Review: Amazon Kindle apps for Mac, Android, iPad #fail

Wednesday, 15 February, 2012

I am very disappointed with my Amazon Kindle apps for Mac, Android, iPad and I am giving them a big #fail !!!

Destroyed Highlights & Notes

After the recent Amazon Kindle app update, all my pages and pages of highlights and notes are lost! And after some googling, this problem has been around for months! I am one of those readers that add lots of markups and notes to books I read so that I can go back to interesting passages months and years later. To me, a blank new book is pretty much pointless because I can always get a new unmarked book (or an unmarked ebook) from the book store!

Poorly designed and unreasonably slow UI

The User Interfaces of Amazon Kindle apps for Mac, Android, iPad have been poorly designed and thought out. When you select something on the top 1/3 of a page to add notes/highlight, the menu blocks the next few lines. And then to make matter worst, a simple highlight can take not 2, not 3, not 4 seconds to complete! It has taken 21, yes, TWENTY-ONE beeping seconds to highlight a few line of text! What the beep is going on with the Amazon Kindle app when there is nothing running on my Mac (with nothing else running, right after a restart)?

I haven’t got around to complain to Amazon to try to get the lost notes back (I have synced to the Amazon cloud) but I am not optimistic. Until and unless Amazon fix its bugs, admit to these problems and improve its apps, I don’t think I would buy another e-book from Amazon.

I am surprised to see Kindle out for so long when these apps with simple and minimum functions being so buggy and unreliable! Feel free to share your Kindle app experiences.

Update: After a day of missing highlights & notes, they seem to be back on the ebook on the Mac Kindle app now. But the highlights and notes are still missing on the Kindle Android app and the sync didn’t sync the notes!

Update 2: Some notes are back on both Mac and Android apps. Unforunately, some notes in some chapters are missing! Beep!


Guardian’s iPad Eyewitness app – Love it!

Saturday, 23 April, 2011

I’ve been using the Guardian’s iPad Eyewitness app for a while and I love it!. Here is a YouTube demo of the app by a photographer. [HT Guardian eyewitness]

Here is another explanation.


iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese speech-to-speech translation app

Saturday, 5 March, 2011

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation - Pix 2

What is Jibbigo?

Jibbigo is a “speech-to-speech translation app for your mobile device. You talk in one language, it talks back in the other. [...] No data charges required–just your voice. Jibbigo is available in eight different language pairs on iTunes and the Android Market.

Apple iPad app:  “Jibbigo ” (link to iTune)

Price: US$ 24.99

Star rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

*** Background ***

Machine translation is a very difficult problem even for desktop/large computers. I see translation in three levels of difficulties, beginning with the hard problem of text-to-text translation, then speech-to-text translation, and the toughest one is speech-to-speech translation (the one Jibbigo tries to do). Why? Because speech-to-speech translation requires,

1) the original (e.g. English/Chinese) human voice be recognized and converted correctly into (English/Chinese) text;

2) the translation of recognized text into target language text (Chinese/English) be performed correctly (very hard in itself); and

3) the translated target text being read out in the target language correctly (should be easier but not always as you will see here).

I’ve spent days and many hours testing and exploring the Jibbigo iPad app (feeling like testing software in one of my previous jobs). The following is my review plus an edited video highlighting some of the tests I’ve conducted.

*** The Good/OK ***

* Translation of simple greetings (“Good morning.”, “Good Afternoon.” etc) were done correctly most of the time.

* Some simple English sentences were picked up and translated to Chinese correctly.

(e.g. “How much?” ==> “多少钱?”; “How about two million five hundred thousand dollars?” was translated to “2500000美元怎样?” (note: ; 2500000 was read as 2 million, 500 thousands); “Do you have orange juice?” ==> “有橙汁吗?”; “I live in Canada.” ==> “我住在加拿大。”)

* Jibbigo allows user to enter names and their Chinese translations. For example, I entered my name Kempton and my name in Chinese. Jibbigo was able to recognize my name “Kempton” in English and translated it to Chinese. Unfortunately, Jibbigo failed to pronounce my Chinese name correctly. More on this in the next section.

* Some simple sentences were translated somewhat correctly.

(e.g. “What time do I need to get up in the morning?” was translated to “我想要什么时候起床?” The translation missed the word “morning” “早晨/早上” and confused “need to” with “想要” (the word for “wish to”).

“Where can I rent a car?” was translated to “我在哪能租车吗?” . This Chinese translation is understandable but a better one may be “我在哪里可以租到车?” since the “吗” at the end is not really necessary. And being the picky me, I think “哪里可以” is stylistically better than “哪能”.

