Facebook’s Updates It’s Look

Facebook’s mobile apps are getting a new look, though blink and you might miss some of the changes.

The most obvious update is coming to comments, which now look a lot more like a conversation in your average messaging app rather than than a series of posts. This falls in line with Facebook’s recent desktop tests, which display comment threads a bit more like group chats.

The idea is to make comments a bit more readable, and make it easier to see who’s replying directly to another person.

Facebook might also be trying to subtly make conversations with strangers a bit more friendly. The text bubble’s resemblance to a messaging app could make it feel more like you’re actually having a personal conversation with participants, rather than replying to a random internet thread.

Less obvious are the changes to the News Feed. Facebook is using a brighter shade of blue and has increased color contrast overall to make text more readable. The link previews are slightly larger – they now take up the entire width of your screen – and the Like, Comment, and Share buttons are now larger.

Throughout the new design, Facebook has also replaced it’s silhouette style icons with more iOS-like wireframes – for better or for worse. I like them, but your mileage may vary.

There are also other small tweaks like a more prominent back button and the ability to see where a link will take you before clicking on it.  The whole shebang looks a fair bit more like Instagram now.

Oh, and Facebook pulled a Twitter, switching perfectly fine square profile photos for circular ones.

Facebook will be rolling out the new design “over the coming weeks,” so you may not see it just yet. The new look certainly isn’t the most dramatic overhaul Facebook’s ever seen, but seems to mostly be for the better.

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Saving Data Usage with Facebook

Are you a Facebook addict? Aside from needing to break the addiction as soon as possible (seriously, it’s not a healthy way to live your life), you should give some serious consideration to your data usage. Facebook like other apps just loves to use data – even when you are not looking at the app.

If you’ve had a few “shock” bills from your carrier, Facebook could be to blame. Between high-resolution images and auto-playing videos, the app can burn through data in no time.

Of course, you can turn off auto-playing videos by going to More (the three horizontal lines in the top right-hand corner of the screen) > Help and Settings > App Settings > Auto-play.

But there’s a better way: use the Data Saver tool.

What Does Data Saver Do?

Data Saver not only prevents videos from playing automatically but importantly, it also reduces the resolution of any images in your feed.

To set it up, head to the More menu in the top right-hand corner or your screen. Scroll down until you find Data Saver. It’s in the Help and Settings section.

On the next screen, make sure you slide the toggle next to Data Saver on into the On position. When you enable the setting, a new option will appear. It allows you to disable the Data Saver feature while you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network.

Other Options to Save Data

To further reduce your data usage, there are a couple of other hidden settings you might find useful.

Go to More > App Settings and turn off the toggles next to Upload photos in HD and Upload videos in HD.

As a last resort, you can install Mobile Protect. Navigate to More > Mobile Data to get started.

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Microsoft Kill’s It’s Windows Keyboard for iOS

This is a sad day for me as another little piece of Microsoft’s Window Phone is being taken away.

Microsoft is removing Word Flow from the App Store. This means that the critically acclaimed keyboard app will no longer be available to iOS users who haven’t already downloaded it. And those that have face the prospect of Word Flow never being updated again. Because that’s how Microsoft rolls.

Having failed with their “Windows Phone” Microsoft began releasing several apps including Word Flow for iOS. Word Flow being a keyboard app designed to replicate the Windows Phone typing experience on your iPhone. Microsoft released Word Flow in April 2016, and gave it a major update adding GIF search and other features in August 2016. You can check out my April 25, 2016 review of Word Flow here.

Now, Microsoft is delisting Word Flow on the App Store. This means that while existing users will be able to carry on using Word Flow (without any future updates or support) new users are being denied the opportunity to try Word Flow out for themselves.

On the Microsoft Garage website, Microsoft describes the Windows Phone keyboard app as “an iOS app with a blazing fast keyboard that comes with search (GIFs, restaurants, and more), free customization options and includes Arc mode for comfortable one-handed typing.”

That one-handed typing is what separated Word Flow from the crowd. Once you got the hang of it Word Flow could speed up your typing, and all while leaving one hand free for other things.

Microsoft is advising Word Flow users to download SwiftKey instead because the former acquired the latter in early 2016. And this acquisition is probably why Microsoft is killing Word Flow in the first place. Let’s just hope the one-handed typing feature now makes it into SwiftKey.

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Facebook Helps You Find Free Wi-Fi

Last year, Facebook began testing a feature that made it easy to find public Wi-Fi networks around you. It was only available in iOS, and only in select locations.

