Welcome to the world of ‘Touchless’ Smartphones!

Imagine interacting with your smartphone without even touching it. Imagine waving your hand or pointing your finger to perform tasks on your smartphone. Better still, imagine interacting with you smartphone using your eyes! If only you could change the music by waving your hand or feet or view photos by pointing at your smartphone. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could wave your hand over the smartphone to check the time? Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

I was wondering if touchscreens on smartphones will eventually become ‘gesture-screens’ and whether all user interaction will be devoid of the ‘Touch’.  Is gesture-based user interaction the future for smartphones and tablets?

Actually, the future is already here! Gesture-based user-interaction was implemented in the Samsung Galaxy S5. There’s a lot more you can do with gestures than with just touch. You can use your eyes, head, hands, feet or any part of your body to navigate through your smartphone or tablet.

Let’s look at a few cool features of the Samsung Galaxy S5’s gesture-based user-interaction.

Air View

The Air view feature gives you a ‘Preview’ of the particular UI element by just hovering your finger over it. You must turn Air view on before previewing using gestures. Go to Settings > Motion and Gestures > Air view. Switch Air view On.

Air_View_On

This feature allows you to preview photos, events, speed dial numbers, text messages etc.

Here are a few live examples of how Air view looks like on the Samsung Galaxy S5:

Previewing photos through Air view:

Air_View_Photo

In the above photo, I am ‘Air viewing’ a particular photo in my album. Instead of navigating through all the photos, I just need to hover my finger on all photos one at a time for a quick preview. This feature is very useful and saves a lot of time in finding the right photo to upload or share.

Previewing text messages through Air view:

Air_View_Text

In the above image, I just hovered on a text message to view the message. I don’t really need to click and view the message. This is a convenient way to navigate through all text messages.

Air browse

Imaging being able to navigate through photos or music by just swiping your palm over the phone without even touching it! Air browse lets you do just that.

You must turn Air browse on before being able to browse using gestures. Go to Settings > Motion and Gestures > Air browse. Switch Air browse On.

Air_Browse_On

This feature lets you change music even when the screen is locked. Just wave your hand on the screen and you can change tracks right away.

Air wake up

Generally, once a smartphone goes into sleep mode, the only way to wake it up is to click the power or home button (depending on the model of the smartphone). Samsung Galaxy S5 provides an awesome feature where you can hover your palm on the proximity sensor and it automatically wakes up the device.

You must turn Air wake up on before being able to wake up your smartphone using gestures. Go to Settings > Accessibility > Dexterity and interaction > Air wake up. Switch Air wake up On.

Air_Wake_up_on

This feature is useful if your hands are wet or you don’t want to touch the phone at night but you want to quickly check the time. This is also a quick way to check updates within the widgets on your home screen.

Smart Scroll

Imaging being able to scroll through a web page by tilting the device or your head. Smart scroll does just that.

You must turn Smart scroll on before being able to scroll using gestures. Go to Settings > Accessibility > Dexterity and interaction > Smart Scroll. Switch Smart scroll On. You can either choose to navigate by tilting the device or tilting your head.

Smart_Scroll_On

Smart Pause

I’m sure this has happened to you – you look away from the movie you are watching on your smartphone, and you miss the action! If only there was a way to pause the movie on your smartphone every time you looked away. Smart pause lets you do just that.

Samsung Galaxy S5 has a feature where the video pauses automatically when you look away! To enable Smart pause, go to Settings > Motion and Gestures > Mute/Pause. Switch Mute/Pause On. Select the Smart Pause check box.

smart_pause_on

These amazing features make me wonder whether Is it really the end of the ‘Touch’. It’ll be interesting to see how gesture-based user-interaction improves over the coming years. With cut-throat competition amongst smartphone companies, new ways of user-interaction will become unique selling features. It will be interesting to see who wins in the end. At the moment, I see only one winner – and it is you, the user. Because you can now use your smartphone without touching it!

Disclaimer: The Digital Dimension of Technology is an independent non-commercial technology blog. We have not been endorsed by Samsung or Google (Android). 

