Archive for the ‘review’ Category
While 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.
Version 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.)
There 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.
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.
Pages of search criteria organized into logical groups.
illustrated, icon driven, search criteria…
sound sample for song search
As criteria are selected the number of species that match is shown at the top of the search screen.
A complete list of criteria looks like this:
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!
Osfoora has had 2 updates in the short time it has been in the App Store, and since my first review. Considering that it was a strong entry in the iPhone Twitter client sweepstakes, right out of the gate, what could the author have added/changed this quickly?
A few of the changes are evident right here on the Home view. Apparently I was not the only user who found it difficult to navigate into and out of Timeline view with multiple accounts. As you see the Home view has been rearranged, in the very first update, and a large, unmistakable Timeline icon added. The subtlety of this is that you no longer have to get to the Timeline through the accounts manager, and there is now a Home button on just about every timeline view to take you directly back to this master view. Nice. Manage Accounts gets its own button at the bottom of the screen and only needs to be accessed when you actually want to switch accounts or add accounts. Very nice.
In addition to highlighting new features and changes in UI, I want to take the opportunity here to point out some features that I have come to appreciate more as I have used the program since its original release.
First, I may already have mentioned that Osfoora is, hands down, the fastest Twitter client I have ever used on the iPhone. From start up to timeline loads to internal navigation, to the inline web browser…the program is fast and responsive: noticeably faster and quicker when compared to any other Twitter client on my 3G. Actually I know that I already mentioned it…at least twice in the first review, but it is noticeable enough, and important enough to me as a user, to be said again.
Then there are a whole bunch of nice little touches: The reply icon in the timeline views that tells you the tweet you are looking at is a reply to some other tweet (and the In Reply button at the bottom of the tweet view that opens the chain of replies as a conversation), the little image icon that tells you the tweet contains an image (much easier to see the icon when scrolling than it is to look for twitpic or yfrog urls), the elegant retweet presentation with avatars of both tweeter and retweeter and the retweeter’s name at the bottom of the tweet, the double tap to mark all read action on the icon unread counts (see screen shot immediately below for these features), the way DMs are grouped by sender and displayed in conversation style (image 1 below), the comprehensive popup action menu that appears when you touch a tweet longer than it takes to open it (2), the filer tweets text box at the top of timeline views that allows you to search for tweets by username or subject (3), the way your common lists appear at the bottom of the more screen without opening your profile (this actually may be new feature…not sure…but I know I like it! image 4 below), the three icon action bar hidden under the top of every timeline view (5), the quick search engine that pulls up user’s profiles under Find User and when you press the @ icon in the compose view (for addressing tweets, image 6), the way the app remembers your hastags and gives you quick access to them in the compose view, being able to save tweets as drafts, being able to attach multiple images to a single tweet (7), the way the app auto senses when the tweet contains more than one @user and adds Reply All to the reply menu (8)…even the neat way the refresh icon zooms up before it begins to spin when you load a list! All very nice and useful, and simply elegant as well. I appreciate that.
As far as new features goes: TextExpander integration was added in the first update, which I also really appreciate as I use it all the time. If you do not know TextExpander, it is separate app that allows you to create and save snippets…short letter sequences that stand for longer words or phrases. With the proper integration, typing a snippet in any app with integration, like Osfoora, will trigger the autoexpand TextExpander engine and replace your snippet with the full word or phrase. Just like magic!
This update added Posterous integration, also a feature I really appreciate. The integration even preserves the body of your tweet as text in the Posterous post, using the first 40 characters as title, which is better that sticking the whole tweet in as title as some other apps do…though we will have to wait for a future update to get automatic Posterous galleries when you attach more than one image to a tweet. We also now have inline previews of images from supported image services in the tweet view…very nice…and it would have been even nicer if the previews were actual thumnails and not a crop of the full sized image…the crop often leaves you without enough significant detail to be useful in deciding if you want to open the image viewer (9).
This update also brings TwitLonger inline previews to the tweet view, though, among my tweeple, very few actually use TwitLonger.
