THIS WEEK'S SPONSOR:

Backblaze

Astonishingly Easy And Unlimited Cloud Backup


Posts in reviews

Bike: An Elegant Outliner For Mac-Focused Workflows

Bike is a brand new Mac-only outlining app from Hog Bay Software that executes the fundamentals of outlining flawlessly. The outline creation and editing workflows are polished, and the keyboard-focused navigation makes moving around a large outline effortless.

The app’s feature set is limited by design. That focus is part of what makes Bike such a good outliner. The care and attention that has gone into building a solid outlining foundation are immediately evident.

However, that focus comes with a downside. Bike is a simple app that won’t meet the needs of users looking for iPhone or iPad support, formatting options, Shortcuts support, or other features.

Overall, I like the approach Bike has taken a lot, but I think it has gone too far, limiting the app’s utility more than is necessary to maintain its simplicity. Let me explain what I mean.

Read more


Runestone: A Streamlined Text and Code Editor for iPhone and iPad

Runestone is the latest app from Simon Støvring, the developer behind Scriptable, Jayson, and Data Jar. Støvring’s apps tend to be focused on developer or automation use cases, filling holes in the iOS and iPadOS ecosystem to aid power users. Runestone mostly falls into the same category, although it also has some wider potential appeal for general purpose writing.

The new app functions as an excellent plain text editor for anyone who needs to write on their iPhone or iPad. It’s simple and thoughtfully designed, and includes a variety of excellent themes to improve your writing experience. Runestone’s marquee feature, however, is its syntax highlighting. For Markdown writers, the app will use simple color schemes (which can be altered to your liking using the theme settings) and subtle style changes to highlight your links, bold and italic words, footnotes, and more. The result is a very simple, essentially plain-text approach which still makes it easy to see your markup at a glance.

Read more


The iOS App Icon Book: The MacStories Review

I’ve eagerly awaited The iOS App Icon Book by Michael Flarup ever since it was first announced in 2018. The book sits dead center among topics that are at the heart of MacStories: apps, app preservation, and design. As a result, my expectations were high, and I’m happy to report that it doesn’t disappoint. If you care about apps, you’ll love The iOS App Icon Book.

The cover of The iOS App Icon Book sets the tone with a large iridescent squircle, the shape that defines every app icon. It’s the canvas on which every app icon is created. The squircle has become iconic in its own right, creating a consistent thread that ties disparate designs together into a coherent whole. The shimmering foil used for the book’s squircle is an excellent touch that hints at the colorful variety of icons between its convers.

The iOS App Icon Book is an art book at its core. The book’s pages are packed with icons of varying sizes, but the book also features essays by Flarup, a foreward by Bjango’s Marc Edwards, a history of iOS iconography by Jim Nielsen, and profiles of a dozen designers and design studios. The focus of the book lies firmly on the icons themselves, but I’m glad the essays and profiles were included. The essays provide an outlet for anyone who happens upon The iOS App Icon Book and wants to know more about the history and design of icons, while the profiles put a face to some of the artwork on its pages.

Of course, the stars of The iOS App Icon Book are the icons themselves. Each high-resolution image is reproduced in vivid colors on high-quality paper that makes browsing through the book’s pages a pleasure. As someone who writes about apps, I enjoyed flipping through the pages, rediscovering the icons of apps from the early days of the App Store alongside the icons of apps I use every day. It’s a careful mix of old and new that blends the context of early app iconography with current design trends.

As you flip through The iOS App Icon Book, you’ll find that the icons are arranged in a number of different ways. Some are grouped by color, while others are organized thematically, like the pages featuring food, games, and photography apps. My favorite part of The iOS App Icon Book, though, is the pages that trace the evolution of specific icons. Each version is dated and connected by horizontal lines to indicate its lineage. It’s fascinating to see the directions that designers have taken app icons over the years.

The one thing that The iOS App Icon Book doesn’t do that I would have liked to have seen is trace the evolution of the icons used for some of Apple’s system apps. That may not have been feasible given the need to get rights to the artwork for printing in a book. However, it would have been interesting to see the extent to which Apple’s design work has influenced third-party designers.


iOS app icons are the first thing that users encounter when they download an app and use it for the first time. Icons set the tone and personality of an app. It’s an important part of the app experience that has a rich history on iOS. The iOS App Icon Book brings that history to life in a way that immediately had me flipping back and forth through its pages, rediscovering old favorites and studying the details of icons I’d never run across before. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in apps and design.

