Posts Tagged ‘software’

My iOS Apps, 2014 Edition

So, the list of Mac apps hasn’t changed all that much since I last did this in 2012.  I’m still using many of the same iOS apps, but there’s been more churn there, and so I’m going to re-do the list from scratch, but using the same categories as the 2012 list. New entries are marked with an asterisk.


First, though, my current iOS hardware. I am still on the every-other-year plan for most of these, and so this year I just got an iPhone 6.  I am still using last year’s iPad, though, a 1st-generation iPad Air. I’ve made some comments about the phone elsewhere and I’m still in love with the iPad Air, which is just a fantastic little machine. When I really need a keyboard for the iPad I just use the little AmazonBasics Bluetooth keyboard, which is portably small but does not have the keys in weird places like many other small bluetooth keyboards (in particular, many of them have the “up arrow” key next to the “shift” key in such a way that mistyping up arrow for shift is simply way too common.

5 Must-Haves

These are the apps I’d miss the most if they went away:

  • GoodReader. It is still true that the thing I most do on my iPad is read, especially journal manuscripts and student papers. I still love this for marking up PDFs and the developer has not only done a great job of keeping up with the latest iOS stuff, but it’s now a universal app for both iPad and iPhone, which is a real win.
  • OmniOutliner 2.  Still one of the greatest pieces of software on the Mac (that and BBEdit), and while the iPad version is still not quite all I would want it to be, it’s still a vital tool for me. The added bonus is that an iPhone version is planned for 2015—I’m really looking forward to that.
  • 1Password. Still the king of password management, working across iOS and MacOS in a seamless way. Rocks the house.
  • Check the Weather. Still my favorite weather app, though the free site is now pretty reasonable competition.
  • Decked Builder. What can I say, I’m an MTG nerd.


Some of the best other apps I use work on both iPhone and iPad, and I use them both places. Some of them you actually have to download two apps, one for each device, but some of these “just work” on both. In cases where there is more than one version, the link goes to whichever device I use the app on most. This is in alphabetical order, not by priority or anything.

  • Drafts 4. I actually find this version slightly worse than Drafts 3, but the things that make it worse are just violations of my own personal preferences (I don’t want to let Facebook crap all over my address book by linking it to the OS).  Otherwise, still great. Oh, what is it, you ask? It’s a text utility—you get a blank page, start writing, and then later figure out where you want the text to go, such as Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, email, etc.
  • Draw Pad Pro. If you need a quick sketch with your finger, this is the way to go on iOS. The 3.0 update was a real advance, and now I like it better than Penultimate.
  • Evernote.* Since I dumped SpringPad, this is the new cross-platform note system of choice.
  • Movies by Flixster. Still my go-to app for movies.
  • Parcel.* I use this to track deliveries. I’ve heard good things about the “Deliveries” app as well, but Parcel was free.  I’ve since upgraded to a premium subscription, but that’s still cheaper.
  • PCalc. There might be other calculator apps out there, and they might be good. But PCalc is awesome and has been awesome for a really long time, and I have no plans to go another way unless the developer shuts down.
  • Prizmo.* I don’t use this a lot, but I’m always glad to have it when I need it. Great little OCR app.
  • SoundHound.  I’ll say what I said in 2012: I know Shazam is more popular for identifying songs, but I seem to get better results with SoundHound. There is both a free and a paid version of this app, and I got the paid version when it was either free or $1. Not sure what the difference is, but the one I have does what I want.
  • theScore.*  I used to use ESPN’s “ScoreCenter” to track sports scores, but the iPad version sucked very hard, and when it started to require an account, meh.  theScore is actually only OK.  The UI is good, but the server it uses is unreliable.  Open for other suggestions on this one.
  • Tweetbot.  This used to be on my “must-have” list but the free Twitter client has caught up a lot, and the iPad version of this is lagging pretty far behind, so if I were to start today I’m not sure if I would buy this or not.
  • Wikipanion. If I’m at my computer and have my iPad handy, it’s a tossup which I’ll use to look something up on Wikipedia. A very nice front end, and free.

Notably absent from this list is Notesy, which used to be a favorite but is in dire need of an update for iOS 8.  And again, while I have OmniFocus on both devices, I’m really still looking for a good to-do list app, as OmniFocus seems a little too much for me.  I also have the Apple suite of Pages, Numbers, etc. but I don’t use them very often under iOS.  And like in 2012, I rely on Dropbox as a service, but I rarely actually use the app.

iPhone Only

There are more changes here than anywhere else, driven in no small part by the step-tracking ability of my most recent phone.

