It’s a special kind of dilemma when an app is already one of the best in its category, yet it lives on a platform that requires constant improvement. Some apps in this predicament continue adding feature after feature in a way that ends up detracting from what users initially loved, while others pursue updates that may be less attention-grabbing, but they improve the core app in meaningful ways. Timepage, the iOS calendar app from Moleskine, has chosen the latter route with version 3.0, available today. There are no headline-grabbers here, but this latest update demonstrates that Moleskine has a strong understanding of how its app is used, and how to make it better. It introduces significant improvements to event creation, a new birthday functionality, additional calendar views, and a design tweak inspired by Timepage’s sister app, Actions, among other things.
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I love my two HomePods. One sits in my living room and the other in my studio. When I finish working for the day, I can ask Siri to move my music from the studio to the living room where I continue what I'm listening to as I make dinner and relax. Most of the time, both HomePods are also within earshot for issuing Siri commands to turn lights on and off, add items to my grocery list, and kick off shortcuts.
Here's the thing though: it's summertime. I'm spending time outdoors and going on road trips to visit family. Meanwhile, my HomePods remain tethered to the wall by power cords. They'll be there waiting when I return, but when I'm on the go, my HomePods are useless, which prompted me to start looking at portable speakers that could reach beyond the walls of my home.
My research led me to Libratone’s Zipp 2 and Zipp Mini 2 wireless speakers, two of the only wireless solutions I’ve found that support Apple's AirPlay 2 audio streaming technology. Libratone sent me one of each model for testing, and I’ve spent the past few months using them in different spots around my house, in my backyard, and at the beach. Both speakers deliver on the versatility I was looking for, extending the ways and places I can play music. However, neither of the Zipp speakers was quite as simple to use or reliable as the HomePod. The few issues I ran into are balanced out in no small measure by the versatility of the Zipp speakers though, which depending on your needs makes them a worthy replacement for or supplement to the HomePod.
Minit is a new-to-iOS indie adventure game by Jan Willem Nijman, the co-founder of Vlambeer, Kitty Calis, Jukio Kallio, and Dominik Johann. The game, which was brought to iOS a little over one week ago by Devolver Digital, first debuted in April 2018 and is now available on all major consoles, PCs, and mobile platforms. It’s a fantastic game that benefits from the high-resolution screens and excellent sound available on iOS devices but also suffers a little from onscreen joystick controls. That issue can be remedied with an MFi controller, but even playing with the onscreen controls, Minit has quickly become one of my favorite iOS games of 2019.
Minit's hook is that the hero you control only has a minute to live, a mechanic that's perfect for a mobile game. As you race around the game's map, solving puzzles and discovering items, you have to move fast because when the minute is up, you die and have to start over again.
If that sounds frustrating, it really isn't. You have to start over after you die, but not entirely from the beginning. The ticking clock certainly makes Minit challenging, but it cleverly avoids becoming frustrating by letting your character retain items, powers, and locations even after you die. For example, one of the first items you discover in the game is a cursed sword that is central to the game's story. When you inevitably die and respawn to continue exploring, you don’t need to grab the sword again because it will already be at your side. The same holds true of powers like pushing objects and locations that become your new home, which avoids the monotony of having to restart the game from the same point over and over.
Minit strikes a careful balance with its core mechanic, allowing just enough progress to be made each time you play to keep you coming back for more. It also helps that no matter where I’ve been on the game’s map, I’ve always felt that I had multiple options each time I restarted. That’s an essential element of avoiding frustration because even when I've gotten stuck on a particular quest, I've had the option to set out in a different direction and make progress elsewhere.
The game’s art and sound design are top-notch too. The artwork is entirely black and white with chunky pixel characters and environments that convey a sense of whimsy and fun. Coupled with an excellent soundtrack and sound effects, Minit imbues its world with a personality that brings its simple environment to life in a way that transcends any one aspect of the game.
Minit's controls are just as simple as its artwork. There’s a virtual joystick in the lower left corner of the screen for moving your character and an attack button in the opposite corner. The gameplay is simple enough that the onscreen joystick works reasonably well, but it’s still not as good as a controller with a dedicated thumbstick, especially when lining up your character to attack an enemy. Relatively few iOS gamers have MFi controllers now, but iOS 13 should give games like Minit a boost in the fall when the OS adds support for Bluetooth-based PS4 and Xbox controllers that far more people already own.
Even relying on the onscreen controls though, I've had a blast playing Minit. It took the game with me on a short 4th of July road trip, and it was the perfect companion for the long drive and when I had some time to myself in the evenings. Minit treads some of the same ground as similar retro-style adventure games I've played before, but the combination of the timer mechanic and unique black-and-white world make it stand head and shoulders above similar games.
Leading up to WWDC last month, rumors indicated that iTunes on the Mac was being split into multiple apps, including standalone Music, TV, and Podcasts apps. It was expected that Apple might use its Catalyst technology (formerly known as Marzipan) to base the new Music app on Music for iPad, or vice versa. The hope among many iPad users was that the iPad might benefit from a more robust Apple Music client featuring power user features already available on the Mac, such as Smart Playlists.
WWDC came and went, and that wish was left unfulfilled. While macOS Catalina does introduce a new Music app, it wasn’t built using Catalyst, and as a result the iPad version of Music is light on meaningful improvements this year.
Filling the void left by Apple, however, is a new third-party app called Miximum, which is an Apple Music-integrated utility dedicated to smart playlist creation on iOS.