* To “protect” the user :), Jibbigo won’t display or translate profanities. So if you said “F*ck off!”, the Jibbigo will show it detected/picked up “<beep> off.” and actually create a beep and display “<beep>.” instead of doing any Chinese translation!

*** The Bad/Not-so-good ***

* The simple sentence of “Do you have steak?” was translated to the non-sensical “你有排怎么做?” instead of the correct one of “你有牛排吗?”.

“I am having steak for dinner.” was incorrectly translated to “我的牛排吗。”, missing the word/idea of “dinner” and adding the question word “吗” for no good reason. A better translation may be “我的晚餐是牛排。” or  “我吃牛排晚餐。”

* “The machine part number is 123456789.” was translated to “这个机器号码是123456789分。” The last word “分” is not needed and indeed confusing and misleading.

* “How much is your machine?” was badly translated to “你是多少钱?” meaning “How much are YOU?” Jibbigo missed the important word of “machine”. A better translation is “你的机器是多少钱?”

* “I need it next month.” was incorrectly translated to “我需要它。” missing the translation for “next month”. A better translation may be “我下个月需要它。”

* I think this one may be tough but important to crack. Jibbigo has problems with proper nouns. e.g. “China Airlines.” was translated to “中国航空公司。” when the proper Chinese name for this Taiwan-based airline is “中華航空公司”. Imagine, someone at the airport trying to fly “中国航空公司” and being told there is no such airline!

“How about two million Canadian dollars?” was badly translated to “加2500000美元吗?”, misplacing the word “加” (for Canada?) and missing the fact that it is “Canadian dollars” and not US dollars “美元”. The correct translation should be “2500000加元怎样?”

* When the Chinese tester said hello and her Chinese name (which was entered into Jibbigo), the app picked up, “你好。我交换怀孕。” and translated the words to, “Hello. I am exchange.” Jibbigo goofed badly because “交换” and “怀孕” are the words for “exchange” and “pregnant”, very far off from her name!

* “Bee” was translated as “啤酒”, the words for “beer”! The correct Chinese words for bee are “蜜蜂”.

* And for some strange reason, Jibbigo failed to translate the following list of words when they were said individually. “Talk, Speak, Speaking, Love, Month,

*** Software stability problems and errors ***

* When iPad went into sleep/auto-lock mode (I set my iPad to go to sleep in 5 minutes) while Jibbigo is running, it will crash and will fail to record voice/function properly when the iPad is woken up.

*** Concluding comments ***

As a computer geek and someone who wants to see Jibbigo‘s technology working, I am disappointed to find Jibbigo failed to work as advertised. Based on my extensive testing, I cannot recommend Jibbigo. And as one Jibbigo user commented in his review, “I wouldn’t dare use this on a trip for fear of getting laughed at or smacked!“. To be truthful, I don’t think he was being excessively harsh.

I think the Jibbigo English to Chinese translation app development team needs to spend some time in resolving the various translation and stability problems in the current version of the software (Jan 21, 2011, Version 1.12226). I wish the Jibbigo team the best of luck.

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation - Pix 3

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation - Pix 4

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation - Pix 5

P.S. The user can choose one of two language pairs, “English International <==> Chinese” or “English USA/Canada <==> Chinese”, I picked Canadian English.

iPad app review: Jibbigo English to Chinese translation


iPad app review: Moving Tales’ Unwanted Guest

Thursday, 3 March, 2011

Moving Tales' Unwanted Guest - pix 1Moving Tales' Unwanted Guest - pix 2

Apple iPad app:  ”Unwanted Guest

Price: US$ 4.99

Star rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Unwanted Guest“ is great story and wonderfully designed app by the creative people at Moving Tales. The story about a poor old man, down on his luck and living in a tumbledown house, is visited by an unwelcome house guest was very engaging that I ended up finishing the app/book in one reading! The animations are beautifully imagined, stunningly designed and rendered. The English, French, and Spanish voice-over all sounded very engaging and worked great with the story. I can imagine some parents using the foreign languages option to teach their children one or more of the languages. I highly recommend you check out ”Unwanted Guest“.

By the way, if you haven’t seen Moving Tales‘s first story app ”The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross“, have a look of my 2010 August app review and you may want to get that app too. By now, I have seen and reviewed producer/director/animator Matthew Talbot-Kelly’s Moving Tales team of creative people’s last two out of three story apps and they are setting very high standard for the industry!

The following is a promotional clip of the app from Moving Tales.


