CES 2015 Video: Hyundai ‘Blue Link’ app

Picture this: you’ve just left work into the cold darkness and can’t wait to get into your warm car. You walk into the busy car park and it hits you – you can’t for the life of you remember where you parked. What if, in true James Bond style, you could pull back your sleeve, hit a button on your smartwatch and have your car flash its headlights and illuminate itself in the darkness? This sort of life-saving idea is that Hyundai are aiming to achieve in their new Blue Link smartwatch and smartphone app. The app will allow you to have your car flash its headlights, unlock and lock its doors, and beep its horn among other features, all remotely and securely. Check out the video above to see a demonstration of the app in action.

The Blue Link app is available now for use with compatible Hyundai vehicles. Visit Hyundai to find out more.

 

 

EE and Vodafone jump the gates in providing easy travel payments

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Mobile providers are rushing to offer contactless payment for TFL when it is launched on the 16th of September on the London Underground system. Contactless payment cards are debit, credit, charge or pre-paid cards that can be used to make quick, easy and secure payments for everyday purchases under £20. There is no need for a PIN or a signature, just touch your card on contactless card reader and off you go!

Bus network TFL is soon launching the contactless payment scheme on London’s Tube, DLR and Overground public transport systems. Methods of payment will include most of UK’s cards (for the full list go to TFL), Vodafone and EE Cash on Tap. EE has a daily and weekly cap that ensure you do not pay more than you would using an Oyster card. Introduction of contactless payment will allow travellers to pay for their bus and train fares quickly and easily, reducing queues and the likelihood of missing trains and buses – a common fear in the Underground.

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Universal contcactless card symbol – if your card features a similar symbol, you can use contactless payment

 

It is a great tool for users of London’s transport links but not only them – I personally travel to London every 3 months and I have an Oyster card which allows me to avoid queuing time when I get off the train and on to the Tube. My main issue being I always lose my Oyster card the night before leaving! With contactless and Mobile provider payment I just need to take my card and phone and I can travel freely. Additionally I always run out of money on my Oyster card when it is rush hour. Nothing is more terrifying than an angry Londoner stuck behind someone who has run out of credit on their Oyster card and cannot travel. What is also frustrating is queuing for 10 minutes just to find your Oyster card has run out of credit – these new systems will aim to overcome these misfortunes.

If you like to keep your London travelling a pain-free experience, I recommend you check out these network provider apps and try contactless payment – the latter being useful for morning coffees to enjoy on your commute.

Review round-up: Microsoft Office for iPad

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Microsoft Office has touched down on Apple’s ubiquitous tablet, delivering an authentic Office experience to those who simply feel more at home with Microsoft’s age-old suite. iPad users can now download Word, Excel and Powerpoint for iPad from the App Store, with the promise of delivering an unbeatable local and cloud productivity experience.

It’s available in two guises – free versions that allow you to read Word documents, view Excel data and present with Powerpoint, and a monthly subscription to Office 365 to add editing and creation of new documents, with prices starting from £7.99 per month. This allows for installation on up to five tablets, PCs or Macs. With a typically comprehensive array of features optimised for tablet use, we took at look around to see how both independent and Mac-centric websites viewed the new announcement to see how it fares and crucially, whether it’s worth paying for.

PC Pro gives the suite a full review, awarding it 4/6 stars for features and design, value for money and as an overall rating. It’s a worthy debut by all accounts, and though compromises have been made, it is impressed by the “apps’ ability to import and display desktop Office documents without ruining the formatting, and to edit those documents non-destructively. It’s a big step up from the workarounds we’ve previously had to put up with”.

TechCrunch takes a more philosophical stance, asking whether the modern user needs dedicated Office software to get by, those does admit that there’s clearly a market for it for some users. Overall it is complimentary over the affair, stating “What Microsoft has managed here is nothing short of transforming working with Office files on iPads from a necessary evil to a pleasant experience, and that’s no small feat”. It does, however, question the issue of a recurring monthly subscription, rather than a flat out one-time fee.

Word on iPad (horizontal view)
Word on iPad (horizontal view)

When it comes to more dedicated Apple sites, iMore offers a handy list of pros and cons that include “Microsoft really has managed to nail the user interface and experience on the iPad”, “Editing options are up front, easy to access, and well thought out throughout all three programs” and on the flipside “No support for Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud — any service that isn’t owned by Microsoft”.

