Pocket

I read a lot of news and blogs on the internet. I have dozens of news sites and news apps that I go through everyday as my routine with my phone, tablet, and PC. But of course, I don’t read every single one of them at once. I skim through websites and apps looking for interesting articles to read, but then I keep them somewhere to read it later, in my “Pocket”.

It works like this:

– When you encounter an article (it can be any kind of website) on either a smart phone, tablet, or a PC browser,  send it to Pocket.

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Then, Pocket will store the webpage on a cloud database and sends it to your Pocket app on your phone and tablet when it has internet connection.

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– The webpage will be saved on your phone, so you can see the webpage whenever you want even if you don’t have internet connection.

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– You can change the browsing setting on Pocket, so if you want to read the article with black background and white and large text, it’s possible.

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There are some downsides of this app. In order to send a webpage from a PC browser, you need to download an extension. If you want to send it from a browser on your phone or tablet, you need to make a bookmarklet. Sometimes a news app such as Reuters doesn’t support “Save to Pocket” function, but often times those apps have their own offline reading function.

However the capability to save a webpage from almost any platform and read them offline on a smart phone or a tablet is a powerful functionality that Pocket offers, especially in a world where we don’t have internet connection all the time and often times we suffer from webpage loading time.

Lovely

Lovely is a rental-hunting app that streamlines the process of finding and applying for home rentals. It sources classifieds from rental sites, property management firms, and its own rental database, giving users a wide variety of places to choose from. Its clean and thoughtful design allows users to easily search for and set alerts for rentals that match their preferences, streamlining the search process. Users may bookmark rentals they like as favorites for future access. The application process is also streamlined — users may apply for and save their credit report using a single application, and share it with future rental applications with a single tap. The app’s advanced (optional) features include automated rent payments to landlords via the app, and the “renter’s card” that gives visibility into a user’s qualifications as a renter to improve their chances of a successful application.

Here’s an overview of the basic features of the app:

Home Screen

Lovely’s home screen is the search screen in map view with recent listings that match user’s previous searches/ alerts. The listings are color coded with fresh listings indicated in a bright orange color. There is no side/hamburger drawer — all navigation options are explicitly displayed in the bottom tab bar. The top bar has a toggle to switch to list view if the user so prefers and filters to adjust/refine search parameters.

Users do not need to sign in to search for, filter, or browse listings. This allows users to engage with the app before having to sign in to save favorites, create alerts, or apply for a rental.

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Details

To view details, users may tap on the listing to bring up basic information for each at the bottom of the screen, or complete details including photos on a full screen dedicated to each screen. Horizontal swiping allows quick scanning of photos on the details screen.

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Filters

The interface for “filters” is well-designed and enables users to quickly and easily enter their inputs. Of interest is how users may tap to select/deselect options for bedrooms, pets and photos. In addition to the existing filters, having an option to filter for number of bathrooms might be useful.

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Favorites and Alerts

Users may bookmark the listings they like for future access using the favorites feature, and also create alerts to receive notifications about listings that match their preferences after signing in.

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FitStar

FitStar :: a mobile experience filling the gaps between your workout goal and reality

FitStar is a workout app for those people who doesn’t know the workout routines and doesn’t have time to go gym in its business hour. This is actually how I describe myself. I have  a 3 year old son who will be with me every hour except 9 to 5 at his school, and I have a part time job and full time curriculum at I School. I have been out of shape since pregnancy, and I have been wanted to get a personal trainer because I do not know how to work out by my own. The main blocker is I do not have a time to go and find the personal trainer from the start.

I think FitStar is filling in the gaps of those people who find them helpless in working out using the mobile technology. At first, I thought this is another app with bunch of work out videos you can find it on youtube, which is partly true. However, when the people can find the curated videos they want with additional instructions with encouragements of the instructor, I think the experience get quite different from the bundled video clips. On top of that, people are with their mobile device all the time, so FitStar can actually make people start their workout at any time just with bare ground.

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By providing the details of the workout routine, you get to be more confident on what you get to do next.

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FitStar also keep the track of how you did the workout routine so that you can check it back your progress.

 

 

 

Reeder

Reeder is a rss reading application for the iPhone. It integrates with various RSS services, such as the now defunct Google reader and Feedly.

I choose to feature Reeder as my App of the Week because the navigation is very well designed. It has been carefully constructed  to stay out of your way when reading. Below is a gesture guide from the ReederApp.com website.

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As you can see the focus is on gestures instead of icons. To maintain visual sense of the gestures, Reeder takes the user through a very clear left -> right path. This enables you to navigate around by sliding from the sides of the screen.

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The only other major gesture is pulling past the bottom of the text to get to the next entry.

