Voxer: free walkie talkie app for smartphones

(For those of you addicted to the podcast, don’t worry! It’s not over yet. I haven’t had a chance to make any more episodes lately but I will resume shortly.)

I often talk to people about Voxer, a free app for smartphones that I find incredibly useful. I am going to describe it in a little more detail, because the official website can be slightly confusing.

The short version: Voxer is a free walkie-talkie app. But that’s just part of the story. Whereas a traditional walkie-talkie, by definition, requires that all parties involved are ‘tuned in’ at the same time, Voxer doesn’t have that requirement, and mixes live broadcasting with traditional audio messaging.

This sets it apart from any other app that supports voice messages, such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and whatnot. With those, a 3-minute message requires a 6-minute turnaround time, minimum: 3 minutes for the sender to record it and 3 minutes for the receiver to listen to it, plus whatever time it takes to transmit it. There’s no way around it, as the message needs to be fully delivered in order to be played, and it needs to be fully recorded in order to be delivered in the first place.

Voxer takes a completely different approach. Person A starts recording a message (with no set duration) and Person B receives a notification immediately. At this point, one of three things can happen:

  • Person B already has the Voxer app open when Person A starts talking: the message is played live, with no delay.
  • Person B has the Voxer app closed and only opens it only when Person A is done talking: the message is stored and is essentially a voicemail.
  • Person B opens the Voxer app for instance 1 minute into the recording: Person B starts playing the message form the beginning while Person A keeps recording; of course, Person B will finish listening to the message 1 minute after Person A is done recording.

There are a few caveats, however. First of all, Voxer is not for phone calls: it’s half-duplex, meaning that you either talk or you listen. This is actually a good thing, because it’s more personal than text messages but way less invasive than calls. Also, while on iPhone the default setting is to use the record button in a “sticky” way (tap once to start recording, tap once to stop), which is arguably more convenient, on Android the default setting appears to be push-to-talk (tap and hold to start recording, release to stop); this can be changed in the settings for each individual chat, rather than for the app as a whole.

The app will automatically find your contacts who also use it when you first install it. On Android it does so by reading your contact list and own phone number automatically, while on iOS it asks for you for your number. If you don’t want to do this, you can just use a fake number, such as 555-111-2222 (note however that if anyone has that number in their list, you will show up as a contact to them.)

Other than by matching contacts, you can find people via their Voxer username. By default this is something really ugly such as “johnsmi1234”, but you can change it (or just find out what yours is) by going to “My profile”. Note that in previous versions of Voxer this required a paid subscription, but can now be done for free.

It also supports group chats up to 15 people and Apple Watch for iOS users, and you can exchange images and text messages within the app as well. As a bonus, if you have a headset with an action button (including Bluetooth ones) you can use that to control the recording.

There is also a Pro version that costs $2.99/mo and gives you additional features, but most people will be perfectly fine with the free version if they use Voxer for personal use.

Voxer is available for free for iOS (App Store), Android (Play Store) and Windows Phone (WP Store). Of course, it requires a data connection — Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G/LTE — in order to work.


Get rid of those apps in iTunes that you never sync anymore

If you’re like me, you’ve had an iPhone, iPod Touch and/or iPad for a few years now and have probably amassed a fairly big collection of apps, both free and paid. Until last year’s iOS 5, this meant having to keep a local copy of each and one of them on the computer you used to sync your iOS device.

My “Mobile Applications” folder contains 924 items, weighing a whopping 18.78 GB. iTunes only lists 920 apps, so something is out of sync already.
Obviously, I do not use that many apps. My iPhone 4 only has 163, and I could delete many of those as I don’t use them. My father’s iPad, which uses my Apple ID to get apps so that he doesn’t have to purchase the same ones I have already paid for, has about 250, most of them being games he tried once or twice and left there.

I’m about to phase out my glorious 2006 iMac in favor of a new Mac Mini and I’m going to just move the iTunes Library folder; this way, everything is retained and I don’t have to convince a brand new iTunes not to nuke the iPhone and iPad just because they have been synced to a different machines. As for the music itself, I could also use iTunes Match to carry it over, but I’d rather just drop the folder in and be happy about it. The point is that I really don’t want to waste about 20 GB on the new computer for apps I honestly don’t care about.

