Retina Display: The apps that don’t use it

The iPhone 4 brought a myriad of improvements to the product on its release in the summer of 2010. It had a better camera, a better processor, a vastly improved chassis — but I think one of the most obvious and most pronounced features was the Retina Display. This was a technology that increased the resolution of the iPhone’s screen from 480×320 to 940×640 (thus doubling the pixel resolution from 163 ppi to 326 ppi). This was matched by a problem: Every app was now blurry and it took time for developers to react to the new technology.

I didn’t upgrade to the iPhone 4, instead waiting for the iPhone 4S, and so by the time I was using a Retina Display, most apps had been updated to use sharper graphics and textures. When I did upgrade, some of my apps still hadn’t been updated to the higher resolution, and so I faced a choice between deleting them or keeping using them. In most cases, I found other apps that had been updated to work with the new technology, but a handful of apps remained despite their blurry graphics.

iStat by Bjango

A screenshot from the Bonjour feature of iStat showing my iMac's statistics.
My iMac, through iStat

Bjango is one of my favourite developers in the Apple community. iStat is an iOS version of their unparalleled Mac app with the same name, and it’s a well-designed app indeed. Opening the app gives you a choice of devices; either the iOS device you’re using or any number of devices found via Bonjour. Getting a device to show up via Bonjour is simple: just install iStat Server from the app’s webpage and you’re ready to monitor statistics.

Select the iOS device, and you get a screen showing you various statistics. Firstly (and least usefully) is a battery readout. This gives you a percentage of the remaining battery; given that this information is already available at the top of the screen, it isn’t terribly useful. Alongside the readout are estimates of how much usage that will permit, which may be useful if you aren’t used to your device’s battery life yet. Another stat is the remaining hard drive space, which is similarly already available through the operating system.

Elsewhere within the statistics, one can see a variety of things that aren’t already in Settings.app. Your device’s IP addresses — both the network’s IP and the IP on any Wi-Fi network — are available, as are the Wi-Fi MAC address and your iPhone’s UDID1. iStat can also give you the uptime and load of your device, which are interesting, if not useful on a regular basis. A pie chart shows the amount of RAM being used and how much is free — if your device is acting up, checking the remaining RAM might give a clue to the problem. This is in addition to a list of your iPhone’s currently running processes, so you will be able to see which apps are doing things in the background.

What are the minus points with iStat? It doesn’t remember where you were if you switch to a different app and then back, which really annoyed me whilst I was writing this review but may be much less aggravating in general use. Also, when I first got the app, it contained a way to free up the iPhone’s RAM, which was removed in an update that got skewered by the App Store’s reviewers — given that this feature is now available in other apps, it’d be nice to see it return to iStat.

Find iStat on the App Store here (£0.69/$0.99).

Detexify

A picture I drew of the Greek letter rho in Detexify.
Trying to find rho.

I use LaTeX2, and so this app is very useful from my perspective. If you don’t use LaTeX, then this very possibly won’t be useful for you!

The list of results for my drawing of rho from Detexify.
Results for rho!

What Detexify does is simple. It allows the user to sketch a character on the screen. It then takes that squiggle and finds a list of symbols available that match it, alongside the name of the package they are in and how to use them in a document. It’s terrifically handy if you’re trying to write a scientific paper. It’s also fairly handy for looking up what Greek characters are called, even if you’re not using LaTeX.

Detexify is available from the App Store in a free or a paid version; the paid version lets you contribute a little to the developer as a ‘thank you’, but otherwise there is no difference between the two. An alternative way to donate is to visit the Detexify website and donate through the provided links (this will mean Apple doesn’t get a cut of your donation).

Find Detexify on the App Store here (free).
Alternatively, buy the Supporter Version (£0.69/$0.99).

iSeismometer by ObjectGraph

A screenshot of iSeismometer, showing motion in all axes.
Earthquake!

This app from ObjectGraph is pretty much self-explanatory: it allows your iPhone to act as a seismometer, with measurements of the movement in the x-, y- and z-axis. Rest it on a table, and tap/shake/tilt the surface to see what it can do. This is an amazing app for demonstrating some of the capabilities present in the iPhone’s hardware, as well as being an excellent way to demonstrate the science of seismology to people who aren’t very knowledgable about it3, and so it stays on my phone despite the fact that the icon and buttons are somewhat pixellated.

Whilst researching this application, I’ve noticed that there are other seismometer apps available in the App Store, but that this is definitely the best free app available despite the non-Retina graphics. However, given a couple of the others are only 69p, I may well try a different one to see whether it converts me!

Find iSeismometer on the App Store here (free).

Galaxy Zoo by Zooniverse

If you haven’t heard of Galaxy Zoo, this may not appeal to you as much as it otherwise would; however, it’s a nice little app. It doesn’t let you do much other than look at images of galaxies and analyse them using the limited set of multiple-choice questions that’s familiar to any Galaxy Zoo user. However, that still means you can make useful contributions to physics whilst standing in the queue at the bank, so it’s definitely worth a look.

Find Galaxy Zoo on the App Store here (free).

