Airfoil is the missing link

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Although I’ve been enjoying streaming music wirelessly throughout the house using Apple’s AirTunes technology, there is one small problem. AirTunes only works with iTunes. AirTunes is built-in to the AirPort Express and now Apple TV hardware. The concept is simple. You put either an AirPort Express or Apple TV in any room that you want to stream music to and connect the device to a stereo, receiver or set of speakers. Then you launch iTunes from any computer on the network and choose the appropriate AirTunes speakers and when you play your music it will be streamed to your speakers (up to 3 rooms at a time).

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This is all well and good, but like I said, it only works with iTunes. What if you want to listen a different source app throughout your house? This is where Airfoil comes in. I have XM/Sirius satellite radio in my cars. With XM/Sirius account(s) you also get the ability to log on to their websites and listen to your favorite stations via the internet at no additional cost. While this is great, I want to be able to hear this content in any room and over my better speaker/stereo systems. I already have AirTunes setup, but again it only works with iTunes!

That’s were Airfoil comes in

Airfoil is an app that you install on your Mac or PC that allows you to direct any app/source to your AirTunes speakers. It even comes with a bonus app called Airfoil Speakers that allows you to stream from one computer to another. Airfoil is very simple to setup. Once you download, install and launch it, it will automatically show all of your AirTunes speakers and make them available to any app or the system audio on your computer.

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Once I installed Airfoil, I simply fired up my web browser and logged into the XM site. I selected a station, hit play and had music streaming throughout the house.

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The Bottom Line

Airfoil is by Rouge Amoeba. It goes for $25 and is available for both Mac and PC. If you use AirTunes and want to stream sources other than iTunes to your speakers then Airfoil is your answer!

iPhone app of the week – Skype

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I gotta be honest! I never thought this app would see the light of day. However, I’m very excited to see Skype for the iPhone. I use Skype on occassion to do online interviews for podcasts and to talk with friends in different countries. It’s an amazing technology that’s virtually free to use (Skype to Skype). A couple of years back I traveled to Australia and I used the Skype video chat feature to phone home. It was a lot cheaper than doing international calls and better because of the webcam support. Although iChat is built-in to the Mac OS, I just have not had good luck connecting to various friends and family with it. However, I  always able to connect via Skype.

What does Skype on the iPhone mean?

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Having Skype on the iPhone means that as long as you’re on a Wi-Fi connection, you can talk for FREE to other Skype users no matter where they are or no matter whether they are on their computers or other Skype compatible devices. Just the other night while testing the Skype iPhone app, I saw my sister online. So I just tapped her name and I heard the familiar Skype ring. She picked up and we were talking. I put the iPhone up to my ear and it was crystal clear. She was at home by the way on her MacBook.

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The beauty of this of course is that the Skype calls don’t go against your cellphone minutes. So you could talk for hours day or night without impacting your phone bill.

You can make Skype calls to landlines and cellphones too. Of course not everyone is going to be on a computer/phone with Skype and sometimes you may want to just call a regular landline or cellphone. Skype for iPhone (just like Skype on your computer) does allow you to dial any phone number. When you use Skype to call a regular landline/cellphone it’s not free.

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However, it is reasonable. International calls start at 2.1¢ a minute and you can do a pay as you go plan or subscription. If you are going to be making a lot of calls to landlines/cellphones then it probably makes sense to go with a monthly subscription. Otherwise do the pay as you go. I do pay as you go just to have the option of calling regular phones even though I don’t do it often.

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Once again, you don’t need to pay anything to make calls from Skype to Skype.

Really good news for 2nd generation iPod touch users

If you’re an iPod touch user, this is even better news for you! Although the 2nd generation iPod touch doesn’t have a built-in microphone, it does have the ability to use a either the Apple Earphones/mic or a 3rd party mic:

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The Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic go for $29.00. So with an iPod touch, a compatible mic, a Wi-Fi connection and the Skype app, suddenly your iPod touch becomes a phone that can make calls to anyone in the world!

How well does the Skype app work?

