Cloudy Days and Connected Nights

With tablet and iPhone in hand and head in the clouds

Archive for the ‘app’ Category

iBird Pro HD: iBird Pro for the iPad

with 4 comments

IMG_0123If you take my recent review of the latest version of iBird Pro for the iPhone and shuffle it together with my review of iBird Yard for the iPad, you would get just about a perfect review of iBird Pro HD. To put it another way, iBird Pro HD builds on the exceptional user interface of iBird Yard, one of the most effective uses of the iPad’s potential we are likely to see. It has the same amazing search engine, with instantaneous predictive search…but it includes iBird Pro for iPhone’s full 924 species, the full set of illustrations and photos, all the photos, the extensive identification and conservation notes, and and the new expanded set of sound recordings from Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It also, like iBird Pro, allows multiple sets of notes on the species, multiple “Life Lists”, and multiple “favorites lists”.

So, to simplify matters, here are pertinent portions of the previous reviews, edited for iBird Pro HD.

Like most programs I have tied on the iPad, iBird has very distinct portrait and landscape modes, Portrait mode presents the information in slightly larger format…text is bigger, images are bigger, etc., and relies on pop-overs accessed via buttons to display the index of species, while landscape uses the extra width of the screen to display more information, and especially, more options simultaneously. Compare the two screen shots below. In landscape mode you can view the species index/search panel (in numerous different formats) at the same time. This makes switching species especially fast and easy, and gives you instant access to species search within the index. The Gallery alternative index view provides what amounts to an index for the highly visual. And because of the size of the iPad screen, the illustrations in the Gallery index are large enough to make finding the right bird as easy as flicking through the index until you see something that look right. While that might not sound like much, it gives the non-linear, non-text based folks among us a way of finding the right bird that is roughly equivalent to flipping through the field guide, but a lot more efficient, elegant, and practical.

The species index is a work of programming art. It provides 4 ways to view the index: Compact (name only), Icon (illustrated), Album (like icon but with larger images of the bird, and the above mentioned Gallery view. It also provides 4 ways to sort the index: first name, last name, family and taxonomic, and 3 ways to search for specific species within the index: common name, Latin name, and band code (a system of abbreviations used by bird banders).

ipb3 ipb4

ipb5

Lets take one more look at the Overview page to demonstrate just how much information is presented in this view. Expand the annotated screen shot to full size by clicking for an easy view.

OverviewFeatures

The illustrations, as mentioned, expand to full page size by touching the Portrait control. This opens a new view with the illustration full sized and the index next to it (screen shot 1 below). Or you can just touch the illustration in the Overview view and it will open as a separate view (screen shot 2).

ipb7ipb8

And of course that is just the beginning. The Identify page presents information on Body shape, size, color, and patterns, the same for the Head, a detailed description of the flight characteristics, and a panel of Interesting Facts.

ipb6

The Photos page presents 1 to 5 images contained within the program’s data base as iPhone sized shots, and a panel which automatically searches flickr for images of the species. It can pull down hundreds of images, thousands of some species. There are, for instance, 44 panels of images of Baltimore Oriole. Touching any image in the flickr panel opens the m.flickr.com page for that image. Unfortunately that is as far as you can go. It would probably be too much to ask to be able to view the flickr images at larger sized too. :(  🙂

ipb21

While we are on internet resources, there is also a page to display the Birdipedia info on the species, which includes current conservation status (actually the Wiki page for the bird reformatted).

Where the iPad interface really shines though, is in the Search features. Search on the iPad is both easier and more intuitive than the same experience on the iPhone.

ipb15ipb16ipb17

The search view on the iPad uses pop-overs and multiple panels to good effect, and you are presented with an instantaneous and continuous view of matches that updates as you specify new criteria. Want to know what you have already set. There is a little red dot that appears on the icon for every criteria set you have already used, and, for details, you can simply touch the History button and a pop-over appears with your criteria so far. The list of possible search criteria, by the way, are already pre-qualified . Selections that would result in 0 matches are grayed out. Each criteria that would yield matches displays the number of matches under its icon, so you have some idea what you are selecting (this is such a unique feature that it is patented!). And, the color criteria allow both And and Or searches…both colors or one or the other of the colors you choose. And all of it is very graphical. Song and flight patterns have drawings to illustrate the patterns. Bill lengths have sample birds. Colors are bright swatches. All together it makes the search process, to me at least, much more intuitive and fluid: and powerful.

Nothing shows the difference between iBird Pro HD search and iBird Pro (iPhone) search better than a little demonstration. Search on the iPhone is, compared to search on the iPad, somewhat linier. Without multiple panels, you select a criteria from the master list view (say Common Location), make your selection on a separate screen (say Arizona), return to the master list, select another criteria (say Shape), make your selection on the Shape view (say Hawk-like), return to the list, select another criteria (say Size), make your selection (say Medium)…etc. The count of birds that match is only displayed after each selection in the header on the master criteria list…so you don’t know if a choice resulted in actual matches until you return there. On the master list view there is also a button to switch to a view of the matching birds. That is a lot of back and forth between screens, and your results are not visible until you make your final selection. It works, but it is not a lot of fun. See if you can follow the selection process in the screen shots below.

photo 9photo 4photo 5photo 6photo 7photo 8photo 2photo 10

On the iPad, you make your first selection in a panel that contains the criteria list. The panel next to it fills with the selections for that criteria. Below each selection is the count of matches for that selection, and selections which result in no matches are grayed out. As soon as you make your selection the third panel fills with the birds that match. You can then tap another criteria and the selection panel refills (note the little red selected indicator on the first criteria we selected), again with the number of matches for each selection displayed. At any time you can tap the History button to view all previous selections in this search or to clear your search. As soon as you make your selection the third panel again fills with the matching birds. Very easy and very intuitive. Take a look at the screen shots.