Apple has a big update coming to Reminders in iOS 13, and despite all that’s changing in the app, one important thing is not: developers will still be able to integrate with Reminders so you can create, check off, and manage your tasks from a third-party app. The latest app to take advantage of this is Agenda, the date-based note-taking app which launches full Reminders integration in version 6.0 today on both iOS and the Mac.
While some apps aim to be a complete Reminders replacement, such as GoodTask, Agenda’s approach is to use Apple’s built-in task system for two main purposes: creating to-dos linked to Agenda notes, and complementing the existing calendar integrations.
Worse Than Death is a narrative-driven horror game from Toronto-based Benjamin Rivers, the developer of Home. The two games share some similarities. Both games feature creepy, small-town mysteries where you play as a pixelated protagonist in a chunky-pixel world. What’s different about Worse Than Death is that it interweaves comic book-style, hand-drawn art throughout the story including cut scenes, when examining objects, and for dialogue. It’s a unique style that helps bring the characters and their surroundings to life in a way that pixel art alone can’t.
In Worse Than Death you play as Holly, who has returned home from the city to attend her high school reunion. When she arrives in town, she stops by the local bar where she meets with Flynn, an old friend who we learn was engaged to a woman named Grace before she died in an accident.
I don’t want to spoil the story, but what seems like a typical reunion when Holly and Flynn arrive turns out to be anything but ‘typical.’ Soon you’re racing around town faced with a growing number of gruesome deaths and chased by unseen monsters from whom you need to hide to survive.
The game does an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension as it progresses. I found myself jumping more than once as unexpected things happened during the game. As you make your way through the town trying to solve the mystery of what has happened, you face a series of puzzles that get progressively harder to solve, but clues are everywhere, so be sure to examine everything.
The gameplay is simple. Tap the left and right sides of the screen to walk that direction and double tap to run. Examining objects and interacting with other elements of the game is as simple as tapping icons that appear around Holly.
Worse than Death also supports MFi controllers. The onscreen controls aren’t difficult to use, but with a narrative game like Worse Than Death, I like to lean back with a controller with my iPad Pro in the Brydge Pro Keyboard so I can get the angle just right and relax. The SteelSeries Nimbus’ thumbstick and buttons were perfect for exploring the game.
I also highly recommend playing while listening with headphones. The sound design is fantastic and an integral part of the tension built by the story. Sounds come at you from every direction thanks to a 3D audio track that’s a perfect match to the game.
I also love the hand-drawn art and the way it contrasts with the pixelated gameplay. It’s a combination that makes Worse Than Death stand out from other action adventure games and succeeds in conveying strong character emotions, which adds to the tension that builds through the game. What’s more, the many hand-drawn images used in the game were drawn entirely on an iPad Pro using the app Procreate. Here’s a time-lapse that developer Benjamin Rivers posted on Twitter of the art being created:
— Benjamin Rivers (@BenjaminRivers) May 23, 2019
It’s a testament to the iPad Pro and Procreate that such a large part of this game’s artwork could be done using the combination.
I’m not usually a fan of horror games, but I love a good mystery and puzzles, which Worse Than Death delivers on. With simple gameplay and story-driven action, Worse Than Death is like a creepy mystery you take with you on summer vacation. Wrapped in terrific artwork and absorbing sound design, Worse Than Death is a game that shouldn’t be missed.
Worse Than Death is available on the App Store for $3.99.
All my cards on the table: until I tried Anders Borum’s new app, Secure ShellFish, I had no idea what an SSH or SFTP server even was. I’ve never had the need for a file server, and have thus considered it one of those technical computing concepts that’s over my head and exists only for a certain type of user. My guess is that many other people feel the same way, not just because of the concept of servers itself, but also because the tools available for configuring and accessing servers can tend to be overly complex. Secure ShellFish, on both iPad and iPhone, aims to be the opposite: it makes configuring servers easy, and accessing them even easier because it’s built around integration with Apple’s Files app.
Last weekend, I dove into my first HomeKit project in a while, installing two Insignia Wi-Fi Garage Door Controllers. That’s quite a mouthful, so I’m just going to call it the Insignia Controller.
I sat on this project for months before getting started. I love playing with new gadgets and setting up automations using HomeKit, but the reality is that I live in a home with other people who aren’t as enthusiastic about my HomeKit projects. Not all of my projects have turned out well either, which has left me cautious.
The strength of Soulver lies in its flexibility. Full-fledged spreadsheet apps like Numbers and Excel have their place. However, day-to-day life requires calculations that don't demand that level of horsepower and benefit from contextualizing numbers with text. It’s the kind of math that happens in notebooks and on the back of envelopes. By combining elements of a text editor, spreadsheet, and plain English syntax, Soulver commits those easily-lost notebook scribblings to a format that allows for greater experimentation and easier sharing.
During WWDC last week, Acqualia Software released a major update to the app. Soulver 3 for Mac features an updated design and substantial new functionality that I love. The app has never been easier to use, and its implementation of a sidebar to corral sheets is fantastic.
However, unlike its predecessor, version 3‘s file format is incompatible with the iOS version of the app and earlier Mac versions. Soulver also saves its data as a single ‘sheetbook’ file now, which means it can no longer save or manage sheets as individual files saved to arbitrary locations on your Mac. Both changes will be problematic for some users who may want to wait for future updates that the app's developer has said are in the works.