Mobile Payments: Leave your wallet at home!

How many times have you rushed to work only to realize that you have forgotten your wallet at home? Well, the only option then is to borrow money from your co-workers (for lunch or the odd coffee) and this can be quite embarrassing! And now think about the one thing you never leave home without these days? You guessed it right – your mobile device. People are glued to their smartphones throughout the day and sometimes, even in bed.

The mobile world presents a great opportunity for any seller to accept payments using your mobile phone. If your mobile phone was also your wallet, you would never have to carry your “real” wallet.

Just out of a curiosity to see how such a concept would work, I decided to install a mobile payment app on my Android phone.

Setting up Mobile Payments

Before paying using my smartphone, I had to enable NFC, download the mobile payment app, register my credit card, and configure the app itself.

Following are the step-by-step procedures:

1. Enable NFC: First, I enabled the Near Field Communication (NFC) feature on my Android phone. NFC allows smartphones to communicate with other devices in the vicinity. The communication is encrypted. Smartphones that do not have NFC cannot be used for mobile payments (for example, the iPhone). As soon I enabled NFC, a N sign appeared on the top of the screen.

NFC

2. Download the Mobile Payments App: I downloaded the CIBC mobile payments app. You can download the mobile payments app for your credit card/bank.
3. Call the bank to activate: There was a manual process involved with CIBC. I had to make a phone call to CIBC to activate mobile payments for my credit card.
4. Receive notification from CIBC Mobile Payments: Once I received the notification, I knew the activation was successful.
5. Set a password: This step is optional. For security reasons, it is better to set a password – just in case your mobile phone is lost or stolen.

Passcode

The configuration was complete and the app said ‘Congratulations!‘.

Config_Done

Making a Mobile Payment 

Once the setup was complete, I tried to figure out how I could make a payment. Surprisingly, making a payment was extremely simple.

1. Launch the Mobile Payment app (CIBC) on your smartphone. Enter your password if you have set one.

Launch_app

2. Tap the credit card to activate Pay Mode for 30 seconds.

Pay_Mode

3. Tap your phone on the payment terminal. You can also move your smartphone within 10 centimeters of the payment terminal. The payment is processed.

Security Features in Mobile Payments

The mobile payments app has many security features:

  • Call the bank to add your credit card. This ensures someone else is not activating your card.
  • Password on the mobile payments app. This is in addition to the password on your phone.
  • Pay Mode deactivated in 30 seconds. This ensures that your credit card information is not read from your phone when you don’t want it to be read. You are always in control.
  • Communication between the smartphone and the terminal is always encrypted.

Advantages of Mobile Payments

  • You don’t need to carry your wallet.
  • Reduce credit card theft. Since you are not swiping your credit card anywhere, it cannot be read by hackers.
  • Any terminal that accepts VISA payWave® or MasterCard PayPass™ will also support NFC transactions.

Disadvantages of Mobile Payments

  • There aren’t many touch-to-pay terminals at the moment.
  • Not all credit card companies offer mobile payments.
  • Not all mobile carriers offer mobile payments.
  • You need a separate SIM card to enable mobile payments (provided by the carrier).
  • If smartphones are lost or stolen, the credit card details can be extracted by a smart hacker.

The smartphone industry is growing at an alarming pace. Up until yesterday, your smartphone was your computer, camera, and maybe even your bathroom mirror. Today, smartphones are credit cards and mobile payment terminals. You can now forget your wallet at home and you don’t need to borrow lunch money from your co-workers!

Disclaimer: The Digital Dimension of Technology is an independent technology blog. We have not been endorsed by Rogers, Samsung, CIBC, or Google (Android). We do not endorse the security, usability, and reliability of mobile payments. 

 

Going beyond the device: Expanding the horizons of Super Zoom

Have you ever pushed your device to the limit? Have you ever made your device do what it was not meant to do, like over-clocking your CPU or Jail-breaking your iPhone? I just did something like that. Only it’s something much safer than over-clocking or jail breaking. And I did it to my camera.