IMG_0127IMG_0128IMG_0129

In addition to the more elegant search, there is a completely new feature, not included in the iPhone version. Compare allows you to display up to four species, along with an illustrated list of the search attributes that apply to each species. This is an amazing learning tool. Comparing species, whether close in appearance or widely separated, will build a sense of what distinguishes one bird from another…of exactly what to look for in the field when you are working without your iBird handy. Using it as a study aid will, in my opinion, build your field skills faster than any method short of observing the living birds…and even with the living birds in front of you, you rarely get a chance to do such comparison, since the species only very rarely cooperate by sitting in the same binocular field. In my opinion, the Compare feature of iBird Pro HD makes it a must have for any iPad owning birder attempting to improve his or her id skills.

ipb22

And then, of course, there are the Audio features: a complete set of sound recordings for the species included: over 5 hours of reference standard sounds from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, both songs and calls, with multiple recordings for many birds.

IMG_0125

Special note should be made of the Help system, which amounts to one of the most complete instruction manual/tutorials I have yet seen for an application, let alone one on the iPad. It is worth paging through. In fact I would say that if you do not use the Help screens, you will, without doubt, miss some of the most powerful features of iBird for iPad.

I missed two. Totally. Until they were pointed out to me. Both the Notes and Favorite features, long available in the iPhone version, have been considerably augmented in the iPad version. Notes can now be synced with iTunes, edited on your computer, and synced back to the iPad. The limitation I still see in Notes is that it appears you can only have one note per species at a time. You could, of course, after syncing with iTunes, sore the existing note in a unique spot (a new folder) and rename it,  create a new one, etc…which you could then save somewhere else (another folder) on sync. That way you could have multiple note sets. It is also possible to insert multiple date stamps in the note to separate entries in one longer note.

In addition, the Favorites feature now becomes really useful for listers, as the iPad version allows you keep multiple lists of Favorites. You can even give each Favorite list a unique name. This opens the possibility of a Life List, State lists, trip lists, etc. etc. all kept within the app, and all available for syncing through iTunes to your computer. This is a considerable advance! (And is also now available in the latest version for iPhone.)

If you have studied the screen shots above, you might have noticed that there are two ways to navigate between the various views and functions. There is a sliding menu along the bottom of the screen with buttons, like an animated task bar on a computer, or you can turn that off and use the pop-over menu under the open book icon on the bottom left of the screen, as shown in the screen shot below.

ipb18

So, bottom line. iBird Pro HD for the iPad is everything iBird for iPhone is…and more. It uses the features of the new platform to present a vast amount of information about birds and birding in a totally unique way. The iPhone version is also unique, but the differences are as subtle as differences between the two devices. The iPhone version, with most of the same features and information, on a device that fits in your pocket, is what I think of as the perfect digital, multi-media field guide: the first really effective, complete, and superior alternative to the printed guide. In fact, iBird on the iPhone is the first field guide I have actually carried in the field in years.

iBird on the iPad, however, is more like an encyclopedia and bird study course rolled into one. Though the iPad can be carried in the field (it is not much more bulky than the National Geographic printed guide, and certainly less bulky than the full Sibely), personally, I would be unlikely to do so. I can tuck my iPhone in my pocket, more or less out of harms way, but, while I am sure gorilla glass is wonderful stuff, I would be paying way too much attention to keeping my $500 iPad safe to really enjoy using it in the field. Again, just me. Your take may be totally different. And, of course, this is not so much a comment on iBird as it is on the iPad itself.

Let me make it clear here, that what I am expressing is a preference for the device, the iPhone, and not for the applications. There is no doubt that iBird Pro HD on the iPad offers a better user experience, overall, than iBird Pro on the iPhone, and that the features unique to the larger platform make it, overall, the more useful app…but I still do consider any app that runs on the iPad  a field guide…in the sense that I would not carry the iPad, no matter how good the app, regularly in the field. On the other hand, if I were a birder with both an iPhone and an iPad, I would not even consider running iBird Pro on the iPad…iBird Pro HD is simply a superior program on the iPad platform.

As a home reference and learning aid, with occasional field functionality (which is, actually, exactly what I consider both the National Geographic and Sibely printed field guides), iBird for iPad is totally unlike anything we could have even imagined a few years ago. Sure, we had multi-media birding programs on DVD and multi-media birding sites on the web. But as Steve Jobs says, the iPad is magic. There is something about interacting with the information using your fingers that elevates the experience to a whole new level of satisfaction, of ease, and of fascination. Someone said iBird for the iPhone represented the first true digital book…but he had not seen iBird for the iPad. I have seen the future of information publishing. It is iBird on the iPad. Oh there are other great examples, and more coming, but someday our children will look back to 2009/10 as the year publishing went digital. They will remember the iPad as the first device to really take it there…and they just may remember iBird Pro HD for the IPad as the first truly convincing demonstration of the potential. Certainly they will if they are themselves birders…or the children of birders. I have seen the future. It is here in the iPad, and it is here in iBird Pro HD…and it is going to be good.

Written by singraham

September 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Posted in app, iBird, iOS, iPad, iPhone 4

iPhone Navigation in an iPhone 4 / iOS 4 Age

with one comment

photoAs I have mentioned before, I seem to collect Navigation apps for the iPhone. Back in the days of my 16GB 3G, I only had room for one at a time on my iPhone. With my new 32GB iPhone 4, I have them all loaded on there temporarily, while I sort out which one I like best and will keep on the device. And, since Navigon was slow getting to the iOS 4 upgrade, I seem to have added another paid app, and, oh, I picked up another free one as well (why not?).

iOS 4 has added a whole new dimension to turn by turn GPS. No matter what other app you have open…iPod, Phone, Maps, Around Me, etc, etc. you nav app will continue to keep track of where you are on your route and give you turn by turn instructions. In fact…you can’t shut it off unless you open the App Tray and specifically quit the app. The Home button just puts the app in the background. Sounds simple, but it is truly revolutionary!

So right now I have the following Navigation apps on my iPhone 4 (in the order in which I acquired them).

