintain the file on your local system, as well.

The other nice thing is once you have a file in Dropbox, you can right-click the file and get a link to it that you can then message to friends. The link is in the form of an http:// address. Your friends can access the link on any computer, tablet or smartphone (yes, there’s a Dropbox app), and the device will generally do the right thing: display it if it’s a photo, play it if it’s a song or video, open it if it’s a document, or download it. Of course, if it’s a file format the device does not recognize, it generates an error. Nothing is ever perfect!

Nonetheless, Dropbox is a very handy app…and did I mention it was free?

Spider

Rating: ****

spider_iconSpider is an addictive solitaire-style game. Generally, it’s much more challenging than standard solitaire, and it keeps track of your best game and other statistics, so you always have a goal in mind when you play.

I have the iPhone app loaded on both my iPhone and my iPad, and have killed a lot of time in airports, on planes, in front of the TV, and when I’m seeing a man about a horse.

The object, like solitaire, is to get all of your columns in order from king descending to ace. There are probably the equivalent of two full decks of cards in each game, and they are all in spades. I started at the medium level, and have never gotten so good that I felt like stepping up to advanced.spider_app

Nonetheless it’s a good way to keep your mind active and occupied when you don’t have anything better to do. Spider is a free app with advertising, which can be annoying. However, you can upgrade to the ad-free version for $1.99.

HBO GO

Rating: ****1/2

hbo-go-iconIt can be argued (in fact, someone has) that television is a vast wasteland. I mostly agree, but if there is one entertainment entity that consistently offers programming worth watching, it is HBO. Shows like Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, and Game of Thrones are high quality programs with extremely compelling characters and story lines. And there are a number of B-list shows on HBO that are quite good, as well…shows like TrueBlood, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, Trémé, and Newsroom, to name a few.

If you are now paying for HBO through your cable provider, you can access HBO GO on your PC or Mac, or download the free app on your smartphone or tablet. HBO GO is also supported on Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Roku devices. The beauty of HBO GO is that you can access all current and past HBO series, as well as a large selection of movies, sports, and other programming.hbo-go-app

Despite the fact that I feel like I’m paying ransom to my cable company, the HBO GO option is one thing that makes it a bit less painful. Essentially, you can watch HBO programming wherever and whenever you want…as long as you have a fairly fast Internet connection.

Honorable (too numerous to) mention

There is a huge bounty of apps out there, and as I mentioned, their appeal is a personal thing. In future posts, I’ll revisit this format and call out some other apps that I find addictive, enriching, or otherwise compelling.

Now, as the man said, go play.

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