Apps

Overcast.fm [App Store Link]

I know, I know, I'm a little late to the party posting this. In fact I'm only just now getting caught up on all of today's big news.

If you're wondering, my morning was spent with my wife and son at the downtown OKC library's storytime for toddlers, getting lunch, and eventually heading back home to lay him down for a nap. What can I say, that's what the life of being a stay-at-home dad is like sometimes.

Anyway, after months of anticipation I've finally had a chance to play with Marco Arment's new Overcast podcatcher for iPhone. My honest opinion so far? It's okay.

Don't get me wrong, Overcast has plenty of great features and special touches to speak of—just not enough to lure me away from Pocket Casts. If nothing else, the lack of an iPad client is a dealbreaker for me (though Marco does have one in the works). On top of that, Overcast is slow and buggy on my iPhone 4s. I can hardly blame him for not fully supporting such an outdated piece of hardware, but the fact remains.

With all that said, please don't let my first impressions tarnish your curiosity. If you're in the market for a new podcast app, Overcast is free to download and there's no reason not to give it a shot yourself. I just personally wasn't as blown away as I'd hoped.

For now, I remain optimistic that future updates will prove me wrong in the long run.

Broken Age for iPad [App Store Link]

Broken Age for iPad

For anyone unfamiliar, Broken Age is the delightful point-and-click adventure game I wrote about on Tools & Toys not long ago. I'm super excited to see it make the transition to iPad, much like I was when Machinarium did the same. These kinds of games just feel more natural to play on a touch screen rather than with a mouse or keyboard.

Even if you've already played Broken Age before, you should consider the iPad version. This isn't some cheap port—the wonderful soundtrack and quality voice acting are all still there, as well as the gorgeous, hand-painted design aesthetic. If you haven't had the chance to play it yet, you're in for a treat.

Note: this is still just Act 1 of the game, with Act 2 releasing later this year as an in-app purchase.

Get Broken Age for $10 on the iOS App Store.

Stache for Mac and iOS

Stache is new Mac app that allows you to bookmark and archive entire webpages, á la Pinboard. Rather than displaying as a simple list of links, Stache takes a more visual approach by attaching a screenshot to each bookmark.

It syncs over iCloud with its iOS companion app, which has no archiving abilites but does share the Mac app's "visual bookmark" design, bookmarklet/URL scheme support, and full-content search. Although I have no need to switch away from Pinboard, Stache certainly makes for an interesting alternative.

Stache is available on the Mac App Store for an introductory price of $7 (normally $10) and as a Universal app on the iOS App Store for $2.

Reeder 2.2 for iOS

~Finally~, Reeder for iOS has updated to v2.2, now with background app refresh and a load of other awesome features and fixes. Go get it.

Minor tangent: As much as I enjoy using Jared Sinclair's unique RSS app Unread, I always come back to Reeder. It has a slow development cycle to be sure, but after all these years I still love its sheer speed and simple design. Unless Silvio Rizzi goes out of business, I can't see myself ever needing another RSS app.

Fantastical 2 for iPad Released

Fantastical 2 has been my calendar app of choice for the past few months. My one quibble so far has been that it was only designed for iPhone. I have used it on my iPad in 2x mode, but it has never been a great experience.

That all changed with today's release of Fantastical 2 for iPad. All of Fantastical's key features—including the DayTicker and its ability to understand natural language input—have been carried over from the iPhone version. The main difference is that the iPad app takes full advantage of the larger screen to display more information at once. It's more than a basic calendar; it's a detailed dashboard for my schedule.

As it stands now, the iPhone version is where I will quickly create new events, and the iPad version is what I'll use to manage and review existing events. I recommend picking up both if you haven't already done so, especially since the iPad app is on sale for $10, a discount of 33%.

Designing Unread for iPad

Last night, Jared Sinclair announced that he will be releasing a version of Unread for iPad, and that he will be documenting the design process in a series of videos. He has provided an RSS feed for anyone who wants to follow along.

The first and second videos are up, and I already like where things are headed.

Diet Coda 1.5

Diet Coda is the code-editing app to get if you have to maintain websites from your iPad, and it just updated with some great new features. Files can now be stored locally and synced with Dropbox, and the app now supports a slew of new syntaxes, including Markdown. It's a $20 app, so only serious coders need apply.

The Best Pinboard App for iOS

Shawn Blanc invited me to write about iOS Pinboard apps for The Sweet Setup. It's a pretty crowded market these days, but after thoroughly testing the various Pinboard apps out there, we selected Pushpin as our top pick in the end. A very close second went to Pinswift.

Anyway, go check out the article and hit me up on Twitter to let me know what you think!

RealMac Wants to Make Things Right

Remember when RealMac came out with a new, separate version of Clear a while back, and it caused a bunch of confusion and frustration with their customers?

Well, now they want to clear the air (see what I did there?) once and for all, by going back to a single, universal version of the app and making it temporarily free so that everyone can easily migrate over:

“As Apple doesn’t offer a way to migrate users between copies of an app, we’re going to make Clear free for 24 hours so owners of Clear+ can move to the correct version free of charge.