Navigon North America (iOS4, $79.00 + lifetime traffic subscription charge)
CoPilot Live  (iOS4, $19.99 + yearly traffic subscription charge)
MotionX GPS Drive (iOS4, $.99 + monthly turn by turn and traffic charge)
Magellan RoadMate (not iOS4, $59.99, no traffic )
TomTom USA (iOS4, $39.99 + yearly traffic subscription)
MapQuest (free with free traffic)

Let me say up front that any one of these apps will get you where you are going relatively painlessly, most of the time. With the exception of MapQuest, they all have similar basic feature sets. MapQuest is the odd app out in that it does not have destination up mode, which for me is a deal breaker, no matter how good the rest of the implementation is or how cheap it is. That said, each app brings at least one or two unique, or at least rare, features to the navigation experience…and one app (not, interestingly enough, the most feature rich) has definitely emerged as my favorite for day in day out navigation.

What you can expect from all of them: audible turn by turn instructions with at least one voice that does text to speech and reads street names. Music controls with in the app (though is is far less critical in iOS4). Routing with at least some customization. 2D or 3D map display. Day and Night modes. Navigate to Contacts (the most problematic feature on any Nav app). POIs. All the apps that offer live-traffic (that would be all of them except RoadMate) also offer live local search (generally via Google).

So briefly, app by app.

Navigon Navigator: on-board maps.  The first turn by turn navigation app on the iPhone, and still the clear leader in the features war. Now fully iOS4 able. Not only 3D maps but Panorama View 3D, with elevations (hills, valleys, mountains, etc) mapped in a realistic landscape. You have to see your road wind up a mountain pass. Way cool! The most comprehensive speed limit information with speeding warnings (Caution she says, gently but firmly). Excellent lane assist on major highway intersections. Well implemented traffic and local search. And, very unique, a my route feature that maps 3 routes for you to choose from and learns from your choices. The life time traffic and local search subscription somewhat mitigates the high initial cost of the app.

On the down side, the most complex, awkward, and slow UI of any navigation app. Maxes the processing ability of any phone less able than the iPhone 4, and pushes the limits there. Noticeable lags in typing, choosing, searching, etc. Occasionally, in my experience, makes questionable routing decisions. Only reads one of the possible choices for a street or road name with more than one name on the map…and often not the most logical or helpful. And, another little thing, the text to speech voice has no way of saying “continue on this road” so she is always telling me to keep left when she means go straight ahead.

I pretty much trust this app, and really like the slick Panorama display…but I find that I do not use it due to the slow interface, if I have an alternative available.

CoPilot Live: The second turn by turn app on the iPhone, and always among the most affordable of the apps with on-board maps. I really like the look of the maps…colorful, cartoonish, fun…however this is not an door to door app. It gets you to a section of a local street with a range of numbers and that is as close as it gets. Also, in my experience, the maps are, by a narrow margin, the least accurate of any of the nav apps. And there is no real lane assist for most intersections. The turn by turn voice gives more complete instructions than Navigon. Despite its limitations, the price is right for a app with on-board maps, and it will do a credible job of getting you there.

Motion X GPS Drive: another absolute bargain, even if you pay the monthly subscription fee for turn by turn and traffic. However, this app depends on a live internet connection (wifi or 3G) for maps and routing. No on-board maps.  While in most urban situations, that is not a huge drawback, where I often travel it makes this my back-up app of choice, but not my primary choice.

The UI is among the slickest and quickest, the POIs are, of course, since they are always live, the most up-to-date., address entry is the simplest and most logical of any app…you type in the address naturally…number, street, city, state, zip…rather than the reverse pick one at a time method all the other apps apply. There is a lot to like. The Bing maps as quite good. If you are on a budget and don’t travel where 3G gets thin, then there is really no reason to spend what an on-board map app would cost you. Motion X will get you there just fine.

Magellan Road-Mate 2010. Don’t go there. Slick interface, but slow and limited turn by turn (no turn now for instance, just a beep). The least accurate rendering of where you are on the maps. No iOS 4 ability. Just don’t go there. A real disappointment from one of the leaders in stand-alone GPS.

MapQuest: a great app for free. No destination up mode (North is always up, which means you are traveling across the map horizontally much of the time). Not for me.

TomTom USA: So, the last is, imho, the best. This is the app I use 99% of the time, and the more I use it, the more things I find to like. Fast, logical, elegant and attractive UI that is a pleasure to interact with. Excellent maps. Comprehensive lane assist. The most complete turn by turn directions of any app by far: she reads all the names of streets or roads with multiple possible names, just in case…gives audible warning of close second turns, directs you toward signed landmarks, tells you when to go straight on, gives multiple warnings of upcoming turns, gives audible lane guidance (in addition to the excellent lane assist diagrams), etc. etc. The first time she said “at the end of the road, turn left onto Ridge Road, State Route 6 , Maine Street, toward Lancaster College, and keep in the left lane…” it was love. This lady knows how to tell a fella where to go!

Though the speed limit system is not as comprehensive as Navigon’s (less rural roads and village streets), the warning system (visual and audible) is great. The maps are attractive and, in my experience, remarkably accurate…and TelNav (supplier of the map data) maintains and easy site for users to submit updates. I have submitted three and gotten responses confirming my input and promising revisions on the next issue of maps.

Live traffic is handled well. Traffic and time of day is taken into consideration in all routing, and, when a  route slows down enough for there to be a quicker alternative, you are offered the option of taking it.

And routes are highly customizable. The app computes the most logical and fastest route (if that is what you ask for) but you can tell her you want to go via some POI or address (including an address from your Contacts) and she will reroute you that way. You can also call up a map of the route and touch to select an alternative routing, and she will obediently send you that way. This is a great way, by the way, to test alternative routes. Very very cool. (And that is in real time…there is a Planning mode that allows you to do all this at your leisure and save the route for when you need it…amazing!

