Archive for the ‘Apps’ Category

No Siri? No problem! Dragon Go! Review   2 comments

I have an iPhone 4 and did not upgrade to the iPhone 4S with Siri because I was hoping that the new iPad would come with the personal assistant.  Unfortunately, Apple chose not to install Siri on its latest version of the iPad, perhaps to force others like me to go ahead and upgrade our iPhones if we want to get Siri.  In any case, since the iPhone 5 is rumored to come out in the Fall, I now plan to wait until then to upgrade my iPhone.  In the meantime, I started researching what alternatives there were to Siri that I could use on my iPhone 4, and I came across Dragon Go!

Dragon Go! is a free app that is developed by Nuance Communications.  There are iOS and Android versions of the app.  To use Dragon Go! just tap the record button on the screen and ask away.  For example, you can ask it “What is the weather like today around here?” and it will connect you to Accuweather and will show you the weather in your area.  It will use you phone’s GPS to determine your location.  If you ask “What is the capital of Switzerland?” it will connect you to Ask.com and will give you the answer (Bern, in case you were wondering).  Once you get your answer, Dragon Go! allows you to share it on Facebook, Twitter, or by email.

Below is a list of some of the sites and services that Dragon Go! connects with.  You can see them on the Dragon Carousel, so you can also swipe directly to the site that you want to interact with.

1. Ask.com

2. Wolfram Alpha

3. Yahoo! Answers

4. Answers.com

5. YouTube

6. Twitter

7. Wikipedia

8. Google

9. Open Table

10. Yelp

11. Netflix

12. Fandango

13. IMDB

14. Hulu+

15. Live Nation

16. Milo

17. CNN

18. Spotify

19. Pandora

20. Amazon

Watch how it works in the video review below:

Posted April 1, 2012 by deboraplehn in Apps

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Interview: Drew Smith, developer of MPEP Plus iPad App   Leave a comment

I recently interviewed Drew Smith, the developer of the MPEP Plus iPad App.  He had sent me a free copy of the app to try out, and I decided that rather than write a review, it would be interesting to interview him to find out about how he decided to become an app developer while still in law school.

1.  How did you come up with the idea for your MPEP Plus iPad App?

My firm does a good amount of international work through foreign agents, and I initially planned to make a database of global patent laws and procedures.  My thinking was that it’d be extremely useful to have quick access to, say, rules on novelty in Brazil, without having to search the web and click through a lot of clutter.  But while simple to code, the app became a little problematic, interestingly enough, because of IP issues.  Many foreign governments hold copyrights on their government works.  I found a good number of English translations of foreign-language laws, but many of those were the result of someone’s creative translation.  After a while, my app was so gutted of information that it was essentially just the sites of USPTO and WIPO, with poor auto-translations of a handful of government works.  I refocused the app to only provide the MPEP and supporting materials.  The “PLUS” was my personal joke about my app being better–as if the MPEP, the bible of the industry, is somehow inadequate!

2.  There are already other MPEP apps on the market–how is yours different?

After I released the first version of this app, I looked to see what had already been done.  Surprisingly, there are very few apps that focus on the MPEP, despite the fact that every patent attorney and agent uses it.  I wanted to incorporate things that make the iPad fun, such as touch gestures, animation, and vibrant colors.  I like to think that the use of public-domain patent drawings add a touch of humor, and that the patent-retrieval system is an intersting twist on just punching in a number.  If you’re going to make a program for such a powerful platform, why subject users to page after page of black text?

3.  You are a patent agent and are about to be admitted to the NY bar, right?  How did you become interested in becoming an app developer?

