Tag Archives: Ios

How to Set Up Bluetooth in an Older Car (or a Newer, Fussier Car)

Maybe you bought a brand-new phone; maybe your phone just went through a major OS update. Either way, the result is the same: you can’t connect it via Bluetooth to your older car anymore, which means you’ve lost the ability to rock out, enrich yourself with podcasts, or make hands-free calls.

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Find the Right Replacement Nut or Bolt via Photo Using Amazon’s Part Finder

I moved late last year, which involved taking apart and later putting back together a decent amount of furniture. Consequently, that also led to a few “Where did the other one of these screws go?” moments.

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What Neural Networks, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning Actually Do In Your Apps

When an app claims to be powered by “artificial intelligence” it feels like you’re in the future. What does that really mean, though? We’re taking a look at what buzzwords like AI, machine learning, and neural networks really mean and whether they actually help improve your apps.

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What Neural Networks, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning Actually Do In Your Apps

When an app claims to be powered by “artificial intelligence” it feels like you’re in the future. What does that really mean, though? We’re taking a look at what buzzwords like AI, machine learning, and neural networks really mean and whether they actually help improve your apps.

Just recently, Google and Microsoft both added neural network learning to their translation apps. Google said it’s using machine learning to suggest playlists. Todoist says it’s using AI to suggest when you should finish a task. Any.do claims its AI-powered bot can do some tasks for you. All that’s just from last week. Some of it is marketing fluff to make new features sound impressive, but sometimes the changes are legitimately useful. “Artificial intelligence,” “machine learning,” and “neural networks” all describe ways for computers to do more advanced tasks and learn from their environment. While you may hear them used interchangeably by app developers, they can be very different in practice.

Neural Networks Analyze Complex Data By Simulating the Human Brain

Artificial neural networks (ANNs or simply “neural networks” for short) refer to a specific type of learning model that emulates the way synapses work in your brain. Traditional computing uses a series of logic statements to perform a task. Neural networks, on the other hand, use a network of nodes (which act like neurons) and edges (which act like synapses) to process data. Inputs are then run through the system and a series of outputs are generated.

That output is then compared to known data. For example, say you want to train a computer to recognize a picture of a dog. You’d run millions of pictures of a dog through the network to see what images it decided looked like dogs. A human would then confirm which images are actually dogs. The system then favors the pathways through the neural network that led to the correct answer. Over time and millions of iterations, the network will eventually improve the accuracy of its results.

To see how this works in action, you can try out Google’s Quick, Draw! experiment here. In this case, Google is training a network to recognize doodles. It compares the doodle you draw to examples drawn by other people. The network is told what the doodles are and then trained to recognize future doodles based on what the past ones look like. Even if your drawing skills suck (like mine do), the network is pretty good at recognizing basic shapes like submarines, house plants, and ducks.

Neural networks aren’t the right solution for everything, but they excel at dealing with complex data. Google and Microsoft using neural networks to power their translation apps is legitimately exciting because translating languages is hard. We’ve all seen broken translations, but neural network learning could let the system learn from correct translations to get better over time. We’ve seen a similar thing happen with voice transcription. After introducing neural network learning to Google Voice, transcription errors were reduced by 49%. You may not notice it right away and it won’t be perfect, but this type of learning genuinely makes complex data analysis better which can lead to more natural features in your apps.

Machine Learning Teaches Computers to Improve With Practice

Machine learning is a broad term that encompasses anything where you teach a machine to improve at a task on its own. More specifically, it refers to any system where a machine’s performance at completing a task gets better solely through more experience performing that task. Neural networks are an example of machine learning, but they are not the only way a machine can learn.

For example, one alternative method of machine learning is called reinforcement learning. In this method, a computer performs a task and then it’s graded on the result. The video above from Android Authority uses a chess game as an example. A computer plays a complete game of chess and then it either wins or loses. If it wins, then it assigns a winning value to the series of moves it used during that game. After playing millions of games, the system can determine which moves are most likely to win based on the results of those games.

