Caffeinated Opinions

Oct 4

Collecting all my photos with Everpix

Awhile back I started to become interested in organizing my photo collection. Upon starting, the first and largest problem I encountered was how spread out my photo collection was. There were photos on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Photo Stream, my phone’s camera roll, my Mac and more. Simply bringing them all together in one place would in and of itself be a herculean task, let alone making sure my collections stayed in sync. What happens if I take a picture on my iPad (yes, I do this) and forget to upload it to whatever service I am using for the backup? Then my collection is yet again out of sync. Up to this point I had been using a mismatch of services. My camera roll was backed up to Dropbox and Photostream. Google Drive and Droplr both hosted a variety of pictures (some dupes, some exclusive). Facebook, Flickr and Instagram pictures were simply not backed up at all.

I started looking around at the multiple options available to me. Cloud storage in general seemed like a possible idea (think Dropbox, Drive, Droplr etc.) but that failed to alleviate the problem of keeping my collection in sync. While still falling prey to the same problem I just mentioned, I did find Loom to be a wonderful service. It had a beautifully designed and functional iOS app but I found the pricing for additional storage to be a bit expensive as well as the app only backed up my camera roll. I eventually stumbled upon Everpix and decided to give it a try. I am pleased to report that Everpix was exactly what I was looking for.

So what exactly does Everpix do? It backs up your photos! Most importantly, it backs up not only your camera roll (with the exception of screenshots for some odd reason), but also your photos from multiple online services. As it stands, Everpix currently backs up photos from Facebook, Path, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Picasa and Gmail. If you install the Mac app, you can also backup your photo stream, iMessage photos and iPhoto library. So for most people, your preferred photo service(s) of choice will likely be included. It also is available on Android and Windows so it is a truly cross platform solution. With photos coming in from all these different places, Everpix supposedly has an algorithm that will detect duplicates and not show them to you. In reality, this has been spotty in my use. Some photos I see dupes of, and others I never do, so I am not sure how the algorithm actually determines what it thinks is a duplicate or not. An “Explore” feature is also available which supposedly groups photos into people, food, places and more. This has never worked for me so I cannot comment on it. One unique feature I love are the flashbacks. If a photo (or photos) in your collection was taken on the current day, you will receive an email from Everpix letting you see what pictures you took in the past for the current day. It really brings back some memories on some days and is a nice little addition for those who like remembering the past.

While the UI for both the website and mobile apps are not the best, I find Everpix to be a perfect backup for my photos for two reasons: price and storage. For $5 a month, you can upload an unlimited number of photos to Everpix. This is hands down the best bargain on the market and was what really drove me to make this my final choice. Everpix also has a free service which backs up all your photos from the past year (for those interested in trying before buying).

App Store Economics

Imagine my surprise when I notice that the Editor’s Choice in the App Store this week is a game that costs $20. Yes $20, for an iOS game. But not just any game. This game, Xcom, is a port of a popular PC and console game that won multiple game of the year awards. While the port is not complete yet, as it lacks multiplayer, from what I have heard is a pretty accurate representation of what you can expect on the PC or console. It also costs substantially less money than what you would pay on the other platforms. So while the game maybe expensive for an iOS game, it’s a bargain overall. But the price of this game got me thinking about the popular topic that is App Store pricing.

Most of us have come to except the $.99 pricing model that dominates the App Store. While this was initially good for consumers, developers do have to make money. This has led to developers finding more and more creative ways to squeeze pennies out of consumers. We have seen the much loved freemium in-app purchase model become more and more popular. Some developers have recognized that some users may never pay for their game, while other users may endlessly pump funds into the game to keep on reaching the next level. Therefore, the freemium model allows for near-perfect price discrimination. Everyone can download the game for free, and you pay what you want to pay. This allows developers to literally squeeze every last penny out of you which would not be possible if the game simply sold. Unfortunately, this has led to scenarios in which you literally cannot progress any further in a game unless you sink hundreds of hours into it or hundreds of dollars. While some games have managed to walk this line perfectly, others, like Real Racing 3, take what used to be a solid game and break it down into a bunch of micro transactions. This typically causes bad will with consumers and is not a popular model. If you ever look at the top grossing list in the App Store, you will notice that freemium games dominate that list. While consumers may dislike this model, it works for developers and will likely not be going anywhere anytime soon.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have apps that cost $10 or more, a small fortune for most iOS users to pay. Many times this software is productivity based (think Things or OmniFocus) or fills a very specific niche that users would pay for because their are few alternatives (like Diet Coda). In situations like this, a developer can maintain a steady revenue stream by selling the app for a high price. Because the app is either incredibly useful or has few substitutes, consumers have little choice but to pony up the money. This is a successful model in these cases. However, this model cannot work for every developer. Considering the sheer amount of apps in the App Store, most have hundreds if not thousands of competitors. Therefore it makes it nearly impossible to compete on features and instead price becomes the main differentiator.

