How I shot the solar eclipse today

As always, I will try to avoid tech and math as all that can be found on the net already.

First, a look at the logic behind using ND or solar filters and glasses.

Looking directly into the sun is not recommended in general for a variety of reasons and I would strongly suggest that you avoid doing that. There are times when we move out of our homes and look up to the sky to adjust our eyes to the light around us a bit faster. A passing glance at the sun is okay, not looking at it.

This is where solar glasses come in. These are available online from a variety of online stores and should be used if you want to look at the eclipse.

ND or Neutral Density and Solar filters can be used on cameras and telescopes for the same purpose. In general, Solar filters are recommended over ND filters.

I had neither the glasses nor the filters. I did not quite imagine myself waking up in time for the eclipse anyway, so, did not bother with those.

For some reason, I woke up and took it easy since I had no intension of going to my rooftop till I started looking at some shots people had already started to share on social media.

Okay, so, I was not too concerned with the fact that I had no filters for the camera, but, I was concerned about my eyes. I thought over that part for a while and went to the roof to take some shots of the little of the eclipse that was still around on a cloudy day.

I had to wait a while for the clouds to clear a bit and meantime I set my camera for the exposure that I thought would be correct.

I set the shutter speed to the maximum I have on the D850, i.e., 1/8000, Aperture wide open at f/5.6 and the ISO to the base native of 64. Then I set up the bracketing for a 1 EV change for 7 and later 9 shots.

Generally, I use AF-C priority as Focus (as discussed in an earlier video), so, I changed that to Release for these shots since I already know from experience when I shoot skies for backgrounds, the autofocus generally does not lock. The lens I used was my normal Nikkor 200-500mm.

Since it was still cloudy and the sun not visible, I focussed onto the clouds where I had a good enough focus lock using the AF of the camera instead of manually trying to set it to infinity.

Once the clouds cleared a bit from the sun, I looked through the viewfinder to the area next to the sun, which is like shooting any normal sky. Then, I started moving the camera towards the sun and the moment the light got brighter, I half shut my eye and looked down instead of through the viewfinder since I could “sense” the light through my half-shut eye. The moment it was bright enough to “feel”, I released the shutter for bracketing the first lot.

As we can see, it was over-exposed and I stopped down to f/16, f/18 and finally landed up at f/32. Of course, I was bracketing 9 shots for all of these apertures since the clouds were coming and going it was always safer to bracket.

After I got a bite of the sun, I waited for a while and thought I would get a different image in a while. Not really, the eclipse was over when I tried after about 30-40 minutes and I got only the sun instead.

As we can see from some of these, I probably touched the AF at some point while trying to keep my eyes from looking directly at the sun and the focus shifted completely.

So, I fixed the focus at a patch of clouds and took another 9 shots only to find that the eclipse was over. Oh well…At least I got one piece of the pie 🙂

After this, I went to the rooftop later as I have been since the lockdown and took my daily shots as well. Same gear.

A warning for your gear! Do not use the live view or long exposures. That can totally damage your gear most of the time. Do not try and focus on the sun directly. That will not work. Just try to focus on a patch of clouds and then take a shot as I have described above. My gear was exposed to the eclipse for only about 1 second for the bracketed shots at 1/8000th of a second.

For you as well…Get solar glasses for the next time. I already did 🙂

#photography #nikon #nikkor #eclipse

Apple iOS 7 – GM & iPhone 5C and 5S

Well…after trying to come to terms with the “nothing” Apple event of September 10th and a day with the GM of iOS7, I can probably echo the thoughts of many Apple device users and the stock market…Apple has lost it.

While most people would agree to the fact that Apple has some of the best talent in terms of developers and designers, they alone, cannot really do much. The current Apple “leadership” has to shoulder the responsibility for this.

They legacy that they (Apple) inherited is so strong that the momentum will continue to make money for some years to come. Given the fact that the other mobile OSes are not really anywhere close to the iDevice ecosystem, the current Apple “big guns” will continue to make money while the company faces a downtrend.

In an earlier post, I had mentioned the fact that if Apple brings out another cheap variation of the iPhone, then, we could be sure that the company had lost it.

When the rumours of the iPhone 5C (I still call it cheap, even though it’s not) surfaced, it was disturbing. Then, there was the thought that…why not? People who had not used an iPhone because of the price barrier, would probably go for it. The drawback might be that Apple might not be able to deal with the massive traffic caused by a cheaper iPhone variant.

