We're coming very close to the end of 2015 which is, frankly, a little bit crazy. There's the usual stuff about the year going by too quickly, and also the fact that we're beyond the long-awaited Back to the Future day. So, when is the next famous science-fiction date in our timeline? Does it even matter? It won't include hoverboards so most people will ignore it anyway.
Back to focusing on the present day and high time we took a look at this week's batch of mobile apps.
Android: Perch (Free)
Home security cameras that you can check online have been around for years, but have tended to be prohibitively expensive. Paying for the physical hardware, and often a subscription to go along with it all added up. But what if you could sort out an online security camera without paying, and using hardware you already own? That's what Perch is for.
All you need is an Android device with a camera that's running Android 4.1 or above, and a separate device to watch the stream. Plus there's no subscription that you have to fork out for.
Setting up a camera isn't complicated. It takes just a few seconds after signing up, and once you've told your device that it's been set up as a camera you can set it recording and watch everything from your other device (like a tablet or a web browser on your laptop).
It's not just a live stream, and when I say recording I mean recording. You can view the stream live, or you can jump back to different points to see what happened when. In the browser it's possible to set up alerts that will show up in your archive feed that shows you when the camera detected motion or when it went offline. That was easy enough to set up (once I'd read the help section to figure out why I wasn't allowed to save it).
My problem with this is that Perch is supposed to send you email and text alerts if it senses something wrong. Since I hadn't given the app my phone number I rightly never got a text alert, but the email alert didn't arrive for an hour after I tested the motion sensor. It was timestamped too, so I have no idea why it took so long. It's not a huge deal, but if you're relying on something that this to see if someone's broken into your house then it would be handy to know when someone walks in front of the camera.
It's free, though, so there's not much you can complain about. It does the job its supposed to, and it means you can keep an eye on what's going on in your house via the internet. Whether that's for security purposes, or just to watch a box on that box of kittens, Perch is a great choice. It's free, so what more could you want?
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iPhone: Boomerang for Instagram (Free)
This one is very much a one-trick pony, and it just goes to show that Facebook and co are really getting serious with the whole business of splitting up features across dozens of different apps. Maybe it's to stop the main apps from draining battery life... oh wait, never mind. So rather than adding features into the main Instagram app, Boomerang has been released as a standalone app that doesn't do all that much.
Apple made a very big deal about the iPhone 6S having this brand new feature called 'Live Photos', which were little more than glorified GIFs. Boomerang is basically the same thing, but for people who don't have a 6S or want to share their creations online at the touch of a button.
How does it work? It's point and shoot, quite literally. You see something that's moving about, you press the button and Boomerang will record a couple of seconds and process it into a looping GIF/video/whatever you want to call it. From there you can share it to Facebook, Instagram, or any other online service you may have on your phone. It's clear, though, that it's not designed for other services, because after I tried sending it to my laptop via Pushbullet I just got a four second video clip of me making stupid faces.
Interestingly there were no editing tools in the app. Instagram is well known for encouraging people to slap a filter onto their photos, so it feels rather strange that Boomerang has no post-recording features without sharing the clip to Instagram first.
Still, if you want to take advantage of the iPhone 6S feature that Apple wouldn't stop raving about Boomerang is a great way to do it – despite its limitations.
Boomerang for Instagram is also available for Android
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iPad: Pipes News (Free)
News is important, but there's so much of it that we can't possibly keep up. Pipes News is one of the latest in a long line of apps that aims to personalise news for people, and ensure that they get all of the information that's important to them. So how does it do it?
As soon as you open up the app it asks you to select a minimum of four topics to figure out what kind of news you want to see. Unlike some apps, the topics are incredibly specific. Take tech, for example. Rather than having a single 'Technology' category, Pipes has a whole bunch of them, including cloud computing, Apple, computers, mobile, robotics, and so on. So specifically excluding the Apple category means you're much less likely to get news about the latest exploits of Tim Cook and his band of Merry Men while still getting other important tech news.
The specific stuff gets fed into your own feed, but it's also possible to read things filtered by general topic in the 'Pipes' section of the app. I have some suspicion about the main feed because it was feeding me stories that were totally unrelated to topics I'd selected. I selected tech-based topics, but Pipes was offering up stuff like news on Syria, American Football results, politics, and so on. For the most part it was relevant news, but it's not a great sign when personalised news apps are feeding up content completely different to what you said you want.
There's also a 'What's Hot' section that seemingly ditches the personalisation and offers up some of the most popular stories in global news. Oh, and there's a Flappy Bird clone hiding in the settings, in case you get bored of all that reading.
Feature wise Pipes News is a little bit weird. It has a driving mode which dictates the stories in your feed, but there isn't an option to sync stories on your device for offline viewing. Personally I think offline viewing is more important than a driving mode since you could sync them onto your device on your home Wi-Fi network and deal with later without having to spend mobile data.
Pipes News is a great choice if you want a quick and easy news fix, since it ditches most of the fluff that comes with typical news sites. Pick a story and you can choose to read the full story, or just get a run down of the most important points.
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Windows Phone: Movie Tonight (Free)
We've all been in the situation of wanting to watch a film, but having no idea what to actually stick on. Well, Movie Tonight is an app that can suggest some viable options, just by having you answer a few questions.
It really is very simple, you pop in and tell the app to recommend something to you. It then asks you a set of two-answer questions to try and gauge what sort of taste you have in films. What it asks is fairly typical, things like time period, genre, how well known it is, ratings, and so on. It's very simple, and takes a couple of minutes before you get given a list of films the app thinks you'll like.
It doesn't seem to show them in any particular order, and the quality of the films it suggests can be a bit hit and miss. The first time I tried it suggested I watch films like the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and RIPD. Bleurgh. But if you are stuck for something to watch, it can give you a bit of inspiration.
The app also functions a bit like IMDB, just not quite as extensive. Films, film-makers, and actors all have their own dedicated pages with information about them. Things like basic plot, biographies, release dates, best known works, and so on. On top of that you also get to see the top-rated films within the app, what's currently playing in the cinema, and what's heading to the cinema in the near future.
One final feature to mention is the 'movie of the day' section, that suggests a single film to everyone (while I was testing that film was Gone Girl). What shows up probably won't be for everyone, and it's not clear what criteria the app uses to choose, but it I guess it's quite nice to have a single film that will change on a daily basis.
It's not perfect, but Movie Tonight is a nice basic tool for helping you discover something you want to watch, as well as what the films it throws at you are about. Hopefully that means you'll stop mindlessly browsing Netflix looking for something that sounds appealing.
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