On the other hand, we have seen paid apps that decide to offer additional in app-purchases to generate further revenue. One such example is the app I’m using right now to write this blog post, Byword. Byword Offers a five dollar upgrade that allows the user to share their work to other services. This is a purchase that is not necessary for all but is definitely useful in many cases. This is a great way of a developer finding a way to extend the life of their product among existing users and does not detract from the original product if an existing user chooses not to upgrade. Adding features this way is actually a more productive route because it makes the user feel like work was put into it. This justifies paying for the additional features. The consumer feels like they get something and the developer gets additional revenue. It is a win-win for both sides.

Another route that is becoming more common is to introduce a major upgrade to your app. Since the App Store does not allow for upgrade pricing, developers have instead chose to release an entirely new app that is a separate purchase. We have seen this so far with Twitterrific, 1Password, and Bento. Each of these three apps launched a major redesign that featured entirely new styles as well as tons of new features. Because the upgrade was so substantial, few people complained and many paid. This is a great way for both the developer to gain revenue in the consumer to receive a better product. Often times these new apps gone sell temporarily upon release sold customers can upgrade anymore fair price. On the other hand, this method can be abused. One example is Instacast which has released four versions so far, all which required a paid upgrade. Many users felt shunned by this and stopped buying them. I feel that with iOS 7 coming out and being such a radical departure in terms of visual style, we are likely going to see a lot of apps launch a separate iOS 7 only version. This will cause many of us to have to decide if we want to use our old app or pay to upgrade. But I think this is a great opportunity for developers of established apps to gain a little more revenue for the work it will take to make their app stylistically iOS 7 compatible.

So after looking at all of these methods, which one is best? Well, that seems to depend on what you are selling. If you are selling a niche product or one that has few competitors, it seems like charging an incredibly high price is the route to go. The market has demonstrated that iOS consumers are willing to play a premium for apps that have few alternatives. On the other hand, if you are just making another Angry Birds rip off, $.99 is probably the best route for you. While your app may never gain traction, there is little you can do. The economics of the App Store are such that there is too much supply and not nearly as much demand. This has caused a race to the bottom with pricing that will be unlikely to be fixed anytime soon. This also causes apps that are high-quality to lower their price to compete with the much cheaper, much more inferior alternatives. This is a bad situation for everyone involved. While consumers may initially enjoy quality apps for a low-price, the developers who make these unique apps will see that there is not much profit for all of them and will back out. Or at least that is what we are told. Instead we have seen a market that is not only supported these top apps, it has also supported many of them. This is why we have so many choices for things like camera or weather apps. Not every developer will become a millionaire, but not all of them are as destitute as we are led to believe. The App Store has so many choices for so many different apps that it is unlikely anyone will come to dominate one category. This is fantastic for consumers because we have so much choice. In the App Store, you can pretty much find something for everyone. Do you like a weird to do list? There is one. Do you have some very specific desire for a weather app feature? I’m sure an app out there has it. And guess what? The app store such a great chance for opportunity to arise that is a top developer fell apart because no one bother $.99 app, a new one would quickly emerge. The App Sores is always fast-moving with new big names shooting to the top. Well this may not be a great market for developers, there are too many developers. If one falls, another will rise in its place. So at the end of the day, the App Store is a consumer marketplace more so than a developer one. As a consumer, I like that.

