Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Using Your iPad at Uni

So a whole semester of uni is over! And I've had the chance to go through it all with my trusty iPad! When mates at uni walk by and see me with my iPad the first thing they usually ask is "Is it worth it?"

Simply put, yes it is! Having said that, the tablet experience is a whole different and new paradigm of computing compared to a netbook or a laptop which run full fledged operating systems (Windows, OS X) and it takes early adopters such as myself to really suss out what this device is capable of doing - it's what we live for! I'm happy to say that over the course of the semester my iPad has only been able to do more and more things with far more efficiency since day 1 of it's launch, and there are no signs of stopping!

So for those of you who are still on the fence or skeptical about what the iPad can do vs a laptop, here are some observations and answers which may help you out!

Let's begin with the basics. Here are 2 absolutely barebones essential apps for every uni student with an iPad:

Dropbox (free app, free service)

I cannot express how vital this service is, and the best thing is, it doesn't cost a cent! Simply put, Dropbox is a "virtual folder" which is shared amongst all your different devices - your home computer, laptop, smartphone, tablet, you name it! This means if you add a file into one computer's dropbox, it will appear in every other device's Dropbox!

Here's a typical scenario: I have lecture notes to bring to my lecture and I have Dropbox set up on my home computer and iPad. All I have to do is drop the lecture notes into my dropbox, and head off to uni. Once in class, I use the Dropbox app on my uniweb-connected iPad to open up the lecture notes which I dropped in earlier. Note the same can be done with a laptop, if you so desire. It effectively eliminates the need for a USB stick or the need for you to tediously download the same file onto both computers! It's simply amazing and without it, the iPad experience at uni simply would not be feasible.

Honestly though, I think every uni student should have this if they own more than 1 computer. It just makes life a lot easier. Dropbox actually has a referral program where you both get 250mb of extra dropbox space for free if you refer a friend! If you want to get it, use this link!! GET DROPBOX FROM ME! =D

GoodReader for iPad ($2.49)

This app truly gives you bang for your buck. for $2.49 you have everything you need to both organise your files AND annotate them! Annotations were actually a newly implemented feature and previously, only iAnnotate could do that, and that app was very costly in comparison ($12.99) so adding this feature without upping the cost makes this app a must-have!

The purpose of GoodReader for a uni student is to be a file management system. iPad apps run in their own little sandbox and so there is really no "file explorer". Luckily this app's sole purpose is to be a file manager and this it does well. It has Dropbox support integrated into it so you can download a hard copy of all your lecture notes whenever you get to class.

The killer feature of GoodReader is it's new ability to annotate all PDFs. You can highlight text, draw free-hand, or add in annotation bubbles. These are all viewable on any Windows or Mac computer and are of course, printable. Once you're done with annotating, it will prompt you whether to save to the original document or save an annotated copy. I suggest saving a copy, since you will want to re-upload it back to Dropbox and you will be able to tell which one is annotated and which one isn't. Uploading to Dropbox is also integrated into this app!

WARNING USYD STUDENTS : I had trouble accessing Dropbox via the usyd wireless VPN and I haven't really tried looking for a solution since I only go there occasionally. UNSW does not have this problem!


Any iPad used for typing MUST NEED A CASE, otherwise typing will just look plain awkward. The official Apple case is pretty decent, and an alternative I would recommend if you don't mind a bit of bulk is the Marware Ecovue or Ecoflip.

The Official Apple iPad Case in typing mode

The Marware Ecoflip / Ecovue cases in typing mode

Once your iPad is angled in such a fashion, typing is pretty similar to typing on a keyboard, except its more like tapping on a solid screen and there is no tactile feedback. There is definitely a learning curve but by mid-way through the semester I was already touch typing in lectures. Autocorrect really helps on the iPad where it fails on the iPhone, since you tend to type proper english words during a lecture rather than slang words like LOLLLL or AAHHH which never bode well with auto-correct.

Now that we've equipped our iPad with the necessary gear for university use, we can now look at some of the other neat features which the iPad excels at compared to netbooks and laptops.

