Electronic Design

Smart Phones And Tablets Get The Best Apps

Personal computers and laptops were the software darlings for decades. They remain the mainstay for many applications, and billions of platforms are used daily.

The problem is that smart phones and tablets are the new targets for the latest and greatest software. Many of these applications are exclusive to those devices, even though they may be equally useful on a PC or laptop.

For example, Taptu and Pulse News by Alphonso Labs are RSS (Really Simple Syndication) or news feed aggregator applications (Fig. 1). They take summaries of articles and podcasts from the Web and display them in a compact, tiled layout. Readers then can scan a lot of information quickly.

1. The Pulse News app from Alphonso Labs runs on a range of smart phones including Apple’s iPhone plus tablets but not on PCs or laptops.

Some RSS reader applications run on the PC under Windows and Linux. Many of them are add-ins for browsers like Firefox and Internat Explorer. One of my favorites is Sage. I tend to use its sidebar display with a list of titles that is very compact but not as visual as Taptu or Pulse (Fig. 2).

2. Sage is an RSS/news feed reader add-on for the Firefox Web browser.

Sage can open a folder including a list of RSS feeds in their own tabs, but it’s not nearly as compact or easy to read. I would like to have a PC browser plug-in for the Pulse or Taptu.

Some Web sites provide this kind of consolidation. However, I haven’t found one I like yet. There is also the issue of formatting with a browser interface. HTML5 will help, but at this point dedicated apps or add-ins typically provide a cleaner and snappier interface.

Smart Application Design

Even e-readers have an edge. One of the little known features of Amazon’s original Kindle, and subsequent versions, is its ability to present the table of contents of an e-book in a more compact format that is easier to navigate.

The default presentation that the typical e-reader application presents looks like a table of contents in outline form. This is actually reasonable but not necessarily optimal.

The Kindle changes the layout so the top-level items are on the left side of the screen and sub-items of the currently selected item are listed on the right side. Only text is included in the list of contents, but this is reasonable for an e-reader. Plus, the navigation is amenable to the buttons available on the Kindle. It is surprisingly easy to scan an e-book version of the newspaper.

Of course, the Kindle Fire is a tablet. It can display these e-book newspapers, but it also can run the Taptu/Pulse apps.

The Finances Of Apps

One issue related to applications is cost. There are many free applications for PCs, but many commercial applications are rather pricey. Likewise, there are free applications for smart phones and tablets, though the average price is significantly lower.

The other aspect of smart-phone and tablet apps is their scope. Most are compact, limited-function applications, whereas PC applications tend to be larger and growing steadily due to feature creep.

Actually, cost and scope may be a matter of platform capability and age. Microsoft’s Windows RT for Arm platforms common on smart phones and tablets may incorporate Microsoft Office RT, comparable to Microsoft Office found on laptops and PCs. Microsoft is also moving to an app store distribution model.

I already have a collection of smart phones, tablets, and e-readers, and I don’t plan on discarding my laptops or PCs. There are just too many things that three screens, a keyboard, and a mouse can do that do not work on the small screen. Now if all these platforms would just work together nicely!

TAGS: Components
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