May 2

Dangling that Carrot in front of you…

As someone who for years had trouble remembering even the simplest of things, using my iPhone as a productivity tool became a life changer for me. Over the years I have seldom been faithful with my todo lists, bouncing from micromanaging my life in OmniFocus to blissful simplicity with Clear, spending most of my time with what I thought was a happy middle ground in Things. So when I first heard about a todo list with personality called Carrot, I shrugged it off. Having finally found a happy place with my todo list appdiction, I was no longer in the mood to continue buying apps that I would use once and discard. But one night I was bored and I bought Carrot, and I discovered I could not have been more wrong.

So what makes Carrot so special? Well, it has personality. It is a todo list that interacts with you through the character of a robot called Carrot. But first lets talk about the actual todo list features, because the core foundation of the app is what is most important. While the initial release of Carrot was barebones for a todo list, subsequent releases (with 4.0 just released!) have really rounded out the feature list. Carrot now has the ability to set reminders, repeating tasks, edit and delete tasks, bother you to open your todo list and more. But what makes this app special is that none of those features are available at the start. When you open Carrot for the first time, you are greeted with a clean, minimalist white background, broken up by a robot’s eye in the top right corner (tap it ten times and see what happens). To create a new task, you simply pull the screen down and start typing. Its incredibly simple, and if you want something feature rich from the beginning, Carrot may not be for you. But there are features. You just have to earn them…by doing tasks. Every task you complete rewards you with experience points, and when you level up you unlock mini games, story lines and most importantly, more todo list features. For Carrot to start feeling like a robust todo list app, you really need to level up into the 20s. I have been using Carrot for about two weeks now and am level 13, completing maybe three or so tasks a day just to give an idea of how quick the leveling up process is. You can of course cheat and make up a ton of fake tasks at once, although Carrot will eventually call you on this, doubting that you could possibly have completed a task that fast. Or if you want to be legitimate but speed up the process, the recent 4.0 update added an experience doubler.

The big selling point of Carrot from a marketing perspective is that it has “personality”. While regular todo lists are completely one sided in your interaction with them, Carrot will instead interact with you on a regular basis and in a variety of ways. Upon completion of a task, Carrot could tell you that you did a good job or maybe she will tell you that you did not spend enough time on it. Much of this interaction depends on how fussy Carrot is being, and yes, Carrot gets fussy. If you do not open the app for many hours, when you return Carrot will be angry and turn from white to black, becoming more belligerent towards you until you complete more tasks (or maybe spread the word on Twitter about the app to make peace). Make a note about going to the gym and Carrot will remind you to have a cookie for good behavior. Other tasks illicit similarly hilarious responses. At level 12, you unlock the ability for Carrot to remind you to check the app, and it will use that ability to taunt and belittle you through out the day. When I woke up this morning it told me I looked pretty. The previous day it told me I was an awful person. The random quips make the app actually seem like a real robot which makes the experience a little more genuine.

Outside of the personality and todo list features, Carrot also features a lot of gamification. There are multiple story lines arcs that start as you level up. Some prompt you to make choices that can result in Carrot becoming mad or rewarding you with XP. Sure, the stories are simple, but they are a nice touch. There are challenges ,such as complete 5 tasks in one day, that nudge you towards coming back to the app in order to complete just one more task. Later levels unlock tons of little mini games that really break up the monotony of completing tasks all day. The recent 4.0 update even added a tamogotchi-like cat you can take care of, and Carrot will remind you to feed it daily if you so choose. What really makes the app feel special is all the unique ways it keeps you coming back to it. With Things and other todo list apps, I only opened them to check what I had to do. With Carrot, I open the app a lot for other reasons, like to check my current level, play with Carrot through the command line, or just to pet the kitty. Its a really unique take on task management and seems poised to nudge Things out of my rotation soon. Oh, and an iPad version is coming eventually.

Carrot can be found in the App Store here.

Yet another read it later service

I find myself to have become a big fan of read it later services over the years. Nothing beats storing an article you do not currently have time to read for when you have free time at work or later in the day. While I am currently a big Instapaper user, I recently have found myself a little bit enamored with DotDotDot.

