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Arcade Highlights: Pilgrims

Apple Arcade launched with a flurry of fantastic games. Not long after the first wave of titles hit the service, Czech studio Amanita Design turned heads with the unexpected release of Pilgrims, a traditional adventure game that borrows interaction elements from card-based games. The studio’s quirky, signature art style and sound design come together in a short but delightful game that encourages exploration and experimentation.

Amanita has been making iOS games since the earliest days of the App Store. It’s probably best known for Machinarium, which was released in 2009, but it has released a string of artful games that are fan favorites, including CHUCHEL, Samorost 3, and Botanicula.

Pilgrims dropped on Apple Arcade in October and is available on iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and the Mac. I’ve played the game on all four platforms and found that it’s best experienced on the iPad, followed closely by the Mac.

The reasons Pilgrims succeeds so well on the iPad are threefold. First, the game is beautifully illustrated in a hand-drawn style that is reminiscent of a children’s storybook, which a big Retina iPad screen helps bring to life. Second, the iPad’s superior sound system makes it a great way to enjoy the game’s soundtrack, even without headphones. Finally, as I’ll explain in more detail below, Pilgrims relies on a card-based approach to gameplay that lends itself to touch, making direct interaction with the game’s cards and collectibles a natural fit.

The iPhone benefits from the same intimate interaction as the iPad, but the experience is diminished by the smaller screen and the iPhone’s inferior speakers when played without headphones. Pilgrims benefits from the even bigger screens of a Mac and TV, where I found that interacting with the game with a trackpad or mouse felt closer to the iPad’s touch experience than using the Apple TV’s Siri Remote or a game controller.

Pilgrims features a storybook-like feel, good humor, and a fun soundtrack.

Pilgrims features a storybook-like feel, good humor, and a fun soundtrack.

The premise of Pilgrims is simple: you start the game as a traveler who wakes up in his tent. You navigate around a map to various locations by tapping or clicking on them. Along the way, you collect items, interact with other characters, and solve puzzles. As you pass certain milestones, you’re joined by other pilgrims on your travels as you progress to the conclusion of the story.

The characters you befriend and the items you collect are represented by cards at the bottom of the screen. As you travel from point to point, your objectives will be clear: the thief wants potatoes, and the restaurant owner wants wine, for example. To obtain those items and unlock later stages of the game, you need to visit other locations on the map and through trial and error, collect items, trade for others, and interact with characters to advance the story.

Interactions in Pilgrims are primarily accomplished by dragging the cards of items you've collected and travelers you've befriended into each scene.

Interactions in Pilgrims are primarily accomplished by dragging the cards of items you’ve collected and travelers you’ve befriended into each scene.

Interactions are initiated by dragging cards into each scene and then watching how the story unfolds. The scenes are handled with an excellent sense of humor and whimsy that encourages you to experiment. In turn, that lends itself to a leisurely pace and provides a richer experience than doing the minimum necessary to reach the end of the game would suggest. It also makes Pilgrims a fun game to revisit because, although the environment may be familiar, testing different interactions with the characters you meet along the way makes repeat plays fun.

It’s the combination of storytelling and card-based play that makes Pilgrims such a perfect match with the iPad. Playing on a big Mac screen with a good set of speakers is a close second, but sitting back in a comfortable chair and exploring Pilgrims’ world from an iPad can’t be beaten. If you missed this release, which trailed the Apple Arcade launch by a few weeks, be sure to check it out now.

Pilgrims is available as part of Apple Arcade on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac.


iA Writer 5.4 Adds New Export Options, Local Backups, and Hashtag Suggestions

Over the holidays, the iA Writer team released version 5.4 of its iOS, iPadOS, and Mac apps, which added improved export options. The iOS and iPadOS apps also gained local backups and hashtag suggestions.

The new export feature adds the ability to share, export, print, and copy from the app’s Library using context menus. On iOS and iPadOS, each of those commands is available by long-pressing an item in your Library and picking from the popup context menu. The experience is similar on the Mac, where the same options are available when you right-click on an item in the Library. iA Writer’s release notes say that publishing is available via context menus too, but the MacStories WordPress setup doesn’t work with iA Writer, and I don’t use Ghost or Medium, so I haven’t tried that feature.

iA Writer includes a new Copy Markdown Action.

iA Writer includes a new Copy Markdown Action.

