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Do Some Good review

From the old blog and also iPhoneCafe.com. 

Before I begin, let me just say that this is a review of an iPhone application, not the concept of micro-volunteering. The idea of using your technology to perform small but necessary tasks to help out not-for-profits has a lot of positives, but there are definitely some drawbacks as well. For an examination of some of the issues, check out Leonie Shank’s article ‘Micro-volunteering: Fast-food for the Big Society?

Volunteer from your iPhone

You can do such a lot with an iPhone. You can manage your finances, learn how to bake a cupcake, buy and sell on eBay, or whittle away the hours playing Angry Birds. And now, with Orange Mobile’s new application, Do Some Good, you can also use your phone to engage in micro-volunteering activities to benefit your community.

Do Some Good screenshotThere’s no financial commitment or charitable donations involved here; even the app itself is free. You also don’t need to commit a lot of time. Most of the activities are designed to be done in four minutes or less, requiring you to add information to a database, fill in a feedback survey, add locations to a map, or complete a range of other short tasks using your mobile phone.

Over the past couple of weeks, for example, I’ve used the application to answer a wellbeing survey to help shape the services offered by Samaritans. I’ve added our neighbourhood parks to the Outdoor Play Map, and I’ve taken photos and donated them to an image bank of pictures that charities can use free-of-charge in their awareness-raising materials.

If the warm fuzzy feeling of doing good by doing these small tasks isn’t enough for you, the application also allows you to work towards virtual badges and eventually real music rewards through the Orange Rockcorps collective.

Like many others before it, this application is let down by the strength of my mobile internet connection. O2’s poor signal definitely makes it more difficult for me to add to maps or submit photos when I’m out and about. However, at home, on a wireless connection, the application is much easier to use.

I was also hoping that new opportunities would be added regularly – but over the past three weeks at least, the potential actions have remained the same. There’s room for improvement in both speed and content, then. But, as I’m writing this on May 11, the users of this application have spent a total of 24 days and 20 hours completing 8952 actions to benefit charities and not-for-profits in the UK.

And I think that’s a pretty good use for the iPhone.

Download from iTunes
Developer: Orange UK
Released: 30 March 2011 (Version 1.0)
Price: Free
Star rating: 4.5

First published on iPhoneAppCafe.com. Happy to answer comments here or there.

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Cake Days: The book vs the app

Cake Days screenshot

From the old blog.

For Mother’s Day this year, I bought myself the new Hummingbird Bakery recipe book, Cake Days. In the week that followed, I spent whole afternoons drooling over the gorgeous glossy photographs of cakes and cookies, muffins and slices, found within its pages. On April 16, however, I learned that Hummingbird Bakery had also released Cake Days as an application.

Given that I already had spent £10 for the book, could I really justify also paying £4.99 for an iPhone version that contained a smaller selection of the same recipes? In the end, I told myself that it would be useful to have both ‘for research purposes’. People often say that the film’s not as good as the book – but in 2011, is the book as good as the app?

The great book vs app comparison began in the lead-up to the long weekend, when I turned to page 158 of the recipe book and decided that those lovely-looking Banoffee Cupcakes with their dulche de leche custard topping would make a great Easter treat. They were. But they were also harder to make than I expected, with multiple cooking and cooling steps for the custard. Later, when I looked up the same recipe on my phone, it said Skill: Intermediate. That difficulty level wasn’t included in the printed cookbook. You can’t record your star ratings for each recipe in a printed cookbook either (without writing on the pages at least).

Banoffee Cupcakes

I’m not a tidy baker, and sometime between measuring the flour and getting the cakes into the oven, I managed to splash the Banoffee Cupcake page with excess milk. Cookbook damage is always a potential side effect in any of my kitchen efforts, so when it came to baking the Caramel Cupcakes (rated easy) the following weekend using the Cake Days app, I was grateful for my iPhone’s hardened case and wipe-clean screen.