Finally, like Navigon, TomTom is integrated with Around Me, my favorite alternative to Google search on the iPhone for finding specific types of POIs by category or name…restaurants, convenience stores, drug stores, doctor’s offices, etc. Around Me will often find an obscure POI like a state or regional park when nothing else will, and you can instantly send the destination to TomTom for routing. I use it a lot.

I have now used TomTom in rural Maine and urban California, and it is yet to let me down. I trust it. It gets me where I am going, and makes the trip as stress free as possible.

I have, almost literally, tried them all, and TomTom just does what I need it to…which is, basically, to get me where I am going…better than all the rest. Motion X GPS Drive will stay on my iPhone for backup, but TomTom will be the app I keep on board for all my day to day navigation needs.

There. that is done. Now I can take about 6 Gigs of apps off my iPhone!

Written by singraham

August 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm

iBird Pro for iPhone Revisited: still the best (and even better)!

with 2 comments

IMG_1000000410While we wait for iBird Pro for iPad to appear in the app store, it might be a good time to revisit iBird Explorer Pro for iPhone, in some detail, for those who are not familiar with the application, or who have not considered it in a while.

IMG_1000000421Version 3.0, just released, is a major upgrade…adding, first and foremost, over 5 hours of reference standard sounds from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, both songs and calls, with multiple recordings for many birds. This removes, to a large extent, the only clear competitive advantage some iPhone field guides have had over iBird. (Note also, the Similar Sounding list…it is much more extensive on some birds.)

In addition, version 3.0 offers multiple Favorite lists and, if you are using iOS4 and the latest iTunes, the ability to sync both Favorite Lists and Species Notes to your desk/laptop. This makes it possible to use one Favorite List as a Life List, and another as a trip list (not ideal yet, but possible). If after syncing you store the lists and notes in separate folders, you can even keep multiple sets. (There is a through tutorial on the More page that helps with the use of multiple Favorite Lists and sets of Species Notes.)

IMG_1000000432IMG_1000000436There are also a few refinements to the UI…most notably Size and Length sliders where appropriate in Search mode, and, though a simple thing, shadowing at the ends of the navigation bar at the bottom of the Species screens that makes it clear (for the first time, see the screen shot above) that the thing slides left or right to reveal more options! A simple thing, but it should eliminate some initial frustration on the part of new users. The Help section has also been refined, with a new, more graphical delivery of the basics, and that should also ease the new user’s pain considerably.

Those are the most important new features, but let us revisit the feature set that makes this the best of the field guides currently on the iPhone. We will begin with the reference section.

IMG_1000000414 IMG_1000000413 IMG_1000000417

Basic illustrations of all 924 species

Supplemental illustrations of many

Multiple photographs of almost all

IMG_1000000425 IMG_1000000422 IMG_1000000415

Full size portrait mode for detail

Access to 1000s of Flickr images
And Birdapedia, (No screen shot)

Detailed, accurate, range maps

IMG_1000000416 IMG_1000000418 IMG_1000000424

Pages of identification detail

Table of interesting facts

Conservation status information

IMG_1000000423

IMG_1000000419

IMG_1000000428

Family information

Illustrated similar Species list with live links to the species.

ability to add notes to species

IMG_1000000426

IMG_1000000439

IMG_1000000441

ability to use multiple favorite lists

Where the female is not illustrated…

photos are provided.

But the reference section is only half the program. The search section offers the most comprehensive and useful set of search criteria of any of the iPhone filed guides…setting a standard that will be hard to match. As mentioned above, where appropriate, sliders and pickers are employed, but the real strength is the graphical approach to criteria. Anything that can be illustrated, is.

IMG_1000000430 IMG_1000000429 IMG_1000000433

Pages of search criteria organized into logical groups.

illustrated, icon driven,  search criteria…

Icons

IMG_1000000434 IMG_1000000435 IMG_1000000431

Icons

Icons

sound sample for song search

As criteria are selected the number of species that match is shown at the top of the search screen.

IMG_1000000442 IMG_1000000443 IMG_1000000444

Matched birds update with each criteria.

as so…

you can view any group.

 

A complete list of criteria looks like this:

Basic Group
Location (Common)
Location (Uncommon)
Shape
Size
Habitat
Color Primary
Color Secondary
Backyard Feeder
Family
Conservation Status
Observed State/Month

Song
Song
Song Pattern

Body Related
Length Range
Weight Range

Flight Related
Wing Shape
Flight Pattern
Tail Shape
Wingspan
Leg Color

Pattern Related
Head Pattern
Breast Pattern
Belly Pattern
Back Pattern

Head Related
Crown Color
Forehead Color
Cere Color
Throat Color
Nape Color
Eye Color
Bill Shape
Bill Length
Ear Tuffs

Miscellaneous
Game Bird
Order

As I have mentioned in past reviews, iBird’s search mode can be an excellent tool to teach new birders the kinds of things they should be looking for as they are observing birds in the field.

With this breath of features and depth of solid information, iBird Explorer Pro for iPhone 3.0 continues to set the standard, not only for what a birding field guide can be on the iPhone, but for what any iPhone field guide can aspire to. There is more information here at the tips of your fingers than any birder could digest in a lifetime…but it is all information that a birder might need, sometime, somewhere. The magic is that, with iBird Explorer Pro, it is right there in your pocket!

Written by singraham

August 7, 2010 at 2:00 pm

New England Nature: Audubon guide for iPhone/iPod Touch

with one comment

You may know that Green Mountain Digital is in the process of recreating many of the excellent photographic field guides published under the auspices of the National Audubon Society over the years. They already have Birds, Wildflowers, Trees, Fishes, Mammals, Reptiles, and Insects, plus a combination guide to Birds, Trees, Mammals, and Wildflowers, and numerous regional variations on Birds and Wildflowers in particular. For the full range of guides, search for audubon in iTunes or the App Store on your device. Prices range from $5.00 for state level wildflower guides, and $10 for national guides to say, wildflowers or reptiles, to $20 for Birds, and $40 for the 4 in 1 guide.

