The easiest way to set up a family calendar on your smartphone (and how to avoid those “but I didn’t know you’d organised something for tonight” moments)

Calendar: Month View
Calendar: Month View (Photo credit: pouwerkerk)

One of my favourite things about owning a smartphone is that I no longer need to remember anything, ever. I simply put a reminder in my phone’s calendar and keep my phone within earshot.
One of the downsides unfortunately, was I tended to forget to inform the other half of events he was supposed to go to too.. Since I have an iPhone and he has a Samsung it took me a while to work out how to set up a joint calendar. Six months ago I did and seriously, it really works well!
There are loads of ways to do this but here’s how we did it:

1. I set up a new gmail account

2. I registered that account on both our phones (in the same way you set up your personal email account). You don’t need to use that account for emails, just make sure you have “calendars” switched to “on” when you set up the account on your phones.

3.When I put an event in my calendar I can choose to put it in my personal calendar (if it’s just a reminder for me) or the new gmail calendar. When it’s something we both need to know about I select the new calendar. It appears  and behaves exactly the same as any other event/reminder in my calendar.

4. Et Voila! It magically appears in my husband’s phone’s calendar too and we both get reminded about it.

Now we are changed people, incredibly organised and forward planning.  The old “but you never told me…” has been replaced with “Well, I had the girls/boys night out in the calendar weeks ago..”.  Much harder to argue with 🙂

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App of the Week: InstaStitch – an easy photo collage maker

Why InstaStitch?

I have finally started using a journal app to record special moments with my family – something I’ve been planning to do for a long time.  I’m trying to stick to just one picture per day, but sometimes I need more than one photo to properly capture a moment, or can’t decide which photo is best – which is where this app come in handy!

What does it do?

You can very easily create a photo collage with up to 5 photos per collage, 38 different layouts, customised borders and 20 lovely photo effects.

How does it work?

1. Select a layout

2. Pick photos from your camera roll

3. Apply filters (each photo in your layout can have a different filter) and adjust borders

4. Save to your camera roll

Cost?

Free!!

The Verdict

Love it!  Really easy to use and a lovely way to capture multiple special moments in one picture.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Anything else?

I used InstaStitch on my iPhone 4 3G running iOS6.0.1.

The pictures in the slideshow were created by my kids using the Balloonimals app 🙂

I’m trying out the TinyBeans journal app – really liking it so far too. I know some of the other journal apps have photo collage functionality built in – but for some reason I’m finding the InstaStitch/TinyBeans combo is working for me.

Any other great photo or journal apps out there worth trying?

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Top 5 Apps Your Kids Will Love This Week

See on Scoop.itUseful Apps

Chris Crowell is a veteran kindergarten teacher and contributing editor to Children’s Technology Review, a web-based archive of articles and reviews on apps, technology toys and video games. Download a free issue of CTR …

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5 essentials Microsoft Surface must get right (IMHO)

 

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18:  The Microsoft tabl...
LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 18: The Microsoft tablet Surface (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

There’s a lot of talk about what the new Microsoft surface tablet will do – call me skeptical, but I want to actually use it before I get too excited.  I have a Windows 7 tablet that I thought would be a cross over device (both laptop and tablet), just like Windows Surface. As it is, I have 5 major peeves with it, and these are 5 things that the Surface must do well (not just “do”) before I’ll buy it.

Background

I have an Asus EP 121 Slate and have a love hate relationship with it. Mainly because I tried to use it as my primary device for about 6 months (when my laptop died) which accentuated it’s drawbacks.  I absolutely love the concept of the cross over device and have high hopes for Surface.

