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Albums 4.0: A Must-Have App for Music Lovers

Albums 4.0 is a beautifully designed, feature-rich app with more filtering and discovery tools than any other music app I’ve tried. The app is also opinionated, favoring album playback over individual songs or playlists. It’s the sort of focused, deep approach to music that Apple’s Music app doesn’t offer because it’s designed to appeal to a wider audience.

If you’re an albums-first music fan, you’ll love Albums. However, even if you prefer singles, playlists, and jumping around the Apple Music catalog as I do, Albums is worth checking out. The app’s powerful filtering opens up brand new ways to enjoy your music collection that any music fan can appreciate.

It just so happens that Federico and I are in the midst of an AppStories miniseries on music. This week we discussed how we listen to music and how it influences the services we use. Next week, we’ll cover third-party apps including Albums and many more. You can check out this week’s episode here:

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HomePaper: A Handy Utility for Creating Beautiful Home App Wallpapers

Aaron Pearce, the developer behind some of my favorite HomeKit apps like HomeRun, HomeCam, and HomePass, has a new utility that is out today for the iPhone and iPad called HomePaper that solves a very specific problem: boring Home app wallpapers. The room and home settings of Apple’s Home app let you assign a photo or one of nine colorful backgrounds as wallpapers. The trouble is that photos of a room in your home are often too distracting to serve as wallpapers, and Apple’s other choices are too limited and similar to each other. That’s where HomePaper comes in.

The Home App's wallpaper choices are limited.

The Home App’s wallpaper choices are limited.

Pearce’s app combines the best of both kinds of default Apple wallpapers by taking a photo, desaturating it, and overlaying a colorful gradient. You could do something similar in a photo editor, but HomePaper automates the process with a simple app that lets you experiment with different looks, arriving at one you like quickly and easily, the hallmark of a great utility. The result is an image that helps visually differentiate homes and rooms from each other like a standard photo would but with an additional burst of color and style.

HomePaper provides many pre-built gradients as well as the ability to create your own.

HomePaper provides many pre-built gradients as well as the ability to create your own.

HomePaper makes creating great-looking wallpapers effortless with a huge set of pre-built gradients that you can pair with an image in your photo library or by taking a picture with your iPhone or iPad’s camera. You can also pick the two colors for the gradient yourself using the iOS system color picker. When you’ve chosen or created a gradient you like, tap the download button in the bottom left corner of the screen to save it to your iCloud Photo Library, where it’s available to add to the Home app.

HomePaper is by far the simplest of Pearce’s apps, but it’s no less useful. I had settled on a single generic Apple-provided background that was the same for all my rooms because the choices didn’t inspire me to mix them up, and there was too much friction involved in creating my own. With HomePaper, though, I spent a few minutes snapping photos around my house and then applying gradients, achieving results that look great with minimal effort. The Home app looks nicer now when I open it, but it’s also easier to tell one room from another at a glance, which makes HomePaper a wonderful addition to my HomeKit apps.

HomePaper is free to download, allowing you to make one wallpaper. A $0.99 In-App Purchase unlocks the creation of unlimited wallpapers.


HoverBar Duo: The MacStories Review

There is no shortage of iPad stands. Search for one on Amazon, for instance, and you’ll be met with page after page of results. Most stands are unremarkable, with little that distinguishes one from another.

Twelve South’s HoverBar Duo is different, though. The black aluminum and plastic stand has two articulating hinges with a clamp for your iPad that connects to the stand’s arm with a ball joint. The stand also rotates side-to-side at its base. The design, which is reminiscent of an attractive, modern desk lamp, provides a broader range of motion than most stands, making it useful in more scenarios. As a result, I’ve found myself using the HoverBar Duo far more than any stand I’ve tried before.

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Darkroom 5.2 Improves Photo Management with New Flag and Reject Functionality

One of the greatest advantages of the iPhone’s camera hardware is that it’s easy to take photos wherever you are. That’s also a bit of a curse because there’s probably no greater friction in managing a photo library than sifting through a large stack of images looking for the ones you want to keep. The convenience quality of the iPhone’s camera means that I take more photos than ever, many of which aren’t shots I want to keep long-term. With today’s release of Darkroom 5.2, the photo editor that we’ve covered on MacStories before takes a significant step forward in making the process of culling the best images from an extensive photo collection easier.

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Reflector 4 Updated with Modern UI and M1 Mac Support

Reflector 4, an app for mirroring iPhones, iPads, and other devices to the Mac, has been updated with a new design, M1 Mac support, and new onscreen device frames. Whether you’re making screencasts, demoing apps for a group, or in a classroom environment, Reflector lets you wirelessly transmit your device’s UI to your Mac and record it too. In addition to mirroring iPhones and iPads, which is what I did in my testing, you can also mirror Android, Windows, and Chromebook devices. Think of it as Apple TV and Chromecast’s mirroring and streaming features all on a Mac, thanks to this one simple menu bar app.

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Nova Review: Panic’s Code Editor Demonstrates Why Mac-like Design Matters

I’ve been writing code for nearly a decade, and throughout all of that time, I’ve never quite been satisfied with a code editor. Each one I’ve tried has annoyed me in various ways, and eventually, I find myself looking elsewhere.