Check out this slick video introducing Office for iPad:

So, not a bad start for the suite as a whole so far, but let’s take a look at the applications individually. Word seems to be the standout for MacWorld. It states that “Word for iPad is streamlined, fast, and beautiful—exactly what I’d like to see on my Mac. If your business doesn’t require access to Office apps, but you’re still looking for a great Word processor for your iPad, there’s no question that Word for iPad can punch that ticket, too”. It does have some formatting issues in that fonts you’ve used on a Mac may not be available on the iPad, and that simultaneously edited documents are not updated in real time, but otherwise cites it as a success.

Speaking of which, Citeworld is generally pleased with the tablet version of Excel, largely because of the inclusion of access to functions and formulas that allow users to manipulate data as they would on a desktop. Here it says that “Microsoft has generally done a good job in this respect, though more advanced features like pivot tables and macros aren’t supported”. Numbers users should appreciate that the user experience will inherently be very different and there may be a learning (or adjustment) curve, but overall “Despite the fact that Excel for iPad is a stripped down version of Excel for Windows or Mac, the product is successful across a range of common business and personal use cases”.

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Excel on iPad (horizontal view)

We’ll finish with PCMag’s take on Powerpoint, which is again fairly positive. It lauds an extensive array of templates and themes, fast performance and strong support for tables, graphics and transitions as the main positives, but is frustrated by an inability to crop photos or import videos into presentations. Overall, Keynote still comes out as the stronger presentation solution for the iPad – it concludes by saying that “If you’re an Office veteran, you won’t regret using PowerPoint to create and show slides on an iPad. There’s nothing wrong with it, but in competing against Keynote, it’s competing against one of the greatest graphics apps ever written”.

So, following a series of very capable imitators the iPad has finally got the office suite it deserves, even if it perhaps isn’t the one it needs. It seems as though Microsoft has done a decent job of finally porting Office to the tablet and though there are compromises to be made in each application, each is also well tuned to deliver the most important features in a usable way. The biggest stumbling block, no doubt, will be the subscription pay-model, which, unless you’re a heavy (and die-hard) Office user, will be a high price to pay in the face of capable alternatives.

5 Christmas apps to help the festive season go smoothly

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It’s less than a month now and we can’t help feel a glimmer of excitement that Christmas is on its way. Each year we say to ourselves, “I’m going to start planning Christmas earlier this year,” but before we know it, it’s mid-December and we’ve not even bought one present. With the advances in technology planning Christmas couldn’t be easier and with the assistance of a few simple apps we’ve no excuse for leaving it all to the last minute.

Take a look at the following five best Christmas planning apps:

Santa’s Bag – Christmas Gift List

With a countdown timer, Facebook and contacts import for recipients, customised emails, wish lists, planning lists, shopping, individual gifts and much more all wrapped up in an fun and easy-to-use app, Santa’s Bag – Christmas Gift List could certainly help alleviate some of the stress from Christmas planning.

Setting budgets, keeping track of your spending and being ultra-organised this year is available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users. – What’s more, Santa’s Bag is free.

No More Socks: The Christmas List Genius

“The only gift list app to score 5 out of 5 on Macworld,” iTunes’ proudly states – If Macworld’s anything to go by. Though with a string of complimentary user remarks related to the “awesomeness”, “uniqueness” and “beautiful design” of No More Socks, this “best app in the world” certainly seems to be ticking the right boxes.

So what exactly does it do?

Users can store and organise gift ideas all year round, locate and bookmark gifts online, shop, share ideas, get inspired and set up birthday reminders.

Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPd touch the No More Socks: The Christmas List Genius app is free to download.

The Salvation Army Christmas Music

So Christmas planning isn’t confined to presents and shopping and for many households music takes centre stage throughout the festivities.  The Salvation Army Christmas Music provides you with a great variety of Christmas music, including the oldies, classical, hymns, instrumental, children’s, soul/jazz, around the world and the Salvation Army brass Christmas.

Without having to sieve through the CDs locating the Christmas favourites or spending hours downloading all the Xmas classics, this app could certainly simplify the music and entertainment aspect of Christmas planning.

