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Android Photo Editing – Snapseed

Snapseed is a photo-editing app, primarily for Android and iOS devices, but there is also a desktop version (Mac OS X and Windows).We tested the recently released Android version.

Snapseed Android

The average mobile user is not looking for a Photoshop-like experience when editing their beloved photos; instead most are trying to find apps were they quickly can edit photos of their latest night out or birthday party before posting them to Facebook or Twitter. This pose a problem, most basic photo-editing apps are cheesy, with loads of unwanted features, with only fair results. Thankfully times are changing.

Snapseed was originally developed by a company called Nik Software, primarily based in Germany. During 2012 Google bought the company and the Snapseed app, and we are already beginning to see the fruits of the acquisition, recently Snapseed for Android was released, and all versions of the app are now free.

Using Snapseed is really a breeze, it is designed to be quick to operate and easy to share photos to different social networks. There is automatic contrast and color correction, but also various filters, such as vintage, drama, grunge and black and white. Each filter can be further adjusted in different ways to create effects. The gallery on Snapseeds’ website features some remarkable results.

The sharing options in Snapseed include most standard social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google +. However since Google bought Snapseed Google+ has a more prominent shortcut than other social networks.

While the desktop version of Snapseed probably isn’t what most users are looking for, it includes the possibility to edit RAW-files.

So far Snapseed is very similar to the features in Instagram (which is in fact why Google probably bought the app in the first place) and loads of other apps available, but the ease of operating Snapseed, the fact that it’s free and the actual results outpaces much of the competition.

Creating timelines in the cloud – Preceden

Preceden (means “precede” in Spanish according to the developers) is an online web-based timeline and simple time-schedule tool.

The whole point with Preceden as opposed to other solutions for creating timelines is the flexibility. For example creating a timeline in any spreadsheet program, such as Excel, is usually torture, even-though there are built in templates, especially when more detailed timelines are required.

In Preceden different parts of a timeline can be grouped together in layers, the parts of the overall timeline have different colors and it’s also possible to name the layers and dragging the elements around. It’s also possible to add an event without an end-date, and select zoom-levels (seconds, hours, years etc). Overall the user-interface is very straight-forward and easy to use.

Since Preceden is cloud-based it means that it’s possible to share timelines with the rest of the user community. It’s also possible to share a timeline requiring a password, or share a more restricted version of a timeline where a predefined URL is shared to selected participants. Unfortunately Preceden currently lacks more advanced collaboration options. In Google Docs and other applications it’s for example possible to invite selected users to create and edit a document.

It’s also possible in Preceden to download a timeline as an image or a PDF-file (which is printable). In the trial free version of Preceden it’s only possible to create five timeline events, which makes it pretty much useless. The pro-version has a one-time fee of $39, which is pretty cheap (depending on what type of timeline you are creating). Preceden has no login-integration with social media such as Facebook, so you have to create a sole login for the service, which in our minds leave room for improvement.

 

Google Chrome for iPhone and iPad

Google recently released Google Chrome for iOS, which means that the browser now can be used on the iPhone and iPad. The release is raising the stakes in the battle between Google, Apple and Microsoft for mobile users.

Surfing using Google Chrome for iOS

Regarding web-browsing for the iOS, Google Chrome doesn’t bring much new to the table. Chrome basically the same features as Safari for the iPad; voice-search is perhaps the most interesting feature. For the Ipad it’s a bit unnecessary but for the Iphone voice search is very convenient and worked well when we tested it.

The iOS version of Google Chrome is very similar to the desktop, the navigation is the same but it’s possible to browse between tabs by swiping across the screen. To the right there is a menu with a bunch of options and features. For example the incognito mode is available in the iOS-version, and also the ability to view web-pages as the desktop version of Chrome. Obviously Google Chrome for iOS has no support for flash-websites.

The whole idea with Google Chrome for the iOS is of course that you can sync bookmarks between different devices using Chrome, it’s also possible to continue a browsing session on your desktop, for example opening a tab previously viewed on your iPad or iPhone.

Apple have carefully plotted so that third party browsers in the iOS can’t benefit from the much faster Nitro java-script engine available in Safari, this means that Google Chrome is a bit slower than Safari. However it is barely noticeable and it actually feels snappier than for example Atomic web and other third party browsers.

A major downside with the Chrome browser is the way Google have chosen to structure the bookmarks, they are actually part of the browsing experience and not in the sidebar to the right as in the original desktop version. As a result it’s harder to find relevant bookmarks.

