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Cult Favorite: Auto Verbal Pro Lets Devices Speak For You



What it is: Auto Verbal Pro (iTunes link) is handy, if not quite full-featured augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) software that gives non-verbal people an inexpensive tool to communicate using an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.

Why it’s cool: Other high-end AAC solutions such as Proloquo2go (iTunes link) cost well upwards of $100 while Auto Verbal Pro hit the iTunes store a couple of weeks ago at 99¢. The introductory price won’t last long but even when NoTie Software kicks its offering up to $30 it will still be a bargain for the help it can bring to people with autism or other conditions that make it difficult for them to communicate verbally.

With over 100 pre-programmed icons in its intuitive interface, Auto Verbal Pro makes it easy for a non-verbal person to say basic phrases such as “I am tired,” or “I am OK,” and things such as numbers, days of the week, shapes, colors, food items, animals and so on. There are 10 icons which can be custom programmed to utter more complex phrases, such as “This software is the bomb, isn’t it?” and a text entry field in which any phrase can be typed and played through the device speakers. Users can choose between large and small buttons, which can be very useful to the visually impaired or fat-fingered, and between male or female sounding computerized voices in low-fi or hi-fi quality.

While great strides have been made in recent years developing software to speak for us, Auto Verbal Pro showcases some of the limitations that persist. The built-in low-fi voicings are certainly intelligible but lack any kind of nuance or expressiveness. Hi-fi voicings are even more intelligible and slightly more expressive, but they require WiFi Internet access in order to work, since the files live on NoTie’s servers. When a custom or typed phrase is called on to use a hi-fi voice, the software connects to NoTie and plays back the sounds using QuickTime, which results in clunky, irritating delays. Where no Internet access is available, the program defaults to the low-fi voicing.

All and all, this is useful and potentially even quite amusing software; with good reason it quickly jumped into the Top 5 Paid Medical apps on the iTunes App Store.

Where to get it: Auto Verbal Pro (currently English-only, but with French, Spanish, and German versions planned) is available on the App Store for a limited time at 99¢, after which its price will jump to $30. It’s well worth investing a dollar now to see if it’s something that could be useful to you or someone you care about.

Cult Favorite: i2KQuickage Revolutionary Panorama Software


Elegant, seamless panoramas with one click
Elegant, seamless panoramas with one click

What it is: i2KQuickage is curiously named but unbelievably powerful photo panorama software from the genius minds at DualAlign, software developers whose primary markets have long been medical communities and defense sorts. There’s no reason to keep this software’s incredible charms from the broader photography market, though – it gives even the humblest talents and rigs (such as those possessed by this reviewer) the power to make arresting panoramic images with just one click of the mouse.

Why it’s cool: If you ever spent time using photo editing software to stitch together several photos into a panorama, you likely praised the heavens with the arrival of auto-stitching and panorama tools to Photoshop. But even Photoshop users — and users of other specialized software such as Double Take, which integrates well with both Aperture and iPhoto — still have to deal with quite a number of considerations to get the job done. Image registration, correction for exposure anomalies across the range of images used to build a panorama, distortion correction, seam selection and blending, and final image processing — Photoshop, Double Take and other solutions all require multiple user choices and steps to achieve optimal results.

i2KQuickage ends all that. Its proprietary algorithms produce stunning panoramas — with the user’s responsibility being no more than selecting the images to be used and clicking the “Create Montage” button. Even using images captured with a camera set in the “Auto” mode, which can led to dramatic differences in illumination and exposure between
images, even with movement of people and natural phenomena (such as waves on a beach) in the photos, the results produced by i2KQuickage are outstanding.

Cult Favorite: We’re Smarter Than You, And We’ll Prove It With Highly Addictive, Socially Wired ‘Qrank’ Quiz App



Sure, the app store is swimming in trivia quiz games, but Qrank is different — and ever since the game raised its shiny little head up off the App Store floor earlier this month it’s had us hooked like sugar junkies to a candy factory.

the free app cranks (you knew it had to be in here) out a fresh quiz every day, and you’re only allowed one crack at it per day, which is one big reason why it’s as addictive as, well, crack. That, and the way the game connects players socially — everyone has to answer the same questions, which makes it easy to let your friends know you’re smarter than them.

If you don’t have friends, the game publicly ranks you against everyone else playing that day, so you can be smarter than your state, the nation — or the whole world.

Micromanage Peasants In Addictive iPhone Game, We Rule [Favorite Apps]



What it is: We Rule is an addictive world-building iPhone game that blends Sim City with Facebook’s Farmville. Set in medieval times, you must build a prosperous kingdom by micromanaging the peasants and expanding trade with other online players.

Why it’s good: The game blends the best empire-building aspects of Sim City with the social aspects of Farmville.