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The Skype app worked fine for me as advertised, but there are some inherent gotchas that have less to do with the app and more to do with the current iPhone 2.x software. I launched the Skype app and logged in with my existing Skype username/password. It worked! I saw my user list of friends and online friends. Of course the first thing I wanted to do was try a call. So I tapped on one of my contacts and placed my first Skype call via the iPhone. Of course as luck would have it, I got no answer. He later emailed me to let me know that he couldn’t take the call right then and there. So the next thing I tried was the “Skype test” user and basically this allows you to test making call and recording your voice then playing it back to make sure your setup works. Since there were no other friends online at that moment, I tried the next best thing. I called a regular landline. It worked!

The only thing I didn’t try out was the text chatting. I didn’t try it because I just don’t use that feature of Skype.

Now for the gotchas. Although the Skype app works as advertised, there are some things to think about. The first thing is that since the iPhone doesn’t currently support background processing there’s no way to receive a Skype call unless the app is running. Once you quit the app you’re basically offline. So this would not be a good solution for people that want to receive Skype calls throughout the day. I’m sure this situation will improve in the upcoming iPhone 3.0 software update.

The next thing that I hadn’t really run into yet is what happens if you’re on a Skype call and your iPhone rings? Unfortunately, it’s not a smooth thing. Like most apps, when your iPhone rings they are put on hold. Same goes for Skype. So your Skype caller will just all of a sudden stop hearing you without warning. Worse, if you take the incoming call, your Skype caller will be disconnected. Again without warning. While this is not the end of the world, it’s not elegant. I read some of the other Skype reviews and some have complained about crashing. To date I’ve not had a single Skype crash.

When I dialed my own landline using Skype I noticed that there was no caller-ID info. Then I realized, why would there be? I’m not using their feature of having an incoming phone number. So I did the next best thing. Skype does allow you to configure the Caller-ID with your cellphone number. This way, if I make a Skype call to a landline or cellphone, it will look as if it’s coming from my cellphone. I’m happy with that solution.

A tip for traveling overseas! If you travel overseas with your iPhone and actually use it, you could be hit with substantial roaming charges. So as long as you have Skype for the iPhone and a Wi-Fi connection do this: Put your iPhone in Airplane Mode, which will disable the phone features, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Then simply go turn Wi-Fi back on. Now you can use your iPhone with Skype and make calls without the worry of roaming or being interupped by regular incoming cell phone calls.

The Bottom Line

A free VoIP solution for the iPhone is always welcome! The fact that it also works for 2nd generation iPod touch users is HUGE! Skype for the iPhone does have its limits, but nothing that’s a show stopper. Sure it would be nice to have it also work over a 3g or EDGE network too, but I’m sure AT&T and other carriers would never want to see that happen and probably blocked such apps somewhere on page 6936 of their contracts with Apple. You can download Skype for the iPhone and iPod touch here on the App Store. Setup your FREE Skype account here. Because Skype is cross platfom, it makes an excellent solution for doing video chats with your family and friends around the globe.

Which photo sharing site to use?

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Yesterday I logged on to my Photoshop.com site, which I hadn’t updated basically since the first day I setup my account. A colleague of mine sent me a link to his pictures from an event that we attended and I thought “oh yeah, I have a few galleries on here too!” So needless to say I did a little house cleaning and updated the pics I had up there.

Later in the evening I uploaded a new pic to my Flickr account only to receive a message stating that my “Flickr Pro” account had expired and that now my account would only display my most recent 200 images. I thought to myself, “do I even have 200 images on here?” I had never paid for a Flickr Pro account in the first place. Apparently it came as part of one of my other internet hosting packages and I guess now it’s no longer included. Then I checked to see what a Flickr Pro account actually costs and while $25/year certainly isn’t going to break the bank, I paused and said “do I really need this?”

How many photo sharing sites do we need?

I’ve got a Photoshop.com, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, NAPP, MobileMe, MPIX, Shutterfly, Kodak, and a few other accounts I’m not thinking of at the moment. I have photos on all of these different services that I have shared with family, friends and colleagues. How many services do I really need? Is one better than the rest? Unfortunately, I haven’t found one that really does EVERYTHING I’d want. However, Flickr is pretty darn close. I like the fact that Flickr will automatically detect the metadata and geotag information of the shots I upload and place them on a map. However, most of my friends and family are on Facebook. Photoshop.com and MobileMe seem to have the slickest slideshow/presentation features. If I upload to Shutterfly or Kodak, then my friends/family can order their own prints. Arggghhhhhh!

