5 Cross-Platform Mobile Development Tools You Should Try

As mobile OSes — especially iPhone and Android — wax and wane, the pressing question remains: How do you choose which mobile devices to develop for and which devices to omit from your roadmap?

Cross-OS platforms for mobile development on the whole are not yet a completely perfect, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too solution, but many of them offer an excellent alternative to ignoring one mobile OS in favor of another or, perhaps worse, burning serious resources to develop for two or three platforms at once.

Here are a few cross-platform development tools that were recommended to us by sources we trust. If you know of others or if you have any helpful tips about the frameworks we’re mentioning here, please let us know about them in the comments.


1. RhoMobile


The tagline “one codebase, every smartphone” pretty much says it all. RhoMobile offers Rhodes, an open source, Ruby-based framework that allows for development of native apps for a wide range of smartphone devices and operating systems. OSes covered include iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, RIM and Symbian.

The framework lets you write your code once and use it to quickly build apps for every major smartphone. Native apps are said to take full advantage of available hardware, including GPS and camera, as well as location data.

In addition to Rhodes, currently in its 2.0 iteration, RhoMobile offers RhoHub, a hosted development environment, and RhoSync, a standalone server that keeps app data current on users’ mobile devices.


2. Appcelerator


When we polled Twitter followers for recommended cross-platform tools, Appcelerator stood out as a fan favorite.

Another FOSS offering, Appcelerator’s Titanium Development Platform allows for the development of native mobile, tablet and desktop applications through typical web dev languages such as JavaScript, PHP, Python, Ruby and HTML. Titanium also gives its users access to more than 300 social and other APIs and location information.

Appcelerator’s offerings also include customizable metrics for actions and events. App data can be stored in the cloud or on the device, and apps can take full advantage of hardware, particularly camera and video camera capability.


3. WidgetPad


WidgetPad is a collaborative, open-source mobile development environment for creating smartphone apps using standard web technologies, including CSS3, HTML5 and JavaScript.

This platform includes project management, source code editing, debugging, collaboration, versioning and distribution. It can be used to create apps for OSes such as iOS, Android and WebOS.

WidgetPad is currently in private beta; you can contact the creators for access.


4. PhoneGap


PhoneGap, the recipient of the winning pitch at Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco’s 2009 Launch Pad event, is a FOSS framework that helps you develop apps for iPhone, iTouch, iPad, Android, Palm, Symbian and BlackBerry devices using web development languages such as JavaScript and HTML. It also allows for access to hardware features including GPS/location data, accelerometer, camera, sound and more.

The company offers a cross-platform simulator (an Adobe AIR app), as well as online training sessions to help you access native APIs and build functioning mobile apps on the PhoneGap platform.


5. MoSync


MoSync is another FOSS cross-platform mobile application development SDK based on common programming standards. The SDK includes tightly integrated compilers, runtimes, libraries, device profiles, tools and utilities. MoSync features an Eclipse-based IDE for C/C++ programming. Support for JavaScript, Ruby, PHP, Python and other languages is planned.

The framework supports a large number of OSes, including Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile and even Moblin, a mobile Linux distro. Currently, support for iPhone is present in the nightly builds and will be integrated in early Q3 with the release of MoSync 2.4. BlackBerry support is coming later this year, as well.

Facebook Begins Testing Friend Filters in News Feed

Facebook has begun testing a slew of changes to the News Feed, including friend list filters and Smart Lists that automatically categorize your friends.

The changes seem to be aimed at making the content within the News Feed more relevant. These changes, as far as we can ascertain from screenshots sent to us, show that Facebook is dividing the News Feed into lists, much like Google+ has done with Circles. “Feed filters make it easy to see a selected set of friend’s updates in one place and share exclusive with them,” Facebook’s guide to the new feature states.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on this story.

One of the most interesting aspects of the revamped News Feed is the addition of Smart Lists. Smart Lists automatically sort your friends into a work list, a list for classmates and a list for friends who live within 50 miles of your city. This makes it easy to post updates just to your college friends or to talk about a local party with just your nearby friends.

