‘Comic Reader’, Another iPad Comic Book Reader

Comic Reader’s schtick is that it looks like a comic book itself

Boom! Thwack! Comic Reader is yet another, well, comic reader for the iPad and, despite the almost catatonic lack of effort in giving it a name, it is very polished for an early release. It also has one neat–and possibly unique–feature: RSS.

Like every other reader, Comic Reader (henceforth known as CR to avoid confusion) allows you to import CBR, CBZ, ZIP and RAR files of your comic books, and catalog and view them on the iPad.

The catalog view is configurable three ways. There are small and large list views, along with a Series view (which groups series together and shows them with lovely large cover thumbnails), and a customizable “Reading List” view, which lets you gather issues together in arbitrary groups. These work fine, and adding comics is as easy as tapping their titles in a list.

Reading is competent. The page turns can be triggered by swiping or by tapping at the very sides of the screen. These side zones can’t be resized (I’d prefer them a touch bigger) and in order to have the right margin take you to the next page, you’ll need to (oddly) check “Swap Side Buttons” in the preferences. And no, I don’t have the page-reversing Manga Mode enabled.

There is a rather nice thumbnail view for navigating between pages, and the page turn animations are way better than those of the category leader Comic Zeal. But you also miss some CZ features, like the auto-tracking which will scroll a page a section at a time when you tap the “next” button.

Finally, there’s the RSS reader, which lets you add any feed you like. There are a few comic books news sites pre-loaded, but you can add in more by typing in the feed address. The reader shows summaries, and you can click through to a web view. This could be used to read web-comics, although it’s not really suited for that.

You should probably take a look at the instructions and videos on the developer’s site to see if you like it, but CR is a competent reader with a good amount of polish. It cost just $4.

Comic Reader product page [iTunes]

Comic Reader for iPad [Obsidian]

Mac App Store Hits 100 Million Downloads

Apple’s iOS App Store has been a huge success since it first launched in July of 2008, with billions of downloads occurring over the past three years. So naturally, Apple decided to recycle the model for software built for its Mac OSX desktop platform, launching its own App Store in January of this year.

It’s doing well, to say the least. Apple announced on Monday over 100 million Mac apps have been downloaded since the Mac App Store debuted nearly one year ago.

“In just three years the App Store changed how people get mobile apps, and now the Mac App Store is changing the traditional PC software industry,”Apple SVP Phil Schiller said in a statement.

The Mac App Store, a feature of OS X Lion, is structured similarly to Apple’s well-known iOS App Store. The iOS App Store has seen over 18 billion downloads and houses more than half a million apps. The Mac App Store is home to “thousands of apps” including things like Photoshop Elements and products from Autodesk.

The 100 million downloads figure only reflects individual app purchases. It does not include sales of OS X Lion or updates to apps purchased from the Mac App Store.

As Apple’s success with the app store model has grown, others have followed suit with their own versions. Last week Microsoft detailed its Windows Store, Microsoft’s marketplace for Windows 8 desktop and tablet applications. Although its policies and pricing scheme differs from that of Apple, it’s clear where the inspiration for the store stemmed from. Microsoft, however, boasts a much larger user base compared to Apple’s, with 500 million Windows 7 users worldwide compared to approximately 30 million Mac users.

With those sorts of numbers, it’s possible that Microsoft’s Windows Store could eventually prove to be more successful than Apple’s. But for now, Apple’s success in the app store arena is the one to beat.

New Spotify Radio Rattles Pandora’s Box

Toss out your real radio–Spotify Radio will play music you actually like

Spotify has added a Pandora-like radio station to its music-streaming app. To be clear, Spotify always had Spotify Radio–it’s just that it was junk.

Previously with Spotify Radio, you’d click the little-used tab and be presented with a confusion of options. You had to pick a genre, and you could also choose set the decades you’d like the music to come from.

The trouble was, nobody but bad commercial radio stations chooses music like that, and the results were predictably awful.