Now Facebook is rolling out the feature to everyone on its mobile apps. Just tap on the ‘More’ tab, and then select ‘Find Wi-Fi’. You’ll see nearby Wi-Fi locations on a list or map, as well as information about the businesses hosting them.

It’ll come in handy if you’re travelling internationally and don’t have cellular data/can’t afford roaming. There’s often Wi-Fi  somewhere around you, but getting a consistent signal can be a pain if you don’t know where the network is originating from. 

Likewise, it comes in handy if you’re on a limited data plan and wan’t to use Wi-Fi as much as possible to avoid being capped or paying extra fees.

Keep in mind, the tool only lists Wi-Fi networks that businesses have chosen to share their information on Facebook, so you’re probably not going to find every possible connection through the tool. Also note that Facebook will turn on its Location History tracker if you enable Find Wi-Fi, which keeps tabs on all the places you’ve visited:

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What is a Podcast?

Image result for podcastsYou’re about to see how you can find a huge variety of new and interesting content from the internet to fill your smartphone, tablet or PC for free. You can listen to what you want, when you want, and how you want.

Imagine getting new “radio”-style talk and music shows to listen to on your smartphone every day. You wake up and automatically have new shows ready to listen to while you exercise, commute to work or just while relaxing around the house. This is the podcast listening experience.

Let’s face it. Broadcast radio is getting old. The same songs get played over and over until you’re sick of them. A few large companies have control of the formats and what gets played. There is very little variety.

With podcasts you don’t have to wait to hear something that interests you. You choose what you want to listen to. There are now thousands & thousands of podcasts and the number is growing rapidly.

What is a Podcast?

The word podcast is a play on the word broadcast combined with the word iPod (one of the most popular portable MP3 players at the time podcasting became popular).

At the core a podcast is an audio file that is automatically received from the internet and then synced to your smartphone, tablet or computer. The files are received by subscribing through a podcast player app.

You do not have to have an iPod to listen to a podcast. The best podcast player is right there on your smartphone, which makes it very convenient.

What Are Podcasts So Popular?

What sets podcasts apart is that they can be automatically downloaded to your computer or smartphone and synced without you needing to do anything. You can wake up each morning with new shows (that interest you) on your smartphone, tablet or computer ready to listen to.

The ease and convenience of this automatic delivery in addition to the endless content makes it so popular.

Content! No matter what you are interested in, science, politics, technology, history and much more is all there waiting for you. Also many of the popular networks such as NPR, ESPN, CNN, BBC and many more make their on-the-air content available via podcasts as well!

Finding Content and a Podcast Player

The first thing you want to do is pick a podcast player app. I have 2 recommendations depending on what smartphone you have. There are many others – these are just my personal favorites.

Once you have a podcast player on your smartphone or tablet you can begin to search for content that interests you.

Enjoy…. and welcome to the 21st century!

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Sonic Heads to Your Smartphone

Following in the tradition of Nintendo – Sega is making a comeback, thanks to your smartphone. The legendary video games company has launched Sega Forever, which is devoted to keeping the Sega name alive long into the future. And what better way to do that than to reach back into the past and bring classic Sega games to your smartphone.

Sonic I didn’t realize how much I missed you. Welcome to my iPhone!

There was a time, not so long ago, when Sega was the biggest games company on the face of the planet. In terms of consoles, the Genesis was a major success. And then there are the famous characters, such as Sonic the Hedgehog.

And then Sega released the Dreamcast, a woefully underrated console, and the whole thing went belly-up. Sega still exists, and still makes arcade machines and games for other consoles. And now, thanks to Sega Forever,the old Sega magic is back. Its a little bit smaller but more mobile then ever before.

Keeping Classic Sega Games Alive Forever

Sega Forever is the new banner under which dozens of classic Sega games will be released on Android and iOS. The games will be be available as free to play with supported by ads and ad-free for a one time payment of $1.99 (per title).

Sega has kicked things off with five Genesis titles: Sonic the HedgehogComix ZoneAltered BeastKid Chameleon, and Phantasy Star II. New games will be launched every two weeks, with titles from the Master System, the Game Gear, the Saturn, and the Dreamcast still to come.

All Sega Forever titles will be available to play offline, with online leaderboards available for those who like comparing their talents with others. The older Sega titles will be brought to smartphones thanks to emulation, while the more recent titles will require full ports to iOS and Android.