Saving money and the trees!

You can use iBooks (a free app) to view your textbooks or you can just read it from GoodReader. Using your iPad to replace textbooks comes with many advantages, but isn't without its drawbacks.

Firstly, it will lighten up your bag if you bring textbooks with you a lot! One iPad is about 700g, which is lighter than most textbooks already! Imagine having 4 textbooks in your iPad, and already, you are saving a considerable amount of effort and uncomfort compared to lugging around 4 huge textbooks in your bag. If you tend to keep your textbooks at home, then this may not apply as much to you, but I can definitely say it's good to have the option of having access to your texts at anytime on the go.

Speaking of savings, if you know where to look for textbook e-books, then you won't have to spend a cent on them! This semester, I was able to find ebooks for 2 of my courses. 1 course didn't need any, and another course didn't have the e-book version, but luckily I was able to borrow it off my friend. The amount I saved this semester alone has already paid for half of the iPad. It will only take another semester for the iPad to pay for itself just in textbook money!

Here are some ebook websites which you can browse around for textbooks or even books in general:

I'm not a big reader myself, but for book enthusiasts out there, think about having your whole bookshelf of books ready to read at the touch of a finger, all in one handheld device!

The biggest drawback of e-books is the slightly difficult task of switching back and forth from 2 non-consecutive pages. I found that pages which referenced figures or tables which were on a different page made it a bit tedious to keep switching back and forth, especially if they were more than a few pages away. I can only hope that a developer will somehow tackle this problem in an app.

I'm also quite happy to say that I have not printed out a single page of uni material this semester. The amazing thing was that I wasn't even trying - this was simply a side effect of going digital with a tablet device! Imagine the amount of paper we could save if we all used tablets!

Going digital is a big leap and saves me about half cardboard box of printed scrap paper which I will never see again and just take up space in my cupboard. Having a digitised version of all my annotated notes will also make it easier for me to find something down the track, since I can just do a search for all the files which I've created.

iPad Vs Laptop

Firstly, you wouldn't read e-books on a laptop. The form factor is just not right. It's too big and bulky and doesn't have the instant-on nature of the iPad. It's simply not intimate enough compared to a tablet device for e-book reading. It's a breeze to whip out an iPad on a train or bus and makes for an excellent commute buddy.

Interestingly, I found that when I used my iPad during a lecture, I was more attentive than on the days where I had a laptop with me. This effect is two-fold:

The touch interface makes for a more interesting and novel way of annotating and viewing notes, and engages you more than a keyboard.

Also, the fact that only one app at a time can be visible on the iPad makes it less likely for you to switch to a browser app to bludge on facebook, something which is is just too easy to do on a laptop! It tends to force you to just stay on GoodReader and just focus.

However, the iPad has it's own drawbacks!

Most importantly, the fact that it can only view one app at a time severely limits it's a ability to view several files at once. This is kind of relieved with iAnnotate's ability to view tabbed PDFs, but is still just not the same as having a few pdf docs open on a laptop, both visible at the same time. As a result, I found myself needing to use my iPad with either a laptop or a lab computer to study while at uni. Dropbox makes it possible to access your files from any computer with a web browser, so it's yet another reason it's so vital for the iPad experience.

Also, I've found the wifi radio to be slightly weaker on the iPad than a normal laptop, so in places of weak reception, the iPad will tend to drop out before it. Personally this issue doesn't happen in any of my classrooms, but when out and about at uni, it's sometimes difficult to get a lock on a signal.

The iPad is technically equipped for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, such as assignments or reports, but in the end you'll find that it's much more productive to just use a laptop or computer for these tasks. The iPad is more geared towards viewing and annotations on would be it's limit in terms of editing and content creation. It by no means replaces exercise books either, as handwriting apps are still in their early days, although developers are making good strides in realising the potential to one day do so.

