Take Your Web App Relationship to the Next Level

Gmail, Springpad, and always occupy a tab on my browser, and I think we all know we’re doing more than just ‘browsing’.  These sites fall under the category of web apps, which is the trend on the net these days, as web developers take the attractiveness and usability they’ve unleashed in their iPad apps and adapt them to their desktop domains. Treating these as websites rather than standalone apps is a pain. This is where Fluid comes in to make the transformation from site to app.

A standard browser is not optimal for these apps when you’re constantly using them. They take up browser space, don’t stay loaded when closed, and don’t appear in your dock. Fluid is not the first site specific browser (SSB), (Mozilla’s Prism has been around for a while) but it is the only one designed specifically for OS X.

Simply launch the app and give it the URL and a name for each app you want. The web page is saved in your Applications folder, and treated like any standard app- ready to bounce in your dock, open at login, and take your relationship beyond the ‘browsing’ level.

Fluid has the standard browser features with tabs and the like, but options to change the theme to ‘chromeless’ (hiding the browser bars all together) turns your web app into a true application. You can lock an app to the desktop, change transparency, and there are tons of plug-in options as well.

Fluid uses the sites Favicon by default, which is pretty worthless as its insanely blown-up and pixilated, but you can choose a custom option, and their library of icons online even enables notification badges for sites like Facebook and Gmail.

The ability to set default window sizes and automatically find high-res default icons would be nice touches, and I’m not positive exactly what value plug-ins could add, but it’s really hard to find complaints for Fluid. The simple SSB provides easy and uncluttered access to your constantly used websites (apps).

Check Fluid out here — and as always, if you have any alternatives, share the knowledge in the comments.


Dump Your Bookmarks for Read it Later

Search doesn’t solve everything; even Google instant can’t ensure you’ll always be able to find that skateboarding dog, and when you visit that genius mac blog 15 times a day the act of dragging your finger away from the trackpad to type the letter ‘t’ is a time suck. ‘Cmd-D’ has always been the solution, but that just adds to the mess of bookmarks lost and forgotten in folders on my toolbar.

Read It Later has been around for a while, but I never realized its abilities beyond storing interesting blog posts for reading on your next trip to the loo. I finally gave it a try (once my Google reader badge was an intimidating 1000+) and installed the 3rd party browser extension Postponer. It enables you to name, tag, and store pages from a popup window within the address bar. The toolbar icon displays another popup window listing your recent articles where you can search, filter, and ‘mark as read’ your bookmarked sites — you can even read a plain text version of the site from right within the window.

Being able to add and name a bookmark without any right clicks, dragging and dropping, or keyboard shortcuts is good enough for me, but Read it Later provides much more. The tagging and instant search provide a perfect setup for creating shopping lists, managing project research, or grouping sites you visit consistently but not frequently enough to warrant a bookmark in your toolbar. When you stumble upon those new headphones you need to have, tag the URL ‘buy’, and then when you have time to do your online shopping, just search ‘buy’ and there’s your list. There’s a pro version with interesting analytics and auto-organizing features, and the mobile apps provide some sexy-interfaced reading functionality. If you want to get to your sites without digging through years of bookmarks, or if you want some more room in your browser window give it a try. Grab a browser extension here, if you have Chrome go for Postponer.

Similar tools like Instapaper exist; does anyone know how they measure up?


When Will Everyone Have Apple TVs?

The strong competitors are finally joining the Internet set top box market and for such a new niche they’ve created some pretty impressive stuff with products like Boxee and Google TV. Their thorough (and sexy) aggregation of all that Internet content is their selling point, completely one-upping Apple TV’s feature set. This is one product where Apple has been surprisingly un-revolutionary. From its 2007 inception beside the iPhone there have been many, more reasonable alternatives with more features. Both the iPhone and Apple TV were App-less at that time, and three years later look at how much the App Store addition has affected the iPhone (while Apple TV turned iTV and got Netflix). Now that we’re all trained in the iOS ways it will take much less time to reach this point on the iTV – if it ever gets an App Store.

The iTV App Store would bring the amount of endless capability that has come to the iPhone and iPad to your TV, without the limitations of the small screen. Current App Store developers would develop for this interface and provide their Video, Music, Entertainment, Productivity, Game, and (maybe) even Cable content to the Apple TV because it gives them a huge audience and the power to be in control of the delivery of their content.

