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LookUp 6 Review: The Biggest Update Yet for the Best Dictionary App

The average life cycle of an app typically consists of two phases: the app’s early days often bring a host of significant updates as it strives toward feature maturity; however, once that level of maturity is achieved, the updates become more iterative and unsurprising, largely aimed at keeping pace with new OS technologies. LookUp 6 defies that normal pattern. The sixth major version of the excellent iOS dictionary app weds two important themes: adopting all the relevant functionality enabled by Apple’s latest OS releases, while simultaneously adding substantial features like quizzes, translation, full navigation via keyboard, and more. Despite how modern and feature-rich LookUp already was, version 6 sets the app on even stronger footing at the dawn of Apple’s latest software releases.

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LookUp 5 Teaches Siri the Word of the Day and More via Shortcuts

We all know that it’s important to regularly learn new things, but often the busyness of life crowds out that learning and we settle into routines that make learning unnecessary. Fortunately, one of the things made possible by iOS 12 and the new Shortcuts app is that you can create your own custom “routines” of sorts with the help of Siri, and integrate daily learning into those routines.

In that vein, the excellent dictionary app LookUp was updated this week to version 5, which takes advantage of Siri shortcuts in iOS 12 to offer access to the word of the day via Siri. The update also brings a new Collections feature, additional shortcut options, and more.

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LookUp 4.0 Adds Object Recognition via Vision Framework, Plus Drag and Drop

LookUp is a beautifully designed dictionary app that we first reviewed earlier this year. With its effective use of bold headings and colorful graphics atop a white background, Lookup visually looks like a sister app to Apple’s new App Store – and considering how much I love the new App Store, that’s high praise. I won’t spend any time on the basics of the app though, as you can check out Jake’s original review for that. Instead, I want to focus on how LookUp harnesses the power of new iOS 11 technologies.

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LookUp Review: The Modern Dictionary

When considering a traditional dictionary, the words “fast” and “beautiful” don’t come to mind; even our digital dictionaries, sometimes coming in the form of iOS’ Look Up feature when highlighting a word, don’t do a great job of looking good, providing all the relevant information, and appearing in enough time to make it worth the process.

With LookUp, I’ve found things to be different – it’s a dictionary app built on convenience, design, and lots of information.

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My Must-Have Apps, 2019 Edition

My Home screens.

My Home screens.

Every year in late October, I start putting together a rough list of candidates for my annual ‘Must-Have Apps’ story, which I’ve historically published in late December, right before the holiday break. As you can tell by the date on this article, the 2019 edition of this story is different: not only did I spend the last months of the year testing a variety of new apps and betas, but I also kept tweaking my Home screen to accomodate MusicBot and new Home screen shortcuts. As a result, it took me a bit longer to finalize the 2019 collection of my must-have apps; in the process, however, I’ve come up with a slightly updated format that I believe will scale better over the next few years.

In terms of app usage, 2019 was a year of stabilization for me. Having settled on a specific writing workflow revolving around iA Writer and Working Copy, and having figured out a solution to record podcasts from my iPad Pro, I spent the year fine-tuning my usage of those apps, refining my file management habits thanks to iPadOS’ improved Files app, and cutting down on the number of apps I kept tucked away in folders on my iPhone and iPad.

Two themes emerged over the second half of 2019, though. First, thanks to various improvements in iOS and iPadOS 13, I increased my reliance on “first-party” Apple apps: I embraced the new Reminders app and its exclusive features, stopped using third-party note-taking apps and moved everything to Notes, and switched back to Apple Mail as my default email client. I’ve written about the idea of comfort in the Apple ecosystem before, and I’ve seen that concept work its way into my app preferences more and more over the course of 2019.

The second theme, unsurprisingly, is my adoption of a hybrid Home screen that combines apps and shortcuts powered by our custom MacStories Shortcuts Icons. Following changes to running shortcuts from the Home screen in iOS 13, I realized how much I was going to benefit from the ability to execute commands with the tap of an icon, so I decided to mix and match apps and shortcuts on my Home screens to maximize efficiency. Thanks to the different flavors of MacStories Shortcuts Icons (we just launched a Color set), I’ve been able to assemble a truly personalized Home screen layout that puts the best of both worlds – my favorite apps and custom shortcuts – right at my fingertips.

For this reason, starting this year you’ll find a new Home Screens section at the beginning of this roundup that covers the first tier of my must-have apps – the “ultimate favorites” I tend to keep on the Home screens of both devices. Because I like to keep my iPhone and iPad Home screens consistent, it made sense to start grouping these apps together in their own special section. These are the apps I use most on a daily basis; I’m pretty sure you’ll find at least a couple surprises this year.