ASUS Eee Pad Slate
ASUS Eee Pad Slate (Photo credit: Masaru Kamikura)

Microsoft Surface Top 5 “Must Haves” 

1. A built in kick stand that works:  Why is this my #1?  Because my Slate just would not stand up properly, period.  What seemed at the start to be a minor inconvenience very quickly became a major issue.  I Skype my folks back home with the kids twice a week and the cover/stand just would not support it properly, especially if the kids so much as breathed on it.  My folks spent quite a bit of time talking to the ceiling, a nice decorative ceiling, but they would have preferred to see their grandkids.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18:  The Microsoft tabl...
LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 18: The Microsoft tablet Surface is unveiled during a news conference at Milk Studios on June 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

2. A great integrated keyboard: The keyboard that came with the Slate was always somewhere else.  Not the manufacturers fault you would think, but it was quite big relative to the Slate so would be stored in a cupboard somewhere random and unfindable.  I also found the onscreen keyboard really difficult to use accurately, which is strange considering I can easily type emails on my iPhone. That, combined with the Slate constantly falling over, meant I used my iPhone as my primary emailing device for most of the 6 months I was without a laptop. I can’t wait to find out if the keyboard cover for the Surface works well, it certainly looks fantastic.

3. Light and Truly Portable: The Slate is officially 1.16kg (2.6lbs) but feels much heavier. In fact, it’s 1.57kg (3.5lbs) with battery and case according to my kitchen scales. It’s got a 12.1 inch display and is 312 x 207.2 x 16.95 mm (WxDxH) overall.  This combined with the weight means it’s not small and light enough to carry around in my handbag and use as a truly portable device. Surface promises to be 0.7-0.9kgs (1.5 – 2lbs) and 9-13mm thick, almost half the weight and thickness of my Slate.

4. Long Battery Life:  The Slate officially had 4.5 hours but didn’t seem to last that long. It will be interesting to see how Surface fares.  Good battery life on a portable device is obviously essential.

5.  Great Windows 8 touch screen experience: I cannot wait to try out Windows 8 (I did try to upgrade to the pre release but had some issues). Everyone knows that Windows 7 doesn’t provide the best touch screen experience but it’s worth mentioning here as it contributed to my overall underwhelming experience.

So there you have it.  If you have been lucky enough to get close to a Surface tablet and can comment on any of the above, please do!

Anything else you think Surface must do before you’d buy it?

You might also like to read : 10 reasons I can’t wait to get a Microsoft Surface Tablet by Debra Littlejohn Shinder at TechRepublic

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App of the Week: Readability

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Why Readability?

Last week I wrote this post on how many of us are using tablets as reading/consuming devices on the move and leaving our laptops at home. Readability is making it really easy for me to save articles to read later on the train.

What does it do?

You can save links to your reading list or send them to your Kindle –  “Read Later”.  You can also change the font size etc. to make a web page easier to read – “Read now”.

Readability
Chrome browser extension

How does it work?

1. Set up a Readability account

2. Install the Readability app on your iPhone/tablet

3. Install a Readbility browser add-on on your PC

4. Add the Readability bookmarketlet to Safari  on your iPhone/Tablet

5.  Start building your reading list!

Cost?

Free!!

The Verdict

Brilliant!!  Really easy to set up and use. I used to clog up my Favourites with articles to read later and email links to myself to read on the train – no more!

There are a few similar apps out there, this is a good article by Allyson Kazmucha at www.imore.com which compares the different offerings.

Anything else?

I used Google Chrome on my Windows 7 laptop and Safari on my iPhone when trying this app out. Multiple browsers and operating systems are supported, including Android – see http://www.readability.com for more details.

Do you use Readability (or one of the other similar apps) already? If so, do you like it? Have you any other apps you’d like to recommend?  I’m always on the look out for good ones..

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Portability, 1980’s style?

I saw this yesterday on Engadget.  It’s a portable 3D printer that fits in a briefcase.

Ben Heck's portable 3D printer via Jason Hidalgo at Endgaget
Ben Heck’s portable 3D printer via Jason Hidalgo at Endgaget

Now, I realise that this is an amazing feat of technology, the culmination of decades of research unfathomable only a short time ago. I mean, the fact that we will all soon be able to afford our own 3D printers (see my previous post) is mind blowing and I am in no way trying to belittle this tremendous achievement – but the fact is, this photo really made me giggle.

