Review: Two iOS take-out apps

This past weekend—a holiday weekend here in the U.S.—my family had a packed schedule, so we opted for take-out on two different evenings. Rather than call in our orders, I decided to try take-out-ordering apps from a couple well-known chains, Baja Fresh and Five Guys. As with most restaurant apps, the idea behind these is that, rather than trying to browse the restaurant’s website while placing an order by telephone, you can launch an easy-to-use app, choose your items right from the menu, and then place your order without ever having to talk to a person. And hopefully, by letting you input your own order, you can avoid mistakes—at least the ones caused by a bad connection or background noise on either end of the phone call. In practice, however, only one of the two apps fulfilled its potential. The other actually drove me back to the telephone.

In the mood for some relatively healthy Mexican food, we tried the Baja Fresh app, for the chain of “fresh”-focused restaurants. Launch the iPhone/iPod touch app, and you’re prompted to Find Nearby Restaurants (based on your phone’s location), enter a zipcode to find restaurants in that area, or view previous orders. (Like most restaurant apps, you need to set up an account before you can place an order or view previous orders.)

That’s where the problems started for me. The closest Baja Fresh restaurant, just a few miles away in Cupertino, Calif., wasn’t listed. (Perhaps it doesn’t participate in the app-ordering service? Whatever the case, its omission makes the app confusing and less useful.) Since we were headed towards Palo Alto, I instead chose a Palo Alto location, which, according to the app, was about 5.5 miles away. Choosing a restaurant displays its address and phone number. You can tap the phone number to call the location, or tap View Map to view its location on a map, but the latter option quits the Baja Fresh app and switches to the iPhone’s Maps app. This would be fine except that whenever you switch out of the Baja Fresh app, you must start over the next time you launch it—it doesn’t remember where you were in the ordering process. Saved app states were introduced with iOS 4.0, Baja Fresh.

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The Week in iPhone Cases: Is it me you're looking for?

One of the best parts of writing Macworld's weekly case roundups is that I get to see the wide range of products that manufacturers dream up. This week is a perfect example: We've got the whimsical, the practical, and the sheer elegant. Let's dive in!

Ballistic Cases's LifeStyle
Ballistic Cases's LifeStyle

Ballistic Cases: The LifeStyle ($30) is a hard-shell case made of a transparent plastic material and available in four different color combinations: black and red, blue and red, black and grey, or red and grey. But that's not all—it comes with a series of 10 different “corner bumpers” in a variety of thicknesses and colors that you can use to customize the look (and feel) of your device.

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Just Mobile UpStand for iPad

Just Mobile's $50 UpStand for iPad is a dedicated stand for viewing your iPad on a desk, table, or countertop. It’s simple, lightweight, and works with both iPad generations—even when the tablet is in a reasonably sized case.

The UpStand is precision engineered from aluminum, making it a good complement to Apple's current hardware line. Rubber-coated supporting grips hold your tablet firmly in place while keeping it free of scratches from the stand itself, and non-slip feet keep the stand put.

While the stand, at approximately 6 inches wide, 6 inches deep, and 7 inches tall, is sturdy enough for routine tapping and swiping on the iPad's screen, the slight backward angle (about 10 degrees from vertical) is clearly not designed for sustained typing or screen interaction. And since the stand doesn't offer other angles or positions—and just a single height, about 1.5 inches off the table or desk—it's best for watching videos and presentations, reading, browsing websites and email, and using similar apps. The angle is also good for using your iPad with an external keyboard for longer typing sessions.

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Smule's MadPad makes music out of anything

To date, Smule’s helped you use your iPad and iPhone as instruments (Ocarina, Leaf Trombone, Magic Piano), an auto-correcting microphone (I Am T-Pain), and a karaoke machine (Glee). With Thursday’s release of MadPad for iPhone (and MadPad HD for iPad), the music-app-focused company creates a new genre: It helps you capture real world noise and turn those sounds into music.

You create soundboards with MadPad by using your iOS device’s built-in microphone and camera. Each pad gets twelve different sounds; you tap record, and then MadPad automatically starts and stops the recording based on the sounds you generate. I created sound sets using my own mouth as well as inanimate objects around my office—the sound recording process takes maybe two minutes.

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Facebook adds post privacy settings to iPhone app

In its ongoing effort to fend off competition from—and catch up to—Google+, Facebook on Tuesday launched a revamped version of its iPhone app that makes it easier for users to customize their posts and select their audience.

The updates to the iPhone app mirror Facebook’s recent revisions to features on its website, which in turn are similar to some Google+ offerings. As on Google’s service, Facebook app users can now select the precise audience for their status updates—the public, just their friends, or other custom-crafted friends lists. Users can also easily designate both their location and accompanying friends in those status posts, a feature that was previously available only in the app’s “check in” feature. And links discovered in Facebook can now easily be reshared via the iPhone app. The app revisions also include a number of bug fixes.

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The Civil War Today for iPad

If you ever attend a Civil War battle re-enactment, iPads probably won’t be much in evidence. Participants like to keep it authentic to the time period by sleeping in shoddy tents, dressing in overly warm uniforms and drinking from tin cups. That’s too bad, because a Yankee soldier armed with the $8 The Civil War Today app from A&E Television Networks might find a lot to love.

Open up the app, and you’re greeted with the top war headlines from the same date 150 years ago. (You can skip back or forward in time.) Also featured: A “quote of the day” from a notable Civil War personage, photos, diary entries, maps, and quizzes. You can even view scanned copies of newspapers from the time period, and share most of what you find in the app via email, Twitter, or Facebook. A&E Networks also promises to provide related videos—complete with Airplay integration for viewing on your TV—but that content wasn’t readily apparent during my time with the app.

Blast from the Past: Launch The Civil War Today, and you’ll get the top headlines from 150 years ago, along with a quote of the day feature.

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The Towson Hack: The mystery of vanishing iTunes credit

Back on November 28, 2010, a user named stereocourier started a thread on Apple’s support forums. The poster claimed that—without his knowledge or consent—someone spent more than $50 of his iTunes Store credit on iPhone apps. The user had no credit card linked to his account; all the mysterious purchases drew from his store credit. Oh, and stereocourier also noted that various personal details were changed on his account; specifically, his home address was replaced with an address that he didn’t recognize in Towson, Maryland.

As of this writing, that discussion thread has since swelled to more than 45 pages, with nearly 700 posts. Someone—or some group of someones—seems to be able to spend iTunes gift card credit without permission, buying apps that users don’t want. And whoever’s doing the hacking seems pretty good at it: Hundreds of users have seen their iTunes credit stolen, and the hack shows no signs of slowing, ten months after it was first reported.

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