For those who have not yet heard of DotDotDot, it is a recently launched read it later service that focuses more on longer reads and the social aspect compared to other apps. Whenever you import an article to the service, which currently can only be done with a Chrome extension, it shows up on your timeline for people who follow you to view. I know what most people are probably thinking. Do we really need another social network? Well I typically believe the answer is no, I really love how it is done in DotDotDot. Browsing the feeds of your friends or also looking at the global feed is a fantastic way to find new articles to read. Other apps have tried to find a way to show you other hot articles, but this is the first time I believe someone has really done it well.

No read it later service would be complete without a fantastic mobilizer view and DotDotDot has it down pat. Articles that you save to read later are laid out in a book format with you pressing left and right on the keyboard, or swiping on your iOS device, to navigate pages. The site also keep track of how many pages you read which I found to be a very fun thing to look at. I found this book you to be perfect for reading online in a browser and I rarely saw a letter of text out of place. While this app is currently in beta, I am very happy with it so far.

What I think will excite a lot of people about this read it later service compared to others is the ability to highlight text and make annotations. This is something a lot of people have asked for in other read it later services and I believe this one is the first to deliver. The only problem I really had so far that I must point out is the Chrome extension takes a very long time to save pages. The website and app are also a little slow when it comes to refreshing your feeds but keeping in mind that this is currently a beta app, I feel very excited about the future. To me the big thing will be if DotDotDot actually gets other apps to integrate with it in the future

You can download DotDotDot here for free.

Pebble Smartwatch First Impressions

The Pebble Smartwatch has already seen a lot of press, with some calling it the most successful Kickstarter project to date. After following the forums, reviews and general discussion, I had eagerly been awaiting finally getting mine. With the Pebble recently seeing delays for color watches, I finally just decided to order a black watch off of eBay. After using it for a few days, I decided to share some of my impressions. This is by no means a review, but just something to let people waiting for their watches or people considering a purchase in on some details.

After opening my Pebble, the first thing I noticed was how nice the glass watch head is. The display is incredibly smooth and the e-ink is fairly detailed, allowing for some gorgeous watch heads. With a flick of the wrist you can activate a back light to see your watch more easily in the dark. The left side of the watch head has a back button and charger connector, and the right side has an up, down and select button. While the watch head is nice, one thing that I found incredibly disappointing was the included wrist band, which feels incredibly cheap. This is definitely something that I will be replacing soon.

On the software side, while Pebble has finally released an SDK, so far it only allows for development of new watch faces. We will still be waiting a little longer for an SDK to develop apps. So out of the box, with firmware 1.10 (the most current), all you can really do is change watch faces, use the music app, and get notifications.

Now a little on how all those work. So far the music app works quite well, offering the user the ability to skip, pause, play or go backwards. It works with any iOS app that can be controlled with the system’s music controls, including Spotify, Pandora, Audible, and Downcast. Changing watch heads is done by opening the iPhone app, selecting a watch head, and having it download to the watch. This is also how firmware updates are applied. This is a smooth process and I like how it is handled.

Now the disappointing part: notifications. For Android, they all seem to work perfectly. But on iOS, this is a different story. Notifications either come through inconsistently, or not at all. This a Pebble OS problem, and it is promised to be fixed down the road, but it must be pointed out. Now some good news. If your phone is jailbroken, you can download an app from Cydia called BTNotificationEnabler which, after reconnecting your watch to your device, will then send all notifications to it. Using this app, I have had no problems at all with notifications, but before the app I barely got any. So unless you are patient or plan on jailbreaking your iPhone, I would hold out on a Pebble watch for now.

So how do notifications work? Pretty well actually. The Pebble will vibrate and light up alerting you that you have a notification. It will then display so much of the notification, letting you scroll up and down with the buttons on the side of the watch to see more. While longer notifications will be cut off, I found this to be a great tool for deciding if something needed action taken immediately, or can be ignored for later. When a phone call comes in, the Pebble will even vibrate non-stop to alert you, allowing you to answer or ignore the call from your watch.

Would I recommend you buy a Pebble now? No. It still feels too much like a beta project. While I can see it being something special in 6 months, right now I would only advise you purchase one of these if you want a taste of the future. I really like mine so far, but this is definitely more of an early adopter thing to see where wearable technology will be in a few years.