The most immediate method, deleting the apps from iTunes, kind of works… except that if you delete an app that’s used on your device, it will be removed from that device upon syncing. The proper way to do this would be to manually delete from iTunes the ones you’re not using. There’s a little problem with that: there is absolutely no way of knowing whether any local app is being synced to any device or not, unless you manually check whether every single app is on any of your devices. This sounds dreadful enough with my iPhone, with which I’m very familiar; doing it with my father’s iPad sounds like a nightmare.

Thankfully, after a little searching, I found the way to do it in a much easier fashion. Of course, if you follow these instructions and you delete important data or things like that, I’m not responsible. Do this at your own risk.

I’m using iTunes 10.7 on OS X 10.7 Lion, but it should be the same on OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. When iTunes 11 is released in a few days or weeks, it’s probably going to be much different.

The first, very important thing to do is to disable automatic syncing. To do this, open iTunes’s preferences, go to Devices, and check Prevent iPods, iPhones and iPads from syncing automatically. You can do this even when your device is not connected, but I recommend doing this when it’s already connected so it’s even less likely that something goes wrong.
After you’ve made sure that the new device does not start to sync automatically, go ahead and run a full backup, just in case something goes wrong. Find your device in the sidebar, right click on it, and choose Back Up. It will take a while.
After it’s done backing it up, it’s time to rock and roll.

Click Apps in the the Library section of the side bar, and either choose Select All from the Edit menu, or hit Command-A on your keyboard. Now all your bazillion apps will be selected. You can either delete them, which I do not recommend, or you can move them to a folder. With all of them selected, just drag them into a folder you previously created with the Finder to make a manual backup of all of them. Again, it will take a while. Once all the files are safely copied, you can delete them: just press backspace on your keyboard, or choose Delete from the Edit menu. At this point your may get a scary message warning you that the apps will be deleted from all devices to which they had been copied. Confirm the deletion and move to trash; that’s why you just copied them out.

Now, here’s the nice part. With your device still connected, right click on its name in the sidebar and choose Transfer Purchases. You may be asked for your Apple ID password, and iTunes will make a local copy of all the apps that are currently on your device.
Rinse and repeat for any other extra device, and you’re done: at the end you will only have a local copy of the apps that you currently have on your devices.

If you want to be extra sure that everything has been copied correctly, you may want to run Transfer Purchases again for each device. At the end, you can safely re-enable automatic syncing. If you start the syncing procedure immediately, it should not copy (nor delete!) any apps in any direction, meaning they are already synchronized.

At this point, if you want, you can delete the backup folder you had copied your apps to when you began this whole ordeal. I’d suggest keeping them on a backup disk just in case, but unless the apps are pulled from the App Store, you can safely download them again at no extra cost at any time.

Personally, I ended up recovering about 13 GB by doing this. Not bad, considering that from my point of view those 13 GB were filled with pointless fluff!

And so our story begins…

Earlier today, I joined the iOS Developer Program. After paying my entry fee and patiently waiting for about an hour for the meticulous Apple Robots to type an e-mail, I am now a registered iOS Developer, ready to attack, besiege, seize and conquer the App Store. I am currently targeting iPhone/iPod Touch only, reserving plans to expand to iPad land for later, after feeling the waters.
Stay tuned for updates. I plan to start writing on this blog again soon.

And so our story begins…

Printing in grayscale with AirPrint

Did you all think I was dead? Unfortunately for you, I am not. I’ve just been fairly busy with work and with my renewed interest in photography. Speaking of which, all of you should follow my Flickr photostream, which I update daily.

So, you’ve got the shiny new iOS 4.2 on your iPhone 4 and you have enabled AirPrint sharing on your Mac, using either the free Hacktivator or one of the commercial packages. You are very satisfied (albeit a bit doubtful about actually using it in the future), except for one thing: it prints in color, and you really wish it could print in grayscale, because toner is not cheap.

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iPhone 3G comes back to life after installing iOS 4.1

As I had predicted, Apple introduced iOS 4.1 at the iPod event last Wednesday. It is officially scheduled for release on September 9th, but there are ways to download the Gold Master that was seeded to the members of the Apple Developer Program. I am not one — not yet, anyway — but I couldn’t take it anymore.