Google Chrome for iOS is mainly aimed at current users of the desktop version, and it really provides much better functionality than Safari. However few current desktop Safari users will probably migrate.

Yahoo Axis – A search browser alternative to Google

Yahoo used to be the coolest tech company around, now they are losing the search engine wars badly against Google and Bing, can they get back into the game with their latest product, Yahoo Axis?

Yahoo Axis home screen.

Yahoo Axis is available for desktops (PC and MAC), the Ipad and the Iphone, a search made on the desktop computer can be continued on an Iphone. All bookmarks and read later lists are also synced between the different devices. Yahoo Axis is lacking apps for Android and Windows Phone, which hopefully will be brought to the table shortly.

On the desktop Yahoo Axis is downloaded as an extension to an already existing browser, such as Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer 9. When Axis was released there a security issue with the Chrome extension, this has since then been fixed by Yahoo. Some blogs reported that Internet Explorer 9 and other browsers were slowed down when surfing the web, it was noticeable in IE 9 but not any of the other browsers, even-though the extension itself sometimes took a while to load it didn’t affect the performance of the browser. The general behavior of the extension in Google Chrome was also a bit awkward, sometimes it opened, sometimes it didn’t.

The Ipad/Iphone apps is really where this product comes to real usage, the interface in Yahoo Axis is perfect for cell phones and tablets. For example Axis shows more relevant info about a website before loading it, making it much easier to use on the Iphone than Safari, which relies on Google who basically have the same layout as on the desktop.
The sync between devices works well, for example it is simple to research something on the desktop and then continue on a mobile device on the go. Yahoo Axis has support for Google and Facebook-accounts, so a Yahoo account is not needed just to use this product.
Yahoo Axis has a home-screen with a list of bookmarks and read-it later items. Adding bookmarks was no problem but adding sites to the read-later list was sometimes a struggle, for example we I added an article in Wired to read-it later, but it didn’t show up.

When searching long tail keywords Yahoo Axis is not that powerful as Google, it simply doesn’t find the in-depth stuff that Google do, and even if it does it’s still hard to tell from the results which hits are good and which aren’t. Searches in other languages than English returns mixed results, it’s not uncommon for Yahoo Axis to mix different languages in its results (for example Norwegian and Spanish). The search engine used as with all Yahoo products is Microsoft Bing.

Axis handles the standard searches such as text and images just fine, but it lacks news and video search making it difficult to use as a sole search engine, Yahoo says that they will add additional options over time.

Yahoo Axis is a good concept, and has the perfect timing, it is however too bad that the browser extensions for browsers need some polishing. As Google is getting more comfortable in their total ownage of the search market, and seem to be focusing on Android and driver-less cars, the field is open again for innovation products, such as Yahoo Axis.

Timehop: Your Digital Time Machine

All the social media sharing and interaction is creating essentially a historic path online of our lives. It is intriguing that there are few services (except Facebook advertising) who takes advantage of this.

Timehop features Facebook integration.

Timehop was founded in 2011 and is the result of a Foursquare hackaton, the service is backed by several venture capital firms. Every day the service will go back one year ago in your social networks and send a summary via e-mail. It will also import events of somewhat general historic importance from that day, also from social networks.

Timehop can be used with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram. The service can also sift through your text-messages on an Iphone and Android phone. Which may be a little bit too much information to give away to a social networking service.

Overall Timehop is a neat idea with a clear purpose, it is addictive and you will read the e-mails it sends, guaranteed. However it’s probably one of those services that will exist for a while until the big social networking players figure out how to solve it themselves.

Timehop displays your social media activities a year back.

Three Google search alternatives

Google’s way of handling their search engine has come under a lot of criticism lately, the criticism involves favoring of bigger brands and sites making it difficult for smaller sites to rank. Other criticism comes from the fact that Google is tracking searches and visits in order to target advertising etc.

Alternatives to the bigger search engine companies have been available since Altavista in the 90:s, often with various quality. Below you will find some of the hottest alternatives to Google search.

Blekko

Blekko was released 2010 to the public. It is edited by human editors (8 000 of them if you believe Blekko). The editors role is to edit 50 sites to correspond with 100 000 of the most frequent search terms on Blekko, a challenge indeed. Of course this means that search results will be more clear and hopefully more meaningful, but the backside of the model is that there will be about 50 sites corresponding for most of the traffic, and how the editing process works is not clear.

