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Linea Sketch 2.0: Elegant, Approachable Sketching for the iPad

Today, The Iconfactory released a major update to its iPad sketching app, Linea. Version 2.0, which has been renamed Linea Sketch, takes what was already one of my favorite Apple Pencil-enabled drawing apps and has extended it with new features that make it more powerful than ever before. Most importantly though, the new features don’t come at the expense of the app’s usability.

When I reviewed Linea 1.0 last year, I was struck by how approachable yet capable the app was. That’s still the case, but The Iconfactory has added several new features that should make it appeal to an even broader audience.

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Overcast Adds Smart Resume, New Auto-Deletion Option, and Support for Password-Protected Podcasts

Overcast 4.1 is out with a handful of new, notable features and bug fixes.

My favorite addition is what Marco Arment calls Smart Resume, which does two things. First, when resuming playback, Overcast skips back a few seconds to remind you of where you left off in a paused episode. Second, Overcast resumes playback in the dead space between words where possible.

The effect is understated but perceptible. During the beta of 4.1, I had a sense that something more than simple skipping back was going on with Smart Resume, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I dug into Arment’s release notes. Smart Resume reminds me of what happens when an in-person conversation is interrupted. If you’re sitting at a table in a restaurant with a friend and the waiter interrupts one of you mid-sentence, you don’t pick up where you left off mid-word. You back up and start over.

Smart Resume is similar. I hadn’t realized it, but when resuming a podcast, I’d gotten into the habit of skipping back 30 seconds when I lost track of where I was in an episode. That was more time than necessary to recall where I had left off, but it worked. With Smart Resume, I’ve found I rarely do that anymore. Instead of the extra fiddling with the app’s buttons, Overcast skips back just far enough to jog my memory but not so far that I feel like I’m re-listening to too much of an episode. Moreover, dropping the seek point in between words makes the feature feel natural. Smart Resume can be turned off in Settings, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so.

Overcast 4.1 also adds a new auto-deletion setting. Previously, you could choose between auto-deleting episodes immediately after finishing them or leave them on your iOS device for manual deletion. Overcast now has a third choice, which is automatic deletion after 24 hours. Premium members’ uploads to Overcast are no longer subject to auto-deletion either.

Password-protected podcasts are now officially supported in Overcast too. In the Add URL screen, there is an option to ‘Use Password,’ which reveals username and password fields when tapped. Podcasts that require a password do not show up in Overcast’s search results or show recommendations.

Smart Resume is an excellent example of what I like most about Overcast. The feature highlights the app’s overall attention to detail when it comes to the listening experience, which makes it a pleasure to use.

Overcast is available on the App Store.

Textor: The iOS Equivalent of TextEdit, Integrated with Files

Over the weekend, developer Louis D'hauwe released a new plain text editor to the iOS App Store. Textor is about as simple an app as you could get: while it does offer support for modern iOS technologies, like Split View on iPad, and modern iOS screen dimensions, like the iPhone X and iPad Pro sizes, it doesn't offer any kind of innovative features to pull you in. In fact, it doesn't really contain much in the way of features at all.

D'hauwe created Textor as a result of exploring what new iOS tools he would need before making the iPad his primary computer. His recently launched terminal app, OpenTerm, birthed from the same roots.

Textor is unique in how utterly stripped down it is, and it's that simplicity that makes it so appealing. Launch the app – which is free and open-source – and you'll see iOS 11's new Files document browser. This enables opening existing plain text files stored in any app that serves as an iOS file provider. You can open directly from iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive, Working Copy, and more. You can also create a new document in any of these places by hitting the + button in the top-right corner.

Outside of the Files document browser, the only interface is found in the editor itself: a plain canvas with a purple blinking cursor. It's just you and the text.

Textor's lack of noteworthy features makes it a fitting TextEdit-equivalent for iOS. It also makes it unlikely to be the best text editor for you, unless your needs are extremely minimal.

Despite its bare-bones nature, I was excited to hear about Textor's launch because it happens to fit exactly the tiny niche I was looking for. My everyday writing is done in Ulysses, an app I absolutely love. But when it comes to editing other people's work, Ulysses isn't a great solution because its custom formatting engine doesn't play nice with existing Markdown drafts.

Every week as part of preparing the latest Club MacStories newsletter, I edit about ten different Markdown files stored in a GitHub repo and accessed through Working Copy. I've tried several quality apps for this job, including iA Writer, 1Writer, and Textastic – all can open files directly from Working Copy, but a variety of issues big and small make none of them the ideal solution. Textor does exactly what I need: opens documents via Files, allows me to edit them free from cumbersome frills, then saves them in place when I'm done editing.

There are a couple changes that would make Textor a better tool for me: auto-saving drafts so I don't have to hit the app's 'Done' button to save changes, and support for Markdown styling so I get a preview of what my document will look like when published. Those features aren't necessities though, and I don't expect to see Textor add them. Everyone will have their own list of two or three features they'd like, but Textor doesn't need to be feature-complete. The app exists to offer a no-nonsense writing experience with Files support, and it succeeds at exactly that.

Textor is available as a free download on the App Store.

Game Day: Bring You Home

Earlier this month Alike Studio released Bring You Home, a charming puzzle game about a blue alien on a quest to save its pet from thieves. It’s a delightful game that showed up one day with little fanfare. The game, from the creators of Love You to Bits, was teased almost a year ago, but its sudden appearance on the App Store means it hasn’t gotten the coverage it deserves. That’s a shame because this is a low-key but captivating game that should appeal to a wide audience.

Exploration is at the core of Bring You Home. As soon as the alien’s pet is whisked away, it leaps out the window after the thieves landing face-first on the ground. Time rewinds, and you’re shown how to swipe panels up and down until there’s a cart of hay under the window to break the alien’s fall. It’s a simple mechanic similar to the hit game Framed but executed with a style and personality that fits Bring You Home.