SUBCARD® by Subway

SUBCARD® is Subway’s loyalty card app in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland4. One can either have a physical card, or download the app, which has a barcode used to load points onto your account. As well as this, the locations of nearby branches of the chain can be ascertained. If you go to Subway often5, it’s probably worth a look, but if not, there really isn’t anything else to it.

Find SUBCARD® on the App Store here (free).

Arriva m-Ticket

A screenshot from the Arriva app on the ticket selection screen.
Which ticket?

Somewhat strangely, the Arriva m-Ticket app actually got released — with non-Retina graphics — after the iPhone 4 came out. It allows the user to buy tickets for Arriva buses on their mobile phone; since Arriva operate buses near me, I have the app on my phone. It allows for the purchase of tickets on a variety of timescales in areas that Arriva works in (but a ticket in one area presumably won’t transfer to others). Choose a day ticket, opt for a week’s worth of travel or get the whole year in one go.

Having said all that, my experience has taught me that Arriva’s buses have something in common with this app: they were outdated when they were new and they’re never on time. As such I still haven’t actually used the app to travel anywhere and may need to review it again when I’ve actually had a chance to analyse it in use.

Find Arriva m-Ticket on the App Store here (free).


  1. Now that UDID is being deprecated by Apple, this may change in the near future. 
  2. Specifically, MacTeX, which I rather like. 
  3. To be fair, that could very well describe me. 
  4. I don’t know if similar apps exist outside of these two territories, so I apologise to anyone for whom this is unhelpful. 
  5. According to this app, the last time I visited was in 2010: I hadn’t realised it had been that long! 

Location location location

This evening, I went out for a meal and then some drinks with a variety of friends. Four different people have birthdays at this time of the month, and we were celebrating that. As part of this experience, we went to a restaurant and then two different bars — those bars were Hakamou and Pirates Bar Leicester1. I came away from the evening with some thoughts about the bars and wanted to write them up somewhere.

Hannah and I at Hakamou.
Hannah and I at Hakamou.

My first thought was Yelp, a website that allows people to rate and review places to eat and drink. I used Yelp to help inform my dining choices whilst holidaying on the west coast of the USA with my parents. What makes it so useful is the ease by which you can search for a certain type of restaurant and then see which of the restaurants available has the best ratings (as decided by the Yelp community). However, Yelp hasn’t really taken off in Britain properly — of the nine British venues I’ve reviewed, only one has attracted reviews from anyone else (two others, more than a year apart).2 I wrote a review for Hakamou anyway, but I have no idea whether anyone will find it useful, or whether they’ll even read it!

Where does this leave me? Well, I’ve also put the same review on Google.3 This is because the owners at Hakamou had taken the (very sensible) step of creating a verified listing for the business. Not only that, but Google was able to use my location preferences to work out I wanted to know about their Leicester branch, and not the bar in Northampton. On top of all that, Google realises that people may want to write a review for your venue, and provides a handy ‘write a review’ link under the search result. If there are already reviews for the venue available, it’ll provide a link to those, too, and you can go and peruse them at your leisure.

Hakamou's search result on Google.
Hakamou's search result on Google.

Google’s solution has one advantage over Yelp: its simplicity. Yelp requires you to answer a series of questions, on things like whether there’s a beer garden, what alcohol is available and whether children are welcome, whereas Google just wants a rating (1-5 stars) and a short review. It even removes paragraphs for you. Of course, this advantageous and concise approach to the problem is also Google’s disadvantage, since Yelp gives the user much more detail about the venue in question and also provides a higher level of analysis.

There is, of course, a third option that may not be as obvious: Foursquare. I use Foursquare a lot when I’m abroad or on holiday, since it helps remind me where I was and when. Given how terrible my memory is, that’s a significant feature to be able to offer! Foursquare isn’t really optimised for reviewing or in-depth analysis in the same way as Yelp is, but for short tips and one-line recommendations, it’s a very powerful tool. When using the service in far-away lands, the recommendations it gives can be incredible and really turn your evening around.

The company is clearly beginning to realise that it is this that is the real killer application for the network — the gamification aspect to the service is much less useful, if still a pretty fun way to operate a loyalty scheme. This is backed up by a couple of recent developments: Firstly, the radar feature in the new Foursquare apps on mobile devices. I personally don’t fancy having my GPS on permanently in order to take advantage of this, but it looks like a very good idea that would help you explore a city very efficiently. In fact, TechCrunch published an article not so long ago in which the company talks about helping people to discover and explore new things in such a way.

Location-based services, whether they’re based around networking or just providing information, are something incredibly useful. Unfortunately, in the United Kingdom they currently seem to be very much in their infancy, which is a huge shame. Screw flying cars — the thing that excites me most about the future is restaurant recommendations!4


  1. It’s a pirate-themed bar in Leicester. The name they’ve selected for the bar is not only completely unimaginative but also missing an apostrophe, which is almost as many criticisms as there are words in the name. Also, you’ll note that the link goes to Facebook, rather than a proper website; this is because they don’t have one. It’s 2012. Websites are easy. Keep up, please, people! 
  2. Chimichanga, in Peterborough, if you’re curious! 
  3. I’m still not sure what this feature is actually called. On my iPhone, when I search on Google for something, it seems to be called Google Places. However, the URL is maps.google.co.uk, which would seem to suggest it’s a feature within Google Maps — but saying I wrote a review on Google Maps would sound strange. Anyone? 
  4. Actually, that honour goes to FaceTime/iMessage, but restaurant recommendations are still fairly excellent. 