Alas, that was not to be. The Apple “leadership” had other ideas. The iPhone 5C is not cheap by any standards. Then, one has to wonder as to why the 5C was even created…? Logically, it would seem that the 5C was created to make a lower end iPhone 5 so that the 5S would look like a premium option. If we compare the iPhone 5 and 5S, I have serious doubts that the majority would pay a premium for the 5S. To be honest, I would wonder why people would pay a premium for the 5S since the 4S would be free on contract. If all I wanted was a faster device to play games, I would not be purchasing a phone.

Again, I already mentioned in an earlier post that for the majority, a phone is a phone. People who go after the latest and greatest will pay for the 5S, but, people who use the iPhone as a “smartphone”, will probably skip it.

If we look at the track record of Apple since Jobs, it has gone just one way…down. The iOS 6 and the so called Apple “Maps” disaster continues even in iOS 7 GM. iOS 7 itself, was a disaster to begin with. Although somewhat toned down to be just about usable now. The UI might be acceptable just because it needed a change, the UX remains terrible. The built-in apps are completely inconsistent in terms of UI and UX. The calendar app remains unusable. The choice of colours is absolutely atrocious, specially in the case of calls.

While some people, myself included, would have accepted any incremental change in the UI simply because it was needed, the iOS 7 UI was not it. It lags iOS 6 in terms of usability and consistency.

While Apple claims to have added “n” number of “new” features, they forget to mention the fact that all of these “n” number of features existed in the 10+ year old Nokia phones. Of course, the usability of these “new” features is questionable. For example, none of the lists in iOS 7 GM are indexed even now. You can keep scrolling up and down even in the notifications under settings and spend a lifetime there. The block list is scattered across 3 different locations with no navigation/grouping or anything to make it usable…not even stats of blocks! Pathetic!

The entire history of Apple devices, since Jobs, reflects the same pattern. The same applies to the laptops and OS X. A company, once known for it’s attention to detail, design and innovation, seems to be going off on a tangent now.

For example, take iTunes. Even though the iOS 7 has reached GM, there is not even a beta that supports the folders in iOS 7. Never before, in the history of iOS or iDevices, has this happened.

To summarize, given the fragmentation of Android, the state of affairs of BlackBerry and the similar state of the Microsoft-Nokia combine, the iDevices and iOS, despite their faults, will continue to rule the premium segment for sometime to come. The only hope of something better, might come from Microsoft, if at all. Of course, there is a slim chance that it could come from a completely new source.

Lastly, like most iDevice users, I can only hope that there is some serious re-jig at Apple which would change it’s current direction and go back to being the company we all admired and invested in. Not a company that goes into selling leather jackets/covers and docks for devices just to try and make some more money…

Google – Can you rely on their “free” services?

Now that Google has announced the demise of it’s “Google Latitude” service, one has to wonder if one can actually rely on any of the free Google services.

Starting this month, 1st of July 2013, “Google Reader”, with millions of subscribers, was also shut down.

A staggering number of “Latitude” subscribers on cheaper/older mobile devices, including some Android based, that have “Latitude” embedded on them, would land up having a permanently dead application on their devices.

Just a few months ago, GMail users would recall that Google also shut down the Active Sync service for free users.

With a history of such services being shut-down, the biggest question for all netizens would be if they can rely on any free services that come from Google…

Apple iOS 7 – After more than a day of experimenting!

Well, after checking some more, I am back to iOS 6 as the beta or pre-beta or the developer preview of iOS 7 is not really usable as it stands.

For one, it does not sync notes and calendars. Events are not marked out on the calendars that you can see at a glance. Besides other issues, It also has problems with notifications. The UI changes will make a large number of existing apps practically unusable. The battery life is also down substantially.

So, I would agree with the term used by the Apple iOS developer site and say that this is just a developer preview (DP) and not a beta as mentioned in the WWDC 2013.

iOS 7 DP takes a lot more space to display the same information as iOS 6 and the folders also shows lesser apps than in iOS 6. In short, the iOS 6 UI is far more efficient in normal usage. The lack of visual indicators in iOS 7, specially considering the high resolution retina display, is definitely a step backwards. The text, on the other hand, seems to be far better done in iOS 7.

If you are like me and organise your apps into folders, then, iOS 7 can look really terrible compared to iOS 6. You cannot really make out the icons inside the folders. If that was not enough, the transparency also contributes to making it illegible. There is also the issue of the bright, new icons. Now, you would be hard pressed to figure out between a variety of apps. For example, I could no longer just pick out between “Photos”, “NewsStand” and “Game Center” offhand like in iOS 6. Now I have to squint to figure it out. Of course, since I organise the apps into folders, I would know which is where, but, just looking at these app icons, you really need to squint, more so if you have a white wallpaper/background.

The all new FaceTime application I mentioned earlier, is actually the older Contacts app. It is simply renamed to FaceTime with a new icon and UI.