While neural networks are good for things like pattern recognition in images, other types of machine learning may be more useful for different tasks like determining what kind of music you like. To wit, Google says its music app will find you the music you want when you want it. It does this by selecting playlists for you based on your past behavior. If you ignore its suggestions, that would (presumably) be labeled as a failure. However, if you choose one of the suggestions, the process it used to give that suggestion is labeled as a success, so it reinforces the process that led to that suggestion.

In cases like this, you might not get the full benefit of machine learning if you don’t use the feature a lot. The first time you open Google’s music app, your recommendations will probably be pretty scattershot. The more you use it, the better the suggestions get. In theory, anyway. Machine learning isn’t a silver bullet, so you could still get junk recommendations. However, you’ll definitely get junk recommendations if you only open the music app once every six months. Without regular use to help it learn, machine learning suggestions aren’t much better than regular “smart” suggestions. As a buzzword, “machine learning” is vaguer than neural networks, but it still implies that the software you’re using will use your feedback to improve its performance.

Artificial Intelligence Just Means Anything That’s “Smart”

Just like neural networks are a form of machine learning, machine learning is a form of artificial intelligence. However, the category of what else counts as “artificial intelligence” is so poorly defined that it’s almost meaningless. While it conjures the mental image of futuristic sci-fi, in reality, we’ve already reached milestones that were previously considered the realm of future AI. For example, optical character recognition was once considered too complex for a machine, but now an app on your phone can scan documents and turn them into text. Describing such a now-basic task as AI would make it sound more impressive than it is.

The reason that basic phone tasks can be considered AI is because there are actually two very different categories of artificial intelligence. Weak or narrow AI describes any system that’s designed for a narrow task or set of tasks. For example, Google Assistant and Siri—while powerful—are designed to do a very narrow set of tasks. Namely, take specifics series of voice commands and return answers or launch apps. Research into artificial intelligence powers those features, but it’s still considered “weak.”

In contrast, strong AI—otherwise known as artificial general intelligence or “full aI”—is a system that can perform any task that a human can. It also doesn’t exist. If you were hoping that your to-do list app would be powered by a cute robot voiced by Alan Tudyk, that’s a long way off. Since virtually any AI you’d actually use is considered weak AI, the phrase “artificial intelligence” in an app description really just means “it’s a smart app.” You might get some cool suggestions, but don’t expect it to rival the intelligence of a human.

While the semantics may be muddy, the practical research in AI fields is so useful you’ve probably already incorporated it into your daily life. Every time your phone automatically remembers where you parked, recognizes faces in your photos, get search suggestions, or automatically groups all your vacation pictures together, you’re benefitting either directly or indirectly from AI research. To a certain extent, “artificial intelligence” really just means apps getting smarter, which is what you’d expect anyway. However, machine learning and neural networks are uniquely suited to improving certain kinds of tasks. If an app just says it’s using “AI” it’s less meaningful than any type of machine learning.

It’s also worth pointing out that neural networks and machine learning are not all created equal. Saying that an app uses machine learning to do something better is a bit like saying a camera is better because it’s “digital.” Yes, digital cameras can do some things that film cameras can’t, but that doesn’t mean that every digital photograph is better than every film photograph. It’s all in how you use it. Some companies will be able to develop powerful neural networks that do really complicated things that make your life better. Others will slap a machine learning label on a feature that already offered “smart” suggestions and you’ll ignore it just the same.

From a behind-the-scenes standpoint, machine learning and neural networks are very exciting. However, if you’re reading an app description that uses these phrases, you can just read it as “This feature is slightly smarter, probably” and continue doing what you’ve always done: judging apps by how useful they are to you.

Illustration by Sam Woolley.

The Best and Worst From WWDC 2016

The WWDC keynote is finally over, and if we learned one thing, it’s that Apple has fundamentally changed. Most of the news from the developer’s conference wasn’t too earth-shattering: there were no new apps being ported to Android, no allusions to any Apple hardware whatsoever, and Tim Cook even seemed a little off during his presentation.