  • Camera+. I still usually take pictures with the built-in app, but there are times when I want this because it’s easier to shoot one-handed with this than the default app.  Also, with iOS 8, Camera+’s filters are available in Apple’s photos app, and that alone is worth the price.  And still some of the best release notes anywhere.
  • Fantastical 2.*  This is available for iPad as well, but there I find Apple’s calendar to be just fine there, but on the iPhone Apple’s calendar just isn’t even close to Fantastical.
  • FitPort.*  Yes, I actually paid money for what is basically a better presentation of Apple’s health data.  Decent software is worth money, so I don’t mind this at all.
  • United.*  Pretty good airline app.  I fly almost exclusively on United because I live in one of their hub cities, and while lots of people seem to like Southwest, I’ve consistently had bad experiences with them.  United is actually pretty awful, too, but at least their iPhone app doesn’t suck.
  • Walkmeter.*  OK, so one of the big changes for me this year is that we now have a family dog.  I really enjoy walking her, and am shooting for 3 miles a day.  Best tracking app I’ve found, though most of them I delete right away since they either require a log in or ask for personal information, neither of which are in any way necessary for performing the function of GPS tracking a walk route, so they all got deleted immediately.

iPad Only

  • iBooks.  Still my favorite ebook platform, but again, I don’t read much on my phone.
  • Instapaper.  Still my favorite “read later” service, and again, while there is an iPhone version of it, I never use it there.
  • Feedly.*  Since Google Reader died, I just use Feedly.  I dislike their Web app on the desktop and use ReadKit there, but on the iPad their free reader is good enough.
  • MacJournal.  This app is getting to feel long in the tooth with its archaic Wifi sync and separate iPhone and iPad versions, but I still use it regularly, so here it is.  If Day One supported encryption, I’d probably drop this, but it doesn’t, so I haven’t.
  • Twitch.*  I know I mentioned earlier that I’m an MTG nerd, and this app is now stable enough that I’m willing to list it.  Already missing Legacy on Sunday nights from SCG. <sigh>

Under Consideration

There are a few pieces of software I’m considering buying, or have recently installed and am considering whether or not they deserve more prime-time love.

  • Editorial.  Supposed to be the hot editor on the iPad now, and with Notesy bowing out of the game, this might become my go-to.
  • Launch Center Pro.  I got this on sale for $1 and it looks intriguing, but maybe not enough of a win to bother with configuration, which could be time-consuming.
  • Todoist. Giving this a try as a to-do list manager.  Pretty unthrilled with the Mac desktop version so far, but the iOS version seems better.

I’m not going to bother with a full “Games” category this time since it’s pretty much just Ascension and Civilization Revolution 2 on the iPad and very little else these days.

So, what critical things am I missing?  Anyone got a to-do list manager that they love (not including OmniFocus, Things, or Clear, all of which I’ve tried and am just not into)?

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My Mac Apps, 2014 Edition

So, two years ago, I thought I’d start an annual series on the apps that I use on Mac OS and on iOS. I didn’t update either of them at the end of 2013 because not much had changed. On the Mac side, that’s still surprisingly the case.

So, instead of re-iterating the whole list, which hasn’t changed much (go read that first), I want to highlight what’s new to the fold and what’s been dropped.

New Hardware
Only two changes, but they’re pretty big

• It was finally time to get a new home machine, so I’m now on a shiny still-feels-new late-2013 Mac Pro that I still call “the wastebasket.” It’s gotten more stable with each update of Mavericks (I finally just upgraded to Yosemite yesterday) and I’ve gone from being mostly unhappy with it (despite the blazing speed) to now tolerating it. Still flaky for a lot of USB things from time to time, but overall most of the kinks are out.

• I’m now using a CODE Keyboard, the model with the Cherry MX Clear switches (105 keys). The feel is very good. It’s still not as quiet as I’d like, but it’s tolerable. I actually still keep the old Logitech DiNovo Edge around for when USB dies on the wastebasket or when I’m on a telecon and really need a quiet keyboard. I wasn’t sure how I’d like this, but within a week or two of having one at home, I had to buy a second one for my campus office.

• The one downside to the CODE keyboard is the lack of, or rather somewhat klunky solution for, media keys. Thus, I un-mothballed my Griffin PowerMate for handling audio controls. Works fine under Yosemite, too.

New Software
Again, surprisingly little has been added to the fold here over the last two years. The Big 5 are still BBEdit (now at version 11, which is a highly-recommend upgrade), OmniOutliner Pro (now with the useful OmniPresence and hopefully with an iPhone version coming soon), LaunchBar, Keyboard Maestro, and Dropbox (though I rely on this slightly less now).

However, there are a few new things that have made appearances:

• DEVONthink Pro Office. Probably overkill for what I use it for, but it has its uses. In particular, I use it to archive old email, to manage my PDF library of academic journal articles, and as a storehouse for scanned documents.

Evernote. Last time around, I was using SpringPad for cross-platform storage of notes and snippets, because the Evernote TOS were horrible. They’ve changed their TOS and the software has improved a lot as well, so I’ve been using this a little in place of the defunct SpringPad. Again, this seems like a powerful tool that I’m only scratching the surface on.

• ReadKit. I’m one of those holdouts who still reads a lot of Web content via RSS. With the death of Google News, I needed a new client, and this was the one I went with. Nothing to rave about, but no complaints, either, and since I am indeed one to complain about crappy software, that’s saying something.

• Bartender. Laptop displays just aren’t big enough for all the crap in my menubar these days. Well, with this, it’s all good.

Software Gone or on the Way Out
In addition to the small number of new things, there are pieces of software on the 2012 list that I either don’t use anymore or am in the process of getting rid of. I’ll provide a brief explanation of the issue with each one.

