Saturday, October 25, 2008

Top Ten Android Launch Apps

The first Android phone. the G1, goes on sale today at T-Mobile stores. And, although I have some issues with the software/hardware interface, those are more than overcome by all the great software on the phone. I’ve been testing out a phone for about a week, and I don’t think I’ve made more than five actual calls on the phone. For me, it’s all about the apps.

The apps I use the most come with the device: Gmail, the Web browser, and Google Maps, in that order. The phone also comes with the Amazon MP3 store, which lets you buy songs and download them over the air directly onto the phone. But you can also download apps from the Android Market, which is similar to the iPhone’s App Market. Many of the original apps on the review phones have been scrubbed, and about 50 are supposed to be loaded onto the market for today’s launch.

Right now, I count 40 apps on the market (all of them are free, but paid apps are coming with a 70 percent cut going to developers), and I know of several that are supposed to launch today that have not yet appeared on the phone. But if you are going to get a phone today, here is my list of the top ten apps worth downloading and checking out.

1. imeem Mobile: It’s a jukebox in your pocket, and the progressive download means that your song doesn’t skip when you go into an elevator, ’nuff said.

2. ShopSavvy: From Big in Japan, this turns your phone into a barcode scanner and then gives you price comparisons both online and in nearby retail stores. In my tests, the product database is good for household items, but can stumble with obscure products. But this is a killer app once the product database becomes more comprehensive. (Also try CompareEverywhere, which does the same thing).

3. Pac-Man: The original arcade game from Namco. Free on the Android (it costs $7.99 on the iPhone). The rollerball is an excellent joystick.

4. BreadCrumbz: You can leave photo and voice marker breadcrumbz along any route that others can then follow later on. Ties into the phone’s GPS, maps, camera, and microphone.

5. Wikitude: A travel guide that pulls up information from Wikipedia about nearby locations and puts them on a map, along with photos from Panoramio. Really useful geo-mashup.

6. Shazam: Put the phone up to a radio or speaker playing a song and Shazam will tell you the name and the artist, just like the iPhone app.

7. SplashPlay: Teaches you how to play the guitar by playing music and showing a fret board that you can play on the screen in sync with the music. The app is marketing for a similar tutorial device you can buy for your guitar, but it really teaches you how to play.

8. iSkoot for Skype: Lets you use your Skype account to IM your contacts, make Skype calls over the Internet, and uses the phone for SkypeOut calls (this is one of the apps that was taken down, but should go up again. Update: It’s available now)

9. MyCloset: This one’s more for the ladies, but a very nicely done app. You take apicture of every article of clothes in your closet, categorize them (top, bottom, shoes, accessories, etc.), select months when they can be worn, and then you can mix and match to plan out your outfits. The only thing it needs is some way to note weather a piece of clothing is clean or not.

10. Cab4Me Light: A simple app that gives you phone numbers of cab companies based on where you are.

Wikipedia DVD Released on BitTorrent

wikipedia englishThis year’s Wikipedia edition for schools is the largest since the project started back in 2006. With 34,000 images and 20 million words, it is comparable to a twenty volume encyclopedia captured on a single DVD.

Without a doubt, it is the most successful “checked content” project based on the English Wikipedia, used by hundreds of schools in first and third world countries. The project was originally aimed at schools in developing countries, but because of the high quality articles - all based around the UK curriculum with an absence of adult content - it is often used on intranets in first world schools too.

To save on resources, Wikipedia for schools is only available online via BitTorrent, which practically reduces the charity’s distribution costs to zero. SOS Children CEO Andrew Cates, who is a Wikipedia administrator himself, said that they have no other choice than to use BitTorrent, since the 2.9 GB download would crush their server.

“BitTorrent was a bit disappointing in that it got us the only substantial criticisms we received online,” Cates said in an interview with Wikinews. “A lot of people find it too much effort to use. However for the period we offered a straight http: download we had huge problems with spiders eating vast bandwidth.”

“As per last year therefore our main two channels will be free download by BitTorrent and mailing the DVDs free all over the world. At a pinch we will (as before) put straight copies up for individuals who cannot get it any other way, and we have some copies on memory sticks for on distributors,” Cates added.

The .torrent file is available for download on the SOS Children’s Villages website. For those who don’t want to install a BitTorrent client, the DVD can also be downloaded from any web browser with BitLet.

A final word of advice from SOS Children’s Villages: “It helps our charity if you keep µTorrent running after your download is finished.”

VMware grows up

The Intel Mac virtualization scene has had a couple of years to mature now, and things are finally getting exciting. Now, with the latest VMware Fusion 2 release, we’ve left the adolescent phase of Mac virtualization and entered the adult phase, where virtualized Windows really starts to operate in all the ways we expect it to. VMware 2.0’s grown-up form combines an improved interface with some major low-level features, like support for DirectX 9.0c 3D, four-way SMP, driverless printing, and tighter Mac desktop integration. That’s a pretty significant list that should make this release very appealing, even to those who’ve already bought Fusion’s main competitor, Parallels Desktop. So we put this ambitious update through a few weeks of extensive testing to see if it lives up to the hype.


VMware Fusion 2.0 is a free upgrade for all VMware Fusion 1.x users. New users can buy it for $80. There is also a $30 mail-in rebate for Parallels/Crossover users looking to jump ship. (Rebate valid to consumers in the United States and Canada only.)

Test hardware

MacBook Pro Core2Duo 2.4GHz
  • 4GB RAM
  • NVIDIA 8600M 256MB
  • OS X 10.5.5
Mac Pro Xeon 4-core 2.66GHz
  • 7GB RAM
  • NVIDIA 7300 GT
  • OS X 10.5.4

Test software

  • Parallels Desktop 3.0 build 5608
  • Windows XP Pro 32-bit SP3
  • Windows Vista 64-bit SP1

Changes from 1.0

VMware 1.0’s interface was decent enough, but it lacked a certain Mac quality. The look and feel of 2.0 has been revamped to look more like a Mac program, so it now bears much less resemblance to a Windows/Linux port. The virtual machine library is nicer, the icons are sleeker, and it’s just more pleasing to the eye overall. Beyond the rearrangement of the interface, VMware has added expanded controls for Mac OS key mappings and shortcuts so that you don’t have to jump back and forth to Windows/Mac commands.

VMware's expanded controls for Mac OS key mappings and shortcuts

It works as advertised, and it’s a big relief not having to hit Alt-F4 to close a window. (Someone needs to send a face pie to the person who came up with that one.)

VMware has even gone a bit beyond the call of duty and added a Quicklook plug-in. It’s a nice touch and, while not incredibly useful, it does show that VMware is serious about the Mac version being its own entity.

VMware gives you a Quicklook plug-in
The number displayed under the OS name isn’t the disk size;
it’s the RAM allocated to the VM.