As a teenager, I was totally addicted to games like Sid Meier’s Civilization, and Sim City. Even though they had terrible graphics and long load times on my old Pentium 1 PC, the sense of being a ‘god’ and having power over all those little guys made it a deep and immersive experience. Now Ngmoco has brought this gaming experience to the iPhone.

Cult Favorite: Omni Apps Prove iPad is Not Just a Toy


OmniGraffle brings professional diagramming to iPad.

OK, class, weekend playtime is over. Time to get to work. More than 300,000 of you have had fun since Saturday playing games, watching movies and lazing around in bed with the Sunday New York Times on your new iPad. Now it’s Monday morning and the question is: can you justify bringing Apple’s new gadget into the office and putting it to work as a productivity tool?

Well, should your work involve producing graphs, flow charts, schematic designs or anything similar the answer is a resounding yes if you’re hip to the productivity apps from Omni Group.

Cult Favorite: Political GPS Puts You on Track to Make a Difference



What is it?
Political GPS is, hands down, the best way to leverage your iPhone or iPod Touch as a tool for political activism.

Created by Thomas Huntington, this handy dandy app can help pinpoint your personal location in the political spectrum, provides unprecedentedly comprehensive contact and biographical information for every senator and member of congress in Washington, DC, allows quick access to the full text and summary of every bill passed by the US Congress, back to the 106th — including all versions and amendments — and features the full texts of such seminal documents of freedom as the US Constitution, the Magna Carta and the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Why it’s Cool:
Did you resolve to become more politically active in the coming year?

Perhaps you’re disenchanted with the return you seem to be getting from your vote in 2008 for Barack Obama or your local senator or congressperson. Perhaps you find yourself firmly in the Libertarian/Conservative quadrant of the political compass and smell both blood and an opportunity to swing the balance of power rightward in November’s midterm elections. Perhaps you’re just intrigued by the idea of a tool that might help you make your voice more easily heard with your representatives in congress.

Political GPS is the app you’ve been waiting for.

No flashy graphics or a fancy GUI here, but a quick 30 question survey helps you place your own political leanings on a compass-like map that measures general attitudes toward ideas of economic and social freedom, plotting your answers on axes measuring liberal/conservative and anarchist/totalitarian tendencies, as well as those for communism/libertarianism and socialism/fascism.

You can view your results in a theoretical landscape or plot them against the views of historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Ronald Reagan.

Full disclosure: this writer’s views aligned most closely with Ghandi and the Dalai Lama.

Then the real fun begins. Political GPS’s Congress Tracker gives you detailed information for each member of the US Congress. From biographical information and links to each member’s website to in-depth voting information and the ability to easily contact each member by phone, email, or Twitter, Political GPS helps you to learn more about your congress.

The search engine built into political GPS is far more robust and sophisticated than something you might expect to pay $2 for. Search representatives by name or state, search congressional bills by topic, content, title, or bill number; the member tracker and bill tracker databases are linked, too. Comprehensive information about the laws passed by congress and the people passing them has never been so easily accessed.

Full text access to historical documents is the lagniappe in Political GPS. Easily study the US Constitution, the Magna Carta and the Declaration of the Rights of Man right inside the app. Organized by Articles, Sections, and Amendments, it’s easy to go right to the area you want to read and it’s all easy on the eyes with large fonts and antique parchment backgrounds that give the documents a weighty feel without making them harder to read.

For anyone who believes in the idea that you should be the change you want to see in this world, Political GPS is certainly one of the coolest tools available to American iPhone and iPod Touch users.

Where to get it:
Political GPS is available at the Apple iTunes App Store in both free and $1.99 versions. But really, just pony up the $2 and make your voice heard.

Cult of Mac Favorite: MobileStacks Is the Best Reason To Jailbreak. Period.



I really like Stacks on my Mac. Stacks makes it fast and easy to find files, folders and apps right from the Dock. It makes managing a Mac pretty slick with all sorts of little UI tricks. That’s why I recently gave MobileStack a go on my jailbroken iPhone.

I must say that it lives up to the challenge of making an interface that is intuitive and user friendly enough for the small iPhone screen. In fact, it’s definitely the best excuse to jailbreak.

Cult of Mac Favorite: Orbit, SpringBoard Navigation The ‘Exposé’ Way for Jailbroken iPhone and iPod Touch



I recently came across orbit, which is one of the best navigation options available for the iPhone and iPod Touch. I have an iPhone that has over 100 applications and it’s definitely a pain to get to the applications on the last page. I can always put the useful applications on the first page but at this point, I have just stopped arranging them. This is when Orbit enters the scene. Instead of swiping across all these pages, it lets me jump to a particular page quickly using simple tile view, saving me a lot of time. That’s the reason it’s one of my favorites.