We tried searching for “Cars” both on Google and Blekko. In Blekko we got the following results:

1. Cars.com
2. Cars.gov
3. Disney Cars (official site)
4. Cars (2006) IMDB

In Google we got the following results (logged out of course):

1. Cars.com
2. Autotrader.co.uk
3. Carsales.com.au
4. Cars (2006), IMDB

Blekko assumed that I was looking for information about cars, and did take into account the movie “Cars”. Google got some weird results, one UK-site and one from Australia, this may have been Google’s way of localization, but Australia is on the other side of the planet from where Syntax30 is based.

Blekko also has video and image search, it works well most of the time. Most of the hits are from YouTube, when opening a video it opens in a lightbox screen. I like the video navigation systems much better in Google, Bing and Yahoo, where you can browse more videos as you are watching them.

The major feature in Blekko is slashtags, a slashtag is basically a tag grouping a number of sites on a certain topic. The grouping is edited by an editor, or a number of associated editors, the model is very similar to how Wikipedia works, but a little bit more controlled.

Some cool features in Blekko is the fact that you can subscribe to any of the slashtags using RSS, it’s also possible to view SEO-stats (such as inbound links, ranking etc) for each site listed. If there are some sites that a user doesn’t like to get hits on, it’s possible to mark them as SPAM, then they will disappear from that user’s search results.

One problem with Blekko, is that even-though the search engine is edited by humans, some of the results that Blekko gives are old. For example various sites that we searched for had updated their page titles, URLs and descriptions, but in Blekko they were still included as the old sites.

Overall Blekko is an interesting alternative to Google, but it is too advanced to really be something that the general public will take interest in, at least the editing process. The search results returned are less spammy than Google’s but in some cases also less relevant.

Slashtags edited by a crew of editors is an important part of Blekko.

 

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is an interesting project, which lately has received a lot of attention in the media as an alternative to Google. The main purpose of DuckDuckGo is not to track users searches and target advertising towards them, something Google has been doing for a while.

The interface is actually very similar to Google, with just a white main page with a search box, however since DuckDuckGo has no bias towards any special services online it’s possible to search both in the image searches of Google and Bing, as well as YouTube and Amazon (for shopping reasons). This is a good concept, but we have seen it before.

When searching on DuckDuck Go the results are not much different from Google, for example our search for cars returned:

1. Cars.com
2. Autotrader.com
3. autos.yahoo.com
4. Edmunds.com
5. Cars 2 Disney.com

In the heading of each search there is a box “Meanings of”, this box is basically a widget connecting to other similar searches on DuckDuckGo, the box also changes shape and loads information from Wikipedia or YouTube when available. DuckDuckGo have advertisment in their search results, for example we got an ad for Buick when searching for cars. It’s nothing wrong with that.

For the real geeky users there are various settings that can be applied for DuckDuckGo, for example it’s possible to change the colors, size of fonts, if the search engine should return more results when scrolling down etc. There are also various privacy settings which can be turned on or off, such as if the user search term should be tracked when leaving DuckDuckGo. It’s possible to save the settings for use on other devices.

DuckDuckGo is much simpler than Blekko, and should appeal to a less technical audience. However the ranking algorithm is a sketchy. For example it’s not open-sourced, and the only real information about how sites ranks in DuckDuckGo available is that it is based on inbound links, let’s hope it’s not the only way of determining if a site ranks well.

DuckDuckGo features a lot of different settings.

 

Addictomatic

Addictomatic is not your standard search engine as Blekko or DuckDuckGo, instead of displaying results from an index of sites, Addictomatic imports various hits from social networks, blogs and other online sources, creating a more comprehensive and social view of a specific topic.

The sources connected to Addictomatic are Twitter, Friendfeed, YouTube, Flickr, Bing News, Google Blog Search, Blinkx, Ask.com, Twingly, WordPress and many others. It is possible to exclude some sources and include others.

The search algorithm for finding information in these sources is not open-sourced, according to the founders search results are pulled in to the site using RSS-feeds from the various sources. Overall the results are pretty good, however for search-terms where there is disambiguation Addictomatic will not work at all, at least not if the search-term is not available in social networks.

Each search is presented in a dashboard, with a box representing each network, the user can move the different boxes around, remove some and add others. It is a very neat way of getting the grasp of a topic quickly, the dashboards can later be bookmarked, and also shared on for example Facebook. There is also a browser plug-in available, but not for later browser versions. Addictomatic does not seem to be anonymous, such as DuckDuckGo, and there are ads in there as well.

