I have a bit of a problem when it comes text editors. Like many, I am much better at buying and fiddling with writing applications than I am at actually generating text. One particular obsession I have is achieving a consistent and seamless writing experience across my Mac, iPad, and iPhone.
Today, I think I may have found plain text nirvana with the release of Byword for iOS. Byword, long a favorite of mine on the Mac, is now available as a universal iPhone and iPad app. I have only begun playing with the iOS app, but so far it looks like a winner. It’s a gorgeous app, and the developers nailed the custom keyboard extension for writers. It’s sparing in the screen real estate it consumes, gets out of your way with a swipe when you don’t need it, and seems to always do exactly the right thing when adding things like Markdown syntax.
Another key feature is iCloud support, which is bolstered by the addition of iCloud capabilities to the Mac application as well. With this advancement, I now have a single app that will synchronize content seamlessly between my computer, tablet, and phone. This is something I had already gained recently through the also stellar iA Writer family of applications. However, Byword has superior Markdown capabilities, which is useful if you are trying to do things like blog from an iOS device. With Byword, it is dead simple to both preview Markdown and export to HTML for easy posting.
I also like Byword’s interface into iCloud better than iA Writer’s, in that it is not necessary to first save a new file locally in order to store it in iCloud. That said, I have run into a few quirks trying to create and rename iCloud files on Byword for Mac. Assuming this is not “cockpit error” on my part, I am sure the developers will have it sorted soon based on the pace of innovation I have observed with Byword for Mac in the past.
Byword for iOS is available on the App Store for an introductory price of $2.99. Even if, like me, you’ve already spent a small fortune on iOS text editors, it’s worth a look.
Software patents and related lawsuits have been a major topic in the technology press in recent months. Patent trolls are trying to get a piece of the lucrative App Store economy by going after independent developers, and the industry heavy hitters like Apple, Google, and Microsoft are spending billions (seriously; no I mean it) to beef up their patent portfolios in an all-out arms race.
Fortunately, after many weeks of reading about how broken the U.S. patent system is, we were treated to some welcome comic relief today. Apparently, as part of a pending lawsuit between Apple and Samsung over design similarities between the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Apple’s iPad, Samsung cited devices featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 1969 sci-fi classic “2001: A Space Odyssey” as prior art that supersedes the iPad. FOSS Patents has the details.
I really enjoy reading The New York Times on my iPad and iPhone in spite of the fact that (a) their iOS apps are terrible1 and (b) they have the most screwed up subscription pricing model known to man. Without getting into the full lunacy of it, in short:
So being the curmudgeon that I am, I signed up for a $15 per month Sunday only delivery option some months back. I have since regretted it. I thought I would occasionally read the print version on Sundays, but I don’t. Typically, it sits in my driveway for about three days, after which I extract the waterlogged paper mush from its bird shit-covered plastic wrap and stick it in the recyling bin. It’s awful on many levels.
But what am I supposed to now? Am I supposed to call The New York Times and ask them to let me pay them more not to send me a paper? The reality is that I am willing to pay for quality online content, but I actually feel like $15 is a reasonable value for what I get each month. I don’t feel like $35 is a good value. I especially don’t think $35 is a good value when I know that they are giving the same product away “for free” to people who pay them $15 for something else.
This brings us to my experiment. After coming back from some time away to find my waterlogged Sunday paper, I though to myself that I should have put a vacation hold on the paper. That’s when the light bulb went off. What if I just put my newspaper on indefinite vacation hold? Would they turn off my online access? If not, how comfortable would I be with the ethical implications of getting it for free. (Or, probably more accurately, amassing a really big credit as I renewed my subscription.)
Fortunately, I think I have an answer. Apparently, when you put your paper on hold, you have the option to either receive a credit on your account or have the corresponding amount donated to a program that provides The Times for free to schools. With that discovery, the experiment begins. In theory, I will be able to pay $15 per month for the electronic content I enjoy, stop killing trees, and broaden the minds of some school children. Winning all around.
I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.
While we are on the subject of keeping Internet fees down while on the road, Skype has a really cool but lesser known feature called Skype WiFi that lets you hop on fee-based WiFi Internet access points for a nominal per-minute fee. It is a great option if you have a quick layover while flying but won’t be sticking around long enough to justify paying for an hour or day pass for paid Internet. I used it last night at BWI Airport, and it worked like a charm. There are no credit cards to deal with. It simply deducts from your Skype credit based on how long you are online.
Today, Skype announced that they have extended this functionality to the Skype iPhone and iPad apps, providing even more flexibility to iNerds on the go.
According to Shadi Mahassel on the Skype Blog, they are even offering a free trial this weekend to let new users get their feet wet with Skype WiFi:
To celebrate the new Skype WiFi app and to give you a chance to try it out, Skype WiFi will be free around the globe from Saturday 20th August 00:00 till Sunday 21st August 23:59 BST for a maximum of 60 minutes***. To enjoy free wireless access, download Skype WiFi on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch or make sure you have the latest Skype software on your computer. Find yourself a hotspot and connect!
If you’ve done any amount of traveling, you have probably noticed the strange phenomenon where a stay at a less expensive hotel often includes free Internet access while a visit to a nicer property generally involves paying through the teeth to get online.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that many of us now have multiple devices that we may want to get on WiFi during a hotel stay. I have three: a Mac, an iPad, and an iPhone. (While the iPhone has 3G connectivity, it’s AT&T. ‘Nuff said.)
I encountered this issue during a stay at a Westin hotel this week. Fortuntately, I had an Apple nerd ninja trick up my sleeve. When packing for my trip, I threw my Apple Airport Express into my suitcase. If you are not familar with the Airport Express, it is the baby brother to Apple’s super-cool Airport Extreme wireless router. The Airport Express plays a strong supporting role on a home network, enabling capabilities such as network coverage expansion, wireless printing, and wireless transmission of music to remote speakers using Apple AirPlay. However, the Airport Express is also capable of acting as a highly compact (3.7 x 2.95 x 1.12 inches) stand-alone wireless router.
Even though the Westin had wireless Internet, I went straight for the wired Ethernet connection in my room. I plugged the Airport Express into the Ethernet port, connected my Mac to the Airport Express SSID/network name, and completed the standard hotel web-based Internet registration from my Mac’s web browser. Since this registration was seen by the hotel network as coming from the Airport Express network interface, the Airport Express became the “computer” that was registered for Internet access. At that point, I could connect all three of my WiFi-enabled devices to the Internet for a single fee – triple nerd score!
This approach also provides some ancillary benefits. Because most guests use the hotel’s wireless Internet, using the Airport Express to route through the wired connection often provides faster network performance. Also, the router itself has some basic firewall functions that shield the devices connected to it from other hotel guests sharing the network.