The alternatives for getting text out of iA Writer have been expanded too. The update’s Copy action has added a Copy Markdown option that makes it trivially easy to copy your work and drop it into another iOS or iPadOS app or paste it into a Mac app using Handoff.

Better yet, the Copy Markdown functionality includes content blocks to the copied text. That way, if you split a long document into multiple files, copying the Markdown of the main document will automatically incorporate the externally referenced files as content blocks. It’s an excellent way to assemble a long-form story and paste it into a content management system or another app with just a couple of taps. Together with the app’s existing copy, share, and export options, iA Writer has become one of the most versatile text editors when it comes to delivering your final text in the format you want and where you need it.

A local backup is saved as your document is edited.

A local backup is saved as your document is edited.

On iOS and iPadOS, iA Writer 5.4 has also added local backups, which are accessed from the action button in the toolbar, by swiping left on or long-pressing an item in your Library, or using Quick Search, which Federico covered in his review of version 5.3 of the app. Backups of your files are created as you edit them, and reverting to an older version is as simple as selecting the one you want and tapping ‘Restore.’ If you change the name of a document, the app keeps the older backups under the file’s original name. You can also navigate to the root level of your Library folder structure from the backups of the document you are currently viewing, allowing you to browse every local backup created by iA Writer on your device.

The strength of iA Writer’s backup feature is that the backups are local. iOS 13 has been a buggy release, and iCloud Drive continues to cause trouble for some users. By creating a local backup, iA Writer provides its users with a copy of their work on whichever device they’re using that isn’t affected by sync or other cloud-based issues.

In my testing, the new backup feature worked well and provided additional peace of mind that my work is safe, which I love. I did run into a bug when navigating back to the editor from the backup view when I entered it via the Library’s context menu. The editor lost the focus, so I had no cursor or keyboard, though it’s an issue that can be fixed by tapping into another document and then back to the one you’re editing. Hopefully, that will be fixed soon, but for now, the workaround is simple, and the issue is easily avoidable by not using the context menu to access backups for the time being.

iA Writer’s hashtag suggestions appear in the row above its custom keyboard.

iA Writer’s hashtag suggestions appear in the row above its custom keyboard.

Another iOS and iPadOS-only feature that’s new for version 5.4 is hashtag suggestions. Hashtags aren’t a feature of iA Writer that I use, but the update makes accessing hashtags more convenient by displaying the most recent three in the row above the app’s custom keyboard if your cursor is on an empty space. Alternatively, if the cursor’s inside a word, the top row offers to convert the word into a hashtag. It’s worth noting, however, that hashtag suggestions are not displayed when iA Writer’s custom keyboard is displayed as a popover on the iPad Pro.


In the broader scheme of iA Writer’s development, version 5.4 is a relatively minor update, though it does reinforce why the app was chosen as the MacStories Selects App of the Year. iA Writer has been a category-leading text editor for years, but it continues to receive regular updates that incorporate the latest technologies on every platform in ways that refine the experience for users and expand the app’s capabilities.

There’s an incredible amount of power tucked away behind iA Writer’s simple UI. That power is always just a tap or two away, but stays hidden until you need it, which is my favorite sort of pro app UI.

iA Writer 5.4 for iOS and iPadOS and for the Mac is available as a free update for existing users.


Arcade Highlights: Grindstone

When it comes to mobile games, all a new title has to do to draw me in is show a Candy Crush-style grid of objects. There’s something about the simple mechanic of making connections on a grid that’s hard for me to resist. Most of the time, though, I find that while such games can easily grab my interest, many will quickly lose it when I actually start playing. It’s usually just standard match three games that keep my attention, so when I first tried out Grindstone, I didn’t think it would be for me.

Grindstone is an Apple Arcade title from Capy and the creative team behind the excellent Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. It features a familiar grid of objects – in this case monsters to defeat – but rather than rearranging matching monsters in a Candy Crush fashion, you’re tasked with tracing a line from one matching monster to another, determining the order in which you’ll slay them and potentially earn rewards. Monsters have to be adjacent to each other for you to string them together, so essentially you’re completing a connect the dots puzzle each turn with as many monsters destroyed as possible.

