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Mark Myerson

Avid photographer of no note whatsoever, and professional Facebook loather.

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When inspiration strikes, out of the blue, as you’re making coffee or walking the dog, the feeling of uplift and excitement is hard to match. For most of us, these are purely chance moments, when events and surroundings combine to create a spark. But for those in the creative professions, it can’t be like that. There simply isn’t time to wait around for the mental light bulb to flicker into life. For creatives, inspiration needs to be engineered, manufactured even, and most achieve this by collecting inspiring stuff and keeping it nearby.

The scrapbooks and swatches once used for this purpose have now been replaced by digital formats. Some folks go for social (Pinterest), some for private (Icebergs & Ember), but the recurring theme is the clipping of digital files into virtual pinboards of creative ideas.

Strangely, the iPad, a device that seems so suited to visuals and is intuitive in its operation, has yet to see much love in the scrapbooking genre — a fact which an aptly named new app, Curator, wants to change. With a sleek, minimalist interface and simple controls, Curator will certainly appeal to creative folk on an aesthetic level; but what about on a practical one?

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I never did like Facebook. In fact, I only joined the benighted data-grabber two years after I started tweeting. Perhaps this reluctance was an indication of my desire to communicate, rather than staying up to date with my friends’ latest FarmVille scores. Maybe I didn’t want to be the plaything of an advertising network. Or, I suppose that Zuckerberg might have been right, and I really was so darned anti-social that I detested my friends and never wanted to see their annoying faces again [note: sarcasm].

All the same, I joined. And now, I’ve had enough.

Except, there’s a problem with the Facebook-leaving sentiment, however appealing, fashionable and written about it might be. When you delete your account (…he says, as if such a thing were possible…), you’ll still want to keep in touch with your close friends when you can’t see them, and with your relatives on the other side of the world, who still want to see your latest pictures. You’re going to have to find an alternative.

Okay, so let’s have a think. Ah, yes, of course: Google+.

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Most of us now watch drama, comedy, film and sport online and on-demand, in a format that allows us to skip forward and rewind at will. We’re no longer tied to schedules, no longer reliant on DVRs to untie us from those schedules, and no longer bound by the advert breaks those DVRs helped us to avoid.

Unfortunately, news hasn’t joined the party. We still watch live broadcasts in the traditional, inflexible way, and in so doing, we sit through plenty of headlines of no interest. This is a crazy situation for a form of programming which is, perhaps, the most subject critical. The main reason for this illogical status quo is convenience; switching on your TV is easy, but watching news online is not.

This is the problem that Watchup wants to solve. The idea is to draw content from some of the world’s most respected news outlets into one, autoplaying stream, which adapts to match your taste. But does the execution meet the appealing theory?

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Personal history is something most of us hold dear. The heart-warming nostalgia of looking at old family photos, or reading the written-out thoughts of our younger selves, is a special feeling.

In most respects, technology has enhanced the recording, storage and accessibility of these memories. We will have more photos of ourselves than any previous generation — video likewise — and every single image is in a format that can be converted again and again to suit future media standards. But what of written records? Not the social type — that is just airbrushed fakery. The writing down of our innermost feelings and everyday happenings is something few of us find the time for in the always-on world of today — a world which technology has shaped.

At last, though, technology is reversing this trend. Digital journals are gaining popularity, in part, because apps make it easy for us to record our thoughts anywhere, at any time. One such diary app is Narrato Journal, which has just hit version 2.0, complete with a brand new design and several notable extra features. But can it provide a compelling personal archive whilst making life easy to record?

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Music is often seen as the art-form that most frequently utilizes the cutting edge of modern technology in its performance. Most popular modern-day musicians are as reliant on Logic Studio as they are on a recording studio, and as skilled at operating arpeggiators as they are at playing arpeggios.

But if you are a musician of the more traditional type, the outlook is somewhat different. Instrument design has been adapted only marginally in three hundred years, and most dedicated musicians still go to music shops to buy manuscript in print. Why? Because, as yet, technology simply hasn’t been able to compete with the usability of paper. The opportunity to scribble notes on the music, the ease of page turning, and, of course, the lack of concern over battery life, remain as factors that trump any conveniences technology has to offer.

What if an app could solve some of these issues? That’s what Tonara is aiming to do. Along with a large library of purchasable music, Tonara offers performance recording, automatic page turning and manuscript annotation. But is this enough to outweigh the benefits of the traditional, tried and tested medium?

