Instapaper – Instapaper is joining Pinterest

This week Betaworks announced that it had sold Instapaper to Pinterest. This came as a huge surprise to most in the industry leaving most somewhat baffled by the acquisition.

I have had a copy of Instapaper since the early days when Marco Arment was the developer. Instapaper has been my go to app for all my read later needs converting all web pages to readable text in a simple but friendly UI.

All acquisitions like this make you wonder what is next and whether the app will be around in another 12 mths time. In the meantime we can only go by the developers statement1

For you, the Instapaper end user and customer, nothing changes.

  1. Keep your fingers crossed too…it certainly can’t help!

Subscription Pricing: The new bane of the App Store?

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In App purchases have changed the App Store pricing in a big way. Effectively reducing apps to mobile slot machines that customers pour money into on a daily basis.

Addictive games like Candy Crush Saga started the trend of monetising components of the game to help advance progress. Following suit came Clash of Clans, FIFA 16 Ultimate Team™ and even SimCity. This trend was a boon for mostly gaming developers and saw some games become multi million dollar cash cows.

Prior to WWDC in June Phil Schiller 1 the Apple would be bringing subscription pricing to the App Store for select product categories. Developers largely supported this however there is an undercurrent of concern in the community what this may lead to.

In recent times two big name mobile developers announced changes to their business models. Firstly Smile Software 2 that its much loved TextExpander software would be updated and moving to a subscription model. This decision was met with howls of discontent about its pricing structure and value that it offered with many looking to jump ship and move away from the product entirely. Then in the last few days Evernote which has had subscription pricing for some time 3 an increase its costs and limitations to the free version. This too was not entirely a popular decision.

Subscription pricing whilst offering a cash stream for developers brings concerns for customers; namely value for money. Will a customer see a constant stream of updates and benefits for the dollars they pay? How many apps will go this way and what will people end up paying per year for the privilege?

Let’s look at one company who is doing this and doing it well. As an Apple geek it pains me to say that Microsoft offer a great package for a good price. Office 365 is not a stand alone app but a series of excellent productivity apps that will help any user remain productive at their Mac, iPad or their work PC. The pricing is quite high but what you get is excellent value with the mobile products alone worth every dollar. Microsoft are also keeping the apps up to date and Apple even rolled them out with the launch of the iPad Pro to demonstrate the mark up features with the Apple pen. This is subscription pricing at its best and shows the possibilities to come.

In my opinion Evernote is not an example of a good subscription. Poor quality bloated apps that have failed to innovate and improve on what was once a great idea. Evernote is considered a big developer and it is concerning when they cannot manage to provide a decent offering to subscribers.

Smaller less known developers could potentially struggle to meet expectations and I wonder who is going to monitor this? Would refunds be available? What are Apples expectations of developers offering subscriptions? Lots of questions and few answers yet but time will tell whether this will improve things in the App Store system for developers. The hope is developers and consumers both benefit from this and quality apps become the well supported norm.

  1. Daring Fireball 8th June 2016 ↩︎
  2. Smile Software Annoucement ↩︎
  3. Evernote Annoucement ↩︎

 

Email Client Wars: Airmail vs Spark

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Email; the bane of most business people. It is unproductive, it is at times valuable and other times a nuisance. Unfortunately it’s not going anywhere and we all need a tool to manage the volumes.

Apple Mail unfortunately does not quite hit the mark and many of us are in search of a email client that works for us as individuals with all the bells and whistles. I have been testing two clients Airmailby Bloop and Sparkby Readdle.

Both apps have been extensively reviewed by others and I’ll not go into that depth. What I will aim to show is the differences that are swaying me towards one app over the other in the fight for a place as my iOS email client.

Two articles are great for understanding both apps in details

“Airmail is the most powerful email app for iOS out there right now, treating iPhone and iPad users with the same respect and attention other developers would only show for their Mac apps.”

“For now, Spark continues to be one of the top email apps on iOS, with dozens of smart features and nice touches.”

User Interface

Spark is by far the more polished UI it looks great. It is not too cluttered and can be personalised with theme choices and the addition/removal of some features. The same UI crosses both iPhone and iPad.

