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Inspecting JSON Files on iOS with Jayson

In writing about Workflow (then) and Shortcuts (now) for a living, at some point I realized that if I wanted to build more complex shortcuts to either deal with web APIs or store data in iCloud Drive, I had to learn the basics of parsing and writing valid JSON. The format is behind most of the web API-based Shortcuts I have shared here on MacStories1 and is one of the techniques I recently explained on Club MacStories when I built a shortcut to save highlights from Safari Reading List. The beauty of JSON is that, unlike XML, it's cleaner and more readable – provided you have a dedicated viewer that supports syntax highlighting and/or options to navigate between objects and inspect values. There's no shortage of such utilities on macOS, but this is the kind of niche that still hasn't been fully explored on iOS by developers of pro apps. That changes today with the launch of Jayson, created by Simon Støvring.

Readers of MacStories may be familiar with Støvring's name – he's the developer behind one of the most powerful and innovative pro apps of 2018, the excellent Scriptable for iOS. For this reason, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Jayson, a project that was born out of Støvring's personal frustration with the lack of a modern JSON viewer for iOS, has that same spark of innovation and integration with native iOS functionalities that set Scriptable apart last year. If you do any kind of work with JSON on your iPhone or iPad, you need Jayson in your life, and here's why.

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AirBuddy: An AirPods Companion for Your Mac

AirBuddy by Guilherme Rambo is one of the handiest Mac utilities I’ve tried in a while. AirPods connect almost instantly to iOS devices, but the process of pairing them to a Mac is not as simple, often requiring fiddling with your Mac’s Bluetooth settings from the menu bar or System Preferences. AirBuddy solves that problem, making it as trivially easy to connect AirPods to a Mac as it is to do the same with an iPhone.

The app works with a Mac that supports Bluetooth LE and is running macOS Mojave and any headphones that include Apple’s proprietary W1 chip. That means in addition to AirPods, AirBuddy can also control Beats headphones that have a W1 wireless chip. The app runs in the background as a helper process, so you won’t usually see a window or dock icon while it’s running. Nor is there a menu bar icon. Instead, once you’ve adjusted the app’s handful of settings to your liking, the app appears almost immediately when you open your AirPods case near your Mac or turn on your Beats headphones.

AirBuddy's settings.

AirBuddy's settings.

AirBuddy has a few settings that are available by opening the app from the Finder. There are checkboxes for enabling the app to work with AirPods and other W1 headphones and display options for picking where onscreen you want AirBuddy to appear when it detects nearby headphones.

Once you have the app set up, opening your AirPods case near your Mac causes a window to slide down from the top of your screen that looks just like you’d see if you did the same thing in proximity to your iPhone or iPad. For AirPods, you’ll see rotating images of your AirPods and their case with a charge indicator beneath them. The same sort of window appears when you turn on Beats headphones nearby.

The AirBuddy Today widget.

The AirBuddy Today widget.

AirBuddy doesn’t just provide the status of your AirPods though. It also allows you to connect them to your Mac with a single click. There is a Mac Today widget that provides battery status for your Mac and any headphones or iOS devices you’ve ever connected to your Mac too. It’s easy enough to check the battery of devices sitting nearby without the help of AirBuddy, but it’s nice that I can also see that the battery of my iPad sitting two floors above me is running low and should be plugged in if I want to read in bed tonight.

In the past, I’ve rarely connected my AirPods to my Mac. Instead, I used headphones with my Mac’s 3.5mm audio jack because AirPods weren’t worth the trouble. In my tests of AirBuddy though, the app works as expected every time eliminating the friction from the connection process. AirBuddy is so simple and works so well that it begs the question of why Apple hasn’t built this sort of functionality into macOS. For whatever reason, Apple hasn’t, which is a shame. Perhaps Apple will add a similar feature to macOS in the future, but unless and until that happens, anyone with AirPods and a Mac should download AirBuddy.

Rambo is selling AirBuddy using a ‘name-your-price’ model with a suggested price of $5.


Memento, the Third-Party Reminders Client, Adds Watch App, Keyboard Shortcuts, and More

Apple's Reminders is one of the few native iOS apps with a database that can be directly tapped into by third-party clients. Like the iOS Calendar app, which has no shortage of alternatives on the App Store, developers can create their own task managers that fully integrate with your Reminders database, offering the convenience of a built-in system with the benefit of having multiple options to choose from.

A couple months back I wrote about two of the best third-party Reminders clients on the App Store, one of which was Reminder. Today as part of its big 3.0 update, Reminder is being renamed Memento and bringing a handful of improvements that take better advantage of Apple's full device ecosystem. There's an Apple Watch app for the first time, keyboard shortcuts on iPad, 3D Touch shortcuts on compatible iPhones, custom time presets, and more.

