Posts in reviews


Workflow 1.1: Deeper iOS Automation

Released by a small team of indies in December 2014, Workflow reinvented iOS automation. Combining an interface reminiscent of Apple's Automator for OS X with easy access to native iOS features such as Safari, the photo library, and iOS 8 extensions, Workflow promised to make automating tasks on an iPhone and iPad a simple and pleasant affair. The results spoke for themselves: Apple selected Workflow as Editor's Choice, the app trended for weeks in the App Store's Top Charts, and thousands of users released interesting and useful workflows in various online communities. MacStories readers may remember that Workflow was my iPad app of the year.

Workflow is one of those few apps that have dramatically changed how I work on my iPad. For me, the point of using Workflow isn't to put together chains of actions to show off the app's power – I just want to save time I can spend doing something else. While I have fun experimenting with Workflow and understanding its capabilities, ultimately the app just sits there in the background, waiting for me to call a series of actions I need. I love Workflow the most when it's summoned for those two seconds and it does something magic that would have normally required minutes of manual interaction. Things like appending links to Evernote, converting spreadsheets to Markdown tables, or adding text to the clipboard.

Workflow fits my routine like a glove. I've used it every day to automate aspects of my work that speed up how I write and communicate on my iOS devices. And with Workflow 1.1, released today on the App Store, its developers are further expanding the app's capabilities with powerful new functionality that includes filtering, better conditionals and image manipulation, URL expansion and deeper calendar access, and even the ability to open multiple links at once in a web browser.

Version 1.1 of Workflow includes over 50 new actions and dozens of fixes, improvements, and changes to existing actions. Core parts of the app have been revised for a faster experience and the foundation laid with the Content Graph has started to pay off with the addition of metadata and filters. Because I've been playing around with Workflow 1.1 since the app's original release two months ago, I'm going to offer some practical examples with a high-level overview of the changes.

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Saver 2 for iPhone Review

This week saw the release of Saver 2, a big update to the personal finance and expense tracking iPhone app from Alex Solonsky and Vadim Shpakovski. I reviewed the original Saver nearly four years ago, and whilst the core of the app is very similar, the new features and completely refreshed and modernised design make Saver 2 a lot better.

There are quite a few personal finance apps available these days and it’s important to know that Saver, an iPhone-only app, is one that won’t be for everyone. For example, you won’t be reconciling multiple bank accounts – that’s just not how Saver works. But at the same time, don’t think of Saver as just a barebones tool: it is far more than that and will work terrifically for many people. This is particularly true if you purchase one of Saver’s subscriptions which add a bunch of advanced features (more on that later).

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Olloclip 4-in-1 Lens for iPhone 6 Review

olloclip 4-in-1 Pocket-Sized Lens Kit for iPhone 6

For convenience and high-quality results, it was hard to beat the Olloclip accessory lenses for the iPhones 4 through 5s. The 4-in–1 model was especially good, cleaning up a lot of the optical aberrations of the earlier models.

Then came the iPhone 6, in regular and plus sizes, and your old Olloclip was suddenly useless.

The Olloclip is a widget that slides over the corner of the phone and places a wide-angle, fisheye or close-up macro lens over the iPhone’s camera. The new iPhones’ design meant that the old Olloclips wouldn’t fit. But did the folks from Olloclip just pull out a Dremel and cut a groove to let the old model slip over the new iPhone’s sticky-out lens?

Of course not. They came up with a whole new design, a design that’s bigger, but which adds support for the front selfie camera. So how does it compare?

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Due 2 Review: Effective Reminders

Due has been around for a long time. Created by independent developer Lin Junjie (who later went on to launch Dispatch and Clips with Hon Cheng), Due was launched in late 2010 as a simple reminder app for iPhone to never forget the things you had to do. Over the years, Due expanded to more platforms and received an iOS 7 redesign, but, at its core, it remained a streamlined utility to set reminders and always complete them. With a combination of clever design and thoughtful snooze settings, Due ensured you'd never ignore an alert (or pretend it wasn't important).

The original Due was, however, a product of simpler times. In five years, thousands of reminder and timer apps have been released on the App Store. As widely documented by the indie iOS dev community, it's hard to survive in a market driven by a tendency to lower prices and to add features atop features. People's workflows change (often, from modest to more advanced needs) but, unlike others, Junjie has shown remarkable restraint in changing how Due works. He's an exception. I can't think of any other 1.0 app that lasted this long.

Four years after the original Due (which I discovered thanks to John Gruber), Due 2 launches today with a completely redesigned interface and interactions updated for the modern era of iOS 8 and larger phones. And yet, in spite of its new look, Due 2 is still unmistakably Due – a testament to the developer's deliberate efforts to make a specific type of app that doesn't compromise its nature.

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Emoji Type: A Predictive Emoji Keyboard

Emoji have really taken off this year, and on the iPhone and iPad it is easier than ever to use them thanks to iOS 8’s custom keyboards. Like many people, I’ve been using and enjoying the fantastic Emoji++ from David Smith (you can read our review here). But as someone who is admittedly a bit of a novice when it comes to emoji, the wall of emoji in Emoji++, whilst a massive improvement over the default emoji keyboard, is still a bit intimidating at times. This is particularly the case when searching for an emoji, with no idea if it exists or where it might be.

Emoji Type, which launched today, is a new predictive emoji keyboard. That means you can start typing koala and Emoji Type will pull up the koala emoji in a bar similar to the QuickType suggestion bar from iOS 8’s default keyboard. There’s a whole dictionary of words associated with the various emoji that has been built into Emoji Type. So, as an example, you can get to the koala emoji by typing koala or Australia and you can get to the heart emojis by typing heart or love. And you don’t have to type the whole word for the emoji to appear, emojis start appearing after typing two letters and each letter you type after that will continue to narrow the selection (which is horizontally scrollable).

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Group Text+ and Email+ Make Conversations Faster with Extensions and Shortcuts

With Contact Center, Contrast tried to adapt some parts of Launch Center Pro to a subset of its functionality – getting in touch with other people – for a simplified, friendlier utility. It's with Group Text+ and Email+, however, that I feel like David Barnard and his team have hit a sweet spot of successfully abstracting features from their flagship app and reimagining them for a fresh, cohesive experience.

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Powered By Extensions, Stacks Converts Currencies Inside iOS 8′s Safari

I live in Italy, but MacStories' audience is primarily US-based, which has posed a few interesting problems over the years. One of them1 has been the constant conversion between currencies: I get paid in US Dollars, but I need to convert to Euros for my bank account; or, I often need to purchase products sold in USD, and I have to find the equivalent in my currency. I've now learned how to calculate currency conversions quickly by myself, and, obviously, I've tried a number of currency converters on the App Store. Lately, I switched to PCalc as my go-to calculator and currency/unit converter thanks to its custom keys.

Stacks 2.0, developed by WapleStuff (the same creators of Calzy), takes advantage of iOS 8's new Extensibility features to provide one of the most unique and convenient ways to convert currencies I've ever tried. Stacks 2.0 integrates with Safari, using an action extension to convert currencies directly in a webpage you're looking at.

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