I was testing a new blogging app for the iPhone and in order to get pictures into the blog they had to be uploaded to a Picasa account. Just what I need, yet another service. There is both a Flickr and Facebook upload/output plugin for Lightroom! Since all my photos are in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, this makes it easy to share! However, if I want certain photos on my iPhone or Apple TV, I export them from Lightroom to iPhoto just for the sake of convenience. The new iPhoto can also upload/sync to Facebook and Flickr, but not Photoshop.com or any of the others (besides MobileMe).

The bottom line is that all of these services offer similar features, but in most cases each service offers one or two things that the others don’t. If I had to settle on just ONE, it probably would be Flickr because it has the most features that I’m looking for. I can upload to Flickr directly from Lightroom. I can mark pictures as private or share with friends or family or both. You can order prints if need be. They do the metadata detection and geotagging that I really like. They also have several options for organizing your photos. There is also some integration with Facebook via various apps. The site is also geared towards setting up communities to share photos with. This way several members can contribute their favorite photos to the group. There’s even a really cool iPhone app called Mobile Fotos that uploads to and views your Flickr pics.

Even though Flickr seems to be the logical choice for me in that it has just about everything I’m looking for. It seems that I spent most of last week at Photoshop World uploading pics to Twitter/Facebook for quick sharing! Twitter and Facebook have the advantage that your friends are already there monitoring each other’s status and new pics just show up. No need to announce anything or send a link. However, this means that those friends and family members out there that don’t have either Twitter or Facebook accounts would never see my pics. Of course there’s also this blog and my website. I could post photos in either of those two spots too. Lightroom can also export a web gallery and ftp it up directly to my website. However, no one is going to know it’s there unless I announce it. The ultimate would be to have ONE site that I could post to that would feed everything else!

Is anyone else feeling my pain? Is there just one service that is king? What do you guys use and why? How do you use it? Meaning what’s your workflow? Hit me back in the comments below and also vote in the poll on the left hand side of this post!

Protect your lap from the heat of your laptop

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If you’re using a laptop/notebook computer and it gets warm on the bottom, then you’re probably going to want one of these ThermaPAK cooling pads. My buddy Dave Gales showed me his at Photoshop World last week in Boston and after a few minutes of playing with it, I had to have one.

Unlike USB solutions that have fans built-in, the ThermaPAK requires no power. You simply unroll it and place your laptop on it. It dispates the heat and lowers the temparature by up to 6 degrees celsius. I was using a Podium CoolPad to go between my MacBook Pro and my lap. From now on I’ll be using the ThermaPAK.

ThermaPAK Heatshift Cooling Pads come in three popular sizes for most laptops. Amazon has them in 13″, 15.4″ and 17″ formats and in various colors, they go for $27.50, $30, & $35 respectively.

Photoshop World Boston 2009 – recap

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I had a blast at last week’s Photoshop World Conference in Boston! It was great to see so many of you there and it was a real treat to see and meet so many of the readers of this blog. The entire week was upbeat and people were really jazzed about all the sessions and of course the after hour events, parties and the insanely fun Midnight Madness event. If you’ve never been to Photoshop World, you owe it to yourself to try and make it at least once in your career/life. The conference was so good that even the folks over at Macworld couldn’t help but say so.

The Game Is On!

Once again I was at the Adobe Photoshop World Keynote address. In honor of this year’s Photoshop World theme “The Game Is On!”, Adobe’ SVP Johnny L was on hand and playing right along with the theme along with Photoshop Product Manager John Nack and Adobe’s Creative Director Russell Brown. Russell did a fantastic demo on several of the new features in Photsohop CS4 and Photoshop CS4 Extended. As a special treat, you can see the Adobe portion of the keynote here on my Adobe Creative Suite Video Podcast. See the cool things that Russell showed including a new Watermarking Panel exclusively for NAPP members. Although I’d love to show you the entire keynote with all the cool videos by the Photoshop Guys, it would spoil it for the attendees of the upcoming Photoshop World Las Vegas in October.

