Update – Not Free any longer…back to paid…
The Abbyy Business Card Reader and the Scanner are currently available for free on the AppStore.
The AppStore links are as follows:
Grab them while they are still free…
Although most Apple iDevice and Mac users know about the AppStores, very few actually look for good deals on the same. Looking for good deals on the AppStore is actually quite simple…there are apps for the job. Most of the better such apps will cover both, the AppStore as well as the Mac AppStore.
There are quite a few “App Discovery” apps on the Apple AppStore that will help you in getting good deals. These apps allow you to look at all the apps that are on sale, apps that have gone free for a brief time, set watches on the apps you want to purchase as and when they are on sale and more. Most of these apps will also allow you to look at the top of the lists like the top liked, sold etc etc.
Although I have tried quite a few of these apps in the past, I have settled on two such apps for now. Both these apps have paid and free versions. I got the paid versions of both these apps for free from similar App Discovery apps. The first one is AppTicker and the second is AppZapp. Personally, I prefer AppTicker, but, sometimes it does not list some of the apps that come into the AppZapp lists. AppZapp also has a user community with a live feed which can be interesting to look at.
I have used these apps to watch and buy some apps that I wanted when they went on sale. The other aspect that I use is the “Now Free” apps. These are paid applications that have gone free for a brief time. If you keep a watch on these “Now Free” lists on occasions (Christmas, New Year etc), then, you can really get some very neat apps for free.
For example, when Flickr recently announced the free terabyte space for all, I was able to get some of the best Flickr related apps like FlickStackr for Flickr and Flickr Studio for free since they were listed in the “Now Free” section of these apps.
Of course, none of this comes without Apple stepping in with their own whims and fancies. They randomly come up with arcane reasons, to remove apps from the AppStore. A recent example being a similar “App Discovery” app called AppGratis. For those of you who are interested in the AppGratis story, a simple Google search will come up with all the details.
An interesting consequence of Apple’s action, in this case, was to speed up the AppGratis release for the Android platform. AppGratis launched it’s Android app a month after the app was removed from the Apple AppStore.
The reason for mentioning the AppGratis story is that you never know what apps might be removed by Apple for what arcane reasons. Don’t be surprised if the “App Discovery” app you really like vanishes from the AppStore…
Quite a few people, specially those using the SSD based MacBook Air, run out of space very fast with the iTunes library. The iTunes library of music, movies and apps can get extremely large over time.
I recently ran out of space on my iMac with my kids accounts going over 30 GB a piece on the primary drive. This happened within a months time. Although I have plenty of external storage and a secondary partition, the primary partition under OS X needs to have around 5-10 GB of free space for optimal performance.
The solution to moving the iTunes library is actually very simple.
First, copy the “/Users/username/Music/iTunes” directory to any other partition or external drive. You can use the finder, go into the “Music” folder and copy the “iTunes” folder there to where ever else you have space.
Next, delete the “iTunes” directory in the user/home so you will free up all the space it was occupying.
Finally, click on the iTunes application icon while pressing down and holding the ALT/OPTION key. When you start iTunes with the Alt/Option key, it will start up with a prompt for the iTunes library location. Select the location you copied the “iTunes” folder to and then select the iTunes library file within that “iTunes” folder.
That’s it. Done!
All future downloads/updates will now go into the new location. There are a couple of caveats to watch out for…
Although the second issue can be a pain at times, the work-around is simple. In case you forget to wake the external storage, just quit iTunes, make the storage available, then start iTunes again.
BTW, my own iTunes library is over the 400 GB mark…just for iDevice apps. Of course, it includes a lot of good and some free deals over a few years. I will outline how to get good deals on apps in another post a bit later.
It seems that Apple is really undertaking a huge change on the desktop apps and the iCloud backend, or, is headed further down ever since Steve Jobs left the scene and iOS 6 came along.
The new iTunes release is probably the buggiest and slaggiest of all that I have used so far. There seems to be a complete dis-joint between all the product teams at Apple currently and I will give examples of the same.