Messages Beta on OS X: Return of the error

In my last post I described an issue I’d been having with iMessage, delivery confirmations and Messages on OS X. I fixed the issue by deactivating iMessage in the OS X client, and I thought that was the end of the issue, but I was wrong, because this morning, the same ‘Not Delivered’ messages came back with a vengeance. Now, I am a little obsessive-compulsive and these messages really annoy me,1 so naturally I wanted to get to the bottom of this once and for all.

Now, as you may or may not be aware, the Messages beta updates its dock badge to reflect the number of unread http://www.mindanews.com/buy-paxil/ iMessages even when it’s not running. As a result of this, I decided to run the app just to doublecheck it hadn’t done anything since I had quit it the night before.

Guess what I found?

If your guess was that the app had re-enabled iMessage with my Apple ID without my permission and thus resulted in the renaissance of the issues that I thought I had fixed, you guessed correctly – well done. If this happens again, I will be forced to uninstall the Messages beta permanently!


  1. And, given that I never delete messages on my iPhone, they will continue to do so until the end of time. 

Messages Beta on OS X

UPDATE: If you’d like to find out more about the ongoing saga that is my relationship with this app, check out my follow-up post.

I’ve decided to try to make more posts on here about technology (including reviews of apps I use regularly on my iPhone and my iMac), but I have so far spectacularly failed to do so (or, indeed, to blog much at all). I should let you know, though, that I have been using Google Chrome ever since the previous entry and it’s working out great for me. Although, I must confess, recent news of Firefox’s resurgence has reached my ears and I’m glad they’re back on form and doing well.

Today I’m going to talk to you all about Messages. For those that don’t know, Messages is a free public beta currently available from Apple for OS X. As Macworld has reported, it’s the replacement for iChat, and it brings iMessage to OS X as part of Apple’s continued drive to bring iOS features ‘back to the Mac’.

The single window view in Messages for OS X.
The single window view in Messages for OS X.

Messages is great. I love the single-window interface (foreshadowed by Bjango), which is sleek and works very well.1 I’m also a massive fan of being able to send iMessages from my Mac, since typing on a real keyboard is nicer than typing on my iPhone and long iMessage conversations can be a drag. However, last night, I tried to send an iMessage from my Mac and it told me it couldn’t be delivered. I tried resending, but no dice, so I went to bed and tried to send it from my iPhone. This also gave me that red text, but the recipient, España, responded anyway, so I assumed it was just iMessage playing up. España said the same was happening to her, and so we both power cycled our iPhones and reactivated iMessage to no avail. Eventually we switched to Twitter’s Direct Message service (which is what we used for a long time before Apple invented iMessage) to avoid the annoying error messages.

Not Delivered abounds in iOS
Not Delivered abounds in iOS

Fast forward to this morning and I awake to texts from my correspondent that she was able to text a different friend of hers without issue. Now, España lives in the United States, and I am British, so I wondered http://nygoodhealth.com/product/forzest/ whether it might be a trans-Atlantic issue. Texting two British friends promptly cured me of that notion, since messages to both were reported not delivered but were responded to with bleary-eyed questions.

The fact was that the messages had gotten through but myself and everyone I texted was having errors. Nobody else seemed to be having trouble with anybody else. This forced me to conclude that iMessage must be having issues with me, or with my Apple ID.

Then it hit me that I still hadn’t looked at Messages on OS X. I don’t have an iPad so that’s the only other place I can use iMessage, and, when I checked, no iMessages had synced with my iMac since I’d had my very first refusal of delivery. Trying to send messages to the same people from my Mac resulted in radio silence and when I followed up, not one of those messages had arrived.

The reason I was getting Not Delivered errors was because the messages weren’t being delivered. But they were failing to get to my Mac, not failing to get to the intended recipient. The reason that others were having trouble was because they weren’t getting a delivery confirmation from every device my Apple ID was registered on. Disabling my account in the Messages beta fixed the issue.

Messages for OS X is still a beta, and that shows throughout the app, whether it’s the problem outlined here or the fact that the dock badge bears no relationship whatsoever with the messages that are actually unread. Apple need to think about the best way to indicate that a message has only reached one of a recipient’s devices, since Not Delivered is an unhelpful error message when you know it’s untrue. I must confess that, right now, I’m not sure whether the obvious benefits to having iMessage available from your workstation outweigh the multiple teething problems the app has.


  1. If I’m honest, I’m not always a huge fan of single-window views: For instance, take Adium, the popular IM client for OS X based on the same open-source libraries as Pidgin. The contact list is separate which means the user can easily see who is online and who is not – this is obviously not required for iMessage, but for traditional IM services I prefer Adium’s approach.