Airmail unfortunately is a very bland vanilla looking interface. There are no themes to choose from and is quite stark. There are options that allow you to colour the various email accounts you have. This is then shown in the main screen down the left hand side as a small strip of colour . As with Spark the UI is similar across both iPad and iPhone.

Both UI’s have two similar features; firstly both are optimised for iOS 9 and a the iPad Pro which is a big plus in my world however both don’t allow the email on the iPad the fill the screen. Both UI’s divide the screen with 1/4 filled with the inbox and the 3/4 the email being viewed. In my opinion this should be an option to turn on or off as you please. Some emails like newsletters really benefit from utilising the whole screen for viewing.[1]

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Setup

Both apps are reasonably straight forward to set up. Once you accounts are created and configured[2] it take little time to get up and going. Spark has a neat Smart inbox feature that determines the type of email you are receiving and seperates them accordingly. Airmail has so configurable and has many configuration options. One of my favourite options is the Send to 2Do; this options sends the email to 2Do, opens 2Do at the task and also as a URL linking to the original email.

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General Use

Emailing should be straight forward and easy here both apps don’t disappoint. Following the theme of the app Airmail offers lots of formatting and other options on the email screen while Spark is more straight forward offering the basics. Again the interfaces are quite different with Spark being spartan with a dash of colour and Airmail being bland however full of options.

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and the winner is?

For me both apps offer something for everyone and are probably two of the best clients since the dearly departed Mailbox app. However for me Spark is the better client. It is refined and polished to near perfection. It also handles better with less little bugs getting in the way of everyday use. While not important to use, the look plays an important part in my opinion and Spark really is easy on the eyes particularly if you need to look at it 8 hours a day. Spark is my client of choice but try them both they are both solid apps.

Continued: Check out Part 2 of my battle with email

 


  1. It certainly better on my eyes too. It would remove the need to wear glasses in some instances  ↩
  2. Airmail struggled to setup a POP3 account correctly. Deleted items would remain on the other device. Sync didn’t appear to be the issue. Support has been prompt however no resolution  ↩

Review: Notebooks 8 by Alfons Schmid

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Over the last couple of months I have been reviewing my workflow to accomodate writing for my new blog, my business writing and documentation storage. Finding a single solution to create, annotate and store this documentation has become increasingly laborious.

Finding a solution among the many suitors is also difficult not to mention expensive. The list of options is at times overwhelming; 1Writer, Drafts 4, Ulysses and Editorial all fit the bill while having many pros and cons.

One app Notebooks 8 I am currently trialling has some interesting features that may hit the mark. Notebooks 8 provides a solution that meets some of my needs, from markdown writing through to PDF annotation. As described on the developers website;

With its unique combination of functions, Notebooks can replace multiple dedicated apps on your iPhone and iPad:
* Note Taker
* 1st Text Processor
* Markdown Composer
* HTML to Markdown Converter
* Task Manager and Reminder
* File Storage and Organizer
* Clipboard Manager
* PDF Converter
* PDF Reader
* eBook Creator

My needs are simple I need a place to write in markdown, a location to store and annotate PDF’s all synced and backed up through Dropbox. Interestingly Notebooks 8 works well in this regard.

The UI is a straight forward folder structure appropriately named books. It allows you the ability to organise your work into meaningful books that syncs to your Dropbox account

No matter whether you want to quickly put down a note or carefully craft a formatted document with styles and images, in Notebooks you can do both

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The layout and interface of Notebooks is clean and offers a number options to display your files. The left hand side of the screen shows the books. Also on this side you can have standalone documents and a power user feature of @contexts which shows you searches based on tags.
You can add and create multiple document types with the better options being markdown and plain text. Document types that can be stored and viewed are;

  • .doc (not displayed like they do in Word)
  • .md
  • .txt
  • .pdf
  • .png
  • voice memos
  • photos

PDF’s added to Notebooks can also be annotated with a toolbox of stock standard annotation tools. My only complaint with this app is its handwriting engine its pretty poor and hard to write anything legible. This makes it hard for me to move from my current PDF annotation app PDF expert.