There are more features to this excellent Twitter client…in fact I can now say, that with the exception of push notification, Osfoora does everything I expect of the best Twitter clients, and easily ranks right up there with Tweetie, Twittelator, Echofon, and Simplytweet. When you factor in the speed and quickness of Osfoora, it has earned pride of place in the application bar at the base of my iPhone’s home screen! Osfoora has become, in a strong initial offering, and two excellent updates, the one Twitter client I use every day on my iPhone.
Osfoora is Said M. Moroof’s second Twitter client. His first, Landscape Tweets, is still in the app store, and when introduced was unique in being the only Twitter client which offered landscape view in all views, not just in compose. Unfortunately, within a month of his publishing the app, many of the better known and better established clients also went full landscape. Landscape Tweet got lost in the crowd.
Osfoora is completely new app, written from the ground up to take advantage of Twitter’s newest features. Osfoora, by the way, means “Little Bird” in Arabic. Hence half the pun in the title of this review…but only half the pun. Osfoora does an excellent job of implementing Twitter standard features, most of what we have come to expect of an iPhone Twitter client, and a few that are still fairly rare…but it does it just differently enough to stand out a bit. (Not, certainly, as differently as Twittelator Pro 3.x…the UI will be familiar to anyone who has used any of the other major Twitter offerings…but different enough to notice).
Before getting into the feature set and UI, though, let me say that Osfoora is among the fastest Twitter clients I have used on my iPhone 3G. It loads fast, and is particularly responsive within.
The feature and UI difference begins with the big bold Home view, with a set of icons for every major function. This is a nice touch, and would be even nicer if it were easier to access from the other views. Sometimes the only way to get there is to use the back button at the top of views to back through the other views you have had open. Personally I would replace the Profile icon in the hidden top toolbar with Home and solve the problem.
Ah yes, the hidden toolbar!
Pulling down the view from the top on most views exposes three icons: Profile, Refresh, and To Bottom. Pull down until it says "release for toolbar” and it will stay long enough for you to choose one. This only works if you have already scrolled the view to the top, but is is both clever and handy. In the best of all worlds you would be able to choose the icons presented there.
Another somewhat unique feature is the full menu of options that pops up from the bottom when you hold your finger on a tweet for more than a second. I might note that Retweet on this menu is Twitter native retweet, and you are not given the option of commenting. If you choose Retweet on the Tweet View, on the other hand, you are given a choice between Twitter native and the old RT style with possible comments.
While we are on the subject of Retweets, Osfoora offers full integration of Twitter native system, with My Retweets, My Tweets, Retweeted, and Retweets by others options in the user profile. (See screen shot below.)
Note the Translate in the pop-up menu. Osfoora joins a still fairly small group of Twitter apps that provides instant translation of tweets (I can think of 2 others off hand.) Translation is also available on the Tweet View, in the action menu.
Profile opens the sender’s profile…you are not given a choice if there are @user mentions within the tweet. (To view @users’ profiles you can open the Tweet View, where all @users are displayed as links.) You can also view the sender’s profile outside the menu on the Time Line (or other list views) by tapping the user pic.
Osfoora also offers full Twitter List implementation. My only quibble on the lists is that it often takes a lot of taps to get to the list you want to view. Either you have to get back to the Home view, which, as above, sometimes requires lots of taps, or you have to get there through your own profile, in which case any list is at least 4 taps deep. A simple two tap route would be nice…three at most. But that is just a quibble…I could easily live with Osfoora’s list implementation.
Another Osfoora feature, shared by only one other client that I know of, is the ability to attach more than one image (or other media) to a tweet. For some strange reason, you can not do this if you select an image directly from the camera. That wipes out your other attachments. Note in this compose view that you can also directly access a searchable list of your friends, put in the location, call up your frequently used hastags, and shorten either text (Twitlonger) or urls. You have a choice of two short url servers and can use your custom account if you want.
One final feature, now pretty common, but worthy of note: the ability to view @replies in conversation view. Note the little “in reply” icon at the bottom of the Tweet View above. Tap it and it opens the whole chain of referenced tweets in a new list view.
