5 ways iCloud Drive will upgrade your life.

While iCloud has been a trusty storage companion for photos and documents, Apple’s recently announced iCloud Drive upgrades what we already know and love about the service. In today’s video, we take a look at five ways iCloud Drive will upgrade your life when Apple rolls out the enhanced service alongside iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite.

The popular iTranslate iOS app comes to the Mac.

iTranslate is a favorite tool of mine on iOS. Today iTranslate has made it to the Mac and has appeared in the Mac App Store at an introductory price U$4.99, half of what it normally costs.

iTranslate supports more than 80 languages and is accessible from the Mac menu bar. This is a very polished app, that displays pronunciations along with voice output so it’s actually possible to hear the words in your selected language.

The app allows you to define a keyboard shortcut to launch it, and it supports cut and paste as well as the built-in speech recognition in recent versions of OS X. An anchor icon at the upper left keeps the app window in the foreground.

iTranslate supports different dialects, and male and female voices. You can even control the speaking rate. The app also supports dictionaries for common words and phrases in many of the supported languages.

The app is generally easy to use, but when it launched all I saw was English to German translation. Users have to click on the flags (see images at the top of the post and in the slideshow) to see the list of other options. It wasn’t very obvious, but in retrospect I can see why they did this, as it keeps the GUI quite simple. There is detailed help available within iTranslate.

The app requires an internet connection because all the processing is done off your Mac, as would be expected.

The very similar Google Translate is also available for Mac users through any web browser, but I preferred the ease of use of iTranslate. Google’s translation capabilities are also accessible through some other apps in the Mac App Store like Quick Translate Pro for $1.99. and Translate Tab for $3.99.

iTranslate requires OS X 10.8 or later and a 64-bit processor. I liked this app; it is simple and powerful, and always a click away. Given the competition to the app, I think the $4.99 price is OK. The usual $10.00 price seems a bit steep given what else is available for free, even though iTranslate has a very deep feature set.

Tinker is a simple, interesting task manager for iPhone.

Tinker iPhone

Apple’s App Store has no shortage of task managers. Poke around and you’ll find options as involved or simplistic as you like. Last May, Tinker joined the fray (US$0.99), and I spent the last few days trying it out. It’s a simple, nice-looking app that will appeal to those like a certain style of working. Here’s my look at Tinker.

Tinker is based on timed tasks. You won’t find projects, actions, contexts or a detailed project history. Instead, Tinker lets you create per-task timers — as many as you like. A timer can be used immediately or at a later date and time. Once your designated time arrives, the app pings to get started.

To create a task, pinch-to-zoom. A circle appears, representing your task. There’s a minimum amount of information to be entered: title, start date & time, and finally duration. Tap a task once to start the timer, and again to pause it. Or, use what could have been my favorite feature: cover-to-pause.

Enable cover-to-pause in the settings and the app pauses the active timer(s) whenever the iPhone’s proximity sensor is covered. So, simply flip your iPhone face-side down to pause, and turn it over again to resume. It’s so easy and infinitely better than having to fiddle with buttons.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work consistently. Sometimes the feature would function properly, and sometimes I’d lift my phone, wake up the display and find that the timer had continued counting. At first I though my case was interfering: maybe the gap it created between the table surface and my iPhone was enough to mess with cover-to-pause. However, removing it didn’t fix the issue. That’s a big bummer and hopefully something the team will address. It negates what should be the app’s marquee feature.

Why would you use a task manager that uses timers exclusively? I thought of the Pomodoro Techniqueright away. In a nutshell, Pomodoro has you alternate timed work periods with timed rest periods. You could easily set a timer for 25 minutes, work the whole while, and then take a five-minute break. It’s also useful or exercising, writing, or ben taking a nap (as long as its modest end tone will rouse you!).

The app has a dark theme which is nice, but I suspect some users would appreciate a brighter alternative (myself included).

All in all, I like Tinker a lot, despite the cover-to-pause issue. It’s simple and useful. Give it a whirl.

Watch Dogs’ scary app puts the power of the NSA in your browser.

It's pretty, but all kinds of creepy, too.

