Saturday, March 05

HeartWatch and Sleep++ Hit 2.0

Recent 2.0 updates to two apps, Sleep++ and HeartWatch, are bright spots on a presently dim Apple Watch app horizon.

I don’t currently have a strong interest in sleep tracking, so I can’t verify the strong reviews the Sleep++ is getting. HeartWatch, however, is an app I have been using ever since I first heard about it over on MacStories. The 2.0 release is a huge update that not only improves heart rate tracking but also provides a substantial upgrade in the visual representation of your heart data. I love going into the app every day to see how I’m doing in the three basic heart rate zones.

The Apple Watch is not yet a mainstream must have, but it is shaping up to be a compelling health tracking platform and these are just two apps that can give you a peek into a healthier lifestyle.

Friday, October 02

Block & Save

A new developer API included in the latest release of iOS (iOS 9) provides a quick & easy way for developers to implement content blockers, specifically to block web-based advertising and tracking. I am not opposed to all advertising or even tracking1, but mobile advertising has reached ridiculous levels of ridiculous. As it turns out, installing and using ad blockers might not just save you some annoyance, it could potentially save you time and money2.

Before he decided to pull it, I purchased and installed Marco Arment’s Peace app. I recommend you install and use an ad blocker as well. Ben Brooks put together a multi-part review of some of the most popular ad blocker apps so far, so check out his recommendations.

One more important note: after you install the app, you’ll need to take some additional steps to activate the content blocking in mobile Safari, so be sure to follow the steps outlined by the app you install. Trust me, it is well worth the effort.

P.S. While you’re messing around with iOS 9, you may also want to consider disabling Wi-Fi Assist if you don’t have a high capacity mobile data plan.

  1. I’m sparing you the nuance of this debate because it will lead to intense and unnecessary rambling.  ↩

  2. It’s worth pointing out that ad blockers generally block tracking scripts/cookies and custom web fonts, which typically slow down web page load times. This site uses a custom web font, so I apologize if things look a little strange after you install an ad blocker. I’ll get to work on finding a more graceful fallback. ↩

Monday, July 27

Power for iOS: iPhone Battery Indicator for Apple Watch

In my five or so weeks with Apple Watch, the quote-unquote obvious feature that I most frequently pine for is a simple iPhone battery indicator, either as a glance or, most usefully as a complication for one of the compatible watch faces. Apple’s argument against such a feature is indirectly reflected in one of their most consistent talking points – iPhone hardware and software is designed to get you through the day, so why do you need this?

Apple’s scores of iPhone users undoubtedly have varying definitions of “all-day”, and who knows how many different ways you can define typical usage. Enter Power for iOS. Power is an iOS/Watch app that brings at-a-glance battery information to your Apple Watch. A simple problem and an even simpler solution. Sometimes that’s all you need for something great. And now, with Power 1.1, just released today, you can receive notifications when your battery reaches certain thresholds as it drains or charges. On paper that doesn’t seem like much, but in practice this is great for those “watched pot never boils” moments when you’re waiting for your iPhone to charge before leaving the house for a run or an errand; or if you’re super neurotic about charge percentages like I am.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple eventually implements a native version of this, but in the meantime we have Power for iOS to bridge the gap until then. I hope the developers of Power are already looking into the third-party complications capabilities of watchOS 2. I guess we’ll find out this fall.

Monday, June 08

Reading, Tweeting, and Keeping a Schedule

Three of my favorite apps saw fairly notable updates last week so I thought I’d highlight the changes and use that as an opportunity to promote the apps. They’re all paid apps, but totally worth it in my opinion.