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For the computer artist, pixels are the medium of choice. They provide every simulated brushstroke, every subtlety of shading, and every colour on the digital palette. Yet, in the majority of modern digital art, pixels are barely visible, much in the same way that individual particles of dyed water are imperceptible when spread across a canvas.

This wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, individual pixels played a major role in the overall look of a picture. Initially, this was due to the very limited graphical computing power of which early home computers were capable, particularly when such artworks were used together in games, but it was later adopted as a style of digital art in its own right. It was called pixel art.

To this day, pixel art is popular, both for its bright colour schemes, and for its games-related retro coolness. If you find, as I do, that a 16-pixel Mario or Sonic provides irrational visual appeal, then you’ll be pleased to read about Pixaki, a new pixel art creation studio on iPad, retailing at $6.99. Packing retro console template sizes and PSD output, Pixaki is billed as being a professional-level offering. But can a touchscreen app really improve on the pleasing, inherent simplicity of pixel artistry?

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Just look at the iPad. Look at that ever-so-thin, yet robust, metallic body. Look at that expanse of touch-sensitive glass, mounted on top of a bold, bright, high resolution display. You’ll just have to make do with thinking about all the processor power squeezed into the unfathomably small crevice between the two. This, surely, is a product made with the photographer in mind.

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As any photographer will know, regardless of what equipment they possess, or the quality of their technique, camera-derived art is as much based on post-capture processing, as it is on the pressing of a shutter button and all that leads up to it. The iPhone was one of the first devices truly to combine these two halves of image-making into one package, and as a result, iOS is blessed with both good variety and good quality in the image editing department.

Sadly, many of these fine apps don’t make it onto the iPad, or at least not in a format optimized for the larger screen. This is, of course, because few iPad owners use their tablets for anything other than posterity snaps. But as a keen photographer myself, I’m often left wishing that I could utilize that large ten-inch expanse for some editing; let us not forget that Apple, themselves, manufacture a Camera Connection Kit to facilitate the uploading of externally-taken images.

So imagine my joy when I discovered recently that Afterlight (formerly Afterglow), the iPhone editor of the discerning applier of filters, had been updated to version 1.9, and optimized for iPad in the process. How well has it made the transition, and can it set a new benchmark for photo fiddling on the biggest brother of the iOS family? I set about finding out…

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The other day, I tried to work out which single service or platform my digital life couldn’t do without. Initially, I thought Dropbox might be that product, but then I realized I could probably use Box or some other, similar alternative. Google’s collection of apps also entered my consideration, due to my commitment to Gmail, and my reliance on Google’s Calendar and Contacts apps for day-to-day operation. In reality, though, iCloud does a similar job.

Strangely, the one service which stood out was Evernote. I realize that this revelation may cause a few sneers, not least because Evernote is nothing more than a digital scrapbook. I can’t honestly think of how I would replace the ease of web-clipping, note-taking and document filing it provides, though.

Much as I love Evernote, I know it isn’t perfect. For instance, it still works in the same way filing systems have done for years — search, in combination with lists — and it is starting to feel a little bit old. A new, innovative approach to browsing your notes can now be found on your iPad, via a third-party Evernote add-on app named Bubble Browser, currently on sale at $4.99. Its older, OS X sibling has already made waves with us at AppStorm, due to its ease of use and its visually striking design. Can the same magic be recreated on a touchscreen?
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It would seem to me that we are in an age of numbers. Data is heralded as the solution to virtually any problem, whether the task being tackled is website optimization with Google Analytics, or the effective tracking of personal finance using Mint. Thanks to Nike+, you can even chart your progress towards being an Olympic athlete…or not.

Along with the obvious shared subject of data, these leaders in their respective fields also share a particular attribute — a heavy bias towards data visualization. Numerous studies have shown that when figures are presented in a more graphical, comprehensible form, they become more engaging and instructive. The success of services like Visual.ly, and the ubiquitousness of the infographics created with them, is surely testament to this.

So why, then, isn’t there a service, a platform, or an app which provides visualizations of the measurable data we create every day? You know — stuff like work done and money spent. A new, $1.99 app called mem:o is hoping to fill this apparent gap in the data marketplace with a mixture of simplicity and beauty. Whether it is worth spending the time logging hours of sleep or grocery bill totals just to get some geeky graphics is a conundrum I’m hoping to solve….
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