For as long as I can remember being interested in music as more than a mere source of background audio, but as an art form, I’ve been interested in the people who make music – the artists and their craft. Back when I used to buy CDs at my favorite record store in Viterbo, my hometown, I would peruse each album’s liner notes to not only read official lyrics and check out the artwork and/or exclusive photographs contained inside the booklet, but also to read the credits so I could know more about who arranged or mixed a particular track. Beyond the feeling of owning a tangible piece of music, there was something about reading through an album’s credits that served as a simple, yet effective reminder: that people – engineers, instrumentalists, vocalists, producers – created the art I enjoyed.
In today’s world of endless, a la carte streaming catalogs, we’ve reduced all of this to a cold technological term: metadata. Our music listening behaviors have shifted and evolved with time; when we browse Apple Music or Spotify, we’re inclined to simply search for a song or an album and hit play before we return to another app or game on our phones. A streaming service isn’t necessarily a place where we want to spend time learning more about music: it’s just a convenient, neatly designed delivery mechanism. The intentionality of sitting down to enjoy an artist’s creation has been lost to the allure of content and effortless consumption. Don’t get me wrong: I love the comfort of music streaming services, and I’m a happy Apple Music subscriber; but this is also why, for well over a year now, I’ve been rebuilding a personal music collection I can enjoy with a completely offline high-res music player.
Whether by design or as a byproduct of our new habits, metadata and credits don’t play a big role in modern music streaming services. We’re frustrated when a service gets the title of a song wrong or reports the incorrect track sequence in an album, but we don’t consider the fact that there’s a world of context and additional information hidden behind the songs and albums we listen to every day. That context is entirely invisible to us because it’s not mass-market enough for a music streaming service. There have been small updates on this front lately, but by and large, credits and additional track information are still very much ignored by the streaming industry. And if you ask me, that’s a shame.
This is why I instantly fell in love with MusicSmart, the latest utility by Marcos Antonio Tanaka, developer of MusicHarbor (another favorite music app of mine). MusicSmart, which is a $1.99 paid upfront utility, revolves around a single feature: showing you credits and additional details for albums and songs available in your local music library or Apple Music’s online catalog.
Noto, the modern notes app for iPhone, iPad, and Mac that I reviewed back in February, recently launched a 2.0 update that introduces brand new features and key fixes and enhancements. On the iPad, mouse and trackpad are now natively supported, and you can use drag and drop to easily import notes from another app into Noto. Additionally, the app’s syncing engine has switched from iCloud Drive to CloudKit, making it faster and more reliable than before. Finally, several of the issues I noted in my initial review have been resolved in this latest update.
When I look back at the apps I’ve used over the last several years, there is an unmistakable ebb and flow between generalized apps that try to do and be everything and those that don’t. The former type has the benefit of reducing the overhead of having to track data in multiple apps by centralizing it. However, the focus of the latter often allows them to fulfill a particular need better than a general-purpose app ever could. Directive, a new app released today by LittleFin on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, is a perfect example of a thoughtfully-designed, focused utility for managing recurring maintenance tasks.
Earlier this year I reviewed Book Track, a new book library manager that debuted across iPhone/iPad and Mac. I noted that the app offered a strong foundation to build upon, but its young age showed in the absence of several valuable features. One such feature, library importing, has been added since then, and today’s 1.2 update introduces a handful of excellent additions as well: reading status, statistics, quote entries, and loan status. This promising app is evolving faster than I had even hoped.
At some point, I think everyone who manages their work and personal lives in a task manager runs into a clutter problem. With everything from reminders to move my laundry from the washer to the dryer to another to publish our latest MacStories project, it often feels like my list of tasks never gets shorter.
If you’ve ever experienced that feeling yourself, or just want a lightweight way to quickly manage your life, Due is a fantastic option that Federico and I have both covered since it first debuted in the earliest days of the App Store. What I like so much about Due is that by moving short-term, smaller tasks out of my main task manager to it, my primary task manager becomes more focused and easier to use. It’s also so simple to add reminders and timers to Due that I’m far more likely to use the app for ephemeral to-dos, reducing day-to-day mental overhead.
The core functionality of Due has remained the same since Federico’s review of version 2.0 and my review of version 3.0, which are great places to start if you’re unfamiliar with the app. What I said in my review of 3.0 is as true today as ever:
Due is a pro-user implementation of reminders and timers. The app has one of the best quick-entry UIs I’ve used in an app. Picking dates and times is a clunky, laborious process in most apps, but Due gets it right making it simple to add a date and time to a reminder with a combination of natural language recognition and a unique date and time grid.
With today’s release of version 20.5 of Due, the app adds updated Shortcuts support complete with actions with parameters, which I expect will make Due an integral component of many users’ shortcuts. The app’s numbering scheme changed earlier this year, too, jumping from version 3 to 20 to indicate the release year.
The latest version of Ulysses, the excellent Markdown editor, is available now. Ulysses 19 offers enhancements in several different areas, from fully optimizing for the new iPadOS cursor, to supporting external folders for the first time, introducing a new ‘material’ designation for sheets, and adding keyword improvements, exportable backups, and even a new font. It’s a strong update, and one that continues to prove Ulysses the best app for my writing needs.
Darkroom is a terrific photo editor for the iPhone and iPad that leverages iCloud Photos with a robust set of editing tools and filters. With the release of version 4.6 today, Darkroom adds video to the mix. What’s impressive about the update is that it manages to apply the same set of tools and filters available for photos to video in real-time, which results in a fast, efficient editing workflow.
Pixelmator is one of the few apps I’ve used longer than anything else. Over time I regularly change up task managers, email clients, note-taking apps, and more, but nothing has ever come close to replacing Pixelmator for me. In fact, last summer I had to try living without it for a time while the app was briefly incompatible with the iOS 13 beta. Try as I might, I could find no replacement for the excellent layer-based image editor.
Not even Pixelmator Photo, the more modern photo editing tool, could replace the original Pixelmator. It wasn’t exactly intended to, since the apps specialize in different areas, but the standard Pixelmator nonetheless felt light on meaningful updates even before the release of Pixelmator Photo. My fear was that eventually the app would be discontinued.
Pixelmator 2.5, launching today, is strong evidence that that’s not going to happen. By transitioning the app to the Files document browser, designing an all-new photo browser, and adding a rich collection of new image size presets, Pixelmator’s team has crafted the app’s biggest leap forward in years and set it up for a strong future.
Today Things, the excellent task manager, was updated with enhanced support for the iPad’s new cursor just in time for the Magic Keyboard’s arrival. While you could use the iPadOS cursor in the app before, now all of the interface elements respond appropriately to it and key additions like context menus and special clicks make the experience complete.