Robert Louis Stevenson 160th Birthday – Treasure Island FlyingWord iPad app

Friday, 12 November, 2010

FlyingWord - Treasure Island - pix 1

Thanks to Google, we learned that today is the 160th birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Well, as it happened, a few days ago, I posted my FlyingWord Treasure Island iPad app review and my interview with Joe Weber FlyingWord CEO about their Treasure Island iPad app. Check them out.

Nov 15 Update: Here is a link to the Treasure Island app on iTune.


Joe Weber FlyingWord CEO interview – “Treasure Island” iPad app

Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

FlyingWord - Treasure Island - pix 2

The following are video clips of my Skype video interview with Joe Weber, CEO and co-founder of FlyingWord, to talk about their Treasure Island iPad app based on the classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. (beautifully narrated for about 7 hours)

Also check out my FlyingWord “Treasure Island” iPad app review.

Here are part 1 of my interview with Joe.

Part 2

Part 3

Here is a promotional clip of FlyingWord’s Treasure Island,


iPad app review: FlyingWord’s “Treasure Island”

Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

FlyingWord - Treasure Island - pix 1

The following is a review of the pre-release version of FlyingWord Treasure Island iPad app. And I will post my video interview with Joe Weber, CEO and co-founder of FlyingWord, later.

***

Apple iPad app: “Treasure Island” by FlyingWord based on the classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Price: $7.99

Launch date: Nov 13, 2010

Promotional clip of FlyingWord’s Treasure Island

Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Pros

- Lively and very engaging narration of the original full-length classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. (beautifully narrated for about 7 hours)

- Excellent music and sound effects at the right places.

- Historical original Treasure Island illustrations by N. C. Wyeth and Walter Paget.

- Nicely rendered 2D illustrations into “3D projections”, camera angle controllable by readers. [Note: the 3D here is not real Avatar 3D, but closer to what Ken Burns does with his "layers" of photos in a scene.]

- Some of the pages have objects for readers to play with. For sure to check out the cannon. (These objects have “physics engines” behind them to allow users to move them around.)

Cons

- The initial version of the app has a few bugs that I’ve reported to FlyingWord.

-The app has problems waking up from “sleep” or “auto-lock” modes. Narration fails to restart gracefully. In a few instances, waking up after sleep actually tripped the narration and it got stuck in repeating a word/sound.

- If the reader flip to a page where part of the text in the paragraph is in the previous page, the narration will read from the text in the previous page. This result can be very confusing for the readers as they may not know this is the “expected behaviour”. To me, readers may expect when flipping to a new page, the narration will match the text she/he reads on the page.

- Many of the objects are a bit too small and difficult to control.
+ e.g. in the breakfast scene (bottle is ok, but the egg, plate, and sword are difficult to manipulate)
+ in the scene with the apple barrel, the barrel can be easily moved but the apples are not controllable even though the readers will likely spend time to try to move it. It may be more enjoyable if the apples are made bigger and controllable by readers like the barrel.

- This one is technical. Currently, the space outside of the edges of the 2D to 3D projections are blank (set to black space). I think it will look nicer and gives a more immersive experience if the whole background are filled and readers won’t see black space around the edges of the original 2D frames.

Comments:

As discussed in the Pros section, the narration is lively and very engaging and I really love it. At the same time, the app may have been a bit ambitious in using the full-length original Treasure Island in its launch version. The good news is that an abridged free update will be released in a few weeks after the initial launch. To me, the abridged version with shorter audio (~1.5 hour long) and text will be a nicer fit for kids who will appreciate the physics engines games and 2D-to-3D effects more.

To write this review, I also found and checked out a LibriVox free audio book version of Treasure Island on the app store and it has the original text and the audio is reasonably good but definitely not as exciting/engaging as FlyingWord‘s version.

FlyingWord - Treasure Island - pix 2

Coming Soon

FlyingWord‘s next book is ‘Twas the night before Christmas (tentative price: about $4.99).


Pedlar Lady is Apple iPad App of the week for US & Canada

Thursday, 19 August, 2010

Pedlar Lady - iPad App of the week for US & Canada (Aug 19, 2010)

I am excited to report the really cool Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross app is,

Apple iPad app of the week in US and Canada!

#1 on iTunes Canada Top Paid iPad Book Apps.

- #2 on U.S. iTunes store – top paid AND top grossing iPad books.

Check out my review of the Pedlar Lady iPad app. And my video interview with Matthew Talbot-Kelly, director and producer of the app, to talk about the app.

Congrats Matthew, really happy for you and your team!