The installation was extremely simple, with no remote activation or anything like that. This is because the GM is essentially the very same that will be pushed to the masses in a week. I simply pressed the option key while clicking on ‘update’ in iTunes and I got a dialog window to choose the .ipsw file from the disk. After that, it took its sweet updating time and lo and behold, my two-year-old device was running the latest incarnation of iOS.

I am extremely pleased to report that my iPhone 3G has come back to life. After using it extensively, to the extent of purposefully opening all sorts of apps in rapid succession to make it crumble, it stood strong. I can assure you that this is not placebo: it’s pleasant to use again. Most importantly, it doesn’t randomly freeze for a random amount of time in a random fashion in random apps. Sometimes it does take its time when the lock screen comes up (perhaps it does some cleaning when it automatically locks, and it reloads something?), but other than that, it’s completely different from 4.0.x.

Mind you, this is still a two-year-old phone and there have been two major revisions since it came out, so do not expect The Flash in your iPhone (hey! that’s a geeky double-entendre! neat!), but it’s definitely a major improvement. One disappointment stands, though: 3G units just don’t have the hardware to run the Epic Citadel demo, but — once again — is anybody really surprised by that?

The real irony is that my iPhone 3G was such a pain to use in the past couple of months (especially with the annoying freezes) that I honestly can’t even say whether 4.1 makes it as fast as 3.1.2, or if it’s still slower than that. All I know is that it’s faster than 4.0.2, and that’s all I care about.

Could iOS 4.1 be released on Wednesday?

Apple will hold a music-related event on Wednesday, September 1st. New iPods will be introduced, as it happens yearly. There is strong evidence of a new iPod nano based around the 3×3 cm touch screen seen earlier this year, and possibly a new iPod Touch with 3G data capabilities — essentially a smaller iPad.

This leads me to think that these new units may require iOS 4.1 at minimum, and the new firmware could therefore be made available to iPhones (and older generations of iPod Touches — ok now that’s a weird plural) on the same day.

Of course, the new units may be shipped with a particular version that won’t be made available to other devices, as it was with the iPad: iPhone OS 3.2 was never made available for iPhones, and iPads won’t see iOS 4 until the fall. Apple may also release iOS 4 for iPad on Wednesday, or give a release date. Or perhaps introduce iPad 2 whilst lowering the price of the current iPad, probably giving a refund to angry customers (it has already happened with the original iPhone.) Besides, Apple would get to use the line they love so much: our competitors are still trying to copy version 1, and we have already released version 2.

Personally, I don’t care what new hardware is on the horizon. I just want iOS 4.1 for the iPhone and I want it to make my 3G decent again.

Can the iPhone 3G be saved?

Like many others, my iPhone 3G is suffering a bit since I upgraded it to iOS 4. While version 4.0.1 apparently helped a little, even though it only officially delivered the reception bar tweak, it seems to have made my phone slightly snappier. It’s still far from how it felt with iPhone OS 3.2, though.

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iPhone 4 and iOS 4: my point of view

I have been an Apple user since Summer 2001: after having successfully used Linux as my primary system for a while, one day I decided that there was something wrong with having to manually do many things that a “desktop” system should do on its own. Computers, I thought, were supposed to simplify tasks. While I still think that Linux is great for a server — something I have experience with —, it wasn’t and still isn’t the best choice for everyday computing. Unless you do mostly office work, in which case a distro such as Ubuntu with OpenOffice will work fine, and be entirely free.

For the sake of completeness, here are the machines by Apple I have owned over the better part of the last decade: iMac G3 “Blue Dalmatian”, iBook G3, Airport “Snow” Base Station, PowerMac Dual G4, iBook G4, iMac Intel, MacBook, MacBook Pro, iPhone 3G. What can I say, I am very satisfied with their products, even though I have nothing against alternatives: my current wireless network is provided by a Netgear router and a D-Link access point, for instance.

I didn’t get the original iPhone because it was never officially available in Italy, and I didn’t want to play the cat and mouse game of jailbreaking to make it work. I got the unlocked 3G in September 2008, and have been quite happy with it. Sure, it did have a few strange limitations (tethering, just to name one; something that any Nokia phone has been able to do for years when it was simply called “using your phone as a modem”), but I was quite happy.

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