Overall Addictomatic is not a general purpose search engine, but it does a very good job of finding buzz regarding current events and topics.

 

Addictomatic features a customizable layout.

 

Benelab

Another interesting alternative search engine to Google is Benelab, it may be the world’s first charity search engine. When a user search Benelab advertising will be displayed, the revenue generated by the advertising is donated to charity. Each time you search your Benetrack will be updated with how many cups of rice, cups of water and seconds of labor your searches have generated.

Benelab is based on Yahoo Search, so it’s not a real alternative to the other competitors, but if you want to search for a good cause, you should give it a go.

What other Google search alternatives do you like? Please share in the comments below.

 

Silk: Zen-like Content Management System

Various web-apps tries to overcome the obstacles and headaches of creating web-pages and blogs, with everything from WordPress, Tumblr to Drupal on the market Silk tries to find its own turf, simple and quick.

Silk

Silk is an web app developed in the Netherlands, it is backed by the venture capitalist firm Atomico run by Niclas Zennström co-founder of Skype. So far Silk is in beta, for example the documentation still reads “Contact us if you want to know more about advanced features in Silk” and you have to request access to the API. The editor part of it was released on the 10th of May 2012.

When first starting Silk it’s amazing how scaled back and light-weight the application is, it’s almost like the Iphone when using it for the first time, it didn’t seem to do a whole lot but eventually delivered lots of features.

All pages on a Silk site is structured into categories of your choice, the pages can also be tagged, which is the same functionality available in most blog platforms. A neat feature in Silk is the possibility to import .CSV files, which the system will create a structure from. This saves a lot of time when creating larger sites.

Silk comes with the usual set of text editing features, it is possible to add more advanced functionality to each page by using widgets. There are different kinds of widgets available; charts, recent documents, table of contents, maps (connected to Google Maps) and category listings.

The use case for Silk is a bit blurred, it’s not a replacement of more advanced blog platforms and CMS-systems, clearly. Because it lacks certain key features to run blogs and larger sites. However for whipping together a small data presentation website Silk is still an interesting alternative, one interesting case of Silk usage is the Guardian’s data visualisations and commentary.

As mentioned earlier Silk is still in beta, it’s a bit concerning that it doesn’t seem to be a plan for where Silk is going, hopefully there will be one soon. Given that Silk is light-weight and quick to work with it puzzles me that there is no version where you can edit pages for tablets, such as the Ipad available. To me Silk should really be mobile to be worth the effort, there are better CMS:es and solutions for desktops but not for tablets.

Ipad note taking apps: Notability

One of the many selling points with the Ipad is to take notes, in meetings or on the go. Yet the note-taking application that comes with it has a lot left to be desired (which for a $400-600 device may seem weird).

Notability an app by GingerLabs adds a lot of note functionality to the Ipad not that common in other apps. First of all the app has handwriting recognition, which means that it is entirely possible to use a for the Ipad to take notes, or use your fingers. Using a pen makes the note-taking process much easier than using the keyboard, but using just your fingers is a cumbersome and slow process. I tried it for a while but eventually gave up and bought a capacitive stylus.

Another problem with the handwriting recognition in Notability is the fact that you can’t re-size the letters after writing, other similar apps for the Ipad have this feature.

Notability also has the original Ipad software keyboard functionality as well as recording. Using the word processing functionality is very similar to QuickOffice; there are some basic functionality such as styling, outlining and a spell-checker. The recording feature is actually something that you will use a lot when in meetings, seminars or in lectures, each recording is linked to a note. For example at a seminar you will have both your own notes as well as the voice recordings, which is very neat.

Using the Ipad camera it’s possible to insert images into your notes, and other objects such as web clippings and drawings. A weird thing with Notability is that it isn’t possible to erase lines in drawings, hopefully it will be fixed, but it is a bit awkward to redo drawings when it is impossible to erase parts of them. Features that are included are the usual cut and paste options and highlighting words and paragraphs.

An interesting feature in Notability the possibility to import PDF-files and annotate them. This works very well, the PDF shows up in a notebook and it’s possible to add notes and highlights in and around the PDF. On an older Ipad (1 generation) this feature is a bit slow, however it’s still a very useful feature, saving a lot of paper and weight.

