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Arcade Highlights: Sayonara Wild Hearts

How can I best describe Sayonara Wild Hearts? It’s an on-rails music-driven game, but that feels like an inadequate description. Yes it’s a game, but combining the gameplay with Sayonara Wild Hearts’ blend of immersive levels, gorgeous visuals, and incredible soundtrack, it feels more fitting to call it an experience.

Sayonara Wild Hearts was an Apple Arcade launch title, one of the few demoed on-stage at Apple’s September event. And as one of Arcade’s premiere titles, it’s a brilliant representation of what Apple’s new service represents: off-the-walls originality. Arcade aims to fund and promote a variety of creative titles, freeing developers from the restraints commonly associated with the App Store’s In-App Purchase-dominated gaming fare. Sayonara Wild Hearts offers an experience that’s so unique and, dare I say, trippy, that it clearly represents its makers’ unfiltered vision.

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1Blocker for Mac Introduces New Features and a Subscription-Based Business Model

I wish I didn’t feel like I needed an ad blocker, but so much of the Internet is junked up with intrusive, distracting advertising, that it’s virtually impossible to use some websites. I don’t have an issue with most advertising, but there’s a line that is crossed too often and ruins the reading experience of many sites. Where that line is varies subjectively by person, but that’s precisely why having a flexible ad blocker like 1Blocker is crucial.

The other reason to use 1Blocker is that content blockers like it manage more than just ads. Comments, share buttons, and social media badges are only a few of the many annoyances found on sites these days. Add to those, things like trackers and bitcoin mining code, and even if you don’t block a single ad, there is still plenty to block.

1Blocker has been one of my favorite utilities since it was introduced with iOS 9 and content blockers were new to iOS. The iOS version was followed by a Mac version the next year. 2018 saw the release of 1Blocker X on iOS, which split blocking rules into multiple categories to get around rule limits imposed by the OS. With the latest update to 1Blocker’s Mac app, that same functionality has been brought to the Mac along with a redesign of the app’s UI and a new subscription-based business model.

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GameClub Launches a Subscription Service That Revives a Growing Catalog of 70 Classic iOS Games

Last March, I sat down with Eli Hodapp at Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco. We were in town for the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC). For me, it was strange to be back in the environs of the Moscone Center for something other than WWDC. I felt a little like a fish out of water, and I sensed Hodapp did too, though for a very different reason.

You see, Hodapp had just announced that he was leaving as Editor-in-Chief of TouchArcade, after a decade of helping build it into one of the premier websites that covers iOS games. As a reader, I was sorry to see him go, but I was also eager to chat with Hodapp because what brought us together was the buzz surrounding the reason he left: GameClub.

GDC San Francisco 2019.

GDC San Francisco 2019.

Hodapp and I are both from the Chicago area, but we’d never met before GDC. What led me to contact him was a column he’d written for gameindustry.biz about preserving the legacy of iOS games that had disappeared from the App Store, a topic that we’ve covered many times on MacStories and elsewhere in the past.

In the gameindustry.biz story, Hodapp explained why he left TouchArcade:

I’ve been incredibly vocal about preserving our digital history over the years, and it’s distressing to think how many great, historically important (and simply fun!) games have been lost. That reality is my prime motivation in stepping down from TouchArcade: to raise awareness of this problem.

Hodapp had joined GameClub as its VP of Business Development shortly before GDC to help build the library of 70 classic iOS games that are launching with the service today.

Over coffee, Hodapp and I discussed the state of gaming on iOS, game preservation, and, of course, GameClub. It was still very early days, but Hodapp articulated a clear vision of how classic iOS games could be resurrected in an economically viable way. As we chatted, Hodapp outlined the very thing GameClub is launching today: a service designed to reintroduce dozens of games to a new generation of iOS gamers without ads, manipulative In-App Purchases, or other gimmicks. The business model hadn’t been locked down yet, but if all the business and technical hurdles could be cleared, a subscription service was likely.

Shortly thereafter, GameClub launched a beta program to test games that it had already updated to work on modern iOS hardware and software. I joined immediately. I enjoyed playing some old favorites throughout the summer, and watching as the ranks of GameClub’s beta testers grew on Discord.

As I checked in periodically over the summer, it was clear that something about GameClub had struck a chord. For some gamers, it was the fatigue built up over many years from the constant barrage of ads and In-App Purchases. For others, it was the delight and nostalgia of rediscovering the first games they’d played on iOS. Even in those early days, it was clear that GameClub had tapped into something special by releasing a steady stream of classics and building a community of people that cared about them.

