Holiday 2012: There's an App in That?
The word "app" is short for "application." It's a piece of software that enables you to do a specific thing, such as check the weather, compose music or play a game. In the recent past, if you needed to create a document, you launched Microsoft Word. If you needed to crop a photo, you launched Photoshop, and so on. However, the rapid rise of mobile technology has fundamentally changed our relationship with apps. It’s now common for an app to make suggestions about what to eat for dinner, to remind us to pick up the dry cleaning and to monitor our heart rates while we work out. Many helpful little apps have found their way into the products that we sell at B&H, and in this article, we’re going to shine the spotlight on a few of them and see what they can do.
If you glance around your home or workplace, you’ll likely see various electronic devices that can be operated autonomously: stereo systems, copying machines, televisions, cameras, etc. There are versions of these familiar items available today that can be used just as they have been in the past, but now, thanks to apps, they all have additional capabilities. Don’t assume that the apps make these items more complicated to use. Apps are usually very simple, designed to do one thing and do it well. The goal is to make your life easier, not more difficult.
In the following sections we’ll explore common, everyday products that have been imbued with new, app-borne powers. We’ll also take a look at new kinds of products that are built around apps. In some cases, the apps are embedded in the machines themselves, and in others, the apps are downloaded and controlled from a smart phone or tablet. A great many of these products require access to a wireless network in order to do their thing, so having an Internet connection and a Wi-Fi router is often a necessity. More often than not, the apps are free of cost. Think of them as apt tools for carrying out useful tasks, and doing fun stuff—pun intended.
Most of the digital cameras that are sold these days are exceedingly intelligent; however, when you consider how big an impact apps like Instagram have had on mobile photography, the designation of “smart” makes sense to differentiate what a camera can and cannot do. The minimum requirement to be considered a Smart Camera is to have the ability to connect to a Wi-Fi network. There are numerous camera models available that feature built-in Wi-Fi, and they’re often capable of doing some interesting Wi-Fi-related tricks, besides being able to share their photo and video files wirelessly with computers and other devices.
The Nikon D600 and the Canon 6D are both full-frame DLSR cameras that have Wi-Fi features. The D600 requires the separately available Nikon WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter in order to harness the power of Wi-Fi, but with it in place, you’ll be able to remotely trigger the shutter from an Android or iOS device using a free app. The Canon 6D has a Wi-Fi antenna built in, and with the Canon EOS Remote app loaded on your mobile device, you can adjust the camera settings remotely and view the camera’s images on your gadget. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 allows you to control interval recording from a mobile device, and the Canon PowerShot S110 can post photos directly to social media networks, as long as a Wi-Fi hotspot is within range, thanks to the free Canon CameraWindow app.
A Smart Camera that takes app integration to the extreme is the Nikon COOLPIX S800c. If you’ve ever wanted a smart phone with a 25-250mm NIKKOR glass lens, the S800c is about as close as it gets. While this point-and-shoot camera cannot make telephone calls, it does run an Android operating system and feature a 3.5” OLED touch screen. You can play Angry Birds and shoot photos of birds from the same camera. There is also a wide range of photo apps that are available to download directly into the camera from the Google Play store. There are photo-editing apps, retouching apps, filter apps, time-lapse apps—you name it. The COOLPIX S800c is available in black and white.
For many moons, printers had been classified as “Computer Peripherals,” which implied that their only role in this world was to sit beside computers, plug into them through a cable or a network and print when commanded. Times have changed, and now printers are operating more and more independently from computers. Many of the models that are available today feature Wi-Fi, which means that you can print with them directly from your gadgets, whether you’re in the same room or in separate time zones.
An example of a printer that has pretty compelling app capabilities is the Epson Artisan 837 All-In-One. Aside from being a well-rounded machine that prints, scans and copies, the 837 utilizes the free Epson iPrint app, which enables you to print from both Apple iOS and Android devices. The iPrint app also lets you easily access and print files stored in Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote and Box, and it gives you the ability to print Microsoft documents and PDFs as well. A built-in feature called Epson Email Print assigns an exclusive email address to your Artisan 837, so anything that you send to it will be printed.
Another all-in-one printer that features Wi-Fi connectivity, the ability to print things that are emailed to it, and Apple’s AirPrint protocol is the Hewlett Packard Photosmart 6510. In addition to these features, it has a 3.5” color touch screen that enables you to operate the machine without needing to touch a computer. You can access built-in apps from its touch screen to print recipes, play games, etc. A free mobile app called HP ePrint is also available for Apple iOS and Android devices, and it lets you print items to “public HP print locations,” which can be found at The UPS Store, Walmart photo kiosks, FedEx Office stores and more.
Like today’s cameras and printers, many televisions come with built-in Wi-Fi. Being able to access the Internet from your TV makes it possible to stream content from services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, as well as check your Facebook News Feed and Twitter account. Watching YouTube clips on a computer or a gadget is fine for an audience of one or two people, but you can’t beat being able to watch Web videos on your widescreen TV when there are more people in the room.
Panasonic has done a nice job of integrating Web-based activities with regular TV viewing. The Panasonic Internet-connected TVs have a feature called VIERA Connect, which enables you to keep an eye on your social media feeds as you continue to watch your favorite programming. A built-in Skype app enables you to have video chats through your TV when you use a separately available camera accessory. You can even choose to keep watching your TV shows and Skype at the same time (sorry, Mom). Sports fans will enjoy dedicated apps from Fox Sports and MLB.TV, and music apps are provided as well (Pandora and SHOUTcast Radio), plus there are apps for news and weather, health and fitness and dedicated apps for kids. A Web browser and games are built into the TVs as well.
