Title: Apple News
Cost: Free with iOS update
Platform: iOS 9
Think RSS is dead? Maybe it’s really just hiding. Like Flipboard, the Apple News app delivered as part of the iOS 9 update earlier this month focuses on the very thing missing from earlier feedreaders: the aesthetic.
As part of the roll-out, Apple is offering development tools in the form of Apple News Format to inspire digital journalists to embed videos, animations, and photo galleries specifically for this application. And the channels of well-designed sites are especially attractive within this interface.
As with RSS readers, when you first launch Apple News, you can select from among legacy and online media outlets to add to your feed. You can follow particular sites (they become your “favorites”) or browse by subject (“explore”), and search for breaking stories by keyword. The “channels” appear to be vetted through the application rather than simply allowing someone to pull in any site with a feed (like this blog).
Cost: Free, with $ 1 in-app purchase to remove ads and maintain aspect ratio
Sometimes an app is so simple, but works so well, it’s hard to imagine how you would get along without it. For me, one of those is Crop by Green Mango Systems.
Whether it’s focusing on the content of a screen-captured Instagram post or creating a quick thumbnail for an avatar, there are many occasions when you’ll want to remove the bulk of an image or rotate it on the fly. You simply select the image, use the eight points of the image canvas to determine the size you want, and you can keep finessing things until you hit “Save.” And unlike the crop option within the iOS photo roll, Crop saves your creation as a new file, so you don’t loose the original.
Name: Halftone and Halftone 2
Platform: iOS only
Cost: $0.99 (Halftone) and $1.99 (Halftone 2) and in-app purchases for square page layouts
Ever wish you were a cartoonist? The Halftone apps let you realize that aspiration easily enough. Named after the printing process for rendering images through gradients of black and white or color, these apps is easy to use and produce amazing effects.
You begin by importing a picture or using your camera. You can choose different caption styles, speech bubbles (which can be layered) as well as a series of classic “stamps” to simulate action. Fonts include a range of easily legible comic-based styles, with three sizes. The whole set-up means you can create something worthy of the funny pages in mere seconds.
What do you expect to happen when you shut 25 teens in a room for an entire rainy Saturday? I wasn’t sure when I arrived at Skokie Public Library at 9:00am on May 30 for their first ever Community Appathon, even though I’d attended several planning meetings. The event was inspired by the National Day of Civic Hacking and spurred into being by a library patron (Maker Mom Kim Moldofsky) and her teenage son. A skilled coder, he’d attended an adult-oriented hackathon and found that a 36-hour event doesn’t mix well with curfew. The goal of the appathon was to gather teens interested in developing, designing, and civic service to prototype apps to meet the community’s needs.
The event ran from 9:00am to (slightly after) 6:00pm. We began the day with a State of Skokie talk that addressed many of the issues highlighted at a recent series of town hall meetings, followed by a brainstorming session to develop ideas to address those issues. Highlighted issues include safety, connectivity, diversity, environmental sustainability, the difficulty in finding information about local events, the need for an image makeover, and a need to be more pedestrian friendly. The teens then broke out into teams of five to create their apps. Three library staff and Kim acted as facilitators throughout the day: keeping everyone on schedule, serving food (bagels, fruit, pizza, popcorn and cookies), and offering assistance as needed. At the end of the day, each team presented their app to the whole group. All the teens (plus a last-minute group of teen volunteers) voted on the best one.
Platform: iOS and Android
From WordLens (now part of Google Translate) to Invisibility 3D, apps which use the camera as an input tool to harness machine intelligence always interest me. When one such app, PhotoMath hit the top of the download charts last year, there was some minor outcry among educators. Would students use the app to cheat? But while the PhotoMath app reads and solves mathematical problems by using the camera of your phone and tablet in real time, it is far from the scourge of math teachers. Like Wolfram Alpha, it is a nice tool to have on hand when you can’t remember enough math to help students with their work.
