Posts in reviews

Interact: A Powerful Contact Group Manager

With the rise of iOS devices, there's been an increase of on-the-go collaboration and the need for tools that can manage teams and contact information. iPhones and iPads can hold thousands of contacts, but when it comes to arranging those into groups, Apple's Contacts app offers no help.

I've been testing Interact by Agile Tortoise for the past week, an app that offers a variety of features that allow you to create contacts and organize them. Interact also works with group texting and email, so you can do more meaningful work in groups. Although it has its hiccups, Interact's capabilities far outweigh its negatives.

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Pythonista 2.0 Brings Action Extension, iPad Pro Support, Code Editor Improvements, and More

Back in the Fall of 2012, a few months after I had taken it upon myself to start moving all my work from OS X to iOS, I came across Ole Zorn's Pythonista. A Python interpreter for iPhone and iPad that could natively integrate with iOS system features, Pythonista opened up a new world to me, demonstrating how I could automate tedious tasks on iOS devices via scripting. Since then, other apps have come along and shown how iOS tasks can be automated with visual interfaces and pre-packaged actions (above all, Workflow and Launch Center Pro), but Pythonista is, in many ways, the crown jewel of iOS automation and scripting for advanced users.

There's nothing quite like Pythonista on iOS. As I've documented over the past three years, Ole Zorn has slowly but steadily extended the app's capabilities with native ties to iOS interfaces via a UIKit bridge, support for location and the Reminders database, and even matplotlib and motion sensors. As it stands today, Pythonista is, by far, the richest and most powerful scripting app to integrate with native iOS features. Despite the variety of options now available for iOS automation and the continued evolution of iOS that cut down the number of tasks I need to automate (case in point: Split View and using two apps at once), I love keeping Pythonista around for key aspects of my workflow that can't be automated in any other way.

For the past several months, I've been using version 2.0 of Pythonista on my iPhone and iPad, which, after a few rejections from Apple, has been approved and is launching today on the App Store. A free update for existing customers, Pythonista 2.0 brings a refreshed UI, support for the iPad Pro, new modules, and, more importantly, a redesigned code editor and an action extension.

Behind the scenes, Pythonista 2.0 has played an essential role in helping me assemble my reviews of iOS 9 and the iPad Pro, with an action extension I rely upon for all my image uploads, OCR, text statistics, and more.

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Hyphen: An EPUB Reader for Everyone

As iPads have progressed as computing devices, we've seen a shift from the products being solely consumption devices. But even as people try (and succeed!) to work on their iPads, activities such as reading and watching video remain relevant.

Hyphen, an eBook reader for EPUB files, attempts to bridge the gap between the power user and consumer. At its heart, it's a simple reader - but combined with its sharing and word selection strengths, it should be a contender as a host for your next eBook.

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Achieving Personal Goals with Streaks

Good habits are hard to form. Before something becomes a habit that you don't have to think about, it's just a task that must be repeated over and over. The trouble is, good intentions only get you so far, which at least for me, is not very far at all.

So how do you get from aspiration to execution? An app isn't going to magically make you eat better or wake up early to work on your next big project, but through a system of reminders and tracking, Streaks creates a sense of personal accountability that I find helps a lot.

It is easy to see why Apple named Streaks one of the best apps of 2015. Streaks looks great, with a design language that is right at home with today's iOS, and is a great example of an app with a narrow focus, but deep, singular attention to detail.

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Unhand Me! – Preventing Unwanted iOS Device Handling

Unhand Me! comes at a time of Apple Watch app confusion. Some developers have chosen to create apps that keep most of their functionality for the Watch; other Watch apps are smaller versions of iOS apps with some added features.

Unhand Me!, which is an app that notifies you when your iOS device has been handled, is an attempt at the latter. Through actionable notifications or the Watch app, Unhand Me! can be a must-have for those who own an Apple Watch. But even for the smartwatch skeptics, this app is one to strongly consider downloading for the safety of both your hardware and data on your iPhone and iPad.

