App Watch: Plain old text and widgets (lots of widgets)

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App Watch: Sept. 10, 2014

Widget, widgets, widgets. Boy, have we got some widgets for you. And text. Plain text. Plain old text, turned into a calculator. And widgets. Did I mention those? Weather widgets. Battery widgets. And yes, text widgets.

Read all about these new widgets and other new apps in this week's App Watch.

WunderStation

WunderStation from Weather Underground hooks into thousands of privately owned weather stations and presents their data in an iPad app. The smoothly animated graphs are beautiful and can tell you way more than you’d ever want to know about rainfall, barometric pressure and even UV. If you have stations near you, it’s pretty rad. If not, no biggie – the app is $Free

Droool

Filthy name, great app. Droool is a “photo gallery for your social networks.” Browse pictures from Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook and more, and index pictures from iCloud and other local folders without moving or copying the files. It’s fast, simple and looks great, and it’s free with in-app purchases. $Free

iBetterCharge

Terrible name, great app. iBetterCharge monitors your iOS devices’ battery level over your Wi-Fi network, using the same connection that iTunes Wi-Fi sync would use, if you still synced your iPhone with your computer in the space year of 2014. It can pop up warnings when the battery drops to a preset level, and a click on the menu bar shows you the level of all the devices on the network. $Free

Photogrammar

This is what the Internet is made for. Photogrammar puts 170,000 Depression-era photos in a searchable, browsable archive. Explore on an interactive map, search or get into the Labs section and browse by metadata sourced from the U.S. Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information archives. Warning: serious time-sink. $Free

PlainTextMenu

PlainTextMenu takes the text on your Mac’s clipboard and transmogrifies it into something useful. It strips out formatting, so you never get big ugly Comic Sans when pasting from a colleague’s Word report, and it can turn the text to uppercase, lowercase or title case along the way. From the school of One Thing Well. $1

re/spin

Web service re/spin takes Spotify playlists and transforms them into Rdio playlists. If someone’s going to share a playlist, it usually comes from Spotify, and re/spin works with published Spotify playlists. Or you can just paste in a track list copied right from the app. It also works with Last.fm. Remember when PCs couldn’t read Mac floppy disks? It’s like fixing that all over again. $Free

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StorageStatus

You know all those hard drives grafted onto your Mac? Keep a close eye on them with StorageStatus, an app that turns hard drives into traffic lights in your menu bar and changes their colors when they do something. It knows when they are sleeping, it knows when they’re awake, and it knows when they’ve been good or bad. $3

Calca

Not new, but awesome nonetheless. Calca is as close as you’ll get to a plain text calculator. Tap in complex formulas or simple sums and see the results right there in a plain text document. Set variables or just add numbers. And see all your pages synced over iCloud between Mac, iPhone and iPad versions, as well as Windows(!). I love Calca for its balance of simplicity and power. From $3

TVShow Time for iPad

Finally, a version for the iPad. TVShow Time tracks your favorite TV shows and tells you when they’re on. Browse shows and show synopses, and get notifications when something is about to air. See the shows on a calendar, view news about your shows and read about new shows. It’s pretty comprehensive, and looks great on the big iPad screen. $3

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Rdio for iOS, Mac and Web goes freemium

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Forget Spotify, Pandora and Beats Music. I’ve tried them all, and for my money, Rdio is the best streaming music subscription service out there. It has the best app design and, for my tastes, the best music selection. But you have to pay.

An update, though, is trying to make Rdio much more palatable to free users, as well as help all users find new music faster. It’s making the service free to everyone, emphasizing ad-supported stations for free users (with up to 15 times as many tracks as competing services), and new, smart social services for paid users.

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Why this music junkie won’t be subscribing to Beats

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Word cloud from Apple's press release on Beats acquisition. Larger words are more frequent.
Word cloud from Apple's press release on Beats acquisition. Larger words are more frequent.

