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



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.


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”.

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!



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 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 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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6 Reasons Tablets are Killing Netbooks (but not Laptops)

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Most tablets can’t do everything a Netbook does, so why are tablet sales eating into Netbook sales?

Are we accepting reduced functionality for increased portability?

My sister asked me the other week if she should buy a Netbook or a tablet for staying connected on the move. My gut reaction was to recommend a tablet, but to be thorough I googled to see what the general consensus was. I was surprised by the number of Netbook fans still out there. In fact many of the posts I read had Netbook fans expressing their frustration at the tablet’s limitations. If this is true, why are Netbook sales continuing to decline?

What is a Netbook?

Netbooks first appeared around 2007.  They are a small, lightweight, inexpensive laptop/notebook, whose primary function is to access internet based applications (hence the “Net” book, as in “Internet”).

6 Reasons Why Sales of Netbooks are Declining

1. Web 2.0 and the rise of social media

The way I (and many others) use the internet has changed radically in the last few years. It’s all about information sharing, exchange and consumption (elements of Web 2.0), preferably in snippets using twitter or facebook.  I haven’t written a lengthy personal email in years. Anyone I want to stay in touch with is on facebook or skype so there’s no need.  Tablets are consumption devices, which is a common criticism, but when I’m on the move that’s all I really want to do.  I can still easily use twitter or facebook but mostly I’m reading newspapers, newsletters and articles I’ve bookmarked.

2. Portability

Tablets are small, light, slim yet easy to read and navigate. Netbooks are small laptops. Tablets can have an internet connection built into them, unlike most Netbooks (excluding Chromebooks). They are as close to the slim paperback that can be slipped into your pocket to read on the train as possible (if a paperback could smash if you dropped it..) and there’s no danger of you running out of something to read.

3. Usability

BERLIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 11:  German Finance ...
BERLIN, GERMANY – JANUARY 11: Many German government officials and Bundestag members use iPads. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Tablets, especially the iPad, are incredibly easy to use. It’s not difficult to see why they have mass market appeal, even discounting the coolness factor.

Apps are cheap, child’s play to install and fun to use. I can’t edit a word document effectively, but I find I can work around that (i.e. do it at work or at home). It’s kind of a chicken and egg question.  Did we change how we use the internet because of the attraction of tablets?  Or did they happen to tap into a change that was already on its way and simply accelerate it? Certainly the popularity of the iPhone created a large audience for this type of usage.

4. Portable keyboards are as good(bad) as a small built-in keyboard

If I’m travelling with a tablet I can put up with the awkwardness of a portable keyboard or the onscreen keypad, but if I’m creating or editing more than a few paragraphs I will use a laptop with a full keyboard and a large screen. It’s far too frustrating to use anything else. Trust me on this one, I tried to use a tablet PC to do everything for six months and it nearly drove me crazy. Similarly, from comments I’ve read, the small keyboards on Netbooks tend to have the same effect.

5. The rise of The Cloud

You can’t store much data on a tablet. Netbooks have a significantly larger hard drive but much smaller than a laptop or desktop.  However, if I can store my documents and photos etc. in The Cloud and just download what I need to use, this is no longer an issue.

6. The acceptance of the tablet as a secondary device

I have read multitudes of comments from Netbook users who cannot fathom why tablets are killing the Netbook.  They tend to dismiss the tablet as just an e-reader and not a fully functional device – and they are right.  The big problem for the Netbook is that a large proportion of people don’t need a fully functional portable PC.  We have laptops or desktops at home and at work. There are a few users out there who use a tablet as their primary device but for most (like me) it’s a secondary device, and it’s a perfect fit for this social media, Web 2.0, data sharing age.

The facts and figures:

According to a Canalys report from May of this year, while Netbook sales are declining, both tablet and laptop sales are increasing, which supports the secondary device theory.

while the pad category exhibited the highest growth – more than 200% year on year – notebook and desktop PC shipments were up too, rising 11% and 8% respectively. Netbook shipments, however, were down 34% on the year-ago quarter – the sixth such fall in succession.

Will the Netbook survive?

Netbooks became popular not only because of their portability but because they were cheap. Laptops are continuing to get smaller, slimmer and easier to use, the difference is that the good ones are expensive, relatively speaking.

What is dying is the concept of the Netbook as a cheap portable device to stay connected. The tablet can do all that, and do it better.

What do you think? Do you use a tablet or Netbook? Do you see the tablet as a toy or a legitimate device?


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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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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 (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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Upgrading to Windows 8 pre-release was not a good idea.

Microsoft Windows: Making it easier
Microsoft Windows: Making it easier (Photo credit: jasoneppink)

I am (or was and am hoping to still be) the proud owner of an ASUS Slate EP121 running Windows 7.  About a year ago I convinced my husband it was the “pc of the future” (forget about those silly old iPads) and splashed out on one.  It is actually pretty cool, and I love the touch screen aspect of it.  Unfortunately Windows 7 isn’t a great platform for a touch screen device and more importantly it is really difficult to get it to stand up (using its case) at a good angle for Skyping, especially if the kids so much as breathe on it.  The grandparents did a lot of talking to our ceilings.  Despite that, I was pretty excited about upgrading it and playing around with Metro apps.

So what happened?

One of the first FAQ’s on the upgrade site was “Should I upgrade to Windows 8 pre-release?” so I clicked in.  Not if you need any of the data on your PC ..hmm.. not if it’s your primary home or work PC (my laptop had just died so it was, double hmm), and really your device was designed for Windows 7 so you’re not going to get a true Windows 8 experience anyway so why bother.

I paused, then thought hang on, this thing is only a year old and was frickin expensive and who the hell are you to tell me whether or not to upgrade!

Five minutes later the power unit failed and I haven’t been able to use my beloved Slate since.  Not impressed.  I am on the borderline of the warranty period but it’s proving particularly difficult to align all the planets needed to get the power unit picked up and brought away (for 2 to 6 weeks?!?) to the repair centre.

In the meantime I’ve replaced my laptop and will have to live without Windows 8 for a while longer..

Update Nov 2012: The lovely people at ASUS replaced my power pack at no cost even though I was marginally out of the warranty period. I haven’t upgraded yet though, still trying to remove my iTunes footprint so I have enough hard disk space 🙂


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