Yes, I’m an agent for about one more week, until I’m sworn in as an attorney.  I’ve always liked programming, probably because it’s in my blood.  My dad got his undergraduate degree in applied math, which was computer programming when computers were the size of a small car.  Later, in the mid-1980s, he was one of the first attorneys to use a computer in his law practice, then started his own software company in the 90s, and put out his own iPad app, Form 14, in January.  (It calculated child support using Missouri guidelines.)  I took a programming class in college, but didn’t consider it as a career.  Later, as an engineer, I modified pieces of software that were in place at the time.  I dabbled in coding a game for the XBox but never made anything worth releasing.  When I started in patent law, I realized that I needed something to distinguish myself as a patent professional.  There will always be people with better degrees, or better grades, so why would a client pick me?  So I’d say I got into iOS programming half for my own enjoyment, and half to show a subset of potential clients that I can handle at least some of their inventive subject matter.

4.  Do you have any advice for others who are interested in developing their own apps?

I’d say dream big, but start small.  My first app, Dial-a-Patent, was a slightly tweaked calculator from the first tutorial of Paul Hegarty’s iOS development class on iTunes U.  I wanted to do amazing things, but I had to keep it in perspective.  Also, I’d estimate that learning Objective-C and Xcode took me around fifty hours.  That’s just time spent running through tutorials and reading about syntax!   That being said, if a person is dedicated enough, once they get past the initial learning curve, integrating functionality is not nearly as daunting.  If a person has capital but not time, there are lots of talented programmers out there who would make an app for cheap.

5.  Are you currently working on new apps?  Any hints?

Since I’ve started developing, I’ve had people approach me with a few non-legal ideas, almost all of which incorporate the  most interesting features of iOS: animation, facial recognition, photo integration, geolocation, 3D modeling, RSS feeds, and so on.  Unfortunately, because they are for other people or entities, I can’t really discuss them.  I’ve considered doing apps for other areas of law, or law students, but don’t have a “hook,” like patent illustration, just yet.  The next thing that I’ll release will probably be a patent form app.  It would be useful if you need to fill out an IDS, or declaration, and don’t have your computer in front of you.  In addition, there will be a couple of other features that I hope will utilize the benefits of the hardware.

6.  What are your favorite apps for (a) work and (b) play?

I  don’t use too many apps at work, other than my own!  But I can say that Penultimate and iAnnotate PDF really helped when I was studying for the patent bar.  For fun, the app I’ve used most, hands down, is Hipstamatic.  I play a good number of games on the subway, like NBA 2K12 and Final Fantasy Tactics.  And apps like HBO Go and Netflix provide a good dose of entertainment at the end of the day.

Skitch for iPad–proof that a pic is worth a thousand words   Leave a comment

I’ll admit that while I greatly admire the artistic creations of others, I always wish I were more artistic myself.  Now there’s an app for the techies among us who like to feel artisitc without really having to be Michelangelo…

Evernote just came out with Skitch for iPad, a free app that lets you annotate pictures or screencaps.  I just started testing it out and I am totally hooked!  It is so easy to use that literally even those of us who feel they have ten thumbs can use it!  Here is a summary of all that it can do and how it works:

1.  Pics:  Skitch lets you upload pics from your iPad memory or if you have an iPad2, you can snap a photo right away.  You can also download pics from the Internet into your iPad and then upload them onto the Skitch app.

2.  Screenshots:  You can also take a screenshot from your iPad by holding down the Home button and the On button at the same time.  This will automatically save a picture of what is on your iPad’s screen  into your iPad’s photo album.

3.  Freestyle:  You can also draw freestyle right into the Skitch app by clicking on the “Blank” button on the app’s homepage.

4.  Annotate:  There are several ways you can annotate.  Skitch allows you to draw or write with your finger.  Just click on the pencil icon and draw away! You can select the color and size of the pencil from the menu.  Right now there are only 8 choices:  yellow, blue, red, brown, deep red, green, black and white.  Hopefully the selection will be expanded.  Anyone who knows me knows that I would of course love to see purple!

5.  Type:  You can also type into a text box and place it wherever you want on your picture.

6.  Arrows:  You can select the arrow icon and it allows you to draw arrows simply by dragging your finger across the pic.

7.  Share:  You can share your creation on Twitter, email or Airplay.  You can of course also save it to your Evernote account.