If you think that the conceit behind Ubisoft’s hacker-themed video game Watch Dogs isn’t real enough, be sure to take a look at this website.

Watch_Dogs We Are Data takes real world, publicly-accessible location-based data and parses it into a display ripped directly from the video game of the same name. You can visit Berlin, Paris, or London, and zoom on down into the various regions of each city to see where mobile phones are, read tweets originating from specific spots, and see icons that represent CCTV feeds, traffic lights, and more.

If this doesn’t freak you out even just a little, then more power to you.

Each city shows off a host of data, including transportation, network nodes (internet relays, Wi-Fi hostpots), city infrastructure like ATMS and public toilets, and social networking data from sites like Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare and Flicker, each of which use location data to inform their activities.

You can even log in with Facebook to see which of your friends are on the site, though that’s probably just a way to get your account connected to the Ubisoft game servers. I didn’t see any of my friends in the list.

Watch_Dogs WeAreData only gathers the available location data from sources that it’s been given authorization by; there isn’t any information from non-authorized sources, like, say, from the government.

It’s a ton of fun to click through and see what’s going on in a city; I was able to pull up an Instagram photo of a woman in Berlin who was having a late meal of Falafel. It’s also a bit scary knowing that all this data exists, and how easily it must be for any government agencies or groups who wish us harm to gather the same data.

Of course, this is indeed a marketing website; I’m hard-pressed not to fire up my copy of Watch Dogs right now and run around the fictitious realities there, hacking into people’s phones and bank accounts. Here’s hoping it’s not that easy to do in the real world.

How WWDC students made an app that turns iPhones into a surround sound system.

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

While sitting in on a session at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference last year, Nick FreyChris Galzerano, and Veeral Patel got an itch to make something. As part of iOS 7, Apple had introduced “Multipeer Connectivity,” a framework for communicating with nearby devices.

Frey and his friends were at WWDC on student scholarships given by Apple, a tradition that provides the opportunity for hundreds of grade school and college students to attend the expensive conference for free each year.

Nearly a year later, the result of their shared itch is Audibly, a nifty iPhone app that can chain together iPhones to create a wireless sound system.

“We got up and left during the session from the front row because we were so excited to do something with the technology, and after some brainstorming this idea just came to us,” Frey told Cult of Mac, referring to when the idea for Audibly was born at WWDC last year.

By creating a peer-to-peer WiFi network that other iPhones can join, one person can play music from an iPhone and have it stream to all connected iPhones simultaneously. The host device acts as the broadcaster, and other devices join as listeners. Music needs to be locally stored on the broadcasting device for things to work smoothly.

One person can play music from an iPhone and have it stream to all connected iPhones simultaneously

“By the end of the week, we ended up having a really barebones prototype that played preinstalled songs with basically one device acting as a remote,” says Frey. “We demoed it to some engineers, and decided to keep going with the idea.”

Development of the app took longer than expected. But it gave the team an opportunity to dive into some of Apple’s core APIs and learn a lot about audio streaming, which Frey describes as an “immense learning experience.”

In an age where it seems like everything is connected via Bluetooth, it’s curious that Audibly works over WiFi. Frey and his team found that Bluetooth’s data transfer speeds are still not fast enough for streaming audio to multiple devices at once. But any iOS device that’s new enough to have a Lightning port can use peer-to-peer networking, which is much smoother for Audibly’s purpose.

At first glance, the idea behind the app, which launched in the App Store last month for free, seems a little gimmicky. But its creators and users have found some real use cases. Frey explains that one user plays the same music for he and his wife during their morning jog each day.

Frey lists a couple more scenarios where the app could come in handy. You could be sitting in class with headphones on and a group of people could listen to the same music from your iPhone. Long car rides with the family could be made more bearable by sharing music with your sibling in the backseat.

Get enough iPhones together in the right place, and Frey believes that Audibly could facilitate a party. “On a larger scale, you could output music to a line of cars with their stereos blaring and really make some noise.”

Free Jackery app provides iPhone battery insights.

