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Posts in reviews

Tweetbot 4 Review: Bigger Bot

There have only been two great Twitter apps for iPad since 2010: Loren Brichter's Twitter, and the original Tweetbot for iPad.

As I reminisced last year in my look at the state of Twitter clients, iOS apps for Twitter are no longer the welcoming, crowded design playground they once were. Developing a Twitter client used to be an exercise in taste and restraint – a test for designers and developers who sought to combine the complex networking of Twitter with a minimalist, nimble approach best suited for a smartphone. Twitter reclaimed their keys to the playground when they began offering "guidance" on the "best opportunities" available to third-party developers. Four years into that shift, no major change appears to be in sight.

For this reason, I'd argue that while the iPhone witnessed the rise of dozens of great Twitter clients in their heyday, the iPad's 2010 debut played against its chances to receive an equal number of Twitter apps specifically and tastefully designed for the device. Less than a year after the original iPad's launch (and the Tweetie acquisition), Twitter advised developers to stop building clients that replicated the core Twitter experience; a year later, they started enforcing the 100,000-token limit that drove some developers out of business. Not exactly the best conditions to create a Twitter client for a brand new platform.

Largely because of the economic realities of Twitter clients, few developers ever invested in a Twitter app for iPad that wasn't a cost-effective adaptation of its iPhone counterpart. Many took the easy route, scaling up their iPhone interfaces to fit a larger screen with no meaningful alteration to take advantage of new possibilities. Functionally, that was mostly okay, and to this day some very good Twitter apps for iPad still resemble their iPhone versions. And yet, I've always felt like most companies had ever nailed Twitter clients for a 10-inch multitouch display.

With two exceptions. The original Twitter for iPad, developed by Tweetie creator and pull-to-refresh inventor Loren Brichter, showed a company at the top of their iOS game, with a unique reinterpretation of Twitter for the iPad's canvas. The app employed swipes and taps for material interactions that treated the timeline as a stack of cards, with panels you could open and move around to peek at different sets of information. I was in love with the app, and I still think it goes down in software history as one of the finest examples of iPad app design. Until Twitter ruined it and sucked all the genius out of it, the original Twitter for iPad was a true iPad app.

And then came Tweetbot. While Twitter stalled innovation in their iPad app, Tapbots doubled down and brought everything that power users appreciated in Tweetbot for iPhone and reimagined it for the iPad. The result was a powerful Twitter client that wasn't afraid to experiment with the big screen: Tweetbot for iPad featured a flexible sidebar for different orientations, tabs in profile views, popovers, and other thoughtful touches that showed how an iPhone client could be reshaped in the transition to the tablet. Tapbots could have done more, but Tweetbot for iPad raised the bar for Twitter clients for iPad in early 2012.

Three years later, that bar's still there, a bit dusty and lonely, pondering a sad state of affairs. Tweetbot is no longer the champion of Twitter clients for iPad, having skipped an entire generation of iOS design and new Twitter features. Tweetbot for iPad is, effectively, two years behind other apps on iOS, which, due to how things turned out at Twitter, haven't been able to do much anyway. On the other hand, Twitter for iPad – long ignored by the company – has emerged again with a stretched-up iPhone layout presented in the name of "consistency". It's a grim landscape, devoid of the excitement and curiosity that surrounded Twitter clients five years ago.

Tweetbot 4 wants to bring that excitement back. Long overdue and launching today on the App Store at $4.99 (regular price will be $9.99), Tweetbot 4 is a Universal app that builds upon the foundation of Tweetbot 3 for iPhone with several refinements and welcome additions.

In the process, Tweetbot 4 offers a dramatic overhaul of the iPad app, bringing a new vision for a Twitter client that's unlike anything I've tried on the iPad before.

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Zen Timer: Elegant Pomodoro on Mac

Zen Timer has improved my daily work life. I have ADHD, and I recently went through a snafu where my disorder was untreated for a couple of months. In order to get any work done, I needed more structured work time, so I gave the Pomodoro technique another go. It turned out to be a huge help for me, and if it can help someone with a level of concentration as hopeless as mine, I have to believe it's a great tool for more "normal" people, too.

At its core, Pomodoro is a simple method of working and resting in timed intervals. There are a variety of timers available on Mac and iOS for this, and just as I was making the effort to start implementing the technique again, I found Zen Timer. It's a beautiful and creative app for interval timing that immediately became part of my daily workflow.

Zen Timer generates an animated tree which grows during a work interval, and when the timer is up, the leaves of the tree fall to the ground and rest there while it counts down to your next work period. When the next work interval starts, the tree begins growing anew. Zen Timer generates a unique tree each time, and you can customize the colors, line thicknesses, transparency and more things that people with ADHD (or OCD...) probably shouldn't be allowed to spend too much time tweaking.

It's visually customizable, but I've found there's a specific way I like to run it: I set the size of the window as large as it will go, make the window background transparent, and set it at the bottom of the viewport at Desktop level on one of my auxiliary displays. You can hide the timer and controls during work periods, so I'm left with an elegant tree growing on my desktop while I work. I customized my wallpaper and the tree colors, of course. Because I could.

