Useful Android Apps

May 10, 2014

Here’s a few Android apps that are on my favorite’s list:images

Agent – This is a nice background-running app that controls various settings on your smartphone during the day. For example, when my calendar shows that I’m “Busy” in a meeting it will turn off all notifications. When I’m sleeping at night, it will turn off alarms, the ringer, and notifications (unless they are from someone identified as a VIP). It also will read out IM messages through my connected Bluetooth system in my car, save my last car parked position, and has various features for battery saving. Works very well, and silently in the background.

Today Calendar – A great replacement app for the stock calendar app on my HTC One. Very clean with a beautiful interface. Well worth the nominal cost of the app.

Play Newsstand – This is Google’s news app which I’ve found to work pretty well. Lots of available content, so you’ll never run out of news to read while eating your lunch at work!

Google Remote Desktop – Absolutely excellent remote desktop app for Android. With this app, I can very, very easily connect to my home desktop iMac system and do some basic activities remotely on that system. I’ve tried numerous different remote connection apps, but this works the easiest and smoothest. Works amazingly well on my HTC One smartphone with a LTE cellular connection.

SkipLock – This app will turn off your smartphone’s lock screen if you’re connected to specific WiFi networks or connected to your car’s Bluetooth. Very convenient when at home or driving in your car.

 


PushBullet – Great Message Mirroring App

January 26, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 8.06.06 AMIf you have an Android tablet or smartphone, you check out an app called PushBullet. It had a companion extension for your Desktop PC’s Chrome Browser (and Firefox, I believe) that allows you to wirelessly push information between your Desktop PC and Android devices, or between the Android devices themselves. So if you have a web page link, web address, file, or short checklist that you’d like to transfer from one device to another (or all) you can do it from PushBullet. The app does all of this by using the Google Messaging System that is available for free by Google’s Servers.

One really cool feature of PushBullet, is the ability to mirror notifications that appear on your Android phone or tablet to your Desktop PC. So, when I get a notification on my HTC One smartphone (like a CNN or USA Today breaking news), a small dialog window pops up on my Desktop Mac system in the right top corner of the screen with the same message. Other notifications like when someone is calling me or when I get a text message also appears on my Desktop Mac as well. Really cool, since I don’t have to stop and look at my phone when I get these notifications.

Definitely worth installing and checking out if your in the Google Android ecosystem.


Web Browser indexDB = Sucks!

February 18, 2013

The Javascript programming language has become so powerful that really good applications can be developed and run inside a web browser. Free Javascript modules are also available with great widgets to make your ‘web browser-based’ app look and act like a real native application. After developing such a web browser app, I decided to convert it to a Google Chrome Packaged App so it can be installed and run on the Google Chromebooks.

As I discovered, there were lots of pitfalls with regards to writing Chrome Apps. Here are a few that I ran into:

  • WebSQL disabled – It turns out that the Web Browser consortium (whomever they are) decided to dump the WebSQL (SQLite) database system for HTML5 and go with something called indexDB. From what I can tell, indexDB is not a relational database system, but rather an indexed named-pair flat file concept. I think it was a bad move dumping the SQLite database system (which is well established) for some less featured system that is more complicated to code up.
  • Security Policies – There are lots of policies in place for security that handcuffs Javascript development with Chrome Apps. For example, I’m trying to use some Javascript modules that use the eval() function and they are prohibited in a Chrome App. As such, I can’t use those modules and have very limited tools available to me.

Because of all this, it seems you can only write Chrome Apps that are very limited and follow the strict protocols defined by Google. I understand the need for security, but these policies really limit what you can do. That’s too bad, since Javascript app development can really produce some great, functional apps!


Tasker: My Automated Robot

July 29, 2012

I’ve been using a great Android app called Tasker on my HTC EVO LTE smartphone, and it’s been working fantastic. Tasker allows you to define certain tasks that get fired off under certain conditions, events, etc. For example, I’ve defined a Tasker entry that will turn on the WiFi on my smartphone if I’m getting close to my house (based on cell tower proximity) and will turn off my WiFi if I leave my house area. That way, I know my WiFi is always turned on when I get home and turned off when I leave.

Another good use case is my for my weekday morning drives to work. Normally, I listen to a podcast using an app called “Podkicker”, so I have a task that will activate this app every weekday at 5:00 am. I also have another task that will turn up the media volume on my smartphone when it connects to the Ford Sync system in my Ford Explorer vehicle (via Bluetooth), and will later mute the media volume when this Bluetooth connection is severed.

Finally, I have a task that will read out-loud any SMS messages while my phone is connected to my Ford Sync system.

Tasker is a great app, and definitely worth its price. My big dilemma now, is coming up with more useful Tasker tasks to implement!