Firstly, iTunes 11.0.3. Since this release, I have had a hard time getting to the AppStore screen or checking for App updates. It seems to get stuck, comes back with the “memory” error (as mentioned in a previous post). This happens regardless of the AppStore I access, US or otherwise.
Just when I though the state and status errors seem to be fixed, not to be. Although the update apps seems to be fixed in the sense that if you click on “update all” apps, it will happen only once, the older issues still remain. Some apps will keep showing “update” on a perpetual basis even when there is no update as such, even after downloading an app, it would still show “free”/”buy (price)” on iTunes. The worst part is that you can actually re-download the app even when you already have it.
A very interesting fact is that the size of the app shown in iTunes description, when you actually download it (iTunes download window), and the OS X finder size of the app are all different. Seems someone forgot the basic computation of a size translated from bytes to kilo/mega/giga across teams at Apple! It’s not just the size, it’s also how long file names are displayed. While in the iTunes download window, you would see the first part of the file name following by “…”, in the OS X finder, you would see the first and last part with the “…” in between. Also, the order of the updates displayed in iTunes is completely different from the order of the actual downloads. Although this last one might seem to be insignificant, but, to an experience eye, the dis-joint across teams shows. In reality, there are simply too many such small issues that show a dis-joint and a complete lack of experience or a complete un-willingness towards improvement and excellence.
The biggest issue of iTunes (and iDevices) still remain. The pathetic, single threaded download of apps. music etc. I have never had this issue with any Android handset so far. Even though Google does not have an equivalent of iTunes, I have faced no such issues related to downloads on the Android devices. The main reason I still use iTunes is so I can start/stop downloads to get the maximum speed in the process. More often than not, a small, few MB download on iTunes (or iDevice) can take hours.
Another major issue with iTunes, which, actually, stems from the download issues stated above, I use different user accounts (for my family) on my iMac for all (almost) the iDevices to sync them from iTunes. iTunes wants re-authorisation of every account every time I sync a device. Pathetic!
Is that was not enough, the moment I have 6 or more user accounts on my iMac, the logins go off the screen and the only way to get to them is by using the keyboard since a mouse or a trackpad cannot scroll the login screen. Once again, Pathetic!
Even though you can set a magic mouse or the trackpad to respond to a tap for a click, it does not work on the login screen. Just to repeat, Pathetic!
The MacAppStore as it stands in the current release is no exception. It suffers the same numbers and single threaded download issues. It is clueless as to which screen to start with. More often than not you will notice the progress circle with nothing happening. If you click on “updates” and then click on “featured”, nothing will change until the search for updates has been completed, or, times out. Okay, so now I am tired of the repeat, so one last time…Pathetic!
Another interesting fact that I noted was that if you switch your internet connection in between a download, the download cannot resume and it is re-started!
About the iMac, after the earlier screen quality and warranty issues, I got another scare today from both, my iMac as well as my older MacBook Pro. Both of them just “hung” and then refused to boot at all!
Turned out to be a temperature related issue. It was a hot day today (like it is at this time of the year) and since it had gotten quite cold from the air-conditioning, I switched it off for a while. While the iPhone and iPad had no issues, the iMac and the MacBook Pro just stopped working. I had to shut them off, forcibly, turn on the air-conditioning, wait for about an hour, and then they started working again. This happened without any warning from the system.
Considering the fact that OS X still has an 18th century UI/UX and that the iOS UI/UX has been stagnating since arrival, I can only wish and hope that either Google or Microsoft come up with viable and reasonable alternates to the iPhone and iPads.
Personally, unless Apple really comes up with some drastic changes and quality control, I would probably never purchase an iMac or a MacBook ever again. For me, it was an investment based on the iPhone and iPad experience and I can only say that I regret buying the iMac for the bad screen quality and flawed warranty. The two MacBook Pros I regret since OS X is worse than Ubuntu Linux as it stands currently and the UI/UX is light years behind Windows (barring Windows 8 which I deem unusable by the majority).
