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AnyTAG NFC Launcher

A few weeks back I wrote a post explaining how I’ve been using NFC Tags to automate tasks on my Android phone. A new app, AnyTAG NFC Launcher, takes a different approach accomplish the same end.

NFC Task Launcher from TagStand writes tasks to blank tags. Anyone with an NFC equipped Android phone and the app can tap that tag, read the information and perform the tasks. AnyTAG NFC Launcher doesn’t write anything to the tag, in fact, it can use anything that has an NFC tag in it. Every NFC tag has a unique ID programmed into it that can’t be changed, AnyTAG reads that ID and uses it as a trigger to perform predetermined tasks.

Think about it this way. TagStand’s app is like writing out a list of instructions on a piece of paper and posting it somewhere. Anyone can walk up and follow the instructions. AnyTag NFC Launcher looks at the list as a whole but doesn’t care what’s written on it. After identifying the list it follows its own list of instructions that were written separately.

The advantage of this approach is that you can use anything with an embedded NFC tag as a trigger. Things like door access cards, some credit cards, transit passes and lots of other things contain tags. I was able to program it to perform the following functions when I tap my phone to the access badge I use for my office.

Nothing happens to my badge in the process, it’s simply a trigger. The badge contains an NFC chip that can’t be written to, but is normally read by a pad placed by the doors in my office to allow access to the building.

The downside of this approach is that the instructions are stored only on my phone. I can set up complex sets of tasks but only my phone will execute them on the swipe. Someone else could use the same tag as a trigger, but it would require them to set up their own task list in their phone.

I’m excited about the possible uses for Near Field Communications. I’ll continue to play with new devices and applications as they come out and pass the information on.

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Apps for Real Life

Having a Smart Phone is great, right? But aside from telephone calls and texting, does it really make your average day any easier? When you’re done checking Facebook and playing Words with Friends, try out some apps that may actually make your life a bit easier.

Notes & Lists

Are you an obsessive list maker? Do you have notes strewn about your office, house and car?

For general note taking, I’ve found EverNote to be very useful. With EverNote, you can create plain text notes, checklists, snapshot notes with your camera and even record quick voice notes. Everything is synced to EverNote’s servers so you can access them from any mobile device, Windows PC, Mac or anything with a web browser. The free service is limited by the amount of monthly synchronization that you do. I’ve used it fairly regularly for several years on a free account and I’ve never come close to the limit. Microsoft OneNote is another app with very similar features.

Out of Milk focuses on lists. It was specifically designed for making shopping lists. Create a list before you go to the store by entering what you need, the app will even scan barcodes on your food items using the phone’s camera. Success with scanning can be hit or miss, but it’s still a cool feature. You can share lists among family members and update them on any device or from the web site so that everyone is working off of the same shopping list.

Documents & Files

My Reference Files

Google Drive, the recently renamed Google Docs, is a full-fledged Office Suite.. It can create, edit and store documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more. Granted, working on a complex spreadsheet with a 4″ touch screen isn’t the best arrangement, but it’ll do in a pinch. The files are all stored on Google servers so they are available from any device. Drive can also be used to store almost any file even if you can’t edit it with the app. The service is free but is limited to 5GB of storage. More storage is available for a fee.

If you simply want to synchronize files and folders between all of your mobile devices and computers, check out DropBox. You’ll get a limited amount of space for free and more when you get friends to sign up. You can, of course, pay for more storage.

Shopping & Finance

Shopping is the main focus of Amazon‘s mobile app. But you can also scan any product’s barcode to perform a search against

Shopping Bag, Orange

Amazon’s online store. I feel a little guilty standing in a store, scanning products and buying them from Amazon, but I get over it pretty quickly

PayPal is widely accepted as the standard for online payments. By using the mobile app, you can easily pay someone back for lunch when you’re out of cash.

Almost every bank has a mobile app these days, use yours to check balances and transfer funds between accounts. Mint is a free mobile and web-based app from Intuit that allows you to monitor all of your accounts in one place. Mint can access most banks, investment companies and credit card companies. Use it to set budgets and remind you when you’re getting close to going over budget.