My code editor is the app I use more than any other. I spend hours in it nearly every day and often keep going deep into the night. The code editor is the main tool of my trade, and I want to be using the best one that I can.

One of my main frustrations with pretty much all of the popular code editors out there (and I’ve tried most of them, including Visual Studio Code, Sublime Text, Atom, IntelliJ, and Eclipse) is that none of them are Mac-assed Mac apps. They’re all clearly cross-platform apps with design senses that differ significantly from those of Mac-first developers.

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Downtime Organizer Sofa Adds Apps, Audiobooks, Board Games, Deeplinking, Backups, and More Themes

Sofa is a terrific downtime organizer. Since its release, the app has seen frequent updates that have added features and refinements that make it an excellent one-stop destination for collecting media you want to enjoy later. We’ve covered the app before, so I won’t revisit its core functionality here, but if you’re new to the app, be sure to check out our previous reviews for more details.

The headline feature of Sofa’s latest update is the addition of apps, audiobooks, and board games to the lineup of media it can track. I’m especially pleased to see that iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps have been added to Sofa. I’ve long considered trying new apps as a form of entertainment. Even poking around productivity apps that most people would consider ‘work’ apps is fun for many people.

The addition of apps is timely given the trend towards subscription-based apps with free trials. If an app catches your eye, but it’s got a relatively short free trial period, you can drop it into Sofa to try later when you can make the most of the trial. The addition of apps also provides a way to track games on Apple’s platforms that weren’t always available in Sofa’s videogame category. However, the change also means that you may have to search for an iOS game in a couple of different places at times.

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First Impressions: Kensington’s StudioDock Aims to Turn Your iPad Pro into an Expandable Desktop Workstation

The Kensington StudioDock.

The Kensington StudioDock.

Nearly a year ago in the middle of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Italy, I published an article that would turn out to feel obsolete in less than a month: in my Modular Computer story, I detailed my experiments with various accessories for the iPad Pro and how the device was capable of filling different roles in my computing life thanks to the Smart Keyboard Folio, an external 4K monitor, Apple’s Magic Trackpad, and a set of kickstands. About a month later, my laptop setup for the iPad Pro was upended by the arrival of Apple’s Magic Keyboard; as a result of the Magic Keyboard’s floating design and integrated keyboard/trackpad approach, I’ve preferred using my iPad Pro in laptop mode more often, even when I’m sitting at my desk.

A year later, Italy is going through the so-called “third-wave” of the pandemic (with a terribly mismanaged vaccine rollout and, for whatever reason, a different government) and I’ve spent the past 24 hours testing Kensington’s long-anticipated StudioDock, a $400 docking station1 that aims to turn the iPad Pro into a desktop workstation with support for display rotation, expansion via USB-C, USB-A, and SD card slots, and integrated Qi charging for iPhone and AirPods. And just like last year, I find myself torn between appreciating the potential of this product and concerned about its timing given rumors of an impending iPad Pro refresh just around the corner.

A day of usage2 isn’t enough time to evaluate this kind of product and its long-term impact on an iPad user’s daily workflow. I feel particularly uncomfortable giving MacStories readers any sort of buying advice here because of the price tag (again, $400 for the StudioDock version I tested) and the short amount of time I was able to spend with the accessory. For these reasons, I’ll try my best to focus on what the StudioDock is, what I like about it in the context of modularity and converting the iPad Pro into something it’s not (or, at least, something Apple probably didn’t anticipate), and a few features it’s missing.

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Adobe Fresco: A Fun and Powerful iPad Drawing and Painting App For Pros and Novices

I’m not an artist by any stretch, so when I started poking around Adobe’s Fresco, the drawing and painting app for the iPad and iPhone, I approached the app with trepidation. I shouldn’t have.

Fresco is undeniably a ‘pro’ iPad app. The app has a deep set of sophisticated features and integrations with Adobe’s other Creative Cloud apps and services. However, the app is also designed to scale with its users, meeting them where they start and growing with them, whether they are absolute beginners or seasoned pros.

Adobe accomplishes this in a couple of ways. The first is with Fresco’s business model. I’m sure many people who see an app of Fresco’s caliber assume it must be part of an expensive subscription, but it’s not. The app is free, and although there are benefits that only come with a Creative Cloud subscription, their absence from the free version of the app doesn’t detract from its core experience. You can go a long way with the free version, which makes it excellent for beginners and a good way for Adobe to attract new users.

Free is powerful, but it only goes so far. The second reason Fresco works for a broad spectrum of users is the app’s design. From the spot in the app to which every user is taken when they open their first canvas to the many ways to learn and draw inspiration from experienced users, Fresco’s thoughtful design provides a focused approach to drawing and painting that works for users at all levels.

Ultimately, it’s Fresco’s design that convinced me that this was a review I should write. I’m as guilty as the next person of assuming apps like Fresco are only for pro users. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that that’s not true for Fresco. So let’s dive into what makes Fresco such a good place to start if you want to try drawing and painting with your iPad and iPhone.

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