Now, after over seven months and many more beta-tested games, GameClub has launched, and I love it. Not only is the service brimming with many of my all-time favorite iOS games, but the GameClub app itself is a terrific way to discover new games and keep track of favorites. There’s a lot going on with GameClub, so let’s dig in.

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Todoist Foundations: Key Refinements Modernize the Popular Task Manager

Today Todoist has launched a major update across all platforms under the branding Todoist Foundations. That name implies a complete ground-up revision to the app, and while that’s accurate in terms of under-the-hood code changes, from a user-facing standpoint this is still the Todoist you know, but with a variety of new features: project sections, a dynamic add button, new task and sub-task views, and more. Todoist’s team also says that Foundations lays the necessary coding groundwork for more substantial features that are coming in the future, such as Boards and an Upcoming View.

Todoist didn’t need a big rethinking, but what it did stand to benefit from was design enhancements and streamlining that makes everything quicker, easier to use, and more flexible, and that’s exactly what this release brings. If you haven’t tried Todoist in a while, Todoist Foundations is a compelling reason to give the task manager another try.

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Arcade Highlights: Card of Darkness

Do you like fantasy-themed games? How about Zach Gage’s work – Flipflop Solitaire, Really Bad Chess, Typeshift, SpellTower, etc.? Would a mobile game brought to life by the art of Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward be of interest to you? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then Card of Darkness should be one of the first games you download from Apple Arcade.

If you answered no to all three questions, you should probably play Card of Darkness anyways.

Card of Darkness is a roguelike game where each stage contains a grid of stacked cards, with each stack holding a random mix of monsters to defeat, weapons to equip, and potions and treasure to find. There are also magic spell scrolls that help you more easily navigate what can be a treacherous quest to get from the start of the grid to its end. You don’t have to clear every card stack to complete a level, but you do need to forge an open path to the finish line, and every stack you take even a single card from will need to be finished. As you clear each card stack, more stacks further into the grid will be revealed, slowly reducing the amount of cards that stand between you and the end of the grid.

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MakePass: Create Your Own Apple Wallet Passes on the Mac

I often find myself reaching for my iPhone or iPad to do something that can’t be done at all or as quickly on my Mac. If I’m already working at my desk in front of my Mac, though, that requires a context switch that slows me down and often leads to being distracted by something else. One of the areas where this happens most frequently is with specialized, single-purpose utilities that are plentiful on iOS and iPadOS, but often unavailable on the Mac.

A terrific example that just debuted on the Mac as a Mac Catalyst app is MakePass, an app for generating Apple Wallet passes. Whether it’s a health club membership card, bus pass, grocery store loyalty card, or concert ticket, MakePass can turn them all into digital passes stored inside Apple’s Wallet app where they are organized and out of the way.

Several apps offer functionality similar to MakePass’ on the iOS and iPadOS App Store. However, my searches turned up none on the Mac App Store. That may be because Apple’s Wallet app is an iPhone-only app, but it’s handy to be able to make passes on your Mac too because that’s one of the places where codes come into your life.

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Despite Some Rough Edges, Twitter’s Mac Catalyst App Provides an iPad-like Experience That’s Better Than the Company’s Web App

Twitter is back on the Mac with an all-new Catalyst app. Twitter abandoned its Mac app early last year with a late Friday tweet:

Given the lack of support for the app leading up to that point, Twitter’s actions weren’t surprising. However, that left Mac users with only Twitter’s web app or third-party apps until yesterday, when the company released a Mac Catalyst version of their iPad app.

Twitter’s iPad app isn’t known for a strong design:

Four years have passed since Federico tweeted that and Twitter’s iPad client hasn’t gotten much better, which left me skeptical about what a Mac Catalyst version of Twitter’s app would look like. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the port works on the Mac despite some rough edges.

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RSS Client Lire Arrives on Mac App Store with One of the Best Early Catalyst Implementations

In June I wrote about my hopes for Catalyst, the technology that allows iPadOS developers to bring their iPad apps to the Mac. At the time, I said that RSS clients were one of the categories of apps I wanted to see brought from the iPad to the Mac first. That wasn’t because there are no options on the Mac. For instance, I recently reviewed NetNewsWire, which is excellent. However, there are very few options if you want an app that’s available on the Mac, iOS, and iPadOS, supports a rich set of features, and is actively maintained. That’s why I was pleased to see that lire, one of my favorite RSS readers on iOS and iPadOS, was released this week on the Mac using Catalyst.