The new Spotify Radio is more like Pandora or Last FM. You pick a track and hit play. Spotify will somehow come up with a playlist based on that song, and you can skip any tracks you don’t like, as often as you like.

And it works. I picked one of the pre-chosen “stations” based on my “Top Artists” (you can also choose “Top Tracks,” “Popular” or even–still here–Genre). Based on Nicholas Jaar (whose Space Is Only Noise If You Can See has been an obsession for the last two weeks), Spotify consistently returned equally downbeat, writer-friendly tracks. I even discovered some new artists.

The big advantage Spotify has is that it knows the listening habits of all ten million of its customers. That’s not a bad data pool to draw upon when making recommendations. Spotify doesn’t say just how it picks tracks for you, but I’d guess it has at least something to do with this data.

Who cares? After all, Spotify lets you pick any of its 15 million tracks directly. But what about those times when you have one track in your head? Now you can build a whole playlist around it, automatically. Yes, that’s something you can get from Pandora, too. If you live in the U.S.

To try out the new Spotify Radio, you’ll need to go grab the pre-release beta version of the app (Mac and Windows).

Discover the new Spotify Radio [Spotify Blog]

Photograph and Track Your Food Habits With Eatery

Track your food and share the pictures. Just like Twitter, only people actually care

You know how people are always posting pictures of their meals on Twitter? Well, now there’s a (proper) app for that. It’s called Eatery, and it’s like a cross between Foursquare and Instagram, for food.

There are other apps for tracking your calorie intake, and that’s not really what Eatery is for. It works like this: You snap a photo of your latest snack, dinner or drink and rate its healthiness by dragging a slider. Zero stars for a deep-fried Mars Bar and 11 stars for a plate of celery, for instance.

And that’s it. Your pictures are shared friends who are following you, and they can rate an comment on your dietary choices. The app does most of the work behind the scenes, remembering when and where you ate, and then showing it all on handy graphs. You can see all of the dishes you ate at your pizza place, for instance, or see just how healthily you have been eating for the last week.

You can even while away some time rating photos other people have snapped, kind of like an anonymous Hot or Not. For food.

My only complaint is that you have to connect to Facebook to use the social aspects. Still, I’ll try it out for a week and see if I lose any weight. I have a feeling that posting a photo half a bottle of whisky every night might guilt me into drinking a little less, at least.

The Eatery is available now for the iPhone, and is free.

The Eatery [Massive Health]

App Wakes You When You Reach Your Bus Stop

BusChecker: Helping drunken Londoners get home on time since 2011

Fact 1: When traveling home on the London night bus, its easy to nod off and miss your stop, especially if you are a bartender and go out drinking after work until 3AM. Fact 2: I was this bartender. Fact 3: Once I even managed to spend the whole night on the N73, going back and forth and only waking when the engine sputtered out in the Walthamstow bus garage at 7AM, further from home than when I’d started hours before.

I could probably have done with BusChecker.

BusChecker is an iPhone app which gives live countdowns telling you when your bus will arrive, and also shows the buses on a map, pulling data from Transport for London’s live tracking site. And the latest version will wake you up when you reach your stop.

Just tell it where you want to go, and nod off. Thanks to iOS5’s new region-mapping feature, the low-powered position-monitoring service that lets you use Find My Friends and location based reminders, BusChecker can sound an alarm when you get to your stop.

I could have done with this ten years ago, when I regularly spent hours sleeping on a bus that could have been spent in a bed. Then again, ten years ago I was carrying a Sony Ericsson P800, which had trouble not crashing a plain old maps app.

BusChecker is $3, available now.

BusChecker product page [BusChecker. Thanks,Carl!]

See Also:

Upcoming Kinect Development Kit Could Change In-Store Shopping

The Xbox Kinect is Microsoft’s big push into motion-controlled gaming. You don’t even need a controller to play. Just move your hands and feet with gestures that the Kinect understands, and — voilà! — you’re kicking footballs, competing in dance challenges, and shooting down bad guys.

But now, one year since its launch, the Kinect has gone way beyond video games. It could change our retail buying experiences, and reinvent the way we shop.

