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MEGA WRAP: Macworld | iWorld - the apps, the tools, the news

MEGA WRAP: Macworld | iWorld - the apps, the tools, the news

Latest and greatest from the Expo

The MacWorld | iWorld event was held at the Moscone Centre in San Francisco from january 26-28. As usual, this ultimate iFan event had plenty of goodies on display. Check out our wrap of Expo Notes by staff of Macworld.com.

More work tools for the iPad

I met with a bunch of the vendors at Macworld | iWorld who are touting tools they say will make iPads and iPhones better business tools. Two in particular stood out.

The first is a newly launched service called nivio. It lets you log in to a fully functional Windows desktop (specifically, Windows Server 2008 with the Aero theme) from an iPad or iPhone (or Mac or Android device), using any HTML5-compatible browser. (An iOS app is forthcoming.) Once you've logged in, you can use Windows applications and store files online, just as you would on a real Windows machine. So if you work in a Windows-centric company, you could still use your iPad for business.

The general outline of what nivio does isn't unique; other vendors, such as OnLive Desktop, do something similar. But nivio adds some interesting twists.

For one thing, while OnLive Desktop gives you access to apps in the Windows Office suite (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), nivio will rent you more than 100 different apps, including Microsoft Project, Outlook, and Internet Explorer, as well as audio-editing and CAD apps, and, yes, Microsoft Office. (Why would these software companies allow nivio to rent out their apps? Revenue sharing, it appears.)

The service is in beta testing now (you can register at nivio.com), with a target launch date of February 14. There's a special launch promotion for beta testers: up to 10 hours of use for $5 per month, or $15 a month for unlimited access. That fee covers access to the service and 10GB of storage; you pay rental fees for apps on top of that. Students get sharp discounts.

(Image Caption: Nivio App Store) The second company is Soonr. The company has been around since 2005, focusing on online storage and file-sharing for businesses. (It added Mac-support last year.) None of that is particularly special. But the iOS app they're showing at Macworld | iWorld, Scribble, could be.

Scribble ($4, universal) lets you highlight, mark up, and otherwise annotate files in 35 different formats, including PDFs, of course, but also Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and files from Adobe's Creative Suite. Those files must be stored on Soonr's servers, which means you can collaboratively annotate them with colleagues; everyone's comments and markings are synced back to the original document in the cloud. If you're offline, you can still mark up documents; your changes will be synced back to those files the next time you connect.

Scribble is just one piece of a larger Soonr ecosystem: Soonr's core file-storage service is specifically designed with teams in mind: You can create project folders that are accessible to collaborators. And there's another companion app, Soonr Workplace, that lets you edit some of those online documents--Excel sheets and PowerPoint slides in particular--from your iPad or iPhone, too.

Soonr's Premium plan costs $10 a month for three users and 25GB of storage; you also get the ability to provide ad hoc file access to two other users at a time. (Soonr calls such ad hoc users "connections.") The Pro plan is $30 a month, which gets you 100GB of storage, access for five users and 20 connections. Customized plans are also available. - Dan Miller

Making music at Macworld | iWorld

Macworld | iWorld 2012 offered a look into the very near future of how musicians will be able to use their Macs and iOS devices to create, perform, or record music. Nearly all of the products listed below are slated to ship in the next few months.

IK Multimedia showcased a whole new set of iOS products for musicians. All due late in the first quarter or early in the second quarter of 2012, the company's latest products include the $99 iRig MIX, a compact mixer targeted to DJs or musicians that use one or more iOS devices in their performances. Working with the company's own DJ Rig app for iPhone and iPad, you can combine the output of two iOS devices, or an iOS device with a CD player or other audio source. The app's X-Sync technology lets you automatically synchronize the beats per minute (BPM) of the app's audio with that of a second source. It has an extra quarter-inch input for a guitar or microphone which can be processed with one of IK Multimedia's iOS apps for instruments, like AmpliTube or VocaLive. The iRig MIX includes crossfader, equalizer, gain, cue and volume controls, as well as RCA outputs to connect to a PA system.

Also on display at the IK Multimedia booth was the new iRig Pre ($40), a mobile preamp for iOS devices that lets you plug in and use any XLR microphone with your iPad or iPhone. It uses a 9 volt battery to supply phantom power for those mics that require it.

The $60 iRig Stomp is designed for live performances using the effects from one of the IK Multimedia's music apps, like AmpliTube, onstage. You can use the app to customize an effects chain that might include distortion, flanger, EQ or delay, and then use the iRig Stomp to turn the effects on and off without having to take your hands off of your guitar.