Apr 8

A Siracusian look at the Chromebook

When the Chromebook was first announced, I was not impressed and chose to ignore it for the longest time. During a recent trip to Best Buy, I saw one in person for the first time and ending up playing with it for a little bit. I left impressed and decided I wanted one. When I got my first paycheck from my new job, I rushed to the store and threw paper on the Samsung Chromebook. One thing I immediately noticed when talking about it was that a lot of people appear curious about the Chromebook. Many even seem interested in buying one, but are not completely sure of its benefits or limits. I know when I was considering one, I did not end up finding much information on the internet. Even reviews generally did not seem to go in depth much on the experience, instead focusing on the hardware, so I decided to write my own review and hopefully help some curious folk decide either way

The look of the hardware seems like a good place to start since its the first thing you see, and you know what they say about first impressions. Visually, the Chromebook is nice. It is designed somewhat like a poor man’s Macbook Air, which is not meant as an insult. It is a silver color and made from sturdy plastic. Its nice looking, and may even be confused for a Macbook at a distance. Most important, it feels like it costs more than what it does. It does not feel like a budget device.

When I initially began using the Chromebook, I must admit I was a little bit disappointed with the screen. It found it dark and kind of hard to see. After using it for a few days, I hit myself on the head when I realized I never changed the brightness settings, which for some reason are very low by default. With the brightness set relatively high, the screen looks pretty good. The resolution is nothing to write home about, but again I found it pretty solid overall. The viewing angle is quite poor, though. It is pretty difficult to see anything when standing at an angle, but this is more a problem for people you would be showing something on the screen too than an actual problem for the user, so if you are just sitting down and using the Chromebook this should be acceptable. I know many people prefer larger laptop screens, but I found the 11” screen to be more than adequate. Because you are primarily using a web browser, you pretty much will only have window open at a time, so having a smaller screen does not detract from the viewing experience the same way it does on a regular laptop.

One area where the Chromebook certainly feels like a premium product is the keyboard. The keyboard is comparable to the offerings of a Macbook, with the island type keys, which makes typing a great experience. Like most netbooks, the keyboard is a reduced size one with no number keys on the side. One other observation is that this keyboard has no F keys, instead replacing them with useful functions like a window minimizing key, window maximizing key, refresh button and the usual suspects like brightness and sound controls. Oh, and there is no delete key either (you can use ALT + backspace instead), as it has been replaced with a very handy search key (more on that later).

Like OSX, Chrome OS has an extensive amount of keyboard shortcuts in part due to its use of shift, control and alt as modifier keys. One thing I found really useful is that Chrome OS has a built in keyboard map to show you all the system wide shortcuts. By pressing control + alt + ?, an onscreen keyboard will pop up. You can then hold any of the modifier keys (shift, control, alt) and the onscreen keyboard will light up with all the possible combinations of shortcuts. This can be done at any time and is a ridiculously handy way of learning the OS.

The trackpad also borrows heavily from a Macbook in feel with comfortable two finger swiping to go up and down (and the direction of swiping can be inverted if you wish). You can also use two fingers to right click as well as drag with the trackpad. One disappointing omission is the lack of swiping left or right on the trackpad to go back or forward to a previous web page. This seemed like an odd omission and is something I am hopeful will be in a future OS update.

With our media being an increasingly important part of our digital lives now, I found the the sound on the Chromebook to be very average, but pretty much in line with what you would expect from a budget priced laptop. Videos on YouTube sounded fine but I found the listening experience of the Spotify web app to be a little lacking, with sound starting to become a little distorted the higher the volume was. I would not go as far to say the sound quality is lacking, but it could definitely be better and will certainly be noticeable to people who are used to the better speakers on more higher end devices. Video chatting in Google+ sounded great (no surprise), but do not plan on blasting any high quality tunes anytime soon.