I came across an interesting comparison related to the “all new” iOS 7 “design” at “iOS 7 looks familiar – can’t quite put my finger on it“. Although Apple is known to “pick up” features from jailbreak tweaks in the past, this one is really interesting!

Let’s wait and see what the actual iOS 7 beta would look and feel like…

Apple iOS 7 – First impressions on iPhone 5

After using iOS 7 for almost one full day, I would not really call it a beta release. It seems more of an unplanned pre-beta. Unlike some of my friends and colleagues, I always do a fresh install and never restore from a backup. This gives me a far better idea as to what is actually happening.

In short, my summary of the current iOS 7 beta is that it is a step forward in terms of the technology and required feature sets, but, the UI is terrible and the UX inconsistent at best. Let’s hope someone at Apple wakes up before the UI/UX of iOS 7 make it an even bigger disaster than the iOS 6 “maps”.

For those interested in the details of my experience with the iOS 7 beta in a day, here it comes. Keep in mind this is a first beta and bugs are expected. Just ’cause I mention some of those, it does not mean that those will remain in the final release.

Starting up

So, right after a fresh restore of iOS 7 on my iPhone 5, I saw the all too familiar “slide to unlock” text. The problem was, there was nothing to “slide”. There is no slider and the default colour scheme makes it almost impossible to figure out anything around the message.

Okay, so I “slide” nothing anyway and get to the home screen. The first thing I wanted to look at was settings so I could set up my other email accounts and tweak settings to suit me. The moment I started the settings app, the brightness went down and I could not really see anything. No problem, a reset of the phone fixed the brightness issue.



Then I went into the mail settings to set up my email accounts so that email would start off while I configured the rest of the settings. To my surprise and dismay, Apple had removed the options that made my family setup  perfect. I use a common cloud account on all devices on which contacts, find my phone and bookmarks are shared, otherwise, all devices have their own Apple IDs as the main iCloud account. In iOS 7, when you add a second iCloud account, you no longer have access to the “Find my iDevice” or the “Safari” bookmarks in the second iCloud account. Effectively, you cannot control shared stuff from a common, shared, iCloud account anymore.

Anyway, I set up all my different email accounts and noticed that GMail accounts had contacts as well. Not that I need or use them, it is an addition. Unfortunately, there are still no notifications for GMail, at least, not in this beta. This is one of the most required updates for a large number of people. The other issue is that if one has to use a different app just for GMail, then, the unified experience of the email on the iDevice does not exist anymore.


Once I was done with the email setup, I started to look at the other options. The first thing that struck me was that there were no “buttons” or “frames” to visually mark out any of the “touch/click” points. It was just an angle bracket and text at the top of every option to go back, for example, “< Settings”. This literally threw me back to the good old console days with no graphics when we would do similar things. Either number options or use brackets, mostly angle brackets, to signify something different. It seems like the design team at Apple is trying hard to make the iOS UI a 17th century one just like OS X which has never been updated.

Although Apple designers seemed to have learned the use of gestures, the overall implementation is quite inconsistent. For example, although the slide-in gesture works in Settings and Mail, it does not in Photos nor in Contacts and maybe more. The overall colours and contrast make it very difficult to read and visualise apps and folders, unlike iOS 6.

So, instead of looking at more settings, I decided to set my passcode and wallpapers first. How I got the wallpapers is a separate issue since there were none on the phone, so, I just downloaded some of my white dog, a Lhasa Apso, and set the lock and home screen to 2 different photos. Then, I locked the device and guess what…I could no longer see or read the “slide to unlock” message since the wallpaper was also white and there is no “slider”, so, you cannot see anything! Very impressive “design”….

Control Center

The all new Control Center has only one option. Display on home screen or not. You cannot customise anything on the Control Center itself. The 2 options that I would really like to see on the Control Center are a “Home” button and a “Lock Device”. This would make the overall UX buttonless and take away the reason for a large number of Jail-breakers. Of course, this is only the functional part. The UI part for the Control Center can only be termed pathetic at best. It’s positively ugly and in-consistent with the rest of the UI. Compare this with the jailbreak tweaks/toggle apps like SB Settings etc.


This also adds an option to allow or dis-allow the use of the microphone. Always good to have these kind of options and more so you know which apps needs to access what functionality.


This has a couple of really required options. One of those is only partially implemented. You can now see photos of contacts in the favourites list, but, not in the contact list. This is really a half hearted option.

The other, more important, is a “Blocked” list. You can add numbers that will be blocked for all FaceTime and Normal calls as well as Messages.

Although this “blocked” list will probably be a favourite for most, including myself, the design part has not really been thought out. This same option and list exists in 3, yes, 3 different places in settings. Extremely redundant and confusing at best.