So, all in all, Osfoora has enough going for it to be worth serious consideration as a full time Twitter client…unless you want or need push. In this first version at least, there is no native push integration, and Osfoora is, of course, too new to have made it into Boxcar’s list of supported apps. If push is a deal-breaker, Osfoora is broken.
Still, Osfoora has a lot to recommend it, and very little left out that you might miss. Especially if you are looking for a speedy client, you should take look.
A somewhat random set of screen shots follows, just for flavor.
For more info visit the iTunes preview: Osfoora
It is always a pleasure when an app I have come to rely on continues to get better. I use iGmail (See iGmail, GMail finally done right on the iPhone) almost more than any single other app on my iPhone, maybe more than Twittelator and SimplyTweet, certainly more than Facebook.
So I immediately downloaded the update. After a false start (I had to delete and do a fresh install to get the app to work*), the new version is, as advertised, considerably faster on my 3G. That is what I notice first and most.
You can now set the shake motion to a variety of actions, instead of check all. There are a few other minor tweaks, and a new in app purchase premium package that adds pinch and zoom and a favorite icon. The premium package is only $.99, and since the base app, without push, is free, it is one more way to support the development of the app. The log out/log in process has been improved for those who have both a Google Apps account and a regular GMail account.
If you are a new user, of course, you will not notice the speed improvement…but for those of us who have used iGmail for a while, it is an impressive effort, and makes the app just that much more usable! Your inbox loads faster. Individual emails display faster. Controls work faster. I especially notice the difference on the Delete button. Very nice!
*(A note on the app store now says that the old preference file from the Settings App is causing the problem, and recommends a delete and reinstall instead of an upgrade.)
Birding is hot (notice the difference). Fastest growing outdoor recreational activity by some counts, and certainly an activity that attracts many millions of us, and puts us out in all weathers to enjoy nature. Some reckon it is closer to a religion than it is to a hobby. It has its own born-again-experience, and often produces changes in life-style similar to classical conversion. It has its revival meetings (you can be at a birding festival just about any weekend of the year, and have your pick of several most weekends during peak migration seasons). It has its evangelists, and it has it Bibles: Field Guides, beginning with Peterson’s epic work. In the past few years it seems that anyone who is anyone in birding is publishing his or her own field guide. Count the current guides in print. Amazing.
And, of course, the internet is hot, hot, hot, hot. Who can live without it? Nuff said.
Birding and the internet have been married for a long time and are now having smartphone children. (Okay, cut me some slack here.) You have, as the best example, iBird Explorer, arguably the most extensive birding reference ever published in any format, spawned by the WhatBird.com site, and fostered by the iPhone.
(And that is not to mention the iPhone birding apps with print parents: Nat Geo, Peterson’s, and Audubon all have iPhone versions of their guides…however, the print folks have yet to demonstrate a real understanding of the potential of the new platform. In each case the app looks a lot like someone tried to jam a book inside the machine…closer to a Kindle experience than a real iPhone adventure.)
I can see the thought process behind BirdsEye now.
“Like wow. We have all this data on bird locations in eBird. Whouldn’t it be really neat if there were an iPhone app that could call up that data instantly by location and tell you what birds are being see, or have been seen, right where you are, or near where you are…or anywhere you might be going? Wouldn’t it be good to include some basic id materials for folks who might be seeing the bird for the first time, or who might need a reminder…like we have all the Vireo photos, and we have this huge Macaulay Library of Sound collection of bird song recordings…what if we linked those in? And, what if we got someone really famous and cool (like you know, a birding rock star) to write brief descriptive text about each bird species? (Like maybe Kenn Kaufman?) What if?”
“And what if we found a clever iPhone developer to put it all together?”
Hay presto. BirdsEye!
[See Kenn Kaufman’s response below…he rightly points out that the intent of the text is not id…but rather further info to help you locate the bird: habitat and habits, etc. Very smart! For Kenn’s announcement/review of the app, which includes a more accurate rendering of the development history, see his own blog entry.]
