All posts in “Apps And Software”

Instrumments 01 might be the best way to measure anything on the fly

How things measure up is pretty important to us. We don’t just look at objects, we automatically scale them in our minds, guessing about width, height, and how they might fit in our world.

We make these assumptions because few of us carry rulers in our back pockets (where would we put our phones?), and you better be a Property Brother if you’re in the habit of carrying a tape measures on your belt.

If only there was a subtler way to have the power of dimensioning in your pocket.

That’s the simple idea behind the Instrumments 01, a pen-sized, laser-powered measurement stick.

The $149 version, which I tested, also doubles as a retractable pen (there’s a pen-free $99 version), so there’s even more reason to always have 01 with you.

The key to Instrumment 01's measuring ease is the rolling ring on the end of the device.

The key to Instrumment 01’s measuring ease is the rolling ring on the end of the device.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Battery-powered, the mostly aluminum 01 uses a laser, a rolling ring, and a companion app to let you measure on any surface. To use it, you pair it via Bluetooth with your iOS or Android phone, open the app, place your finger on the end for three seconds to activate the pen, and then, holding it in one hand, roll the back end along any surface to measure it. On the app, the numbers go up as the pen edge rolls along the surface. The laser shoots a precise red beam out of the 01’s back end. You use it to align with the start and finish edge of whatever you’re measuring.

If you want to measure the height and width of, say, a painting, you can capture and save both those measurements in one file. For a box, you can add height, as well. You can title these measurements — “This is a box!” — add notes, and store them in the cloud.

Getting started

Let’s begin with a few things I didn’t like about 01. First, the packaging didn’t adequately warn me about the laser, so when I powered up the pen by holding my finger on the back end for a few seconds and then removed my digit, I found myself staring directly into the red beam. I can’t imagine this is beneficial to my corneas.

The measuring stick even hides a pen. The tip can also be swapped out for an iPad stylus tip or lead pencil.

The measuring stick even hides a pen. The tip can also be swapped out for an iPad stylus tip or lead pencil.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Second, the app wouldn’t let me finish setup without signing up with Instrumments. I get that they have a cloud-based measurement data storage service — but there’s an offline option, so I don’t have to sign up with them.

Measure this

As I mentioned above, measuring something is simply a matter of lining up the red laser line with the starting edge of the measurement subject (making sure that the double “XX” on the pen’s back is facing you), and then slowly dragging the pen to the right as the measure wheel smoothly spins on the back end. (That ring acts like a tiny contractor’s measurement wheel). To add another dimension, I simply tapped on the top of the pen and the app would switch to, say, height. You can, of course, switch the app’s measurement from standard to metric and in increments of inches, feet, yards, and even miles. (I have no idea how anyone would measure a mile with this thing).

The app tracks the rolling ring, giving you precise, digital, shareable measurements.

The app tracks the rolling ring, giving you precise, digital, shareable measurements.

Image: instrumments, Inc.

In this setting, you can see a virtual, 3D depiction of the 01 pen.

In this setting, you can see a virtual, 3D depiction of the 01 pen.

Image: instrumments, inc.

I was careful to move slowly because the faster I rolled, the more the pen roller would slide off a straight line, especially if I didn’t have a hard edge to rest against.

If I rolled past the end of my object, something I did a lot, I could carefully roll backwards, using the laser to line up with the correct edge, while the app simultaneously rolled back the measurement number.

There’s even an Apple Watch app that let me keep track of the measurement number on my wrist.

Instrumments 01 can also measure 3D objects like boxes, and capture curves. When you switch the app to 3D mode, it will recommend you attach the training wheels to the pen. This triangular-shaped attachment slides onto the pen and adds two small rubber wheels backed by two gnarled metal wheels that line up with the roller ring. To measure with the training wheels on, you have to roll them along the surface while they spin the 01’s roll ring. The rougher metal wheels help keep you from slipping around on your measurement surface.

These training wheels help you measure uneven surfaces.

These training wheels help you measure uneven surfaces.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

I had a little trouble properly positioning the training wheels. Even when I did figure it out, rolling the pen over 3D objects felt awkward. Plus, the 3D representations that appeared on-screen were useless. Often, it was a jagged line that looked nothing like the box I was trying to measure. One thing I did like is that, in the app, I could turn on a virtual representation of the 01 and watch it move in tandem with the real device (apparently, there’s an accelerometer in it, too).

The laser helps you line up with the edge of whatever you're measuring.

The laser helps you line up with the edge of whatever you’re measuring.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

You can also, according to Instrumments, use 01 to grid out measurements by having the laser blink when, for example, you’ve rolled a foot away from your start point. This could come in handy for hanging photos or finding studs (which are usually 16-inches part) in your walls. Sadly, I couldn’t figure out how that works, and information about the feature is not included in the very basic printed manual (which comes with a free Moleskin-style notebook).

The Instrumments 01 is only a little thicker and heavier than your standard pen.

The Instrumments 01 is only a little thicker and heavier than your standard pen.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

As for accuracy of the measurements, I would say that depends on the steadiness of your hand and if you can properly align the laser. When I did so, the measurements were perfect. When I got a little sloppy, the measurements became estimates, at best.

Overall, I like the Instrumments 01. Would I pay $149 (or $99) for the convenience of a pen-sized, laser-guided tape measure in my pocket? Probably not, but I could see a carpenter or home decorator using it.

Instrumments 01

The Good

Pen-sized Simple, smart app Ingenious measurement ring

The Bad

It forces you to sign up with their service. 3D measurement is disappointing.

The Bottom Line

Intrumments 01 is a great, pocket-sized measurement system for DIYers, carpenters and home decorators.