Think most of the world would agree that we simply skip this one. Apple “maps” only exist in their dreams. With no option to change the default maps app, all location apps remain more or less dead since iOS 6.

iTunes & App Stores

One feature that needs to be mentioned is the ability to auto-update apps when on a WiFi network (default). Although I would never use this feature, but, it is a major step forward for the vast majority of iDevice users.


The two new services that are now integrated in iOS 7 are Flickr and Vimeo. Vimeo??? Where is YouTube? The divide between Apple and Google shows. Apple discards the best service in their interest, not in the interest of the iDevice users.


This has a new option to control the true multitasking offered by iOS 7. Most people would probably never need to fiddle with this one, but, it’s there.

Another interesting option that has been added is “Text Size”. As and when apps support dynamic text sizing, this will come into play.

Installing Apps

If you are like me, you would not waste time and bandwidth downloading apps on the device directly and arranging them manually. To my surprise, iTunes 11.0.4 is clueless about iOS 7 and there is no beta update for iTunes that understands iOS 7.

Although a buggy experience, but, you can install apps using the current iTunes. Don’t try creating folders for more apps than what iTunes think it is meant for. It cannot even deal with the normal number of apps in a folder on an iPhone 5 running iOS 6.

This was just one of the reasons why I said that this iOS 7 is more of an unplanned pre-beta. Do not be surprised if your phone boots/re-springs at random, specially when using iTunes. Actually, the re-boot will happen even when doing nothing. Given this is a “beta”, it should be expected.

The simplest way is to install all the apps, music etc you want, create and organise the apps into folders as much as iTunes allows you, then arrange everything else manually and do not sync with iTunes again. If you sync with iTunes after putting in a bunch of apps in a folder, it will pull all those apps out onto pages. So, till we get an iTunes update that works with iOS 7, sync with iTunes only once to install all the stuff you want. Do not sync again after you have arranged your apps in folders.

After installing some apps and arranging them in folders, I discovered the fact that I could see far less in a folder than I could in iOS 6. Once again, the UI/UX leaves a lot to be desired.


Well, after all, I am looking at iOS 7 on the iPhone, so, the favourites need to be setup first. Once again, I run into the same “slide to unlock” nothing scenario. There is no demarkation for the search entry field unless you really push up the brightness to an un-usable level, or, you are used to the iPhone and therefore get by.

This major UI drawback can actually be seen in quite a few places. You would be very hard pressed to figure out where a text field actually is and which one is the active one. Pathetic!

If that was not enough, try to look at any contact details, absolutely ugly layout. There is absolutely no way any designer could actually do worse. It takes up 2-3 times the space to show the same details as iOS 6 and adds absolutely nothing excepting to make it worse by the choice of colours and icons.

Lastly, the phone keypad. I have serious doubts if people have actually seen a more pathetic choice of colours and design than what exists in the current iOS 7 beta. The same applies to when you actually make or receive a call. I will have a comment on the overall UI/UX a bit later…

Control Centre

The all new Control Centre provides some of the much needed functionality, the UI could not be worse than what it is currently. Talking up almost the full screen on the iPhone 5, it’s quite ugly and inconsistent with the rest of the UI. I still hope that the design team at Apple looks at stuff like “Auxo” and “SB Settings” and try and come up with a better design.


One of the great new features of iOS 7 is true, supposedly intelligent, multitasking for all apps. Although there is a new UI for the multitasking apps, it falls well short of the current jailbreak tweaks in terms of functionality and design. There is no kill-all apps functionality and since it also shows the home screen, it is also in-consistent in design.


This needs to be mentioned since I could not see any visual indication of any even in the current iOS 7 beta. If this is by design, then, it’s absolutely pathetic like the rest of the UI/UX blemishes I have already mentioned. If this is just another bug in the current release, then, let’s see what the next beta comes up with.

App Stores

I mention the App Store for two reasons, a) It is quite buggy at the moment and b) it retains the button like appearance instead of using “angle brackets” for installing apps.

Battery & Charging

Although bugs are expected, I was surprised to see that it took my iPhone 5 almost seven hours to complete a 100% charge. Not sure if the indicator is the issue or something else. I also noticed that the battery drain in this beta is quite high. I should know more in a couple of days as to what the real issue might be.


This is a new app added to the iOS 7 iPhone beta. Although this makes it consistent with the iPad app and more accessible to users who had difficulty in figuring out how to FaceTime on the iPhone, it retains the lame issues of the iPad. Even though all registered FaceTime users are known along with their registered IDs, the app shows all contacts with all IDs. So, no real help excepting yet another redundant app since the Phone contacts would also show exactly the same information. Once again, we have a basic design issue.