I was also keen to try out the feature that allows you to clap your hands to move the recipe on to the next stage. In theory this is great, allowing you to work through the instructions without getting your sticky fingers on the technology. However, in practice, it wasn’t so effective. Every time I shut a drawer or cupboard, it triggered a new step. I had to keep swiping back to the ingredients list at the start anyway, to work out just how much milk or caramel I was supposed to be adding. The book definitely wins here by displaying the ingredients and instructions on one page.

Caramel cupcakes

Where the app comes into its own is with the extras it offers. These include the ability to save the ingredients for your planned sugary treats to a shopping list. I would’ve liked to be able to add just the ingredients that weren’t in my cupboard and to be able to send the list to myself via email – but having this on my phone is still better than carrying around a photocopied page.

Another highlight of the app is the video content. There’s a section at the end of the book, for example, which gives written instructions on how to perfect Hummingbird’s signature swirled frosting along with step-by-step photos. However, the short video demonstration on the app makes the whole process seem much more achievable. I also discovered, after baking my Caramel Cupcakes, that there was also a video on the app showing how the professionals make them.

The Cake Days cookbook, with its bright pink cover, looks very pretty on my shelf. For now – at least when I want to try out one of the 85 recipes that are also in the app version – I’d say it’ll stay on my shelf. While there are still some flaws in its usability, and extra features that could be added, the Cake Days iPhone app does, I feel, outperform the book. On the iPad, with its bigger screen, I’d imagine that the application works even better.

Of course, in both the book and app baking experiments, the final cupcakes were delicious. And there are some that would say that’s the most important thing.

First published on iPhoneAppCafe.com. Happy to respond to comments here or there.

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HTML writer review

From the old blog.

HTML writer screenshotHave you ever wanted to edit your website when you’re away from your computer? Perhaps you’ve been sitting on the train and seen a sneaky spelling error on one of your pages or you’ve finally decided on a hexadecimal code that would give you the perfect background colour. HTML Writer lets you make these tweaks from your phone.

This application is definitely aimed at those who already know the difference between a <tr> and a <br>. There’s no WYSIWYG editor here and no explanations for beginners, but there are quick insert buttons that allow the experienced web developer to open and close popular tags, or add in particular attributes or snippets of code. You can use these tools as you edit a file or, if you have a lot of time/can type quickly on your iPhone, create a page from scratch.

However, the functionality doesn’t end there. There are also a number of well thought-out extras that make this application a very helpful tool for website developers. These include previewing your edited pages before they’re released to the internet, accessing and uploading photos you’ve taken on your phone, emailing your finished files, and downloading the source code from any web page.

The application also allows FTP access to your website host. However, while testing it I found that I could only download and upload files in my root directory. Whenever I tried to drill down to the HTML files in my sub-folders, I got a message saying ‘connection failed’. Perhaps there’s a setting I could change if I had greater knowledge of how these things work, however it’s not a problem I’ve had with any other FTP client however and, for me, it limits the usefulness of an otherwise excellent application.

If you’re building a website from scratch or wanting to make lots of coding changes to an existing one, in front of the computer is probably still the best place to be. But if you’ve got a simple website and you want to make simple edits to its pages while you’re out and about, then this is the application for you.

Download from iTunes
Developer: Ronald Wheland
Released: 7 March 2011 (Version 2.6.2)
Price: £1.79

First published on iPhoneAppCafe.com. Happy to answer comments here or there.

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Five iPhone applications for the Royal Wedding

From the old blog.

At the end of this month, two university sweethearts will wed. The bride used to be an accessories buyer for Jigsaw and she still makes the best-dressed lists. The groom is a helicopter pilot and also His Royal Highness, Prince William of Wales. The British prince, second in line to the throne, will marry his long-term girlfriend, Catherine (Kate) Middleton at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011.

Whether you’ll be in central London waving a Union Jack on the nuptial date or spending your extra public holiday watching the proceedings on TV, here’s a list of the top iPhone applications to help you prepare for this royal wedding extravaganza.