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Make Your iPhone Read Anything Out Loud With One Quick Swipe

Make Your iPhone Read Anything Out Loud With One Quick Swipe

Whether you’re driving or you just want to be hands-free around the house, you can make your iOS device read anything from emails to websites to articles, and all it takes is turning on an Accessibility function.

As How-to Geek explains, your device’s “Speak Screen” feature lets you command it to read just about anything with a quick swipe. We’ve told you how to enable your phone’s text-to-speech function before, but this option makes it even easier.

They explain how it works:

With the “Speak Screen” feature in iOS, you can have your device read whatever’s on the screen to you just by swiping two fingers down from the top of the page. It can read just about anything, from settings pages to web sites to ebooks. While it’s obviously useful if you have some form of visual impairment, it can also be really handy when you want to catch up on your reading but don’t want your eyes glued to a screen.

To enable it, simply head to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech. Then, enable “Speak Screen.” From there, you should be able to swipe down from any screen and your device will start reading. A small toolbar will pop up, allowing you to adjust the speed and pause directly from the screen. For more detail, head to the post below.

How to Make Your iOS Device Read Articles, Books, and More Out Loud to You | How-to Geek

Paper, the iOS Drawing and Notes App, Simplifies Navigation and Adds Search

Paper, the iOS Drawing and Notes App, Simplifies Navigation and Adds Search

iOS: Paper is easily one of the best drawing apps on iOS, and recent updates have added in the ability to write to-do lists and other notes. Those new features were welcome, but made it a little tough to navigate the app. Thankfully, a new and improved sidebar fixes that.

http://lifehacker.com/paper-the-fant…

Paper has gone through a lot of iterations since it first launched, and eventually ditched the notebooks in favor of “spaces.” Now, those spaces are called grids, and you have access to all of them from the sidebar. The sidebar is a nice improvement over the the previous interface. You can also now search from the sidebar, which is pretty useful if you have a lot of different notes. If you haven’t used Paper in a while, it’s worth another look, and this update makes it a bit easier to use in general.

Paper (Free) | iTunes App Store

iPhone Twitter App Showdown: Tweetbot vs. Twitter

iPhone Twitter App Showdown: Tweetbot vs. Twitter

There are dozens of Twitter clients for the iPhone, but the official Twitter app and the third-party Tweetbot are two of the most popular. One’s free, the other’s pretty expensive at $9.99. Let’s dig into the main differences between the two, and see if the difference in experience is worth the difference in cost.

The Contenders

iPhone Twitter App Showdown: Tweetbot vs. Twitter
Tweetbot (left) orders your timeline, y’know, by time whereas Twitter (right) does whatever it wants

Because of the way Twitter works, developing a Twitter app is a pain. It’s expensive for developers because Twitter charges them for keys to access the site, which means developers tend to pass that charge over to you, and then revoke access when you get too popular. Subsequently, most good Twitter apps tend to be on the pricey side, Tweetbot included. Let’s start with a quick look at both apps:

  • Twitter (Free): When it first launched, the official Twitter app was a bit of a joke, but over the years it’s improved quite a bit. That said, it’s basically just a mobile version of the web site, which means it’s built more for the everyday user than for power users who use all of Twitter’s features, or manage multiple accounts. It’s straight-forward to use and doesn’t feature any bells and whistles.
  • Tweetbot ($9.99): Tweetbot has been our favorite Twitter client for iPhone for a very long time, but $10 is a steep price to pay for most users. Tweetbot isn’t really made for most users though. It’s made for the type of person who spends the bulk of their day on Twitter, whether it for work or out of a deep-seated obsession with the social network. Tweetbot has a good amount of customization options for the interface, alongside a handful of ways to get a better Twitter experience by tweaking the content of your feed.

