Archive for Apps & Mobile

Why Chromecast is the Best TV App in the House

chromecast-best-tv-appIt’s no surprise that the average living room has four remote control devices managing media and entertainment. That clutter is a mess and it also makes watching TV complicated. Anything to simplify that process is worth my attention and Google has done that with a very easy-to-use product called Chromecast. It’s the best TV app in my house right now and will only get better over time as new applications get developed for it. It gets two thumbs up from me for a number of reasons including price, it only cost $35. Here are five reasons why I think Chromecast is worth every penny.

  • Chromecast is small and unobtrusive. This little hardware device is the size of a thumbnail drive that plugs into the USB port on the computer. Instead, Chromecast plugs into the HDMI port on any smart TV. Unlike a bulky set-top box, it’s practically hidden from view. Set up is a bit challenging at first connecting to Wi-Fi and entering a passcode to activate the software, but it didn’t take me more than 15 minutes.
  • You can use your TV as a big computer monitor. Using my Chrome web browser, “casting” allows me to share photos, videos or whatever I have visible on the screen viewable on my TV. It’s almost like magic and I can’t believe it’s taken this long for a company to develop an easy way to connect your computer and TV.
  • Chromecast turns my phone and iPad into TV remote controls. This is my favorite way to use Chromecast because it’s built into video apps such as HBO Go, Netflix and YouTube. It’s my go-to TV remote these days because I can essentially perform on-demand TV viewing from my mobile devices and bypass the entire cable system interface, which is archaic and slow. TV remotes are on their way out and becoming extinct thanks to Chromecast.
  • Instant viewing without having to change the source on my TV. When I press the “play” button in an app or click the “cast” icon in my browser, content is sent to and displayed instantly on my TV. The HDMI source is activated within seconds even if I’m in a different TV source – it switches over immediately for viewing.
  • Vibrant HD wallpaper on my TV screen. The Chromecast desktop cycles through various images of gorgeous art and beautiful nature photography before and after playback. It’s a nice reminder that it’s “ready to cast.

If Chromecast continues to add new apps to more media channels and networks, I feel like cutting the (cable) cord would be much more possible for me. Until then, Chromecast definitely gives me better control of the TV interface and my viewing pleasure.

Discovery Tools for Better Living

Photo courtesy of JanneM

Now that we’ve comfortably slid into the New Year, many of us are thinking about making changes and implementing new practices to improve the quality of our lives. No matter who you are or what you do, it’s a perfect time to learn new skills, meet new people and set new goals. What better way to do that than to add some new tools to the online toolbox. It’s amazing how much inspiration can be found online if you know where to look. Skip the self-help websites and go for tools that you can use all year long.  Below are four of my favorites that I’ve found to be extremely effective, enlightening and even entertaining. So in the interest of better living, why not put these sites to work and make 2012 a year of increased knowledge, productivity and enjoyment.

Plancast – Want to increase your network and get active in your community? Just head on over to Plancast where you’ll find a list of events that are happening near you. The site is a fantastic resource for finding industry conferences, local gatherings and social activities that you may have missed otherwise.  The site has an integrated layer of community as well so users can find events that their friends and colleagues are attending, which makes going to them much more enjoyable.

Quora – Billed as a Q&A website, Quora, has amassed a huge network of subject matter experts in a relatively short time.  The site provides a simple platform for finding answers to complex business questions, technical issues and random inquiries where members rank the best entries. There’s also an option to follow questions so that you can receive notifications when new answers are added. The site recently increased the value quotient of the site with its new “boards” feature allowing users to compile content from elsewhere on the web.

Scribd – Whether you enjoy reading poetry, scientific findings or baking techniques, you’re bound to find what interests you at Scribd. Called the YouTube of printed materials, Scribd offers a vast array of online literature that never disappoints. Personally, I’m always finding content that either inspires me, educates me or both. If you’re a writer then you’ll definitely want to consider setting up an account to promote your work and share it with the community.

Udemy – Education is a lifelong process and with online learning tools like Udemy, it’s now just a click away. The site offers an assortment of courses ranging from the academic to the artistic; many are taught by leaders in their field.  The majority of classes are free of charge while some are nominal in price. Experts can teach others by becoming instructors and creating their own courses. Udemy’s mission is to disrupt and democratize education, and frankly, I believe they’re off to a great start.

 

Simple Social Media Automation with ifttt

The idea of pressing a button to make life easier has always been the catalyst for modern day conveniences. From sci-fi movies to the latest gadgets, automation can be quite sexy and compelling.  For example, take Apple’s recent announcement of Siri, its voice-activated iPhone assistant that promises to do everything but make your bed. Unfortunately, Siri won’t be available for a while so I want to talk about another social media automation tool that’s amassed a base of loyal fans in less than nine months. It’s called ifttt and it’s making little things happen online in a big way.

Screenshot from itfff.com

ifttt offers a super simple solution for combining two web services or online channels together through the creation of tasks. The acronym stands for “if this then that” and the concept is based on triggers and actions.  For example, I recently created a task that states if I publish a blog post here as my trigger, then the action will be to send a tweet out. Or I could have all new photos taken via instagram sent to my dropbox account. ifttt has roughly 25 channels in the portfolio at the moment including popular sites like Last.fm, LinkedIn, Weather.com and YouTube to name a few. However, what gives ifttt its cool factor is the addition of communication devices such as email, SMS and phone capabilities to the mix. You could set up an email or text message that alerts you to rain forecasts or perhaps a price drop in a stock you’re following. Talk about having your own virtual assistant.

For businesses, ifttt will help lessen the burden of content syndication among various social networks. Granted, social media automation will never replace authentic community engagement but it does have its place in the sun. As I see it, there are three main value propositions of automating social media tasks.  First, you can manage digital assets for better organization and not have to manually transfer files in between services. Second, you can communicate to multiple networks about recent activities without having to draft multiple notes. For me, this translates to increased productivity meaning more time I can devote to creating valuable content.  Third, you can automatically capture knowledge that’s being shared online for increased insights, which is always a good thing. And to think that we don’t even have to press a button to make these things happen is even more amazing.

I have to give Kudos to itfff for allowing members the option of publicly sharing tasks, which are called recipes. This was a smart move by the company since it can be seen as the viral component of the site. Members can scan recipes and quickly add tasks to their own account. I also recommend checking out Tested.com and their piece on the 10 Clever Ways to Automate your Online Life with ifttt.

If you’re interested in test driving ifttt, drop me your email address and I’ll send you an invite.

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