All are built on the same app engine and work pretty well, especially on faster iPhones. The guides on the 3G or previous, require some patience to use. I am eagerly awaiting the 4G this month!. Switching from browse to search, in particular seems to take forever on a 3G. The other inexplicable idiosyncrasy of the series, that can take some getting used to, is the lack of visual or audio feedback for some selections. Most iPhone apps highlight, or shadow, or dim, or click when you touch a selection. Sometimes there is nothing in the Audubon apps. The spinner spins, and eventually you get to where you were going, but there is no indication your touch has taken.

The iPhone versions have been updated with additional photographs, rewritten text, updated range maps, etc. and all include a multi-term search engine that will at least narrow your choices for an ID. I have tested the Bird app, which is a good supplement to iBird, but not a replacement for it,  and have used the Wildflower app as my reference of choice on the iPhone.

One of my favorite Audubon series has always been the regional Nature Guides. I have owned one for every region where I have lived or spent significant time. In a single volume you find a surprisingly comprehensive guide to the birds, wildflowers (which includes many grasses and sedges as well), butterflies, insects and spiders, reptiles and amphibians, fishes, seashells, seashore creatures, and trees (which includes many shrubs). The guides also provide a good basic introduction regional habitats, geology, weather, and places to see nature. To me they are the ideal companion on any nature hike, and I rarely go out exploring without one in my back or fanny pack, appropriate to the region.

I was excited, then, to see the regional Nature series begin to appear in the App Store this month. I immediately bought New England Nature, and have been using it for a for several days now.

Except for the speed issues, which I am confident are less troublesome on a 3GS and expect to be no bother at all on the new iPhone, the app is everything I had hoped it would be. It builds on the excellent foundation of the paper version, and adds features and content that extend its usefulness in interesting ways.

If you take a look at the screen shots below you will get an idea of the range of resources which the app literally puts at your fingertips.

Not all sections have the same resources. Butterflies lack range maps, but have a direct link to the Reference section (kind of a super-glossary with background information on the species in the section). Mammals have range maps but no direct Reference link. Of special note is the fact that the Birds section carries over the excellent sound library from Audubon Birds. This set goes well beyond simple song and chipnote recordings. Baltimore Oriole, for instance, has 11 recordings ranging from Songs and Calls (5 different) to the begging sounds of newly fledged birds. Impressive audio indeed.

The screen shots that follow will give you an idea of the search feature. Only three criteria, from the butterfly section, are pictured. Each section has its own set of criteria. Birds, for instance, have shape, color, habitat,locomotion, size, song call pattern, song call type, and wing shape. Wildflowers have shape, color, habitat, and month. Each section has a unique set of criteria designed to help you best home in on an ID.

The Natural History sections are pulled directly from the printed guides: Birding Hotspots and Natural Sites, Natural Highlights, Habitats, Topography, Conservation and Ecology, and Weather and Seasons.

The final set of features has huge potential but is, so far, very inconsistently implemented. If you look at the first set of screen shots you will see icons in the icon set at the bottom of the species views for Life List and Sightings. The Sightings function is fairly well implemented. Touching the icon opens a screen for that species where you can enter basic info on your sighting. (I was not able to get the “use Phone Location” feature to work, but it is there.) Sightings are then saved to an illustrated list, linked back to the species pages, within the app. Unfortunately Life List does not work the same way. Touching that icon on any species page only opens a text entry box where you have to manually enter the species name. ???? I don’t get it. Finally, in the Dashboard at the bottom of the main screens there is a Photo icon. This allows you to take a picture and save it in an album within the app, but again, there is no way to link your picture to any given species or sighting. ???. Again, I don’t get it. Also there does not seem to be any way to export your sightings or lists or pictures to…maybe a website, twitter, facebook, your laptop??? What is GMD thinking here?

Still, taking the app for what it is, and not for what it isn’t, this is an amazingly useful (at least to me) addition to my iPhone field guide suite. It puts the full range of New England nature at my fingertips, in one tidy and highly functional package. At $15.00 I consider it a bargain. I paid more for my paper copy, and the iPhone version, even beyond portability considerations, has a lot more to offer. Regional Nature Guides for Florida, California, and Texas so far, besides the New England guide reviewed here are available in the App Store. I am sure more are in the works.

The iPhone is an amazing machine, but it is apps like the New England Nature Guide that make carrying it worth while!

Written by singraham

June 5, 2010 at 11:58 am

More SimplyTweet Updates! Faster and faster…

with one comment

SimplyTweet has always been speedy, but never the fastest of the twitter clients. Version 3.1 was the fastest ST so far, but because there was nothing to choose between downloading only 20 tweets (twitter default) and downloading All Since Last Unread, its speed was not obvious. With version 3.1.1, now under review, ST has added settings for 20, 50, 100, 200, or All Unread in the Settings App. With the app set to 200 to match my usual setting in twitter clients,  SimplyTweet is as fast, or faster, than any client I have ever tried: certainly as fast as Tweetie (ah…I mean Twitter for iPhone) or Osfoora (the two previous fastest among the clients I have tried). And, of course, ST has just about all the features of either Twitter for iPhone or Osfoora, and it has reliable native push.

To my way of thinking, that makes ST the hands down winner among Twitter clients. It was already my favorite. This upgrade is just icing on the cake. (But if the developer is true to his record so far, I am sure he has more goodness up his sleeve and is working hard to bring it to his users even as I write this.)

The other refinement you will immediately notice in ST 3.1.1 is the addition of little reply symbols in the timelines when a posted tweet is, in fact, a reply. Nothing big, but nice.

For a complete list of changes, I have copied the change log from SimplyTweets’ Posterous blog. Really, after you have tried SimplyTweet, is hard to recommend any other twitter client for the iPhone!