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LaunchCuts Review: A Better Way to Organize Your Shortcuts with Folders, Advanced Search, and Custom Views

LaunchCuts' shortcuts view.

LaunchCuts’ shortcuts view.

Developed by Adam Tow, LaunchCuts is the latest entry in a series of meta-utilities designed to extend Apple’s Shortcuts app with new functionalities. Unlike Toolbox Pro and Pushcut, however, LaunchCuts is the most peculiar and niche I’ve tested insofar as it doesn’t provide Shortcuts with exclusive actions nor does it come with its own web service to deliver rich push notifications; instead, LaunchCuts’ sole purpose is to offer an alternative view for your shortcut library with folders and powerful search filters. If you have less than 20 shortcuts installed on your iPhone or iPad, you’re likely not going to get much benefit out of LaunchCuts’ advanced organizational tools; but if you’re like me and use hundreds of different shortcuts on a regular basis, and especially if your library has grown out of control over the past few years, you’re going to need the assistance of LaunchCuts to make sense of it all.

Like the aforementioned Shortcuts utilities, LaunchCuts was born of its developer’s frustration with the lack of folders in Shortcuts – a basic feature that is still bafflingly absent from the app in 2020. As I keep pointing out in my iOS reviews, I find Apple’s continuing reliance on a crude, one-level-deep grid for shortcuts perplexing at best – particularly when the app is so very clearly employed by professional users who want to accomplish more on their iPhones and iPads.

LaunchCuts was originally created by Tow as an advanced shortcut that let you tag and organize your shortcuts from within the Shortcuts app itself. I remember playing around with the original version of LaunchCuts and, although technically remarkable, I didn’t find much utility in it since it was limited by the UI constraints of Shortcuts; LaunchCuts was begging to become a fully-fledged app with a custom interface to take advantage of Tow’s original concept. Now that it’s a native app, LaunchCuts can fulfill Tow’s vision for taming cluttered and disorganized Shortcuts libraries in a way that wouldn’t have been possible as a shortcut – all while taking advantage of new features in iOS and iPadOS 13.

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Things’ Quick Find Feature Upgraded Across iPhone, iPad, and Mac

Today the popular task manager Things was updated with several small, but noteworthy enhancements to its Quick Find feature across iPhone and iPad versions, with the Mac update arriving shortly. There’s a convenient new way to access Quick Find, recent lists are now displayed automatically, headings can be searched, and there are a variety of new lists that Things recognizes as search parameters.

One of my favorite details in Things is the ability to pull down from the top of a list to open Quick Find; the matching animation is lovely, and it’s accompanied by a perfect touch of haptic feedback on iPhone. Sometimes though, getting back to the top of a long list can take too long, so now you can simply tap a list’s name, which perpetually sits at the top-center of the UI, and Quick Find will immediately open. Also, the Quick Find window now always displays the four most recent lists you’ve visited; whether you searched for those lists or just accessed them from the sidebar menu, you’ll always see your last-visited lists in the search box.

The other big improvement to Quick Find is the new search parameters it now accepts. There are changes here in two areas: headings and special lists. Headings are an organizational tool you can use to sort your Things projects into divided sections; essentially, they’re a lightweight additional option for organization. Previously, none of your created headings could be searched in Quick Find, but that issue has now been remedied. Any and every heading you create in a project can be surfaced in Quick Find.

Things now offers a handful of special lists that aren’t accessible from the sidebar, but only through Quick Find. These include the following:

  • Tomorrow: Like Today, but for tomorrow’s tasks.
  • Deadlines: All tasks with deadlines.
  • Repeating: All repeating tasks.
  • Logged Projects: Completed projects, including completion date for each.
  • All Projects: Every current project.

Searching for any of these lists will grant easy access to them. I only wish Things provided the option to add one or more of these to the sidebar; hopefully a customizable sidebar is in the cards for Things in 2020.