Overall Technology and Features

Excepting for what Apple calls “maps”, the overall improvements on the technology side in terms of features and implementation seems to make iOS 7 a worthy successor of iOS 5. Personally, I am happy that I got the “Blocked” list and even the “Flashlight”.

Overall UI/UX/Design

This part requires some understanding. There is drawing and there is design. Both of these, combined with experience and technology go into the making of the terms UI and UX. In my opinion, the current iOS 7 needs UI/UX, what we have is just plain and simple drawings, flat, black and white, with no visual/graphical cues. The overall effect of this iOS 7 beta is absolutely pathetic.

Although existing iOS users would be able to figure out the UI, this would not be simple to figure out for new iDevice users.

Keep in mind that demos are demos are demos. They are carefully chalked out to present the best as they did at the WWDC keynote. The numbers in millions, billions and trillions mentioned at the keynote were not because of iOS 6, they were despite iOS 6 and the “maps” disaster. If the current iOS 7 beta is a real indication of where Apple is headed, then, it is a recipe for disaster. The momentum from the original iDevices and their UI/UX, the in-ability of Google or Microsoft/Nokia to consolidate, would probably continue this momentum for iDevices for the next few years, but, the trend would be downward.

As an individual, having invested a lot in Apple hardware and technology over the last few years, I would hate to see it all go waste. I can only hope that someone at Apple wakes up fast and takes concrete steps to arrest this downtrend.

Get the most out of the Apple AppStore and Mac AppStore

Although most Apple iDevice and Mac users know about the AppStores, very few actually look for good deals on the same. Looking for good deals on the AppStore is actually quite simple…there are apps for the job. Most of the better such apps will cover both, the AppStore as well as the Mac AppStore.

There are quite a few “App Discovery” apps on the Apple AppStore that will help you in getting good deals. These apps allow you to look at all the apps that are on sale, apps that have gone free for a brief time, set watches on the apps you want to purchase as and when they are on sale and more. Most of these apps will also allow you to look at the top of the lists like the top liked, sold etc etc.

Although I have tried quite a few of these apps in the past, I have settled on two such apps for now. Both these apps have paid and free versions. I got the paid versions of both these apps for free from similar App Discovery apps. The first one is AppTicker and the second is AppZapp. Personally, I prefer AppTicker, but, sometimes it does not list some of the apps that come into the AppZapp lists. AppZapp also has a user community with a live feed which can be interesting to look at.

I have used these apps to watch and buy some apps that I wanted when they went on sale. The other aspect that I use is the “Now Free” apps. These are paid applications that have gone free for a brief time. If you keep a watch on these “Now Free” lists on occasions (Christmas, New Year etc), then, you can really get some very neat apps for free.

For example, when Flickr recently announced the free terabyte space for all, I was able to get some of the best Flickr related apps like FlickStackr for Flickr and Flickr Studio for free since they were listed in the “Now Free” section of these apps.

Of course, none of this comes without Apple stepping in with their own whims and fancies. They randomly come up with arcane reasons, to remove apps from the AppStore. A recent example being a similar “App Discovery” app called AppGratis. For those of you who are interested in the AppGratis story, a simple Google search will come up with all the details.

An interesting consequence of Apple’s action, in this case, was to speed up the AppGratis release for the Android platform. AppGratis launched it’s Android app a month after the app was removed from the Apple AppStore.

The reason for mentioning the AppGratis story is that you never know what apps might be removed by Apple for what arcane reasons. Don’t be surprised if the “App Discovery” app you really like vanishes from the AppStore…

1 Terabyte of free space! Flickr opens up a new dimension

Yes, that is correct. Flickr recently announced one full terabyte of free space for all your photos and videos. The amount of free space given out is simply staggering. It should be enough for the vast majority to upload and keep all their photos online.

Of course, you would upload and keep all your photos at full resolution unlike the earlier space and resolution limits at Flickr for free accounts. As before, you can still connect to Facebook, Twitter etc. to share your photos. For the limits and the different account types, check out the new Limits page on Flickr.

Personally, I feel this is a big move and I hope they follow it up with better applications for devices and desktops to make this service a huge success.

All the best Flickr!

Apple iOS vs Google Android…do you really know the difference? Part 7

In this part, we will look at some paid apps. In general, you will need to purchase some apps on either of the platforms. The only exception to this would be people who purchase a smartphone, but, really need only a phone and therefore apps do not make a difference.

There are a few categories where one would make some purchases. In my case, those categories are personal finance, password management, business apps, navigation, reference, utilities/productivity, games (no one can escape this one), and some music.