Although I don’t teach any of the Photoshop classes at Photoshop World, I do usually have a couple of InDesign classes on the conference track as well as Creative Suite presentations in the Adobe Theater. Both my classes and theater presentations were PACKED! This puts a smile on my face because the classes run concurrently with other classes taught by some of the best Photoshop instructors in the world. So it’s really an honor to have so many people choose my classes over others they could have attended. Thank you!

The clock is ticking for Photoshop World Las Vegas and I can’t wait until October! Hope to see you then…

iPhone App of the Week – Shazam

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By no means is Shazam a new app. I’ve had it for months (released in July 2008). However, this week my buddy Dave was looking at my iPhone apps and he said, “what’s Shazam?” Sometimes I take for granted that everyone already has the older cool apps. He had never heard of it. So I decided to make it my iPhone app of the week.

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Have you ever wondered: What’s the name of that song?

You hear a song playing and you really like it or it’s one that you know and you’ve heard before, but you just can’t place it. It happens to me all the time. Maybe it’s a song playing on the radio or a song playing at a party or gathering you’re at. That’s where Shazam comes in for your iPhone. When you launch the app there’s a simple button that says “Tag Now.” You tap the Tag Now button and your Shazam will “listen” to a few seconds of the song that’s playing. After it hears enough of the song, it uploads that information to the Shazam servers and then it analyzes it. After a few seconds, it will then come back with the results. If it recognized the song, you’ll get the song name, artist, album and even a link to go preview or buy it on the iTunes store! Pretty slick.

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Your tagged songs are kept in the app so that you can tag as many songs as you want and then buy them if you like when you get back to your computer or directly on your iPhone.

The Bottom Line

Shazam is great, but it’s not perfect. While it gets most songs for me, it doesn’t always get the songs I try. However, it does work for me more times than not. Shazam works on the iPhone and the 2nd generation touch (the first generation doesn’t have a microphone capability/option). The best part is Shazam is a FREE app and you can download it from the App Store here.

Wacom introduces the Intuos 4!

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Right out of the gate, Wacom introduced the Intuos 4 line of tablets here at the Photoshop World show today! I couldn’t be happier. Although I love my Cintiq 12W, I probably use my Intuos 3 4×6 more than any other tablet I’ve owned. Also I’m so hooked on using a tablet now I couldn’t imagine doing retouching in Photoshop without one.

Wacom makes the best even better

I didn’t really have any complaints with my Intuos 3 tablets. However, that didn’t stop Wacom from taking an already great product and making it even better. This new tablet is a complete redesign from the ground up! It’s like they looked at every single feature and asked “how can we make it better?”

The first thing you’ll notice is LED readouts. This is so cool! Like most Intuos users, I have programmed the ExpressKeys to do various tasks in different applications. However, after a while I start to forget which key does what in which app? Now there is an LED readout next to each key that labels what the key does and how you have it setup! That will be huge for me! Although the new “Small” tablet doesn’t have these LEDs, it does the next best thing by popping up a quick onscreen reference chart whenever you need while you’re actually in the app.

The touch strips have been replaced by a much more functional 4 Function Touch Ring. This thing is really really cool! Like most functions, you can program it to do exactly what you want in each of your apps.

Lastly more levels of pressure! Wacom has basically doubled the levels of pressure senstivity to 2,048! It’s amazingly accurate and can really detect the slightest nuances of how you use the pen (which has also been completely redesigned and engineered). Even the pen holder now functions as a nib holder and extractor. Wacom has really thought this new tablet through!

They don’t reference the tablets by their dimensions anymore. Now they are simply Small, Medium, Large and XL.

If you’ve been putting off getting a professional level tablet, wait no longer! This is the one!

Check out this cool promo video for more visuals

[flv:http://terrywhite.com/videos/intuos4.flv 480 368]

Photoshop World Boston: The Game Is On!