Assuming that the $10 price tag on Tweetbot isn’t enough to turn you away outright, picking between the two really depends on how you use Twitter.

http://lifehacker.com/5809798/the-be…

Tweetbot Has Better Customization

iPhone Twitter App Showdown: Tweetbot vs. Twitter
Don’t like the tabs on the bottom? Tweetbot (left) lets you change them up

The official Twitter app is about as vanilla as an experience as you can get. Open it up and you’ll find an interface similar to the web site, with tabs on the bottom for your notifications, moments, DMs, and your profile tab. Functionality in the app is the same as the site as well. You can’t alter any of this. You can’t change the tabs, the colors, or even adjust the font size. With the Twitter app, what you see is what you get.

Conversely, Tweetbot has a variety of customization options. For example, the bottom tab bar has two buttons on the right that you can swap out for whatever function you want: activity (which includes mentions, replies, favorites, and new follower information), search, profile, likes, mute filters, or lists. If you use lists to tame your Twitter feed, having access to them in the tab bar makes your life easier. The official Twitter app tucks those lists behind several taps. If you’re using Tweetbot on an iPad or a iPhone 6 Plus, you also get support for columns in landscape mode, which lets you see two tabs side-by-side. Tweetbot also allows you to chose between a couple fonts, swap between username or full name for your timeline, alter the image size in your feed, and even customize the avatars. There’s a dark mode included if you prefer to do your tweeting late at night in a dark room.

Tweetbot also has extremely customizable notifications, so you can tweak them so you only get the notifications you want. Tweetbot has options for links too, allowing you to open links in Tweetbot, Chrome, or Safari, and even includes a reader view that strips away the visual styling of an article.

In the end, if you want an app you can customize, Tweetbot’s the one you’re looking for. The official Twitter app doesn’t allow you to change anything.

http://lifehacker.com/how-to-clean-u…

Tweetbot’s Mute Filters and Lack of Ads Make Power User’s Days Better

iPhone Twitter App Showdown: Tweetbot vs. Twitter
Tweetbot’s mute filters let you get rid of any part of Twitter you don’t want to see

Twitter is a noisy place. People tweet dozens of times a day, publications don’t seem to ever stop, and there’s always a chance for spoilers if you’re anticipating any type of media at all. Tweetbot has ways around this.

Tweetbot has a powerful set of mute filters. You can mute keywords, phrases, users, or hashtags. When you do so, any tweet that contains those things will not show up in your feed. This is great during sports playoffs when you’re not a fan, election seasons, or if you’re avoiding spoilers for something. If you do mute something, Tweetbot’s also smart enough to still show you replies that might mention those things, so you’re not totally cut off from the world. The downside is that these mute filters don’t carry over to the web version of Twitter, so it really only works inside the Tweetbot ecosystem (which includes the $10 Mac app). If you only use the Tweetbot iPhone app, it’s great, but if you’re also using the web version on your desktop computer, it’s a bit annoying.

Plus, like pretty much all third-party Twitter clients, you won’t see ads in Tweetbot. Considering how often those annoying sponsored posts seem to pop up, it’s a nice little addition if you’re not a fan of advertisements.

http://lifehacker.com/5887230/how-to…

Twitter Keeps You on the Cutting Edge

iPhone Twitter App Showdown: Tweetbot vs. Twitter
While Tweetbot lets you take a close look at what’s happening in your feed, Twitter likes to show you a more global view

The one area where the official Twitter dominates Tweetbot is in support for new features. The folks behind Twitter love to introduce new little features all the time, whether that’s fun stuff like polls or weird features like Moments. If you’re using the official Twitter app, you will almost always see an update in the app to support these new features immediately.

Tweetbot doesn’t do this at all. Heck, Tweetbot still doesn’t support polls. For whatever reason, many of the cutting edge features that Twitter decides to roll out don’t end up working on third-party clients. Of course, that’s also a feature of Tweetbot if you like a simpler Twitter experience as a whole.

http://lifehacker.com/how-to-take-yo…

The Verdict: Tweetbot’s the Better App, but Twitter Is Free, Still Does Enough for Most People

Let’s be honest here: the general population who just glances at Twitter a couple times a day doesn’t need a $10 Twitter app. If you only manage one account, don’t mind seeing a bunch of extra garbage like ads and obnoxious hashtags, and it doesn’t bother you when Twitter adds some half-baked new idea to the app every week, then the official Twitter app is all you need.

