Welcome to the one corner of the Internet where we have no curved TVs or smart washing machines. Instead, we’ve got some cool apps for you to check out. First up, we have an app that lets you spy on a multinational government project. We’ve also got a Web app that let’s you relive some childhood art projects. Finally, we have an app from ex-Apple engineers that might make your laptop and iPad the best of friends.
Space Station Research Explorer – iOS(Universal)
The International Space Station is one of the major wonders of human achievement, but beyond sending back covers of David Bowie, nobody knows too much about what those aboard the station do. The answer is science, obviously, but what experiments; and how do they benefit us back on Earth?
Space Station Research Explorer lets you read about all of the experiments that are currently active aboard the ISS. You can also scroll back in time to research former experiments. Meanwhile, an explorer feature lets you see a simulation of the station’s facilities. The app also includes links to relevant articles on NASA’s website or videos on You Tube so you can learn more about the goings-on aboard the station. There’s a podcast you can listen or subscribe to via You Tube, and even a simple-but-fun game you can play within the app.
Space Station Research Explorer is a cool app, but that you have to leave the app for so much is a big sticking point for me. Space Station Research Explorer could be a wonderful resource, but it constantly seems to want to send me elsewhere. That said, this is still a cool, informative app.
What’s Good: Lots of information and details about experiments.
What Sucks: Most of the media and articles take you out of the app.
Buy it? If you’re a fan of NASA or interested in science, check out Space Station Research Explorer. Download it on the App Store for free.
Contacts Pics + – iPhone
Some apps do a single thing and do it well, and Contact Pics + is one of them. The app takes all of your iPhone’s contacts entries and allows you to easily assign pictures to them. It pulls in from Twitter, Facebook, and Google Images—and you can also take or add pictures via the Camera Roll. If your contacts don’t match Facebook or Twitter’s names for them, you can select them manually, overriding any potential issues.
While the app is simple, the process of authenticating with your social media accounts is not. Support for both Twitter and Facebook is built into iOS, but you have to go through the regular login process. This might be a technical need, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying to the user.
What’s Good: Easy way to add pics. Doesn’t require contact names to match names listed on social networks.
What Sucks: Cumbersome setup for social networks.
Buy it? If you’ve got a lot of gray faces staring at you in your contacts, check out Contacts Pics +. Pick it up on the App Store for $1.99.
Inspirograph – Web
I am not sure that anyone was actually looking for a version of Spirograph on the Web, but once you play with the various gears and pencils in a Spirograph kit, you’ll agree with me that this was a really fun idea. Inspirograph isn’t going to do much for your daily workflow, but like the physical equivalent, it makes for a mediative distraction.
You have two lists of gears on the left—one for the stationary gears, the other for the rotating gears. On the right, you have the color pickers for the pen and background. Controlling the gears can be done with a mouse or the keyboard. Inspirograph offers some help in case you get stuck, but it’s pretty easy to just play around with this to get the hang of it.
What’s Good: Excellently made. Easy to pick up and use.
What Sucks: Frivolous.
Buy it? If you need a fun and arty way to play around check out the Inspirograph Web app.
Umano – iPhone
Everyone is looking for a way to keep on the online news, But it you’re anything like us, you probably also want to avoid killing most of the day just to keep up on the latest incredulous Apple rumor or blogger cum VC with an axe to grind. But no matter your taste in news, Umano is an app that has an interesting fix—it reads you the news.
Other apps of this type usually just use machine reading to accomplish the task. The most polite way to describe that approach is to say that it is aesthetically unpleasing. But rather than leaving the reading to Alex or Siri, Umano uses professional readers.
I would place the quality of the reads around that of local public radio news, which is not a bad thing. You can also submit articles via a browser extension and be notified if it is selected to be read. You get a limited number of stories to listen to unless you sign up for a subscription, though.
You get you content by selecting the types of articles you’re interested in, and the app generates a list recommend stories based on your responses. You can also browse categories manually, or look through popular stories. If you have readers that you prefer, you can follow them through the app. Umano won’t clear your RSS reader of everything, but it’s a good way to surface some cool news you might miss.
What’s Good: Professional readers read you the news. A variety of sources.
What Sucks: Some slowness with menus, but no show-stopping issues on my iPhone 5s.
Buy it? If you’re interested in a newscast scraped from the internet, check out Umano. Download it on the App Store for Free.
Duet Display – iOS(Universal)
It may be that I’ve been tainted by my day job as an IT Monkey, but I have a hard time working without dual monitors. So when I work with my laptop at a coffee shop or hotel, I feel like I have one arm tied behind my back. Duet Display has an answer for that—your iPad.
I know there are tons of apps that promised to do this via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but most of those were barely workable. Duet Display, however, uses your lightning or 30-pin connector, and in practice, it’s just like having a normal display attached to your computer. I used just my 11″ MacBook Air and iPad Air 2 attached as my second monitor: I didn’t notice any lag, and I was able to type normally in Slack and Twitteriffic.
That’s really the best thing to say about this app–once you have it installed and configured, you can forget about it. Duet Display may seem trivial at first, but it makes sense. If you tend to work in hotels or coffee shops a lot, Duet Display may give your productivity a boost.
What’s Good: Excellent implementation of this feature. Does what it advertises with no noticeable lag or issues.
What Sucks: Kind of silly unless you’re a dedicated dual-monitor user.
Buy it? If you like using two monitors and want a portable solution, check out Duet Display. Pick it up on the App Store for $14.99.