While the hardware is pretty solid, the charger that comes with the Chromebook feels pretty cheap. I suppose they had to cut costs somewhere, and it shows with the charger. The port it plugs into on the back is a slight bit challenging to get the charger into and I always feel like I am forcing it and potentially going to break it. I read some reports online of the charger breaking which is something I could see happening quite easily. Next to the charger, there is an HDMI port, USB 2 and 3 ports, and on the left side an SD card slot. Not a bad offering for a budget device. The inclusion of USB 3 is pretty nice.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the overall build of the device is solid. It certainly feels more expensive than it costs and is also very lightweight, making it something that you will want to bring with you wherever you go. It also runs completely silent, which is something that you do not appreciate until you experience. And no hot lap either! The Chromebook is completely cool at all times, even during extended bouts of video. The boot up times are very short, typically less than 10 seconds, often times less. This is for two reasons. First, this Chromebook has an SSD drive and second, Chrome OS is very lightweight on system resources. When you combine these two factors, you get a pleasantly fast startup every time. I particularly like the quick startup compared to my Macbook, which is one of the main reasons I got a Chromebook. There are plenty of times I elected to do something that required typing on my iPad (like a long email or filling out a form) simply because I did not feel like waiting for my Macbook to boot up. Now, in these cases, I simply fire up the Chromebook. One thing that must be pointed out is that if you do not turn your Chromebook off and just close the lid, when you open it up the OS will resume instantly. The only thing you are waiting on is for wifi to reconnect. I found this instant on to be a fantastic feature and something that led me to end up using my Chromebook over my iPad a couple of times.

While specs and hardware are nice, most people would agree that the most important thing is how the device “feels” when using it. For the most part, the Chromebook it is snappy and responsive. When you start to have a lot of tabs open, around ten, the OS begins to slow down a little. When watching videos on Hulu, I noticed some occasional choppiness as well, but nothing that detracted from the experience. On YouTube, videos played fine but if you tried to comment on a video or share a video while it was playing, there was a little bit of lag. Again, nothing terrible, but worth noting to be comprehensive. Overall, browsing is fast. Text and graphics based web sites load fast. Only video occasionally slows the Chromebook down, and even that is not much to complain about.

What separates the Chromebook from other computers is that it runs Chrome OS, Google’s stab at a browser based operating system. The first thing you will notice when booting your Chromebook up is actually what you will not see. The desktop is refreshingly clean. There are no files or apps clogging up your desktop. Any apps that you end up using end up getting pinned to the bottom bar, akin to what you would expect on Windows. There is no start menu. Instead, there is an applications tray that can be reached either through clicking on it in the bottom bar or hitting the search key on the keyboard. The search key is a wonderful feature. Upon hitting it, a little tray pops up and you can either click an app you want to you or start typing. You can either type the name of the name of the app you want and hit enter to launch it, or launch a google search very quickly. Any settings can be accessed from the profile icon on the bottom right of the screen, and are very similar to the settings in the actual Chrome browser. And when it comes to updating, Chrome OS will update itself silently (similar to how Chrome the browser does), so the user never has to deal with updating it.

While the Chromebook comes with two free years of 100GB of Google Drive, emphasizing the online aspect of the device, there is an offline file manager that can manipulate the files on the Chromebook as well as those in Google Drive. This is a great recent addition to the Chrome OS, allowing a user to download files directly to the SDD and then move them to the cloud later if they so choose. Keep in mind though, the Chromebook only has 16GB of storage so most of your downloads will be directly to the cloud. Chrome OS does allow you to download a file directly to Drive. Two nice aspects of the File Manager are its media player and photo editor. The media player allows for offline playback of any downloaded videos or music (as well as playing an files in Drive) and the photo editor allows for some lightweight photo editing (like cropping). The core experience of Chrome OS is basically the Chrome web browser we all know and love. Other than the File Manager, essentially every other app runs through the Chrome web browser. Basically, if it is a website, you can do it in Chrome. The apps people refer to are kind of an exaggeration. In reality, they are really icons that when clicked send you to the appropriate web site. Some have special features, like offline mode, but they are essentially web pages. If you spend most of your time online when normally using your laptop, you will find that this change is not actually as jarring as it sounds.

One thing that is disappointing in regards to the apps is that there are not many. As mentioned earlier, most of the apps are not really apps in the traditional sense. They are basically icons that function as links to web sites. Some apps, like Feedly, are actually more apps in the traditional sense, but those are few and far between. While the Chromebook has not been out a long time, it has been out long enough that you would think there would be more support for it than there currently is. This is sadly a trend I do not see changing. On the bright side, all the apps I have seen so far appear to be free which is nice.