First up is one of my all-time favorite apps and the first “expensive” app I ever purchased for iPhone, Instapaper. Created by Marco Arment, but now in the capable and prolific hands of betaworks and lead developer Brian Donahue, Instapaper has seen a steady flow of updates since being sold off by Arment1 and the app just gets better and better. Last week’s update gives us Notes, the ability to add comments or annotations to highlights in the app. As I’ve been blogging more frequently (and in more places), I’ve been relying on Instapaper more and more to help me organize reference and direct links and to jot down notes or comments that I want to make sure I remember about each link or article. Up until now, I’ve been hacking my way with comments but editing the article summary in Instapaper’s web app or by highlighting passages and trying to remember later what it is I found interesting about that specific passage. Now with Notes, I can add my thoughts and associate them directly with each passage and then reference those comments later when I sit down to write.

Next up is Tweetbot 2 for Mac by Tapbots. Tweetbot 2 for Mac has been teased for a while now and it finally saw the light of day last week, the week before WWDC. That’s somewhat notable because Tweetbot 2 is the Yosemite-inspired redesign of the application, and the Yosemite design aesthetic entered our collective consciousness just a year ago at last year’s WWDC. A redesign like this is significant, though, and it was executed very well, fitting right in with the new look of Yosemite. I loved the unique shape of the old dock icon, but the more square icon of Tweetbot 2 is a nice reminder that this app has a fresh new design. Relatively speaking, Tweetbot 2 isn’t cheap at the now-reduced price of $12.99, but if you are a heavy Twitter user and, especially if you have multiple accounts, it is well worth the price. Columns, a staple feature of Tweetbot version 1, is improved in this new release with a new, more obvious icon (a rectangle divided into columns replaces the old gears icon) and gives you quick options for commonly created columns. I love using columns for multiple accounts and especially for special events like the upcoming WWDC where I can create a column with a specific hashtag search.

Finally we have Fantastical 2 for iOS, by Flexbits, which now includes a bundled Apple Watch app. The Watch app is getting great reviews so far, and is a great alternative to the built-in calendar app. Due to WatchKit limitations, it doesn’t feature a complication that you can add to a watch face, but it does give you access to your reminders, which, curiously, is something Apple doesn’t currently provide through any stock Watch apps. Sadly, I don’t have an Apple Watch (yet), but if/when I do decide to get one, Fantastical will definitely be front and center in my app cloud.

  1. Arment’s inability to update the app as frequently as he wanted and with the features he wanted are what compelled him to sell the app. That doesn’t always turn out well, but betaworks has done a fantastic job of making the app their own, adding new features and a great redesign, while also maintaining the core essence of what makes the application and service so great. I can’t overstate how great that acquisition has turned out.  ↩

Wednesday, April 08

Shake, Stir, and Share

Studio Neat, the team behind the Cosmonaut and the Glif, is slowly building a cocktail accessory empire. Highball, a free iOS app for saving and sharing your favorite cocktail recipes, joins the already stout cocktail friendly lineup that incluces the Neat Ice Kit and the Simple Syrup Kit1.

The app is simple, yet aesthetically pleasing; common traits for apps and hardware coming from Studio Neat. Recipes are given the common and familiar card treatment, a tried and true metaphor for something that needs to be easy to organize, access and share. And that’s exactly what you do with Highball. Provide your own favorite recipes by typing them into the card or by grabbing a recipe from a friend. You can even use the app to piece together an icon to represent your drink, complete with common glass styles, ice preferences, and beverage hues.

I don’t often venture far from the Old Fashioned / Manhattan on the rocks realm, but I assure you if and when I do find something else that I like, I’m going to keep track of it in Highball. Get Highball today in the iOS App Store.

  1. They also have a great Cocktail Tool Guide with links to their favorite third party cocktail accessories.  ↩

Thursday, March 26

Fantastical 2 for Mac

My favorite calendar app for iOS is Fantastical, but I never bought into the menubar-only Fantastical for Mac. Lo and behold, the second coming, Fantastical 2 from Flexbits, is the full fledged calendar app many of us have been eagerly awaiting. It fits perfectly in with the aesthetic of Yosemite while, not surprisingly, offering a familiar look anyone accustomed to its iOS counterpart. If you’re in the market for a solid calendar app, you can’t go wrong with Fantastical 2 for both iOS and Mac. If you need some nudging, here are a couple of great reviews from MacStories, Macworld, and The Verge.