Stream festive music onto your iPhone or iPod Touch for £1.99 – all proceeds go to the Salvation Army.

Santa’s Christmas Village

Christmas planning is all about getting into the festive spirit and if the adverts, lights and shops laden with Xmas items aren’t making you feel Christmassy then call upon Santa’s Christmas Village. With 17 fun activities, seasonal pictures and festive songs, all the family can have hours of fun with this creative festive app. And when the kids are entertained, Mum and Dad can get on with writing Christmas cards, wrapping the presents and preparing the turkey.

Santa’s Christmas Village is available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users and costs £1.49.

Sleeps to Christmas Lite – Christmas Countdown

Christmas is a whole lot easier to plan when you know exactly how long you’ve got to go. OK so different animated Christmas characters holding signs that count down the nights, hours, minutes and seconds until Christmas Day might prove a little annoying and send you into panic about what you’ve got left to do but at least the kids will love it – They can even shake your iPhone or iPod touch to make a sleigh bell noise!

Download the Sleeps to Christmas Lite – Christmas Countdown for free.

 

The best features in Android KitKat 4.4

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New versions of Android don’t arrive with the same kind of hullabaloo as they used to, nor it would seem the same numerical significance. After Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 and Jelly Bean 4.1-4.3, the newest kid on the block is KitKat 4.4 so called thanks to a strange deal struck between Google and Nestlé. KitKat 5.0 would’ve fitted in nicely with the Nexus 5, but it wasn’t to be.

With Google choosing to farm out the likes of Gmail and Google Maps as separate apps, partly to minimise the effects of Android fragmentation, there isn’t all that much left in the core code of Android itself in terms of integrated features. Nevertheless, KitKat does bring with it some notable changes that will interest all Android users, and which give some indication of where Google’s mobile operating system will be heading in the future.

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Google Now continues to improve.

First and foremost, there’s Google Now. Technically speaking, Google Now is part of the separate Google Search app, but the integration is tightened up in KitKat 4.4 so that your personalised cards can be reached by one swipe from the central home screen. The old way of accessing Google Now, where you press and hold on the Home button then drag upwards, is still available.

The home screen engine itself has been modified, so any blank home screens simply disappear. If all of your shortcuts are on the central screen, swiping right has no effect, as there’s no home screen to go to. Widgets, meanwhile, have been shunted to the home screen settings together with wallpaper, rather than appearing as an extension of the All Apps screen.

home launchers
Manage your home launchers.

If you’re a serious Android user then no doubt you’ve played around with alternative launcher programs, and KitKat 4.4 makes switching between them easier with a new Home entry in the Settings app. It only appears once you’ve installed at least one third-party launcher on your system, and is a much more straightforward way of changing from one to another.

In fact, as Ars Technica discovered, the Google Search app is now pretty much Android itself. The default launcher is an extension of Google Now, rather than the other way around. That means, somewhere down the line, you’ll be able to install a pure, unmodified version of Android on any device from HTC, Samsung or anyone else.

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The new Hangouts out.

Also of note is the new Hangouts app, designed to handle SMS text messages as well as instant messenger chats. Again, this is technically a separate app that’s now available for older devices too, but as the latest version debuted with KitKat 4.4, we’re including a mention of it here.

The text messaging integration is very much a work in progress. The old Web chat Hangouts and the new SMS threads are kept in separate conversations, even when they relate to the same contact. What’s more, your text messages aren’t archived to Gmail like Hangout chats are, which would’ve been a nice touch. There’s definitely room for improvement in the future.

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The phone dialler app gets a refresh.

The Phone app has been given a facelift in KitKat 4.4, and will now automatically show frequently called contacts so you can get at them more easily. There’s also a new Caller ID feature: if an unknown number rings you, Android KitKat 4.4 scans nearby businesses on Google Maps to see if it can identify who it is. The same technology is coming to personal numbers in 2014, if you agree to link your Google+ profile to your mobile number, though there is the choice to opt-out.

The Camera and Gallery apps are still part of Android, and both get a couple of new features in KitKat 4.4. The headline change in terms of the camera is the new HDR+ mode, which takes a succession of images very quickly, then combines the best lighting, colour and saturation from each one. In most situations, it returns better-looking photos in return for a few milliseconds’ extra lag.

camera and gallery
Camera and gallery improvements.