The changes are likely to be construed as a response to the rise of Google+, whose Circles feature makes it easy to share content with smaller groups. Facebook has always had Friend Lists as a feature, but less than 5% of users use them in any meaningful way. These changes are designed to fix that.

Check out the screenshots below, and let us know what you think of the revamped Facebook News Feed.

 

Hat tip to Nick Starr.

5 Android Apps to Turn Your Phone Into a Mobile Document Scanner

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

Even if you’ve done everything you can to banish paper from your office, those little white sheets can still creep up on you.

You’ll want to digitize those crinkly analog fugitives post haste, but you may not be keen on splurging for a scanner — especially when you’re only taming the occasional receipt or intake form.

The solution — wait for it — could be in the palm of your hand. Your Android smartphone has all the photographic and processing power you’ll need to snap up those docs and get them into the cloud where they belong.

Here are a few mobile document scanning solutions we put through their paces.

4 Tools for Building a Business Mobile App

In a world where there’s always “an app for that,” more small businesses see the value in creating their own mobile apps. The technical know-how necessary to develop an impressive app and the cost of hiring a professional developer, however, have discouraged the production of many would-be branded applications.

Affordable do-it-yourself alternatives give all companies — even those with minimal tech expertise — a way to create their own apps.

Even the code-illiterate can build passable apps using these four new platforms.


1. Bizness Apps


 

Bizness Apps focuses on industry-specific features. If you’re building an app for a restaurant, for instance, its builder might suggest that you add a menu and a specials feature. If you’re building an app for a gym, it might recommend a weekly workout planner.

It’s a difficult platform on which to customize beyond color choices, but it’s a tool that’s incredibly easy to use.

Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android, HTML5

Price: $39 per month for the iPhone app plus $10 per month for an iPad, Android or HTML5 app.


2. Mobiflex


 

MobiFlex, while not the prettiest of the app creators, will integrate with back-end data sources and incorporates functions like the phone’s camera, speech recognition and GPS into its native apps.

There’s a better chance of creating and releasing a useful app with these features, but users also have a steeper learning curve than some of its competitors.

Platforms: Android and iOS

Price: A one-time setup fee of $99 plus a monthly fee of $25 for up to 50 users and two pages.


3. AppMakr


 

If your main objective for creating an app is to distribute content, AppMakr might be a good choice. Publishers such as The Atlantic and Harvard Business Review have made apps using the platform.

Other than adding content through multiple RSS feeds, uploading a photo gallery and sending push notifications, its code-free apps can’t do much. One appealing aspect for content creators, however, is the option to serve ads through several networks.

iSites, Swebapps and App Co offer similar approaches for content distribution apps.

Platforms: iOS

Price: Free


4. Red Foundry


Red Foundry offers options for the intermediate coder and newbie app builder alike. More advanced users can choose to design their apps with an xml-based coding system instead of using the startup’s template.

RSS feeds are the focus of the free version of the product’s point-and-click app builder, though it’s easy to add other extras like photo galleries, maps, social feed and commerce options like a Paypal donate button.

What’s most obviously distinct about the platform is its test-as-you go app,Viz. After you load the program onto your phone, you can use it to test your app as you build it.

The platform also makes widgets that show analytics, social activity and push notifications from your app that you can add to your desktop.

Platforms: iOS products

Price: Basic apps are free; more advanced options start at $39 per month.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, izusek

5 Services For Building Websites On A Budget

5 Services For Building Websites On A Budget

July 5, 2011

There’s little doubt that a custom-designed and developed website is ideal for business. However, large Web-development budgets often just aren’t possible, particularly for small businesses or entrepreneurs who are just getting started. In these cases, a number of Web services exist to allow you to grow your company’s presence online, often in just minutes. We’ll take a look at five of them below.