To make sure as many people as possible can move to Clear, we’re going to do this twice in the next few weeks. We know this is risky - we rely on the income from Clear to run our small, independent company - and so whilst this was by no means an easy decision for us to make, we simply want to do the right thing for you, our customers.”

Numerical

My buddy Andrew J. Clark (of The Menu Bar fame) just released his gorgeous, first-ever iPhone app, Numerical.

The tagline for the app is "A Calculator Without Equal", which is not only clever from a marketing perspective, but also true because the app does not have an 'equals' button. It simply calculates answers on-the-fly, and lets you use swipe gestures to undo, redo, or archive an answer for later reference.

The app also has a certain charm to it, with helpful animations and pleasant sound effects throughout (you can see it in action here). It will even give useful error messages, like if you try to divide by zero.

Andrew obviously spent a lot of time considering the little details, and Numerical has now replaced the stock iOS calculator app for me. The app is only $3, so go get it and support a brilliant guy.

Chicago Avenue Moon

Chicago Avenue Moon

Thanks to my buddy Nate Boateng, I discovered an awesome new app called Chicago Avenue Moon. As the developer describes it:

“Chicago Avenue Moon is a responsive, generative music app that gathers a set of variables including date, time, phase of the moon, and GPS location, and uses that data to determine how its music unfolds, in real-time. The piece is intended for a listener in motion, whose route and speed affect the composition. Composer Joshua Dumas wrote 1000 brief musical phrases which the app manipulates, sequences, and layers to create trillions and trillions of variations, a unique experience with every listen.

He imagines the piece as a personalized soundtrack for strangers’ mundanities—an effort to help re-enchant a person’s daily commute, trip to the laundromat, or evening jog.”

As I just wrote about on Tools & Toys, the music this app generates is very akin to the Journey game soundtrack, which I love it for.

Chicago Avenue Moon is only $1 right now, and will go up to $2 after Feb 11th. I highly recommend checking it out. If nothing else, it will totally change the way you experience a nighttime walk.

'Designing Unread'

Speaking of Unread, Jared Sinclair wrote a post detailing his decisions behind the app's design:

“I decided that best way to make Unread a comfortable app was to let the reader directly manipulate each screen anywhere her thumb might land. This freed me to remove interface chrome and focus on the text. It’s now a trite idea for design to focus on “content,” but in Unread’s case it really was an essential goal. I wanted readers to get their minds out of the email rut that has trapped their expectations of what RSS can be.”

I think he nailed the comfort aspect. The gestures in Unread feel so natural that I'm finding myself swiping around and exploring every corner of the app just because I enjoy the sensation of flicking things on- and off-screen.

Unread for iPhone

Unread, a new RSS app developed by Jared Sinclair (who also developed the excellent Riposte for App.net), has just been unveiled to the world. I'm apparently one of the few people on Earth who didn't get into the beta, so I don't have an official review written like my friends Federico Viticci, Shawn Blanc, and Stephen Hackett do. (I'm not bitter or anything.)

Even so, I'm already enjoying my experience with Unread in the short amount of time I've had to play with it, and I look forward to testing it a lot more.

The special launch price is only $2.99, so get it while it's hot.

iOS App Store's Best of 2013

Apple just unveiled their 2013 Best-Of charts, encompassing all the types of media found on the iTunes Store (music, movies, tv shows, apps, books, and podcasts). Each category is interesting enough to check out, but being the nerd I am, I was mainly interested in the App Store results.

Some highlights that particularly caught my attention:

  • VSCO Cam was runner-up for iPhone App of the Year, and deservedly so. It's the only photo editor I need, and so it's the only one I've been using for the last several months.

  • Ridiculous Fishing received iPhone Game of the Year. This was also very well-deserved, because it's easily one of the most entertaining games I've ever played on iOS. Maybe on any console. The music alone is so good, I even bought the soundtrack.

  • Editorial was mentioned as one of the top 'Smart Productivity' apps. Can't hit the nail much harder on the head than that. I know that my own productivity and overall writing workflow have gotten a huge boost from this app.

  • Basil, a recipe manager for iPad developed by Kyle Baxter, made it into the 'Beautiful Cookbooks' section. Nice going, Kyle!

Many congratulations to all the developers – of which there are way more than I could comfortably list here – who got into top lists in their respective categories. It's been another exciting year for iOS apps, and I'm looking forward to what's in store for 2014.

App Store Review Prompts

It looks like iOS App Store review prompts (i.e. the popups that say something to the effect of, "Like our app? Go rate it five stars!") are back in the public eye. Several people have been debating the pros and cons of this approach to garner reviews, and I'd like to give my two cents.

The whole discussion kicked off when Gruber linked to a moderately amusing Tumblr called Eff Your Review, which features screenshots of iOS apps badgering users to leave (ostensibly positive) app reviews. He added:

I’ve long considered a public campaign against this particular practice, wherein I’d encourage Daring Fireball readers, whenever they encounter these “Please rate this app” prompts, to go ahead and take the time to do it — but to rate the app with just one star and to leave a review along the lines of, “One star for annoying me with a prompt to review the app.”