This entire story features a collection of the 50 apps I consider my must-haves on the iPhone and iPad, organized in seven categories; whenever possible, I included links to original reviews and past coverage on MacStories. As for the traditional list of awards for best new app and best app update: those are now part of our annual MacStories Selects awards, which we published last December and you can find here.

Let’s dig in.

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MacStories Selects 2019: Recognizing the Best Apps of the Year

John: The process of picking the MacStories Selects awards is simple. During the past year as we used and reviewed hundreds of apps, Federico, Ryan, and I kept a shared note in Apple Notes with a list of the apps that struck us as potential candidates for one of our 2019 awards. Not long ago, each of us revisited that list and refined it. Then, we convened in the MacStories Slack and hashed out the winners and runners up.

Today, we are pleased to announce the winners of the second annual MacStories Selects awards. As we explained when we introduced the inaugural Selects awards, we expected that we would expand and evolve them in 2019, which is precisely what we’ve done.

This year, the Selects Awards feature four new awards:

  • Best New Feature
  • Best Watch App
  • Best Mac App
  • Readers’ Choice Award

Best New Feature recognizes a new app feature that stands out for its impact. We also added an award for the Best New Watch app; in a year that saw Watch apps gain independence from the iPhone, this is an award that felt like an obvious and natural addition to Selects. With Apple’s renewed focus on Mac hardware and apps, we also wanted to recognize the 2019 Mac app that we feel represents the best that macOS has to offer.

Finally, for 2019 we are debuting a Readers’ Choice award selected by members of Club MacStories. All of our readers care about the apps they use, or they wouldn’t be reading MacStories in the first place. However, Club members’ interest and dedication to discovering and using the very best apps available rises to an entirely different level, so we felt it would be fitting to tap into their refined tastes with this special award.

When we looked back on our 2018 Selects picks, we couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. The awards were well-received by readers and developers alike, but they lacked a sense of permanence and concreteness found in other awards ceremonies. So, we’re very pleased and excited to announce that this year, we have commissioned custom, hand-made awards that we will be sending to each Selects award recipient later this week. From New Zealand to Texas and many points in between, each of the eight MacStories Selects awards will be in the hands of winners soon.

Congratulations from the entire MacStories team to the winners and runners up this year. Every one of these apps represents the best the App Stores have to offer. Thanks too to the developers of all the apps we use and love; your hard work doesn’t go unseen. 2019 has been a fantastic year for apps, and we can’t wait to see what you come up with in 2020. Also, thanks to the Club MacStories members who participated in the Readers’ Choice award voting. The Club is an important part of MacStories, so it was great to find a way to involve its members.

With that, let’s get on with the 2019 MacStories Selects awards.

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The Important Role Design Plays in Building a Mac Catalyst App

There’s more to migrating an iPad app to the Mac than simply checking a box in Xcode. Although developers need to resort to AppKit APIs used to build Mac apps for some functionality, thoughtful design that respects the interaction model of the Mac is a significant part of the process too.

Vidit Bhargava is the designer behind the dictionary app LookUp and the cofounder of Squircle Apps. Bhargava, who we interviewed in the most recent issue of MacStories Weekly for Club MacStories, has written an in-depth look at how much of the process of bringing LookUp’s iPad app to the Mac was about design. As he explains:

I’m sharing this design document to highlight some of the design considerations I made for bringing LookUp’s iOS App to macOS. And while I did use fall backs to AppKit in certain situations (Even though I had no prior knowledge to AppKit, the APIs were relatively easy to get to), I still feel that a lot of apps can design a good experience without having to use them.

We’ve covered the iOS and iPadOS version of LookUp before and love it. On the Mac, there are dozens of little touches implemented throughout the app that make LookUp one of the best examples of an excellent Mac Catalyst app. What I find most fascinating is how familiar but also unmistakably Mac-like LookUp’s Mac design is, which is why it was one of a handful of apps that I spotlighted in my macOS Catalina review.

Bhargava’s full post is worth a read because it’s fully-illustrated with examples of the differences between the iPad and Mac designs, early prototypes, and the evolution of the app’s design.

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Despite Some Rough Edges, Twitter’s Mac Catalyst App Provides an iPad-like Experience That’s Better Than the Company’s Web App

Twitter is back on the Mac with an all-new Catalyst app. Twitter abandoned its Mac app early last year with a late Friday tweet:

Given the lack of support for the app leading up to that point, Twitter’s actions weren’t surprising. However, that left Mac users with only Twitter’s web app or third-party apps until yesterday, when the company released a Mac Catalyst version of their iPad app.

Twitter’s iPad app isn’t known for a strong design:

Four years have passed since Federico tweeted that and Twitter’s iPad client hasn’t gotten much better, which left me skeptical about what a Mac Catalyst version of Twitter’s app would look like. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the port works on the Mac despite some rough edges.

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