1. Squarespace

One of the most popular of these services is Squarespace. With subscription prices ranging from $12 to $36 per month, you can create an entire website for not much more than you would pay for basic shared hosting. All Squarespace accounts include hosting, the Squarespace content management system, the visual designer tools, and access to widgets and add-ons to incorporate into your site. You can also use your own domain name with all levels of Squarespace accounts. Larger plans give you room for more pages, more bandwidth, more management staff, and access to advanced features like FAQs, SSL, form builders and member registration.

One thing we really like about Squarespace is its visual designer. You can choose from available themes or create and customize your own, either via user-friendly point and click, or by directly editing the theme CSS files.

2. Weebly

For those of you on a really small budget—or who just like getting something for free—Weebly is an entirely free service that will have you up and running in no time. For the price, Weebly’s feature set is quite impressive. You’ll be able to use your own domain name and choose from more than 100 professional themes, which can then be further customized. Weebly also has gallery/slide show functionality, audio and video players, a custom form builder and built-in blogging platform.

The company has been around for five years and gets revenue from several paid subscription plans and is backed by one of the largest VC firms around, so it’s safe to say Weebly will be a player for a while.

3. Jigsy

Jigsy is another easy-to-use website builder offering hosted plans for businesses and individuals alike. Jigsy’s plans range from free (ad-supported, with limited functionality) to $30 per month, and all paid plans will let you host multiple websites from the same account. Jigsy also has a powerful blogging platform and utilizes a widget-based system for expanding and adding functionality to the sites. Widgets are available for features like Google maps integration, RSS feeds, PayPal and eBay selling and more. Jigsy also offers tools for easily creating photo galleries and slide shows.

Jigsy allows you to customize the layout and look of your site with the website builder, and unlike some other services listed here, it also handles e-mail hosting.

4. SnapPages

If you feel a bit intimidated by the thought of having to manage and customize your own CSS files or widget code, SnapPages is a drag-and-drop website builder and hosted service provider that aims to make website creation as simple as a few clicks. Many themes are available and, like similar services, each is customizable. Features for all plans include a blogging platform, photo galleries, calendars and basic access control through a “friends” list. Plans range from free to $30 per month.

With the paid plans ($8 or $30), you’ll be able to host your own domain name, add your own custom HTML and JavaScript code, gain access to powerful analytics and control various SEO options. SnapPages’ top-tier plan is intended for developers and will allow you to do all of this, as well as manage multiple accounts, track projects and create invoices, so you can use SnapPages to build sites for your network or clients.

5. Yola

Yola is another website creation service offering free and paid plans (from $99 to $499 per year). With more than 100 themes to choose from and customization options via Yola’s site builder, you’ll be able to easily create a website that’s just right for your business. Other features include analytics and traffic statistics, premium styles and multi-site hosting.

If you spring for Yola Premier (the $499 per year plan), Yola will also throw in one-on-one consultation with professional designers, and both paid plans include advertising credits on popular ad platforms like Facebook and Google AdWords.

15 Keyboard Shortcuts To Enhance Your PC Productivity

15 Keyboard Shortcuts To Enhance Your PC Productivity

July 1, 2011

If you fancy yourself a PC power user, you know how valuable it is to keep your hands on the keyboard. Constantly switching between typing and mousing can really slow you down when you’re powering through that TPS report.

Lucky for you, the wizards at Microsoft have built some time-saving (if little-known) keyboard shortcuts into their operating systems over the years, with some really handy ones gracing Windows 7 and most modern Web browsers.

If you’re aiming to speed up your workflow and impress your colleagues at the same time, check out these little gems.

1. Move the cursor one word at a time

Cut through large swaths of text with this handy trick.

2. Select one word at a time

Similarly, you can highlight entire words in your text without pecking at those arrow keys.

3. Delete entire words

Bulldoze those terrible sentences more efficiently with this shortcut.

4. Select all text on the current line, relative to the cursor

Don’t reach for that mouse. Instead of click-dragging the cursor, snap right or left with this fancy method.

5. Minimize all windows

Keep this macro in mind if you tend to browse Facebook at the office.

6. Cycle between windows

If you really want to show off the glitz of Windows 7, give this combo a try.

