Archive for Software/mobile

A Watch App That Goes For It

Why are advanced smartwatch apps so limited in their function and options? Have app developers tried too hard to imitate fitness trackers, even though the watches are capable of so much more? A year trying multiple running apps led me to wonder.

Then, Workoutdoors released its “massively improved” version 3.0 this past August, blowing the doors off every other app I tried. This app fully flexes the capabilities of GPS, maps, text displays, buttons, heart rate monitor, and more.


The app is infinitely customizable to one’s display preferences and comprehensive in its fitness activities. Multiple layouts, over 160 available data metrics, skillful use of text sizes and colors, split alerts, and live maps take this app to a new level.

I use different Workoutdoors screens for easy runs, tempo runs, events on an unfamiliar course, and even cycling. The hiking screens look intriguing. I’d like to try them. Remarkably, you can even create custom screens on the watch, although they are easier to create on the phone app.


Battery management, signal strength, and auto pause are all cleverly managed. Over 100 different metrics are available to suit one’s specific information wants. Workouts are automatically saved to Apple Workouts. Extensive summary data is available when you finish your workout. You can import GPX files to pre-load a workout course. This team thought of everything.

I hope that apps like this raise the bar for developers in other spaces beyond fitness, so that the smartwatch can become a truly useful digital companion, not just a limited accessory.

iOS Interface Confusion

Do you find it hard to remember where the share button is? New? Reply? Favorite? New? You are not alone! Familiar user interfaces, once a distinguishing quality of Apple products, now appear to be a thing of the past. iOS app developers are seemingly placing buttons wherever they see fit, no doubt confusing and discouraging users. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Top bars

Google Drive

actions - Google Drive


new - calendar


new - GMail


new - Outlook


new - twitter

BBC News

open in - BBC News

Bottom bars

Twitter – tweet

actions - twitter

Twitter – web browser

open in - twitter

Apple Mail

actions - Apple Mail


actions - photos


open in - safari

Share menus


share - Facebook

Google Docs

share - Google Drive

“Open In”


Dragon Box: Learn Algebra In a Visual Game

A few weeks ago, Wired published an article about a University of Washington professor’s experiment with algebra learning using an app called Dragon Box. Developed by a Norwegian company, the app comes in two versions, one for ages 5+ and the other for ages 12+. I bought both apps and invited our eight year-old to try them out.

Try them out he did! Perhaps not unusually for a boy his age, he completed the activities in the first app within three hours and moved on to the second app. After an additional three hours on Sunday, he announced that he had “finished” the ages 12+ app as well. Not so fast! Dragon Box invited him to “Side B,” which apparently provides about a hundred practice problems, still in the interactive environment, in traditional categories of pre-algebra and algebra problems. He still has plenty to do.

Indeed, the apps are very engaging. They provide a fun, exploration-based learning environment through which our son progressed when he correctly applied algebraic principles. Instruction was minimal. The app explained a few simple rules at the start of each set of challenges, using very simple, non-math language. Our son swiped and tapped his way through simplifying equations and solving for the unknown. Gradually, a few additional rules and more complex problems are presented until the player is multiplying by common denominators and solving complicated equations.

Ingeniously, the app starts with a sparkling box to represent an unknown variable, fantasy animals to represent numeric values, and a bar dividing right from left to represent equivalency. As one completes levels, eventually the box becomes x, the animals become numbers, the bar becomes an equal sign, and additional operands appear. The solution methods stay the same. The game is entirely faithful to the mathematical principles. Knowledge and skills learned transfer into solutions for algebraic equations.

Additional information:

We Want To Know (the Norwegian company)

Dragon Box (the apps, $6 and $10 for iOS, other mobile and desktop versions available)

Center for Game Science (University of Washington)

Kids Like to Learn Algebra, if It Comes in the Right App” (Wired)

DragonBox: Algebra Beats Angry Birds (Wired, detailed app info)


iTunes Match

iTunes Match is a paid service that, in my opinion, is very worthwhile althoug it flies under the radar. For $25 a year, Apple will host your personal iTunes music collection on their servers, irrespective of whether you purchased the music through them. I uploaded my entire music collection, nearly all imported from CDs, and now all of my songs and playlists are available on my work computer, phone, and tablet. Music used to use up the most storage space on these devices. Now, I have bought less storage in all of my new mobile devices: 16GB iPhone, 16GB iPad, and 256GB MacBook Air.