  • Add support for Instapaper Mobilizer (enable in Settings app)
  • Add translation of user description in account view
  • Adjust text size of contacts picker when in bigger text mode
  • Direct Messages is now less likely to break up words in long DMs
  • Lists timelines now load 200 when loading older tweets
  • Search timeline now loads 200 when loading older tweets
  • Add bookmarking service (Instapaper or Read It Later, depending on settings) to swipe menu options
  • Add new swipe menu option for Reply All Mentioned
  • Allow filtering of search results by language (enable and choose language in Settings app)
  • App store links are no longer automatically opened in App store app (since Apple now displays a webpage, it isn’t necessary). To open the app in App store (for purchase, for e.g.), Press button in toolbar
  • Add TweetPhoto and Pic.gd to photo search, removing TwitGoo, TwitrPix and img.ly. (Twitter can’t handle multi-term queries well)
  • Show picture indicator in timeline for TweetPhoto and Pic.gd
  • Show thumbnail in tweet view for TweetPhoto and Pic.gd
  • Number of tweets to be loaded for Friends timeline on startup is now configurable as 20, 50, 100, 200, Load All Unreads
  • Add indicator for tweets which are replies in timelines (not available in search timelines due to Twitter limitations)
  • Fix: Hashtags with umlauts aren’t turned into links in tweet view
  • Fix: When loading older tweets in search timeline, the previous results disappear (ie. only 1 page of results was shown at a time)
  • Fix: Show a proper error message when sending a tweet which you have sent recently (Twitter doesn’t allow that)
  • Fix: Show a proper error message when retweeting a tweet which you have already retweeted
  • Fix: Some lists and @usernames aren’t turned into links properly in tweet view and DM view
  • Fix: When creating a draft from list of drafts, title of compose view is misaligned
  • Fix: For some users, tweets sent by them aren’t highlighed with a different background
  • Fix: unread count disappears in Friends/Mentions timeline after opening account from timeline and going back to timeline
  • Fix: crash when hashtag button is pressed in compose view while tools panel is revealed
  • Fix: Some gaps in Friends timeline if app was running for a long time and manually refreshed
  • Fix: duplicates in mentions/DM timeline if push while app is not running and push is not for the current account
  • Fix: adjust picture indicator in timelines so it’s less likely to overlap with text
  • Fix: if user switches account while a timeline is loading tweets/DMs, the newly loaded tweets/DMs will appear in the switched-to account
  • Fix: toolbar color of list detail doesn’t obey theme
  • Fix: bug when deleting accounts

Written by singraham

May 25, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Posted in app, iPhone, iPod Touch, Twitter

Real-time on the Social-web for the World Series of Birding

leave a comment »

Suppose, just for fun, that there was a 24 hour event happening, covering the whole state of New Jersey from end to end, and you, single-handedly, wanted to document it in real time, using the social web…twitter, blogs, and associated tools…so that anyone who wanted could experience it from, shall we say, ground level? Suppose. What tools would you use?

In my work life, I am the Observation Product Specialist for Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, makers of binoculars and spotting scopes used in birding, and all types of wildlife observation. For 27 years we have sponsored a team, Team Zeiss, in the yearly World Series of Birding competition, and for 6 years we have been the sponsor of the Carl Zeiss Youth Birding Challenge. The WSB raises funds for conservation through per-species pledges to your favorite team of birders, who then go out for 24 hours, midnight to midnight, in the state of New Jersey (or some designated sub-section there-of) to count as many different species of birds as they can identify by sight or sound. It draws well over 200 of the best birders in the US, in over 50 teams, to Cape May, NJ each May. Most teams come in a few days (or weeks) early to scout the area where they intend to count…then there is the day itself…24 hours of driving crazy distances to hit the hot-spots and staked out birds…the Finish Line were, just before midnight, the teams bring in their totals for verification…and then, the next morning at 9AM sharp, the Awards Brunch where, after a lavish breakfast, the highest totals are recognized with various awards, and each team gets to briefly tell its best story of the day. It is marginally insane, considerably inspiring (if you are into birds…they have raised over $9 million for conservation in the 27 years of the event), and a whole lot of fun!

This year, I decided to try to document the whole thing in something approaching real time. I planned to be in a chase car, and follow Team Zeiss through some of the scouting and preparations, then through the 24 hours of the event to the Finish Line, and to the Awards Brunch the next morning. I planned to twitter and FaceBook the whole thing, with sound-clips, pics, and maybe some video…perhaps to do some live blogging on our WordPress blog…and, of course, to bring back enough photos and video for follow-up blog posts and web pages. It was only slightly more insane than the event itself.

You can see the results, all of the posts from the field, considerably expanded with images, video, and bit of commentary added after the event, at Team Zeiss: A Complete World Series of Birding Saga.

If you want to know how I did it, read on.

I have an iPhone 3G (not, unfortunately for these purposes, the 3GS with video), a Canon SX20IS which shoots excellent stills and HD video, an very portable Aspire Timeline 1810TZ CULV netbook/laptop, a Verizon USB mobile broadband doggle, a cigarette lighter power supply that puts out both 110 volt AC for the computer and USB power for the iPhone, and, obviously more enthusiasm than sense.

Experimenting before-hand I settled on the new Hootsuite app for iPhone for my twitter and facebook posts. I knew I would be twittering on 2 accounts: my own @singraham and the Zeiss account @zeissbirding_us. The facebook posts were going to my own profile. I needed an app that would post to all three simultaneously. Hootsuite looked like it would do the job. Since you can open it in menu mode, without downloading any streams, it is quick to post from. When I got to Cape May, I found that the Hootsuite app, on AT&T’s 3G network, was failing about half the time when I attempted to post a pic with the tweet/facebook update. Trying again sometimes worked, but I needed something more reliable.

