Review – Home Inventory for Mac and iOS

According to the makers of Home Inventory (Binary Formations, LLC. ), September was “National Preparedness Month” and as such they made their flagship product “Home Inventory” available for 50% off.  I got the opporuntity to do a review of the Mac product, along with both iOS companion products – Mobile Backup and Photo Remote.  Binary Formations was founded a little over four years ago, but the product shows a level of maturity of feature set, that comes from building a product that is truly needed by the developers themselves.  The Mac App has a PDF user manual that is over 150 pages, and I admit I had to go to refer to it a few times to understand how to access some of the features – but more on that later.

What is Home Inventory?  Well it’s name describes it perfectly, it is an inventory that any home owner should have, for insurance purposes, of the items in their home.  Most insurance policies require some sort of inventory in order to reimburse after a disaster, and Home Inventory puts the tools in your hands to make sure you have what you need.  Given the completeness of this application, I won’t be able to cover all aspects of the program, and will instead focus on data capture.

I have been meaning to do a home inventory for insurance purposes for some time, but I never really have had the time to do so.  Writing a review of the app is a perfect opportunity to give it shot. Being a realist, however, I knew I would never be able to do a full inventory in time to make a meaningful review, so I decided to do a much smaller inventory, i.e. the things on my desk in my home office.  This still became a bit of a daunting task.  Should I do everything, or only those things which are relevant and expensive.  I again took the shorter path.  I would only do electronics gadgets, and there are plenty of those!! My plan was to enter 10 items, and see how it goes.

First I needed to install the Mac App, not a problem as it is available on the AppStore, so a quick click got it going.  I created the initial data file during the launch, and was presented with a screen to define some basic home information, including a picture of the home, a Maintenance Schedule and Assessment History.  You can also include detailed information about when the house was built, the lot size, age of the home, and purchase price.  This level of information is great for an insurance assessment, probably not so much for a review on the web.  So I have blocked out most of that information and included a random house picture for this review.

The First thing I entered was using the Photo Remote to take a picture of the DockIT Air case I reviewed recently (see that post).  The iPhone App requires that you are on the same wifi as the Mac running the software, that the Mac version of the application be running, and that you select the Menu options Inventory -> Photo Remote, or press Command-R.  You are walked thru either scanning a Barcode (which I did with another item) or taking a picture.  If you scan the barcode it will do a look up on Amazon (or perhaps other services) and pre-fill in much of the information about the object.  You are then walked through a series of items to select the location, make, model, serial number, price, etc.  If you don’t hit “save” you will lose the data you have entered.  Also, if you close the window on the Mac the connection will be broken and you will lose your information.  You cannot add all the information on the Remote Photo app, and will find yourself going back to your Mac to complete the process.  The good news is, that while some of the views have visual prompts to accept new value (for example – a Click to add receipt button), drag and drop seems to be working fine.

The following pictures show you how the iPhone App works, and include a few screen shots of the Mac App.

1) Define Inventory File

1) Define Inventory File

2) Define your home info

2) Define your home info

3) Add Picture and Address

3) Add Picture and Address

4) Add Assessment History and Maintenance

4) Add Assessment History and Maintenance

After getting your basics setup, the following screens show how I added a item via my iPhone using the Photo Remote app.

1) Connecting to Mac

1) Connecting to Mac

2) Choose how to add

2) Choose how to add

3) Add a Photo

3) Add a Photo

4) Add a Value

4) Add a Value

Given the goal of this application to make sure you are prepared in case of a catastrophic event, I like that they support storing the data on DropBox and for those who are a bit more worried about privacy and security (you will, after all want to include all of your policy and assessment data in the program), you can do a manual backup to your iPhone via wifi.  Having multiple ways and locations where you can store the data is critical for ensuring that your inventory is safe in case of an emergency.

Overall, this is a very complete, if somewhat complex, program.  I do not knock the complexity at this time, as the objective is to truly be ready for a complete inventory of your assets for an emergency, and that is a complex goal.  The program includes the ability to print many different reports, including a move report – which I thought was a great use of all the data you collect.  I hope that overtime they continue to simplify the interface and make it much more iOS and Mac like in its interface.  A single example of how this would work would be to allow the Photo Remote to be able to capture the pictures and basic information without having to connect to the mac.  Right now if you exit the app on the phone, before a “save” action, you lose the data you’ve been entering on that item to that point. iOS apps should be able to handle a loss of network communication without losing data.