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Concepts for iPad: An Adaptable Infinite Canvas to Suit Anyone’s Needs

Concepts, an iOS drawing app featuring an infinite canvas, sat untouched on my iPad forever. I’d seen some buzz about it online, and the idea of an infinite canvas intrigued me. I’m not much of an artist though, so I was unsure how I’d use the app.

What broke my mental logjam was the new Apple Pencil. Attached to the side of my iPad Pro, the Pencil is always within easy reach, so I use it more now than ever. That, in turn, set me on a quest for the best apps that support the Pencil.

I started with familiar apps like GoodNotes, which I reviewed last week, and Linea Sketch from The Iconfactory, two of my long-time favorite apps. I’d used both apps for a long time, but with the new Apple Pencil, I found myself using them more often. Especially with Linea Sketch, I found myself using the Pencil to map out articles and other projects in a loose, free-form style consisting of lots of handwritten notes embellished with splashes of color and doodles. Free from the constraint of orderly lines of text, ideas evolved more organically, which I’ve found works exceptionally well during the early stages of a project.

What led me to dive into Concepts though was a single wall I hit with Linea and GoodNotes. The canvas of both apps is constrained to a single digital sheet of paper. That’s not a deal-breaker in some circumstances, but for more sprawling projects and loosely-defined brainstorming, it’s problematic. The one-page-at-a-time interface of both apps also made it hard to annotate more than a single screenshot per page without running out of space.

Concepts affords me an infinite canvas free of space constraints. It also offers a level of control over the tools I use that fits well with how I approach text editors. Like many writers I know, I like to adjust every detail of how my words appear onscreen, including the typeface I use, its size, the line height, and column width. As I’ll explain in more detail below, Concepts allows a similar level of control over its tools, which I love. I may not take advantage of those tools or their customizations to the same extent as an artist might, but I appreciate their power nonetheless.

So, I spent time over the holidays sketching out plans for 2019 in Concepts. The more I used the app, the more I became convinced that it merited a place in my iPad workflow. Still, I wondered if a review from my non-artist’s perspective made sense for an app so focused on drawing. What finally convinced me to write the review was the interview Federico and I did with Yarrow Cheney that we released on AppStories today.

Cheney co-directed The Grinch and The Secret Life of Pets, was the production designer for the Despicable Me movies and The Lorax, and has been involved in many other animated feature films since the 90s. He’s a fantastic artist and uses Concepts to create the concept art for the films on which he’s worked.

What struck me most about our conversation though was Cheney’s insight that he uses the iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and Concepts because the combination reduces the distance between the idea in his head and recording it onscreen. That allows him to iterate more quickly and evolve ideas organically in an ever-expanding canvas from which he then pulls the best ideas.

Concept art from The Grinch posted by Yarrow Cheney (instagram.com/yarrowcheney) on Instagram.

Concept art from The Grinch posted by Yarrow Cheney (instagram.com/yarrowcheney) on Instagram.

Listening to Cheney’s explanation, I realized that the primary value of an app like Concepts lies in helping users record and refine their ideas. Whether your ideas result in something like Cheney’s whimsical concept art for The Grinch or my messy soup of notes, screenshots, and highlighting, the core utility of Concepts, which is right there in its name, is the way it facilitates the exploration of ideas. That's an important distinction that makes Concepts an appropriate choice for iPad users regardless of whether you're an artist.

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GoodNotes 5: The MacStories Review

I spend a lot of time at a keyboard. The obvious advantage of a keyboard is speed. When I'm in a groove, nothing beats typing into a text editor at my Mac or iPad Pro for quickly recording thoughts and ideas, so they aren't forgotten.

Moving fast is not nearly as important when it comes time to refine those ideas into something coherent. Slowing down, switching tools and contexts, and working in different environments all help to bring order to disparate thoughts. The same holds for planning something new, whether it's the next big article or organizing my thoughts on some other project.

It's in situations like these when I grab my iPad Pro and open GoodNotes. The switch from the indirect process of typing into a text editor to working directly on the iPad's screen with the Apple Pencil enables a different perspective that helps me refine ideas in a way that typing doesn't.

With version 5, the GoodNotes team has taken my favorite iOS note-taking app and refined every aspect of the experience. The update retains the simplicity of the app's design but does a better job surfacing existing functionality and extending other features. The result is a more flexible, powerful app that plays to its existing strengths – which current users will appreciate – but should also appeal to a broader audience than ever.

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Steredenn: Binary Stars Debuts on iOS

French indie game studio Pixelnest debuted Steredenn: Binary Stars on iOS today. The update is a major expansion of the original version of Steredenn that I reviewed over a year and a half ago. Everything I loved about the original game that made it special and an instant classic is present in Binary Stars plus a whole lot more.