1. Royal Wedding Invite

£0.59; released 13 March 2011; developer Ryan Stevens; download from iTunes.

royal_wedding_invite_screenshot

According to Wikipedia, 1,900 people have been invited to the wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey. If you haven’t made the cut this time, you can still learn more about the bride and groom, the best man (Prince Harry), and the wedding venues via the free Royal Wedding Invite application – or alternatively, you could look on Wikipedia where most of the text and images come from.

If you’re especially eager not to miss any of the big event, the application also features a timer that counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the ceremony begins.

2. The Royal Wedding from Hello!

Free; updated 23 March 2011; developer Hello Ltd; download from iTunes.

hello_royal_wedding_screenshot-e1303486026463

Hello! magazine has recently released their own royal wedding application, featuring a range of glossy images and short captions from their editorial team. Take a look at Kate’s ring and those of other royal fiancées. See early pictures of the bride and groom. Follow the timeline of their romance, break-up and engagement.

It’s a fairly slick application, but its content is fairly limited and padded out with pictures of other royal couples. You’re also not going to see Kate’s actual dress in the dress section at this stage, but rather sketches from alternative designers, such as Valentino and Elizabeth Emmanuel, showing what they would’ve done if given the opportunity. However, the application developers promise that new pictures will continue to be added as the wedding approaches.

3. Monarchy: The Definitive Guide

£1.19; updated 24 January 2011; developer Daniel Dickenson, download from iTunes.

monarchy_screenshot

Prince William is second in line to the British throne – a throne that has been occupied over the centuries by a number of well-known kings and queens. Henry the VIII with his six wives. William the Conqueror. George VI, played by Colin Firth in a recent film. The Monarchy application brings a timeline of monarchs to your phone, ranging from King Offa in 757 to Queen Elizabeth II in the present day.

Once again, the content is drawn heavily from Wikipedia, but the easy-to-use interface makes it a handy reference tool for offline browsing. Additional features include a list of Prime Ministers from 1721 onwards and the lyrics for the national anthems of the United Kingdom, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – useful if you want to brush up on the words to ‘God Save the Queen’ before your royal wedding street party.

4. London: Westminster Abbey Guide & Audio

£2.99; released 23 September 2009; developer GuidzAlive Limited; download from iTunes.

westminster_abbey_guide_screenshot

Westminster Abbey, the venue for William and Kate’s wedding ceremony, is one of London’s top tourist attractions. Whether you’re planning a visit or just wanting to find out more about this historic site, this Way2Go guide provides an excellent audio commentary on the highlights of Westminster Abbey, such as the Coronation Chair and Poets’ Corner. There’s even a five minute audio segment on the funeral of Princess Diana, Prince William’s mother, which also took place at the Abbey.

The application also includes a floor plan of Westminster Abbey, a map of the local area and information on how to get there (though if you’re a wedding guest you perhaps won’t be using public transport).

5. Weakest Link: Royal Wedding Edition

£0.59; released 22 March 2011; developer BBC Worldwide LTD; download from iTunes.

weakest_link_screenshot-e1303487034366

Once you’ve used the other applications on this list to study up on all things Kate and William, test your knowledge by playing Weakest Link: Royal Wedding Edition. Released by the BBC and based on their popular game show, the application matches you up with five computer-generated opponents who each seem to have an endless knowledge of wedding trivia as well as their own strategies for making it to the final round.

What does the Middleton family business sell? How old was Diana when William was born? In which room at St James’ Palace were William and Kate’s official engagement photos taken?

Answer the questions correctly while avoiding being voted off by your opponents and you’ll make it through to the sudden death play-off. There are no snarky comments from Anne Robinson here, but there are 1,000 wedding-related questions ranging from member-of-the-public to stalker-of-the-monarchy difficulty levels.

Alternatively, if you’re not interested in the royal wedding at all, and are just looking for something to do on April 26, the application also has a general knowledge setting, boasting 10,000 different questions – that should keep you busy through the ceremony, at least.