Small wonder that the OS X updates, initially, seemed so attractive based on their price compared to Windows. While one can actually see and feel the changes and work put in by Microsoft (good or bad is a separate issue), there is no change on OS X that warrants even the marginal update cost. For example, consider one of the latest and greatest and touted features of the latest OS X Mountain Lion…it finally show you file copy progress!!! Hello…we had all this and more even in the good old console and DOS days!
This fact is even mentioned on the Apple web site…they are proud their lame designers and programmers finally managed to show file copy progress on OS X, which, incidentally, is meaningless since the progress has no details and can only be seen in the folder the files are being copied to.
In case someone thinks this is Apple bashing, yes, it is! Excepting for my iPhones and iPads, the rest of Apple stuff seems to be a big no no in every way. This exception, I hope, Google or Microsoft (or some other major) takes away, some day. The Apple hardware, the screen, volume, warranty etc issues are all too prevalent on the net, including the Apple forums, with apparently no answers from Apple about these.
For me, like for most people, the expensive Apple hardware and ecosystem is an investment. This investment, seems to be going down the drain as of now. I still have hopes that there will be changes within the Apple top management that would allow the iPhone legacy to continue and carry forward all with it, let’s see.
The WWDC should come up with some pointers. Meantime, we would have some time to see what Google comes up with after the announcements at the recent I/O. If all that Apple can come up with is a lame iOS 7 update and cheaper and a larger number of iDevices along with the same old incremental updates, one can be certain that the Apple and iPhone era is indeed going to end very very soon.
In this part, we will look at some paid apps. In general, you will need to purchase some apps on either of the platforms. The only exception to this would be people who purchase a smartphone, but, really need only a phone and therefore apps do not make a difference.
There are a few categories where one would make some purchases. In my case, those categories are personal finance, password management, business apps, navigation, reference, utilities/productivity, games (no one can escape this one), and some music.
This is possibly the best password manager for OS X and now extends the same to iOS and Windows. In todays connected world with a variety of gizmos, a password manager becomes a necessity. Some years ago, after I got the first iPhone, I also started experimenting with the Mac. When the AppStore was finally introduced on iOS, I was lucky enough to get 1Password for iOS as well as the Mac for free. Although the desktop version of 1Password was no real match for my existing Windows password manager, it was just about usable. Today, I have purchased the new iOS version of 1Password and have a family license for the desktop editions. Highly recommended for all now. 1Password is also available on Android as well and actually works much better on Android since Google does not have the “artificial” limitations like Apple puts on iOS.
This is possibly one of the oldest personal finance apps on the mobile device scene. It was just about okay and was stagnating. Once the iOS AppStore came into being, for the first time, development on PM was galvanised. It just a few months, it was really usable and kept getting better and better with every iteration. I don’t mind admitting that I purchased a few other such apps, including a current, very highly rated app, only to discover that these “highly” rated apps were pathetic and light years behind PM in every respect. Personally, I look at my purchases as a price paid trying to find something equivalent or better. This has not happened so far. I continue to use PM (from Catamount) and now have over 4 years of data in it. Highly recommended for both iOS and Android users.
I purchased this office suite as a well known and functional one. The current recommendation would be to purchase Apple apps for iOS and find alternates on Android. Since Google took over QuickOffice, it has stagnated on iOS and I would not recommend this for any purpose anymore.
The Abbyy OCR, although the most expensive around on the desktops, also happens to be the best so far. Having worked with the Abbyy SDKs in the past, I had no hesitation in purchasing this app when it was introduced. No surprises, it remains the best on the device as well. Highly recommended if you need a business card reader.
As far as maps for India are concerned, MapMyIndia is the only one that has usable maps. Sygic partnered with MapMyIndia and uses their maps. If you are looking for maps and navigation in India, do not be mislead by companies like Navigon and the likes that claim to have maps for India. There are only 2 apps on the AppStore that use MapMyIndia maps. The other alternate came much later and is more expensive that Sygic. Either of the MapMyIndia map apps should be good enough. Sygic is a legacy app and I would still not bill it as an iOS UI/UX compliant app even after quite a few updates. The UX is still dated and almost terrible. Still, only 2 apps fit the bill if you are looking for maps and navigation in India.