Around the corner at the Sonoma Wire Works booth, the company was showing off its highly regarded GuitarJack 2. The $149 high-quality guitar interface for iPad or iPhone 4 plugs into the dock connector. (In contrast, most of IK Multimedia's iOS input devices use the headphone jack.) While GuitarJack 2 works with applications like GarageBand for iOS and others, Sonoma Wire Works offers a number of its own apps like FourTrack, GuitarTone, and Taylor EQ, which were also on display this week.

Studio Six Digital made its first appearance at Macworld to showcase its $399 high-end iAudioInterface2 for iOS. Designed for audio measurement and testing, this device plugs into an iPhone or iPad dock connector and offers multiple inputs including XLR, 1/4 inch guitar jacks, and more. The $20 AudioTools 4.0 app lets users perform acoustical analysis, measure sound levels, and more. The iAudioInterface has an XLR input for microphones, a quarter-inch input, and toslink digital output; it can be used with GarageBand or other iOS music apps.

Blue Microphones displayed its latest products as well, with all of them due to ship this spring. Blue's $199 Spark Digital microphone uses the same condenser capsule and costs the same as the company's analog Spark XLR microphone, but it also comes with two adapters--one for iOS dock connectors and one for USB for recording to your Mac. It features a desktop stand with shockmount.

Also on display was the $99 Mikey Digital, an iOS microphone that attaches to the dock connector. It has a 230-degree rotating head, automatic or manual gain settings, and an LED clipping indicator. The Tiki is a $59 USB microphone meant to be used to improve the quality of Skype calls or simply recording voice or guitar. When used for conference calls, the Tiki's Intelligent Speech mode helps reduce background noise and automatically mutes when you're not speaking; it turns back on immediately when you resume talking.

The folks at Castiv highlighted a line of iOS device stands meant for musicians. The $25 Smart Station has a spring-loaded connector that clamps to just about any microphone stand and lets you use your iPhone in either portrait or landscape mode. It can also be screwed to the top of a standard mic stand. For the same price, the Tripod TabStation screws into a standard tripod and allows you to use your iPad to read music and lyrics. - James Galbraith

Scanner makers have their heads in the Cloud

Don't believe it when folks say that the Macworld | iWorld show floor was primarily filled with iOS accessories--the community of document scanner makers was quite well represented too. At least seven different companies had scanners on display.

Continuing a trend that we saw last year, many scanner companies are relying on their cloud capabilities rather than their hardware to differentiate themselves. The Neat Company with its NeatReceipts and NeatDesktop products, Apparent with the Doxie Go scanners, and Fujitsu with its ScanSnap line all were promoting their portable document scanners and increased interaction with cloud-based storage.

The Neat Company was showing a preview of its NeatCloud subscription service that allows customers to sync their scanned receipts and documents from the desktop application to the cloud and access them from anywhere. NeatMobile will allow customers to scan using their smartphones and send directly to the cloud, possibly eliminating the need for dedicated scanning hardware like its $200 NeatReceipts for Mac and $400 NeatDesk for Mac scanners. NeatCloud and NeatMobile are expected to launch in this spring, with pricing to be announced upon release.

Fujitsu hasn't expanded its line of portable and desktop ScanSnap scanners, but has added a few new partners that its scanners can work with--SugarSync and Salesforce Chatter. Evernote support was previously available in the ScanSnap software.

Apparent was showing off its new Doxie Go ($199) and Doxie Go + WiFi ($239). These single-sheet, simplex scanners look much like the original Doxie ($149), but don't need to be attached to a Mac via USB in order to scan. Both flavors of the Doxie Go have a rechargeable battery and on-board flash memory that can hold up to 600 scans. If that's not enough, you can increase the Doxie Go models' capacity with a USB thumb drive or an SD Card inserted in the proper slots. The Doxie Go + WiFi ships with a 4GB Eye-Fi card that lets you send your scans directly to Evernote, Dropbox, or Flickr. You can sync scans wirelessly to an iPad or iPhone with a free app, or with the help of the iPad Camera Connection Kit ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ), you can scan to the SD card and transfer them onto your iPad.

Also at the show was Ambir, showing a couple of soon-to-be-released portable scanners for Mac. Sharing space with its software partner NewSoft, Ambir's Mac versions of the TravelScan Pro and TravelScan Pro Duplex should debut in the next couple of months. NewSoft was showing its new Presto BizCard Xpress Mac software, which scans directly to OS X's Address Book and also syncs to Apple's iCloud. - James Galbraith

Likes turns Facebook likes into recommendations

WillowTree Apps wants to tap into your Facebook network to help you discover new places, movies, bands, and books. The app maker, which does most of its business by helping others build mobile apps, debuted Likes for iPhone at Macworld | iWorld 2012. The app pulls all of the "likes" that have been entered into Facebook, and gives you recommendations based on what your Facebook friends have liked.

