Saturday, 26 May 2012

Must-have Android apps

I get asked this a lot: what are the Android applications I would struggle to manage without? Here's a list. I'll add links as I go along, but if you can't find an app and I haven't linked, drop a comment and ask for it, and I'll update the page for you.


  • Dropbox - this is a biggie. I have Dropbox on just about every computer and device I use, and it's completely indispensable for me. You create a file in your Dropbox directory, and every other device receives and is kept up-to-date with it. It's my hippocampus, and I'd be in a major pickle without it. I use the app to access files in my main Dropbox, but don't often create new ones for Dropbox from my 'Droid. Which is why I need a couple more Cloud applications:
  • Xmarks. It's Dropbox for browser bookmarks, and I have it on every browser I have.
  • Catch Notes. It's Dropbox for ad-hoc notes. Enough said.
  • Skype. When you're on a decent hotel wi-fi, thousands of miles from base, and you don't want to pay roaming costs to call home, or fire up the laptop, there's nothing better. Sorry, SIPP fans, but there it is.
  • Documents To Go. Yes, I punted cash for the full version. DTG isn't perfect, and it doesn't yet support OpenOffice/LibreOffice formats, but it's the best office suite I've tried on Android so far.
  • Barcode Scanner. Does what it says, and understands quite a few 2D code types too.
  • CamCard. I recently tried to revive my business card scanner, only to find that Kensington, dear little moppets that they are, haven't bothered paying someone a few quid to recompile their drivers for the 64-bit version of Windows 7. The current crop of card scanners isn't that cheap. Then I had a bright idea, and checked out what was available for Android. Bingo! CamCard does vastly better recognition than any PC app I've tried, and can add to the phone contacts, to Google Contacts, and also maintains its own list. Job done. The free version's recognition's just as good, but it's worth punting for the paid one. It's a damn sight cheaper than a hardware scanner, so let's not be stingy!
  • CallRecorder. For when you need to remember what you said!


  • AndroZip. It's a file manager and decompresser rolled into one.
  • Battery Indicator. Your battery level shown as a percentage. Simple, effective and completely necessary.
  • AVG Mobilation Antivirus. Possibly the worst ever name for a product, but it does the job.
  • London Travel. Not the most sophisticated or attractive app of all time, but it's perfect for finding out the next train from anywhere to anywhere else (not just London!), seeing the latest Tube line status, working out the nearest London bus stop, and so on.


  • Google Sky Map. For any astronomer, this is a must-have. Just wave your phone at a part of the sky, and the digital compass, GPS and accelerometers allow the app to show you exactly which stars or planets you're looking at. Bonus points to Google for "Night mode", when it renders in red on black, so you don't lose your night vision. If only I could interface it to my 'scope, for a point'n'slew operation!
  • Google Earth. You know it, you use it, and you need it on your 'Droid.
  • Aldiko. By no means perfect, but probably the best e-book reader for the Android at the moment.
  • TED. It's like giving your brain cosmetic surgery. Loads of inspirational videos for free.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Microsoft's old tricks will doom Windows on tablets

Amazing. Just when I was actually starting to like MS again (after decades agin), they fall back on their old bad ways.

In a recent Register article, the Mozilla Foundation and Google have been complaining loudly that Microsoft will only be allowing Internet Explorer as the default browser on ARM-based tablets and devices running Windows 8 - or Windows RT as it will be called on those platforms.

For those of us with recall slightly better than the common-or-garden-pond goldfish, this brings back memories of the antitrust battles that were fought in the US and in European courts as Microsoft tried to monopolise first the browser space, then the media player space. In both cases, MS gave their own products "most favoured nation" status, with private programming interfaces not provided to rivals. In both cases, MS tried to make their own product inherent to the operating system, restricting or even preventing rival products' attempts to allow themselves to be default. In earlier times, Microsoft even (allegedly) committed occasional "dirty tricks" that deliberately caused their competitors' programs to misbehave, and appear to be buggy, in unfair comparison with MS's own.

And now it's happening again.

The antitrust lawyers will have a field day with this. MS will be stomped on from on high in the US and European courts, and end up paying a fortune and opening out the OS again, just as happened before.

Compare Microsoft's market capitalisation with Apple's and Google's, over the past ten years. They tell their own tale. MSFT's been on a slow slide over that period, and the upcoming news isn't good.

The problem is a lack of vision at the highest levels.

Microsoft's principal market is in desktop and laptop PCs, particularly in business - and desktops are rapidly going the way of the mammoth. Microsoft's laptop market share is under pressure from Apple laptops, and Apple and Android tablets, and it's only going to get worse unless MS acts. Rather late in the day, Microsoft has seen that it must have a tablet proposition, or fail; hence the genuinely innovative Metro user interface.

They've also spotted that Intel-architecture processors aren't future-proof any more, and that ARM is making more and more Intel products look decidedly yesterday's news. Compare ARM's and Intel's growth, and it's plain to see the trend. So, MS had to come out with ARM versions of their key products before market drift made them (MS, and their products) obsolete.

There have been signs of a change in Microsoft's course. For about the first time, the company has been engaging fairly with the open source community. They've started to innovate, at long last - Metro being a case in point. And, of course, addressing the ARM-based portable devices was seismic in its impact.

Unfortunately, the old-school leadership has undermined these welcome initiatives. Microsoft hasn't yet stopped covert operations around open standards, a pattern we all remember from allegations of ballot-stuffing on standards committees. And this most recent anti-competitive behaviour shows once again how Microsoft's leaders seem locked in an early-1990s time warp, and yet appear to have learnt nothing at all from the company's history of causing costly and ultimately unsuccessful court battles.

Microsoft's corporate investors can have only limited patience. Microsoft needs vision. Time for a change at the top, before their leaders squander the rest of Microsoft's share value.