Two of my favourite features are found in the way documents are viewed. Firstly PDF’s in landscape can be viewed as a book with two pages at a time with a really smooth page turning experience. The best feature of the two is the ability to view two documents from the app side by side. While only one app can be edited it is a really handy feature on the bigger iPad Pro. Something I havent tested as yet is the publish to ePub feature which sounds handy and could be another favourite feature down the track.

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Writing in notebooks is similar to most basic writing apps supporting markdown. Its isn’t as powerful as Drafts, Byword or Uylsses and requires an app like Workflows to publish or create further actions with the text. One little gripe when writing in Markdown I would really like to see some coloured syntax to help the eyes focus on my writing.

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Overall Notebooks 8 is a solid app from a repsonsive independant developer. There is much to like about this app and the sync to Dropbox make its a safe option. Given time and further development I can see it becoming an important part of my workflow. The app price alone makes it worth a try and the small in app purchase for PDF annotation worhtwhile if you want to help support the developer.

For now its staying on my home screen.

Frustrated And Wanting To Someone To Blame

Overnight a wonderful writing app Ulysses was updated finally supporting iPhones and most importantly my beloved iPad Pro. I had been reading all the tweets and press coverage and was excited to get a copy.

The first reviews were published MacStories[1], Macsparky[2] and The Brooks Review[3]. All glowing and adding to the anticipation of what is a fine app.

Let’s get this straight I have no issue with paying a premium for high quality apps. I purchase Omni Group apps which are some of the more expensive apps in the store. In fact I have suggested that apps like Drafts 4 charge more just to support the developers.

Now my frustration… Ulysses was promoted at a special price. I went straight to the App Store searched and there it was and the price was disappointing. As usual we Australians have to live with the fact that US developers sometimes advertise their special price in the app notes. This also means we get to see the difference.

App Pricing

Doing a quick calculation using the mornings exchange rate USD>AUD suggested the app was priced $4 higher than a direct US to Australian conversion. This has been an issue in this country for many years with many big companies charging more here for some reason. Out of frustration I tweeted the developer and the App Store.

The developers response:

@wonk71 @AppStore we have no control over the local prices. But is it possible oz has higher taxes or so? We have the same in Germany here…

Naturally no response from the App Store but it’s a very disappointing practice that looks bad on the developers. If it’s Apple or the Australian Federal Government someone is to blame. It would be nice to know who exactly!

In the end I bought the app and its a bloody gem!

Going Pro

Going Pro

Only in Oct 2015 did I make the move to the new iPad Air 2. After much commentary about the benefits of split view I couldn’t help myself and had to upgrade from the iPad Air. While the slide over feature was good it only teased at what was possible and what was to come.

Blissfully happy with my decision I followed closely the latest news on the iPad Pro quite content that I did not need a new larger iPad that was in my opinion just too big. The commentary from those at the launch and the preceeeding media onslaught left me comfortatble that I made the right choice.

Then came this final paragraph in a detailed review on Macstories [1]

A week after I started using the iPad Pro, I picked up my old iPad Air 2, and it felt like an iPad mini.

The device I’ve used every day for a year to get my work done for this site now seems tiny and limited, with small apps, less content shown on screen, and a constrained multitasking interface. I know that it’s only been a week, and I do believe that the Air 2 is a great device for lots of people, but I feel like all the work I’ve done on the iPad and iOS has led me to this point. I’m ready to take my iPad setup to the next level, and I think my workflow can benefit from improved hardware and a more capable version of iOS.

I’m going to switch to the iPad Pro.

This papragraph sealed my fate. Perhaps it wasn’t too big after all. Mid November my local Apple store finally recieved and set their display models and I was there and had my first look and feel. The pencil was just superb but the iPad itself was rather a hefty beast. Over the course of a month I went back 2 or 3 times a week. Come Christmas I was an owner of a new iPad Pro, Keyboard and pencil.

Now three months on I can look back and reflect on the decison I made. Was it right for me and has it improved the way in which I operate.