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Quiver 3: A Notebook That Adapts to How You Work

Research is a big part of all my projects, but I've never found a research app that fits my needs. My ideal research app is more than just a text editor or other app that I get by with. I want a tailor-made app designed from the ground up with research in mind that is lightweight and fast, even if I stuff it full of hundreds of notes with all kinds of embedded media. Just as important though, the app should sort and search my notes in a manner suited to the way I work, not the way the app wants me to work. It's a tall order and one that nobody has pulled off before to my satisfaction, which is why I was so excited to discover Quiver 3.

Quiver, by Yaogang Lian of HappenApps, bills itself as programmer's notebook, but it has evolved into much more than that. At the highest level, Quiver uses an organizational metaphor like Evernote, with individual notes organized into notebooks. But it's at the note level where things get interesting.

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Curiosity: A Contextual Wikipedia Reader

Billed as "the easiest way to discover and learn about the world around you," Curiosity is a Wikipedia reader for the – well – curious. By pulling location data from the user's iPhone, Curiosity provides a map with the locations of nearby points of interest and displays the corresponding Wikipedia pages. Sometimes, it's a city or county page; in other instances, it can be an interesting landmark, school, or business.

But Curiosity, developed by the two-man team at Tamper, isn't just for location-based Wikipedia browsing – the app also sports two other information tabs titled Popular and Explore. Both of these sections allow for a deep Wikipedia article reading experience based on relevant topics and curated collections.

With the added You section, which lets the user view bookmarks and history, the app rounds out as a shining example of the power of location-focused data and curation.

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Pigment Brings Adult Coloring Books to iPad Pro with Apple Pencil Support

I first heard of the adult coloring book trend from my friend Myke, who described on various podcasts and Slack conversations how coloring mandala-like patterns helps him concentrate and relax while doing something else. In a peculiar case of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, I then started hearing about the popularity of adult coloring from a lot of people – all of them, apparently, owners of physical books with empty artistic designs which need to be filled with color.

While I don't own any adult coloring books myself, I've been intrigued by the trend enough to do some research. The origin story of the modern adult book coloring trend goes somewhat like this: Scottish artist Johanna Basford convinced British publisher Laurence King to order an initial run of 'Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book'. Since its release in 2013, the book has sold over two million copies worldwide. As noted by The Atlantic, adult coloring also started spreading in France when, in 2012, publisher Hachette released Art-Thérapie: 100 Coloriages Anti-Stress'. It was so successful, Hachette had to launch a full series, which has sold more than three and a half million copies so far. The New Yorker has a great primer on the rise of adult coloring books and the initial work of Johanna Basford and Hachette.

In another piece for The Atlantic, Julie Beck described adult coloring as offering the "relief and mindfulness without the paralysis that a blank page can cause"; the constraints of objects designed by others with the sole purpose being coloring them helps a lot of people relieve stress and engage a part of their brain that can either take their mind off daily concerns or, like Beck noted, use multitasking to relax.

Evidence – both factual and anecdotal – indicates that adult coloring has now turned into a global, lucrative phenomenon: mainstream media are talking about it, 5 out of 10 of the top books on Amazon are adult coloring books, and, if you go into a bookstore today, there's a good chance you'll find a section dedicated to books filled with patterns of flowers, natural landscapes, exotic objects, animals, and more.

Back in November, I half-jokingly sent a tweet in response to John Gruber saying that the first developer to figure out how to make an adult coloring app with Apple Pencil integration would find success on the App Store. I don't know if they're going to make "millions" as I quipped, but California-based studio Pixite – specialized in photo apps for iOS and Android – is following the path I imagined. Today, Pixite is launching Pigment, an adult coloring app for iPhone and iPad that, however, is best enjoyed with the closest digital equivalent of a physical book: an iPad Pro paired with an Apple Pencil.

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