As for the Gallery, it seems certain to be subsumed into the Photos app in the very near future. Nevertheless, for now it includes new editing features that enable you to apply filters and borders, straighten and crop images, and make adjustments to brightness, colour and saturation. It’s a welcome improvement, if you like playing around with images on your phone, and it’s non-destructive too — all of your edits can be undone with one tap.

Apart from a few stylish design tweaks, that’s about it. Other changes ushered in with KitKat 4.4 include a full-screen “Immersive Mode” that works more naturally (for your games and ebooks), the “OK Google” voice shortcut introduced by with the Moto X (though you’ll need to switch from “UK English” to “US English” to use it right now) and the ability to record screen activity as a video (a third-party app is required to do the recording right now, but the capability is there). There’s also improved file handling capabilities available to all apps, with Google Drive integration built in, and native cloud printing support.

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Better file handling is now available.

Android 4.4 KitKat continues three trends that have been building for some time: more personalisation, tighter integration with Google’s other products, and a move away from integrated apps to separate ones that can be updated independently. It’s undoubtedly the best and most attractive version of Android yet, designed as much to counter the alternative Android versions as iOS.

getWaiter app aims to put an end to “Garcon, Garcon!”

getwaiter-app

Garcon! Garcon! Caught your attention? How about if I click my fingers? Or suggestively waggle my eyebrows whilst miming a pen in the air? No … well then maybe I’ll use a brand new app on my phone – getWaiter. Perhaps the dictionary definition of a first world problem, getWaiter was created by entrepreneurs Paul Tombs and Dominic McGuinness who were frustrated about not being able to get the waiter’s attention when eating out. I would have simply gone to a new restaurant. Or at the most written a bad Yelp review. This is why they’re the entrepreneurs.

“The pleasure of dining out is about being able to completely relax because everything will be done for you, but it’s frustrating if you keep having to break off your conversation to grab the attention of a hard-working but very busy waiter. *get*Waiter! is a really valuable, simple app that tells waiters exactly who needs their attention,” said Dominic McGuinness, the company’s marketing director.

The free app works by scanning a special at your table, which automatically connects your table to the venue’s central waiting management system. This does feel a tiny bit like a sledgehammer to crack a walnut, but the developers assure us that the system is quick and painless one-click solution. Users don’t have to register to use the app, and no personal information is stored on the company’s servers, so you won’t be emailed countless 10% discount offers.

If you find this to be a genuine problem this app is probably quite useful. As a scruffy gentleman I always look like I’m about to dine and dash so have grown up with wait staff watching me like a hawk. Even when surrounded by other scruffy folk, I feel can always get table service with a smile and a strong arm wave. Plus I’m not the sort of person that would get put out waiting an extra couple of minutes to order dessert. Others feel differently. “Even if the food is great, you can be left with a sour taste in your mouth if it takes too long to pay the bill” according to Paul Tombs, managing director of *get*Waiter!

Take up is everything with an app like this – if it’s widely adopted by restaurants where you eat there’s a small chance it could become a genuine time saver. Although there is every possibility that installing an app such as getWaiter in your restaurant could make your staff much more attentive just because they know it’s there. According to Paul, the aim is that the app “becomes an instantly recognisable badge of excellence for customer service. Just as Michelin stars in the window of a restaurant signify great food, customers will know that venues where the *get*Waiter! logo is on show really care about providing a great customer experience.”

Sadly you can’t pay with the app. Or split the bill. Or order. In fact the app would be amazing if it did a little more than replace the ability to clear one’s throat loudly. However the app is designed to keep “personal service” at the forefront of your dining experience. The team behind believes the human touch is a vital part of great service in restaurants, and waiters’ extensive knowledge of wine and food remains vital difference.

Apple’s Apple Store app is pretty great example of an in-store app that enables you to shop, plan things, interact with staff and transact when you’re actually in the store – especially if you have a genius appointment. If only they served food. getWaiter can be downloaded free from the iTunes and Android Play stores or by clicking www.getwaiter.com

Get On Trac: Puma launches new running app

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Do you reckon you run faster on a sunny day? Or that Iron Maiden will always be champions of the definitive early morning run soundtrack? Perhaps you believe you’re at your physical peak during a full moon?