Anyway you look at it the iPad Pro is a big iPad however that fundimental difference along with the improved hardware specs makes this device a clear winner. The larger screen improves the split screen experience. Working from this device is a pleasure and the iOS operating system is familiar and straight forward to use. All of which made the switch from iPhone to iPad all the easier.

This fantastic bit of hardware is with me all day, from the start of the day at work through to late night reading, twitting and sometimes games. The split view allows me to be more productive and the simplicity of not lugging around a larger laptop keeps me mobile all day.

This iPad works for me and my circumstances. I’m an administrator and people manager, I attend meetings, create and write reports all on this device. It’s personal opinion and it doesn’t fit everyone.

But it’s right for me…


  1. Federico Vittici is something of a iPad hero of mine I too work from my iPad and his writing and worklfows are inspiration to continue moving my own workflow to the iPad.  ↩

My use of Social Media

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About me…I’m 44 years of age, tech savvy and father of a horde of teenagers

I keep up to date with the latest in tech and even dabble with some coding from time to time (self taught). The kids treat me like I’m some tech imbecile yet I have set up their iPhones, iPads, Laptops and their MacBooks along with providing them with ongoing tech support. [1]

Why is it that they then think Im not up with it? Well it comes down to social media use with your tech abilities being determined by how and what social media services you use.

Let’s get a few things out of the way firstly I’m not against any social media. People can you use whatever they like and whatever works for them. I just find little use in some social media services. [2]

Any service I don’t mention I don’t use and have no experience with there are a few that I don’t use that I have tried and that were I’ll start.

DislikesSnapchat: This is a seriously odd product. Take poor quality photos of yourself and post them to friends to quickly view. Watching the teenagers at home it appears you take the dumbest photo and send 100 times for the greatest social impact. In addition I understand that dickpics and titpics are quite popular.

Instagram: I admit I was heavily into Instagram posting almost 2–3 photos a week adding numberous tags to garner more and more follower and the elusive likes. It was a drug like addiction waking up to the latest number of likes. After a while it began to sink in; there is no community unless you belong and you are only as good as your last photo. Gaining more followers and likes did little more than disappoint and in the end no one really cared.

LinkedIn: The corporate FaceBook…apparently. I have an account and I maintain my resume here however I do little with the service. I have found little value in it and I really dont see the point. Networking is appraprently the thing here but I havent seen it. Why do I continue you ask? I hope it gets better in the future.

Ok next up the services I do use and why…

Likes

Facebook: Ok eye rollers yes Facebook is so old school now and full of crappy cat videos. That being said its and easy was to keep up with family and friends that are overseas or long distances away. If you can get past all crap on there its not a bad way to stay in touch. Personally all I post are holidays photo’s, event photo’s and comments and birthday wishes. Unlike some I probably only go to it and look through my timeline once or twice a week.

Twitter: I love twitter!! It is basically my personal news feed of all the things I like, the people and organisations I follow. Every morning my routuine includes working through my feed, saving articles for future reading in Instapaper and sending any worthwhile tweets out to the world[3]. Twitter is unintrusive and I dont feel the need to be favourited[4]. Its just there as a summary of the world in my Twittershpere. Making the experience all the better is one of the best iOS apps Tweetbot so much more than the official Twitter client Tweetbot offers a UX unsurpassed across both iPad, iPhone and Mac.

Social media is a very personal thing different age groups, sex and interests will determine the type and use patterns. To determine a persons level of technical competance and savvy based on their choices is wrong. Try telling that to a teenager…


  1. I know nothing!!  ↩
  2. ok I do take issue with the way in which its used  ↩
  3. I dont care if no one reads them it just feels good to get it out. I also promote this blog as well.  ↩
  4. Just recently Twitter changed to hearts moving away from the favourite star  ↩

 

Link

Why iOS is Compelling

Ben Brooks really sums up how I feel about iOS at the moment. Simplicity is key…yes it doesn’t do everything but damn it good. More on this later from me. For now read Ben’s article.

Poor reporting

Its always frustrating the crappy media coverage Apple gets from mainstream media. The local newspaper The Advertiser in Adelaide posted this headline ‘Tech experts create concept video for the iPhone 7 based on rumours circulating design features’ contrary to the quoted source Steven at iPhone-Tricks stating;

“This is not to be taken as an iPhone 7 leak, but rather as a design study that allows for fantasy and creativity to take over,” he said.