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Google can now warn you when your allergies might flare up

Google's latest search feature will warn you when pollen is high.
Google’s latest search feature will warn you when pollen is high.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

Google search just gained a helpful new superpower.

The search engine can now provide personalized updates about seasonal allergies at your current location directly in search.

Much like weather forecasts, when you search for queries like “pollen forecast” you’ll get a detailed look at pollen levels in your area for the next few days. You can also opt to get mobile alerts, which will notify you when pollen counts are likely to be “particularly high.” 

The feature is rolling out now.

Image: google

The company worked with The Weather Channel, which has long provided pollen info and other allergy-related forecasts, to bring the predictions to its service. Google says searches for allergy information consistently spike every year in the spring and the fall, when seasonal allergy sufferers tend to have more symptoms.

By putting the pollen count predictions right in search, the information should now be a lot easier to find. 

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Gmail’s iPhone app just got a really important new feature

Gmail’s iPhone app just got a lot more secure.

The app is now able to warn you about potential phishing attacks when you click on a shady link, Google announced Friday.

If you click on a link that Google thinks could be suspicious, you’ll see a warning asking if you’re “sure you want to proceed.” 

Image: google

The app will also warn when clicking on a link Google knows to be malicious.”The site you are trying to visit has been identified as a forgery, intended to trick you into disclosing financial, personal or other sensitive information,” reads one such warning

Google previously added a similar feature to Gmail’s Android app back in May, but this is the first time it’s making its way to the iOS app. The company says the new feature is rolling out to Gmail’s iOS app now but will take about two weeks before it’s available everywhere.

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Facebook may have snuck an app into China’s App Store

Image: Schiefelbein/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Facebook is even more desperate to have a presence in China than we thought.

The social network has been secretly testing a photo sharing app in the country, according to a new report in The New York Times. 

The app, reportedly called “Colorful Balloons” is apparently a Chinese version of Facebook’s photo-sharing app, Moments. The app, first released in the U.S. in 2014, allows friends to make group albums to privately share photos from their phone.

Unlike the U.S version, which requires a Facebook account, Colorful Balloons uses WeChat — the messaging app that’s nearly universal in China. Users can also share photos via QR codes, which are extremely common in the country.

Facebook has reportedly gone to great lengths to disguise that they’re the ones truly behind the service, The New York Times reports. The app was reportedly published by a company named “Youge Internet Technology” in China’s App Store and early users reportedly aren’t able to easily share the app with outsiders. 

“We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country in different ways,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform.”

While Mark Zuckerberg and other execs have maintained for years that they have every intention of bringing Facebook to China, they have adamantly refused every opportunity to publicly discuss how they would do so. Like many other major U.S. tech companies, China’s strict censorship laws have prevented the social network from having a presence in the country.

That the company could now be testing an app disguised as a service from a local company is not just unheard of — it’s incredibly ballsy. 

It’s no secret that Mark Zuckerberg has been desperately courting China for years. He’s made multiple trips to the country and learned to speak Mandarin. But any inroads made by such efforts could be negated if the Chinese government learns Facebook secretly pushed an app into the country anyway.

UPDATE: Aug. 11, 2017, 2:56 p.m. PDT Updated with Facebook’s statement.

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Why Facebook had to kill its Groups app

Image: mashable composite/facebook

For the last few months, Mark Zuckerberg and other top Facebook execs have been gushing about groups. 

The way they see it, Facebook Groups, which let like-minded users communicate outside of the main News Feed, is an integral part of social network’s future as it passes the 2 billion user mark

So it may have come as a surprise to see the company quietly removed its standalone Groups app from the App Store and Google Play last week. If the social network is suddenly so into groups, why would it pull the app dedicated to the feature?

In a statement, the company said it made the decision to discontinue the app because “we’ve found that we can do more with and for the community by investing in the main Facebook app.”

That may be the case, but there are a number of other reasons why the app had to go as well.

The app was first launched in 2014, when Groups was already becoming one of Facebook’s more popular features, and it was also around this time that Mark Zuckerberg started talking about “unbundling” the main Facebook app. 

The Groups app.

The Groups app.

Image: facebook

The company had already started forcing people over to Messenger, its standalone chat app, earlier that year and, since Groups already had 700 million monthly active users, it was the next logical target for “unbundling.”

But even at its peak, Groups was never as successful as Messenger. It was always optional, for one, so users never had to download it in the first place. Still, it had a large following. It had about 15 million downloads across both app stores worldwide, according to Sensor Tower, and even in its last month in the App Store in July, it managed to nab about 250,000 downloads.

Despite this, it seems at some point Facebook decided to stop putting resources into Groups. The app stopped getting regular updates in the fall of 2016 and, even before then, its App Store reviews were overwhelmingly negative, with users complaining about frequent crashed and bugs making the app unusable. 

Facebook Groups' reviews were overwhelmingly negative, thanks to frequent bugs.

Facebook Groups’ reviews were overwhelmingly negative, thanks to frequent bugs.

Image: app annie

“I really want to be able to just have this app to keep up with friends and not have to actually go on Facebook. But the app is currently pretty terrible and it drives me crazy,” one reviewer wrote. 

That may actually get at the heart of why Facebook decided it had to kill the app — it provided too easy of a way for people to use the social network without ever touching the main app. Facebook’s main app and website is where the company makes the bulk of its ad revenue so it’s not surprising they’d want to encourage people to go there rather than a standalone app. 

And if Facebook really thinks Groups are such an important part of Facebook’s future success, it needs to send the message that it’s an important part of Facebook’s core service — not something people can use in place of it.

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