Friday, 22 February 2013

Managing Your Menu Bar

More and more OS X applications are using the menu bar to enable access to their settings or specific features. Even on the shiny new 27" iMac at the Apple Harvest this was becoming a real problem, but on the 13" MacBook Air things were far worse. I hate to think what it would like to use an 11" MBA! There have been a few utilities to help overcome the problem - I've been using AccessMenuBarApps for a couple of years with some success, but now there's a new kid on the block which is spot on for the job.

Bartender really solves the problem of an overcrowded menu bar using such a simple set of concepts that it's a wonder that no-one thought of doing it before. It's a beautifully executed app  and it doesn't take a lot of looking after once you have set up the initial configuration. Most importantly it allows you to take control and ownership of what goes into your menu bar (and where) rather than the apps themselves (and their developers).

Bartender in action (from developer's website)

Basically, Bartender allows you to set up a secondary menu bar which sits hidden underneath the system menu bar (or can float around wherever you wish), and allows you to decide which icons sit in the main menu or which can be delegated to the secondary bar. Icons can be hidden if they aren't used very often, and reordered any which way you want. Rather than trying to describe all the features here I suggest you download the trial version from the website and have a play. I seriously doubt that you will go for the full 4 week trial period before you commit to buying it. And when you do decide to shell out, it'll be one of the best £10.17 ($15) you'll have invested in your Mac - especially if you're a laptop owner! Astonishingly some people are whinging about the price for such a "simple" app. Seriously, if it was that simple someone would have written it a long time ago!

If you don't believe me or the developers, just take a look at some of the reviews recently published in Macworld, MacLife and Cult of Mac. If you'd prefer a video, here's one on YouTube. For reference, Bartender is no longer in beta but is fully functional and currently on V1.0.6

Friday, 15 February 2013

A Lightning Review of Lightning Docks

In my last post before Christmas I mentioned all the goodies I added to the Apple Harvest inventory over the past 6 months, and I promised to write about some of them but it's really hard to know where to start. The new iMac 27inch is purring away upstairs in the office (I'm writing this on the MacBook Air while watching the tele with one eye!) but that started as a horror story so I'll save that for another day. So I'm going to start with something a bit less exotic, but nevertheless essential in a busy office environment - namely docks…

Both the iPad mini and the iPhone 5 sport the new Apple Lightning connector. A lot of people have been very angry about Apple's decision to dump the old 30pin connector that has been around for the last 5 or so years since the introduction of the 3rd generation iPod. Whilst I have a number of accessories that do use the 30pin dock as standard I'm not going to lose any sleep over the change. Now I have a mixture of iOS devices that use Lightning and 30pin connections I bought a few (Apple and 3rd party) adaptors that get me through the day. And on the positive side, I like the fact that the Lightning connector is 'reversible' meaning it doesn't matter which way round you attach it to the device.

The downside has been that manufacturers seem to have been really slow on the uptake to provide Lightning specific accessories - at least, ones that are available in the UK. I particularly wanted Lightning docks for charging and potentially syncing both the iPad Mini and iPhone 5.  Syncing is less of an issue these days with iOS offering wireless syncing. I absolutely didn't want docks that weren't oriented to both devices, and I didn't want to have to be constantly taking off cases and putting them back on again. Happily I've found two excellent docks meeting my specifications. The first is from Belkin and the second from Sinjimoru. Both docks are striking in their design as you can see from the photos below.

Belkin Lightning Dock
        Sinjimoru Lighning Dock

The Sinjimoru dock can be configured for either the old 30 pin connector or Lightning but offers no other features. The Bekin is purely a Lightning dock but also has an AUX port at the back and connect to the headphone socket of the iPhone 5 via an ingenious fold down jack plug. It's because the plug can be folded into the stand that enables it to double up as an iPad mini dock. Check out the video to see this in action. Both docks can handle cases on the devices, although it can be a bit of a tight squeeze with the Sinjimoru.

The Belkin comes in at £24.99 (it's much more expensive on Amazon - £37.90!) while the Sinjimoru is a little cheaper at £19.95 and is available in black or white. On the Belkin UK site it says that the dock is currently available for pre-order but in fact it shipped the same day I put the order in. It is available from other UK distributors if there are problems sourcing it directly.

Ultimately the Belkin is probably the more flexible device given the additional features and its slightly better ability to handle an iPad mini in a case, but only if you need this and can get the dock at the right price. The Apple Harvest homestead is configured with Sinjimoru docks in the bedroom and office whilst the Belkin lives downstairs in the living room.

There, at last. First post of 2013 completed and posted. See you next time!