The iOS App Icon Book is still available to pre-order for €60.00 from its website.


Knotwords: A New Word Game From Zach Gage and Jack Schlesinger

Knotwords is a deceptively simple new game from Zach Gage and Jack Schlessinger that combines elements of multiple word and logic puzzles into a unique, fun experience.

Each puzzle is composed of a set of squares that are divided into sections. Letters in the corner of a section establish which letters can be placed in that section of the puzzle. The goal is to arrange the letters, so they spell words vertically and horizontally throughout the puzzle. If that sounds simple, it is, but like any good game, just because the rules are easy to grasp doesn’t mean the game itself is easy.

As you explore and test solutions in Knotwords, the available letters are highlighted on a keyboard at the bottom of the screen, making it easy to tell which letters remain available to play. Once a row has been filled with letters horizontally or vertically, Knotwords will let you know if your letters are out of place by scratching out the letters in pink.

Like Sudoku, solving words makes each puzzle progressively easier by eliminating the number of possible letters that can be placed in open squares. It’s a dynamic that helps ease the frustration of getting stuck on one part of a puzzle because focusing your efforts elsewhere often leads to a breakthrough in an area where you were having trouble. There’s also a built-in hint system featuring the game’s rabbit mascot, who dispenses hints in the form of definitions of words instead of the answers themselves. Also, on iOS, the game includes an upbeat soundtrack with a jazzy lounge music vibe and generous use of haptic feedback, both of which add to the overall experience.

I’m a big fan of logic puzzles like Knotwords. They’re an excellent way to unwind by concentrating on something that isn’t your work or something else that might be on your mind. Knotwords fits that role perfectly by being easy to learn and play but challenging to solve and unique. The experience is a little like doing a crossword puzzle without the clues. It’s a combination that I love, so I plan to make Knotwords a regular part of my downtime this summer.

In addition to iOS and iPadOS, Knotwords is available on Android, the Mac, and PC. The game is free to download on the App Store and includes a core set of puzzles, but for $4.99/year or a one-time payment of $11.99, you can unlock more puzzlebook puzzles each month, a daily Twist puzzle, additional hints, statistics, and color themes.


Sofa 3.3 Adds Extensive Customization Options

Sofa 3.3, the media organizer app for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, is out, and the update is all about customization. If you haven’t tried Sofa before, check out our recent coverage of the app, which was a runner-up for the MacStories Selects awards in the Best App Update category last year. The update includes a long list of ways to personalize Sofa, which are best shown off by showing you what’s possible, so let’s update the list of books I’ve got in Sofa.

Read more


CARROT Weather 5.6 Adds Locations Lists, New Layout Sections, and More

CARROT Weather 5.6 is out today with a handful of excellent new features that pick up where previous updates have left off, with more ways to customize the app and make it your own.

My favorite new feature is Locations Lists. From CARROT Weather’s Locations tab, you can search for the weather in any city you like. That works well for one-off checks of conditions somewhere else, and CARROT saves your most recent searches at the bottom of the Locations tab making it easy to rerun a search. Locations can also be saved as favorites.

Setting up forecasts for multiple locations.

Setting up forecasts for multiple locations.

Location Lists extend CARROT Weather’s location-based functionality further by letting you go beyond a simple list of favorite locations. Tap the Info button next to a place you’ve marked as a favorite, and you can choose to ‘Show Forecast in Locations List.’ Doing so opens up additional options, including an hourly or daily forecast, a chart or stack layout, and a choice from among many data points to highlight alongside the forecast. Once a location has been set up the way you want, you’ll see a card-like UI for each city you’ve added with the data you’ve chosen. Whether you’re keeping tabs on a destination for an upcoming trip or just want to know if the weather is nice where a friend or family member lives, the new Locations List provides an excellent overview without requiring you to tap into the details of each city. In the future, I’d love to see Location List forecasts added to CARROT Weather’s set of Home Screen widgets.

CARROT's tab bar is fully-customizable.

CARROT’s tab bar is fully-customizable.

I used to hide CARROT Weather’s tab bar, but the new Locations List has given me a reason to keep it visible, making it easier to access my favorite locations and features like the app’s weather maps. The tab bar is now customizable, so you only need to display the tabs you use in the order you prefer. Just visit the Layout settings and choose Arrange Tab Bar to customize it.