A commercial version of the Kinect software development kit will be made available in early 2012, Microsoft announced on Monday, opening the door for businesses to create new applications for the popular platform.

“With the Kinect for Windows commercial program, Microsoft hopes that visionaries all over the globe will continue to transform the way we do things with new Kinect-enabled tools,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Wired.com in a statement. Microsoft is currently running a pilot program with more than 200 businesses across more than 20 countries, including partners like Toyota, textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and digital advertising agency Razorfish.

If all goes as planned, we could see Kinect-based interactions show up at retailers, banks, automotive dealers and other commercial environments. Razorfish, for example, is looking at building kiosks in which customers’ bodies would be scanned in order to try on digital outfits without needing to take off any clothes — so said Razorfish VP of emerging tech Jonathan Hull in an interview with Kotaku. Other applications could include simpler tasks, such as waving one’s hands to navigate an ATM’s menu screens.

Microsoft previously released a non-commercial version of its Kinect SDK in June, encouraging hackers and open software enthusiasts to create off-beat, innovative applications that take advantage of the platform’s motion-sensing capabilities. From gimmicky motion controls for banking software to NSF grant-backed medical research, the non-commercial SDK spurred creative uses of the platform beyond what Microsoft expected.

Kinect first debuted in November of 2010 to much fanfare. The system eschews the traditional button-and-joystick controller scheme, and instead lets users navigate and play games via hands-free motion capture. The system was an instant hit, setting a Guinness World Record for the fastest-selling consumer device ever in the first few days after its release. In March, Microsoft announced it had sold more than 10 million Kinect devices.

Though the hands-free controller has been a fun novelty for gaming enthusiasts, the Kinect’s utility for hardware-modding enthusiasts has been more compelling. The Xbox peripheral is packed with a bevy of sophisticated motion-capturing instruments, including an infrared light emitter to capture the surfaces of items in a room, and a depth camera that builds a 3D model of all the objects captured by infrared.

The Kinect’s relatively low $150 price tag has been even more attractive for budding DIY-ers. Willow Garage — the Silicon Valley robotics outfit known for its robot control operating system — now offers a $500 open-source robotics kit that incorporates the Kinect. The company’s previous version (also pre-Kinect) cost $280,000.

The initial forays into Kinect modification began with the homebrew modding community, spurring a wave of creative software hacks that ranged from Street Fighter games to the intricacies of “boob physics.” (Yes, really.)

Instead of taking action against the hackers or trying to bar hardware nerds from further Kinect mods, Microsoft encouraged development, promising to eventually release SDKs to new segments of would-be Kinect hackers. “Kinect represents the first incarnation of the next big thing in computing — a world where computing is becoming more natural and intuitive,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Bloomberg Businessweek in a statement.

Kinect’s natural progression is to move into the commercial realm. Much like app developers for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, the release of the commercial SDK allows third parties to use Microsoft’s technology in bolstering their own brands and services. Partners, however, would use Microsoft’s hardware to augment their own businesses — this rather than providing content to a centralized store. In return, Microsoft would open itself up to untold numbers of potential new hardware purchasing partners.

David Dennis, group program manager of Microsoft’s Xbox team, told Kotaku that Kinect devices could be sold in bulk numbers — the “tens of thousands” — to partner businesses.

Microsoft hasn’t released any hard details on the commercial SDK’s release date beyond “early next year.” So don’t expect to start waving on digital fashion accessories right away.

Adobe Carousel Will Struggle Against Free Photo Stream

Overpriced and underpowered, Carousel v1 fails to compete with Photo Stream

Adobe has released Carousel, a suite of multi-platform apps that let you share and edit your photographs on any device you on, seamlessly. If it sounds familiar, that’s because its a lot like a pro version of Apple Photo Stream.

Carousel runs on iOS devices, as well as the Mac, with Android and Windows versions on the way. Any photo you add on any platform will be almost instantly mirrored. Edited photos are re-uploaded and then re-synced across devices.