Hi everyone! I’m here at Photoshop World getting ready for the big keynote by Adobe’s Senior VP, Johnny L. This year’s event is a sports theme and everyone is getting into it. I’m looking forward to the updates by Adobe as well as new product introductions here at the show. Of course I’ll be on the prowl for new gadgets too!

I’ll post as many updates throughout the week as time and excitement allow 🙂

For more up to the minute “what’s Terry doing now?” blurbs, follow me on Twitter.

iTunes HD or Blu-ray?

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In case you missed it, Apple just recently started selling movies via iTunes in HD. I’m not sure why it took so long for this to happen, but I would bet money that it had more to do with Hollywood than Apple. When you look at the severely limited number of HD titles for sale, we can only look to Hollywood and their relentless need to control everything to blame for this. Nonetheless, HD movies are now available not only for Rental (which Apple has been doing for over a year), but also for purchase. Like most things on iTunes, the number of titles will ramp up quickly. So this now leads me to my question:

iTunes HD or Blu-ray?

Let me remind you that I no longer just buy movies just because. One day I noticed I had a few movies in my collection that were still in the shrinkwrap. It hit me that I just rarely have the time or desire to watch movies that I’ve already seen. So whereas before I was buying just about every movie that I liked, today I would have to really really really really really like a movie to actually buy it. I have to weigh the cost of the movie vs. the number of times I’m likely to watch it again. Even if I want to watch a movie again, I have to ask: is it cheaper just to rent it again than to buy it?

Any recent movies I’ve purchased (and it’s only been a few) have been in Blu-ray format. I figure that if it’s good enough to buy, then I want it in the best possible format. Owning a movie in Blu-ray though does present a couple of challenges. For one, it can only be played in a Blu-ray player. So that limits me to watching the movie at home and not on the road on my laptop. That also limits the number of friends I could loan the movie too. A few of the movies I’ve purchased came with Digital Copies. So that at least takes care of the “take it on the road” problem, but due to copy protection/DRM I still can’t loan the movie out to friends.

I had a chance over the weekend to buy my first HD movie via iTunes and the process was as simple as buying any other item on iTunes. I was pleasantly surprised/reminded that when you buy HD content on iTunes, they automatically include a smaller standard def version for your portable devices (iPhones/iPods) and to take on the road with you. While this does make the download bigger (you’re downloading two movies instead of one) and take up more hard drive space, I welcome this. I purchased Transporter 3 (not because it’s all that great of a movie, it was just that the number of available titles in HD for purchase right now is severly limited). The iTunes HD version is $19.99. The Blu-ray price is $25.99 and does include a Digital Copy.

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The iTunes HD version weighs in at 3GBs of drive space plus 1.1GBs for the standard def version that’s included.

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Which is better?

That’s the real question isn’t it? That’s also probably why you’re reading this. Unfortunately “better” depends on what you want. So let me give you the pros and cons and you decide for yourself:

Blu-ray

Pros:

Full HD quality 1080p, extra content (outakes, bloopers, commentary, etc.), BD Live – access to online content from within the movie including games, online communities, extra scenes, etc. Can share with friends/family who have Blu-ray players.

Cons:

Costs more per movie, requires a Blu-ray player, most laptops don’t have Blu-ray drives for watching on the go and not all titles include a Digital Copy. Takes up physical shelf space to store the discs. You have to either go out and purchase or order online and wait for the disc to arrive. Discs can become scratched and unplayable.

iTunes HD Movies

Pros:

Costs less than movies on Blu-ray, can purchase and download right in your own home, comes with a copy for your other devices (iPod or iPhone).

Cons:

Not the highest quality HD (only 720p), takes up hard drive space to store the movies (3GB for the HD version, 1.xGB for the standard def version), not sharable with others outside of your home due to DRM copy protection (when will Hollywood learn the same lessons that the music industy learned and do away with DRM?). Not burnable to optical media a video DVD/Blu-ray disc (again because of DRM protection).