If you spend a lot of time on Twitter during the day, then Tweetbot’s the best app for making that experience better. The mute function alone is worth the price of admission for some people, but the customizable toolbar and activity menu make it much easier to manage large scale accounts.

iPhone Twitter App Showdown: Tweetbot vs. Twitter

iPhone Twitter App Showdown: Tweetbot vs. Twitter

There are dozens of Twitter clients for the iPhone, but the official Twitter app and the third-party Tweetbot are two of the most popular. One’s free, the other’s pretty expensive at $9.99. Let’s dig into the main differences between the two, and see if the difference in experience is worth the difference in cost.

The Contenders

iPhone Twitter App Showdown: Tweetbot vs. Twitter
Tweetbot (left) orders your timeline, y’know, by time whereas Twitter (right) does whatever it wants

Because of the way Twitter works, developing a Twitter app is a pain. It’s expensive for developers because Twitter charges them for keys to access the site, which means developers tend to pass that charge over to you, and then revoke access when you get too popular. Subsequently, most good Twitter apps tend to be on the pricey side, Tweetbot included. Let’s start with a quick look at both apps:

  • Twitter (Free): When it first launched, the official Twitter app was a bit of a joke, but over the years it’s improved quite a bit. That said, it’s basically just a mobile version of the web site, which means it’s built more for the everyday user than for power users who use all of Twitter’s features, or manage multiple accounts. It’s straight-forward to use and doesn’t feature any bells and whistles.
  • Tweetbot ($9.99): Tweetbot has been our favorite Twitter client for iPhone for a very long time, but $10 is a steep price to pay for most users. Tweetbot isn’t really made for most users though. It’s made for the type of person who spends the bulk of their day on Twitter, whether it for work or out of a deep-seated obsession with the social network. Tweetbot has a good amount of customization options for the interface, alongside a handful of ways to get a better Twitter experience by tweaking the content of your feed.

Assuming that the $10 price tag on Tweetbot isn’t enough to turn you away outright, picking between the two really depends on how you use Twitter.

http://lifehacker.com/5809798/the-be…

Tweetbot Has Better Customization

iPhone Twitter App Showdown: Tweetbot vs. Twitter
Don’t like the tabs on the bottom? Tweetbot (left) lets you change them up

The official Twitter app is about as vanilla as an experience as you can get. Open it up and you’ll find an interface similar to the web site, with tabs on the bottom for your notifications, moments, DMs, and your profile tab. Functionality in the app is the same as the site as well. You can’t alter any of this. You can’t change the tabs, the colors, or even adjust the font size. With the Twitter app, what you see is what you get.

Conversely, Tweetbot has a variety of customization options. For example, the bottom tab bar has two buttons on the right that you can swap out for whatever function you want: activity (which includes mentions, replies, favorites, and new follower information), search, profile, likes, mute filters, or lists. If you use lists to tame your Twitter feed, having access to them in the tab bar makes your life easier. The official Twitter app tucks those lists behind several taps. If you’re using Tweetbot on an iPad or a iPhone 6 Plus, you also get support for columns in landscape mode, which lets you see two tabs side-by-side. Tweetbot also allows you to chose between a couple fonts, swap between username or full name for your timeline, alter the image size in your feed, and even customize the avatars. There’s a dark mode included if you prefer to do your tweeting late at night in a dark room.

Tweetbot also has extremely customizable notifications, so you can tweak them so you only get the notifications you want. Tweetbot has options for links too, allowing you to open links in Tweetbot, Chrome, or Safari, and even includes a reader view that strips away the visual styling of an article.

In the end, if you want an app you can customize, Tweetbot’s the one you’re looking for. The official Twitter app doesn’t allow you to change anything.

http://lifehacker.com/how-to-clean-u…

Tweetbot’s Mute Filters and Lack of Ads Make Power User’s Days Better

iPhone Twitter App Showdown: Tweetbot vs. Twitter
Tweetbot’s mute filters let you get rid of any part of Twitter you don’t want to see

Twitter is a noisy place. People tweet dozens of times a day, publications don’t seem to ever stop, and there’s always a chance for spoilers if you’re anticipating any type of media at all. Tweetbot has ways around this.