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Additionally, there are two other pull from the right side gestures which revel a very nice social integration and a mark-as-read action.

 

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Other than their documentation, all of these gestures can be discovered and are hinted at through animation when the actual interface icons are clicked.

Pinterest

Pinterest is primarily a web-based collection organization social site, but their mobile app is very well done. It can be difficult to translate full website features into a much smaller device, and even though Pinterest has very simple interactions, “simple” does not always lead to “good.”

Home Screen

Given the visual nature of Pinterest, photographs are prominent when opening the app, even with the small screen real estate of a mobile phone. Vertical scrolling is nearly endless, but it is very easy to browse through potentially interesting items. What I like the most about the mobile app is how easy it is to repin, favourite, or share a pin from just the browsing screen alone: tap and hold on a pin to bring up a small, overlaying context menu.

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Viewing Pins

A single tap on a pin will bring the user to a different screen, with a very slight card-esque feel to it. All relevant information is available: image first (tapping will bring up a browser with the original source), description, then information about the board and pin. Lower down are other suggested boards and pins that the item is associated with. Very easy to scroll to, if a user is interested, but also very easy to ignore, otherwise. The same sharing functions are available at the bottom of the pin, as a sticky footer.

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Adding and Editing

Adding an existing pin to a collection is easy, as it brings up a small menu to choose recent boards, or from all possible boards.

An edit button is also available if the user is looking at his or her own pin. An overlay screen appears with edit options, keeping the image visible to reduce cognitive load.

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Browsing

For users who have exhausted the new items in their feed, it’s also possible to explore different categories. The compass icon in the top-left of the feed brings up a search bar, as well as common categories (e.g. Gifts, Videos, Animals, Art). Scrolling lower down in the visual exploration area brings up suggested categories, based on items that the user has pinned. This is a great way to explore things that are quantifiably more interesting to you personally, but the inability to remove categories increases the amount of noise. For example, in the second screenshot below, I have no interest in seeing more posts about Harrison Ford, even though he was in a Star Wars-related pin I posted earlier.

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Manual Add

It is also possible to add pins manually, as one can do with the web interface. The mobile app, however, takes advantage of the built-in camera that many phones have, allowing users to quickly pin items while on-the-go.

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Profile 

And what social networking site would neglect a personal profile page? Account information and activity (e.g., repins and favourites), as well as the user’s own boards, are available with one quick tap of the user profile icon. This quick access makes it easy to find items that the user pinned. I have found this to be useful if I need to look up an item I intended to purchase, or a DIY tip I remembered seeing before.

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Nextdoor

I’ve lived in Oakland now for almost two years and I don’t know my neighbors. (To my credit I do know all of the neighbors in my building.) I heard about the mobile app Nextdoor through a friend who began working their several months ago and I finally decided to try it out. I now know the name of my neighborhood! I live in Sante Fe, thanks Nextdoor. Anyways, to the app: The concept is very intriguing. It’s a great place to post various neighborhood specific information and to have a neighborhood directory on hand whenever you might need to contact a neighbor for a cup of sugar or for hyper-personal marketing of your kids girl scout cookies.  (Although even with this app I’m not so sure I’d be welcomed warmly with my neighborly requests, especially in my hood, but this has yet to be tested.)

The app begins with sign up which requires a verification of your address with a phone number, postcard, or credit/debit card. Once verified you’re in to peruse the neighborhood bulletin board via Nextdoor’s list interface. All posts are shown on your homepage with the most recent on top. Makes sense. With a click on the sandwich menu further areas of the app are exposed and additional list categories are presented. The app is really simple and being spoiled by google the browse by category is a bit clumsy for me but it works.

In sum, the app Nextdoor provides a nice little social network for the neighborhood where you reside. You’ll be kept abreast of local government/town hall meetings, crime events, listings of free stuff and the old favorite to old telephone poles posts of lost pets.

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App in the air

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App in the Air

App in the Air is an application whose mission is to facilitate the lives of those who fly. This app exists on iOS and Android but here I will only describe my experience with the Android version.  For me App in the Air is not only very useful but also very eye catching.

Introduction

The application is designed with the frequent travelers in mind, aiming to ease the whole process of traveling by air. Know where to find the best food in the airport and how to connect to free wireless internet. Learn the best ways to spend free time and find the best coffee. Don’t be late with online check-in and keep your friends and family updated by sharing your flight status.

Navigation

The first step to use the application is to enter his or her flight numbers.  You can also search your flight with the date and the airline company. Simple and efficient.

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Then, the main user interface is very simple. You’re presented with three tabs, each of which overlays onto a Google Maps representation of the data. The application displays key information related thereto, including the number of the boarding gate and the remaining time before the next flight.