This is possibly the best password manager for OS X and now extends the same to iOS and Windows. In todays connected world with a variety of gizmos, a password manager becomes a necessity. Some years ago, after I got the first iPhone, I also started experimenting with the Mac. When the AppStore was finally introduced on iOS, I was lucky enough to get 1Password for iOS as well as the Mac for free. Although the desktop version of 1Password was no real match for my existing Windows password manager, it was just about usable. Today, I have purchased the new iOS version of 1Password and have a family license for the desktop editions. Highly recommended for all now. 1Password is also available on Android as well and actually works much better on Android since Google does not have the “artificial” limitations like Apple puts on iOS.


This is possibly one of the oldest personal finance apps on the mobile device scene. It was just about okay and was stagnating. Once the iOS AppStore came into being, for the first time, development on PM was galvanised. It just a few months, it was really usable and kept getting better and better with every iteration. I don’t mind admitting that I purchased a few other such apps, including a current, very highly rated app, only to discover that these “highly” rated apps were pathetic and light years behind PM in every respect. Personally, I look at my purchases as a price paid trying to find something equivalent or better. This has not happened so far. I continue to use PM (from Catamount) and now have over 4 years of data in it. Highly recommended for both iOS and Android users.


I purchased this office suite as a well known and functional one. The current recommendation would be to purchase Apple apps for iOS and find alternates on Android. Since Google took over QuickOffice, it has stagnated on iOS and I would not recommend this for any purpose anymore.

Abbyy Business Card Reader

The Abbyy OCR, although the most expensive around on the desktops, also happens to be the best so far. Having worked with the Abbyy SDKs in the past, I had no hesitation in purchasing this app when it was introduced. No surprises, it remains the best on the device as well. Highly recommended if you need a business card reader.

Sygic India Maps

As far as maps for India are concerned, MapMyIndia is the only one that has usable maps. Sygic partnered with MapMyIndia and uses their maps. If you are looking for maps and navigation in India, do not be mislead by companies like Navigon and the likes that claim to have maps for India. There are only 2 apps on the AppStore that use MapMyIndia maps. The other alternate came much later and is more expensive that Sygic. Either of the MapMyIndia map apps should be good enough. Sygic is a legacy app and I would still not bill it as an iOS UI/UX compliant app even after quite a few updates. The UX is still dated and almost terrible. Still, only 2 apps fit the bill if you are looking for maps and navigation in India.

IM+ Pro

This is actually a legacy requirement from a few years ago when we had very few people on actual “smartphones” and the world still used messaging from providers like ICQ, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google etc. IM+ Pro does almost all such known messengers. It also includes features like saving the conversation history and email notifications. I don’t really use this anymore, but, if you do need a multi-IM on iOS, this is probably one of the best if not the best.

Mercury Browser Pro

Although this is an iOS only app, the idea applies to all platforms. I wanted an Ad-Blocking browser. Keep in mind that mobile bandwidth is expensive and there are quite a few occasions (with me) that I need to lookup stuff and that would include getting into a lot of ads. Although, I don’t mind ads on regular broadband/leased lines, on 3G, it is expensive. So, although I would recommend Mercury Browser Pro, almost any similar ad-blocking browser would do.


Although this is a new app on iOS and is currently free. I only mention it here for two reasons.

  • I forgot earlier in the free apps 🙂
  • Is a decent free alternate for GMail and notifications on iOS.

Ever since Google stopped the Active Sync (Exchange email) for free accounts earlier this year, you cannot get GMail notifications on iOS by default.

You can setup MailBox with all your GMail accounts and then delete the accounts. MailBox will still continue to deliver notifications and you would still enjoy the seamless email experience (almost) as you did before.

And now, some more ranting from my side…

Mostly when you see benchmarks being published across devices, one of the most common one is a “browser” benchmark. Specifically, how fast javascript performs. Hey, this spanking new xxx core processor based device loads this particular page (which, most people would never visit anyway) 2.x times faster than the other device. The difference? Zilch…nothing in practice. How do I care if a browser renders a page I never visit 2 times faster? If we talk in terms of time, the difference is there only for benchmarks. If we talk in terms of the data transfer (cost of 3G) it is the same. So, how do I care if the un-visited page is rendered in .01 seconds on one device and .02 seconds on another? Benchmarks are good for perception and competition. For the end user, it should be taken with a pinch of salt (so to speak).


Well, I have purchased all of 3 games till date (well…maybe some more that I don’t recall). Although I will not go into any preferences here since I am not a gamer, I would like to mention the name of a company and it’s mal-practice which is allowed by Apple on the AppStore on iOS. It could be the same on Android, but, I cannot comment on that since I have not tracked this on the Android platform. I wrote to this company and the final reply was that it was “company policy”. I wrote to the AppStore support and got no reply on this issue, even though the Apple support, otherwise, is extremely prompt and good.