Editing is simple and straightforward. Whilst it’s not the Lightroom Lite we were hoping for, you do get a small subset of Lightroom’s editing tools. And these are nicely organized. You can adjust a slider to change white balance, for example, but when you hit the little arrow next to the slider, you get the option to adjust temperature and tint separately.

It’s well put together for a 1.0, and does one thing that Apple’s Photo Stream can’t: delete photos.

However, it has a lot of barriers to use. First is that it costs $6 per month (there’s a free 30-day trial), compared to the free Photo Stream. Second, you have to manually add pictures to the Carousel library. Third, it’s currently JPG-only, so no PNG screenshots and no RAW files (Photo Stream does both).

Complete integration is perhaps Photo Stream’s biggest strength. Any app that can write to the camera roll automatically joins the game (even Carousel, ironically). Apple’s pro apps (I’m looking at you, Aperture) are crowded and nard to use, but when it comes to making the simple stuff easy, it’s hard for others to match the convenience.

Carousel is available now in the Mac and iTunes App Stores.

Adobe Carousel [iTunes]

Adobe Carousel [Mac App Store]

See Also:

Dark Sky Predicts the Exact Weather, One Hour Ahead

Dark Sky, an ‘accurate short-term weather predictor’

Dark Sky is a weather app that only tells you what will happen in the next hour, at most. What’s the point of that, you ask? Because by limiting itself to what will happen next, Dark Sky can be spookily accurate.

The app, by Adam Grossman and Jack Turner, analyses weather radar data and tells you exactly what is about to happen in the weather, exactly where you are. Thus you can see that you have five minutes before a downpour, giving you enough time to get to the corner store. And that the shower will last ten minutes, so you should buy a magazine while you’re at the store and wait it out.

This works because it’s way easier to tell which way a storm or weather system will move in the next half hour than it is to predict even tomorrow’s weather. And Dark Sky even looks good while it does it. The same algorithm that predicts the weather also interpolates the herky-jerky radar images into a smoothly animated picture of the weather. It’s kind of like an iTunes visualizer, only useful.

Adam and Jack are currently seeking finding on Kickstarter ($15 will pre-order you a copy), as the app backend requires lots of server power to crunch the radar data from the whole country. This also means that an international rollout might take a while. However, if you live in England I can offer you a very accurate prediction: If it is not raining right now, it will start in five minutes. You’re welcome.

Dark Sky project page [Kickstarter. Thanks, Adam!]

See Also:

Spotty Software Updates Keep Android Users Stuck in the Past

We’ve known the Android platform was fractured for some time. Stop a handful of Android owners on the street, and odds are at least one of them will be running an out-of-date version of the OS.

But we didn’t know it was this bad.

Santa Barbara-area entrepreneur Michael DeGusta created a chart on Thursday detailing the frequency of OS updates across the myriad devices running the Android software. The results are ugly.

Out of the 18 released Android phones DeGusta surveyed, seven of them haven’t ever run a current version of the Android operating system. It’s as if you were stuck perpetually running an old copy of Windows 98 on your desktop. And nobody wants that.

Further, over half of the devices surveyed stopped receiving support updates from manufacturers less than one year after initial release. Eighty three percent of the devices don’t even run Gingerbread, the most up-to-date version of the Android OS for phones. Gingerbread was released almost one year ago.

To create the chart, DeGusta tracked down every U.S. Android device shipped since 2007 to mid-2010, as well as the frequency of the software updates for each device. He took that information and paired it against the current release of Android at the time, showing which phones were up to date, and which ones weren’t. Green squares represent phones running the current version of Android at that point in time. Yellow, orange and red squares represent phones running versions that are one, two or even three or more versions behind the current one.

The chart details the serious issues device manufacturers face in keeping Android software current on their phones. Chart courtesy of Michael DeGusta

Juxtaposed against that of the iPhone’s version update history, Android’s track record is appalling. All four of the iPhones released in the measured period have been kept up to date on software releases.