I can’t say I am looking forward to completion of my Home Inventory, but I am certainly glad that this tool exists to ensure that I have captured all the things  I need to be prepared should I ever need it.

Day two of MacWorld/iWorld 2014

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The Crowd waiting to get in


Wow.. what a busy day, and yes, I picked up a toy today. The Bass Egg was a kickstarted last year, and after hearing it today and doing a few tests (like placing it on my head), I was amazed and had to buy it. I am listening to a podcast on it right now, and this is the best sound I’ve had on my iPhone. Here’s the setup I am using in the hotel.
The Bass Egg Speaker

The Bass Egg Speaker


I spent the day in sessions, almost non-stop. I tried to tweet out from a few of them. Check out my feed at @michaelrowe01.

The first session was way-way too short. Rich Mogull – CEO of Securosis. You should follow him on twitter at rmogull. I was looking forward to this, but with only 30 minutes for the session, I felt it was more of an overview about how Apple has a Philosophy that focuses on usability, over security, but they have done a really good job of addressing security by default. Also, given the closed nature of the platform, they have the opportunity to enforce some really good practices. He did show how his machine was setup, and there was only one setting that I had not setup the same way. That setting is, when traveling he changes the firewall to Block all incoming requests. (Guess I shouldn’t have mentioned that, and it is changed now.

The second session was a presentation by Robert Scoble & Shel Israel on their new book – The Age of Context. Today you can pick up the ebook version for Kindle for only $1.99. I picked it up and the hard copy book, since it was autographed. This was one of those talks that pump a whole bunch of exciting thoughts and ideas into 45 minutes. I’ve been talking about and thinking about many of these ideas due to my work in my day job around the Internet of Things. Scoble and Shel talked about how all the sensors we have around us are providing a ton of context to our daily lives. It also enables an unbelievable level of pinpoint marketing; however companies are failing to realize this. They also addressed the shift of the freaky line, the point where technology freaks us out. I will make a post after I read the book to describe this talk in more detail.

I skipped the next two sessions I had lined up, since I would not get lunch if I did, and instead I walked the show floor some more. I talked with the guys at Bass Egg, and told them I would probably be back to buy it tomorrow. I also talked to the designers of the everdock. This machined aluminum dock is great for charging two devices at once. What makes it unique is that they use your cables, and have a few rubber/silicon pieces that make it a perfect fit for a iPhone or iPad in a case. You can also use it for non-apple devices. I will probably pick one of these up tomorrow.

I also talked with the team over at extra-life.org. They sponsor the 24 hours of gaming in the fall, but they are promoting year round for people to build up teams to game for 24 hours. This is used to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. What a great idea, play games to help kids. I recorded a few questions with the people in the booth, and that will be included in my weekly podcast over at GamesAtWork.Biz.

I then ran over to catch the session on the NSA and you. This was a panel discussion that wanted to have questions from the audience; however, once again it was too short. The panel was a great group of security exports, but with a panel of five people there were only 5 questions all from the panel moderator. While the questions were good, it didn’t give the panel much time to provide deep and meaningful answers. So what where the questions and who were the experts:

  • What is the biggest security thing in the last year? The revolution that the NSA has undermined crypto standards, the reach and scope of the data monitoring, the hoarding of zero day vulnerabilities (with no obvious fixes to our own infrastructure), and the legal interpretation of collection that the NSA uses.
  • Why should the average person care about mass surveillance and privacy?They do care, but they are not really cognizant of what is really happening with their data, given that most people are opting in voluntarily without understanding what the picture is that the data is providing would freak us out.
  • Can we trust Apple with our data? While their corporate culture may favor the user’s experience, you are ultimately at risk that an individual in a company could make a mistake and that violates your trust. Individuals should be responsible in what they do and how they segment their data, so while as individuals you can trust a person, you cannot apply that to an enterprise.
  • What can the average person do? This used to be a simple answer – encrypt everything, but now that the NSA has undermined some of the standards, you need to segment your data, encrypt it, and be very aware of what you do or do not share.
  • How do we put pressure on congress? Ultimately, you need to put pressure on congress and companies, money talks and unfortunately those with the most influence the most. So it may be easier to influence companies into pressuring congress. Having said that, Parker indicated that the USA Freedom Act is a good start, and sets a minimum approach in this space.