I have had so much fun trying out this app.  So far, it seems to be a big success.  Everyone is now asking when the Skitch app will be available for the iPhone.  Evernote promises that it is “in the works.”  For now, I’m going to enjoy playing with it on my iPad and feeling like I can be “artistic” too.

Posted December 25, 2011 by deboraplehn in Apps, iPad

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A free personal assistant for the rest of us: Siri app   1 comment

Who hasn’t dreamed of having their own personal assistant, the way celebrities do?  Someone to make appointments for you, call your favorite restaurant to make a reservation, order you a taxi etc?  It turns out, there’s an app for that, and it’s called Siri.  Siri was developed through SRI International’s CALO artificial intelligence project to design a “personal assistant that learns.”    It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, right?  Apple was so impressed with the technology that it purchased Siri, and there are rumors that the Siri personal assistant will become integrated in future iOS versions, so that there will no longer be the need to download the app to have access to your own personal assistant.  It is rumored that the iPhone 5 will have this feature, called the “Assistant.”  Luckily, for now the app is still available for free in the iPhone app store for those of us who have earlier iPhones.  There is unfortunately no iPad app yet, although one is rumored to be in the works.

To use Siri, you must enable GPS location and tell Siri (optional) where you live and work so that it can find places close to either location.  You may either type in your requests, or speak them.  Some examples of what Siri does:

1.  Make restaurant reservations, through partnerships with Open Table.  You can ask it “find a Chinese restaurant near work” and it will give you list of options.  You can then decide if you want to make a reservation or if you want to call the restaurant.

2. Order a taxi for you, through Taxi Magic.

3.  Siri partners with Rotten tomatoes, for movie reviews, and with Yelp for reviews of just about any business.

4.  You can ask Siri “When is Josh Groban playing Madison Square Garden” and it will not only tell you, it will give you several options for purchasing tickets, such as StubHub.  I must admit, I tried this myself, just to see if it worked.

5.  Siri will also tell you the weather and provide recommendations on how to dress!  This is thanks to a partnership with Weather Bug.

6.  Give you updates on your flight’s status through a partnership with Flight Stats.

7.  Email yourself reminders of things to do, such as buy flowers for Mom on Mother’s Day!

It will be exciting to see how this technology develops, especially if it becomes an integral part of the iPhone’s operating system.  It will certainly reduce time browsing the web, since it is easier simply to give Siri a voice command and the app does it all for you.  Highly recommended!

Posted September 18, 2011 by deboraplehn in Apps

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How to remember your passwords and keep them safe–eWallet   2 comments

If you’re anything like me you have tens of passwords and userids to remember and have trouble keeping track of them all.  I used to try to use the same password for every website, but then some websites started requiring a number, or two numbers, or the use of a special character, or the use of a capital letter in the password, and it became impossible to remember them all.  I therefore decided to buy an app to help me keep track of my passwords and login information.  I decided on eWallet after reading some positive reviews.

eWallet has iPhone, iPad and android apps, as well as versions for the PC and Mac.  I first downloaded the iPad app which costs  $9.99, and the iPhone app automatically downloaded to my iPhone without any extra charge.  Unfortunately, I had to pay another $19.99 to download the version for my PC.  It is not absolutely necessary to have it on your PC, since, as I will explain, it is possible to synch directly between the iPhone and the iPad, but I thought it was safer to have all my information stored securely on my PC as well as on my mobile devices.  eWallet uses secure 256-bit AES encryption to protect your information.

Synching between devices is not as seamless as I had hoped.  Both the iPhone and the iPad apps synch with the PC, but it is not done automatically as with cloud-based apps like Evernote.  Instead, you have to open eWallet on both your PC and your mobile device.  When you hit the “synch” button, the mobile device will give you an access code that you have to type into your PC eWallet program for the synching to begin.  You can then synch in the same fashion between the PC and your second mobile device.  There is also a way to synch directly between the iPhone and the iPad.  Let’s say you have all your information stored on your iPad.  You can then hit “backup” and eWallet will ask you for an email to which to send a file containing all your backed up information.  You can then open this email on your iPhone and click “open in eWallet.”  This will automatically save all your information on your iPhone.  Not as easy as one would hope, but it works!  Hopefully, Ilium, the makers of eWallet, will upgrade the app so that it supports automatic cloud-based synching like Evernote does.