I have been using a Super Zoom camera for a while now. A super zoom camera comes with a lens that can go from a Wide Angle to Super Zoom. The Canon SX 40 HS is a good example as it can go from 24mm (wide angle) to 840mm (super zoom).

There are some advanced features that are not available in a Super Zoom. One of the most important missing features is a Remote Shutter Release option. Some DSLRs come with a Wireless Shutter Release option where you can mount your camera on a tripod and take the picture without touching the camera.

Many a time I’ve really really needed a Remote Shutter Release option. For example, when I take photos of the Moon/Super Moon or when I take artsy pictures at night. My super moon picture:

Downtown Vancouver at night:

[For more photos, visit my Photo Blog]

In such cases, I have either zoomed in quite a bit, or am taking the picture in low light conditions. The slightest shake translates into a very bad picture. To avoid shaking the camera in such cases, I usually activate the 10 second timer. But there is some residual oscillation (shake) which sometimes messes up the photos. Reading the camera’s user guide told me that that there was no inbuilt no Remote Shutter Release option available. I also visited many specialty camera in the hope of finding an external device that could act as a remote shutter release. To my utter disappointment, I could not find such a device.

Then, one fine day, I discovered CHDK – Canon Hack Development Kit. This is an open source community that creates programs for Canon cameras to add capabilities in addition to the existing features, for example, a Remote Shutter Release option. So, I decided to build my own Remote Shutter Release kit. Here’s what I did:

(A) Installed CHDK on my camera (the easy part)

To install CHDK:

  1. Go to the http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK
  2. Check the firmware version on your camera.
  3. Download the correct build based on the firmware version. Unzip it on your computer.
  4. Copy the CHDK files on the SD card.
  5. Insert the SD card in the camera and press the Review button.
  6. Go to  Menu and update the firmware.

The program is loaded into the memory temporarily. When you shut off the camera, it is removed from the memory. The program does not interfere with the manufacturer’s original firmware. CHDK also provides a detailed user guide.

(B) Created a physical Remote Shutter Release device (the most difficult part)

I searched the Internet and discovered that I have to build a remote shutter release device on my own. I found a great video of a camera user who had built a shutter release device from scratch. I could not follow the same path since I am not as tech savvy. Imagine the trouble if I were to solder a diode onto a circuit!. Moreover, being a technical writer by profession, I believe in simplicity. I wanted a solution that was simple, easy to implement, easy to use, and of professional quality. I could not build a remote shutter release device, and nobody sold one for my camera. It seemed like a dead end.

Numerous searches on the Internet provided no answers. However, I discovered a few things that helped me create a solution for myself:

  • Send > 4V on the data port of the camera to release the shutter.
  • A very high voltage (> 8V) might damage the camera!

I performed some trial-and-error experiments and discovered a very simple solution for the problem. I used the following readymade components:

  • Duracell USB Battery Backup: I used the Duracell USB Battery Backup to experiment with the Remote Shutter Release feature of CHDK. The Duracell USB Battery Backup is rechargeable, has an ON/OFF switch, and is slightly bigger than a matchbox. It has a USB (output) port for charging external devices and a mini-USB (input) port for charging the backup battery.

  • Mini-USB cable: I used a mini-USB cable for the solution. You can easily use the data cable that came with the camera.

(C) Made the hardware and software work together

To make the hardware and CHDK software work together:

  1. Install CHDK on the SD card and update the Firmware [as explained in (A) above]. Once CHDK is in the memory, go to the CHDK menu and enable Remote Shutter. (Print button + Menu button displays CHDK menu.)
  2. Connect the mini-USB cable to the camera’s data port and the other end to the USB port on the Duracell USB Battery Backup.
  3. Switch ON the Duracell USB Battery Backup and Switch OFF immediately. The camera focuses.
  4. Switch ON the Duracell USB Battery Backup and Switch OFF immediately again. The camera releases the shutter!

And I am sure this solution will not damage the camera. Here’s the simple reason why: The camera is designed to use a mini-USB cable that is connected to a computer’s USB port (which has a ~4V output). The Duracell USB Battery Backup also has the same output since it is basically a USB port without the data transmission capabilities.

