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

Calendar

new - calendar

GMail

new - GMail

Oulook

new - Outlook

Twitter

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

Photos

actions - photos

Safari

open in - safari

Share menus

Facebook

share - Facebook

Google Docs

share - Google Drive

“Open In”

actions

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.