Pedlar Lady - iPad App description

Cinematic iPad storytelling app review: “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross”


Matthew Talbot-Kelly “The Trembling Veil of Bones” interview

Tuesday, 10 August, 2010

Matthew Talbot-Kelly interviews (Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross iPad app & The Trembling Veil of Bones animation)

Matthew Talbot-Kelly (imdb), director & producer of the animated short film “The Trembling Veil of Bones” and creator of the “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross” iPad app, is an animator that was trained in architecture. In the following Skype video interview, I chatted with Matthew about how his knowledge of architecture influences his animations, why he decided to find an actor to play Bones, the story’s protagonist, the meanings of some of the images in the film, and more. Enjoy.

The following are clips produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

THE TREMBLING VEIL OF BONES (MAKING OF)

THE TREMBLING VElL OF BONES: INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR MATTHEW TALBOT-KELLY


iPad app interview: Matthew Talbot-Kelly “Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross”

Tuesday, 10 August, 2010

Matthew Talbot-Kelly interviews (Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross iPad app & The Trembling Veil of Bones animation)

Aug 19, 2010 update: Pedlar Lady is Apple iPad App of the week for US & Canada

***

It was a lot of fun chatting with Matthew Talbot-Kelly (imdb), director & producer of the Apple iPad app “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross” (see app review here).

Matthew got the idea to develop an iPad app right after watching Steve Jobs first demoed the iPad online (in late Jan 2010). After watching Jobs’ demo, Matthew concluded Jobs “didn’t really have the killer app” for iPad and demoed uses were things people could already do with their computers. Soon after the Jobs’ demo, Matthew took one of his animation projects (one previously pitched as a short film) and pitched it again, but this time as an iPad app. And Matthew was able to quickly find an interested Vancouver investor. A note to creative people out there: sometimes your prior creative ideas/efforts can generate result in unexpected places at a later time, you never know if you keep your eyes open.

Pedlar Lady is a story based on an 800 years old poem and this story has many variants around the world. Matthew turned to his partner Jacqueline Rogers and asked her to write and transform the story into a story telling text that is playful, magical, dynamic and alive at the same time. The time it took to create the iPad app is hard to determine because it included a long process of research & development to figure out what are possible or not possible in the current iOS software development kit 4. There are more technical discussions in the video interview.

The animation artists involved int app development are experienced 3D or 2D animators, so animated objects are 3 dimensional and are in prospective. Take a look of the included promotional clip to see what the animations in the app looks like.

The creation of the Pedlar Lady was the beautiful result of an international effort with Matthew and his partner based in Gibson, BC and other collaborators working from Ireland, New Brunswick, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, South Africa, London, Mexico, Peru, Finland, etc.

The following are the videos of my interesting Skype video chat with Matthew. Enjoy.

Here is a promotional clip of “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross” iPad app


Cinematic iPad storytelling app review: “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross”

Monday, 9 August, 2010

Cinematic iPad storytelling app review: “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross”

Aug 19, 2010 update: Pedlar Lady is Apple iPad App of the week for US & Canada

***
The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross” is a beautifully designed cinematic iPad storytelling app published by Moving Tales. Make sure you check out the enclosed promotional clip of the Pedlar Lady app so you can see some samples of the beautifully rendered images/animations.

Apple iPad app:  “The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross

Price: US$ 4.99

Star rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Pros:

* Beautifully and cinematically 3D rendered moving images that go along well with an engaging story. Matthew Talbot-Kelly, producer and director of the iPad app, is also a very experienced animator and you can totally tell from the stunning animations. Even the “cover” of the story app contains a 3D fly through to the Pedlar Lady’s house. (see clip)

* Beautifully recorded sound effects and narration.

* Users can also select the Spanish text and Spanish narration option. And the Spanish narration also sounds great. Potentially a great tool to teach children Spanish.

* The narration can be turned off so the story can be read by a parent or grandparent out loud with the sound effects playing in the background.

Cons:

I subtracted 0.5 star for the following:

* At the moment, the app doesn’t have interactive elements. Some of the pages (e.g. one page has many bottles hanging on the tree) are perfect candidates for adding interactive elements for user to touch/move and make sound or interact. (According to Moving Tales, this combination is technically not possible yet.)

* As part of this review, I discovered and reported a bug that stops the animations. Restarting the app may fix the problem, and rebooting the iPad should fix it. I’ve reported the conditions that can trigger this bug to Matthew, he has promised a bug fix and possibly some additional enhancements in the next update. (see my Skype video interview with Matthew).

[latest update from Matthew: a bug fixed version (v 1.01) was submitted to the app store last week, they are now waiting for Apple to approve it.]