While Zen Timer comes with intervals set to the Pomodoro defaults, its timer settings are easily modified to work with any lengths of time in each interval.

If you're looking for a new Pomodoro timer on your Mac, or are like me and just need a better way to work, check out Zen Timer ($4.99 US) on the Mac App Store. If you're curious, check out the developer's website for an excellent video of Zen Timer in action.

Sofa: Discover New Movies from Curated Collections

Sofa is a new app that launched just last Friday. Sofa does two things: it helps you discover new movies to watch, and it lets you keep a list of movies you want to watch. Despite its rather sparse feature list, Sofa is well worth your time. One of the reasons why is because Sofa's discover section is populated by hand-curated collections of movies. But Sofa also looks great and, because it isn't burdened with dozens of features, the app is simple and delightful to use.

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Elegant Image Watermarking and Resizing with Watermarker 2

I'm a bit behind in mentioning it, but Watermarker 2 is out. This Mac app from developer (and former MacStories writer) Don Southard lets you quickly resize and add professional watermarks to batches of photos. It's a great-looking app that elegantly accomplishes its goal.

You can use custom text, import your own logo or image, and apply a customizable strike-through "X" over an image (all with adjustable transparency). You can also add pixelation to an image to obscure parts of it, and annotate images with additional shapes.

Watermarker 2 offers powerful batch photo manipulation features such as renaming groups of files based on patterns and resizing using pixel or percentage constraints.

You can save your watermark settings as presets, and apply them to batches in the future with a couple of clicks. There's even an Action Extension for sending images from other apps to Watermarker, and a Share Sheet for sending watermarked images to others.

Watermarker 2 Action Extension

Watermarker 2 Action Extension

Watermarker 2 is available for $14.99, both on the Mac App Store and through direct purchase (with a free trial available).

Acorn 5: Shape Generators, PDF Import, and More

I've been an Acorn user for years now. I first started using it as my primary photo editing tool because I could open, edit, and export a perfectly-optimized web image before Photoshop had finished bouncing in the Dock. Photoshop has improved its launch time in recent versions, but Acorn has stepped up its game, too.

Acorn 5 came out this week, and it adds some powerful new features. Notably, it adds tools for vector manipulation and generation, as well as additional bezier and vector tools, PDF Import, snapping to grids, guides, other shapes, and more.

If you're a Photoshop user looking for an alternative, Acorn has the tools you're used to: dodge and burn, hue and curve adjustments, custom selection editing, and everything you need to do advanced photo editing. Acorn 5 can even import Photoshop brushes. Given the wide diversity of custom brushes available on the net, this opens up a lot of possibilities.

Version 5 also adds additional non-destructive filters and adjustments for both raster and vector layers, and the new Shape generators and processors are stackable and non-destructive as well. The layer adjustments are stored in the native Acorn file format, so you can always access and update them.

Acorn still has all of the great tools from version 4, including professional photo editing tools, Smart Layer Export for automatic 1x and 2x images, and the best compression on exported PNGs you're likely to find.

Acorn 5 is $24.99 US on the Mac App Store (also available for direct purchase, with a few small differences). Check out the website for more info, and read the release notes for a mind-boggling list of all of the new features.

Photoflow: An Instagram Client for the Mac

I've been using Instagram (shameless plug) almost since day one, and although I don't post to it that frequently, I do look at my feed on a daily basis. For the most part I've always used the official Instagram client, except for a brief period when I also used Flow, an iPad Instagram app. Until this week, I'd never tried an Instagram client for the Mac, which is what Photoflow is.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Photoflow includes virtually every single feature that the official Instagram app has. Of course there is one giant exception; you cannot post images to Instagram from Photoflow. But that's a restriction that Instagram has imposed on all third party apps, it's not a failure of Photoflow. But almost everything else, whether it be liking images (but not commenting), interactive hashtags, featured images, viewing profiles or searching nearby locations is available in Photoflow. It also supports easy account switching and can send you notifications for new images, comments, likes and followers.

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Tracking TV Shows with iShows 2: Welding Great Design with Extensive Customization

I watch a lot of TV – almost certainly too much TV. Years ago I used to keep track of the TV shows I watched mentally and through a TV guide from the Saturday newspaper. But as I started to watch more TV it became harder to keep track of when shows air. Fortunately, I started to use iPhone TV tracker apps, which make it effortless to keep track of your favorite TV shows. I’ve probably used 4 or 5 different apps for a solid period of time, and this February I switched to what I think is the latest and greatest TV tracker app: iShows 2, which officially launches today in the App Store.

I had briefly used the original iShows app, but I never permanently switched to it. Whilst the design was quite good, it had this very odd layout that left a gap on the side of the screen which (as petty as it sounds) I couldn’t get over. Somewhat embarrassingly the other issue I encountered was that I never discovered some of the gestures, without which the app was a lot harder to use. Some of those gestures persist in iShows 2, and I’ll discuss them shortly.

Prior to switching to iShows 2 whilst it was in beta, I had been using iTV Shows for around a year. It never looked quite as good as iShows or TeeVee 3 (another popular and very pretty app), but I preferred the way iTV Shows worked. I’m still a fan of iTV Shows, but I’ve been convinced (after months of use) that iShows 2 is the better option for me.

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