For those who hope to use the Chromebook offline, there are a decent amount of offline apps. Granted, an internet connection is needed to download the initial content, but the app can then be used offline. For instance, you can hop into the New York Times app and download the morning stories, and then read them offline later in the day. The same thing can be done with your ebooks in the Kindle app. In terms of productivity, Google Docs and Gmail both work offline. For Docs, you can write an offline document or edit a document if it is downloaded to your computer, and then when you hop online it will upload the changes. In my experience, it has worked quite well.

As alluded to earlier, the app manager is a pretty small but cool feature. When hit, the search button on the keyboard opens the app menu. You can then use the trackpad to navigate to your desired app, or just start typing the name of the app you want and then hit enter to select. If you instead want to do a quick Google search, you can do that as well.

Chrome OS also allows for guest accounts as well as multiple account support, so if you want to share your Chromebook with others you can do so. One thing that is nice is all your account info is stored in the cloud, so if you ever lose your Chromebook or get a new one, transfer of data is easy. This works hand in hand with the built in tampering proof mode, where if the OS detects it has been compromised it will self-restore. And since your data is in the cloud and easily available to restore, this is a great security feature.

As I mentioned earlier, with all the emphasis on the cloud and Drive, Google was generous enough to throw in a free 100GB plan for Drive that lasts two years. This is around a $120 value so it is very welcome. But I did frequently find myself wishing Drive had an Evernote web clipper-like extension. They do have a Save to Drive extension, but it just does not feel as smooth or feature rich as Evernote does. It works fine for saving pictures, but saving entire websites or just specific parts of the page is a bit questionable.

With all this in mind, the question most people keep asking me is if the Chromebook can replace a traditional desktop. The answer is… it depends. For starters, the Chromebook is definitely a great second computer for people who either already have a desktop computer and want something more portable or have a tablet and want something that boots up incredibly fast plus has a keyboard. But what about people who want to use the Chromebook as their primary computer? Will it work? I feel like it would for most people. I know on my Macbook I spend most of my time in Chrome already. Sure I use some apps, but most of them have comparable web apps. I also heavily rely on Dropbox on my Mac, but using Drive on Chrome OS feels just as reliable and a great substitute. From my college experience, I can say that I would not have been able to replace my laptop with a Chromebook. I had many classes that required me to use Microsoft Access and advanced statistical packages in Excel. So for me, I would not be able to switch completely to a Chromebook. But if you are a student or someone who does not need Microsoft Office’s more advanced functions (remember, Office has web apps now so you can use its basic functions in the browser), this will make a perfect computer. It boots up fast, seldom feels sluggish, and just feels like a joy to use. This has been the best computer I have used yet in my life, and the cheap price coupled with the great design makes it a solid purchase for anyone.

A web app markdown editor, you don’t say…

Check out Draft for a very solid web based markdown editor. It allows saving and opening of documents from Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote and Box. As a recent Chromebook convert, I found it pretty handy to have a web app that does all of this.

Dark Sky Forecasts something big…

I have long been a fan of Dark Sky for iOS for providing me with pretty darn accurate weather notifications. Nothing beats getting an alert that it may rain soon right before you leave the office, ensuring you bring with you that umbrella you normally would leave behind.

Today the minds behind Dark Sky announced that they are now taking the API behind Dark Sky and making it availiable for use in other ways. They launched a website called Forecast that is a gorgeous website and proof of concept of their data. It seems likely we will start to see other apps integrate this backend to provide us with more accurate weather prediction. But right now, we have a cool weather web app that I know I will be using a lot.

So Flipboard just became a social network…

With its 2.0 update today, Flipboard essentially just became a social network. The app now allows users to save stories to their own magazines, which can be shared with friends and on social networks. A user can have multiple magazines, with the ability to name them, choose their category, and even select a cover photo. Flipboard even added push notifications for when a friend likes, follows or comments on your magazine.