eWallet stores all your information in the form of “cards” which look like credit cards.  Every card has space for saving userids, passwords, emails, urls etc.  There are several templates, and you can also customize cards to suit your needs.  eWallet has a feature called Auto Pass which automatically enters your passwords for you when you visit a website.  It also has a feature called Smart Copy which allows you to easily copy the information on a card and paste it into a website or email.  At present, you can print out all your cards at once, but you cannot print out only one card at a time.  This is something Ilium states on their website that they are working on.

All in all, I recommend buying this app, despite the cumbersome synching.  I think it does all that it promises to do, and has made my life easier.  Hopefully, future upgrades will take care of the features which still need improving.  Do any of you recommend any other apps for storing passwords etc.? If so, please let me know in the comments section.  Thanks!

Posted August 14, 2011 by deboraplehn in Apps

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Evernote wants to be a 100 year company   Leave a comment

Since I got my iPad, and started trying out different apps, Evernote has become my favorite app.  At first I was a bit skeptical to even try it… Did I really need an app to take down notes when I could just as easily use the “Notes” application on my iPad or iPhone? The answer is YES.  As I discussed in an earlier post, Evernote does much more than mere note-taking, and it allows you to synch your notes, pdfs and files among different devices through cloud computing.

One example of a new Evernote application that does not involve mere note-taking, is Evernote Peek, which is great for students as an alternative to old-style flashcards:


But now that there are so many other note-taking apps out there, how does Evernote plan to stay competitive and relevant?  Evernote hopes to answer that question at its first Evernote Trunk Conference for developers that will be held in San Francisco on August 18, 2011.  Evernote’s goal is to become a productivity platform, and to provide services that will enhance the user’s experience beyond mere note-taking and memory storage.  This is how Evernote plans to use the recent $50 million in funds it recently obtained, and become a 100 year company.

Posted July 24, 2011 by deboraplehn in Apps, Uncategorized

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New iPad and not sure where to start? Try AppStart!   Leave a comment

Buying a new iPad can be a bit overwhelming.  You want to load it up with apps but are not sure where to begin.  The app store now has more than 100,000 iPad apps!

A good place to start is by getting the AppStart iPad app.  It was actually recommended to me by an employee at the Apple store in Atlantic City.  Last weekend, I went with my family to Atlantic City and instead of going to the casinos, the first place I headed was the Apple store on the Pier at Caesar’s Palace.  What a nerd!  As I have said in previous posts, I have a first generation iPad and although I already have a few apps that are my go-to apps for work and fun, I am always on the lookout for new apps to try.  The employee at the Apple store recommended that I get the AppStart app.

When you open it up, AppStart looks like a magazine with a great layout and headlines that link to various articles.  For example, you have “The first 10 apps everyone needs to download” or “How to dump your laptop.”  This makes it very easy to decide where to go first.  The articles then list recommended apps with links to the app store.

So whether you’re a new iPad user, or someone like me who has had one for a few months but is still discovering new uses for it…give AppStart a try.

Posted July 15, 2011 by deboraplehn in Apple, Apps, iPad

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Too many bookmarks and favorites? 3 ways to save material to read later.   2 comments

We’ve all been there. We find a great article or blog post to read online, or on Twitter, and we just don’t have the time to read it right then and there. So we bookmark it, or if we’re on Twitter we “favorite” the tweet and hope to get back to it later. Of course, we rarely do.

Here are three useful ways to save material to read later. Two of them, I use regularly, and the third I hope to try soon.

1. The first is Evernote. In a previous blog post I talked about how I use Evernote to read pdfs. Another great use for Evernote is to copy a link that you want to go back to later, open a note in Evernote and copy the link. The cool thing about Evernote is that you can tab your notes. For example, I have notes that I tab “blog” where I save blog ideas and links to articles or blog posts that inspire me to write a post on my blog. Evernote also allows you to “clip” sections of a webpage and save that to read later by copying it into a note.