Sunday, February 22

Do More with IFTTT: Rebranded and Specialized ‘Do’ Apps

If you’ve never heard of IFTTT, then you’re probably not that much into automation. I’ve heard of IFTTT, but I never could quite find a rhythm with using it. There are certainly some neat things you can do with it, but an obvious need never popped out at me. The makers of IFTTT must see this as a common barrier to entry for their service and apps because they recently introduced a few standalone apps that each specialize in one particular task that can be tied into IFTTT’s automation services. The aptly named apps are Do Camera, Do Note, and the more ambiguously named Do Button.

Do Camera

Do Camera is pretty straightforward. The app provides you with an interface for taking a picture and then doing something1 with the picture. You can select between one of three pre-selected recipes2 that you can swipe between using the app. Some examples include taking a picture and emailing it to a preset email address, posting the picture to a service like Evernote or social network like Facebook, or even configuring Philips hue lighting system to match the color of the photo.

Do Note

Do Note is for text notes/input as Do Camera is for pictures. You can use Do Note to add appointments to your calendar, quickly type out a status update or a tweet, or save a quick note to your favorite note-taking app/service. Again, you have the option of preselecting three quick actions to swipe through. Type your note, choose an action and Do Note takes care of the rest.

Do Button

While all of the Do apps are fairly open-ended, Do Button is the app for automating repetetive tasks that don’t require any input other than “go”. You can connect Do Button to IoT3 products like Nest, WeMo, or hue to set the thermostat to a certain temperature, turn on the coffee maker or turn out the lights. You could setup a pre-drafted email with a message notifying a roommate or spouse that you’re on your way.

Obviously, the more IoT or social networking services you use, the more uses you can get from a service like IFTTT and its specialty apps. The three ‘Do’ apps are great starter apps to help introduce you to the idea of automating your life and could serve as a gateway into more custom automations that you can setup through IFTTT’s rebranded IF app.

  1. Hence the name of the app.  ↩

  2. IFTTT calls their automation scripts ‘recipes’ so they don’t have to call them something nerdy like ‘automation scripts’.  ↩

  3. Internet of Things.  ↩

Saturday, February 07

Photos for Mac

Everpix was the perfect photo back-up and sharing service for me and ever since it folded, I’ve been waiting for Apple to come in and fill the void.1 for the last year and a half I’ve been limping along with Picturelife, a service that mostly checks all the boxes for what I need2, but with less elegant execution than I’d like3.

But with my ballooning photo library pushing me into a pricier storage tier with Picturelife, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Photos for Mac, announced last summer at WWDC. And this week, after the mysterious case of the disappearing Photos for Mac references on Apple’s website, we finally see new signs of life in the OS X 10.10.3 Developer Beta. There are certainly still many questions left to be answered, not the least of which is, “Can we really trust iCloud with our precious photos?”

My hope is that Apple recognizes the importance we place on our digital memories. They seem to get it with the iPhone4, but their attention, or lack thereof, to iPhoto and Aperture and recent issues with iCloud don’t exactly instill the greatest confidence in the minds of the public. Apple seems to be taking their time with Photos, and my optimistic take is that they’re being deliberate, working diligently to ensure the syncing mechanism on the back-end is rock solid. The early reviews of the front-end sound promising, at least for iPhoto power- or Aperture light-users. I participate in Apple’s AppleSeed consumer beta testing program, so I look forward to taking Photos for a spin soon.

  1. I still don’t understand why they didn’t just buy Everpix. It seemed like a perfect fit.
  2. Comprehensive back-up and archiving, photo/album sharing with privacy controls, and library sync including edits made after the initial upload.
  3. And was recently sold to Streamnation.
  4. The iPhone is now the second-most prolific camera among Flickr uploads.