First published on iPhoneAppCafe.com. Happy to answer comments there or here.

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NCT Babychange Review

From the old blog.

Before I had a baby, I used to be able to get ready and leave the house in less than five minutes.

The first time I ventured out to the local shopping centre with our newborn, however, it took me over an hour and a half to prepare. Not only did I have to get the baby dressed and fed, I also had to pack the changing bag with spare clothes, nappies and baby wipes, set up the pram and anticipate the bus schedules. And then, just as I was heading out the door, I realised that, should I need to change our baby’s nappy while we were out, I had no idea where to go.

Presumably there was a baby changing room somewhere in town – but it wasn’t something I had really paid much attention to before I had a child of my own. So, aware that I was going to miss the next bus, I turned to Google and searched for a website which would list the changing facilities in or around the shopping centre. I couldn’t find one. But now, four months on, I’ve found an app.

Babychange application screenshotDeveloped by Axon Publishing for the NCT parenting charity, the Babychange application allows UK mums and dads to find their nearest baby changing facility. It draws on your phone’s GPS function to position you on a Google map, with green and amber pins showing the facilities in your area.

When I first opened the application yesterday morning, there were only two or three pins nearby. These marked venues such as Nando’s or Debenhams: the sort of chain stores where every branch has a changing room. As a mother of a four month-old, I already knew about those facilities – and many more besides. The strength of this app is that it allows parents like me to submit these additional venues ourselves.

So, when baby and I were out and about yesterday, I added in a couple more – at a local cinema and play café – entering in their addresses, a hygiene rating and indicating whether or not I’d use them again. These were then added to the map as amber (‘requiring confirmation’) pins.

It’s not a perfect system. My mobile internet is notoriously slow, and there doesn’t seem to be any indication from the app that it’s processing data. As such, over the course of twenty minutes, I managed to add the same venue three times. There isn’t any way for me to remove the extra entries, but the developers say that if two other people click on the incorrect data button then it’ll disappear. I’m not sure how many other people in my area are using the app, but my guess is that those extra pins will be hanging around for a while yet.

There’s also no way to add a comment to your submission. This meant that I wasn’t able to let other parents know that to use the changing room at the cinema, for example, they’d need to have a movie ticket.

Despite its flaws, this is a free application which will only become more valuable as more people use it to submit and rate the facilities in their local area. I’d encourage all new parents in the UK to give it a try. I may never again be able to leave the house in five minutes, but having the information about changing rooms on my phone means one less worry as I head out the door – and that can only be a good thing.

Download from iTunes
Price: free
Released: 7 April 2011 (Version 1.0.1)

First published on iPhoneAppCafe.com. Happy to answer comments there or here.

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M&S Foursquare Promotion

Saturday the 16th of April, or to use the American date format 04/16, was Foursquare Day. I only discovered this because of another promotion. Over the weekend of 16-17 April, UK retailer, M&S, were promising to donate £1 to Breakthrough Breast Cancer for every Foursquare user who checked into one of their stores. According to their site, there was also a £5 off voucher for the first 25,000 people to check in.

So there I was, bright and early on Saturday morning, needing to buy some brown rice for the new baby weaning project. I could’ve gone to Sainsbury’s or Tesco Express, but the breast cancer promotion meant that I wanted to check in at M&S sometime that day and I figured I might as well do my grocery shopping at the same time.

M&S check in

I’ve tried to use my mobile inside the Merton High Street M&S before, but there’s been no signal – which would’ve made checking in on Foursquare fairly difficult. So, before I went in to the actual store, I located the venue on Foursquare, added a comment as you can see here, took a photo of the sign on the side of the building to prove where I was, and virtually checked in.

At this point, a security guard came up to me and asked why I was taking photos of the store. This is apparently not allowed. This is kind of a shame in the world of social media, but I figured I better play by the rules and when I got home, I looked up how to delete the photo from my history and thus from the store’s page on Foursquare.

