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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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iOS and iPadOS 14: The MacStories Review

Even with (unsurprisingly) smaller releases, Apple is pushing forward with bold ideas across all platforms.

How do you prepare a major new version of an operating system that now spans two separate platforms, which will be installed on millions of devices within a few hours of its release, amid a global pandemic? If you’re Apple, the answer is fairly straightforward: you mitigate the crisis by focusing on a narrower set of features, perhaps prioritizing bug fixes and stability improvements, but then you just have to do the work.

In my time as an iOS (then iOS and iPadOS) reviewer, I never thought I’d have to evaluate an OS update with the social and political backdrop of iOS 14. Let’s face it: when the COVID-19 outbreak started fundamentally changing our lives earlier this year, at some point many of us – including yours truly – thought that, among more serious and severe repercussions, our tiny corner of the Internet would see no new phones, OS updates, videogame consoles, or other events over the course of 2020. Or that, at the very least, changes in hardware and software would be so minor, they’d barely register in the grand scheme of things as tech companies and their employees were – rightfully so – adjusting to a new, work-from-home, socially distant life. Yet here we are, over a year after the debut of iOS and iPadOS 13, with brand new versions of both operating systems that were announced, as per tradition, at WWDC a few months ago. Remove all surrounding context, and you wouldn’t guess anything has changed from 2019.

Context is, however, key to understanding Apple’s background and goals with iOS and iPadOS 14, in a couple notable ways.

First, I think it’s safe to assume slowing down to reassess the state of the platform and focus on quality-of-life enhancements and performance gains would have worked out in Apple’s favor regardless of the pandemic. In last year’s review, I noted how the first version of iOS 13.0 launching to the public wasn’t “as polished or stable as the first version of iOS 12”; in a somewhat unpredictable twist of events, managing the iOS 13 release narrative only got more challenging for Apple after launch.

Late in the beta cycle last year, the company announced certain iOS 13 features – including automations in Shortcuts and ETA sharing in Maps – would be delayed until iOS 13.1, originally scheduled for September 30th. Following widespread criticism about bugs, various visual glitches, and stability issues in iOS 13.0, Apple moved up the release of iOS 13.1 and iPadOS (which never saw a proper 13.0 public release) by a week. Despite the release of a substantial .1 update, the company still had to ship two additional patches (13.1.1 and 13.1.2) before the end of September. Before the end of 2019, all while the general public was lamenting the poor state of iOS 13’s performance (just Google “iOS 13 buggy”, and you’ll get the idea), Apple went on to ship a total of eight software updates to iOS 13 (compared to iOS 12’s four updates before the end of 2018). The record pace, plus the mysterious removal of features that were originally announced at WWDC ‘19, suggested something had gone awry in the late stages of iOS 13’s development; it wasn’t long before a report covered Apple’s plans to overhaul its software testing methodology for iOS 14 and 2020. The pandemic may have forced Apple to scale back some functionalities and deeper design changes this year, but it’s likely that a decision had been made long before lockdowns and work-from-home orders.

Second, context is necessary because despite the pandemic and rocky rollout of iOS 13 and its many updates, Apple was still able to infuse iOS and iPadOS 14 with fresh, bold ideas that are tracing a path for both platforms to follow over the next few years.

On the surface, iOS 14 will be widely regarded as the update that brought a redesigned Home Screen and a plethora of useful quality-of-life additions to the iPhone. For the first time since the iPhone’s inception, Apple is moving past the grid of icons and letting users freely place data-rich, customizable widgets on the Home Screen – a major course correction that has opened the floodgates for new categories of utilities on the App Store. In addition to the upgraded Home Screen, iOS 14 also offers welcome improvements to long-standing limitations: phone calls can now come in as unobtrusive banners; Messages borrows some of WhatsApp’s best features and now lets you reply to specific messages as well as mention users; Siri doesn’t take over the entire screen anymore. There are hundreds of smaller additions to the system and built-in apps in iOS 14, which suggests Apple spent a long time trying to understand what wasn’t working and what customers were requesting.

iOS and iPadOS 14 aren’t just reactionary updates to criticisms and feature requests though: upon further examination, both OSes reveal underlying threads that will shape the evolution of Apple’s platforms. With compact UI, the company is revisiting a principle introduced in iOS 7 – clarity and content first – with fresh eyes: the UI is receding and becoming more glanceable, but the elements that are left are as inviting to the touch as ever – quite the departure from Jony Ive’s overly minimalistic, typography-based approach. We see this trend everywhere in iOS 14, from phone calls and Siri to widgets, new toolbar menus, and Picture in Picture. Intents, the existing technology behind SiriKit, Shortcuts, and intelligent Siri suggestions, is also at the center of widget personalization. Intents already was one of Apple’s most important frameworks given its ties to Siri and on-device intelligence; iOS 14 proves we haven’t seen all the possible permutations and applications of Intents yet.

Then, of course, there’s iPad. In iPadOS 14, we see the logical continuation of pointer and trackpad support introduced earlier this year in iPadOS 13.4: now that users can control an iPad without ever touching the screen, Apple is advising third-party developers to move away from iPhone-inspired designs with apps that are truly made for iPad…and somewhat reminiscent of their macOS counterparts. We can see the results of this initiative in modernized system apps that take advantage of the iPad’s display with a sidebar, multiple columns, and deeper trackpad integration – new options that every iPad app developer could (and, according to Apple, should) consider going forward. Although some of the iPad’s oft-mentioned ongoing struggles remain unaddressed in iPadOS 14 (see: multitasking and window management), Apple is embracing the iPad’s nature as a modular computer this year, and they feel comfortable leaning into lessons learned with the Mac decades ago.

The context of 2020 is what makes iOS and iPadOS 14 so fascinating and, to a certain extent, fun to review. On one hand, we have two major OS updates that may or may not have been impacted by the global pandemic in their focus on fewer groundbreaking additions and more consistent improvements across built-in apps; on the other, just like any other year, we have a suite of overarching themes and potential implications to dissect.

But for all those users still pausing over that ‘Install’ button, pondering whether updating their most important communication and work-from-home devices is worth it, there’s only one consideration that matters:

Will this go any better than last year?

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