Sunday, January 24

Long Live Touch

In a report outlining recent rumors of an upcoming iPhone 5se, The Verge celebrates Apple’s original innovation with the touch interface by understating the significance of its newest innovation.

It’s really easy to imagine how Apple could make Live Photos work without 3D Touch — just use a long press — but it also kinda sorta speaks to the shortcomings of 3D Touch: that it often feels like a long press could accomplish all the same things.

I agree that a long press can accomplish most or all of the actions introduced by 3D Touch, but that misses the point. It’s not that 3D Touch is the only way; it is a better way. Peek & Pop is a shortcut that would cease to be shorter if initiated by a long press. Plus, how do you “pop” – press longer?

Sunday, October 25

Every So Often App Reviews: Tweetbot 4, Paper by Fifty Three, Clicker, Wildcard, and Just Press Record

I buy and download a fair number of iOS apps, but I rarely take the time to post reviews and recommendations. Consider this my attempt to occasionally rectify that. Here is the start of my Every So Often app reviews.

Tweetbot 4

If you want to incite a digital riot in tech circles then look no further than the paid app upgrade. The iOS and App Store platforms revolutionized application development and distribution in both positive and negative ways. One of the negative results is the much-documented difficulties with building a sustainable business model in the rapid race to the bottom strategy of App Store pricing and absence of an officially supported upgrade pricing model. Tapbots, the company headed up by Paul Haddad and Mark Jardine, know this struggle all too well. It’s a running Twitter joke for Haddad every time Tapbots prepares to release a new version of their marquee apps into the wild.

The most recent episode involves Tweetbot 4. I’m a faithful Tweetbot user since Tweetbot 2, having even gone so far as gifting Tweetbot 3 to a friend of mine who was suffering Twitter through the company’s often languishing official app. What this knowledge reveals about me is that I’ve now paid for Tweetbot four times (including the gift purchase) and I still think I’ve underpaid. Using Twitter is not a requirement for my job or any other aspect of my life but it is one of my favorite pastimes and so I’m willing to pay a little bit to make that experience as enjoyable as possible. I’m not even a souped up Twitter power user, so I don’t necessarily benefit from all the great features that Tweetbot offers. I just find their interface and app interaction decisions quite agreeable with my own tastes and brief forays into other apps left me longing to go back to my comfort app.

Setting aesthetics aside for a moment, why should you buy Tweetbot? Here are the features I think that just about any Twitter user device might find useful from Tweetbot (this is basically my hand-picked selection from the feature list on Tweetbot’s website):

  • Mute People, Keywords, Tweet Sources on your Timeline, Lists, and Search Results
  • Support for Multiple Twitter Accounts1
  • View/Add/Edit/Subscribe to Lists
  • View Tweet Statistics and Account Activity
  • Gestures for Quick Access to Common Tasks
  • Excellent support for 3rd Party Services
  • Night Mode for Low-Light Reading (I keep mine in night mode all the time)

Paper by FiftyThree

I’m way way late to the game on Paper (though I’ve been using Paper by Facebook exclusively since it arrived) but I actually have a pretty good reason – I’m terrible at drawing anything. Perhaps recognizing the niche characterization of their product (and the increasingly cavalier use of their product’s name) FiftyThree recently updated Paper by giving it some features that greatly increases its utility for non-artists. More specifically they added diagraming, note-taking and photo spotlighting features that make it a fantastic application for quickly capturing ideas with stunning visual richness that aims to make “back of the napkin” days obsolete. The upgrade is, of course, a very strong effort to prop up their other business as the manufacturer of Pencil, a Bluetooth enhanced stylus for smartphones.

I love the new drawing tools in the app and the photo spotlight feature is a great idea that I know I’ll use more and more. I’ve seen it in other apps but it is nice to have it here in Paper with the other helpful diagraming and drawing tools. After devoting some time familiarizing myself with the tools, I started thinking about the different applications and analog tools that this could replace for me. I recently completed a couple of closet renovations and I was able to use Paper to communicate through mock ups of what I wanted with our vendor. I’ve also used Paper to develop layouts for web pages and as a scratch pad for quick calculations and ephemeral notes needed when developing websites. Yes, Paper by FiftyThree is turning into a replacement for lowercase p paper for me.


This free app from The Iconfactory is a neat idea – it’s basically a tally/counter app that gives you a tap via Apple Watch every time you increment the counter. If you have an Apple Watch I think this is a must have if for nothing more than a great way to demo taps/notifications on the watch. There isn’t a great way to do this built into the watch which is curious because to me that’s basically the knockout feature of the watch. I love me some Taptic notifications.

And yes, I do launch Clicker from time to time just so can give myself a tap. I think I need more friends.