Part of the disparity between the two platforms is a sheer numbers game. Apple had only four phones to worry about updating (now five, after the debut of the 4S), while Google — who licenses its Android software out to multiple manufacturers — must now deal with hundreds. Optimizing software integration with the many different specification sets across available Android hardware is an impossible task.

Not to mention the breakneck pace of Android’s software development cycle. In the four years since Android launched, the software underwent nine different software version launches. iOS has undergone half of that.

Take heart, Android users — there’s hope for change yet. At its I/O conference in March, Google and a host of partner manufacturers introduced an initiative which guarantees manufacturers will provide Android software updates to purchased smartphones for a minimum of 18 months.

“Expectations around phones have changed,” said VP of Android engineering Hiroshi Lockheimer when we spoke last week. “It used to be that phones didn’t get upgrades, and industry players are coming from that ‘non-upgrade’ philosophy. We’re trying to build awareness in the industry that things have changed.”

Apple’s Newsstand a Huge Success for Digital Publishers

Newsstand, a new feature of iOS 5, is hitting it big with traditional media publishers thanks to its windfall delivery of new digital subscriptions.

Newsstand appears as a folder on the iOS home screen, funneling all your digital magazine and newspaper app subscriptions into a single location. It provides easy access to these apps, automatically updates them in the background when new issues are released, and — here’s the payoff — includes a built-in store for purchasing subscriptions. Purchased titles are displayed individually on Newsstand’s virtual bookshelf.

“Apple Newsstand is changing the way people buy and read magazines, similar to how people bought and listened to music through iTunes. It’s revolutionary,” says Collin Willardson, director of digital marketing at PixelMags, a digital publishing platform for a number of high-profile media brands, including Esquire, Dwell, Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan.

Numerous publishers are reporting subscription surges for their newspaper and magazine apps. PixelMags reported a 1,150 percent growth increase in the first week after Newsstand and iOS 5 debuted on Oct. 12. It’s now sold over four million digital magazines.

“We quickly started to realize just how big of an impact Apple Newsstand was having on our business when on the morning after launch, I received a phone call from our server company wondering if we were under attack,” said Ryan Marquis, PixelMags’ founder and COO, in a company’s press release. “I told them that we were for sure — from all the new iOS 5 users who wanted to download magazines from us.”

Conde Nast, Wired’s parent company, saw a 268 percent spike in subscriptions since the Newsstand app landed. “It’s clear that the focused attention and greater discoverability that Newsstand provides our brands has been embraced by the consumer,” said Monica Ray, Executive Vice President of Conde Nast.

Without a doubt, Newsstand increases the visibility of subscription-based magazine and newspaper apps, which often get buried under the onslaught of games, social media and photo apps that tend to dominate the App Store’s charts. But thanks to Newsstand, it seems, the National Geographic iPad app managed to reach the #18 spot in the Free Apps chart last week. The New York Times iPhone app is #27 today. And with a button that takes you directly to the magazine and newspaper section of the App Store, the Newsstand app makes it easy to snatch up subscriptions to quickly fill its own empty shelves.

Other success stories: New York Times app subscriptions absolutely soared after Newsstand launched. Its iPad app alone saw 189,000 new user downloads, seven times the number from the week before (27,000). The New York Times saw even more remarkable numbers for its iPhone app: 1.8 million downloads, or 85 times more downloads than the 21,000 of the week before. Meanwhile, Future Plc, a UK-based publisher of niche consumer-enthusiast magazines, saw a 750 percent increase in sales after Newsstand debuted.

But not everyone is happy with the addition of Newsstand to the iOS ecosystem. For some iOS users, the empty, glaring bookshelf of the Newsstand icon has been a source of irritation. Indeed, the addition of Newsstand is listed as one of very few complaints about iOS 5 across the web. Because Newsstand is a folder, rather than an app, you can’t easily remove it from your home screen, but some clever folks figured out a workaround that doesn’t require jail breaking.

These individuals, however, seem to largely be in the minority. Legions of users are filling up those bare shelves with digital subscriptions, giving a much-needed boost to magazine and newspaper app makers, and the publishing industry in general.