Normally, I would not mention these specifics, but, since this mal-practice continues on the Apple AppStore even today, it deserves mention.

The company is Playrix. They make stunningly beautiful games. Almost every aspect of their games is really outstanding. With such immense talent, one would have to wonder as to why they resort to this kind is mal-practice. What Playrix does is that they occasionally release “premium” or “full” games for free. Within hours or day(s), the same game gets an in-app-purchase (IAP) to unlock the full game or becomes fully paid only.

You will see similar comments in reviews on the AppStore as well. If your re-install the game that you had a full version of, you would need to pay for it again. If you paid for the IAP, then, you might land up paying for the full version. Interestingly, all their games also have non “premium” or non “full” versions which have IAPs. There is absolutely no difference between the two. I have, from this company, on email, that this is their “company policy”. I also have sent email to Apple iTunes support with no response. For the end user, my advise would be to keep a check on all Apple AppStore purchases and there may be a lot more companies following the same pattern.

Once again, like I already ranted in an earlier post, none of this happened while Steve Jobs was around.

The next post, would be the last in this series. In this, the last one, I would present my own conclusions based on my own experience as well as the experiences of friends and colleagues. Hopefully, the conclusion would help you make a better purchase decision on the next device.

Apple iOS vs Google Android…do you really know the difference? Part 6

We now look at some free 3rd party apps for both, iOS and Android. Some of these applications might come pre-installed on some Android devices. This application list is primarily picked from iOS since there is a far larger variety. Some of these apps might not exist on the Android platform.

Another point to note here is the fact that the iOS app ecosystem is a lot older than Android’s and is fairly mature. We have “aggregator” like apps for apps on iOS, which, currently do not have any equivalent on the Android platform. I will mention some of these apps as they would allow you get some usable apps on iOS for free.

Since we will start with the most commonly used and knowns apps, it would be prudent to mention that the well known Skype is an exception to how most of the other communication apps work today. While Skype still retains the legacy of using a login and adding friends, the modern communication applications will use either your phone number or your email ID for authentication and will automatically add “friends” from your address book. The current approach is obviously superior to what Skype does as you discover “friends” automatically instead of the dated, manual process. Fring, a Skype competitor, changed to the modern way a while back and is in line with the other such apps.


All these free apps need no introduction. Facebook comes pre-installed on a wide variety of devices. WhatsApp is also pre-installed on a variety of Android based devices. The others may or may not be pre-installed, but, all of these are free downloads for Android. WhatsApp, the only exception in this list, is a paid app on iOS. Personally, I would recommend Viber over WhatsApp anytime.


This is a free app and is available for almost all mobile platforms now even through it started as an iOS only app. Viber does voice, messaging, and video on the recently released desktop edition for OS X and Windows. Viber offers a seamless experience between the desktop and mobile versions. For example, you can pick a call on the desktop and transfer the call to your mobile and vice-versa. Besides the rich feature set, Viber also sports a decent UI and the UX is also good. The voice quality and the bandwidth it consumes is probably the best in it’s class. Viber remains a personal favourite for me and a lot of my colleagues and friends regardless of the platform, iOS or Android (and some others as well).


As already mentioned, Fring started off as a competitor to Skype. Today, it offers a far better alternate to Skype and most other apps. The voice quality of Fring is at par or generally better than Skype and the video quality is far superior. Fring also offers group calls on devices which Skype does not. The main drawback of Fring is that it does not support non-GSM/phone devices directly as yet whereas Skype does.


Tango is yet another VoIP app. It offers voice, video and messaging. It works on all devices and the setup is fast and easy. Is fairly well featured and is very usable.

Vonage Mobile

This app, like some others, allows you free calls/messages to any +1 number, i.e., US and Canada. A recent update to this app adds video as well. There are additional charges for calling out to other countries. The voice quality is amongst the best around.


This is possibly the best such application in it’s class. This app is categorised into the “social news” class. It aggregates news from a variety of sources including other social sites like Facebook. It has a really neat UI and the UX is also very pleasing.

Documents by Readdle

This is an iOS only app. The iPhone edition was a paid one. Now, this is a universal app (works on all iOS devices) and is free. This is possibly the best file/document manager that you can get for free. Although I already purchased a couple of iOS apps quite some time back to store and organise my documents, I highly recommend this free app to all now.