In Notability it is possible to create an unlimited number of notebooks with notes on different subjects, organizing them is done using a drag and drop interface, which is straight-forward. Notebooks and notes can also be password protected and synced with services such as Dropbox, iDisk or WebDAV.

Notability is a neat app, many of the features should have been included with the Ipad from the very beginning, however Notability has great value with lots of features on the cheap. It is definitely one of the best note-taking application for the Ipad, it is also faster and less complex than the main competitor, Evernote.

Boot to Gecko – Mozilla phone operating system

Mozilla is gearing up to conquer the mobile space with their project Boot to Gecko (B2G) for smartphones. The goal is to create an open-sourced standard compliant mobile operating system, challenging iOS and Android.

Boot to Gecko uses HTML 5 and a by Mozilla developed API, most current mobile operating systems requires more complex languages such as C# or JAVA. Using HTML 5 in a mobile operating system is an interesting concept, it means that current web apps already using the technology should have an advantage as porting apps to mobile devices will be much easier than before. If Boot to Gecko becomes a success the web will increasingly become the platform of choice for everything, including mobile devices, rendering separate mobile operating systems useless.

Another interesting point with Boot to Gecko is that operators can now provide services across a range of devices instead of having to port all services to different mobile operating systems.

Mozilla have about 20 full-time engineers working on the project with a handful of volunteers supporting it. A lot of the code is re-used from the mobile version of Firefox.

When looking at the road map it is clear that the project will probably take until fall 2012 to materialize. When the project is done it will probably be an uphill battle to get the OS delivered with new phones, phone manufacturers will be reluctant, no doubt. Right now it is possible to run Boot to Gecko on some Android phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy SII, meaning that a phone does not have to have Boot to Gecko factory installed in order to use it.

The road map for the project also includes some features of the Boot to Gecko operating system, such as a by Mozilla hosted app-store, a e-book reader, a e-mail client and the Firefox browser.

Of course a project like Boot to Gecko might seem like it will never take off or even scratch iOS, Android or Windows Phone penetration, but the mobile space is in the same situation as browsers years ago, with two dominant players. For browsers Microsoft ruled the world with Internet Explorer, the release of Firefox changed all that, perhaps Boot to Gecko will do the same for mobile operating systems.

Demonstration of Boot to Gecko:

Google Drive – Google moves into cloud storage

Google has finally released their own online file sync service after years of rumors; Google Drive will primarily enhance the experience for existing Google Docs users but also strikes a blow to some existing file sync and sharing services.

It’s not like there isn’t any competition in the online backup and file sync sector with services like Carbonite, Dropbox and Microsoft’s Skydrive. Although it isn’t surprising that Google is moving in to the space it is much less dramatic than most industry “experts” seem to think.

Each Google user have to apply for Google Drive before it’s activated, once it is up and running the existing Google Docs directory will become Google Drive. The difference between Google Drive and the old Docs directory is that it is possible to automatically sync files between Google Docs, a desktop/laptop computer and Android devices (Ipad and Iphone apps are on the way when this is written).

Syncing from a desktop or laptop is done by downloading an application running in the background automatically syncing selected files. We tested the app with Windows 7 without any issues.

Another interesting part of Google Drive is the collaboration options, although they already existed in Google Docs it’s now possible to easily share a document using Google + or even better e-mail a link to a bulky document in Google Drive using Gmail.

Google Drive also saves all changes to documents, making it possible to go back to previous versions easily. This makes Google Drive more similar to Dropbox than pure backup services like Carbonite.

When we tested Google Drive it was apparent that Google put some time into making the app display different file formats, for example it is possible to view Photoshop and Illustrator files without any third party programs.

Google offers 5 GB of free storage, which falls somewhere in between Dropbox (2 GB) and Skydrive (7 GB). It is enough storage for most personal needs, however Google offers up to 16 TB of data. 25 GB of data costs $2.49 / month and 100 GB $4.99, compared to Dropbox which offers 100 GB for 19.99/month this is cheap. When buying Google Drive space, the storage can also be used for Picasa.

The ones that should be scared of Google Drive is not Microsoft, because it is not a threat to Skydrive as Microsoft’s alternative is integrated in Microsoft Office, tightly. Instead Google Drive is a direct attack on services like Dropbox and Sugarsync, which has nothing to offer in terms of integration. Overall Google Drive is a good product, it has more value than Dropbox but is also a solid alternative in it’s free version.

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