I already have a Posterous blog set up, and have used it to post instant galleries of images via email when I have more than one image to post at the same time. You can set up Posterous to auto post to any number of twitter and facebook accounts, and if you make the title complete, it can act as a tweet or post in itself. You can even include hastags for twitter in the title. Posting from the iPhone is as simple as taking the pics with the camera app, opening Photos, selecting the ones you want to send and choosing email. You enter your Posterous address, and it is away, and posted to your twitter and facebook accounts soon after. The advantage is that Posterous automatically formats multiple images into a galley with an index and viewer.

Posterous will also take video, directly or as a link from YouTube…which is good, since I encountered the dread “caught in the processing loop” YouTube bug when attempting to upload video from Cape May. Not via 3G either…this was from my hotel room over a wifi network. I tired many times. Nothing worked. While Posterous video is not has high quality as HD on YouTube, it is certainly serviceable for my purposes with the WSB.

Posterous does have its own app for the iPhone, which allows you take pics directly and upload them into galleries on your blog, but I find that it is actually much easier to do it from the Photos App via email.

As it happens, Hootsuite updated their iPhone app while I was in New Jersey, and the new version seemed to work much better with pic uploads, even when I lost 3G and had to work on EDGE in the far reaches of the state.

I ended up using both Hootsuite, and Posterous via email, as the situation demanded and as the spirit moved me. 🙂

When I picked up my rental car, the first thing I checked was the number of cigarette lighter sockets, as I anticipated having to use my iPhone part of the time as a GPS. The Jeep Compass they gave me has only one cigarette lighter socket…but low and behold, it has an actual 110v, two prong socket, just like your wall sockets at home. I could plug the Acer in directly, and, since i use a Kensington Ultra Compact Power Supply while traveling, which has its own USB power port, and was packing a Griffen PowerJolt Dual with two more USB power ports for the cigarette socket, I was all set for power. I did not even have to set up the excellent Radio Shack compact power inverter I always have in my laptop bag.

As it turned out, I never even plugged the Acer in. It was just too close quarters with 3 of us and all our stuff in car, I was driving at least a third of the time, and we made stops too frequently to consider the laptop useful. That meant that I did not upload any video until the event was over.

Most of the pics were uploaded direct from the iPhone’s camera. I am impatiently waiting the arrival of the 4G iPhone with what one hopes will be a decent camera (rumors say maybe even HD video), but you make do with what you have. Since I was shooting most of the time with the SX20IS as well, the pics from the field were more or less placeholders anyway…I replaced most of them with SX20IS shots when I built the blog post…though I hope the iPhone shots added at least a little to the experience for those following my tweets and posts in real time.

I did process a few of the more marginal shots using the Adobe PhotoShop app for the iPhone before I posted them. I used, until this most recent version of the Adobe app, PhotoGene, which I really like. PhotoShop is just a bit faster on most operations, at least on my 3G phone, and, in the field, where you are posting mostly while hurrying back to the car or between stops, even that little speed difference can be critical.

While I had not planned to do it, since I was using Posterous, it occurred to me on a hill far into the outback of Sussex County, New Jersey, moments after mid-night when the team was listening for high flying migrants in the dark, that I could post audio. I made a few recordings during the night at various stops, while it was still too dark for photography, using the built in Voice Memo app on the iPhone, and uploading them to Posterous via email. Of course, since the Team was using their ears, I could not play them back to see what I got. They went out over twitter and facebook just as they came from the iPhone.

It was not long into the dark night when Hootsuite and Facebook stopped cooperating. I never did figure out what was happening. The app gave me a “failed to post on Facebook” message about 2 out of 3 tries. This was from the hinterlands and I suspected the EDGE connection, but when I got back to civilization and 3G it was no more reliable. It could have been an issue with Hootsuite at that particular time, or with Facebook, or with the iPhone. All of which make me rely more on the Posterous connection than I might otherwise have.

I am hoping, of course, that the folks who followed the tweet stream in real-time got a sense of how the event unfolded that is never available in hind-sight. (Though, honestly, I am pretty sure no one caught my tweets posted from midnight until 4 am. 🙂 )

Tuesday, safe at home with the Acer firmly anchored to a desk, and my wifi connection humming, I processed all the images (Lightroom) and some of the video (NeroVision) I shot with the Canon SX20IS. I also used Tweetake to capture all my @zeissbirding_us tweets into a spreadsheet, where I could sort and edit them into something like a coherent narrative. Using the tweets as the skeleton, I added images and video from the Canon, and a bit of commentary, to fill out the story. I used a few of the original iPhone shots where I did not have something from the Canon, but when I did, I grabbed them from Posterous or Ow.ly into Picnic for a bit of improvement before posting them back to the blog.

I intend to do a more reflective and thoughtful piece on the whole experience, the WSB experience that is, not the technical experience, when my mind fully recovers from sleep deprivation. (If my mind ever recovers…) But for now, the post referenced above stands as one man’s view of the World Series of Birding as done by Team Zeiss in May of 2010.

Next year I hope to have an iPhone 4G and even better apps. (I also hope, of course, that AT&T will have improved service throughout New Jersey, though I have to say, there were very very few places where I could not tweet!) In hindsight, and maybe foresight if the technology does not change much before then, I would set up a unique Posterous blog for the event, and post everything there, with auto post to twitter and facebook. Of course with the 4G iPhone posting live to WordPress may be practical by then. Who knows.

Much may change by next year’s running of the World Series of Birding. Team Zeiss is already committed to doing it again…for conservation…and for the fun of it…and I plan to be there, making the best use of Social Media I can, to give those who can not be there a ground level view of the World Series of Birding. As it happens. In real time.

Which is one thing, certainly, the Social Web can do better than any other tool we have ever had to work with. It can only get better.

Maybe I can take pledges: So much per tweet for conservation. That will make the birds happy. 🙂

Written by singraham

May 20, 2010 at 2:17 pm

SimplyTweet 3.1: Back at the Top of the Twitter heap!

with 6 comments

Note: as of 5/8 this version is pending review in the App Store. It should be available next week.