If you're wondering whether the iPad can hold it's own against a netbook or a laptop for uni, it definitely can. With apps like GoodReader and a dropbox account, you can't go wrong when it comes to annotating lecture notes. However, if your course doesn't usually need to use free hand drawing to annotate or if you prefer to summarise what the lecturer is saying by typing it into a doc, then the iPad is probably not for you. However, if you're comfortable with reading textbooks in e-book form, then an iPad could potentially be saving you hundreds of dollars. The scope of this blog post covers only one of the many facets of the iPads capabilities. It is certainly paving the way for the future of computing and there is still an amazing amount of potential which has yet to come.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sync your Facebook Events to your iPhone! [UPDATED!]

Prior to this, all of your facebook events would sync even no matter what you RSVP'd. This updated method will only sync according to what you RSVP! This method also makes it easier to setup.

It's the year everyone turns 21! I've been getting all these invites on Facebook for 21st parties and I was trying to find a nice way to get them to show up on my iPhone calendar without having to add them all manually, since I'm reaching the age where I just can't keep track of my weekly schedule in my head anymore!

That's when it hit me - was there a way to sync my Facebook Events with my iPhone? I actually managed to find a quick solution to this after googling around! Here is a complete 5 minute tutorial, assuming you have no calendar's synced to your iPhone (works on iPod Touch too!)

Warning: This method requires you to have a gmail account. It's free to sign up anyways...hotmail is so 2000.

Adding your Gmail Calendar

Step 1:

Go to Settings>Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Add Account...> Other > Add CalDAV Account

This must be done in this very specific way, otherwise it will not work (believe me, I've tried)

Note! If you already have your gmail calendar synced as part of your Gmail account, or as an Exchange account, delete them after you add this one, or you'll end up with epic double entries!! (WOAHH...DOUBLE ENTRIES!)

Step 2:

Type in the following :

of course, substituting "gmail user" for your own gmail username. Description can be anything.

You should now see the following under Mail, Contacts, Calendars:

Note how your Gmail e-mail is just for mail and notes,while your newly created "Google Calendar" is for calendars (technically we shouldn't have to do this, but for some reason it doesn't work that way =/ )

iPhone prep is done! Now onto Facebook...

Exporting your Facebook Events to Gmail Calendar

Step 3:

Box 1: Choose which events you want to show up on your calendar
Box 2: Click on Google Calendar and you will be redirected to it (log in if needed!)

Step 4:
A link should pop up on your Google Calendar: click "Yes, add this calendar"

A calendar called "FdCal Events" should now be visible!

Step 5:

Now go to https://www.google.com/calendar/iphoneselect on any browser and check the "FdCal Events" Calendar which you just added, so that your iPhone is given the go-ahead to sync the Facebook Calendar to your iPhone (This method works for shared calendars too, if you have any)


Open your Calendar app, give it awhile to sync (you should see a spinning wheel next to your wifi or 3G bar) and hopefully everything syncs up!

Notice how the colours of the dots are the same as the ones on Gmail Calendar. If you're not happy with the colours, then change them on Gmail and it should update on your iPhone!

Let me know if you've had any success with this tutorial!

Hope you can all stay that little bit more organised now =]

Monday, October 11, 2010

Keynote is magical! [Updated Video]

I can't remember the last time I've ever had so much fun with any kind of software related to my education. Enter Keynote - Apple's take on the ever so infamous Microsoft PowerPoint. I had to make a presentation for a design project as part of my undergrad degree and being a Mac user right now kind of makes me feel like I'm cheating!

Using Keynote as my powerpoint presentation was such a breeze and pretty simple to use. I myself have not used MS PowerPoint many times before and yet I was still able to pick up very quickly how to play around with animations and slide transitions. In times when I wanted to find out how to do something, I would simply type it in the search box under help and my problems would be solved straight away through its helpful offline database.

Anyways, without going in-depth, here's what I managed to get going after less than a day of playing around!

[UPDATE] After actually checking the export settings, I realised there was a native option to export it as a video without the need for other screen capturing software! It's much clearer as a result: here it is again with slides advancing every 5 seconds.

As you can see, I was inspired by Apple's own keynotes and used the same theme that Steve Jobs himself uses!