“It is purely hypothetical and aims to please your inner Apple geek.”

My First…

For some time I have been wanting to write for my own blog (and for others). The problem was finding the right time, the right subject and clearing the decks to do some writing all of which were getting in the way. After many starts and failed attempts today is the day.

This first post explores my start up process, what I will be writing on and the tools to get it up and out there.

What’s it all about

Technology plays an important part in my life both at home and in the office this intersection is where I will spend my time writing. Looking at both hardware and software that makes a difference to the time I spend working and playing.

I’ll admit upfront I’m an Apple fanboy but that won’t stop me discussing interesting tech that crosses my path. Camera’s and watches are also passions of mine (and no I don’t own an watch).[1]

Tools

Getting this post up required decisions to be made about the hardware and software I’d be using. Fortunately most of the software tools I had already purchased, although barely used. The hardware was a given…

The iPad Pro is one mean device and perfect for writing it is just the right size, the software keyboard is servicable and the pencil is just magic! What brings all this together is iOS9 and split view which in conjuction with the iPad Pro brings a new level of multitasking to my workflow.

I’ll not write too much on these topics as better people than I have already. Federico Vittici of Macstories wrote the following articles which more than adequately cover iOS9 and the iPad Pro.

iPad Pro Review: A New Canvas

iOS 9: Our Complete Overview and First Impressions

As for the software I was lucky enough to have all the suggested apps already installed (yes I impulse buy) on my iPad. Taking some time to play with what I had I determined what was best for me by selecting the more basic apps rather than the more powerful alternatives.[2]

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Omnioutliner by The Omni Group

At some point my thoughts need to be organised into a cohesive post and this is where OmniOutliner comes in. I can create a list of headings for my chosen subject and then add bullets point under each of those heading. The Omni products are fantastic and for work I have the whole suite.

Drafts by Agile Tortoise

Drafts is my go to for all little snippets of written ‘stuff’. I can write a quick paragraph on the bus and send it to my writing app of choice for formatting and publishing. Drafts is like a Swiss Army knife for moving little pieces of writing to all manner of services and apps in simple stripped down interface. The automation is where the power lies and this can be as simple or complex as you can create

Byword by Metaclassy

Byword is a Markdown writing app that allows you to simply write distraction free in Markdown. From Byword you can then publish to a number of mediums you use for blogging. The interface for Byword like Drafts is simple and stripped down with a easy on the eye UI for continuous use in all lighting situations.

From thought to publish the process for me was as follows;

  • OmniOutliner for idea creation
  • Drafts for rough drafts/passages
  • Byword for formatting and final publication

Getting it out there

Choosing a medium to publish to is no easy task there are many options;in the end it came down to convenience, ease of use and what I knew of.

WordPress is the main place for blogs and for no setup costs other than time you can have your own site. As a starting point you can’t go past this service especially if you want to eventually pay for a site. My goal will be to do this but first I’ll need a following.

As an alternative driver of traffic each post will be published on Medium. It’s an interesting service that I know little of. The payoff here is that it’s easy to use, there is no site to maintain and the content uploads nicely from Byword.[3]

Rounding this out I have Twitter account @YouSaidWhatBlog for the site where I’ll post regular updates to those (if any) who follow.

Coming next

I will look to post every two weeks. I beleive setting schedule that is achievable will ensure I can maintain a steady stream of updates.From time to time I’ll link to other news that I find interesting and want to comment on. In the mean time here is my list of articles waiting to be written

  • How I use social meadia
  • Thoughts on moving to an iPad Pro
  • App reviews
  • Workflows for the office

  1. I love watches and I like the freedom to choose a watch based on the day and my wardrobe. I feel the watch needs to be worn all the time for maximum benefit I would do that therefore I’m not buying one.  ↩
  2. There is great power in simplicity!  ↩
  3. As an IAP you can purchase the premium publishing package for Byword, this allows publishing to other services including WordPress and Byword  ↩