Of course, with Tweetie now the property of Twitter, and its first release as the one and only official twitter app for the iPhone impending (simply Twitter for iPhone), there is somewhat of a scramble among twitter client developers to get their apps well positioned to survive the advent. And that is not going to be easy. Tweetie already has one of the richest feature sets of any client, one of the most elegant interfaces, and one of the strongest followings. One wonders what Twitter is going to do to it…but unless they somehow make it worse instead of better, Tweetie as a free Twitter for iPhone is going to be tough competition for any other app.

Still there are two features that Tweetie lacks that have always kept it off my home screen. 1) native push notifications and 2) unread counts and unread marks. I know you can use Boxcar for push, but as I have said before, there is no comparison between well implemented native push and a side-car push experience. They are two different things altogether. Native push is clearly the way to go. (We will have to see what wrinkles multitasking brings to this mix with OS 4.0.) And, personally, I value unread counts and marks. They help to make sense out of my stream, and any help there is appreciated! 🙂

I have used just about all of the feature rich twitter clients, and the one that keeps working its way back on to my home screen is SimplyTweet. It has a simple, elegant UI, all the standard features, and a few still fairly unique features that I use every day. For a while before 3.0 came out, SimplyTweet fell behind the curve in implementing twitter-native retweet and twitter lists. The native retweet thing was critical, since they did not appear in the ST timelines at all. That was awkward. And, while ST had its own list function, it was not integrated in any way with Twitter’s own new lists.

That lead me to an app called Osfoora (see reviews here and here). Osfoora has most of ST’s features (except for push) and is blazingly fast. Excellent app and another app which is rapidly developing. Still I was really waiting for the new release of ST.

SimplyTweet 3.0 was a long time coming because it was a complete rewrite…all but a complete recreation…in essence a whole new app. The UI changes went well beyond 2.5, which was itself a significant upgrade (see review). 3.0 added all the new twitter native stuff, and the engine under the hood was completely reworked.

Unfortunately, because of that, 3.0 was essentially a 1.0 version with a few really awkward UI corners and obvious patches still showing. Though I bought it the day it appeared in the app store, it never did make it to my home screen. (Since it was completely new app from the inside out it was not a free upgrade…though, under protest, the author did lower the price for a time to appease his faithful following. My attitude on this is somewhat different…as it was with Tweetie 2.0. iPhone apps are inexpensive. iPhone app developers, if we expect them to continue developing, have to make some $$ for their efforts. Having to repurchase ST, considering all the work that has gone into it, over past upgrades and in this new version, is only fair. 🙂 Or that’s what I think.)

I have mentioned before that ST’s author, Hwee-Boon Yar, is among the most accessible and responsive of developers. If you check his twitter profile you will see that he has over 10,000 updates…most dealing with his user’s suggestions and concerns. That is impressive.

And SimplyTweet 3.1 shows that he is still listening. He took the suggestions of his users after 3.0 and added the final layer of polish to the UI, finished a few features that were hanging, and managed to speed up the app significantly in 3.1. SimplyTweet is back on my home screen!

Features it retains that I value:

  1. multiple accounts with easy account switching (even while composing a tweet).
  2. native push, with all notification options
  3. load all since last unread (it will load over 1000 tweets first thing in the morning), with tweet counts on the control bar at the bottom, and unread marks in the list
  4. unread marks which disappear as you scroll up the list (tweet count decrements as well)
  5. full TextExpander integration.
  6. repost this tweet function
  7. ability to post multiple images with a single tweet
  8. swipe control for instant access to common functions (and, in the Settings app, you can set which function icons appear when you swipe)
  9. reply to multiple tweets by selecting them a list view (elegant solution for #ff)
  10. reply to author and all mentions function in tweet view
  11. # symbol on the compose screen for quick access, plus your saved hashtag list
  12. easy access to the chain of tweets for @replys, both forward and backward
  13. image search (Twitpics, yFrog, TwitGoo and img.ly)
  14. excellent Profile view which auto loads user’s recent tweets and still has access to the user’s lists, favorites, @replies, tweets between you and the user, followers, followed, etc. etc….and all while still managing not to look too complex.
  15. general look and logic of the UI (it just works the way I need it too)
  16. full screen rotation, in any view
  17. ability to edit the control bar at the bottom and the More screen

New features of 3.0/3.1

  1. native retweets with dual avatar display in timelines
  2. native lists (now in 3.1 with easy access in the control bar if you want to put it there)
  3. hidden control panel in the compose screen for additional functions (url shortner, #s, location, pic upload, etc.)
  4. pull down Compose box to view tweet being replied to (surprisingly handy)
  5. image indicator in list view for tweets with images attached (as a fotog this one is particularly important to me)
  6. thumbnail image preview in tweet view (ditto)
  7. redesigned, single screen, Search interface (takes getting used to but actually works very well)
  8. both search for user and go to user in Search. (may have been in previous versions but I never appreciated it until the redesigned UI)
  9. Tweet translation
  10. Tweet now playing on iPod
  11. cached tweets, so you can read tweets while off-line
  12. general speed enhancements, especially on opening app

What does Simplytweet still lack? (both of these continue to surprise me! but neither is a deal-breaker since they are features I don’t use much)

  1. conversation view of DMs!!! 😦
  2. nearby tweet mapping (it does a list, but there is no indication in the list of the location of the tweeter and no map view 😦 )

I have said it before, and now, with 3.1, I can say it again. SimplyTweet is, in my studied opinion, the best of the currently available Twitter clients for iPhone. Twitter is going to have do something spectacular with Tweetie to even equal it…let alone to better it.

Of course, the real test of twitter apps is yet to come. OS 4.0 is going to be a whole new game, with new potentials and opportunities. Which twitter app will best realize all that 4.0 goodness…that is the real question now!

Lots more screen shots of features mentioned in the text below.

Search screen features: also note the elegant Profile view layout.

Stuff you can do with a tweet:

 

Written by singraham

May 8, 2010 at 6:14 am