Anyway, having checked in, I got a notification that I’d just earned the Foursquare Day badge. Not what I was there for, but nice nonetheless and something to share with the three million or so other users who checked in somewhere that day (according to this tweet). I still haven’t heard anything about my £5 voucher, either via Foursquare or by email – and when I read the promotional copy again, I’m not sure whether I was supposed to spend £30 on clothing on the day I checked in to receive the discount. I’m not particularly bothered about this, though I guess other people checking in may have been, so it’d be good to hear if anyone else has actually received a voucher code.

I just hope that my check-in did earn Breakthrough Breast Cancer a £1 donation from M&S – because that’s an interesting corporate use of social media for a great cause. There are clear benefits here to b0th the charity and the business, and as location-based services such as Foursquare become more popular, I can only wonder if it’s a fundraising model that will be increasingly used in the future.

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QR codes and real estate signs

From the old blog.

I’ve always thought that QR codes, those black and white squares of lines and dots that have started appearing on marketing leaflets and billboards, were a bit of a gimmick. In fact, until earlier this week, I didn’t even have a QR reader on my phone.

However, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed the codes starting to appear on the For Sale and To Let signs put up by local real estate agent, Eddison White. Now that’s a good idea, I thought. If I was in the market for a new home, it’d be great to be able to use my phone to scan the sign outside a place that caught my eye and be redirected to a webpage that had pictures of the inside, the price, contact details for an estate agent, and so on. I had to try this out.

Firstly, I needed a QR reader – an application for my iPhone that would let me read the codes. After heading to the AppStore and doing a bit of research, I went for a free app  called Qrafter which seemed to work for most reviewers. Yesterday evening, on my way home from a run around the neighbourhood, I decided to try it out.

The first sign I spotted was fixed to the second story of a terraced house. I raised my phone to scan it, but without the ability to zoom, the code only took up a small fraction of my camera window. Nothing happened. Feeling slightly let down, I walked around the block till I found another sign. This one was a bit lower, so I held my camera up above my head and walked towards the sign. Again nothing. I was getting a bit self-conscious by this stage, wondering if the neighbours were watching through the windows. It was also getting dark and the message on my QR reader said Avoid glare and shadows. I decided to call it a night, and try again in the morning.

It’s worth bearing in mind that I’m a pretty engaged ‘customer’ at this point. I want this to work. I’ve already invested the time in downloading the application. I’m still keen to give it another go. It’s possible that others might have lost interest by now.

Real estate sign with QR codeAnyway, this morning, it was bright and, if not sunny, at least clear. I walked up to a couple of signs, stood on my tiptoes, trying to get my phone as close as possible and hold it as still as possible. Nothing. I was about to give up, when I found it: a sign that was close enough to the ground for my phone to scan.

So I scanned it.

And it brought up a link to the mobile version of the Eddison White website. The link didn’t direct me to the individual property details I had hoped for, but to a webpage where, should I have been so inclined, I could have searched through their database until I found the property I was standing in front of.

Reflecting on this now with my traditional marketer hat on, I can see that it may be unrealistically expensive to generate and print a unique QR code for every sign. However, from a digital point of view, I couldn’t help be disappointed. I could remember the name of the real estate agent. I could’ve just as easily gone home, guessed or Googled their website address, and then searched the property database from the much faster internet connection on my home PC.

I didn’t get the result I wanted with QR today – and perhaps my initial expectations were too high – but at least my eyes have been opened to the possibilities of the technology. Until QR readers are a default application for every phone or hand-held device, I still think these square black and white codes are quite gimmicky. But if they can be used in a way that engages a customer enough to bother downloading the tools to read them, and then, once scanned, deliver value over and above what’s available elsewhere, then I can see that, for some businesses, they may have a place in the marketing mix.

If anyone’s got any examples of organisations successfully using QR codes or if you want to share your own experience with the technology, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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