This is actually a legacy requirement from a few years ago when we had very few people on actual “smartphones” and the world still used messaging from providers like ICQ, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google etc. IM+ Pro does almost all such known messengers. It also includes features like saving the conversation history and email notifications. I don’t really use this anymore, but, if you do need a multi-IM on iOS, this is probably one of the best if not the best.
Although this is an iOS only app, the idea applies to all platforms. I wanted an Ad-Blocking browser. Keep in mind that mobile bandwidth is expensive and there are quite a few occasions (with me) that I need to lookup stuff and that would include getting into a lot of ads. Although, I don’t mind ads on regular broadband/leased lines, on 3G, it is expensive. So, although I would recommend Mercury Browser Pro, almost any similar ad-blocking browser would do.
Although this is a new app on iOS and is currently free. I only mention it here for two reasons.
Ever since Google stopped the Active Sync (Exchange email) for free accounts earlier this year, you cannot get GMail notifications on iOS by default.
You can setup MailBox with all your GMail accounts and then delete the accounts. MailBox will still continue to deliver notifications and you would still enjoy the seamless email experience (almost) as you did before.
And now, some more ranting from my side…
Well, I have purchased all of 3 games till date (well…maybe some more that I don’t recall). Although I will not go into any preferences here since I am not a gamer, I would like to mention the name of a company and it’s mal-practice which is allowed by Apple on the AppStore on iOS. It could be the same on Android, but, I cannot comment on that since I have not tracked this on the Android platform. I wrote to this company and the final reply was that it was “company policy”. I wrote to the AppStore support and got no reply on this issue, even though the Apple support, otherwise, is extremely prompt and good.
Normally, I would not mention these specifics, but, since this mal-practice continues on the Apple AppStore even today, it deserves mention.
The company is Playrix. They make stunningly beautiful games. Almost every aspect of their games is really outstanding. With such immense talent, one would have to wonder as to why they resort to this kind is mal-practice. What Playrix does is that they occasionally release “premium” or “full” games for free. Within hours or day(s), the same game gets an in-app-purchase (IAP) to unlock the full game or becomes fully paid only.
You will see similar comments in reviews on the AppStore as well. If your re-install the game that you had a full version of, you would need to pay for it again. If you paid for the IAP, then, you might land up paying for the full version. Interestingly, all their games also have non “premium” or non “full” versions which have IAPs. There is absolutely no difference between the two. I have, from this company, on email, that this is their “company policy”. I also have sent email to Apple iTunes support with no response. For the end user, my advise would be to keep a check on all Apple AppStore purchases and there may be a lot more companies following the same pattern.
Once again, like I already ranted in an earlier post, none of this happened while Steve Jobs was around.
The next post, would be the last in this series. In this, the last one, I would present my own conclusions based on my own experience as well as the experiences of friends and colleagues. Hopefully, the conclusion would help you make a better purchase decision on the next device.
I read someplace on the net that one could use “defaults” to read the fields in an IPA file, a simpler method is to simply use plutil. Assuming that the iTunesMetadata.plist is already extracted from the IPA file, the following examples will get the fields from the plist.
a=`plutil -p iTunesMetadata.plist | grep -i appleId | cut -d "\"" -f4` b=`plutil -p iTunesMetadata.plist | grep -i genre | cut -d "\"" -f4` c=`plutil -p iTunesMetadata.plist | grep -i itemName | cut -d "\"" -f4 | tr -d ';*\".$' | tr ':' '-' | tr '/' '&'` d=`plutil -p iTunesMetadata.plist | grep -i bundleShortVersionString | cut -d "\"" -f4`
Some of the common characters appearing the itemName have been “fixed” in this example. Unlike the “defaults” to read the plist, “plutil” keeps the proper encoding, besides being easier to parse and deal with.