Reading & reference apps
From Victorian curios to virtual bookcases.
Twenty-first-century technology meets 19th century print publishing, with fascinating results, in the British Library’s Microsoft-backed project to digitise its unique and fragile collection of historical books. This enormous, searchable collection covers a wide gamut of genres, including fiction, prose, history and poetry. Once you’ve hunted down your title – Wordsworth’s Poems For The Young, for example, or more esoteric gems such as Alcohol Against The Bible, and The Bible Against Alcohol, a lecture given to the lucky visitors to the Temperance Hall in Bradford in September 1840 – you can flick through high-definition scans of the original texts, with covers, illustrations, maps and all. Don’t be fooled by the several blank pages at the beginning of most of the books – most texts seem to start at around page seven or eight. They’re undoubtedly worth the wait.
Tablets are perfect for reading, and for newspapers there’s no better all-encompassing app than PressReader. This app offers digitised versions of all the national dailies, free and paid for, plus thousands of other international newspapers. The papers can be pinch-zoomed, flicked around and browsed, and since they’re effectively straight PDFs of the pages, they look exactly like the real thing. As subscribed titles are downloaded automatically, you’ll never have to wait on the paperboy again.
Recently revamped to take full advantage of expansive tablet screens, Amazon’s Kindle app is full of thoughtful touches. Wireless synchronisation allows you to pick up where you left off on your Kindle reader or smartphone; screen brightness controls and a choice of background colours help counter eye strain; and the search facility quickly hunts down keywords in books. An iBooks-style double-page spread option wouldn’t go amiss when reading in landscape mode, but when you can download and read classic books for free, it seems almost churlish to complain.
Whether you believe global warming is a genuine threat or cooked-up hokum, you can’t fail to appreciate the presentation of Al Gore’s interactive call for action, Our Choice. The arguments forwarded in Gore’s polemic are backed up by a barrage of dynamic infographics, video clips and graphs, comprising what may come to be regarded as a landmark piece of interactive publishing.
Free (plus magazines purchase price)
Long before Apple announced its own digital newsstand, Zinio was offering electronic versions of many of the world’s greatest glossy magazines. There isn’t a great deal of interactivity: Zinio offers little more than flickable facsimiles of magazines, with a plain text version of each page if you prefer. But its sheer breadth of titles and ability to have the latest edition automatically downloaded to your tablet is pure convenience. Get your digital copy of PC & TA on the Zinio platform here.
The ABC for iPad app achieves the astonishing feat of making even a Tony Abbott speech appear interesting. While it puts the whole of the ABC at your fingertips, the local and national news is particularly impressive with video and radio also included. Praise be to our National Broadcaster – this is a fantastic app that’s guaranteed to remain completely free.
Wikipedia is a magnificent resource, but even its most ardent fan would have to admit it’s as attractive as a breeze block. Cooliris’ Discover reformats the encyclopaedia into a finger-flick friendly, magazine-style format, which makes the content more approachable. There are different layouts for the various genres of article; flip the tablet into landscape mode and a panel of related articles appears, cleverly encouraging further reading around a topic.
For workers on the go.
OmniFocus is more akin to a life manager than a project manager, with no task too small to be logged, but its greatest skill is to integrate them into your working life – and all the projects that fill your time. Take the huge work assignment consuming your thoughts right now. OmniFocus helps break it down into individual timelined actions, all assigned to “contexts”. Let’s say you need to ask Tony lots of little questions. You make the context of these actions “Tony”, and next time you’re having a meeting with him they all appear by his name. You can view actions by due dates, project, or any other context you choose. OmniFocus has its faults: primarily that it can’t sync directly with PCs (it can to Macs). But don’t be put off, it could transform you into the most organised person in your business.
We haven’t yet found a Windows server admin app we’d recommend, but if you need to support Mac OS X servers – or want to see the potential of these devices in the server room – then look no further than Server Admin Remote. A friendly interface, complete with fancy graphs to show metrics such as CPU usage, is married to all the features most people are likely to need at their fingertips. The fact it works over 3G adds yet more appeal; handy when you need to reboot the server while sitting on the train.
$14.99 (Android); $19.99 (iPad)
While Apple offers Keynote (see below),Pages and its rival apps for around $11 each,Quickoffice and Documents To Go are pitchedin battle to offer better value “suite” alternatives.They’re both compatible with Office 2010,integrate beautifully with online services suchas Google Docs, and both work on iPad andAndroid. For us, Quickoffice wins out for nowthanks to drag-and-drop support, but it’s worthcomparing their features before you commit.
The big advantage 2Do holds over OmniFocus is that it can synchronise to-do lists with Outlook on your PC, as long as they’re both on the same wireless network. While it doesn’t offer the advanced skills of its life-organising rival, it’s more than a simple to-do list: you can create projects with timelines, for instance, or simple checklists. Other nice features include the ability to add locations via Maps and voice notes. It also looks pretty and, compared to OmniFocus, it’s cheap.
If you’re going to batter clients into submission with a presentation, you may as well do it in style. Keynote – the iPad accompaniment to Apple’s PowerPoint rival – ships with a dozen high-quality templates, onto which you can drag, drop and easily resize text, tables and charts. There are also 20 transitions on offer to impress your audience, including the highly polished Magic Move, which allows you to make items elegantly shift and disappear from one slide to the next. Best suited to users of Keynote on Mac OS X.
Mind-mapping isn’t quite the trendy buzzword it used to be, but thousands of people around the world swear by its ability to create, link and visualise concepts. What keeps iThoughtsHD at the top of an ever-increasing pile of mind-mapping apps for the iPad –18 when we last checked – is its slick interface, seamless integration with Dropbox and wide support for mind-map program formats. With regular updates, it keeps getting better too.
Great as Excel 2007 and 2010 are, they can’t rival a dedicated tool to tease out meaning from a massive list of numbers. And that’s precisely what Roambi does, in tandem with your free Roambi Lite account at www.roambi. com. The biggest challenge is to organise your source data (such as Excel spreadsheets) into a form Roambi can decipher; once you do, you’ll find a treasure trove of interactive charts, and even a Cardex-style presentation to let you flip through sets of results.
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