The experts:

I then got into another good session on using Logic Pro X – given the time constrains Andrea Pejrolo, PhD actually focused on some great new features that Logic Pro X has introduced around quantification, flex pitch, and the new virtual drummer. I learned tons from this, but was hoping to improve things around my editing workflow and that was not to be. I am going to; however, play a bit with flex pitch on a few projects I am working on. So definitely worth it.

More tomorrow!

Triangle CocoaHeads Meetup

Last Night I had the chance to catch my first meetup of the Triangle Cocoaheads. What a great meetup, and I certainly plan on attending this more often. Our hosts over at Two Toasters, a local App development company, had a nice downtown office fully supplied with Pizza and drinks. The room held probably 25 or so local iOS / Mac developers and started with a quick set of presentations. The first one from Dirk was all about UIResponder. If you are not familiar with this class on iOS, take a quick peak when they post the videos over on the Triangle Cocoa website. UIResponder is used to handle touch events, as an example, and understanding the chain so that the right code processes the right event is key for developing under iOS.

Next we had a great presentation by Dim Sung Thinking on something that was added to Mac OSX with Lion, that is rumored to be coming to iOS6, called Auto Layout. This allows you to have your interface to appropriately adjust itself based on screen resolutions and rotation. While Interface Builder in the past has allowed you some control on how this works, the new Auto Layout features allows for thing like relative positioning.

Then our host – Josh gave a great talk about how to do automated testing (as a follow up to the Continuous Integration session that was presented last month). Josh has been learning about using Calabash for Cucumber as a way of automating UI testing and the company Less Painful‘s device cloud for testing rotation. If you aren’t doing some level of automated testing, you are probably either letting your users test for you in the AppStore, or you aren’t doing enough testing. I believe automated testing of mobile apps is going to get much better over the next few years. A couple of things that I liked about calabash, was the very natural scripting language for writing your tests, however it does seem that device format would require new scripts because if you want to touch the screen you have to provided the x/y coordinates.

We then had four demos of Apps people have been developing.

Up first was Roy (sorry didn’t catch the last name and can’t find him on the meetup site to give a formal shout out to). He’s only been programming for 6 months, and like many of us is starting out by writing apps that he needs himself. The first was very cool, it is called Static Fix (btw, both are mac apps). Static Fix actually runs in the background and keeps your sound card engaged so you don’t get that little pop when you first plug in your headphones. The second app is called Time Tracker, a multiple stop watch tool for tracking your work. I can’t wait to see this one evolve.

Next Sam how has developed a Tea brewing / tracking app. Version 1 has over 60,000 downloads world wide and allows your track how you brew your tea, rate it, and track it. Version 2.0 is adding some great UI enhancements and a much better way of defining blends. If you are a tea drinker, this app is for you. I am hoping to get Sam on a quick video for Triangle App Show in the future.

Vishal came up next and showed his app which is called YouSeek. It is a youtube channel viewer that organizes videos and makes it much easier to find and track the videos you want to watch and share. While it does not yet allow you to remember all those channels or users, the idea should catch on quickly, and I cant’ wait to see the updates as this one matures.

Eric from OrgBook then demoed a conceptual app that will eventually allow you to do org charts and visualizations. Written in custom build OpenGL classes, that allows for fantastic ways of organizing corporate hierarchies.

And finally Bruce founder of BA3 showed their 3D mapping app for the iPad. This was the first ever 3D aerial mapping platform for the iPad. Amazing graphics with stream data and layers. I hope to get a link to their video and share it here. They are actively looking for developers who want to use their platform for a show case app on the iPad.  You can find out more about their work at http://ba3.us .

Overall this was a blast.. and I plan on being there each month.