2. The second is Instapaper. Instapaper can be installed on your Mac or PC, and it exists as an iPhone and iPad app. What it does is that it allows you to create a bookmark named “Read later” and when you are at a webpage that has content that you want to save to read later, you simply click on your “Read later” bookmark, and the content of the webpage gets sent to Instapaper. You can then go to Instapaper and (you guessed it) read it later! The advantage of Instapaper is that once you have something saved on your device using their app, you do not need an internet connection to go back and read it later. For example, if you save something with Instapaper on your iPad, you can go back and read it later even if you don’t have an internet connection. This is great for people who don’t have 3G on their iPad. Instapaper also allows you to share content, or to access content recommended by others, so you will always have something ready to read at your fingertips. Ironically, for a service that many people use to keep up with reading the news, Instapaper was recently in the news itself because the FBI seized a server that it was leasing in an unrelated raid on a scareware ring.

3. The third is Safari’s upcoming Reading List. Apple is coming up with its own Instapaper-like service called Reading List which will be part of iOS5 and Lion this fall. It will reportedly synch with iOS devices, much like Instapaper does. I look forward to trying it when it comes out this fall.

Posted June 30, 2011 by deboraplehn in Apps

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Dropbox security issues   Leave a comment


In my last post I promised that I would write about security issues with cloud-based web services. As fate would have it, there have been several recent stories about Dropbox security issues. As this article on CNET explains, on June 19 a bug with their authentication system permitted access to Dropbox without passwords for a period of 4 hours. Dropbox has assured users that its service is secure, and that the files stored on Dropbox are encrypted using the same secure methods as banks and the military. In response to allegations that Dropbox employees are able to access user data, Dropbox has responded that a small number of employees must be able to access user data for the reasons stated in their privacy policy (e.g. when legally required to do so) (Read: subpoena). For more details read this report on a complaint that was filed at the FTC in May by a prominent security researcher.
The bottom line is that Dropbox is a very convenient service, but like with all online services, you should be aware of the security issues. Personally, I still use Dropbox, however I mostly use it to store pdfs of documents like published or issued patents which are publicly available, and which I need to read on my iPad for my job. You can’t beat the convenience of uploading a pdf to Dropbox from your laptop or desktop computer and then being able to access it anywhere with your iPad or iPhone or on any other computer which has Dropbox installed.

Posted June 26, 2011 by deboraplehn in Apps

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Reading pdf files with Dropbox   Leave a comment

In my last post I talked about how I use Evernote to store pdf files in the “cloud” of cyberspace where they can be accessed and read from any mobile device or computer that has Evernote installed. Another way to store documents and files in the cloud is by using Dropbox. Dropbox has free iPad and iPhone apps, and you can also install it for free on your computer (PC or Mac). Dropbox gives you 2G of free storage space in the cloud. When I’m on my iPad and I download a pdf file, for example, I am automatically asked if I want to open it in Dropbox, Evernote, iBooks etc. If I click on Dropbox, the pdf will automatically open in Dropbox and be stored in the cloud. I can create folders in which to organize my files, and the cool thing is that all my files on Dropbox can be accessed from my iPad, iPhone and computer. You can also use Dropbox to store photo, music or video files. Dropbox has an integrated music player, or you can use iTunes to access the music or video files in Dropbox and open them in iTunes. This has saved up a lot of space on my computer! Of course, if you use Dropbox heavily, as I do, you quickly use up the free 2G of space. You can then upgrade to a Pro account for a fee, if you need more space. For example, for a one time payment of $99 a year you get 50G of space and for $199 a year you get 100G.

Dropbox has been so successful that there are now many other services that allow you to store files in the cloud (Apple’s iCloud being the most talked-about recently!). I will review them in future posts so stay tuned!

ETA: there have been many concerns lately about security issues with these cloud-based services. This will also be the subject of a future post.

Posted June 21, 2011 by deboraplehn in Apps

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