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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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Beyond the Tablet: Seven Years of iPad as My Main Computer

For the past seven years, I’ve considered the iPad my main computer. Not my only one, and not the most powerful one I own, but the computer which I use and enjoy using the most.

I’ve told this story on various occasions before, but it’s worth mentioning for context once again. My iPad journey began in 2012 when I was undergoing cancer treatments. In the first half of the year, right after my diagnosis, I was constantly moving between hospitals to talk to different doctors and understand the best strategies for my initial round of treatments. Those chemo treatments, it turned out, often made me too tired to get any work done. I wanted to continue working for MacStories because it was a healthy distraction that kept my brain busy, but my MacBook Air was uncomfortable to carry around and I couldn’t use it in my car as it lacked a cellular connection. By contrast, the iPad was light, it featured built-in 3G, and it allowed me to stay in touch with the MacStories team from anywhere, at any time with the comfort of a large, beautiful Retina display.

The tipping point came when I had to be hospitalized for three consecutive weeks to undergo aggressive chemo treatments; in that period of time, I concluded that the extreme portability and freedom granted by the iPad had become essential for me. I started exploring the idea of using the iPad as my primary computer (see this story for more details); if anything were to ever happen to me again that prevented being at my desk in my home office, I wanted to be prepared. That meant embracing iOS, iPad apps, and a different way of working on a daily basis.

I realized when writing this story that I’ve been running MacStories from my iPad for longer than I ever ran it from a Mac. The website turned 10 last month, and I’ve managed it almost exclusively from an iPad for seven of those years. And yet, I feel like I’m still adapting to the iPad lifestyle myself – I’m still figuring out the best approaches and forcing myself to be creative in working around the limitations of iOS.

On one hand, some may see this as an indictment of Apple’s slow evolution of the iPad platform, with biennial tablet-focused iOS releases that have left long-standing issues still yet to be fixed. And they’re not wrong: I love working from my iPad, but I recognize how some aspects of its software are still severely lagging behind macOS. On the other hand, I won’t lie: I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of “figuring out the iPad” and pushing myself to be creative and productive in a more constrained environment.

In addition to discovering new apps I could cover on MacStories, rethinking how I could work on the iPad provided me with a mental framework that I likely wouldn’t have developed on a traditional desktop computer. If I was in a hospital bed and couldn’t use a Mac, that meant someone else from the MacStories team had to complete a specific, Mac-only task. In a way, the limitations of the iPad taught me the importance of delegation – a lesson I was forced into. As a result, for the first couple of years, the constrained nature of the iPad helped me be more creative and focused on my writing; before the days of Split View and drag and drop, the iPad was the ideal device to concentrate on one task at a time.

Over the following couple of years, I learned how to navigate the iPad’s limitations and started optimizing them to get more work done on the device (I was also cancer-free, which obviously helped). This is when I came across the iOS automation scene with apps such as Pythonista, Editorial, Drafts, and eventually Workflow. Those apps, despite the oft-unreliable nature of their workarounds, enabled me to push iOS and the iPad further than what Apple had perhaps envisioned for the device at the time; in hindsight, building hundreds of automations for Workflow prepared me for the bold, more powerful future of Shortcuts. Automation isn’t supposed to replace core functionality of an operating system; normally, it should be an enhancement on the side, an addition for users who seek the extra speed and flexibility it provides. Yet years ago, those automation apps were the only way to accomplish more serious work on the iPad. I’m glad I learned how to use them because, at the end of the day, they allowed me to get work done – even though it wasn’t the easiest or most obvious path.

When Apple announced the iPad Pro in 2015, it felt like a vindication of the idea that, for lots of iOS users – myself included – it was indeed possible to treat the iPad as a laptop replacement. And even though not much has changed (yet?) since 2017’s iOS 11 in terms of what the iPad Pro’s software can do, the modern iPad app ecosystem is vastly different from the early days of the iPad 3 and iOS 5, and that’s all thanks to the iPad Pro and Apple’s push for pro apps and a financially-viable App Store.

We now have professional apps such as Ulysses, Agenda, Things, Keep It, and iA Writer, which, in most cases, boast feature parity with their Mac counterparts; we have examples of iOS-only pro tools like Pixelmator Photo, LumaFusion, Shortcuts, and Working Copy, which are ushering us into a new era of mobile productivity; and both from a pure iPad-hardware and accessory standpoint, we have more choice than ever thanks to a larger, more inclusive iPad lineup, remarkable Pro hardware, and solid options to extend the iPad via keyboards, USB-C accessories, and more.

Seven years after I started (slowly) replacing my MacBook Air with an iPad, my life is different, but one principle still holds true: I never want to find myself forced to work on a computer that’s only effective at home, that can’t be held in my hands, or that can’t be customized for different setups. For this reason, the iPad Pro is the best computer for the kind of lifestyle I want.

However, the iPad is not perfect. And so in the spirit of offering one final update before WWDC and the massive release for iPad that iOS 13 will likely be, I thought I’d summarize seven years of daily iPad usage in one article that details how I work from the device and how I’d like the iPad platform to improve in the future.

In this story, I will explore four different major areas of working on the iPad using iOS 12 system features, third-party apps, and accessories. I’ll describe how I optimized each area to my needs, explain the solutions I implemented to work around the iPad’s software limitations, and argue how those workarounds shouldn’t be necessary anymore as the iPad approaches its tenth anniversary.

Consider this my iPad Manifesto, right on the cusp of WWDC. Let’s dive in.

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