I was amazed that another device could work as a remote shutter release for a camera that was not built to use one! Amazon, eBay, camera stores, and photography forums did give me ideas for creating this seemingly simple solution. So I thought I must share this discovery with all the other Super Zoom users out there that are also looking for something similar.

Happy Super Zooming!

More information about the Duracell USB Battery Backup: http://www.duracell.com/en-US/product/instant-usb-charger.jspx

Update: May 12, 2012: If you want to use a clicker-like device, the iGo Anywhere USB Micro/Mini Charger would be ideal. Instead of a switch, you could use the button to release the shutter. For more information about iGo Anywhere USB Micro/Mini Charger, visit the Source website here. I tested it out and it works perfectly fine.

Simplicity. Stability. A Technological Marvel!

I was looking for an operating system that is extremely stable, required less processing power, worked on low memory, never crashed, and was very easy to use. Having used Mac OS X, Windows 7, and iOS, my expectations were extremely high. I was thrilled to discover an operating system that was simpler, better, faster, and more stable than the other operating systems I had used.

Around four years ago, I stumbled upon Ubuntu. Ubuntu changed the way I looked at operating systems. Ubuntu combines the power, stability, and security of a Linux operating system with the ease of use of Mac OS X, Windows 7, and iOS.

Ubuntu can easily revolutionize home computing, or even small business computing. Here’s why:

Simplicity

Ubuntu is extremely easy to use. A user, with absolutely no knowledge of computers, can easily start using Ubuntu. For home computing, all you need is a stable system, an excellent browser, and Office programs. Ubuntu provides all that – and more. A few years ago, I was impressed with the Apple App store that made installation very simple. Ubuntu goes farther than iOS in ease of App installation.

Stability

Firstly, Ubuntu worked smoothly on my old laptop with just 128 MB RAM and a 133MHz Celeron processor. Secondly, Ubuntu never crashed and never corrupted the installed programs. Finally, Ubuntu was inert to viruses, malware, spyware, botnets, and ransom-ware. My computer worked perfectly for many years. In fact, this is my third computer running Ubuntu.

Here’s a quick tour of Ubuntu for Netbook.

Ubuntu Desktop:

The ubuntu desktop is very clean to look at. The icons on the left give ready access to various frequently used programs. The top menu bar allows you to access advanced configuration options and various tools.

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Menu for Communication

The menu allows you to chat or launch an email program. You can use ALT + TAB to navigate between programs (just like Windows).

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Menu for Connections:

The menu allows you to connect to Wireless or Ethernet with additional connection options.

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Menu for Exploring the Computer:

The explorer menu helps you navigate the computer or the network right from the Desktop.

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Open Office: Writer

Open Office is an open source (free) program that is very similar to Microsoft Office. This program is very useful to the home user or small business. Open Office works pretty well and is extremely stable.

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Dashboard:

The dashboard allows you to navigate to other programs on the computer. Just move the mouse over the Dashboard icon, and additional options appear.

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Installing Applications:

This feature beats any know operating system – even iOS. Ubuntu displays the programs Most Frequently Used, Installed, and Apps Available for Download. Unlike Windows, you don’t have to open a browser, search the Internet, download and then install the applications. Most available applications are readily displayed and can be installed directly from list!

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The Cloud: Ubuntu One

Ubuntu is futuristic. Ubuntu provides a cloud to store your files.

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Ubuntu is an amazing operating system that can help home and small business in the following ways:

– Save money on software licensing
– Use existing hardware instead of upgrading
– Security (a UNIX core is very secure)
– Stability (a very stable operating system)
– Install Free (Open Source) programs like Open Office
– Simplicity and ease of use (easier than Windows or Mac OS X!)
– All drivers available (printer, webcam, and other drivers work fine)

Is it time to abandon Windows and Mac OS X?

(If you want to try Ubuntu without going through the trouble of installing it first, you can do so at the live Ubuntu demo: http://www.ubuntu.com/tour/en/)

How would you describe Facebook without the Internet?