Historically, iPhone and iPad apps haven’t been as feature-rich as Mac apps when it comes to search functionality. Where Mac apps often enable very granular search options, and power user features like saved searches, search on the iPhone and iPad is typically a bare-minimum approach. For that reason, it’s exciting to see the team behind Things devote a whole update to making search better, not only on the Mac, but across all platforms. Just as it did last year with keyboard shortcuts on the iPad, Things sets a strong example of pushing an oft-neglected iOS feature forward to be on par with its Mac equivalent.

Things is available on the App Store for iPhone, iPad, and Mac.


Drafts for Mac: It’s Action Time

When Drafts for Mac first arrived, I knew there were great things to come – not that it wasn’t an excellent app already! But since that time, Drafts for Mac has evolved. What was previously a functional app is now functional, automatable, and more importantly a flexible tool that can mold to fit your workflow.

Since Drafts first released, there have been numerous new features. Notably, it now supports multiple windows. This means you can have as many Drafts windows open at once as you like. I’ve taken to assigning different Spaces to different projects, enabling me to have Drafts open with its relevant Workspace in the same area as other apps.

As well as this, Drafts for Mac added batch tagging (and untagging) drafts. This has improved my workflow dramatically, as I can process the items that land in my inbox and need filing much faster. Another excellent feature is the addition of dictation (for macOS Catalina users). Especially with the demise of Dragon Dictate for Mac, this feature is a great way to talk at your computer and let it do the typing.

The headline new feature, though, is something Drafts for iOS fans consider the heart of the app: actions.

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Lightroom 5.1 Adds Direct SD Card Importing on iPad and iPhone, Plus New Export Options

As promised this fall, Adobe has updated Lightroom for iPad and Lightroom Photo Editor for the iPhone with the ability to import image files from SD cards directly inside the app. The company has added new options when exporting your photos too. I’ve been using the beta of Lightroom 5.1 for the past couple of weeks, and the update has worked exceptionally well, reducing the friction of getting images into the app and adding flexibility to getting them back out again.

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Procreate 5 Review: A Rebuilt Graphics Engine Drives Fantastic Animation, Color, and Brush Tools in an Art App Perfectly Tailored to the iPad

Procreate 5 for iPadOS is out with an impressive roster of new features. The update by Savage Interactive includes a new graphics engine, an updated color picker and color management tools, an incredibly deep and flexible brush studio, and a fun new animation assistant that brings your creations to life. Remarkably, these robust new features don’t clutter the app’s UI or add undue complexity. Instead, Procreate 5 delivers its added flexibility and power gracefully and in a manner that I expect both veterans of the app and newcomers alike will appreciate.

Procreate has been around since the earliest days of the App Store and has been used to create fantastic art. Over the years, we’ve covered stories of artists using the app to create everything from the Stranger Things poster art and a photorealistic portrait of Morgan Freeman featuring 285,000 brush strokes to a recent Apple ad. Procreate’s capabilities are impressive, but also a little intimidating.

I don’t consider myself much more than a doodler at best, which made me question whether the app was for me and whether I should tackle reviewing it at all. Here’s the thing, though: you don’t have to be a professional artist to enjoy drawing. Art is for everyone, and the key to Procreate’s success over its long history is that it too is for everyone. The app’s UI is a model of simplicity and progressive disclosure that stays out of the way, revealing its powerful tools only if and when you need them. Combined with a reasonable $10 price tag, Procreate is a fantastic choice for dabblers or pros alike, and with version 5 out today, Procreate is more powerful than it has ever been, but just as easy to use.

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Chirp 2.0 Offers a Remarkably Full-Featured Twitter Experience on Apple Watch

It’s time for Apple Watch apps to grow up, and Chirp for Twitter is leading the charge.

Chirp 2.0 debuted today, offering a full-featured Twitter experience on the Apple Watch. Chirp was already the prime Twitter client on watchOS, but with version 2 the app becomes something truly special: an iPhone-quality app on the Watch. Thanks to SwiftUI and other new developer tools Apple has built for watchOS, Chirp can do all the things you would expect from a full-featured iOS app, such as load your whole timeline, with liking and retweeting functionality, display videos and open links embedded in tweets, offer tweet composition, full user profiles, DMs, and much, much more.

Watch developer Will Bishop has been shipping impressive apps for a while, but Chirp 2.0 undoubtedly represents his best work yet.

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