And the amazing thing is: they pulled it off. BirdsEye does all that, and does it with a certain classy nonchalance that is at least iPhone-like enough satisfy most technophiles, and easy enough to use to satisfy most iPhoning birders.
Yup. You can use the auto-location on your phone to specify a location, or manually enter an an address, and then view, with the touch of a control, all the recent and/or historical bird sightings within 50 miles, 100 miles, 200 miles, 500 miles and beyond 500 miles. (Internet connection, either wifi or 3G, required!!) Once you set up a life list, the app will even show you just the birds being seen which are not already on your list. Each species appears in the checklist with a picture, the common name, and a date for the reference. Along the side of the list are a set of icons for the different families. Those with dainty fingers will be able to touch the family icon to jump right to that section of the sightings list. Even normal sized fingers might do the trick with practice.
Touching a species in the sightings checklist list brings up the id pages. You have at least one picture, descriptive text by Kenn Kaufman, and sounds from the Macaulay Library for over 400 of the most commonly sighted species (developer claims it is 95% of the species recorded by the top 500 submitters to eBird, and I have no reason to doubt him). The rest are available by in-app purchase from the App Store, either in one go (another $20), or in family groups (various prices).
Whether or not the app includes id info for the species, you can view a map with pins for each of the sighting locations (Hot Spots)! Way cool. Each pin opens the sightings for that location (not just the bird you are looking at, but all the birds seen there). You can see this same information as a list, which includes the distance from you. Finally, you can get directions to the spot from Google Maps. I kid you not: Directions.
That’s one way of doing it. You can also jump right to the Hot Spots view, and explore the locations first, using the map and list tools outlined above, to see if there is anywhere you might like to go.
And, as a third possibility, you can search by a species by name, and the app will tell you all the places it has been or is being seen. Pretty amazing.
A word about the life list feature. This is the easiest life list to set up that I have ever seen. Edit Life List presents you with a master checklist of all species. You just touch the little check box to add one to your list, and you can add as many as you like in one go. You can also add birds to your list from the species view for that bird. Could not be easier really.
All well and good, but does it work?
Simple answer. Yes!
I have not done extensive testing, and I suppose there might still be areas where there is not much eBird data…but they must be few and far between these days. Southern Maine, where I live is not the most heavily birded area in the country, and yet there is plenty of data for my area, and I can not think of a spot where birds are regularly seen that is not already in the Hot Spot data base. A similar check of the Tucson Arizona area yielded predictable and satisfying results. By all indications, yes indeed, the app works as advertised.
And it is a lot of fun! There I said it. It is a lot of fun. Maybe, of course, it is just me, but I found it to be a lot of fun.
And I expect it to be eminently useful as well. I am planning a trip to Phoenix and Tucson this month and I will certainly check out what birds are being seen where using BirdsEye. What could be easier?
If the app has a weak point it is the id section. With all due respect to Kenn Kaufman (birding rock star extraordinary), the folks at Vireo, and the Macaulay Library, there is just not enough meat here to satisfy. I am not certain the id stuff is even needed in this app, and it certainly will not substitute for a real field guide…and certainly not for iBird on the iPhone.
On the other hand, as a companion app to iBird…now that is a combination to reckon with! Even to bird with!
And, of course, BirdsEye simply cries out for a way to record and upload your own sightings to eBird. Now that would be something! That would be so, so, cool. All that BirdsEye already does and the ability to record and submit trip lists…that would make BirdsEye an absolute, positive necessity for any serious iPhoning birder. Nuff said. BirdsEye guys, do it please!
BirdsEye is another wonderful example of what the iPhone is best at…easy, quick, anywhere access to masses of data from the internet… implemented in a way that makes the data useful, and even fun to use. Congratulations to all who were involved in this. Cornell Lab’s eBird team, Vireo, the Macaulay Library, and the developers at BirdsInHand. This is one great iPhone birding app…totally different…serving a totally different purpose…but right up there with iBird Explorer. It earns a permanent place on this birder’s iPhone, I know that!