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Once on the plane, we can follow the progress of the flight offline, which is generated from the elapsed time and not the actual distance traveled. The application also associates each flight a checklist of 13 things to do before you go and a list of 26 items to bring with you.

When connected to the Internet, the application is updated in real time. The application also displays information on each airport and offers related advertising, (free wireless internet, hotel rooms on the periphery, etc.). In addition, App in the Air allows users to share comments on each airport.

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There is also a screen with some statistics on your trips, the number of hours in the air, the number of different countries visited, etc. All the features of the application are free, except for one that allows you to receive push notifications and reminder text messages, just to avoid missing your flight. This feature also allows text message to notify up to three recipients, for example to inform your family and friends.

 

 

Faded

Faded is a photo editor for iOS devices that allow you to have a greater depth of customization when editing your photos. One of the distinguishing aspects of Faded is the ability to let you edit more aspects of the photo, such as the contrast, and temperature. They allow you to do this while still maintaining standard photo editing features that other apps have, such as special effects, dust and scratches, cropping sizes, custom frames, and a wide varieties of filters to choose from. This is all wrapped together in a cohesive and beautiful interface that is easy and straightforward to use.

Selecting Photos

 

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Faded’s home screen is beautiful and elegant, although sometimes the photos that rotate can restrict the visibility of the icons. You’re given two options: either take a photo with the camera or choose photos from your library.

When you choose to select photos from your library, they provide a very clear and clean interface to choose which album you want to select your photo from. They show a preview of the most recent photo on the album to remind users which photos are in which albums.

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Photo Editing

Once you select a photo to edit, you are shown a series of options on the bottom bar. While first time users may be slightly confused as to which icons give you which options, it’s friendly to use after repeated use. Each icon, when tapped, give you another row of options that you can swipe left and right to view all of the options. For example, for the sliders options, you can select different aspects of the photo to edit with sliders. It allows for really small adjustments to every aspect of the photo, which is something that many other photo editing apps lack in their own feature set.

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When selecting filters or overlay effects such as light leaks or dust, they change the layout to give you a full grid of the different effects they have. In comparison to an app like Instagram, which also has filters as well, you’re able to directly compare how the different filters will effect the photo. Instagram’s design only allows you to view one filter at a time, so to do comparisons you have to constantly swap back and forth between different filters.

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Finishing Up

Once you’re done, you can move forward and the app then saves the photo to your phone’s Library. You then have different options to share this photo, and will take you directly to the app to share easily.

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Final Thoughts

I’ve spent a lot of time browsing and using other photo editing apps. While this one doesn’t allow for the pic stitching that some others have, it is excellent for retouching photos and enhancing them due to their ability to let you fine tune minor parts of the photo. The interface is also easy to use and is extremely visual, which is important when dealing with the photo editing process.

 

Tweetbot for iOS

Tweetbot is a fully-featured Twitter application that allows you to view your timeline, reply to mentions, and see what’s trending. Crafted by Tapbots, a team with a strong design philosophy, this app is filled with lovely gestures and comes wrapped in a beautiful design.

Timeline

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My Timeline

The first screen in this app is the Timeline, arguably the most popular screen. In this tab, you can see what your friends or the people you follow are talking about. When new tweets show up, there is a subtle filled dot on the tab itself (at the bottom left, beneath the icon), indicating to you that there are new tweets to be read. Verified profiles show up with a tick next to their icon, while tweets that belong to conversations (say if the tweet was a reply to someone), has a speech bubble at the top right of the tweet. Since it is mentally tiring for a user to process multiple tweets, subtle hints such as the aforementioned work well.

Tweetbot takes advantage of gestures in this view as well. When you swipe to the left, you can view the entire conversation. When you swipe right, you can easily favorite or reply to a tweet, depending on how far you swipe.

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 Favorited Tweet

 

Composing a Tweet

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Composing a Tweet [VIDEO]

This editor is basically a WYSIWYG editor – you can add photos, mention somebody, or pull up a hashtag. What’s nice about this is that the tweet you were replying to is right below yours, in case you forgot what you were replying to. Controls are nicely hidden all around this screen, and are not intrusive nor distracting to the user, allowing the user to fully concentrate on writing his tweet. Drafts are supported in Tweetbot (if you close the screen with text entered), and a blue triangle flaps over when you re-enter this screen. What would have been nice would be to schedule tweets, a feature not yet supported in Tweetbot.

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 Mentioning A User

Mentioning someone is a piece of cake. You can either enter his twitter handle, or part of his name. This brings up a list of options which you can choose from.

Muting

One of my favorite features in Tweetbot is the muting ability. Say Justin Bieber broke up with Selena Gomez and you hate hearing about him. Instead of following your friends, why can’t the app do it for you? Do not despair, Tweetbot can help you restore peace on Earth!