Side Loading Apps on your Kindle Fire

December 26, 2011

If you own an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, you’ve quickly learned that you only have access to the Amazon App Store for downloading and installing Android apps. The Android Market (which is used by all other Android phones and tablets) is not available for the Kindle Fire. Since most of the available apps are in the Android Market and not in the Amazon App Store, this is a real drag.

Some KF owners have rooted their tablets to gain access to the Android Market, but as you may have read in one of my previous postings I decide to not go down that route for a number of reasons (include voiding the warranty of your tablet). Instead, I’ve taken the “side loading” approach which allows me to install desired apps outside of the Amazon App Store.

If you do a Google search on “kindle fire side loading” you’ll come across many web sites and blogs that explain the process. Basically, you need to install a desired app on another Android device (like a different tablet or cell phone), then use a File Explorer app to make a “backup” of that app. Next, you copy the backup file of that app (which is a standard .apk Android installer file) over to your Kindle Fire and install it. It’s a multi-step process, but you don’t need root access to do this procedure.

In my case, I have an Acer Iconia 10″ Android Tablet that I use to install my desired apps. I then use the app called Astro which is a file explorer app on my Acer tablet to do a “backup” of selected installed apps to the internal SD Card. For convenience, I’ll then use the DropBox app on my Acer tablet to upload these apk files to my DropBox cloud account. Finally, I run the same DropBox app on my Kindle Fire to access my online account, and just tap on the apk files. They then automatically download and install themselves. Using Dropbox in the manner is convenient for me, but you can always transfer the apk files from your PC or Mac over to your Kindle Fire via a USB sync cable.

Note, that not all 3rd party apps will install on the Kindle Fire, as some required Google libraries are not present. For example, the Pageonce Travel app that runs fine on my Nexus S phone and Acer Tablet  won’t install on my KF (I think it’s because certain Google Location Libraries are not present on the KF). So be aware that not all apps can be loaded using this side-loading method.


Calendar mayhem!

April 17, 2011

I have trouble remembering appointments, family events, birthdays, etc. so I rely heavily on a calendar to keep my life in order. This is true for both my personal and business life, so like to keep two separate calendars to keep things compartmentalized. The issue I’ve been struggling with is finding the most efficient way of dealing with these two calendars and keeping them synced with my computers and mobile devices.

So here’s what I have available:

  1. Personal calendar for my personal appointments and events
  2. Business calendar for my work appointments, travel dates, etc.
  3. An iMac at home running Snow Leopard Mac X OS
  4. A Dell laptop running Windows 7 for work
  5. An Apple iPhone 4 as my smartphone
  6. Microsoft Exchange Server for my work email, calendar, and contacts
  7. Apple MobileMe for Calendar, Email, and Contacts
  8. Google Calendar and Contacts
My goal, is to be able to view and edit my calendar appointments (personal and business) on my iMac desktop computer, Dell laptop, and iPhone device. I know there’s all kinds of 3rd-party freeware and commercial software for syncing calendar data between applications and the cloud, but I wanted to minimize that as much as possible to eliminate any chances of “foul ups”.
I ended up using this solution: Create two calendars with my MobileMe account that allows me to create,view, and edit appointments. If you’re unfamiliar with MobileMe, it is Apple’s cloud-based system which allows for centralized email, calendar, contacts, and offline disk storage. Using this method, I can always access my calendars via a web browser with an Internet connection. Because the majority of my devices are Apple-based, it made sense using this method for syncing purposes. So, I now use the Apple iCal application to access both MobileMe calendars on my iMac desktop computer, and the built-in Calendar app on my iPhone for doing the same. For my Dell laptop (running Windows 7), I use the Microsoft Outlook application along with a MobileMe syncing utility (provided by Apple) to sync my two MobileMe calendars with Outlook for local access. This method seems to work well so far, but I need to always make sure I’m viewing the two MobileMe calendars in all my apps and not the default local calendars (which should be empty).
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Trip Tracker – A great smartphone app for travelers

April 16, 2011

Trip Tracker is a great app that I use to keep track of my airline, rental car, and hotel reservations. It’s made by Page Once, and available for free for the iPhone and Android smartphone devices. I’ve been using the iPhone version and am very, very pleased with its functionality. Once I’ve set it up to access my airline, rental car, and hotel frequent traveler accounts, it will automatically download my latest reservations to my iPhone. It will also display my current frequent flyer miles/points for those accounts as well. Finally, it will send me notifications alerting me of upcoming travel via my email and popup notification on my iPhone. What a great app!

For airline reservations, it will show you the arrival/departure times and gate numbers at the airport. What I really like about it is that I can check my reservations without having to fumble with paper printouts or search through my emails for my travel confirmation information. Best of all, it’s free, so I recommend anyone who travels to check out this app.