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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
After years of unabated visual and functional changes, iOS 12 is Apple's opportunity to regroup and reassess the foundation before the next big step – with one notable exception.
We left last year's iOS 11 update with a palpable tension between two platforms.
On one hand, following a year of minor changes to the iPad and a hardware refresh that came in later than some expected, Apple once again devoted plenty of attention to reimagining the tablet's role in the world of modern computing. iPad updates in iOS 11, despite having their fair share of critics, largely did not disappoint. On the other hand, the iPhone – by and large still Apple's crown jewel – had to play second fiddle to a platform that was more in need of a strong, coherent message. And so despite blessing the iPhone with the same features of its larger multitouch cousin (at least most of them), Apple seemed content ceding the smartphone's spotlight to the iPad. There was a healthy array of new functionalities for both, but iOS 11's "Monumental leap for iPad" tagline pretty much told the whole story.
iOS 12, available today for the same range of devices that supported iOS 11, feels like a reaction to changes that have occurred around Apple and consumer technology over the past year.
While iOS 11 may go down in Apple software history as the touchstone of the iPad's maturity, it will also be remembered as one of the company's most taxing releases for its users. You don't have to look far into the iOS 11 cycle for headlines lamenting its poor stability on older hardware, plethora of design inconsistencies (which were noted time and time again), and general sense of sluggishness – issues that may have contributed to a slower adoption rate than 2016's iOS 10.
There were debacles in Apple's PR and marketing approach as well: performance problems with battery and power management were handled poorly during a key time of the year, culminating with a year-long discounted battery replacement program and a somewhat rushed battery-related addition to iOS' Settings. Then, of course, there was the much derided iPhone X ad clearly showing one of the many reported iOS bugs on TV, which had to be fixed with an updated commercial before the actual software was fixed. No matter how you slice it, it's been a rough few months for Apple in the realm of public perception of its software.
At the same time, toward the beginning of 2018, technology observers witnessed the rise of Time Well Spent – an organization and, perhaps more broadly, a public movement demanding that tech companies prioritize enabling healthier relationships with mobile devices. The principles underlying Time Well Spent, from battling smartphone addiction and notification overload to including superior parental controls in mobile OSes, may have originated as a natural consequence of breakneck technological progress; as some argue, they may also be a byproduct of global socioeconomic and political events. Time Well Spent's ideas found fertile soil in Silicon Valley: earlier this year, Facebook made key changes to its news feed to improve how users spend time on the social network; Apple made a rare commitment to better parental features in a future version of iOS; Google went all out and turned digital well-being into a suite of system features for Android.
It's important to understand the context in which iOS 12 is launching today, for events of the past year may have directly shaped Apple's vision for this update.
With iOS 12, Apple wants to rectify iOS' performance woes, proving to their customers that iOS updates should never induce digital regret. Perhaps more notably though, iOS 12 doesn't have a single consumer feature that encapsulates this release – like Messages might have been for iOS 10 or the iPad for iOS 11. Instead, iOS 12 is a constellation of enhancements revolving around the overarching theme of time. Apple in 2018 needs more time for whatever the next big step of iOS may be; they want iOS users to understand how much time they're spending on their devices; and they want to help users spend less time managing certain system features. Also, funnily enough, saving time is at the core (and in the very name) of iOS 12's most exciting new feature: Shortcuts.
iOS 12 isn't Apple's Snow Leopard release: its system changes and updated apps wouldn't justify a "No New Features" slide. However, for the first time in years, it feels as if the company is happy to let its foot off the gas a little and listen to users more.