Unlike other recommendation sites and apps, such as Yelp, that make you comb through the general public's opinions, Likes wants to offer users more personal and relevant recommendations. As the app's slogan goes, "Your friends know best." But Likes doesn't only pull likes from your immediate Facebook friends, it also taps into ratings from friends of friends.

According to WillowTree Apps, this is the first app that uses Facebook's likes data. Of course, you'll have to sign into to Facebook to use Likes. Once you're set up, you can see which places, ranging from bars to universities, have garnered the most of your friends' likes. You'll also be able to see likes for other stuff such as books and magazines, companies, movies and television shows, people, brands, and more. For instance, when I used the app, The Beatles topped the list for most-liked band. (Radiohead was a close second.) And I could see which of my Facebook friends liked the bands.

Since the app totally relies on Facebook likes, it isn't especially useful for people who don't have many Facebook friends or whose friends aren't active "likers" on the social network. Personally, I don't "like" many things on Facebook. Also, the majority of my Facebook friends don't live near me, so when I tried to find a restaurant within five miles of my current location, only five showed up, each with only one like all from the same person.

Likes certainly looks as if it has potential for active Facebook users, though. It's available for free on the App Store and requires iOS4.3 or later. - Alexandra Chang

Toddlers get an app of their own in Babiis

My daughter may only be 15 months old, but she's already become an adept iPad user. Whether it's watching videos to learn sign language or flipping her way through her favorite ebooks, Apple's tablet is very much a part of her play routine, alongside wooden blocks and stuffed animals.

App maker Benjamin Bellity thinks there more that can be done on the iOS platform for toddlers like my daughter. And he's got the app to back up that assertion.

The app, Babiis, made its debut last week at Macworld | iWorld. Think of it as a messaging app for the two-and-under set. The app hosts videos of family members--parents, far-flung grandparents, or whomever you want--displaying the video icons on a family tree-style interface. When your toddler taps the image, the video plays, showcasing whatever greeting, story, or message that person recorded.

But while the video is playing, Babiis also activates the front-facing camera on the iPad 2 to record your toddler's reaction to the video. Later, you're able to forward your child's hopefully delighted response to grandma and grandpa's video via email.

In addition to its messaging feature, Babiis also debuts with a handful of games, aimed at teaching kids letters, numbers, and animals. Tap a letter in the letter game, and the app will say what the letter is. Again, there's a personalization aspect to the games in Babiis--parents can record their own voices saying the letters, numbers, and animals, so that your child can learn from a familiar voice. Bellity plans to add one or two games each month, making them available as in-app purchases.

Babiis is a free download, with no current limits on the number of people that can be in the family tree. Over time, however, that will be capped at five people, with the ability to unlock other spaces with an in-app purchase.

The app currently works only on the iPad, with plans to develop an iPhone version down the road. - Philip Michaels

iFlashDrive USB drive works on both iPad and Mac

When Wi-Fi's not available, it'd be nice if there were a simple and easy way to share files between your iPad and Mac without using a physical connection between the two. When I saw the iFlashDrive being demonstrated by Hypershop on the Macworld | iWorld show floor, it definitely caught my eye.

Billed by the company as the "world's only flash drive for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch", the iFlashDrive has a USB connector on one end that, when attached to a Mac or PC, acts like any other thumb drive. You can plug it in and then copy files to it.

On the other end of the iFlashDrive is a dock connector that you attach directly into an iOS device. You then use the iFlashDrive app to see all your music, videos, and other files and interact with them directly off the drive itself. The app allows you to download files from the drive directly onto your device, but sadly, you can't copy files from the device to the drive. You can sync files from the drive to Dropbox through the app, and company president Daniel Chin said they plan on adding Evernote and Box.net sometime in the near future.

The drive comes in a 8GB version for $100, 16GB for $150, and 32GB for $200. - Mauricio Grijalva

The intersection between photography and video

Crossing the divide between photo and video is Echograph, a new application that uses video as a basis for animated still images. The software is currently under development by Clear-Media.

"Echograph lets you preserve a moment in time in order to tell a story," said Jennifer Domash vice president of Clear-Media. "Combining a video and a still image lets users create a unique piece of artwork."