A few weeks ago, my wife asked me how I stay up to date with the news, specifically if there was a particular app that I use. I don’t remember if she was really interested more in local news or not but at the time I was trying out SmartNews. More recently, after featured their redesign in a daily update, I turned to Wildcard for it’s unique visual style and card-based news capsules.

Just Press Record

Just Press Record is that rare app that manages to combine a very simple idea with just-enough design and an easy to use interface while also filling a need that many might never suspect they have. In fact, when you boil down Just Press Record into its most basic pieces, it makes you wonder why Apple’s own built-in Voice Memo app isn’t as well-executed as this.

To put it simply, Just Press Record is Voice Memo but with a simpler UI, iCloud syncing support, and versions for Mac and Apple Watch. Most perplexing to me is the absence of iCloud support for Voice Memo; even if you assume that one need not record or sync from Mac to iPhone, you might at least find it somewhat helpful to offer a sync and play app for the Mac that receives files from the iPhone. And while I never in a million years would have imagined that I would go all Dick Tracy and spend much time talking to my watch, between Siri, Just Press Record, and an occasional phone call or two, I talk to my watch all the time. So if you see some strange guy walking around holding his wrist up to his mouth it’s either a spy or me.

  1. Twitterific offers a unified timeline, much like most email clients/apps now offer a unified inbox. This would definitely be a time saver but I actually prefer the compartmentalization of my timelines. It’s why I have separate accounts to begin with.  ↩
Sunday, October 11

Overcast 2: The Best Gets Better

Marco Arment earlier this week, announcing the release of Overcast 2.0:

After a year of work, Overcast 2 is now available as a free update for everyone. It’s mostly a major under-the-hood improvement, with relatively few user-facing changes. But they’re pretty good, I think.

And now, all features are free, and I’m trying a new business model.

Streaming, per-podcast storage details, and chapter support are the highlights of this release. For supported podcast feeds with show notes links, the chapter navigation even includes the show note link related to the current discussion. As always, just incredible attention to detail from Arment. And best of all, the entire app is completely free. So if you’re into podcasts at all, go download Overcast and give it a try. I think you’re going to love it.

If it becomes one of your essential apps like it has for me, consider becoming a patron so you can support an independent developer and so Marco can continue his great work on this app and whatever future apps may come.

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. ↩

Tuesday, June 30

Phandroid: Hangouts 4.0 for iOS

It’s probably not the Hangouts update Android users have been expecting, but Hangouts 4.0 rolled out today for iOS users and brings a slick new user interface and a few other tricks along with it.

While we have yet to hear a peep out of Google, we’re crossing our fingers that an Android version isn’t too far behind. With “Update Wednesday” soon approaching, it could be no more than a few days away although we wont get our hopes up. Maybe Google will finally allow Android users to send video clips — like they already do on iOS — as well?

Does Google update their apps for iOS first because that’s where the users are or because it’s easier1 on iOS? Or is it a little bit of column A, little bit of column B?

  1. I’m being a lot facetious here. I recognize Android has the market share and some features are probably a lot easier to implement on Android versus iOS.  ↩
Wednesday, June 24

Dark Sky: Crowdsource and Custom Alerts

Dark Sky Summary View
Dark Sky Summary View

With an update released last week, Dark Sky, my favorite iOS weather app and data source, puts weather data collection in your hands. The updated app can now utilize the barometric sensors in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to collect weather data and allows you to report conditions in your location. These new data collection options are opt-in only and the makers of Dark Sky aren’t ready to talk about what or how the data will be used, but they hope to tell us more about it soon.

Report weather in your area.
Report weather in your area.

The update also brings customizable alerts and a slightly tweaked UI that enhances hour-by-hour conditions display and incorporates new metrics into that view; adding wind, humidity, and UV index forecasts to the list that already included temperature and chance of precipitation. Great update to an already fantastic app.

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, May 06

Google Buys Timefull

I remember reading about Timeful when it first hit the App Store and thinking, “Wow, I think they’re on to something.” I never tried it out because I didn’t want yet another calendar app, quite happy with Fantastical 2. Still, thoughts of a calendar, to do list, life managing application efficiently filling in all the gaps in my schedule stood out to me as an idea from the once-distant, yet ever-encroaching future. Fast forward to this week and perhaps Google sees this as the future as well, acquiring Timeful in a Sparrow-like done-but-not-dead-yet acquihire1. I’m no oracle, but it seems to me the future of time management and to-do apps is going beyond timely reminders or manually entered due dates, but intelligent, automated scheduling of tasks. Google already has the information sources (Calendar, Gmail, your search history), now it has at least the beginnings of the intelligence. It sseems like a great match and I look forward to seeing what comes of the acquisition.

  1. Timeful’s tech (and presumably team) will make its way into Google’s services, but the app itself remains in the App Store, albeit with no updates.  ↩
Wednesday, April 22
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.  ↩