7. Lock the computer

Stepping away from the screen for a light lunch? Lock that puppy down with one swift stroke, especially if it’s April Fool’s Day.

8. Launch the Task Manager

Applications acting up on you? Need to check your system’s resources? Skip the clicking and get into the Task Manager with this shortcut.

9. Take a screenshot of the active window only

Trimming down screengrabs can be a pain, especially if you have a lot of desktop real estate. This shortcut lets you capture only the window you’re working in.

10. Rename a file

Forgo that right-clicking nonsense and give this file renaming trick a shot. It also works great if you’ve selected multiple files or folders.

11. Zoom in and out

This one works in a variety of applications, including browsers, word processors, and Photoshop, among others.

12. Return to default zoom

When you’re ready to return to the normal view, strike this keyboard combo.

13. In browser: open a new tab

This one may be common, but it’s worth mentioning if it will save users the effort of clicking up there in a mess of browser tabs.

14. In browser: reopen closed tab

This one can be a life-saver, especially if you’ve accidentally closed a webpage you’ve been searching diligently for.

15. In browser: focus cursor on URL/search field

If you need to navigate the Web quickly, this combo will get you moving in two keystrokes.

Which time-saving macros do you use at your desk? Share them with the class in the comments below.

10 must-know Google Search tricks

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By now you know how to use Google to search for a flight, look up a definition, or solve a simple math problem. But what if you want to do a search comparison or want information from a certain time period? Here we bring you 10 tips and tricks for searching Google like a pro.

Google Squared Searching for a comparison chart on a certain topic? Try using Google Squared for a collection of information. For instance, try searching Google Squared for “roller coasters” to see a chart of the top 20 tallest roller coasters, or check out chart of hurricanes for images, descriptions, and damage estimates of recent hurricanes.

Wonder Wheel Not quite sure what you’re looking for? Google’s Wonder Wheel gives another way of looking at the related searches near what you’re looking for.
Located in the left-hand sidebar, Wonder Wheel produces a circular chart with searches that other people have done recently that are related to yours.

Search history Need to find something you have found on Google before? Try searching your own Google search history. Sign into your Google account and enable web history.
Run your searches and then visit http://www.google.com/history to see your search history and revisit previous searches. Search history also syncs to your mobile device.

Google Voice Search Google Voice Search lets you speak your search queries into your mobile device while on the go. Google Voice Search app is available on iPhone, BlackBerry, and Nokia S60 V3 phones. If you have an Android phone, search for the “Voice Search” app in Android Market.

Timeline For those who want info from a certain time period, Timeline option is a sure shot help. Located in the left-hand toolbar, the feature lets you zoom in on any time range and see news pulled from assorted sources, including books, news, and web pages. Searching for the Anglo-French Wars, for instance, brings up a timeline that runs from 1600-2010, stepping down into individual years, then months.

Google Images Want to filter your results in Google Images. Try searching for a word that could be found in a range of images, such as names like heather or raven or cliff. Towards the bottom of the left-hand sidebar in Google Images, you will find a dedicated option to only clip art, photos, or line drawings.

Searching filesTrying to find a particular type of file? Google doesn’t only look for HTML. Type what you’re looking for and then add ‘filetype:tag’ on the end. For instance, ‘filetype:doc’ will only results with those types of file. This search supports PDF, Microsoft Office formats, Shockwave Flash and so.

Google Suggest To compare different Google Suggest results side-by-side, go to http://hint.fm/seer/ to get a visual comparison of two search prefixes. Though not a Google product, Web Seer was built by two Googlers and gives interesting insight into Google results.

Search in the URL If you know there’s a specific string of letters or words in the URLs of pages you are looking for, you can use “inurl” to find them.
For example, many websites with public webcams have URLs that contain “view/view.shtml”. So search for inurl:view/view.shtml and your search results will display the URLs for webcams around the world.

Searching websites You can search a wide variety of sites by inserting > before the type of site you want to search. For example, [penguins site:>.edu] searches for penguins across all .edu sites. [crater image site:>nasa.gov] searches for crater images across nasa.gov.
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