Pixelnest has added more ships. Each has unique strengths and weaknesses and a special ability that’s triggered by tapping the top right corner of the screen. That’s a new addition to the game’s control scheme, but it fits naturally with the game’s existing controls making the new abilities easy to pick up even if you are used to the old control scheme.

The new ships aren’t all immediately available though. Instead, they, along with bosses, weapons, and other unique elements are unlocked as you progress through the game adding a sense of progress and incentive to come back and play more.

There are loads of other additions too including new weapons, ship upgrades, and bosses. Like the original, the game's stages are mostly procedurally generated. As in the past that keeps the game feeling fresh throughout no matter how often you're defeated. However, the addition of so many new game elements makes Binary Stars a much deeper game than the original and one that’s sure to grab players’ attention for extended periods.

Binary Stars also features a new unlockable mode called Boss Rush. It’s a weekly challenge similar to the Daily Run that pits players against a variety of bosses and tracks their success on a special leaderboard.

Pixelnest has announced that the studio is being disbanded but that the team will continue to support Steredenn. It’s shame to see Pixelnest wind down, but they leave behind an incredible legacy in Steredenn, which launched to wide critical acclaim on consoles, desktops, and iOS and has gained a loyal following.

If you haven’t tried Steredenn before, now is a great time to jump in because Binary Stars has taken everything that is great about the original game and polished it into an incredibly fun, intense gaming experience that’s ideally suited for mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad. There's so much new content to explore that players of the original version that haven't picked up the game in a while should dig in again too.

Steredenn: Binary Stars is available on the App Store a free update to existing players of Steredenn and $3.99 for newcomers.


AutoSleep 6: Effortless Sleep Tracking More Accessible Than Ever

If you've followed MacStories for long, you probably already know that AutoSleep is one of our favorite sleep tracking apps on iOS. The app stands out for offering a frictionless, effort-free experience. Where other sleep trackers may require you to start and stop sleep tracking manually, AutoSleep takes the burden of remembering those tedious tasks off your plate. If you wear an Apple Watch to sleep, the app will automatically detect your sleep patterns even without a separate Watch app installed. If you don't have a Watch, or simply don't wear it to bed, the app will track your sleep through other methods. Whatever your habits are, AutoSleep has you covered.

Today marks the debut of AutoSleep's latest major iteration: version 6.0, which introduces new wellness features, refined graphs and color schemes, sleep hygiene trends, Siri shortcuts, an improved Watch app, and more. It's an extensive update that simplifies some aspects of the app while branching out into fresh, innovative areas of health tracking.

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Launch Center Pro 3.0 Review: Universal Version, New Business Model, NFC Triggers, and More

Launch Center Pro, Contrast's popular launcher for iPhone and iPad, has been updated to version 3.0. It may be hard to believe, but Launch Center Pro 2.0 came out five years ago (in 2013), before Workflow, when Pythonista, Editorial, and Drafts were the only other apps pushing forward the idea of iOS automation thanks to URL schemes and x-callback-url.

The iOS automation landscape is vastly different five years later. While Apple still hasn't shipped a native automation framework for inter-app communication and URL schemes are still the only way to let apps exchange data with one another in an automated fashion, the evolution of Workflow into the Shortcuts app now provides users with an easier, more integrated solution to craft complex workflows. Not to mention how, thanks to its widget, 'Open URL' action, and ability to add custom launchers to the home screen, Shortcuts alone can supplant much of the functionality the likes of Launch Center Pro and Launcher have become well known for. Apple may not necessarily think about the Shortcuts app as "iOS automation" (they never used this expression in public), but it's undeniable that Workflow (then) and Shortcuts (now) are a superior, more powerful alternative to perform actions that were previously exclusive to Launch Center Pro.

For this reason, I believe it's best to think of Launch Center Pro in 2018 as a companion to Shortcuts – a more intuitive, perhaps simplified, versatile front-end to launch actions and apps in different ways, using triggers that aren't supported by Apple and which can complement Shortcuts rather than replace it. And with version 3.0 released today, Contrast is embracing this new role of Launch Center Pro as well, doubling down on what makes it unique compared to Shortcuts, and expanding the app's launcher capabilities in a handful of interesting ways.

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Darkroom 4.0: The MacStories Review

With version 4.0 released today, Darkroom has emerged as a photo editing force to be reckoned with on iOS. The highlight of the release is a brand-new iPad app, which is the version I’ll focus on in this review. I ran into a couple of bugs and would like to see Darkroom push its photo management and a few other tools even further in the future. However, the app’s combination of thoughtful design and platform-aware functionality together enable Darkroom to scale its full suite of tools gracefully from iPhone to iPad, which makes it an excellent choice for mobile photo editing.

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