There are a large number of app aggregators and the like for iOS. Although AppZapp does exist as a beta on the Android platform, it is no where close to the iOS version in any terms. These apps allow you to see top apps, new apps, apps on sale, hot deals etc etc. My own usage is to keep a watch for apps that I want to purchase as and when they are on sale; and generally look at apps on sale that are free 🙂

In the next part, I will run through some of the paid iOS applications that I use. No, I never purchased any Android apps so far since I did not find the equivalents when I wanted them (a few years ago). Even though I have a couple of current Android devices, my primary device remains iOS for a variety of personal reasons. I will talk about the reasons for the iOS device being my primary device and why it might not be suitable for all.

Apple iOS vs Google Android…do you really know the difference? Part 5

Let’s now look at some of the free applications for iOS and Android from Apple and Google.

Apple has some free applications on iOS which have no real equivalent on the Android platform currently. We will briefly look at them one by one.

Find my Friends & Find my iPhone

Find my Friends, like Find my iPhone, was an absolute killer app. Somewhat like the obsolete Google Latitude, Find my Friends allow you to see where your family and friends are currently. This works on demand and does not drain out the device battery like Google Latitude and you can keep both the “Find my…” apps installed and running with almost no impact on the battery life. Find my Friend also allows you to add temporary friends. This can be used to guide people to where you are without adding them to your permanent friend list. It also allows you to set notifications as and when a friend arrives or leaves a location. You can also add labels to your current location so people on your friends list can figure out where you are (Home/Office/Gym etc etc).

Unfortunately, this killer app was also killed when Apple released their own “maps”. Now, you would have to make guesses as to where your friends really are since the Apple maps would not tell you anything! I have a lame work-around for this issue, which, I will mention in another post later.


iBooks, the Apple eBook reader is indeed one of the best such applications around. Although Google has come up with their own Google Play app, the Apple iBooks is streets ahead in almost every respect. You can also find iOS user manuals in the iBooks store for free.

iTunes U

This freebie from Apple gives you access to consolidated education content from universities and professional institutions. A must have for almost everyone!


As the application name suggests, this app gives you a consolidated view for all your audio and video podcasts. Again, one of the must have apps for almost all!

Apple Safari/Google Chrome

Although Safari is iOS only, Google’s Chrome browser is available for for both. Despite Apple’s restrictive (read anti-competitive) practices, Chrome is far superior to Apple’s Safari. Since Apple does not allow changing the default browser on iOS, you are stuck with Safari as the default. One has to wonder as to why Microsoft was forced to allow the IE and Media Player change some years ago and Apple happily continues to follow the same practice on iOS.

Apple Remote/Google TV Remote

The Apple remote app allows you to remote control iTunes and/or your Apple TV. The Google equivalent allows you to remote control the Google TV.

Apple iWorks

Although these applications are not free, Apple has it’s own “Office” suite of applications for the iDevices. I choose to mention it here since there might be people interested in this category of applications. Another reason for mentioning this here is that Google acquired the creators of the QuickOffice suite and there have been no updates for the suite since. I happen to be one of the extremely unhappy customers of QuickOffice…still waiting for the iPhone 5 update!

Google YouTube

When Apple removed the YouTube app from the standard iOS distribution, Google created a separate app for the iOS platform. Android has the same kind of app from Google. Just like the Apple iTunes U and Podcast apps, this is one of the must have apps for both platforms.

Google Maps

Although the Android platforms have Google maps as a standard, Google created an iOS app (iPhone/iPod only, not meant for the iPad) when Apple chose to go with what they call their own maps. The Google Maps app can be a life-saver and is a must have for all. Although I am happy with the current iOS version, it does need some work like making bookmarking easier and more apparent.

Google Drive

This application from Google includes what used to be Google Docs. Not only does it allow you to use the storage you have on Google, it also allows editing/creating documents and spreadsheets. A good, free, alternate to paid “Office” apps. Google Drive, like most of Google apps, excepting Mail, allow only one account and therefore you cannot use this for a personal and an official Gmail account.

Google Search

This has become a multi-facted app and one should have this installed. The voice recognition is far better than Siri. The functionality of this application is limited on the iOS, but, works with far better integration on most Android devices.

Google Mail

Although an integral part of Android, on iOS this app was just a formality. It’s UI/UX and functionality on iOS still leave a lot to be desired. The iOS mail app is far superior is almost every respect. Although Google bought out an iOS/OS X based company that created a really good email client called Sparrow, the results of the acquisition are yet to be seen.


This was Google’s attempt at trying to compete with FaceBook and they also tried to set their “rules” on it, somewhat like Apple. This failed miserably, but, the usage has picked up since Android came up. On iOS, if you are not careful, it will default to uploading your entire photo library, with no way of removing the photos from the app itself. Overall, like most of the Google apps, a lot remains desired in terms of UI/UX.


In the standard free apps department, iOS remains a clear winner…for now. In the next part, we will look at some 3rd party applications. Some would be available on both the platforms and some on just one.