CARROT Weather 5.6 introduces new Solar, Moon, Air Quality, Pollen, and Tide sections.

CARROT Weather 5.6 introduces new Solar, Moon, Air Quality, Pollen, and Tide sections.

CARROT Weather’s Layout sections continue to expand with version 5.6 too. The latest update includes Solar, Moon, Air Quality, Pollen, and Tide sections. CARROT Weather already offered ways to surface the information in these new sections as data points. However, with the new Layout sections, you get more detailed and glanceable information than before.

When the weather is bad in Chicago, I look north to feel better.

When the weather is bad in Chicago, I look north to feel better.

The maps and radar functionality have also been expanded. Maps now show when a wintery mix of precipitation is falling. Fortunately, we’re nearing the end of that kind of weather in the Chicago area, so I haven’t seen a wintery mix in CARROT’s weather map here. However, the good people of Wisconsin and Michigan are enjoying a bright pink wintery mix this morning, so you can see what that looks like in the screenshot above. The radar feature also reports hail and debris from tornados that are detected, which I’d prefer not to see any time soon, but I’m also glad it’s available.

With the latest update, I’ve added daily forecasts to my Locations List for the cities where my kids live. I’ve also added Pollen and Air Quality sections to my weather layout, which will be handy as the weather warms up and I head outside more. I’ve also simplified my tab bar to mirror how I use the app, which makes one-handed use easier.

It’s remarkable how much customization is now available in CARROT Weather. Version 5.0 was a big leap forward, but Brian Mueller has continued to refine the app and add new and interesting options that have taken the app’s personalization to a new level that I love.

CARROT Weather is available as a free update on the App Store. The app offers multiple subscription tiers, with different features at each level, which you can read more about in the app’s Settings.


Overcast Redesign Enhances Podcast Navigation with an Emphasis on Playlists and Recent Episodes

I’ve used a lot of different podcast apps over the years, but the one I return to most often and have used the most is Overcast by Marco Arment. The app’s customizability, Smart Speed and Voice Boost audio enhancement technologies, and Shortcuts support are unrivaled among podcast players. I also appreciate that when episodes of the shows I love are published, they usually appear in Overcast first.

Read more


ComicTrack: A Beautifully-Designed, Flexible Way to Organize Your Comic Book Reading

ComicTrack is a new app from Joe Kimberlin for tracking and organizing the comic books you’ve read, are currently reading, and want to read. The idea is similar to his excellent videogame tracking app, GameTrack, but applied to comics. I’ve been using ComicTrack for a couple of weeks now, and it’s excellent. Of course, you’ll also need a separate app to read your comics, but having a dedicated app to organize what I’m reading and plan to read has single-handedly gotten me back into reading comics more regularly.

ComicTrack on the iPhone.

ComicTrack on the iPhone.

For context, I’ve always been a very casual comic book fan. I have Comixology and Shonen Jump installed on my iPad mini, but I often go weeks or months without touching either. It’s not a lack of interest, so much as a combination of not knowing where to start and having limited free time. ComicTrack hasn’t magically granted me more free time, but it has made getting started much easier by reducing the friction of picking something to read.

ComicTrack on the 12.9" iPad Pro in dark mode

ComicTrack on the 12.9” iPad Pro in dark mode

I’m going to focus on the iPad version of ComicTrack because that’s where I read most of my comics, but the app also works and looks great on the iPhone and Mac, as you’ll see in the screenshots below. Everything syncs over iCloud too. Also, although I spend most of my time using the iPad version of ComicTrack, I find the iPhone and Mac apps indispensable for collecting new ideas of things to read. I run across comic books all the time via RSS, Twitter, podcasts, and friends’ recommendations. That doesn’t just happen when I’m using my iPad, but with ComicTrack on all the platforms I use, it’s easy to add something that catches my eye.

Read more


WaterMinder 5.1 Delivers a Ground-Up Redesign of Its Apple Watch App and More

Today, there are a lot of apps that track hydration, but for me, the standard-bearer for the category has always been and remains WaterMinder by Funn Media. The app has evolved a lot since we first covered it in 2016, but what hasn’t changed is its emphasis on fast data entry, a clear, easy-to-use interface, and the adoption of the latest Apple technologies. With version 5.1, the WaterMinder watchOS app has been rebuilt from the ground up using SwiftUI. A handful of other nice additions have found their way into the iPhone and iPad apps too.

Read more