You can also mute hashtags, twitter clients or other people.

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Muting Justin Bieber

Search

One of the better features on Tweetbot (they’re arguably all very good) is Search. When an explosion happened on campus last semester, I immediately whipped out Tweetbot and started searching for the keyword “fire”. But what’s the point of searching the entire Twitterverse? Well, Tweetbot has taken care of that and allows you to search near you.

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Searching

Aside from searching near you, you can also search from your saved phrases, or browse trending topics and people.

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Saved Searches / Browse Trends

Settings

Even the settings is heavily customizable. You can choose how you want your tweets formatted, what sounds you want the app to use, and also the font size. (Extra tidbit if you’re a dev: Tapbots got into a bit of a trouble when they switched over to Dynamic Type when Tweetbot 3 came out, and received a huge backlash from users. They quickly added the ability to turn it off & customize your own font size.) Last but not least, my favorite settings feature is the ability to change from night/day.

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Customizing Day/Night Themes

Design Details

Now let’s dig down into the exciting stuff. Tweetbot heavily utilizes iOS 7’s robust physics and particle engine. Animations are extremely smooth with this engine. This is seen in the following three videos. There were more but I didn’t want to make this post too long, but if you’re interested, come find me!

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Playing With A Photo [VIDEO]

 

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Custom Alert Sheets [VIDEO]

 

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Use Two Fingers to Change Brightness (like a switch) [VIDEO]

Conclusion

For a two-person team, this app was shown a lot of love. Tapbots once again lived up to their expectations and delivered an incredibly fast and beautiful app. (They also reinvented the Twitter experience after Tweetie was bought by Twitter). Building a Twitter application that is used by many is not easy, since every user wants the ability to customize the app to their liking, based on which Twitter functions they loved most. Tweetbot solved this with a changeable tab bar (you can change tabs by long-pressing them). On the technical side, Tweetbot syncs your timeline, as well as your rad messages, across all your devices, so you can pick up where you left off from a different device. How awesome is that? If you can spare $4.99 and love Twitter as much as I do, getting this app is a no-brainer.

Download App [$4.99]

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Nudge Yourself

Health and wellness improvement has become the major application for the Quantified Self (QS) movement. Fitness trackers and new smartphones are including a bunch of sensors and applications that allow users to track daily activity, calories burned, water consumption, sleep & weight. Nudge gathers data from fitness tracking apps, allowing users to understand their own overall wellness in one app and simplifying the tracking of non- automatable tasks, like food and water consumption, with an approach that prioritizes simplicity over precision.

The first screen gives the user the “Nudge factor” which is a 30-day snapshot of how healthy you have been living.  It includes 4 health factors: nutrition, hydration, sleep and activity. By touching on the nudge factor, users can get some information about how good or bad are their scores and get some overall sense of their performance.

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A menu on the left allows users to access a series of options, including the home dashboard, log, clubs, profile and settings. While it is using the “sandwich” icon, it is not difficult to find or to understand its functionality.

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The logging screen is where the simplicity approach is very interesting. In terms of healthy habits, it doesn’t matter if you are eating apples or bananas, what does matter is if you are preferring fruits over fast food, and of course if the portion size and amounts are reasonable. Nudge offers in one screen the possibility of logging food, sleep and water consumption. In terms of usability, the one screen approach really facilitates the process, but there are some issues  with the hierarchy and feedback to the user: First, the top 4 “buttons”are a summary for the day, and they are not touchable, but they follow the same design standard than the rest of the screen. In terms of hierarchy, it was confusing to see the indulgences category separated from food, but after learning about it doesn’t represent a important frustration. (Update: some of these details were solved in the new version launched today)
Logging on Nudge

Each category es editable (from the previous screen, the edit “link” is accesible on the category bar) . It is questionable if the edit button is confusing or not in that position and if its repetition on the screen is a bad design or not. Maybe placing a general edit button for choosing the elements are going to be logged can be a solution for this detail.

I’ve been testing several of these QS apps, and the main problem that I found on them is that they use the phone reminders to try to make you drink more water, or do more workouts. They had a really good short-term impact in my own behavior, but I had to uninstall them after a couple of weeks. I also started to discard almost every of these reminders. Another problem is that some apps are really good in some aspects, like fitness tracking, but not good in terms of fitness motivation or food tracking. For example, MapMyFitness is very good tracking at running tracking, even when some of the screens are confusing, but tracking food in the app requires at seven “clicks” for logging a fruit. Nudge is not constantly trying to reminder you to do things, but instead it offers the possibility of logging three days back. The simplicity and the not enforced commitment are the most important characteristics for Nudge.

Other screenshots:

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