With all the Social Media buzzwords floating around, someone who was not born with a smartphone in their hands would find the idea of Facebook extremely complex. I tried to explain the concept of Facebook to my parents. However, I realized that some user-interface elements obvious to me were not obvious to someone who equates their computer with nothing except email.

Facebook does a great job of marketing itself. But in my opinion, Facebook does not do a good job of explaining user interface elements to non-technical users. Otherwise, basic Facebook concepts such as Wall, Posts, Comments, Message, Tagging, and Targeted Advertisements would be extremely clear to everyone.

This post is my attempt to explain the various components of Facebook to non-technical users. Let’s assume for a moment that there is no Internet. Describing Facebook without Internet is like describing automobiles without roads, but I’m still making an attempt!

For example, people in ancient civilizations – where modern technology was non-existent – still had a ‘Social Network’. How did they communicate with each other?

Let me tell you a story about ‘Social Network’ in a world without Internet, phones, emails, or smartphones.

Welcome to NoGizmo. NoGizmo is a small (imaginary, I hope) town with around 100 residents. As the name suggests, they have no phones, computers, or Internet. However, they have a very unique way of communicating with each other. This story is about Amy, Bob, and Jim who live in NoGizmo.

The Wall – the main feature

Residents have a whiteboard in front of their houses. They can write anything on the whiteboard. For example, Jim writes short messages about his day-to-day activities. People walking by read the whiteboard.

The Post – communicating with the world

Jim wrote on his whiteboard ‘There’s a huge sale in Home Depot.

The Comment – responding to posts

Amy walked past Jim’s house and she saw the post. Amy picked up a marker and wrote under Jim’s post ‘I’d like to shop there too!

The Security  – allowing only selected people to view/comment on the post

Jim did not want everyone adding comments on his whiteboard. He placed his whiteboard behind a glass door and locked it. He gave copies of the key to selected people who could unlock the glass door to write comments. When Bob walked past, he saw Jim’s message, but could not write on the whiteboard since he did not have a copy of the key to open the glass door.

Messages – sending personal messages not visible to the world

Bob decided to throw a secret party for Amy. He wrote a letter on a piece of paper and dropped it off at Jim’s house. Jim read the message and wrote a reply to Bob on a piece of paper and dropped it off at Bob’s house. They had now planned a party. Only Jim and Bob knew about the party. This was because, communication between Jim and Bob was not conducted on the notice board. This particular communication was private.

Photos and Tagging – sharing photos and identifying (tagging) people

Jim pasted a photo he took with Bob and Amy on the whiteboard. Jim marked the names of the people on the whiteboard under the photo – Amy, Bob, Jim.

Remove Tagging – removing identification

Amy did not want her name on the photo. She walked past Jim’s house, and with her key, she opened the glass door to Jim’s whiteboard. Amy erased her name under the photo.

Advertisements – displaying ‘relevant’ advertisements

The Ad Company  (AdCo) saw the whiteboards as a great opportunity to advertise various products to people. AdCo now has a small space on every whiteboard where it advertises products related to the interests of the people writing on the whiteboard. For example, Amy posted that she plans to go skating. So, AdCo advertised skating gear on Amy’s whiteboard. If Amy saw the advertisement and went to the local sports store to purchase skates, AdCo would get a 5% cut from sale.

Here’s how virtual elements in Facebook compare to real-world objects in NoGizmo:

  • Wall = Whiteboard
  • Post = message/announcement by the owner of the Wall.
  • Comments = response to a Post or a Photo.
  • Security = a locked or unlocked whiteboard; allowing only certain people to comment.
  • Messages = personal messages only visible to the intended recipients.
  • Tagging Photos = identifying/marking photos.
  • Remove Tagging = removing identification.
  • Targeted Ads = advertisements based on the demographic/interests of the user.

The next time your parents/grandparents ask you about Facebook, just ask them to read my story about NoGizmo. I am sure they will enjoy it.

By the way, I’m glad I don’t live in NoGizmo. I can’t live without the Internet or my gizmos!

