Apples Best of 2016 Apps

Today the App Store released its annual best of for 2016. The store highlights the top ten app and games giving them prime position on the store front. Interestingly this appears to be a local selection as I have seen various articles showing different winners.

Without further adieu please find this years Australian selection…

iPhone App of the Year

Prisma – Free Photo Editor, Art Filters Pic Effects

Runner Up

Quartz: News in a whole new way

iPhone Game of the Year

Clash Royale

Runner Up

Reigns

iPad App of the Year

Heuristic Shakespeare – The Tempest

Runner Up

Sketchbook Motion

iPad Game of the Year

Severed

Runner Up

Chameleon Run

App Review – Timepage for iPad by Moleskine

Fantastical has been my go to calendar app for macOS and iOS for sometime now and I have loved what they have done for calendaring. Nothing came close to the ever useful Fantastical across all my devices. Just recently things have changed.

In January Moleskin released Timepage their iPhone only calendar app which was a beautiful clutter free timeline of events. At the time I took a look and really enjoyed the UI however the lack of iPad support really was a let down and I stuck with my old favourite Fantastical. This week on the App Store the Editors Choice for iPad1 is Timepage and for the first time in years Fantastical has been removed from my iPad.

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Downloading Timepage was a no brainer and quickly replaced Fantastical. As with the iPhone app the UI was uncluttered and distraction free. The app comes with a day, week and month view all accessible through swiping .

The day and week views appear on the screen side by side. The day views sits on the right of the screen and as you would expect lists all the events for the day along with the weather based on your location. Week view on the left provides all appointments in a list for the week. Where more appointments than space exists the screen will cycle through the list on a regular basis. This view can also be adjusted to show only a select few days up to 10 days (going beyond a week view).

The month view starts with a heat map showing the the different calendars by colour that you can with your finger move through to see where your appointments sit through the month for each calendar. This is a handy feature when you have a shared home calendar, subscription sports calendars and a work calendar. After swiping right for a second time you come across a typical monthly appointment view and if as full as mine can be quite crowded.

As mentioned weather details can be seen on the day view however if you press on the currents days weather details you will be presented with the weather on a scrolling timescale and where the week view is shown you will now see the weather for the week.

A swipe to the left from the day/week view presents you with a extensive set of preferences for the calendars to the customisation of colour and font size. One impressive feature is the assistant which can provide you a daily summary of events and weather, rain alerts, even a contextually aware alert of when to leave for an appointment.

One very nice feature I found while writing this article was the little clock at the bottom of the preferences home screen. An analog face that was hard to decipher however if you press it it replaces the preferences menu with a great looking analog clock alongside your day view.

Timepage does have a couple of little bugs still however none are showstoppers and don’t spoil the user experience. If you are looking for a better calendar app than the one iOS provides and something a little less cluttered than Fantastical take a look at Timepage2 it’s beautiful, functional and really shines on the iPad.

  1. Supports slide over and split view
  2. Good price too not too expensive but worth every $

iOS 10 – Notifications & Widgets

This month I took the plunge and jumped on board the public beta program for both my iPhone and iPad. Having seen nothing but strong reviews and nil major issues it was time to give iOS a test drive. Needless to say I have been seriously impressed and have really enjoyed the changes.

One of my favourite features of iOS 9 was the redesigned notifications/widgets screen. It had become a part of my iPad daily workflow for the last year and I would suggest it was a massive improvement that wasn’t given a lot of airtime during the iOS 9 review season.

iOS 10 brings a redesigned notifications/widgets screen one which I’m undecided on. The interface now looks very different and Im not entirely sure i like it.

My first gripe came after installing the beta on my iPad; rather than restore the widget settings the process set up a default setup. This set up looked simply awful and did not endear itself to me. The date had been moved from the right to the left and all the widgets were in one long continuous column

Each widget is now encased in its own grey box looking almost skeumorphic. For accessibility purposes this appears to be a great choice and gives the user a clear defined space for their widgets. The date oddly takes up a great deal of real estate. This is evident when you look at the notifications/widgets screen in landscape which highlights how much space is unused. Like a number of other iOS 10 features big and bold appears to be the new ‘thing’.

The notifications screen is one long column of notifications taking up only one third of the screen through the middle. unlike the previous version notifications has its own screen rather than a tab selection. Again this choice of limiting the amount of space appears a waste of good real estate; this is probably worse on my iPad Pro. Like widgets this looks less problematic in portrait mode however there is still some real estate wasted.

One oddity I noted; most screenshots you will see that the left hand side of the date is blank. This morning however the weather appeared in this space something I hadn’t seen in all the weeks of testing the beta.

Overall I’m personally not a fan of this new look it feels a little rough and clumsy and for me not as user friendly. Naturally being a beta its is a little rough around the edges however we probably only a weeks from launch I can’t see too many changes being made that will tip my view in the opposite direction.

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 ↩︎

 

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.  ↩

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.

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  ↩