My biggest complaint here is that the free ad-supported version is truly annoying. The ads are everywhere and very intrusive. If you want to truly experience that old Sega magic spend the $1.99 on the ad-free version.

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BigKeys for Big Hands On Your iPhone

If you are like me you sometimes wish that either the keyboard on your iPhone was bigger or that your hands were smaller. While I can’t really help you with the size of your hands I can give you a tip how to make your iPhone Keyboard a little bigger.

Now that’s a keyboard I can work with!

If the size of the keys on the built in iPhone keyboard has ever caused you frustration I have an app for you try out.

Because iOS supports third-party keyboards there are a couple of good solutions out there for replacing the built-in keyboard. One of my favorite keyboards for the iPhone is Microsoft’s Wordflow. I have written about this nifty little keyboard a couple of times and you can check out those articles here if you are interested. However if all you really need is an app that gives you bigger keys on your keyboard I might just have a solution for you.

If you are looking to increase the size of your keyboard check out Big Keys. It’s an iOS app normally worth $2.99 but is free at the moment. Big Keys lets you increase the size of the keyboard keys. It works best in landscape mode but it does help in portrait mode as well.

How to Try out Big Keys

Download and install Big Keys from the App Store. You then need to add the app as a keyboard. Open the Settings app. Go to General>Keyboard, and add a new keyboard. From the list of keyboards, select Big Keys.

Next, open any app that you can type in. Tap the globe key and select ‘Big Key’ from the available keyboards to switch to it.

You will also need to open the app (it has it’s own icon) to customization the text & emoji sizes.

This app is not perfect but it is simple and may help if you have trouble with the keyboard size.

Good Luck if you give it a try!

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Manchester Terror Highlights the Power of Social Media

Tragedy almost always brings out the best in people. Social media services often get bad press and perhaps this criticism is deserved sometimes. However as we found out during last evening’s tragic act of terror in Manchester social media often steps up and provides help to those caught in terrible events.

Image result for facebook safety check logo

Last night, shortly after the terror attack in Manchester Facebook began helping people connect to those who were impacted by the tragic events at Ariana Grande’s Manchester Arena.

Hours after the incident unfolded, the Greater Manchester Police confirmed that there were 19 fatalities (this number rose to 22) and as many as 50 people injured in an explosion just as Grande wrapped up her set at the 21,000-seat sports and music venue.

Police and emergency services quickly began working at the scene to evacuate those trying to flee the arena and others who’d been injured in the blast.

Police at Manchester Arena

To help those impacted by Monday’s explosion get in touch with their loved ones, Facebook quickly initiated its Safety Feature for anyone in the Manchester area. I have reported on this a couple of times in the past and you can read the earlier articles here.

All you need to do is click this link, and then tick the box for Safe if you are indeed safe. The Safety Check also lets you connect with friends or loved ones who were also in the area.

The service has been used by Facebook in the aftermath of natural disasters, and incidents like the November 2015 terror attack inside Paris’ Bataclan concert hall.

Tragic events bring out the best in most people and as you can see the same is true for social media services like Facebook.

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Microsoft Looks to Invade Your iPhone

I love my iPhone. However I have been slowly morphing it into a Windows Phone. If you are a long time dedicated reader you surely know that I was a big fan of Microsoft’s much maligned smartphone. I do still hold out hope for Microsoft in the smartphone world but I would not bet much on it. However all of that being said there are quite a few Microsoft apps that can help you get the Microsoft experience you deserve and improve the iPhone experience along the way. Here are a couple of my favorite Microsoft apps.

Microsoft Word Flow

Word Flow, the keyboard Microsoft puts it brand on, has grown from an experiment to a charming and fully-realized alternative in recent months.

Word Flow’s big hook is that, with a couple of taps, you can contort the keyboard to a shape that rounds out on the left or right. This is less accurate than its full-sized mode, but it does work, and it makes Word Flow the most convenient option to use with one hand.

Image result for microsoft word flow ios

The keyboard itself isn’t as snappy or active with suggestions as SwiftKey, but it yields few complaints with both swipe and touch typing. It’s all stable and smooth. There are several themes to use with it, too.

Word Flow’s narrow lead comes from its search function — as of late last year, you can search Bing for GIFs and web links that can be shared right from the keyboard. You can look up Microsoft-using contacts as well. This is all much faster than going in and out of a browser.

Put it all together, and you have a surprisingly full-featured option that’s both smart and comfortable.