VIERA TVs come with a hardware remote that features dedicated Internet buttons, but Panasonic offers another way to control your TV and surprise, surprise, it comes in the form of an app. The VIERA remote app is available for Android and Apple devices and it enables your gadet to act as a remote control for the TV. There are tap- and flick-based commands as well as keyboards for entering text. The app can be used for browsing the Web, it turns your device into a gamepad for the integrated game apps and it lets you share photos, music and movies from your mobile device on the big screen.
These advanced features are found on a wide range of Panasonic’s latest TVs, from the 47” Class ET5 LED HDTV, to the 65” TC-P65ST50 Plasma. There are plenty of other impressive features on these televisions besides the apps and Wi-Fi capabilities, and many of them feature support for 3D content and even come with multiple sets of 3D glasses. A great way to take in a 3D movie is with a high-resolution Blu-ray player, and you really get the whole enchilada if you have a surround sound system in place. The Panasonic SC-BTT195 Full HD 3D Blu-ray Disc Home Theater System supplies you with both of these key components in one package.
Streaming Boxes and Disc Players
While the idea of buying a brand-new television with the latest apps and features is appealing, the problem is that TVs tend to last a good number of years, and if you upgraded your TV in the past half decade, you likely don’t need to do it again now. Plus, a television is a sizeable investment, and swapping them in and out of your home takes a lot of effort. Even if your TV is several years old, you can still empower it with entertaining apps and Wi-Fi capabilities by adding an external media player, such as an affordable Web-streaming box or a Web-connected disc player.
Purchasing and watching downloadable movies and TV shows is really starting to catch on. It’s a similar trend to the way great numbers of people stopped buying CDs and opted to buy, store and play their music digitally. If you own an Apple gadget like the iPhone, iPod touch or an iPad, a great streamer to get is the Apple TV. It’s a tiny box that connects to your home network and to your TV through HDMI, and it enables you to buy and rent movies and TV shows from iTunes as well as stream content from Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Vimeo and many more. Another great feature it has is called AirPlay, which allows any photo, video or song on your Apple gadget to be instantly beamed onto your TV, and it’s incredibly easy to use. Plus, Apple offers a free Remote app that makes it easy to control the Apple TV with any of your iOS gadgets.
The Western Digital WD TV Live is a similar option in both physical appearance and capabilities. It, too, connects to your Wi-Fi network and allows you to stream content from the likes of Netflix, Hulu Plus, Spotify and YouTube, but the WD TV Live also features two USB ports, so you can attach your own drives and play content you have stored. A free remote-control app for the WD TV Live is also available for Apple gadgets; however, this device does not support AirPlay. Another option from Western Digital is their WD TV Live Hub Network Media player, which offers all of the same features as the WD TV Live (with the exception of built-in Wi-Fi), and includes a 1TB network drive and the ability to stream content to any DLNA devices on your home network.
Streaming boxes tend to appeal to “cord cutters,” which is a term for people who voluntarily end their cable TV service in favor of streaming content from the Internet. If you have no intention of ending your digital cable service, the TiVo Premiere XL4 is a really sweet app-enhanced option. TiVo requires a digital cable subscription and it imparts its own monthly fee, but it’s one of the most beloved DVR services in existence. The XL4 enables you to record four programs at a time, and it can store up to 300 hours of HD content. The free TiVo app for iPad enables you to command your XL4 box with slick, graphics-driven multi-touch control. TiVo is famous for its user-friendliness, and the iPad app makes it even easier to use.
If you like the idea of having a streaming device connected to your TV, and you’ve wanted to add a Blu-ray player to your home entertainment system, you can get both in one when you buy a Smart Disc Player. Decks like the LG Electronics BP320 enable you to stream content from Netflix, Pandora and all the usual suspects, in addition to playing full 1080p Blu-ray discs, DVDs and CDs too. If you want to watch 3D Blu-ray Discs, the LG Electronics BP520 offers this capability, in addition to doing most of the things that the BP320 does. The BP520 features a wired network input, and if you want to get on Wi-Fi, a separate USB Wi-Fi adapter such as the D-Link DWA-125 is required. Once again, when you’re going for the immersive experience that Blu-ray delivers, it’s advisable to go all the way with a surround sound system, and the BH6820SW provides both components.
Next-Generation Music Systems
A common thought when hooking up a home entertainment system is that cables and wires are an annoying mess, and that hopefully, in the near future, everything will be wireless. While we’re not quite there yet, we are making strides toward this goal, and Sonos Music Systems are an excellent example of the progress we’ve made. The Sonos is a speaker system that connects to your Wi-Fi network. You send it music and control it with a dedicated app called Sonos Controller, which is available for Apple and Android devices. You can stream music from your iTunes library, Pandora, Sirius XM, Spotify and more. You can expand the system into more rooms of your home by adding more Sonos speakers, and integrate it into your current stereo system with the Sonos Connect.
Another wireless music option is to stream content from your device through Bluetooth, or if you have an Apple gadget, you can use AirPlay. A good wireless speaker option that satisfies both Apple and Android users is the Sony NS310. It’s compatible with AirPlay, and it has built-in Wi-Fi to stream from your home network as well. Apps are available for the NS310 for both Apple and Android devices as well. Another option from Sony that offers the same features with a five hour rechargeable battery is the SA-NS500.
It doesn’t matter if you’re on the hunt for a connected camera, an intelligent TV, a streaming media player or a wireless music system—if you need to research, there’s no better app to have than the B&H Mobile iOS and Android app. It enables you to search, browse and buy stuff in a format that’s optimized for your handheld gadget.
Thanks for reading this B&H InDepth article. If you have any thoughts or questions about app-empowered equipment, please contact one of our Sales Associates via live chat, on the phone or in the B&H SuperStore. If you have any immediate comments or questions, you can post them in the Comments section, below.