App of (last) week: GIF Finder

Originally published on the Melbourne blog.

If a picture paints a thousand words, then an animated GIF almost certainly livens up a 140 character tweet.

So when your only response to a tweet or awkward moment is to issue an animated GIF, the time it takes to search Google Images, memegenerator or Tumblr can suck the fun out of it.

Enter GIF Finder. This brilliantly simple and free iPhone app offers “All the fun of gifs, none of the hassle of finding them.”

There’s not really much to how GIF Finder works, which is refreshing given the endless bells and whistles you find in most free apps. Just search for the GIF you want, pick from those returned and then share to wherever you want it to go.

GIF Finder uses Tumblr as its source for GIFs, so there’s usually something that hits the spot. And conveniently, it’ll share to clipboard as well as Twitter, Facebook etc so you’re not required to use the built-in iOS sharing.

gif-finder-1 gif-finder-2 gif-finder-3

GIF Finder is a simple concept, well executed and fills a surprising niche. It’s free on the iOS App Store, but there’s no Android version yet which I suspect might go down well with ‘droid-toting teens.

Download GIF Finder now.

Google Chrome’s “Warn Before Quitting” preference doesn’t automatically sync

I recently set up my new work Mac and one of my first tasks was to download Google Chrome. Yes, Google is ‘evil’ and gives away my data to the NSA, but you can’t beat the convenience of having a synchronised browser experience across multiple computers.

Signing-in to Chrome with my Google account lets automatically install my preferred extensions, synchronises bookmarks and history (if I choose) and other browsing preferences.

Warn Before Quitting in Chrome

However, the most useful preference that I have enabled does not get sync’d. That’s “Warn Before Quitting” – an incredibly helpful feature for those with fat fingers like me, or if you’re just someone that types very fast. Tapping Command-Q on a Mac is the standard keyboard shortcut to close an app, but unfortunately it’s right next to Command-W – the command to just close a window or, say, a Chrome tab.

The Warn Before Quitting feature requires you to hold down Command-Q for more than a keystroke to quit Chrome. In fact, you have to hold it down for a few seconds while a visual prompt confirms you really do want to quit. And given how many tabs I usually have open at once, this is quite rare.

So while this is a great feature, the second-greatest feature – syncing – doesn’t actually enable it on other browsers! I suppose this is partly down to the cross-platform nature of Chrome – the equivalent key combination on Windows, Alt+F4 poses fewer issues.

Nonetheless, a pretty key preference for Chrome Mac users is not sync’d across devices. And I’ve been losing tabs for days!

Is now the right time for scan-and-go in supermarkets?

Sainsbury’s is resurrecting a new concept and trialling a scan and go solution for shoppers. The Next Web reports

Sainsbury’s supermarket is trialing a new service called Mobile Scan & Go that allows users to shop with their iPhone or Android phone and pay at the till without unloading their trolley or bags.

I’m sure it was over 10 years ago that supermarkets started rolling out a “self scan and pack” solution for in-store shopping. In a time before the smartphone however, shoppers used handheld barcode scanners that were held in banks at the entrance to the store. Once placed back into a dock, shoppers received a special receipt that allowed checkout operatives to take payment as normal.

Ultimately, the self-scan system didn’t last long – I’m guessing they were just trials and shopper resistance to technology probably scuppered it.

Self-scanning also launched on the cusp of reliable Internet grocery shopping – Webvan had gone bust, Ocado had just launched – so maybe shoppers that wanted to avoid checkouts simply went online rather than go through the theatre of picking out bananas at their preferred ripeness.

But in recent months, that concept has made a comeback. Last year, Apple launched EasyPay, which allows you to scan your own items at participating Apple stores, pay with your iTunes card details and leave the store.

Unlike Apple, which uses geolocation and in-store wifi to work out which store you’re in, the Sainsbury’s system requires you to scan a QR code to “check in” to the store then take your phone to the till where payment is taken after scanning a code to “check out”. No details yet on whether you’ll be ‘randomly selected’ to have all your shopping re-scanned, as used to happen with the old system. But this would be obvious.

Though on researching this article, I was surprised to read that Waitrose still offers this under the brand “Quick Check”. And even Tesco are rolling this out again as an improvement.

To be honest, I’m not convinced that supermarkets will switch to an entirely self-scan solution. The growing acceptance of self-checkouts is a driver in that direction, though their perceived unreliability and complexity continues to drive a demand for checkout operatives.

Nonetheless, maybe there are areas where scan-and-go will take off. For example, supermarket kiosks where relatively low value items can be purchased off the shelf. Retailers like WH Smith used to operate ‘honesty’ payment for newspapers some years ago, so given the enhanced security now in operation, perhaps scan-and-go could work in a supermarket environment.

The rise of contactless cards, however, puts a bit of a dampener on the argument that low value transactions will be sped up through scan-and-go. If only there was some way of linking these two concepts

iMessage @MelbourneHost with #iOS5

An unedited original of this was posted over at

Now that iOS 5 has finally come out of beta, I’ve been having fun setting it up on a number of Apple devices at home and work. By waiting until Thursday morning to install it, I seem to have avoided the issues reported by some users at launch. Everything downloaded smoothly and was verified by Apple’s servers without delay.