Back to the future?

You see, it reminded me of those “mobile” phones, back in the 80’s, that were so big they had to be carried round in briefcases. I imagined myself in a park chasing after the kids with my mobile phone in one hand…. and the briefcase in the other… not!  Can you picture city streets full of people chatting on their briefcase mobile phones today? How on earth would they hold their coffee?  Ok, so maybe I’m alone on this one..

gdgt: at&t museum briefcase phone
gdgt: at&t museum briefcase phone (Photo credit: Lynn Friedman)

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “portable” in the context of a “device” I am expecting a pocket or handbag sized device – not a briefcase sized one – irrespective of definitions and whether the printer is actually portable or not.

Are gadgets getting smaller or bigger?

Anyway, it got me thinking about how my perception of “mobile” and/or “portable” has changed over the years.  Do you remember the days when phones were getting smaller and smaller and we all thought we’d end up with the phone parts embedded in our little fingers and thumbs so we’d look like we had imaginary phones? Then the iPhone came along and mobile phones got bigger again. Then the iPad came along and portable devices got bigger again. Right now tablets seem to have stabilized size wise and as they replace laptops as the device of choice for work, the days of lugging briefcase sized gadgets around (for the average person) might be over.

Portability 2012 style

Personally I have never carried around any printer (portable or not, big or small) on a regular basis as I don’t consider then truly portable for day to day use. I consider them portable in the way that a portable television is portable, or a portacot is portable. I can certainly move them to another location without having to call for backup, but I’d think twice before doing it due to the effort and potential complication involved (ever had one of those portacot frames stubbornly refuse to click into place? You’re not alone..).

How do I define whether a device is truly portable?

My home laptop is truly portable (15 inch screen, full keyboard) in that I can easily move it around the house one handed (essential with two toddlers underfoot). Portability was one of my key criteria when looking for a new laptop (see my previous post here).

On that basis I reckon a modern-ish 15″ laptop is my upper limit of a truly portable device these days, from a size and weight perspective. I’m not saying the bigger devices aren’t portable, just that I would be unlikely to carry them around with me on a regular basis, or at all. Just because it says portable on the label, doesn’t mean I’m going to agree!

Your thoughts?

What do you think when you hear the words “portable device”?  Are you expecting something you can carry around in your pocket or handbag?  Do you think your expectations when you hear the word “portable” have changed over the years?

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BYOD: what does it mean?


How many people at your workplace use their personal iPad? Quite a few do at mine and they can’t even connect them to the company network. They can get round this by emailing information to and from their work account or using flash drives. The company I work for has no plan in the short-term to allow anyone connect a personal device to the company network – yet there are more iPads and personal tablets being carted around every week.

What does BYOD mean?

Technically Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) implies that any personal device can be used at work – tablet, smart phone or computer, but the reality at the moment is that people want to be able to use their tablet, most commonly their iPad, on the company network.

Realistically resistance to BYOD is futile – tablets are getting cheaper, the market is expanding and gen y are going to do what they want anyway – so why are companies trying to resist the inevitable?

Why are some companies against BYOD?

Well, here’s a few reasons:

1. Security issues – BYOD could stand for bring your own disease (as in virus) and your device may not be as secure as a company issued device. What if it gets left in a bar and someone is able to access sensitive data?

2. Invalid Licensing – certain software licences may only allow installation on company owned computers

3. Increased Support Costs – what if something goes wrong with the device? Is the company’s help desk obliged to fix it? What if they can’t, will that employee be unable to work?

4. Loss of Data – What if an employee leaves the company – can the company wipe the device? Including all that employee’s photos and other personal stuff?