Outlook

Outlook’s design is very clean, but still unique. That’s fine; I’m not looking for something to mimic Mail.app exactly. Do I want it to be a complete departure from the normal look and feel of iOS? No, but I want a unique experience.

Image result for outlook ios

Outlook has 5 icons across the bottom: Mail, Calendars, Files, People, and Settings. The way it’s laid out makes it feel like a complete communications/file management ecosystem. You are only one tap away from getting what you need. It uses a light theme with black and blue text throughout. I know some people like darker themes, but I feel like the design is very easy on the eyes. I don’t ever feel like the UI is distracting; it melts away and allows me to focus on what I need to see.

From a usability perspective, Outlook really shines. It provides me with just enough options to make it my own, but not so many that I am overwhelmed or spend time tinkering.

I love the built-in calendar function. I love being able to see email and my schedule in one app. The compose screen is simple to use as well. It allows me to change which account I am sending from, add files, photos, send calendar invites, or see my calendar availability.

One important aspect of all third-party email apps is which types of email services it supports. Outlook supports Office 365, Outlook.com, Exchange, Yahoo, iCloud, Google, and IMAP. (POP3 isn’t supported, so if you require it, you need to look elsewhere.)

Outlook has support for iPhones with 3D Touch features. From the 3D Touch menu, you can hop right to your calendar, create a new event, or start a new email. I find myself using the View Calendar function frequently. A Notification Center widget and watchOS app are included as well.

Outlook supports push notifications for new emails, or just “important ones” with a feature Outlook calls Focused Inbox.

Focused Inbox sorts your email so you see the important ones first. It does this by considering past emails from a particular sender and your address book. You can also reclassify emails as you go in order to help train it. The calendar feature can also notify you of upcoming appointments as well as send short emails letting the people in your meeting know you are running late.

The snooze/delay function of email was made popular by Mailbox, but has since become adopted by a handful of other apps. Outlook offers a feature that allows you to control which folder your snoozed emails are stored. Your options for snoozing are in a few hours, this evening, tomorrow morning, or a custom time. Outlook doesn’t offer the ability to customize these times, and I’d like to see that added in the future.

Like I mentioned earlier, I love the fact that Outlook has a built-in calendar. It also has native support for a number of file systems. It includes OneDrive, Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive. While this isn’t as important for attaching files (due to document providers), it does offer some advantages. There is a file screen that shows your most recent files for cloud document apps, as well as making saving attachments faster.

A recent update added third-party app integration through “add-ins.” Add-ins let you turn any email into a Trello card, save a message to Evernote, insert a GIF, translate messages, and more. These are currently only available to users with Office 365 email addresses, however.

Overall, Outlook is the best Mail.app replacement, especially if you are a Microsoft 365 user.

Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint & Word

These are full-fledged mobile versions of Excel, Word and PowerPoint. All of the apps are jam-packed with advanced formatting and editing features, although they don’t include quite as many options as the desktop versions. They’re also beautifully designed and touch optimized, with big, easy-to-tap buttons.

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App Spotlight – Outlook for iOS

Although I gave up on Microsoft’s Windows Phone a couple of years ago I still have plenty of good memories of me and my nifty Windows Phone. In fact if you are in a nostalgic mood you can browse my Windows Phone articles here.

All is not lost for Microsoft in the smartphone world. Even though I gave into Apple empire for both myself personally and my organization all is not lost. That’s because Microsoft has been publishing apps at an amazing rate during the past two years and many of them are simply top notch.

One of my favorite Microsoft Apps is “Outlook”. Why do I recommend trashing Apple’s default mail app and installing Outlook?

Phones with Outlook app.

Innovation and Consolidation 

The Microsoft Outlook app is a mobile productivity powerhouse, bringing your email, attachments, contacts and calendars into easy reach. Outlook’s built-in analytic engine automatically surfaces important email (across multiple accounts) based on your communications, and quick swipe controls allow you to easily triage your email. It’s a great mobile email app, and works with Exchange, Office 365, Outlook.com, Gmail, Yahoo Mail and iCloud email accounts.

Also included with Outlook is your calendar, files (OneDrive, Box, Dropbox & Google Drive) and contacts. If you are using Apple’s default apps you have separate programs for each of these. With Outlook – you have one app to control them all.

Of course if you rely on Microsoft Outlook on your desktop this is the perfect companion app on your smartphone or mobile device.

You can learn more about Microsoft’s Outlook app here.

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