Apple Maps vs. Google Maps – a user’s perspective

When Apple decided to abandon Google Maps and create its own, users expected Apple to create the next generation mapping product. However, when Apple launched its maps with iOS 6, there were reports of multiple errors in Apple Maps. Collapsed bridges, wrong names, and non-existent landmarks were a few errors blown out of proportion by the media.

Do Apple Maps really suck? Are the maps unreliable? As an iOS 6 user, would I get lost without Google Maps?

The only way to answer these questions is for me to compare both maps using a user-centric approach. I decided to analyze the route from place A to place B using both maps. For my test, I chose two well-known landmarks in the Vancouver Lower Mainland, that is starting from the Metropolis at Metrotown Mall to the Waterfront Skytrain Station.

Apple Maps: Here is the route displayed by Apple Maps:

20120930-201318.jpg

The map view looked alright to me. However, to be more accurate, I looked at the list view:

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What I liked about the Apple Maps (list view) was that Nelson St, Hazel St, and Miller Ave were displayed. Depending upon where exactly the user was, one of the streets would be visible within 100-150 meters. Apple maps took me through the Dunsmuir viaduct and finally Cambie St, Pender St, and Seymour St directly into Downtown Core. As a person who lives here, the route looked alright to me.

Google Maps: Here is the route displayed by Google Maps:

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Let us see the Google Maps route using the list view:

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Apple Maps seemed to be taking a slightly different route, but at first glance, neither route is glaringly incorrect. Google Maps was taking another route via Main St and Hastings St to Seymour St and finally to Downtown Core. In the Google Maps route, the first step struck me as strange. Google Maps tells the user ‘Head Northeast’. How is the user supposed to know what Northeast is? Unless the user is holding a compass, it is not user-friendly to say head in a particular direction.

Both routes are correct. However, here are the differences:

Apple Maps:

  • Specifies each street right from the start to the end. Does not say head ‘in a particular direction’.
  • Gives turn-by-turn navigation via large, unmistakeable labels on the map.

Google Maps:

  • Says head Northeast at the start of the route. Pointing users in a direction rather than towards a street, in my opinion, is not user-friendly.
  • Provides street-view, showing users exactly where they need to go.

Aside from the above differences both Apple and Google maps seem to be quite accurate. Considering the fact that Apple Maps is just the first version and the error-reporting is crowd-sourced, I am sure the accuracy of the maps will improve as users use them more and more.

As for the errors like collapsed bridges and non-existent landmarks, Apple has no option but to fix them as soon as possible.

(Edited by Prarthna Sri)

 

 

Auditing in a touch-screen world!

Every time I inspected a home before renting it out, or even before buying it, I wish I had a quick checklist of repairs or cleaning required. In the absence of a checklist, there was no perfect way to record the defects in a house. Not having a checklist would lead to problems later – if both parties do not agree to defects. For example, you may have to pay for the stain on the carpet that was not your fault.

I found this amazing app called iAuditor. The iAuditor has a few built-in checklist that can be filled out using an iPad or an iPhone. The UI is a very simple and intuitive:

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I started a new Audit. The App has a few built-in checklists (you can also create your own customized checklist):

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I decided to try out the Accommodation Inspection Checklist:

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The checklist has the following options: Yes, No and Not Applicable. Selecting No gives an option to directly add photographic evidence of non-compliance by clicking the Camera icon.
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There is also an option to add additional comments. An interesting feature of the App is the option for both parties to add signatures directly from the iPad!

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Once both parties have signed on the Audit checklist, the App gives an option to directly export to PDF. This is how an exported PDF looks:

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As a Technical Writer, I am extremely impressed by the perfectly formatted PDF output. I can imagine hundreds of good uses for this App in business. The following uses come to my mind:

– Safety Inspection
– Regulatory Compliance
– Manufacturing
– Pharmaceuticals
– Construction
– Real Estate

In addition to the above business uses, this App can be used in personal situations as well.

The next time you check out a home for rent, make sure to carry your iPad or iPhone. Using the iAuditor App, carefully track the defects that need to be fixed. If not, don’t be surprised if you are dinged for a stain on the carpet that existed before you moved in!