5. Illegal activity – What if the employee downloads pirated music or movies or god forbid something worse?

Why should companies allow BYOD?

These, and pretty much any other issues have been asked and answered by all the companies that have embraced BYOD. Most issues can be covered off by a BYOD policy regarding reasonable use. There’s a good article here on what needs to be covered.

On the other hand, if the company doesn’t allow BYOD, employees are going to do it anyway, and without any policy in place there are more likely to be security issues and breeches. So what’s the real reason for their reluctance? Probably cost.

Back in the day it was thought that BYOD would save a company money – I mean, if employees are supplying their own equipment it should, right? The reality has proved otherwise it seems, as the cost of supporting extra mobile devices has driven up ancillary costs.

If this is the case, why should a company embrace BYOD?

For the very simple reason that it makes employees happy.

Does anyone remember those companies just 10 years ago who didn’t give employees email access? Yeah, I wouldn’t have worked there either.

Does your company encourage BYOD? Is it a good idea? Does it work?

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Do you have a passcode lock on your smartphone?

I read something the other day that made me feel incredibly dumb.  It was a short article on five ways to secure your mobile phone.  The most obvious one was to always have the passcode lock switched on. Why? If you lose your phone the person who finds it will be able to access your email, contacts, facebook, twitter and all other linked accounts and possibly play hell with your life.  Imagine the trauma if you had to shut down all your accounts and start again?

 

Image

 

I had used the passcode lock on my old phone but out of sheer laziness I had never bothered to set it on my new phone.  It was soooo much easier to just swipe instead of entering that pesky 4 digit code.  Boy did I feel dumb…..

 

Passcode is now duly switched on.

 

Apparently 62% of smartphone users do not use password protection on their smartphones (Javelin Strategy & Research).

 

How about you, are you part of the 62%? Or do you have your phone fully secured? Any other tips for securing a phone?

 

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What is a QR code?

Have you seen a lot of these lately?

They’re everywhere!  I had seen plenty and knew they contained information but had never actually scanned one until this evening.

To find out what’s behind the picture all you need is a smart phone and a QR scanning app.

So I downloaded QR Reader for iPhone (a free app) from the App Store and went in search of QR codes. You simply start the reader app and hold your phone camera over the QR picture. I found them a bit fiddly at times to scan, and holding the phone landscape instead of portrait over the code seemed to work better. Given I’m a novice it’s most likely me not the app whose at fault, and I would imagine scanning from paper is easier than scanning a computer screen.

So once you scan one of these, what happens?

Well, first the app decodes what you’ve scanned and then shows you the result. You might see some text, get a picture, get a coupon/discount voucher, someones contact details, be redirected to a web page, a twitter profile, a geographical location, “like” a facebook page or watch a video – to name but a few examples.

They can be put anywhere really. On massive billboards, sides of cars, on people (tattoos ?!?, clothes, nails), on business cards, in newspapers, in restaurants, on websites – the possibilities only constrained by imagination and potential for embarrassment.

They could be so much more effective than flyers when you think about it. Once you have the information on your phone, you’ll have it to hand whenever you think you need whatever the code creator was selling.

QR reader for iPhone also allows you to generate your own QR codes. If you try my sample above you will be redirected to my brother’s brilliant crowdsourced music video website www.45sound.com (family plug!).

QR stands for Quick Read. These codes have been in popular use for really only the last 2 years but have been around since 1994.  They were invented in Japan (surprise!) by Toyota (surprise!) and were used to track car parts on conveyor belts. Eighteen years later it’s a global phenomenon.

If you believe some of the stats elsewhere on the web, in June 2011 14 million QR codes were scanned in the US, 60% of the scanners were male, most between 18 and 55, most earned over $100k p.a. and almost 50% of the items scanned were discount coupons!

Now that I’m getting the hang of it, I’m off to scan myself a few freebies…

Happy scanning!

What do you think – fad or here to stay? Have you scanned any good QR codes recently?

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