Cabel Sasser thought this tactic might be a bit too far:

That said, ‘give apps that do this 1 star’ suggestion bummed me out — stoops to the level of ’1 star until you add X feature!’

And last night, Daniel Jalkut weighed in on the matter:

It’s smart to take it as given that something should be done to encourage users to leave positive ratings and reviews. That’s good business sense. But also take it as given that the farther you tread in the direction of badgering and disrespecting users, the more you chip away at the meaningful non-monetary benefits listed above.

Daniel is absolutely right. Developers have every incentive for using these prompts, and little immediate reason not to, unless swaths of users take Gruber's advice and leave one-star reviews about it.

Like any nuanced discussion, there is no single answer to the problem. Neither side – developer or customer – is necessarily in the right or wrong here. However, I think it could be helpful to lay down some guidelines for the people on either side of the equation. I can't speak for everyone, but I think the following principles would be a good starting point.

Rules for App Developers

  • Let us opt out. If you simply must have an App Store review prompt in your app, be sure to give users the chance to say "no thanks". Don't pull the kind of bullshit where the only options are "yes" and "remind me later". That's scummy and you know it.

  • Respect the users' wishes. If a customer chooses to opt out of leaving a review, your app had better not continue prompting them about it afterward. I can live with a one-time popup, but there are some apps that ignore opt-out requests and that is definitely not okay with me. It might even be a good idea to respect opt-outs across app updates, if possible. If I didn't want to review your app two updates ago, I'm no more likely to do so today.

  • Remember that your app isn't the only one prompting for reviews. Users have to deal with this prompt in a wide variety of apps all the time, even multiple times a day depending on which apps they're using and which ones have updated recently. What you might see as a minor hiccup in the user's workflow is something they may see as a constant annoyance from all the apps they've bought.

Rules for Users

  • Try to be a little more understanding. At the end of the day, most developers are simply trying to make a living from their work. In all likelihood, all but a few of them would rather leave you alone to enjoy their app, but let's face it: App Store ratings can make or break entire businesses. It's hard to blame them for encouraging people to help out a little.

  • Go ahead and leave a review, even without being prompted. If a higher percentage of users would leave reviews of their own volition, developers wouldn't feel the need to badger them about it. If you have an app that you love and use all the time, do them a favor and give them a little boost on the App Store so they can continue providing you an awesome experience.

  • Don't hand out 1-star reviews lightly. This is where I disagree with Gruber's suggestion. As annoying as these popups might be, I don't think it's fair to give an otherwise great app the lowest possible rating. For example, I absolutely love Day One but even it uses the review prompt. I wouldn't dream of giving it a one-star rating just for that, it's too cruel.

    I think people are often far too quick to hand out awful ratings just because of a single "missing" feature or other small annoyance. The one exception I would make in this case would be for apps that ignore opt-outs, or fail to provide them altogether.

* * *

While there is room for improvement on both sides of the aisle, my main wish is for each side to be courteous to the other. I don't think that's too much to ask for.


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The Sweet Setup

Two of my favorite websites for getting recommendations on great stuff are The Wirecutter and their sister site The Sweethome. Rather than focusing on the latest fads, they only concern themselves with finding the absolute best gear possible, the stuff that stands the test of time.

Today, I'm happy to say that a third site has entered this arena: The Sweet Setup, created by my buddy Shawn Blanc. It's not a site about gear, though — it's all about the best Mac and iOS apps in a wide variety of categories, as well as the, ahem, sweet setups of awesome people.

Just to give some examples, there are articles on the very best journaling app, their favorite alternative to Apple's Photo Stream, and the best general purpose weather app. These apps aren't necessarily new – especially not to us nerds – but that's exactly the point. Sometimes the most trusty apps are the ones with a little experience under their belts.

Head over here to get a brief tour of the site, then get to reading all the other articles. If nothing else, just take a few moments to really look at the site's design, because it's nothing short of gorgeous.

I'm really excited for Shawn, and congratulate him on the launch of what I think is the premier resource for app research. Go check it out.

'Designing Great App Store Screenshots'

Dan Counsell of Realmac Software explains why it's so important for iOS app developers to use good screenshots:

“The simple fact is that a customer’s decision on whether they will download an app is mainly based on the icon, rating and screenshots. The name of the app and description [are] secondary, and most of the time not even taken into account. Potential customers look at these elements to try and work out if the app is worth their time and money, and this all happens in a matter of seconds.”

He goes on to give some excellent tips that may help them get a leg up on the competition. The bit about using all five screenshot slots is probably the easiest one to adhere to, and sadly there are developers out there too lazy to do even that much.

The App Design Handbook

Nathan Barry and Jeremy Olson have put together an excellent resource for anyone looking to get started with app design.

The full package – which includes 9 video tutorials, 9 video interviews, and a handful of resources such as Photoshop files and Xcode samples – is $199 for a limited time to celebrate the launch, and will go back up to $249 soon. The book can also be purchased by itself for $29 (soon $39) or as a middle-ground package that includes fewer resources than the full package.