• Yojimbo. Ahh, Yojimbo. This is actually one of my favorite pieces of software—so why drop it? Because, essentially, data stored here is trapped on the Mac. Technically, there’s a version of Yojimbo on the iPad, but it is, unfortunately, not very good and it never syncs properly with the Mac version—and the sync is manual rather than automatic. Bare Bones offers a sync service for Yojimbo but that’s only between Macs and has a monthly fee. This is just not a tractable situation, so I’m going to be migrating to a mix of other applications: 1Password for software serial numbers and passwords, DEVONthink for PDFs that I don’t need mobile access to, and probably Evernote for short notes and other miscellany. It’ll be a very, very sad day when I complete all this, but I think it’s necessary. When I travel not for work I don’t bring a Mac, and I’ve just had too many recent episodes where there’s data I need, but it’s stuck in Yojimbo and I can’t get to it. Sad but them’s the breaks.

• RStudio. I use R more than ever (but still not for big repeated measures analysis, alas), but I have given up on RStudio. Basically, while I like the IDE framework and some of the tools, the editor is just a piece of crap that has years-old known bugs in it that I just couldn’t stand anymore, so now I just use BBEdit and the raw R software. There are things I miss about RStudio, but not enough to justify going back to it.

• NetNewsWire. My favorite old RSS reader just would not keep up with the times. No Feedly or any other form of cross-machine/cross-device sync? Really? In 2014? Bye.

• OmniGraphSketcher. When the company that makes it stops, it’s time to give up. Not much of a loss, though, really.

• Interarchy. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it—I haven’t replaced it or anything—I just find that I never use it anymore.

Under Consideration
While I still like MacJournal, it’s a little limited as a blogging tool when you want to mix images and things like code snippets, so I’m thinking about taking the plunge with something like MarsEdit or Desk.

The other thing that I’m still searching for is a good to-do list manager—just like I was at the end of 2012. I own OmniFocus but I basically never use it because it’s just so klunky. It’s tied to the GTD productivity cult, which I guess is OK, but I’m not really into that, so it’s just extra hassle. I’m told Things has similar issues. Basically, what I need in a to-do list manager is:

  • Hierarchical lists that can be re-organized by dragging (not by “priority values” or due dates whatever OmniFocus uses)
  • Dated, recurrent items (but dates don’t force order in the list)
  • Automatic sync between Mac, iPad, and iPhone
  • No GTD cruft, or at least the ability to ignore that stuff
  • It would be nice if it didn’t cost a small fortune like OmniFocus (and Things)

Right now I basically just use OmniOutliner to keep a list because it’s the best hierarchical list editor I have access to, but it doesn’t have recurrent items and doesn’t sync invisibly with my iPhone, so that’s why I’m still looking. I’m planning on checking out Todoist and Clear. What else should I look at? I tried Wunderlist but it doesn’t handle hierarchy in a way that works for me.

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Passbook Success

So, one of the shiny new gizmos in iOS6 is something called Passbook. It’s kind of hard to know how good this thing will be in the long run, but it got off to a rocky start. One oddity is that Apple’s site plugs specific vendors, including Starbucks, but when iOS6 first shipped, the Starbucks app didn’t actually support it. Go figure. (Side note: Starbucks does now support Passbook—just a little late to the game, that’s all.)

However, there have been some recent success stories, such as Major League Baseball. I wanted to put my experience out there as well.

Back in April, the band Garbage was scheduled to play in my town. One of the band members had a death in the family and they had to reschedule the show. I had purchased tickets through Ticketmaster. I know, I know, mark of the devil, king of jacked-up fees, etc. I wanted to see the show, so there it was. Anyway, the show was eventually re-scheduled for October 9th. In the intervening time, iOS6 came out, meaning Passbook was available, and I decided to give it a try. I downloaded the Ticketmaster app, and logged in to my account. It did indeed know about my tickets to the show, and was seamlessly Passbook-aware. I sent my tickets to Passbook with a tap.

On the day of the show, I printed out paper tickets just in case. It turned out to be totally unnecessary. Sometime early in the day—I think around lunchtime but it might have been earlier, Passbook asked for authorization to use location services, which I gave. That night, when we arrived at the venue, sure enough Passbook knew I was there and a banner appeared on my lock screen. When we got to the doors, I swiped it and it brought up my tickets which were scanned by the person at the door, and in we went. No fuss, no muss, no finding the app and searching for the right tickets—exactly as advertised. I could get used to this! It’s not like bringing tickets along is a terrible inconvenience or anything, but this definitely has that “living in the future” feel to it.

If it always works this well, Passbook is going to be a hit. One time isn’t really enough to be sure, of course, so I’ll be giving it a little more work in the coming months with another concert (Shpongle) and some air travel on United, which also claims to support Passbook. Hopefully it will all go as well as this did. The upcoming Shpongle show will be particularly interesting, because I bought my ticket for that show directly in the Ticketmaster app itself, something I’d never done before.

By the way, the Garbage show was terrific. I’d seen them before—10 years ago—and despite being a decade longer in the tooth, they were even better this time around. Very fun!

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