If you’ve used lire on an iPad, you’ll immediately feel at home when you open the app on the Mac for the first time. The layout is similar to the iPad version, with one notable exception: instead of the two columns you see on the iPad, lire displays three columns on the Mac. This means you can view your list of subscriptions, articles, and a selected article simultaneously. On the iPad, the article view is separate from your subscriptions and article list. It’s a small design change that makes a lot of sense on the Mac, where screens are usually larger than the iPad. I would, however, like to have the option of hiding the first two columns, which is not currently possible, though they can be resized.

If you use lire with an RSS syncing service like I do, once you log in you can browse sources in the first column by subscription and tag. Like the iOS and iPadOS versions, the first column also includes Discover and Folders sections. Discover collects Hot Links, which are URLs that frequently appear among your feeds, Calm Feeds for sites that don’t publish often, linked list articles, posts organized by author, and articles published recently, which you can define in the app’s preferences. As you’d expect, folders are user-defined sets of feeds.

Articles and images can be opened in separate windows.

Articles and images can be opened in separate windows.

The article list can be filtered in nine different ways, and there’s a toolbar button to mark everything as read. Right-clicking an article summary provides options to open it in a separate window, mark it as read or unread, star it, mark the articles above or below it as read, mark everything as read, send it to a read-later service, or share it via the system share sheet or lire’s custom share options. The many options make the article list a fantastic way to filter and scan through a large number of articles and manage the ones you want to follow up on and share with other apps.

There are separate appearance settings for article view, which is a nice way to manage the amount of information available independently from the subscription and article list. The article view also includes buttons for marking the currently-viewed article as unread, starring and tagging it, navigational arrows, and a share button that includes share options supplied by the macOS share system as well as custom ones like ‘Copy Link,’ ‘Pin Author,’ ‘Download as EPUB,’ and more.

I’ve used a lot of different RSS readers, and lire has always stood out because it can be customized in so many different ways. The app also does a better job than most other RSS clients of pulling the full text of an article from an RSS feed that offers truncated versions of its articles only. Although some features of the iOS and iPadOS apps aren’t available on the Mac yet, such as theming, I’ve been impressed with the level of customization that’s been brought over so far.

Unlike many other Catalyst apps, lire includes a separate preferences window.

Unlike many other Catalyst apps, lire includes a separate preferences window.

However, what makes lire one of the best Catalyst adaptations of an iPad app that I’ve seen so far is its attention to detail on the Mac. It’s a collection of smaller touches that make the app feel more at home on the Mac than most other Catalyst apps. For example, lire includes tooltips when you hover the pointer over the buttons in its toolbar. That’s something that isn’t automatically available to Catalyst apps, so few apps have adopted it so far. Lire has also implemented custom right-click context menus throughout the app to access share, view, mark as read, and other options. The app also makes extensive use of keyboard shortcuts and allows for links to be opened in your default browser in the background, something that far too few AppKit apps offer. I also appreciate that lire uses a separate Preferences window instead of a popup view that hovers over but is still part of the app’s main window, which many Catalyst apps do.

lire makes extensive use of context menus throughout.

lire makes extensive use of context menus throughout.

RSS feeds have benefitted from the healthy app competition found on iOS and iPadOS, pushing power user features forward at a rapid pace. The Mac’s RSS scene hasn’t been nearly as active in the past, but with the addition of lire and Fiery Feeds, which also launched on the Mac App Store for the first time this week, my hope is that we’ll see a resurgence of RSS readers on the Mac App Store with innovative new features.

Lire is available on the Mac App Store for $19.99.


NapBot: Simple Sleep Tracking Powered by CoreML

Sleep tracking is an area of health that Apple hasn’t yet formally moved into, but all signs point to that changing soon. iOS 13 saw the company build more advanced wellness tracking features into the Health app, Beddit was acquired by Apple a couple years ago, and very recently the App Store leaked evidence of a Sleep app that is (or was) in development for Apple Watch. But for the time being, anyone interested in sleep tracking with a Watch or iPhone needs a third-party app.

NapBot is one such app, a new debut from the maker of CardioBot that launched in recent weeks. NapBot applies CoreML to perform automatic sleep tracking when you’re wearing an Apple Watch to bed, the results of which you can then view in either the iPhone or Watch apps.

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