The Bottom Line

Things just keep getting better as iTunes, TiVo, Netflix, Cable/Satellite companies continue to compete for our business. Having the ability to buy and download an HD movie right from my TV with Apple TV or from my computer is pretty sweet. Although iTunes HD movies are not full 1080p, I love the fact that they don’t take up any physical shelf space in my home. This also means that they are instantly available to all of my TV’s (via Apple TV streaming) because they are stored on a central media server (an iMac). Also keep in mind that 720p is still better than standard DVD quaility. So on those rare occassions when I think a movie good enough to actually own, I’ll probably look first to buying it via iTunes in HD format before going to Blu-ray now. If it’s a movie with the ultimate in visual effects and would really pop in all of its 1080p glory then I might consider owning it on Blu-ray. For right now my plan is to continue with Netflix and renting on Blu-ray for most of the movies I watch and renting on iTunes for those spontaneous moments when I just want to watch a movie that’s not physically sitting in my house/library. If iTunes ever offered a subscription rental service for movies my love for Netflix would be in serious jeopardy. I’ve recently cut my plan back to have less movies at home because they sometimes just sit here for weeks at a time when I’m too busy to watch them. This is one good thing about the pay as you go iTunes Rental model. You only pay for a rental when you’re ready to watch it!

I’m just glad to be living in a time where we have so many options for in home entertainment. I can see the day coming in the not too distant future that my DVD racks become a fond memory. I’ll either have all of my favorite movies streaming from my media server or available for instant renting/viewing over the internet. Hard drive space is cheap! I’m almost there today,  building my home media center with Netflix/TiVo HD and Apple TV. Life is good!

iPhone App of the Week – Twittelator

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I like to keep up with my friends, families and colleagues online. One of the easiest ways of doing that is via social networking sites. I’m a fan of Facebook and now Twitter. Twitter is cool because it’s all about status updates and that’s it! Short, sweet and to the point. What are you doing right now? PERIOD. You can even include a picture of what you’re doing right now. Each “Tweet” (post) is limited to 140 characters.

The iPhone is great for this

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Since I’m not sitting in front of my computer 24 hours a day (contrary to popular belief), it’s great being able to send Tweets while I’m on the go directly from my iPhone. As you might imagine there are multiple apps available for posting to Twitter. I counted a half dozen without trying to count. Without knowing anything about these apps, I settled on Twittelator. It was free and ad free and seemed to have a straight forward interface.

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It wasn’t the highest rated, but again it just seemed to do everything I would need in an easy way. I was right. Twittelator is very easy to use. Once you setup your free account at Twitter.com, you input your account info right into Twittelator. From that point on each time you launch the app you’re taken to your Friend’s Tweets, which will also include your Tweets. Tap the little voice bubble icon at the bottom and key in your status update (Tweet). Want to add a photo? Tap the camera icon to either choose one or take one on the spot. Hit the send button and away it goes.

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You can view your Tweets, Replies, Friend’s Tweets, Top Tweets, etc.

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Again, I don’t know what else I could want. I will eventually try out some of the other higher ranked apps, but for right now this is the one. It works perfectly for me, no problems to date.

The Bottom Line

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Being that this is the first iPhone Twitter app I’ve tried, I don’t know if it’s the best or not. Certainly, it does what I need it to do and so far haven’t once wished for something it doesn’t do. However, I wanted to see why it only had a 3 star rating (out of 5) on the App Store and I read some of the customer reviews. I don’t usually pay that much attention to star ratings unless they are only 1 or 2 stars. The one thing I saw that I hadn’t considered, again because I was using it to do one simple task was that it doesn’t seem to support Twitter’s direct message feature. A direct message on Twitter is basically a way of sending one of your Twitter friends a private message. I could certainly see why you would want that in your iPhone version of Twitter if you used it a lot. I don’t, so that’s why I never even thought about it not being there. Others have complained about slow scrolling in the past versions. Seems like they’ve address scrolling in general in the latest rev.

Twittelator is a Free download from the App Store for the iPhone and iPod touch. There is also a professional version, Twittelator Pro for $4.99. Although the paid version does a lot more, I’ll probably stick with the free version because it seems to do all that I need.

Here’s a tip! If you use Twitter and Facebook, check out the Twitter application for Facebook. Once you install it on your Facebook Profile, any Tweets you make on Twitter will automatically update Facebook status. This is great because I only have to post in one spot – Twitter (or Twittelator).

Follow me on Twitter

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