One of the features I’ve been most interested in seeing deployed on a wide scale is iMessage, which is Apple’s answer to BBM (BlackBerry Messenger). iMessage allows users of all iOS 5 devices like iPhones, iPads and iPods to exchange short messages, pictures and audio or video. It should be automatically set up for iPhone users, acting as a transparent SMS replacement to friends with iOS 5. On iPad and iPod Touch devices, iMessage needs an email address registered with Apple so that other users can get hold of you.

I had a go at setting up iMessage for Melbourne – so if you want to get hold of us, send us an iMessage:

iMessage is just another way we’re trying out for people to get in touch. It’s probably best to stick to the usual support channels for directed responses, but if you just want to say hi or ask a quick question, then go ahead and drop us an iMessage.

Review: Is it worth upgrading your older Mac to OS X 10.7 Lion?

One of the great things about owning a Mac is that for most tasks, you don’t suffer the same slow down that can be suffered by many Windows users. A Mac bought four years ago can still happily run many of today’s productivity and design applications.

Also, buying a Mac can be a relatively large investment, particularly for students – so you don’t want to junk it every time Apple release an upgrade. Of course, it’s not just the processor and RAM – what if you don’t have a newer glass trackpad with multi-touch, or an SSD?

So what does today’s launch of Mac OS X Lion mean for users of older Mac hardware?

Mac OS X Lion screen

Firstly, the minimum system requirements are very similar to OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. The most important change is that you’ll need at least an Intel Core 2 Duo to run Lion. This means users with the very first generation of Mac and Intel hardware (Core Solo/Core Duo) are excluded from the upgrade. Also, while you can get away with running Lion on 2 GB RAM, experience from Snow Leopard suggests 4 GB is a comfortable minimum for multi-tasking.

You’ll also have to be running Mac OS X Snow Leopard, version 10.6.8 to install Lion. Even if you want to do a clean install, you must download Lion via the App Store first and then follow the various guides.

About this Mac with Lion showing Core2Duo

This morning, I took the plunge and installed Mac OS X Lion on my late-2007 MacBook Pro (2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM). It wasn’t a clean upgrade – in fact, I’ve upgraded it from Tiger to Leopard (on launch day) and then to Snow Leopard. The upgrade process was pretty smooth and didn’t require any input from me. A little over half an hour later, I was presented with the smooth iOS-style login screen.

Mac OS X Lion login screen

Login was characteristically a slow experience – this is one thing that could be quicker, but I do have a number of apps that I set to launch on login, like Twitter for Mac, Chrome and the usual like Dropbox etc. Experience suggests a reboot and login is a pretty rare occurrence, so I’ve never been bothered by this.

However, this is where the problems seemed to start: Chrome was slow, sluggish. Twitter was updating slowly and I could hear my hard drive clunking away. Opening Activity Monitor, my processor usage wasn’t particularly high, but my hard drive was being ragged fairly hard.

Activity monitor screenshot

In retrospect, this wasn’t too surprising – I had just installed a near 4 GB update to my operating system. A bit of advice from Twitter and this article rightly identified that it was simply Spotlight re-indexing my hard drive; given that it’s not particularly large, this only took about 15 minutes before things seemed to return to normal.

Beyond that, there don’t appear to be any major performance issues, despite the fact that my Mac will be at least initially transparently rebuilding its caches and defragmenting key operating system files. So far, I can’t use any new gestures as I don’t have a multi-touch trackpad. I’ve also turned off the iOS “scroll wheel” style scrolling through System Preferences (it’s labelled “Content moves in the direction of finger movement on touch-pad or mouse”). I guess if I ever start using my Magic Mouse again, I might change this, but for now, this isn’t something new I want to learn. Users desperate for gestures may benefit from a Magic Trackpad.

As for other new features, Mission Control works smoothly and as expected, unifying my ill-used Spaces and application windows. I also like the fact that Dashboard widgets appear in their own space (you can turn this off).

Screenshot of Mission Control

I haven’t seen much evidence of iOS-style ‘instant’ switching to apps, though Word for Mac 2011 and Photoshop CS3 did both bring up the last few documents and images that I worked on when I quit and restarted the apps. The Launchpad also works smoothly, but for me, this feature is far less useful than using a launcher like QuickSilver as a launcher/Spotlight replacement. Launchpad is marginally quicker than using the Finder to launch apps, but QuickSilver’s “double-tap and type” is much quicker and targeted than Launchpad’s full-screen browsing of all my forgotten apps.

Launchpad - meh

But what about the other bundled apps with Lion – like the new Mail, iCal and all the other small upgrades? As a user of Sparrow, I don’t foresee using the Mail app, which shares many similarities with Sparrow already, but isn’t quite as slick when it comes to supporting Gmail specific features. iCal’s full-screen view is a dream for at-a-glance viewing though.

Unfortunately, if as a user of an older Mac, you continue to rely on apps written for PowerPC, you’ll find that Lion is the end of the road: Rosetta is finally dropped, the software layer that lets you run PowerPC apps on Intel hardware, along with Front Row. Users may also have to install their own Java and Flash

Ultimately, what OS X Lion offers for your Mac is a number of enhanced and improved features including, Auto Save and Versions which will be a boon for anyone struggling with crashy apps or editing large documents. The updated user interface is also pleasing to the eye, offering a crisper interface that continues to make Aqua one of the most pleasant UIs of any operating system.

And for just $29.99 or £20.99, Mac OS X Lion is comparatively good value for money as an upgrade for your older Mac. Download it from the App Store now.