On the day of the presentation I'll also be able to just advance the slides from afar using the IR remote which came with my iMac (which works on any iMac or MacBook!) without needing to tell a friend at my computer to click the trackpad, which is something I see more times than I can bear at many 21st's speeches!

However, using this software was not without its cons...

Firstly, I can't share its goodness in PPT form to anyone on a PC, due to epic fail exporting. It would be analogous to squeezing a square peg through a smaller round hole. In fact, the main reason I made this video was so my partner, a Windows user, could see how the presentation looked!

Secondly, I had to buy a $45 Mini-DisplayPort to VGA adapter for my MacBook Pro to be able to hook up to a projector!

Another weird thing is that animated GIFs aren't supported. See that Knight Rider car there? That was originally a GIF, but I had to screen capture it as a video, and put that in instead. Apple fail!

And another strange thing I noticed is that keynotes with heavy formatting (which will be pretty much all of them) that are imported to an iPad will show up with lots of things missing, which is unfortunate, and has been an unnecessarily big compatibility problem for Apple thus far.

But in the end, I was still completely blown away at how easily I was able to make such a flashy keynote presentation. I daresay it will be very hard to make a keynote presentation of similar quality using Microsoft Powerpoint in a similar amount of time. If you can, then please show me!

The NEW Jailbreak 4.1 explained!

Ok so the new jailbreak for iOS 4.1 is out! This one is a doozy because unlike jailbreak.me for 4.0.1, it actually uses an exploit which makes it impossible to patch with a firmware update. This means ALL OF THESE DEVICES ARE JAILBREAKABLE FOR LIFE! The list is as follows:

>iPhone 3GS (any 3GS, old or new bootrom!)
>iPod Touch 3G
>iPhone 4
>iPod Touch 4G

The only way Apple can fix this exploit is by making the devices with new chips inside! So...what does this mean?

If you plan to get an iPhone 4/iPod Touch 4G and want to jailbreak, NOW IS THE BEST TIME !!!

Soon Apple will release all new stock of iPhone 4 and iPod Touch 4G with new bootroms (like the 3GS) and jailbreaking will once again become a long and arduous wait after each update is released.

I'm not going to bother with a tutorial, as redmondpie has already done a bang up job of it, click here

Tested by a friend on the iPhone 4 and deemed successful!

As a reminder, once you successfully jailbreak and want to get apps for free, go to my tutorial posted here

Monday, October 4, 2010

[APP REVIEW] TripView - Getting home late at night made easy!

So you're out at a party in the city and you've caught public transport out and intend to take the same method to get back home. Most people probably wouldn't plan ahead this much so how do they know when is a good time to leave? If you leave at a bad time you may be waiting at a station for 20 minutes or you could have even missed the last train home and be stuck until the early morning!

tap on your saved trips to view a list of trains which take you from A to B

This is where the convenience of TripView Sydney comes in. It's like having a mini 131500.info in your pocket but all timetable data is stored in your iPhone so you don't need internet to access it. What about timetable changes you ask? There is an option for you to download the latest timetables straight onto your phone and you will be notified whenever the timetables are updated or even when there is trackwork!

The free version has full functionality but does not let you save your trips once you exit the app. It's definitely one of my most used apps and has saved me a great deal of worry and frustration of missing the last train home or knowing how much time I have until the next train arrives. For only $2.49, it's definitely worth every cent!

Using the app is extremely intuitive and very simple to use. For bus routes it even offers a map showing every single bus stop that the bus stops at! Just for kicks they've even thrown in the blue screens scrolling view of the train station stops for any particular train at a train station.

With the tap of the top right icon, the list view switches to a view we're all familiar with!

Unlike 131500 though, it cannot tell you how to get from A to B. You have to know this information to use TripView's simple interface to find out all the information you want. E.g. there is no way of typing "get from my house to this venue" In that sense, it is slightly limited, but I find that I have no need to do this for public transport (I use the "maps" app for driving if I want this functionality)

Also, a side effect of knowing all the public transport times is being disappointed by late buses. If only TripView could make Sydney buses come on time, then this app would be perfect!

