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Elk Adds Lock Screen Currency Conversion

Elk, the currency converter app that we reviewed earlier this year has been updated with a smart feature that allows you to access a currency conversion table from the Lock screen of your iPhone. The feature is a hack in the best sense of the word. By leveraging your iPhone’s Lock screen wallpaper, Elk allows you to quickly get a ballpark sense of what something costs in another currency without unlocking your phone and navigating to the app.

The simple feature grew out of the developers’ practice of manually creating a currency conversion table and setting it as their Lock screen wallpapers. Like many tedious tasks though, there was a better solution through software that eliminated typing a conversion table before every trip.

To create a currency conversion wallpaper, open the currency table you want to show on your Lock screen in Elk and tap the share icon. By default, the app will show you the system wallpapers available on your iPhone along with previews of three different currency tables overlaid on the selected wallpaper. You can also navigate to the photos on your iPhone and pick one of those for your wallpaper. After you select an image, you can save it to your photo library with the currency conversion overlay as a still or Live Photo wallpaper. Finally, open up the Settings app and set your newly created image as the lock screen wallpaper.

That’s all there is to the feature, but it’s extraordinarily handy when you want to get a rough idea of a conversion on the go. I particularly like the Live Photo version of the wallpaper because I can enjoy the image on my Lock screen, but still get to the currency table with a short press on the screen.

Of course, the data overlaid on the wallpaper cannot be updated, but it’s close enough for short trips, and you can always regenerate the wallpaper periodically with the latest rates.

Elk is available on the App Store.



iPad Diaries: Numbers, Accounting, and Currency Conversions

iPad Diaries is a regular series about using the iPad as a primary computer. You can find more installments here and subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.

For years, I struggled to settle on an accounting workflow I truly liked.

In the past 8 years of MacStories, I’ve tried organizing financial records and statements with plain text files and PDF documents; I’ve used and then abandoned dedicated finance management apps; for a couple of years, I even tested a combination of Dropbox, Excel, and Editorial to visualize transactions and generate invoices with a Markdown template. My Italian bank doesn’t support direct integrations with third-party accounting services, and my particular requirements often include converting expenses from USD to EUR on a per-receipt basis.

Eventually, I always managed to keep my records up to date and neatly sorted with the help of an accountant, but I never loved any of the workflows I had established. In the end, several factors contributed to begrudgingly assembling reports and statements with systems I didn’t find flexible enough.

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Ångström Is a Fast and Innovative Currency and Unit Converter

I’ve tried hundreds of unit and currency converters over the years, and I didn’t think I could still be impressed by the input mechanism and design of an iPhone app built to convert numbers. Ångström, developed by Ilya Birman and Alex Babaev, surprised me with a clean design and a unique way of entering numbers and selecting units that I haven’t seen in other apps and that I now find superior to most solutions I’ve had on my iOS devices.

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Banca: A Simple Currency Converter Reimagined for iOS 7

 

You need no introduction to Banca, a beautiful converter that lets you quickly get the exchange rate between any currency currently in use. Redesigned from the ground up, Banca repurposes the best parts from apps like Convert and marries them with the functionality of a basic calculator for quick conversions. Fluid animations, a stowaway units pad, and thoughtful touches such as the option to flip conversions with a tap of the arrow reveals an app made with care. The app refreshes the world’s exchange rates automatically, providing up to date information in a simple, customizable interface. A free update on the App Store for previous customers, Banca can currently be downloaded for $1.99.


Denominations: A Simple Currency Converter

Developed by Abraham Vegh, Denominations is a simple currency converter that focuses on the concept of converting money to another currency, rather than the functionality alone.

Most currency converters on the App Store feature a number pad for entering values – like a calculator – and a menu to choose currencies to compare. Denominations is different: instead of letting you enter your own numbers, it comes with a predefined set of amounts to compare. You can set two currencies, and quickly switch between them with the tap of a button. Denominations’ focus is on the idea of understanding conversions in another currency without having to think too much.

I don’t think Denominations can replace currency converters like Currencies – after all, I still need to convert the amounts I want – but I believe it has some neat possible usage scenarios worth considering. For instance, as a tourist I might just want to know “how many pounds are 10 Euros”, instead of doing my own manual conversion at the coffee shop. Or I might need to know that, approximately, my dinner will cost around 50 Euros, which Denominations says are worth 62 dollars today (rates are updated server-side every 15 minutes). Quick, at-a-glance information that doesn’t require me to think and manually enter numbers.

