Ooh boy. It's 10 days until Star Wars Episode VII hits cinemas. Exciting isn't it? Well it is now, but I wasn't so happy when Disney announced they were making new films. I kind of wanted Star Wars to stay 'finished', something I blame on George Lucas's insensate meddling (and Jar Jar fucking Binks). The man really is the best and worst thing to happen to the franchise. Let's keep him well away from everything else from now on, OK?
Anyway, let's get back to the reason we're all here: downloadable mobile software.
Android: Cardboard Camera (Free)
There's always something trying to change the way we take photos, whether it's 3D photography, Apple's WebM-like Live Photos, or panorama modes. Now the world seems to be heading towards 360-degree VR photography, which is what Cardboard Camera is all about.
The process is very simple, you have to hold your phone steady and spin around in a circle. While you're doing that, your phone is recording the surroundings ready to stitch them together into a single 360-degree photo. You're forced to keep the camera steady, and if you rotate too quickly it will glitch out and ask you to start all over again (it seems as though it might be easier to get things done with some sort of rotating stand gadget, really). Not that spinning in a circle isn't easy, but if you're like me you just don't have the patience to do it properly.
The on-screen status bar makes it nice and simple to track your progress, and prompts will tell you when you're moving too quickly. It does take a while though, and once you're done you have to wait a few minutes for everything to come together. It's simple enough, but again it's not for someone who has no patience. You also can't view your photos unless you have a VR viewer handy, so if you want to take advantage of this you obviously need something like Google Cardboard. If you don't then you're just stuck with a panorama shot.
If you've got the kit and you fancy mixing things up, then this is a handy app to take advantage of – especially if you're planning on going somewhere special and want to capture every last detail of the world around you.
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Yahoo Messenger: (Update) Yahoo's instant messaging app has had a hefty update with more modern features. Now it's got the option of 'unsending' messages, enhanced Flickr integration, animated GIF support, and mass photo sharing. [Free]
Happy ID: A smart ID app to help you identify who is calling you. It's not one for identifying nuisance callers ahead of time, but it does offer up some vital information in the form of on-screen sticky notes. [Free]
iPhone: Ginventory (Free)
This app has one function that it aims to do so well it almost borders on overkill. Ginventory is purely designed to ensure you can mix the perfect gin and tonic by using the right ingredients. It seem oddly specific, I know, but there's always one person who won't drink anything. In my experience their name is usually Grandma.
So does the humble G&T need an entire app dedicated to its crafting? That's up to you to decide, but Ginventory doesn't do things half-arsed. It's a complete encyclopaedia of gins, tonics, and garnishes stored in a very long list. Sadly that list doesn't differentiate between the three categories, either, so you can't filter what you see based on which of the three you have on hand. It does, however, clearly mark which one gin it uses – just in case you can't place the brand names.
The basic idea is that if you have a single ingredient you can locate it in the list and find out how it should be served. So if you see a particular brand of gin on sale just before Christmas, and you almost certainly will, you know exactly which garnishes and brand of tonic you should pick up at the same time. That way your mother-in-law can't whine about the rubbish drink you made her on Christmas Eve.
Here's one combination for you now. If you have Gordon's London Dry Gin lying around, it'll go well with Schweppes tonic and a dash of lemon zest. But that's just one combination of 16 offered by that particular brand of gin.
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Wunderlist: (Update) A well known to-do list manager, Wunderlist has just had an update that brings in a shiny new interface, and support for iPhone 6S/6S Plus features. [Free]
Hangouts (Update): Google's texting/IM service has just had an extra boost on iOS, and now you'll find improved notification support and the ability to quick-reply. [Free]
Hailo: (Update) A mini-cab app for those of you who don't like Uber, but still want to save a few quid. The app now accepts Apple Pay as a form of payment, but apparently only if you're catching a ride in London. [Free]
iPad: PNP Portable North Pole (Free, with in-app purchases)
Keeping your kids excited about the prospect of Christmas and Santa in the age of the internet might be a little bit tricky, but the digital age comes with some advantages - namely the chance to get Santa to send a personalised video message (and phone call) to your younglings.
The app is divided into two sections, the kids corner where they can play around, and the parents corner where all the magic happens. Obviously the parents corner is passcode protected as to not spoil everything, and since you don't have the choice of not setting a passcode, you can't accidentally leave it unlocked.
The kids' area is pretty standard. Obviously there's a space for the personalised messages from 'Santa', but there are some games as well. The games include colour-sorting presents, a talking elf, and shaking ornaments off the tree. The elf is a bit weird, since it just repeats things you say back to you in a deeper voice. Maybe this works better for kids, because with me being a grown-up it meant the happy elf on screen sounded more like Darth Vader than one of Santa's helpers.
Creating a video is nice and easy. Once you log in with the PNP account, you just fill out a bit of information about the child in question. Basic things like name, pronunciation, age, and gender. Obviously there are some names that it doesn't know how to say, and my imaginary child called Blob ended up being referred to as one of many pre-installed nicknames. After that you end up on a screen asking for a bit more information, like what the child does day to day (school etc) as well as the option to persuade them to fix one of their bad habits before next Christmas. Then the video will be created, nice and easily.
Basic videos are free, but there are 'premium' options available in exchange for real money. Calls from Santa also cost money, and there are 19 different scenarios for you to choose from ahead of time.
Christmas is only a couple of weeks away, so if you've got kids bored around the house then it's a nice thing to keep them quiet for a few minutes.
You should also try:
Hotel Tonight: (Update) One of the big names in booking last-minute hotel rooms, now updated with some handy new features. The app will now tell you when staying a second night is a great deal, lets you make bookings for someone else, and now has even better Geo-rates. [Free]
Dark Sky: (Update) This one is an app that offers you incredibly local weather forecasts up to an hour in advance, so you have a good idea of what will happen weather-wise exactly where you are. It's just had layout tweaks adding things like notifications and a location search bar. [£2.99]
It's never really a great week to use a Windows Phone device on the apps front, but this week was particularly bad. The only notable things we've seen in the last couple of weeks have been small updates, and no big releases. Here's a short rundown of what you should be aware of.
You should also try:
WhatsApp: (Update) The latest update to WhatsApp brings with it the option to star your messages, and a brand new updated camera interface.
TuneIn Radio: (Update) For those of you who already went out to buy one of the new Lumia 950 phones, you should be aware that TuneIn Radio now has a universal Windows app. [Free]