Mobile Theme

Catlin Gabel has launched a mobile theme for its website. If you visit the site on your mobile phone, you should automatically see the mobile interface and have an opportunity to add an icon to your home screen. Please let me know if you run into bugs or usability issues on the mobile site!

Mobile theme or responsive theme?

The mobile theme technique has been around for a couple of years. The site autodetects the mobile device and loads a completely different theme for the site. More recently, developers have adopted responsive theming, where page elements adjust to the smaller screen size, for example by reflowing items or scaling down images.

A mobile theme made more sense for Catlin Gabel than a responsive theme. We were quoted a project cost three times larger to create the responsive theme, because this would have involved reworking the desktop theme. Creating a simpler, separate theme for mobile devices had a more reasonable price. Our current desktop theme is nearly three years old, so the school will likely redesign the entire site theme within a couple of years, so this mobile theme is temporary.

Getting around

We designed a new navigation system for the mobile theme, due to space constraints and the different priorities of mobile users. Site analytics revealed that users visited the calendar, athletics, and directory pages more often on phones than other devices, so we made these more prominent. At the same time, users visit the rest of the site in a similar pattern to desktop users. A single jump menu takes advantage of the scrolling select interface popular on phone operating systems, while providing access first to the most popular pages in the site and then all of the major site pages in alphabetical order.

Unlike most mobile themes, our interface allows one to get to just about any page on the site without having to switch to the desktop view. The mobile site is fully featured. Still, the ubiquitous “desktop view” link at the bottom allows for times when user prefers the desktop view.

While the mobile site has some issues, it achieves the immediate need of improving the mobile user experience while keeping the cost reasonable.

Mobile Traffic

Check out the growth of mobile traffic since 2009. Mobile devices now account for 10% of all traffic to our website. Mobile traffic rises at two times each year: September and January.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)

Mobile users visit the same top pages as computer users, with one exception. Our online family and employee directory is the sixth most popular page for mobile users and ninth for all users. Update: when I remove iPads from the mobile category, the directory and athletics schedules both move up a couple of positions in the top pages list.

Will mobile traffic eventually exceed computer traffic? I don’t think this data much helps us understand that.

Currently, the Catlin Gabel website displays the same on computers and mobile devices, but we are working on a mobile theme to present mobile users with a more usable interface. It will be interesting to observe whether that affects website overall traffic and popular pages.

iBooks 2.0: Reinventing Textbooks? at MobilePortland

Thanks to Corey Pressmen, Steve Burt, Tim Lauer, and Thor Pritchard for sharing their insights at this event last night. I took away some great tidbits:

McGraw Hill and Exprima Media will soon release an anatomy ePub document, two years in the making.

The current disruption about mobile devices and textbooks is an extension of the Internet as a disruptive moment for the electronic distribution of instructional materials.

We are currently in a phase of multiple platforms vying for industry longevity and/or dominance. No wonder it feels so varied, shifting, and confusing. is one new publisher of enhanced electronic instructional materials.

A tension exists between instructor curation of electronic materials for a course and publisher curation of electronic materials for publication and state adoption.

One college is using as a free, simple, multi-platform ePub authoring environment. This stands in marked contrast to the proprietary, closed, iAuthor application recently released by Apple.

A number of education staff in the audience expressed that it would be impossible to require college students to all purchase from one platform. This makes me think of colleges that did exactly that with Mac laptops many years ago. I’m not sure how many of these programs are still around.