Denominations’ design is concise, with a flat color scheme that’s reminiscent of the simplicity of Clear, again signifying a trend in recent App Store releases to focus on information rather than ornamental menus. Developer Vegh is already working on adding more currencies, bug fixes, and tweaks for an upcoming version.

Denominations is available at $1.99 on the App Store.


Measures for iPad Is A Powerful Unit & Currency Converter

Back in 2009, I installed a simple currency and unit conversion utility on my iPhone called Measures. Developed by Michael Neuwert, I remember Measures as one of the first “popular” converter apps for the iPhone, one that actually managed to move thousands of sales back when the App Store was still relatively small. Two years and hundreds of thousands of app later (let alone the iPad and two new App Stores), Measures is coming back with an HD version built specifically to take advantage of the iPad’s screen. Retaining the same icon and UI color scheme of its iPhone counterpart, Measures HD packs 170 currency exchange rates (constantly updated over the air) and 1000 different units, organized in 40 categories.

I like Measures HD not because of its design, but because it’s functional. Measures may lack the amount of polish seen in any Tapbots or Iconfactory app, but as far as the actual unit and currency conversion goes, Measures works better than anything else I’ve tried on the iPad to date. There are two aspects of the app that truly stand out to me: the Favorites sidebar, and the fact that Measures doesn’t stop at normal units like those pertaining to length, area, speed, or temperature. Measures adds dozens of categories ranging from Male Shoe Sizes and Data Storage to Radioactivity, Male Sizes for suits/coats/shirts, and Typography. With all these types of “units” available at your fingertips, Measures lets you convert, say, a European shoe size to a UK or US one, or your milligram/deciliter blood sugar level to millimol/liter. And again: you can easily convert megabytes to yottabytes, short tons to pounds, and obviously US Dollars to Euros and other currencies as well.

Measures’ unit database is huge, and if it’s not the biggest one on the App Store yet, then it definitely get very close to it. Whilst most converter apps focus on providing a fresh interface for the usual units and currencies, Measures sacrifices some attention to the overall design (I don’t like the slider to adjust decimals and the looks of the keypad – but this is just personal taste) to focus on “real life usage” with options like the aforementioned shirt sizes, or fuel consumption and data storage. This is the kind of stuff I always need to check (especially when buying some cool t-shirt from a website that doesn’t list EU sizes), but that very few apps provide. In fact, most of the times I’m forced to look it up on Wikipedia. Speaking of which, Measures HD comes with a Wikipedia search function to look up the selected unit on the website’s database. Multiple Wikipedia articles (when found, otherwise it’s just a single one) are listed inside a popover, and you can decide to open the webpage within Measures, in Safari, or in Sophiestication’s Articles. Next to the Wikipedia button in the top toolbar, there’s also a “list” icon to see all converted results without being restricted to a single conversion.

Another nice feature is the Favorites sidebar, which enables you to save any conversion for quick access at a later time. If you find yourself converting Euros to Dollars pretty often, you might want to consider saving that conversion as a shortcut in the Favorites so you won’t have to use the (gimmicky) unit picker at the botton; Apple itself suggests in its Interface guidelines to use a “date and time picker” for iPad  inside a popover rather the main screen – I agree, as the result is not really pleasant in Measures and it feels unresponsive if your finger runs down to the iPad’s bezel.

Overall, I enjoy having Measures on my iPad because it’s useful. The app could use some UI refinements and re-thinking, but as it stands now it is the converter app for iPad with the largest array of options I’ve seen so far. You can download Measures HD at $1.99 on the App Store. Check out more screenshots of the app after the break. Read more


iCurrency Pad: Not Another Simple Currency Convertor

The fact that I’m based in Italy doesn’t really help out with the management of MacStories advertisement. Being part of the BuySellAds network means that I have to deal with USD payments, which I have to convert everytime in Euros to see how much my income actually is. Which better tool than the iPhone to get a quick overview of currency conversion? There are hundreds of currency apps out there, including the popular Convertbot from Tapbots and Convert.

Today I’ll take a look at a new application that showed up this morning in my inbox, iCurrency Pad.

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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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