(As far as I know, there is no android equivalent, and if there is, please correct me!)

In short, if you're an iPhone/iPod Touch user who uses public transport, then this is definitely a must have app!

Let me know in the comments section what you guys use TripView for =]

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Sorry everyone...doing full time uni is tough so my blog has taken the backseat for awhile! However, I have been posting up a lot of iPhone news on my Facebook (for those of you who know me)! I should find someway to integrate a twitter feed for my blog and link it to my Facebook so you don't have to hunt around everywhere for your latest apple fix and my blog will at least have some activity! Stay tuned!

The latest jailbreak is coming out very very soon...I can taste it!! It's a special release which will jailbreak all existing iOS devices for life for all devices and Apple will need to make iOS devices with new hardware in it to patch it up! That is, they won't be able to patch it by updating! Rejoice!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Jailbreak Me Server Overload!!

When I tried to jailbreak my iPhone on 4.0.1 using http://jailbreakme.com, (See here for jailbreaking tutorial) it did not work at all and I ended up getting stuck on the blank purple galaxy after I swiped to unlock. After several fruitless retries, I resorted to Google to help me solve the problem!

The answer? A jailbreakme MIRROR!

If you can't get jailbreakme.com working, then try this mirror :


It worked for me!! I'm now enjoying iOS 4.0.1 jailbroken on my iPhone 3GS!

Let me know how it went for you all!!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Safari Extensions are awesome!


Today I'd like to share my experience using the newly released Safari Extensions. It's basically typical browser plug-ins and extensions that you may well have used in firefox or chrome, but Apple has just a small curated "Gallery" of extensions. However, what they lack in quantity, they make up for with quality! If you already have Safari 5.0.1, then simply click "Safari>Safari Extensions Gallery" to go to there:

This will open a new browser page of the Extensions Gallery( check it out >here<). All you have to do is Click "Install" to install it! No restarting of the browser is required at all, and you gain the functionality of the extension instantly. I must say after using extensions for Firefox and Chrome, Safari's implementation is by far the most elegant.

Some extensions add more icons into Safari's toolbar. Mine currently looks like this:

The way you install the apps and the way extensions appear in your toolbar are surprisingly reminiscent of installing an app on an iPhone.

In order from left to right after the open new tab icon are:

eBay Spy - apparently meant to compare items on your web page to ebay item listings

Translator - uses Google translate to translate your page in a new tab (Chrome already does this but now Safari can too!)

Web Snapshot - captures a screenshot of your webpage which you can crop and edit with annotations and boxes

ADBLOCK!!! - Possibly the most popular extension on any browser, which gets rid of the annoying Google Adsense ads that appear almost everywhere (it is always on, clicking on this button just takes you to the options page)

Expose your tabs! - Not as good as OS X expose, but it's still something

ScribeFire - clicking this opens a web-app which lets you write blog posts! ( I used it to save a draft of this post to my blogger, which is what started my blog revival)

But there are also some very nice passive extensions, including 3 extensions just for making facebook easier to navigate!

Photo zoom is particularly nice, as when you hover your mouse over any picture (including profile pics in your news feeds!), they blow up to the original size! you can see an example below:

The final extension I'd like to show you is called "A Cleaner Youtube" and pretty much turns youtube.com into old school google.com like so:

I actually scared myself for a second as I thought I'd been phished or something but I remembered I had installed the extension - I just didn't think they'd take "cleaner" to mean "wipe out everything else except the search bar!"

The preference pane in Safari actually has a new addition for Extensions and you can turn features on and off, again without restarting anything (in case a blank youtube scares you too much) :

Apple always seems to be late to implement some features that other platforms or companies have done, but man do they do a good job of it!

Monday, June 14, 2010

From TV and Newspapers to RSS feeds on my iPad

About 15 years ago (give or take a few years), if you wanted to catch up with the latest headlines, you had to tune into one of the free-to-air TV news programs at a specified time in the morning, afternoon and night. Or you could buy a newspaper on your way to work or delivered to your doorstep to peruse while you sip your morning coffee. You didn't have much choice in what news you would be exposed to since the media controlled all of that. If you wanted to read articles you would buy or subscribe to magazines to catch up on the latest fashion trends or the latest and greatest gaming rig around.