I feel like this is a big move on Flipboard’s part. With a massive user base, Flipboard has now made a push towards becoming the go to social network for sharing news. I am sure many users will forgoing sharing to other services like Twitter and Facebook and instead share simply to their magazines. This also seems to hint at how Flipboard will monetize. With users now spending more time in the app sharing magazines, Flipboard will be able to throw in some ads (which likely won’t be a bad thing if they are as non-intrusive as their current ads) and start serving up a profit. Either way, I am quite excited about where this is heading.

Mar 2

The cost of Real Racing 3

Unlike most people, when I heard Real Racing 3 was going to be a freemium game I was actually excited. As someone who had played the first two titles in the series and never gotten past the halfway point, I was excited that I would now be able to play the game for free and still not finish it. While most people are already lining up to criticize EA, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. In the past I had played plenty of other freemium games that I ended up really enjoying so I figured I would hold out until the game was released.

After playing the game since its release, I can say the initial crowd that reacted angrily to this announcement was right. What makes this painful is that the gameplay is fantastic. This title is just as good, if not better, than the previous two entries in the series. The graphics are amazing. The car selection is fantastic. But at the heart of it you always feel that something is wrong.

What is exactly wrong? I will first begin by explaining how exactly the freemium model has been implemented for those who are not familiar. I will then go into detail why this ruins the overall experience.

In the past entries in the series, you would earn cash by completing races. You would then use this cash to purchase newer, better cars so you could enter other contest. This remains true in the third entry as well, however, a new feature has been added. Not only do you have to pay cash for the car, you can have to wait for the car to be delivered to you! That’s right. All that hard work that went into earning cash to buy the car and you are rewarded with a 15 minute or longer wait. However, there is good news! You can use the game’s other currency, gold, to speed up the wait process and have the car instantly! Did I mention that gold is incredibly rare? You basically only get it by leveling up from winning races and even then you get very few pieces. But of course you can buy gold, and you can also buy cash. Neither of which is very cheap. To compound matters, your car accrues damage during races, causing your car ‘s performance to degrade. So when you inevitably have to prepare your car, it requires the in game cash. To make it even better, after you pay the cash you again have to wait for the repairs to be done. You even have to wait for upgrades to be installed! But of course, your old friend gold is standing by waiting to speed everything up.

If none of this has turned you off of the game yet, I will now explain to you how this model completely breaks the game. First of all, the beginning of the game is basically designed to make you commit to some type of in app purchase. Whether it will be buying the starter pack for $2 or buying additional currency, you will likely find yourself spending money or waiting a long time. The reason for this is you will find is that your car gets damaged quite quickly and therefore you will have to repair it and since you only start with one car, you are out of luck while your car is getting repaired. Some people have suggested buying multiple cars to mitigate this, but it does not change the fact that you constantly have to spend money to repair your car. This itself would not be a problem if the game actually rewarded you handsomely for winning races. But it does not. This leads to another problem.

Winning races typically pays very little. The problem is, especially in the beginning, you will not find yourself winning many races. Many of the competing cars are much faster than your car and you often times find yourself coming in second or third if you are lucky and most likely finishing out of the top three. When you get better cars the situation improves, but it takes a long time to get better cars. Keep in mind while you are winning your pittance of an award, you have to pay to repair your car. The better car you have the more it costs to repair. So coming in second or third in a race may just barely cover your car repairs. This leads to you very slowly accruing currency. So if you want a good car or another car without having to commit a ton of time to the game, you will likely find yourself leaning towards an in app purchase.

And that is why the game feels broken. The beginning of the game feels like they are trying to immediately get you to make an in app purchase. The fact that the starter pack is $2 and the rest of the packs are $5 or more leads me to believe that they at least wanted to get you to buy one or two packs. Once you get further in the game and unlock a lot of cars and different classes some of these problems tend to alleviate themselves, but you very rarely will ever have a large surplus of money. Because of this it always feels like the game is trying to reach into your wallet and grab more money. What makes this especially painful is even if you have a ton of cars, you cannot escape the way when buying new cars or making repairs. At best, you can mask a lot of the games deficiencies by having multiple cars, but you can never quite fix them. That is what makes this game a tragic letdown. Unlike a lot of other premium games it is incredibly fun but ultimately suffers due to this change. Personally, I’m going to give the game another week and will likely end up deleting it only spending the two dollars.