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Software reviews: media goes mobile, plus weather or not?

Image credit: Lumyer

With the focus of both content creation and delivery moving inexorably to mobile devices, we look at how innovative apps are responding. Plus, which weather forecast can you trust?

Nero 2017 Platinum

The mediamaker’s toolkit

Much of the media we play today is either stored on or streamed to a phone or tablet. So CDs are obsolete, and DVDs are heading the same way, aren’t they? Well, not quite. Lots of us still have archives of music and video on disc that we have no intention of discarding, plus there are still places where discs are the only option for pre-recorded material, for example inside most cars.

Constructing a bridge between the physical and non-physical worlds is quite the challenge. Sure, tools such as iTunes will help get CDs onto an iPhone, and it is easy enough to rip the contents of CD on to a PC. But what about DVDs, and of course all the video clips you’ve taken using your phone, which are just piling up in memory? This is where Nero 2017 Platinum comes in. It is a complete suite of multimedia tools, covering editing, playback, format conversion, CD creation and even home media management and streaming.

Indeed, the latter amounts to a complete media server from which you can stream media to a tablet or phone, or use your mobile to ‘cast’ it onwards to a compatible Wi-Fi connected playback device such as a smart TV.

More unusual features include SecurDisc, which can write passworded discs with extra levels of error correction to help protect against scratches or other damage. It also works with several companion apps. For example, Nero Airburn wirelessly archives your smartphone’s media and data files to the CD or DVD burner in your PC.

While a lot of what Nero 2017 offers is oriented towards generating your media – a video editor that lets you easily chain clips together from your mobile phone, say, or the audio normalisation and filtering features for compiling audio CDs – much of it is about existing media.

Fortunately, the copyright issue seems less of a problem than it was. Naturally, the entertainment industry would like you to buy content separately in each format you want it, and the music industry even took the British government to court to block the 2014 law that specifically legalised copying for personal use. Things are changing though – many DVDs now come with a code allowing you to download an electronic copy for a portable device, for example, and iTunes has normalised the concept of moving your CDs onto your phone.

The elephant in the room is encrypted content, which means most existing commercial DVDs. The weak copy-protection scheme they use has long since been broken, and there are many free apps capable of decoding protected DVDs. However, it is still a legal problem for commercial software developers, and Nero refuses to import or copy protected DVDs, though of course it can recode content that has already been ripped elsewhere.

Why recode video? Well, it’s like converting a CD to MP3 format – the recoded version can take up a lot less storage space, in part from being resized to better match the phone or tablet screen. For example, ten cartoon episodes might fill a 4.7GB DVD but shrink to a tenth of that once recoded.



Animated GIFS

Free or £3.99 on iPhone

As we become more and more centred on our smartphones, clever app developers are finding ways for them to do things that we might never have thought possible. Momento is just such an app: feed it a set of still photos and it looks for those it can turn into looping mini-animations, using the animated GIF format that’s become hugely popular for sharing online.

It needs at least two pictures, preferably more, that are recognisably close – typically the same subject and setting, a few moments apart. Most of us will have many of these already of course, as it often makes sense to take two or three photos together, then choose the best. Momento matches them up and builds an image that loops through them to give the illusion of movement.

As usual with graphics apps, you can add little icons or stickers, insert text, or layer on a colour effect, then send the resulting animated GIF to a friend or share it to one of your social media accounts. The basic app is free, with a £3.99 upgrade available that adds more stickers and image effects. 

The GIFs it initially constructs from your iPhone photo folder will probably look a bit rough – after all, most of us take a second photo only to get a better angle, or because someone looked away in the first one. But as you get used to the idea, it is easy enough to click three or four times in the future, instead of just once.



Photo editor

Free on Android, iPhone

Lumyer takes a different approach to animation; the original picture stays still, but you layer a moving effect over it. You can work on an existing photo on your phone or take a new one with Lumyer’s built in camera app; the latter can also take video and layer the animation over that.

You get a dozen or so effects included as standard, with more to download. Some are meant to cover the whole image – falling snow, say, or exploding fireworks. Others are aimed at selfies and other portraiture, for example the animation of a mouth blowing a gum bubble. Some even have accompanying soundtracks, such as the ones of popping flashbulbs or howling wind.

You can add multiple effects to a single photo, moving them around and twisting and zooming to get the best or most comical result. On the iPhone, you also have the option of fading an effect, or of tapping the screen while recording video to add an effect right there – cracking glass, for instance.

As usual, you can share the results with friends via social media or with other users via the Lumyer Instagram page, or save them as animated GIFs. In the free version everything it produces carries the Lumyer logo, but you can remove this by upgrading for just under £2. 



Weather choices

Free with ads or £3.50 on Android, iPhone

If you are the kind of person who checks multiple weather services to see how much their forecasts vary, Climendo is for you. It not only shows forecasts for your current or chosen location from up to five providers for you to compare, it also averages them out to generate its own forecast, and gives you probability ratings for how reliable each one is.

It aims to feature only the most accurate providers in each country, and the average forecast it presents is actually weighted, based on each provider’s past performance. The service keeps track of daily forecasts and compares them with actual observations, enabling you to look up which provider was the most accurate last month. You can also look up what the weather was like on today’s date in previous years. The main thing Climendo lacks is an Android home screen widget; hopefully this will be added soon. 

Although they are useful to us as individuals, accurate weather forecasts are even more important to organisations. For instance, energy companies, farmers and many other industries need them for their planning to be as efficient as possible. As well as their forecasting ambitions in these areas, Climendo’s Swedish developers are socially-minded in other ways, offering free ad space to little-known yet innovative organisations that are working to protect the environment.



Predictive keyboard

Free on Android

When you think about the inherent weirdness of ‘typing’ on a flat, hard, touchscreen, you realise how your choice of virtual keyboard can make such a difference – and of course why developers are still able to innovate in this area. Yet somehow it is still a surprise to come back to an old standby and find it showing off new tricks, as does Gboard – the new name for Google Keyboard.

The most noticeable change is the addition of a Google key which lets you search direct from the keyboard, with the results displayed there too so you don’t have to leave your current screen. If you are in a messaging app and looking up something for your message, you can then insert the search result just by tapping on it.

In what is presumably a challenge to Swiftkey, which is now owned by Microsoft, Gboard also supports multiple languages simultaneously for spelling and next-word prediction, along with swipe typing (which it calls Glide) and a one-handed keyboard layout. It learns new words as you type too, though it can’t for example scan your email or tweets to learn from past input.

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