Well it’s time to put these theories to the test with Puma’s new free iPhone app Pumatrac. Thankfully, it’s a hell of a lot more useful than the brand’s previous app Puma Social. Launched almost exactly a year ago, Puma Social was a tool to help grease the wheels of post-game camaraderie, eschewing the brand’s more wholesome virtues in favour of booze-soaked social bandwagon jumpery. Yawn.

Mercifully Pumatrac sees the company go back to what they know best; sports. Running to be precise. And they’ve come up trumps. Like all running apps, the main premise is a training tool that tracks your distance, route and speed. However, here’s the interesting twist; it also takes other elements into account such as your soundtrack (as long as you’re listening to music from the same smart device) the weather, the altitude, the time, the season and even the moon cycle.

Sound gimmicky? Maybe a tiny bit, but they’ve utilised the functionality really well; all these additional elements and conditions are taken into account to provide you with new running stats other apps can’t give you. Such as which soundtrack helps you reach your top speeds. Or the days of the week you execute your best run. And yes, whether you’re at your physical peak best during full moon or not.

The idea is to help inspire you on those all-too-common rainy days when running seems like a bigger chore than doing your tax returns while doing the post Sunday roast dishes and the weekly ironing. As time goes by the app will learn your personal preferences and suggest training sessions that actually suit the conditions. Who knows? Perhaps you actually run faster and train more efficiently in the rain. In this sense it’s the app that keeps on giving; rather than spitting out the same old stats, it constantly evolves, providing you with insights about your training as you run through different seasons, times of the day and playlists.

Check out this promotional video from Puma which shows the product in a little more detail:

Egging you on with notifications that are cheery but not cheesy, it’s user-friendly and fully socialised. There’s also a neat option of adopting new running routes saved by other Pumatrac users. And, of course, a chance to shout about your stats on all the popular social platforms. Released just a week after Adidas and Nokia announced their forthcoming, intuitive miCoach app, it seems sports brands are rebooting their smart device presence with some really interesting solutions. It’s about time.

Parallels Access Turns Your Windows / Mac Programs Into iPad Apps

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Being able to get at your computer from your tablet is nothing new — apps like TeamViewer and LogMeIn already to a great job, and a free for non-commercial use — but Parallels Access offers something a little different. It optimises the programs running on your computer so that they mimic iPad apps, supporting the standard full-screen mode, tapping and scrolling that you’d find in anything you downloaded from the App Store. Your Windows taskbar or Mac OS dock is turned into an iOS-style home screen, making it much easier to launch and switch between apps as required.

It’s an impressive feat, and it comes at a price: you’ll need to shell out £54.99 a year for every computer you want to access, though there is a free trial available if you want to test the software out before parting with your cash. The final link in the chain is the Parallels Access desktop client, available for Windows (in beta) and Mac OS, which controls access from your iPad and makes the necessary adjustments on your computer (which you won’t be able to use if you’re also linked to it on your iPad).

We spent some time playing around with Parallels Access on an iPad mini and a Windows 8 PC, and while there were one or two minor bugs in the beta desktop client, overall the setup offered a great iPad-optimised experience. Installation was simple and straightforward, and our desktop software programs really did feel like native iPad apps, from the integrated pop-up keyboard to the simple app switching interface. Using Word was intuitive and straightforward, providing the fully featured software in a way that makes sense for a smaller screen.

Some of the more advanced operations (like clicking and dragging) take a little time to get used to — pay attention to the tutorial video that appears during the setup process, which explains how to duplicate mouse clicks and keyboard presses on your touchscreen iPad. Not every application works perfectly right now, but you can make use of the free trial period to see how Parallels Access handles your favourite programs.

Parallels has high hopes for the app. “We are now in an always-on age where people are increasingly demanding access to their applications and data regardless of physical location,” said CEO Birger Steen. “With Parallels Access, you can tap, swipe and pinch your way around Mac and Windows applications to ultimately be more productive at work, and lead a more connected life.”

You can download Parallels Access for iOS here and find the desktop clients at the Parallels website . The company also develops an extensive range of other virtualisation and cloud computing products.