[Aug 16, 2010 Update: version v 1.01 has been approved by Apple. The above identified bug has been fixed. Added new sound effects. Improved application stability.]

Recommendation:

Highly recommended. Great experience for much less than the price of almost all children books. Moving Tales, a Gibson BC based Canadian company, has done a wonderful job in creating a Cinematic iPad storytelling app for all to enjoy. Of local interest, the iPad app programming for the Pedlar Lady is done by a Calgary based programmer.

The official site of Moving Tales says it well, “How does Moving Tales bring stories to life?

  • sophisticated 3D animation on every page
  • original music, voice over and sound effects
  • animate the text using the iPad’s accelerometer
  • Cover Flow-like navigation
  • page swipe or tap for page turning
  • auto page turning option
  • sound effects only sound option
  • compelling narrative
  • randomly selected alternate views and extras to ensure no two viewings alike
  • sophisticated and dynamic typographic layout
  • evocative poetic language
  • Spanish option—choose to hear and display the story in Spanish as well as English”

App inventor for Android in action

Wednesday, 28 July, 2010

For more read Jeff.


Apple Kicks Out Chinese App Developer

Thursday, 10 December, 2009

WSJ Blogs,

“An Apple spokeswoman says it removed Molinker from the App Store “for falsifying product reviews and violating the terms of the iPhone Developer Agreement.” Efforts to reach Molinker for comment were unsuccessful.”

[via Julia]


GQ as an iPhone App

Wednesday, 21 October, 2009

After reading the AdAge article “Conde Nast Launches IPhone Platform With GQ App” (see attached), I suspect putting every page of the a GQ issue in an iPhone app with easy navigation to “watch related videos, hear audio and visit advertisers’ sites without leaving the app” is not something “wow” and “cool” enough to make regular iPhone app users to rush to download and try out an issue of GQ.

In short, I agree with AppGuy’s central ideas in the rather harsh and blunt comment (see below).

What I disagree with AppGuy is that I think it is important for Conde Nast to get its hands dirty in the iPhone platform as I believe in Andy Grove’s idea of “make mistakes faster”.

I am willing to bet a shiny Canadian Loonie (a Canadian dollar) that Conde Nast’s current GQ experiment will fail (may be even rather miserably). But so what?

Conde Nast may need to rethink, redesign, and re-imagine better user experience for its GQ iPhone Apps users. And failing at its first iteration is sometimes a necessary first step to get to something better. Only time will tell.

P.S. In all fairness to Conde and GQ, I am basing on my comments and critiques on what Conde President-CEO Mr. Charles H. Townsend said in a presentation to reporters. Hopefully Charles presented the best and most convincing bits, the “wow”s of the GQ iPhone app.

Nov 22, 2009 Update: Pretty informative review, here is an excerpt from “GQ for iPhone Previews Smarter Digi-Mag Approac

“The GQ app tries to sweeten the multimedia deal with a handful of extra photos for some features and two short video clips. If there is a glaring weakness to the app it is the obvious dearth of interactivity. There are no content-sharing mechanisms or even rudimentary bookmarking. On the one hand, the app tries to recreate the feel of a magazine environment, which is a worthy ambition. But on a digital platform, how insulated do we want to be? Without content sharing or customization of some kind the app lacks the personal feel that is vital to mobile content. Wouldn’t it be great if a user could turn an image from the magazine into his own iPhone wallpaper or send the page to his girlfriend to consider as his next birthday gift? Doesn’t a multimedia platform deserve at least an audio greeting from your friendly editor, perhaps some background music here and there? As a decade of “digital magazines” have already demonstrated handily, the concept of electronic facsimile can be overdone.

[...] GQ for iPhone is a smart first step toward re-imagining the magazine for digital. Its priorities still are weighted heavily toward older media and trying to capture that print feel on another platform. For now it is safe to say that recreating print in digital is more of a publisher’s fantasy than it is a demonstrated desire on the part of consumers. Only time, and perhaps larger display formats, will tell us whether readers will consider even a smarter digital magazine a welcome extension of a brand…or just a neat and disposable trick.

 

*******

For the record, here is the original AdAge article.

Conde Nast Launches IPhone Platform With GQ App -Downloadable $2.99 December Issue Paves Way for Future E-Reader Ambitions
by Nat Ives 
Published: October 20, 2009

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — Conde Nast is introducing a slick platform for selling, displaying and enhancing its titles’ regular print issues on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Issues rendered for the iPhone screen will sell as apps, starting with this December’s issue of GQ, priced at $2.99 in the app store.

Read the rest of this entry »


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