It seemed that if you weren't content with what the media showed you on TV, you had to go out of your way (and pay money as well), to get the news or information that you were interested in.

15 years ago, you had to find the news. In 2010, the news finds you.

This paradigm shift of information delivery has slowly but surely changed the way that we read about news in the 21st Century, in many different ways. Here is one such way:

RSS Feeds

An RSS feed is a standardised way for a website to show updated posts whenever they are made. It is the 21st Century "subscription." Many websites these days have an RSS feed associated with them and when you subscribe, you will be notified whenever that website posts up something new. It almost makes you feel silly for constantly checking the sites you visit frequently for new posts when all this time, RSS could do it for you.

The beauty of RSS (apart from being totally free) is that it's standardisation can be abstracted and presented to you in your own personal "reader" (magazine, newspaper) where you have not only one source, but many sources of information from all over the internet. Google reader is one such web app.

Great web app for searching up new RSS feeds with content that you like, but what if you wanted to take it mobile?

But how can I make this information mobile and available at my fingertips in a nice and easy form factor, like a traditional newspaper or magazine? (laptops don't count!)

Enter, the iPad.

The iPad has recently gained a plethora of RSS feed apps which have amazed me and inspired me to write up this huge blog post as it really made me think about how the Internet has personally changed my news-seeking habits. "The Early Edition" was an interesting take in which RSS feeds of your choice were arranged into a newspaper-like format. While you're at home you can load up the latest feeds and read it later offline on the go. It was more of a novel way of reading the news, if anything.

Organising RSS Feeds into a digital newspaper was fun for awhile, but didn't truly show off the elegance and ease of use of what an iPad app could be.

Then a few days ago, "Reeder for iPad" came out. This app is by far the most elegant implementation of RSS Feeds on any device, be it a full fledged PC or mobile.

This app turns your iPad into a news portal, but it is filled with information that you WANT to read!

The screenshot here does the app no justice. It's one of those things you just have to interact with!

It's not a newspaper or a TV program of which a majority of it is content you aren't interested in. It's articles that you want to read, with pictures that you want to see, and videos that you want to watch, because YOU picked it!

In one fell swoop, the iPad is now my newspaper; is my magazine; is my TV. All in one app.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

myPhoneDesktop - Send links to your iPhone or iPad!

myPhoneDesktop App Review

Ever wanted to get a URL or funny picture straight from your computer onto your iPhone or iPad? Ever wanted to type a huge SMS or long string of text on your desktop keyboard with an easy way of sending it to your iOS device? Well you can now, with this crazy little app called myPhoneDesktop.

It eliminates a few steps from the traditional method of perhaps sending an email to yourself and opening it up on your iOS device.

Now, once you've gone through the simple set up of registering an account on the iPhone app and the signing in on the desktop client, (free on OS X, Windows and Linux), then all you have to do is copy a URL or picture or even type up some text, and paste it into the myPhoneDesktop program and it will pop up as a notification on your iOS device!

Upon viewing the notification, you will be taken either to:

>Safari if it was a URL,

>Messages if you composed an SMS with the desktop client

>Phone if you typed in a number and wanted to call some one

>the MyPhoneDesktop app for pictures and text for copying to the clipboard or saving into

I think I find this app exciting because it's making it way easier to communicate and send files between your desktop computer and your mobile device without having to plug anything in. It's one of the problems Apple needs to address natively without the need for such apps, but for now, this app does a great job!

This is a really nifty little app which is a universal binary app for both iPhone and iPad. I advise using different accounts for iPhone and iPad because it seems to not send out broadcasts to all devices logged into the same account, but rather only to the first device which logged into that account.

See the little "iPad" in the top right corner in the screenshots above? The desktop client lets you switch between accounts instantly so you can choose to send to your iPhone or iPad or any other iOS device!