Manage your stack of rewards cards with KeyRing. Use the built-in scanner to enter all of your rewards cards. I’ve had very limited success with stores being able to scan the barcode from my phone, but they can always enter the number manually.

I hope that I’ve helped you make better use of the investment that you’ve made in your Smart Phone. Let me know what apps make your life easier and I’ll check them out!

 

iPhone to Android.

 

I’ve been an iPhone user for the last four years, having had both an iPhone 3Gs and 4S after several years as a BlackBerry user. All of those phones were company issued, but with my most recent job change, I had to purchase a phone and decided to give Android a spin around the block.

I’m sort of married to AT&T at the moment as both my son and wife’s phones are with them. AT&T’s current flagship Android phones are the Samsung Galaxy SIII and the HTC One X. The specifications of the two devices are very similar with the SIII edging out the One X with more RAM, a removable battery and the ability to add a MicroSD card. Ultimately though, I settled on the One X as it was $100 cheaper, felt better constructed, I liked HTC’s interface and it was $100 cheaper.

I was initially put off by how large the phone is, but after a few hours of use, it feels just fine. By comparison, the iPhone’s screen now feels positively tiny. The One X is quite a bit more slim than the iPhone which makes up for the added dimensions elsewhere. It also feels much lighter.

Design wise, the One X is sleek. There are no physical buttons on the face, only the touch screen and three touch “buttons” at the bottom. The lack of the iPhone’s physical home button was initially hard to adjust to, but I no longer miss it. The only odd physical feature of the One X is the bulge on the back that houses the camera lens. I worried about scratching the lens when sitting the phone down, adding a case made me feel much better.

For most of us, the usefulness of a smartphone comes down to the availability of the apps that we use. I’ve had little or no problem finding what I need to accomplish the same tasks on Android that I did on the iPhone. Many applications that I use, like Evernote, DropBox, eBay, Amazon, Facebook, etc. have versions made specifically for Android. For those that don’t have a direct counterpart, I was able to find suitable substitutes with relative ease. The Android app market has recently been bundled with Google’s music, movie and book sales sites under the Google Play name. Google does not adhere to the same ultra tight controls that Apple does when it comes to app developers, so there’s definitely some garbage apps out there. Make sure that you read reviews before you buy!

The ability to customize your experience is vast with Android. Don’t like the look of the SMS (texting) app? Download a different one. Don’t like the mail app? Same thing.

One feature that I enjoy with Android is the use of Widgets. Widgets are applications that are always running on the desktop of the phone. They can display live information like weather, your Twitter feed or Facebook timeline. Be careful though, running too many can sap your battery quickly!

I am a bit disappointed in the battery life on the One X. I ended up purchasing JuiceDefender to help manage battery usage. It does this by turning your radios off while the screen is off in order to save battery life. When the screen turns itself off, the app turns wifi, bluetooth and mobile data off. You can still receive phone calls and texts and the app will turn data on at set intervals to check for email and other internet based communications.

One thing that Apple has done well that Android hasn’t quite nailed yet is the way that they manage music. Much of the technology in iPhones is shared with the iPod products, and it’s hard to deny that iPods dominate the music player market. Syncing music to and from an Android phone and playing that music is a bit clumsier and less refined than with an iOS device. It’s not horrible, just not as intuitive.

All in all, I feel that it comes down to personal taste. By controlling both the hardware and software, Apple has always been known for products that just work and that’s true with the iPhone, it works and works well. That reliability sometimes comes at the cost of limiting what can be done with the device. Android is far more open and customizable, but that can carry the price of being a bit unpredictable. Apple can be slow to introduce the latest features like LTE, Near Field Communications (NFC), etc. while the flagship Android phones usually have more up to date hardware goodies.

I’m happy with my decision to switch. I still have iOS devices to play with, so this won’t be my last post about Apple.

 

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