Jackery, app, app store, battery meter, battery level, iPhoneJackery is best-known as a manufacturer of external battery packs; we’ve reviewed several of their products in the past, the Jackery Giant 10,400 mAh battery pack and the Jackery Leaf battery case for iPhone 5 and 5s. Now the company wants iPhone users to gain more insight into exactly how the batteries in their devices are using that precious power, and they’ve introduced a free Jackery app today that does just that.

There are four main features in the app:

  • It monitors your battery consumption day and night, 24/7
  • It accurately estimates just how much time you have left on your device
  • It notifies you when it might be a good time to plug your iPhone into a wall socket or a Jackery (or other) battery pack
  • It’s full of hints on how to maintain your battery for extended usage and longer life

Upon launching the app, you’re immediately greeted with the Monitor screen. It shows you the remaining percentage of energy stored in your battery, the remaining time estimated before your device runs out of charge, and when the battery level will drop below 50 percent and 20 percent. It will also give you an estimate of what time to charge your iPhone again.

Note that it takes the app a little while to track usage and start displaying the estimates. I found that when my iPhone 5s reached about 90 percent charge level, the remaining time and time estimates for various levels of power appeared on the app display. I was unable to get the app to show me the usage report, simply because I hadn’t used it during a full charge/discharge cycle. I look forward to seeing my usage profile over time, primarily because it will tell me what apps and times of day seem to be the most draining for my iPhone 5s.

There’s a button to get you into a community window with a chat room, coupons for discounts on Jackery products, and more. The app requires users to either log in via Facebook or create a Jackery account in order to take advantage of the community.

The monitoring settings can be tweaked by the iPhone user to provide notification at other set levels of charge. For example, if I’ve noticed that things really start to get wonky with my iPhone at about a 10 percent charge level, I can set my own notification.

I found it rather interesting that the percentage level shown by the built-in iOS battery meter and the Jackery app did vary a bit, with the app being a bit more conservative (i.e., lower) in its readings. I’m not sure which is more accurate…

The app looks great and the price is definitely right. If you’re an inveterate battery-level watcher like I am, you’ll want to install the Jackery app as soon as possible.

Free Sleep Sounds – get some shut-eye or relax with this free app.

Free Sleep Sounds (free!) joins a pretty crowded field of apps designed to help you sleep, relax or meditate.

The app contains 25 well-recorded environments in stereo in categories like Ocean, Rivers and Streams, Wind, Fire, Birds and more. A unique feature is the ability to created blended mixes of any of up to six tracks, so you could hear wind along with the crickets. The app can run in the background.

Free Sleep Sounds also shows you some nice images taken around the world to accompany the sounds. There is a sleep timer, and the tracks nicely fade out so they are not jarring.

I tried Free Sleep Sounds with headphones as well as on a Bluetooth Stereo speaker, and found the audio quality quite good. Using this ad-supported app is easy enough, but it has the most intrusive and obnoxious ad placement I have seen in years. The screen bounces with notifications, and many of the ads are animated and distracting. It is the LAST thing I would want to see in an app designed to help me relax. If you look at the screen at all, anxiety replaces any soothing effects the soundscapes are designed to create. At times I wanted to throw my iPhone out the nearest window.

The same developer offers a paid app that is actually a pretty good deal. While it is on sale for US$0.99, Sleep Sounds HQ offers more than 600 relaxing sounds. Some of the categories are a bit weird, like Industrial and Trains; not the kinds of soundscapes I would think of first if I needed to get some rest. Still, there is so much to choose from and the lack of ads makes Sleep Sounds HQ seem the better deal.

I would suggest trying the free app and see if you like the sounds and features; if you do, migrate to the paid version. I am sure that was the developer’s intention in the first place…

My favorite sleep/relaxation app is still Naturespace. It’s a free app with a lot of in-app purchases, but the audio is first rate, and the free version has some great soundscapes. Naturespace is designed for headphone listening and has special settings for earbud listeners, but it sounds fine over external speakers.

Sleep Sounds and Naturespace both provide natural sounds, which I prefer to synthesized soundscapes. Free Sleep Sounds requires iOS 6 or later. It’s not universal, and it is optimized for the iPhone 5.