What does this all mean for secondary teachers? At this point in time, I imagine that only the very earliest adopters will be creating their own materials in iAuthor, whereas most will wait to see how this industry shakes out. If I were to recommend a solution to a school, I would encourage one to stick with web-based instructor curation for the time being, as it is the most multi-platform, media-rich, multi-user, linkable resource currently available. iAuthor would make sense if the school has a 1:1 iPad program, but one would need to be careful to maintain one’s own pedagogical style within the highly structured authoring environment of iAuthor.


iPads at Lewis Elementary

At EdCampPDX today, Lewis Elementary fourth grade team Paul Colvin and Matt Marchyok took us through how they used 13 new iPads in the classroom this year. I took the following notes and screen captures. Thank you for helping us get a head start with our small iPad pilot this year!

I left the session with a better understanding of what iPad tools could facilitate the transition to a digital classroom. Less clear is whether this represents a digital version of time-honored paper activities or a new form of learning. Toward the end, we laid out some preliminary ideas for uses of iPads in an inquiry-based classroom.

Sharing documents
– DropDAV, WebDAV through DropBox
– iCloud a likely replacement
– Shared passcode between student partners
– DropBox good for sharing but not security
– Google Docs good for security but not for sharing and writing

Class Activities
– Assign an entry task each day, also
– BrainPop of the day available on iPad for free
– BrainPop also available through Google Apps & student accounts
– Reading AtoZ to get a bank of leveled books, fileshare those PDFs to reading groups
– Keyboarding problematic: some students preferred to use a regular keyboard
– Better to type in landscape mode

– Pages
– WritePad
– Dragon Dictation

– Khan Academy
– various apps
– (progress monitoring)
– Khan Academy uses Google Apps logins, for tracking student progress
– RocketMath, Fraction Factory, PizzaMath

Reading: RAZ Kids
– Leveled books
– Share PDFs
– Seeking a reader that supports annotation really well (goal for this year), save annotations into iBooks
– Secret Garden, in place of class set of books, public domain book

Social Studies
– Google Earth and Maps
– Oregon Trail
– This Day in History

– Brushes for freehand painting, Brushes Player for playing back brushstrokes on a Mac

BrainPOP: very relevant to daily events
– featured movie easy to access on iPad
– also available online + other free content but not as easy to access

Computers vs. iPads
–  you could argue for diversity of platforms
– iPads may better fit kid hands

EdModo — social network for the classroom

IdeaFlight: broadcast teacher iPad to student iPads in the classroom

Going paperless
– fewer stacks of paper
– writing submitted online
– quick prompts

I am beginning to think that nearly everyone can read successfully on a screen if they practice enough. An iPad may offer an easier transition to reading on the screen, because you can hold it in your lap, where a book traditionally goes. We do not read books directly in front of us like a computer screen!

“Not one time did I have a tech issue” — Matt on iPad ease of use

iPads in an inquiry-based classroom
– interview notes
– photos and video
– publishing
– writing

iPhone HDR

I am very impressed with the new iPhone HDR feature. My phone now does automatically what Photoshop only recently gained the ability to do with manually captured photos.

Single image

HDR image

The best camera is the one you have!

Voice recognition still not yet there!

For how many years has it seemed that voice recognition was just about there? This year sees renewed interest in the software, especially for students who have graphomotor coordination issues. These students have difficulty getting the many ideas in their heads out onto paper or computer quickly enough.

Sometimes, the Dragon Dictation app for iPhone does pretty well. This time, it didn’t!

What it heard What I said
Alina’s Becky I figured out the problem with a smart card and science one turns out that it’s a setting in the displays preferences panel the gamma level which controls the blackness of the image I can set incorrectly so I will send you a how to Africa together but the good news is you can make the image look better just by taking a setting on your laptop talk to you soon. Bye-bye Aline and Becky,

I figured out the problem with the Smart Board in Science 1. Turns out that there is a setting in the Displays preferences panel — the gamma level — which controls the blackness of the image. It can be set incorrectly, so I will send you a how-to, or we can walk through it together, but the good news is you can make the image look better by changing a setting on your laptop.

Talk to you soon,