Within the app with an active camera, you can manipulate the size of the datawell to pick up the whole of more complicated questions, and the app solves advanced math problems including quadratic equations and inequalities. The app goes beyond solutions, anticipating the admonition to “show your work.” A red button opens the step-by-step process for doing just that. Continue reading
Many youth services specialists will be familiar with Lark’s parent site, Storybird, which enables dazzling yet simple drag-and-drop digital storytelling. Like Fridegpoems by Color Monkey, Lark, Storybird’s Poetry app, is a digital incarnation of a refrigerator magnet poetry set, inspiring creativity within a finite vocabulary set as you move and reorder the words it generates over an image.
A lightning bolt icon launches a new project. You can browse art in a gallery, search by keyword or choose a random different background or word bank by swiping left. Many of the images, alternatingly fantastical and almost unbearably poignant, look as if they were cribbed from vintage picture books. You can also use a color picker to change the colors of the words on screen for optimal artistic impact. The overall effect is quite attractive and quickly achieved. Continue reading
Title: Post-it Plus
Cost: Free, with in-app purchases
From LiveScribe to Moleskine, there have been a number of visions on how to capture the physical process of notetaking in a digital incarnation. Like many with a love for stationary, I had played around with the digital sticky note applications, but when a student raved about the Post-it app, it sounded like something more than a mere yellow placeholder.
There are two methods for creating notes. You can add them with a click, as you might in decades-old Windows programs, or your can photograph your actual physical notes. The in-app photography mechanism is among the easiest I’ve seen, coaching you on light levels and holding your device steady. But it’s what happens when you take that picture that sets this app apart. Continue reading
Platform: iOS and Android
Cost: Free, with in-app purchases
I discovered this addictive “waiting game” after watching our students staring, seemingly blankly, at their iPads, ready to spring when they see an opening. It might look like something out of The Manchurian Candidate, but while the central wheel twirls around, the player must gauge the perfect moment to add another spoke in the spaces remaining without knocking any of the existing elements. Any error sends you back to the adding all of the elements all over again.
Like Dots, the underlying gaming concept behind Aa couldn’t be simpler. Any gesture on the screen inserts a spoke at the bottom of the spinning radius. But, by adding an element as you advance through each level, it quickly builds into a challenge as it becomes more difficult to insert a new one given the scant room available. Avoiding the impulse to “fire” spokes in a rapid-fire manner is the real test of patience and hand-eye coordination.
Aa is free, but the ability to skip and unlock levels are available as in-app purchases, as is a nominal charge to remove ads, which appear every few levels (just when a break can be welcome). The highest level you’ve mastered appears numerically in the center of the wheel, providing an immediate talking point based on skill.
General Adaptive Apps has a range of similar games using different shapes and objectives, but this seems to be their most popular incarnation. I think it might appeal to novice gamers getting new devices over the holiday, too.
For more apps for teens and the librarians who serve them, check out the App of the Week archive. Have a suggestion for an App of the Week? Let us know.
Platform: iOS 7 or later
Brushstroke is a seemingly simple app that turns a photo into a painting. You might think to yourself, so what? But really, it’s a pretty powerful tool that gives teens, teachers, and librarians the chance to use a variety of effects on their photos and is a great way to start discussions on painting techniques, styles, how visual messages change as a result of visual choices, and even artists and art movements.
The way it works is that a user selects a photo from an iPad or iPhone camera roll or takes a photo from within the app. The next step is to crop the image if need be. After that, and I admit it took me a minute to figure out how to get from the crop screen to the painting screen – it’s the > on the top right (as you can see in the images below) – the image is rendered as a painting. In the photos below you’ll see the original version of the photo I painted on the left and the painted version on the right. Continue reading
Title:’ Party Party
Cost: ‘ $.99
If you‘re anything like me, you probably have so many photography apps that you sometimes call your phone a camera by mistake.’ The trouble with such a bounty is that each app usually offers a singular use or function, forcing you to thumb through all the options for each photo op.
The Party Party app cuts through some of that cumbersome decision-making by offering an easy way to take and edit single photos, or take sequential photos that can be formatted as a photo booth collage or stitched together to create stop-motion animations.’ In essence, you get three apps in one.