UPDATED 4/9/2012 - to reflect name change of Savvy app to Eyeona.
We spent Thanksgiving with my family in Sacramento, which of course, included my mom and dad.
Whenever I see them now, I feel I have to let them know how much I appreciate the birthday present they gave me this year: my iPad 2. While at first, I may have treated the device as merely a light-weight email reader, it has increasingly become indispensable for work as well as play. I told my dad how it saved my life at last week's Los Angeles Auto Show, when I realized that I had not fully charged my camera battery -- so I substituted my iPad's camera instead.
The iPad also stood in for my camcorder when I could not fumble for it quickly enough during impromptu interviews with auto executives. I especially appreciated it when I needed to play back the material for quotes; it was just really easy to view it on the tablet without first having to upload it to the computer.
And over the weekend at my sister's home (where several of us gathered with all of our high tech toys), we had many a discussion about the apps that make our lives easier. Here are my favorites:
News and Information
I am a news junkie, so I rely a lot on news aggregators. My absolute favorite is Flipboard, which you can personalize to compile content from all of your favorite sources -- which is then all displayed in a magazine format. But I think its most powerful feature is the ability to also aggregate what your social media contacts are posting: Some of the best reading comes from my friends' Facebook and Twitter feeds. Flipboard makes it a lot easier to cut through the clutter and find the gems.
I also use my iPad to read the digital versions of actual magazines I subscribe to, and the new NewsStand app makes downloading these easy. I absolutely love the digital versions of Vanity Fair and National Geographic, and am even more in love with the fact that I can read them whenever I want, without having to remember to lug them around with me. I so wish I had this in the days when I was spending hours each afternoon sitting at the gym while my daughter was training for gymnastics!
I wake up every morning at home to the sound of NPR on Santa Monica's KCRW -- and now that I have the iPad, I can still listen when I'm out of town. That's exactly what I did yesterday morning, when I woke up earlier than everyone else -- I stuck in my earbuds and got my Weekend Edition, without disturbing the rest of the family.
My husband thinks its weird that I find the iPad so useful in the kitchen -- but that's because he rarely does the family cooking. I used to subscribe to Bon Appetit magazine and still have an archive of old issues that goes back several years -- but discovered a long time ago that most of my favorite recipes were on Epicurious.com ... and searching for them online is a lot quicker than scouring through dozens of old magazines.
The Epicurious app just makes accessing recipes easier -- as well as shopping for ingredients. And the Recipe Box function allows me to store other favorite recipes within my account (so I have the same blazing fast access to them as I do with dishes culled from the pages of Bon Appetit, Gourmet and other publications).
Whole Foods market also has an app that I've been using a lot lately, especially when looking for recipes that will satisfy my husband's new vegan lifestyle. The Whole Foods app offers a lot of the same functionality as the one from Epicurious: I can search for recipes by meal, cuisine, dietary restriction and/or ingredients -- the only difference is the wide selection of vegetarian options and recipes for less common foods like quinoa, tofu, and seitan.
Best of all: I don't necessarily have to be shopping at Whole Foods to buy most of the items I need for the recipes.
The iPad also gets a lot of use when I don't feel like cooking. We don't have a lot of food delivery up in my neck of the Valley -- but there's always pizza, and Papa John's, Domino's and Pizza Hut all have apps that make it easy to place an order. (I'm still waiting for Big Mama and Papa's to get one... hint, hint!)
Yelp has a decent app... but I have a lot more fun with the one from Urban Spoon, which uses your location (or another you specify) and then allows you to find a place to eat with a slot-machine type spinning function. I have been known to spend 30 minutes or more just checking out what's available -- without complaining about the time it takes.
I mentioned above that I have been using the iPad's built-in camera for documenting events I've been covering for this blog and on assignment. Other productivity apps I use often are Dropbox (which allows me to access files among all the different devices I use), Google Voice and Skype.
One of my favorite apps was suggested by my early adopter friend, Debbie: Penultimate, which allows me to use my finger to write, draw, or doodle on my iPad -- and email the notes to myself as a PDF.
Entertainment and Games
I have a lot of apps in this category. I rarely watch television any longer without the IMDB app open, so I can find out why that actor guest starring on Castle looks so familiar. Time Warner has an app that effectively turns my iPad into a portable HD TV when I'm hooked into our cable network. It does not offer all the channels -- but I can get cable news, which means I can watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC while I'm cooking dinner in the kitchen.
The Time Warner app also gives me my TV listings and the ability to record shows on our DVR -- even when we're not home. This is a function I've used more than once, when I've forgotten to set something I want to record.
Unfortunately, the Time Warner app doesn't give you any of the major networks -- but NBC and ABC have apps of their own -- which can give you access to entire programs after they have aired. My biggest beef with Time Warner (where apps are concerned) is that they do not allow me to use the HBO Go app, which -- as an HBO subscriber -- would give me offsite access to all of the pay network's programming. I don't know what the hold-up is... but I wish Time Warner would just get with the program.
As for games, I'm afraid I'm kind of unadventurous. I've got Angry Birds (which frustrates me so much I rarely play it) and Sudoku (which I find challenging - but not to the point of annoyance).
Now that the holiday shopping season has officially started, I've been looking at some shopping apps. My friend Rob told me about a new one from the ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board), that will search out the ratings of video games for consoles like the Wii, Xbox, PlayStation and DS.
While the games are all packaged with their ESRB rating, you can't always tell WHY a game received a T (teen) instead of an E for Everyone - The app gives you nearly instant access to the ratings database for more information. You can search by taking a photo of the package, voice command, or input the game title via text.
And then, there's my favorite shopping app so far: Savvy.com. Eyeona, launched earlier this month with a splashy preview for Los Angeles area bloggers. This app is designed to help you save money on the items you shop for, and it does this in a couple of ways:
(1) As you find an item you like at a participating store, you snap a photo of the barcode on its tag. The app returns a nice description, product photo and current price -- YOU then input what YOU would be willing to pay for the item (it's kind of like Priceline, but without obligating you to buy -- and the weird thing my shopping buddy and I both agreed that using the app was actually FUN).
At the end of your shopping trip, you've compiled a nice wish list that you can go back to later...
...especially when the item goes on sale. Savvy.com Eyeona keeps your list in its database and then emails you when the item is reduced to the price you're willing to pay.
Last night, I received such an email: a beautiful knit dress I loved at Anthropologie was originally listed at $178. I thought it would be worth it at $100. Savvy's Eyeona's email notified me that its current price is just $89.
The second way that Savvy.com Eyeona helps you save money occurs after you've bought an item at a participating retailer (there are 47 major chains currently listed on the company's website, including six my family has visited in the last two days) . You do this by taking a photo of the barcode on your receipt: If your item goes on sale shortly after you purchase it, you will get the difference refunded.
Unfortunately for me: I can't get this app for myself just yet. Savvy.com Eyeona is currently available only on iPhone (and for some reason, not the iPad). They are working on an Android version, which they promise will go live soon.
This is such a great app - I demonstrated it to friends with iPhones over the holiday weekend, and they all downloaded it right away. I guess I'll just have to wait until the end of my Blackberry contract to make use of it myself.
DISCLOSURE: With the exception of Savvy.com Eyeona, all of the apps listed above are programs I use. I learned about Savvy.com Eyeona at a blogger event, where I was lent an iPhone and invited to try out all the app's features, including what you do with a receipt after a purchase. Savvy.com Eyeona gave me a gift card to use for that feature.
Since then, I've checked their website every couple of days to see if the app is going to be made available to use on the iPad.