Drafts Gets Its Today Widget Back

From the changelog of Drafts 4.0.6, released today on the App Store:

New: Today widget. Now back with the addition of recent drafts summary. Thanks to the help of some fine folks inside Apple for sorting this out.

The original Drafts widget was removed from the app after an Apple rejection two weeks ago. As with PCalc and Transmit before, Apple reversed their decision and the widget is back – and it's even better than before.

The widget shows the total number of drafts in the app and it has buttons to create a new empty draft, a draft from the clipboard, and to open recent drafts, which is new. I wish Agile Tortoise didn't have to go through this process, but I'm glad the widget is back in Drafts before the holidays.

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PDF Converter Gets Universal Update

With iOS 8, Readdle updated their PDF Converter app for iPad with an action extension to quickly convert any webpage to PDF. While the same can be done with Workflow now, I like that PDF Converter saves documents automatically into the app, which can store them in iCloud Drive (and thus on all your devices) without even launching the app after a PDF has been generated.

PDF Converter was updated to version 2.2 yesterday with iPhone support – you can now “print” a webpage to PDF directly from Safari with the tap of a button without having to decide where you want to save the file. In the app, you can tap an iCloud Drive button to open the iOS 8 document picker and switch it to other document storage extensions, and you can also convert the contents of your clipboard or files from Dropbox.

If you don't want to convert webpages or files, PDF Converter's action extension shows up in the Photos app, which will let you convert images to PDF documents (handy if you, say, want to annotate screenshots with full-featured apps like PDF Expert).

PDF Converter 2.2 is available on the App Store at $2.99.


My Must-Have iPad Apps, 2014 Edition

For the past four years, I've been running a series called My Must-Have Apps that, once a year, collects all the apps I find indispensable to get work done on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Considering changes to my daily life and workflow, this year will only feature my must-have iPad and iPhone apps. As with last year, I want to start from the iPad.

Over the past two and a half years, my workflow has become increasingly iOS-centric. Changes in my personal and professional life have convinced me that iOS is the best platform for me, with a rich ecosystem of apps that allow me to work faster and more efficiently no matter where I am. This year, my iPad has essentially replaced my MacBook Air, which I now primarily use to watch movies and record podcasts.

There's a few tasks that I still can't get done on an iPad, but the list is shrinking, and, thanks to iOS 8, developers are coming up with new ways to make working on iOS more feasible and pleasant. I don't use my iPad as a computer just to prove a point or because it's a popular topic among readers and listeners of Connected: I need my iPad, the apps it runs, and the workflows I've created to automate what I do on iOS.

It is with extreme seriousness, then, that I take a look at the apps I consider my “must-haves” each December and compile them in a list for MacStories. This allows me to sit down and calmly evaluate how I use my devices, the software I depend on, and how much the way I use apps has changed in 12 months.

This year, I'll only cover iPad and iPhone apps, starting with the iPad. In the list below, you'll find apps organized in eight sections:

  • Work Essentials (apps that I need and use for work every day)
  • Social
  • News & Links (apps to read and discover interesting news)
  • Audio (apps for music and podcasts)
  • Calculators
  • Images
  • Extensions, Widgets, and Keyboards
  • Everything Else

At the end of the article, you'll also find a few statistics about this year's collection as compared to last year's and my iPad App of the Year. Each app has a direct iTunes link, and, where possible, I've included links to previous MacStories coverage as well.

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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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App Santa: Tweetbot, Drafts, Day One, and Other Great iOS & Mac Apps on Sale for Christmas

Back in 2006 and 2007, there was an initiative called MacSanta that allowed users to buy great Mac apps at discounted prices with a holiday sale. After last year’s debut (which wasn’t officially affiliated with MacSanta), AppSanta is back this year with over 40 award-winning iOS and Mac apps discounted up to 60% off the original price in a promotion that runs until December 26th.

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Discovery on the App Store

Gedeon Maheux writes about search on the App Store following a simple experiment: looking at search results for “Twitter”. The outcome is concerning:

The following list was generated by a manual App Store (iPhone) search on Nov 15th, 2014 for the term “Twitter”. To make the list easier to parse, I’ve called out all apps that allow a user to directly read AND post to Twitter in bold. Everything else is either a game, a utility, or some other social network enhancement. The official app from Twitter is naturally the first result, but the next actual Twitter client (Hootsuite) doesn’t appear on the list until #20 and the next one after that comes in at #62. Even the mega-popular Tweetbot isn’t returned in the results until position #81 and even then, the older v2 of Tweetbot (for iOS 6) comes first. Where’s Twitterrific? Although it contains the word “Twitter” in the app’s name, Twitterrific isn’t seen in the list until you scroll all the way down to #100.

App Store search has historically been a black box. The problem isn't necessarily that it's getting worse – rather, it's that it doesn't appear to be getting better. Every day I search for something on the App Store and, inevitably, I come across unrelated social games, apps to boost your Twitter followers or Instagram likes, and clones of other apps instead of more accurate results.

In spite of Apple's efforts to put curated lists of apps front and center, people still search for apps the old fashioned way. A mobile take on SEO has become quite popular, studies suggest this, and, anecdotally, the importance of search – inside and outside of the App Store – can be easily measured.

Apple has plenty of room for improvement in App Store search; in the meantime, the upcoming app analytics should hopefully help developers understand how customers are finding (or not finding) their apps through search.

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HelloTalk: Learn Languages, Meet the World [Sponsor]

HelloTalk is the first language exchange social networking app in the world, allowing you to find native speakers of the language you're learning locally or worldwide.

The best way to learn a foreign language is to practice with real people. If you are a native English speaker learning Chinese Mandarin, ideally you'd want to meet native Chinese speakers learning English. HelloTalk does just that: you can find native speakers and, through a unique text and talk exchange mode, write in one language and then switch to another one, or talk for 5 minutes in one language then switch again. HelloTalk is capable of counting time automatically, so you'll never lose your stats or progress.

HelloTalk supports dozens of languages including English, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Italian, Russian, and Arabic. In addition to text and talk modes, the app lets you share photos with your language partner about your life and home country culture.

For more information, visit hellotalk.com and start learning a new language with native speakers today.

Our thanks to HelloTalk for sponsoring MacStories this week.


Hacking the Tweet Stream

MG Siegler writes about one of the latest trends in changing the way longer messages are shared on Twitter:

More recently, there’s been a trend with a similar goal (to increase the 140-character limit), but immensely better execution and flow: appending screenshots of text to tweets.

In the age of Tweetstorms, I thought I would grow to hate this as well. But I actually quite like it. One big reason: it maintains the flow of the tweet stream. That is, it’s one tweet with a payload, so it both flows in and out of the stream just as quickly as a regular tweet. And, more importantly, it can be retweeted (another one of those early Twitter “hacks” that has since become part of the official canon) and replied to without breaking context.

I've seen this as well, and it's becoming more frequent each week. Since the beginning of mobile Twitter clients, there's always been a desire from some users to be able to share longer tweets. Twitter never caved in to the pressure and maintained the historic character limitation of tweets, but, as MG notes, screenshots and tweetstorms are clever in that they “hack” the Twitter stream natively through replies and inline previews. An interesting consequence of changing the timeline from a simple list of tweets to something different.

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