Adding a wireless keyboard and trackpad (or an iPad — basically the size of my macbook’s keyboard/trackpad) would give it the ability to replace the desktop — an OSX Lion App could simply handle all the tasks that the iOS Apps couldn’t. If Apple can stuff a bunch of memory and a fast processor into that tiny black box all you’d need is an external hard drive and you’re computer would not only fit in your pocket, but become one with your TV.

Sound good – or am I just fanaticizing about never having to see the Comcast On-Demand menu ever again?

Average Joe's Tips

Add Some Extra ‘Magic’ to Your Trackpad with BTT

Apple finally got the trackpad right when they made it glass, multi-touch, and entirely clickable; but it gets even magic-er with a little customization courtesy of Better Touch Tool.

Apple natively offers some (limited) customization of trackpad gestures, but the free application BetterTouchTool deserves credit for making the hardware as useful as it is. BTT allows you to assign commands to 50+ gestures – from ‘5 finger swipe down’ to ‘3 finger tip-tap left’ – and better yet, assign unique gestures to unique applications. BTT also implements the pretty useful ‘Snap’ feature found in Windows 7, used to view two windows side by side (which I find very useful when comparing or transcribing data).

My favorite implementation of BTT is in Chrome; where four finger swipes left and right move me between tabs and three finger swipes up and down create and close tabs. I also  use it to control Spaces (five finger tap to view all, ‘tip finger swipe’ to switch between) which allowed me to actually enjoy the benefits spaces without having to wait for OSX Lion. Other cool features are ‘Live View’; a window that shows you’re finger motions on a virtual trackpad and the command that is recognized (so you can practice your ‘tip-taps’ and ‘tip swipes’), and you can easily toggle BTT on and off from the taskbar in case you have to share your mac with your clumsy fingered roomate.

The trackpad has come quite a long way (and has definitely destroyed its portable-input-device competition) and while it may not yet be ideal for gaming, graphic design, and other involved processes, it adds significant value over the mouse in everyday tasks; like web, editing documents, and viewing media, and may even beat out the mouse and become the input method of choice for the everyday user. I mean IBM definitely never created a desktop version of their ThinkPad’s little red dot…

For more details head to the Better Touch Tool site, or if you’ve heard enough download it now.

Average Joe's Tips

Google Voice: Making AT&T More Bearable (and cheaper)

I’m going to speak for everyone and say that the worst feature of the iPhone is its exclusivity with AT&T’s overwhelmed, under-loved network. Unless you have the guts to jailbreak (and don’t mind cruising on the vintage Edge network) you’re stuck cursing AT&T, waiting for the day the Verizon/iPhone rumors come true.

Stop reading those rumor blogs (which have been on repeat since 2007) and start setting up your Google Voice number, which will allow you to shave some precious dollars off of your AT&T bill and introduce your iPhone to some next generation features.

Google Voice is free, and lets you create a new number (of your choice) and link it to your current mobile number. Calls, texting, and voicemail are all possible, linked to both numbers. This is all done Google style; call screening, in browser texting (on your PC), voicemail transcription, and contact-assignable custom voicemail greetings make you wonder why no wireless carriers have implemented these great online features.

Now to the money saving- you can actually cancel your texting plan (saving you ~$20/month), and effectively rely on Google Voice and your data/wifi connection; just make sure to give everyone your new number. Another plus – over wifi you can easily text, even without service. By default, Google forwards texts to  your old mobile number (you’d get charged for these) – but this is easily turned off, and you can access your inbox through the Google web App. While an official App Store app would be nice (Google doesn’t play those games), there are no real functionality limitations and it is amazingly fast for a webapp -probably the same speed as the native iPhone SMS app before the 4.0 update. There are no push notifications, but with the ability to email texts to a separate email address, this is not a problem. There is currently no MMS support, but there are many other (more efficient) options for sharing media.

Aside from eliminating your texting plan, Voice greatly enhances your texting and voicemail. Send and receive texts with your browser (using your keyboard!) – and your phone doesn’t have to leave your pocket. With the browser extension, texting becomes possible right on top of any web page. This makes it much more efficient, and much less distracting. While Apple’s visual voicemail is great, Voice takes it a step further, by transcribing and emailing voicemail right to your inbox. The transcriptions aren’t perfect, but they are easily decipherable, and are much more convenient than checking your voicemail traditionally. The audio is even embedded right into the email .

Google Voice is a pretty easy sell, saving you money on top of doing a lot more. When you create your number, make sure you think of a good word or two for your number to spell (you can search for a number by word) – that way you can tell everyone your number is 617-The-Dude (or something along those lines).