Tweetbot has a powerful set of mute filters. You can mute keywords, phrases, users, or hashtags. When you do so, any tweet that contains those things will not show up in your feed. This is great during sports playoffs when you’re not a fan, election seasons, or if you’re avoiding spoilers for something. If you do mute something, Tweetbot’s also smart enough to still show you replies that might mention those things, so you’re not totally cut off from the world. The downside is that these mute filters don’t carry over to the web version of Twitter, so it really only works inside the Tweetbot ecosystem (which includes the $10 Mac app). If you only use the Tweetbot iPhone app, it’s great, but if you’re also using the web version on your desktop computer, it’s a bit annoying.

Plus, like pretty much all third-party Twitter clients, you won’t see ads in Tweetbot. Considering how often those annoying sponsored posts seem to pop up, it’s a nice little addition if you’re not a fan of advertisements.

http://lifehacker.com/5887230/how-to…

Twitter Keeps You on the Cutting Edge

iPhone Twitter App Showdown: Tweetbot vs. Twitter
While Tweetbot lets you take a close look at what’s happening in your feed, Twitter likes to show you a more global view

The one area where the official Twitter dominates Tweetbot is in support for new features. The folks behind Twitter love to introduce new little features all the time, whether that’s fun stuff like polls or weird features like Moments. If you’re using the official Twitter app, you will almost always see an update in the app to support these new features immediately.

Tweetbot doesn’t do this at all. Heck, Tweetbot still doesn’t support polls. For whatever reason, many of the cutting edge features that Twitter decides to roll out don’t end up working on third-party clients. Of course, that’s also a feature of Tweetbot if you like a simpler Twitter experience as a whole.

http://lifehacker.com/how-to-take-yo…

The Verdict: Tweetbot’s the Better App, but Twitter Is Free, Still Does Enough for Most People

Let’s be honest here: the general population who just glances at Twitter a couple times a day doesn’t need a $10 Twitter app. If you only manage one account, don’t mind seeing a bunch of extra garbage like ads and obnoxious hashtags, and it doesn’t bother you when Twitter adds some half-baked new idea to the app every week, then the official Twitter app is all you need.

If you spend a lot of time on Twitter during the day, then Tweetbot’s the best app for making that experience better. The mute function alone is worth the price of admission for some people, but the customizable toolbar and activity menu make it much easier to manage large scale accounts.

Sherbit Visualizes and Interprets All the Data Your Online Services Collect

Sherbit Visualizes and Interprets All the Data Your Online Services Collect

iOS: You use a lot of online services that track a lot of data, but how much do you really know about it all? Sherbit puts all that data into one place so you can quickly understand how it all relates through attractive visualizations.

Do I spend more money on gas or on Lyft rides? How much time do I spend working compared to fooling around on social media? Are my Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter posts getting more likes on average? These are the sorts of questions Sherbit can answer by taking data from various services you use and visualizing that data to create a comparison.

Creating a visualization requires only a few simple steps. First you choose a service you want to use, then a trackable metric, and then you repeat that process with another service and metric. For example, if you wanted to find out if you were less active on days you worked more you could figure that out by adding steps counted by your FitBit and productivity hours tracked by RescueTime. You’ll need to log in to each service the first time you request data, but after that Sherbit will remember and pull the data in automatically.

After you create a visualization you save it by tapping a heart icon in the upper right corner and then it’ll appear on your dashboard. If you don’t like the visualization you created, just go back and change it up. Once you’ve saved a few, you can just check your dashboard now and again to find out the data you’re looking for.

Sherbit’s new so it still has more services yet to come (and HealthKit is only sort of supported through an optional toggle in the settings), but it still offers quite a few options already. If you’re looking for a way to make sense out of the data you’re already tracking, you can grab the app for free on iTunes and see what you come up with.

Sherbit (Free) | iTunes App Store