The goal is just as simple. By manipulating the environment around the alien, you help steer it from scene to scene in pursuit of the thieves. As you move through Bring You Home, new layers are added to the gameplay. Instead of just cycling through panels vertically, you can swap their position horizontally too. Next, the game adds multi-step puzzles, which require you to rearrange the scene, pause, and make further adjustments. Along the way, there are also collectible photos featuring your alien and his pet, which is a nice touch suggesting that it’s ok to explore, fail, and explore some more.

There is an absurd logic to each of the nearly 50 levels of Bring You Home, which rewards thoughtful examination. There are no time limits or penalties for failure, which encourages a leisurely, calm approach. Sure, you can power through Bring You Home quickly, but that’s not the point. Trial and error is part of the fun. This is a game best-enjoyed at a pace at which you can absorb each scene’s brightly-colored, playful animations.

Bring You Home is a Universal app that’s also available on the Apple TV. The game looks great on a big screen TV, but the controls work better on an iOS device, so on balance, I prefer to play on my iPad. Also, achievements are tracked in Game Center, and your progress is synced between devices via iCloud, which I always appreciate.

Bring You Home is a relaxing game with a playful, sweet personality that will appeal to kids and adults alike. The puzzles range from easy to challenging without ever becoming frustrating, which makes it an excellent choice for relaxing on a quiet afternoon.

Bring You Home is available on the App Store.

Alto’s Odyssey Review: Desert Tranquility

The sky above the desert has chosen a peculiar, almost plum-like shade of purple tonight as I’m nimbly moving past tall silhouettes of cacti and palm trees, when I see the black contours of a rock. My experience tells me that, in most cases, rocks have to be avoided, so I jump. While airborne, I glance at the dune ahead of me, and decide to attempt a backflip. The sky in the distance is a sight to behold – a full moon, barely visible among the clouds, faintly illuminates a panorama of ancient ruins left to age and crumble. In fact, the horizon is so beautiful, I don’t see another rock waiting just ahead of me as soon as I stick the landing. I hit the rock and fall face down in the sand. It’s game over.

I try again.

An angry lemur is chasing me, probably because I, once a mountain shepherd and now a tourist with a sandboard and little knowledge of lemur manners, woke the creature who was resting in his hut. His only goal, apparently, is to attack me and stop my speedy exploration. But I just need to make it to the next chasm and leave him behind, shaking his tiny lemur fist at me as I backflip over the void. That shouldn't be too hard.

He’s fast though. Suddenly, I see a potential way out: a rushing water stream connects to a narrow wall, which I can vertically ride to hop onto a vine where I can grind, jump, and backflip to build up speed and escape the lemur. Seems easy enough. My jumps are precise and I elegantly make it onto the vine. But the lemur isn’t giving up – he’s right behind me. 10, 9, 7, 5 meters behind – he’s going to catch me. But we’re at the end of the vine now, and if I jump, I’m going to land and sprint. I take the leap and start my backflip. I think I made it. Except the lemur also jumps, grabs me, and I’m face down in the sand again. It's game over.

I keep trying.

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OmniOutliner 3 for iOS Review

I think in outlines. When I was in law school, that’s how I was taught to break down legal issues and structure the enormous amount of information I needed to know to pass exams. Outlines became second nature – something I still use today to organize research, write longer articles, and organize projects.

I wish I had OmniOutliner when I was in law school. Those outlines grew as the semester wore on, adding complexity that made them harder to edit. Although the word processor I used could handle outlining, it wasn’t optimized for huge outlines the way OmniOutliner is.

Today, my outlining needs are much simpler. I’m not creating 100-page outlines. If an outline is more than a few pages long, it’s only because it’s full of detailed notes. More often than not, all I need is a quick indented list, with simple formatting, and the ability to reorder sections easily.

Perhaps the greatest strength of OmniOutliner 3 for iOS is that it can handle both scenarios. That’s because OmniOutliner 3 isn’t one app, it’s two: OmniOutliner Essentials and OmniOutliner Pro. Essentials includes all the tools you need for basic outlining, and Pro adds extensive customization options, section navigation, automation, and other features.

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CARROT Weather 4.5 Brings Achievements, Alternate Icons, and More

The latest update to CARROT Weather, a MacStories favorite among iOS weather apps, brings a variety of improvements big and small, with the most noteworthy designed to add extra fun to the app: achievements and alternate icons.

Achievements are an attempt to gamify your weather app experience. While with most apps that sentence would sound ridiculous, achievements fit well with the personality and character of CARROT Weather. Currently there are 32 achievements you can unlock, many of which have to do with weather events you experience, while some involve travel and other activities. All available achievements can be viewed from CARROT's dropdown menu.

Alternate icons, like achievements, aren't a necessary addition to a weather app, but they do add joy to the user experience. Developer Brian Mueller has put together a diverse, high-quality set of icons to choose from, ensuring you can make CARROT fit in well with your existing Home screen layout vibes.

Other changes worth noting in version 4.5 are that the Secret Locations feature has been removed from its previous home in the search box, instead getting its own dedicated place in the dropdown menu. This move is accompanied by a revamp of the map view for carrying out assigned missions. Also, the app's main search box has had its autocomplete upgraded to work much faster and comprehensively, and you can reorder saved locations easily using drag and drop.

Today's update isn't a major one, but it does make a great weather app even better. Features like custom icons and achievements help boost CARROT Weather's already extensive amount of character, endearing the app to users in a way few apps can. If you haven't tried the app yet, I highly recommend it.

CARROT Weather is available on the App Store.