I’m a streaming music junkie. I’ve subscribed to Rdio, Spotify and Slacker to rein in my tendency to hoard (and then not back up) music.  Putting a tenner on monthly subscriptions for an all-you-can-listen auditory buffet model appealed to me more than an album-binging approach, too.

Still, the Apple and Beats acquisition rumors (now fact) struck me as tone deaf – what does Beats bring that the other services don’t? So I decided to take the Beats app on my iPhone for good long spin.

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As streaming surges, record stores turn the indie knob up to 11

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Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Video might have killed the radio star, but streaming hasn't killed the record store. Photos: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Stroll into your local record store and you won’t find the dusty-floored wasteland of empty bins you might imagine. Chances are you’ll see something that’s more vibrant, relevant and vital than before.

Like the nerdy know-it-alls at specialty wine stores and comic book shops, today’s typical employee at an indie record store is still a tastemaking wizard — just turned up to 11. Staff picks bear the unerring zeal of the true believer, and staffers are more focused on uncovering stuff that you’ll never find on a Walmart CD shelf.

“Since there’s been a turn to Spotify, Bandcamp and iTunes, we sell way more vinyl,” said Jim Haynes, assistant manager at San Francisco’s Aquarius Records. “We’re at about 75 percent vinyl to 20 percent CD and a smattering of cassettes. People are turning to an even more seemingly obsolete medium.”

Predictions of the end of physical media are as played-out as those reports about the death of rock ‘n’ roll, with everyone and their mother proclaiming that Spotify and other streaming services have killed the local record store. That fear-mongering sounds smart and might even contain a kernel of truth, but the reality is much different.

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Spotify Adds Browsable Albums Collections, Dark Theme

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Spotify seems to have solved one major problem with its apps. Until now, the music streaming service has been focussed on playlists, forcing you to organize your music in order to “save” it for later.

Compare this to Rdio, which concentrates on albums and songs, letting your save them to an iTunes-like collection.

Spotify now offers “Your Music,” which is pretty much a copy of Rdio’s collections, and is a very welcome addition.

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Pandora Bumps Up Price On Its Ad-Free Streaming Service

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Photo: Pandora

iTunes Radio still has a long way to go before it catches up with Pandora’s number of subscribers, but in an effort to keep up with increasing royalty costs, Pandora announced this morning that it’s bumping up the monthly subscription price for Pandora One.

Starting in May new subscribers will have to pay $4.99 per month if they want their music stream ad free, which is still cheaper than competitors like Spotify and Rdio (both $9.99 per month).

Apple’s alternative, iTunes Radio is ad-free with $24.99 annual iTunes Match subscription, but Pandora is deciding to just drop the annual subscription option altogether.

Here’s a breakdown of the pricing changes:

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And The Winner Is… Best Music On-Demand Streaming Service

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In 2001, Apple changed the way music was distributed with the arrival of iTunes, its online digital media store. Since that time, the digital age has evolved rapidly into an era where cassette mix tapes and compact discs are no more. As we enter an era in which the internet serves our every need, alongside digital distribution and the iTunes Store are an increasing number of on-demand music streaming services have become today’s most popular and possibly cost-effective means of accessing the equivalent of walking into your local music store and buying everything.

Unlike Pandora and iTunes Radio (which we’ll cover shortly in another column), on-demand streaming radio allows you to listen to any music in the service library as often as you like.

The competition between the unlimited all-you-can-stream music services is fiercer than ever before, and with the launch of Beats Music this past month, it has become even more difficult to pinpoint the most suitable music subscription for our needs.

However, after hours of research, a comparison of the seven on-demand services on offer (including Beats Music, Spotify, Rdio, Xbox Music, Rhapsody, Sony Music Unlimited, and Google Play Music–see our table below), and some hands-on testing, we’ve managed to narrow down the overwhelming choice to a select few that offer the best overall features and usability. So let’s crack on with the results, shall we?

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