Domash envisions Echograph expanding the creative process for all levels of users from casual to pro, as many people now tote around a creative tool in their pocket, whether it be an iPhone, iPod touch, or compact camera.

More than a photo and less than a complete video, Echograph lets you start with a video--either one that you shoot within the program, or one that is already in your library. Because the program automatically loops all video, you can trim the footage down to just a small clip, whose loop will showcase the visual animation.

To combine the still with the video, you use the app's simple controls to create a mask that covers the entire frame, and then, with your fingertip, brush away parts of the mask to expose the underlying video.

For example, a roaring fire within an otherwise static scene will provide the animation for the image. When you're happy with the result, save your composition.

An Echograph image can be exported to a number of different file formats, depending on the intended distribution outlet. The developer is concentrating on export to Facebook, Tumblr, personal Websites, and email, as well as the ability to embed the image inside another video. While there are few specifics regarding output capabilities, Domash says that the program will save in both high and low resolution versions and will work with most existing video source files. The files are compatible with AirPort and Apple TV, as well.

Echograph will be coming to the Mac, the iPad, and the iPhone/iPod touch. While in prototype now, it will be available in the spring. - Jackie Dove

LightSpeed's Show & Tell feature has retail appeal

Spend a few moments with LightSpeed for iPad, as I did at last week's Macworld | iWorld show, and you come away impressed with the app's flexibility. Sure, businesses can use the point-of-sale app to track inventory, take payments, and perform other retail tasks. But the iPad version of LightSpeed also offers a feature that showcases your products for customers, giving them an expanded look at what you have to sell.

LightSpeed for iPad actually hit the App Store in mid-December, joining Xsilva Systems's point-of-sale offerings for the iPhone and Mac. But last week's Macworld | iWorld provided a place for Xsilva to showcase the app in action.

Xsilva touts the iPad version of LightSpeed as an interactive sales tool that "elevates" the shopping experience. Retailers can use the mobile app to create new invoices, scan barcodes, or add customer profiles, whether they're in a store or at an off-site event (a weekend-long Mac and iOS show, for example). The app also processes credit card swipes with the addition of supported hardware--LightSpeed supports the iDynamo credit card swipe and the Ingenico i6580 terminal for wirelessly processing transactions--and it accepts on-screen signatures for payments as well.

The feature that caught my eye, however, was LightSpeed for iPad's Show & Tell capability. With Show & Tell, a retailer can display product images and details splashed across a stylized backdrop. Xsilva says it's a great way to show off inventory that's not close at hand, helping sales reps better connect with customers. I could also see how a retailer might use to the Show & Tell feature in LightSpeed for iPad to set up a self-service kiosk on a showroom floor.

LightSpeed for iPad is a free download, but you'll need to run LightSpeed Server on your Mac with one user license per iPad client. A license starts at $749 for a single user. You can test drive the iPad app by downloading a 30-day demo of the Mac product. - Philip Michaels

Professor gives attendees a look inside the brain

This year's Macworld | iWorld wasn't only about accessories and apps--attendees also got a chance to see the inner workings of the brain. Professor Stephen J. Smith of Stanford University hosted a tech talk Friday to showcase his work, a video created using Mac tools that give viewers a virtual tour inside a mouse's brain.

"The images we were capturing with this technology were incredibly beautiful, and I wanted to share it," explained Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology. Using a new method called array tomography, Smith and a team of post-doctorate and graduate students were able to take a brain sample from a common field mouse and slice it up into several pieces. The team then bonded the samples to a cover slip--a thin piece of glass--and took high-res photographs of them.

The team collated the resulting photos to produce 3-D images from the 2-D samples. All of the data and images were housed on a 45TB server. The technology allowed the team to produce images that had up to 50 times higher volumetric resolution compared to older imaging techniques.

For Smith, the fun part was putting all of that work together. Once his lab captured the images, his team used a variety of computer systems to process those images. Most important, though--and most relevant to Macworld | iWorld attendees--were the army of Mac Pros and MacBook Pros that did a bulk of the work. Smith also used Final Cut Studio to edit the images together into a film; his daughter even created an original score through GarageBand.

The finished product, titled "Synaptaesthesia" was stunning. The short film took audience members on a journey through the six layers of the somatosensory cortex of the brain. As the images descended down the cortex, red synapses, blue axons, dendrites, and green neurons lit up the screen. Smith ended the talk by saying he hopes to produce more films lik this in the future.

The video is available to watch on YouTube, and you can learn more about Smith's work on his website. - Mauricio Grijalva


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