App Journal is a series aimed at showcasing apps we have enjoyed using on our iPhones, iPads, and Macs, but decided not to feature in a standalone, lengthy review here on MacStories. App Journal is a mix of classic reviews, app recommendations, and a diary of our experiences with apps that still deserve a proper mention.
After a two month period of inactivity, the App Journal is back and we’ve got some cool apps to share. From text editing to beautiful diagrams and (gasp) dinosaurs, make sure you don’t miss Episode 10 of App Journal, brought to you directly from the MacStories Team, good coffee, and, why not, Italy’s snow.
If you’ve got apps to recommend, our Tips inbox is just a click away up in the site’s toolbar. Enjoy!
Federico Viticci - Daedalus Touch
When Cody reviewed the first version of The Soulmen’s Daedalus Touch for iPad back in May, I was intrigued by the app’s unique take on portable text editing and document management, but ultimately didn’t pull the trigger on a purchase as I didn’t believe I needed yet another take on Dropbox and text editors. Cody wrote:
Daedalus is interesting. Everything you create in Daedalus becomes a sheet, which exists under a topic sheet that creates a stack. It reminds me of writing a screenplay or developing a report with a cover sheet, but what’s more interesting is how you navigate between these sheets. A majority of the interactions in Daedalus involve pinch-to-zoom actions, which is a bold navigation choice that’s almost pulled off perfectly. You zoom in and out of stacks, and are able to browse between multiple sheets with simple flicks.
After seeing The Soulmen release a couple of updates to bring new functionalities and improve support for things like external hardware keyboards and system clipboard, I thought I could give the app a shot, especially considering it’s on sale at $2.99 on the App Store. In our review, Cody detailed how Daedalus Touch is different from the majority of text editors available on iOS as it allows you to navigate multiple stacks of documents through touch-based interactions based off gestures such as swipes and pinches to navigate in and out of sheets and paper stacks. Having used Daedalus, I think what’s really cool is that – attention to detail and elegant design/typography aside – Daedalus allows you to sync different Dropbox folders independently, meaning you’ll be able to, say, keep your standard notes in a first stack and your book writing project (with additional notes, chapters, and maybe drafts) in another stack. What I’d like to see in a future version of Daedalus Touch is support for more file formats (.md would be a good choice) and automatic sync to avoid the need of hitting “Save” every time.
If you’re looking for a different take on Dropbox-powered text editing, Daedalus Touch is an interesting option at $2.99 for a limited time.
Federico Viticci - Lovely Charts
I typically rely on mind maps when I want to organize my thoughts and notes visually, but I found Lovely Charts to be a suitable replacement for more text-oriented mind-mapping software when I simply want to jot down a few ideas and give them a basic visual hierarchy. I didn’t know about Lovely Charts until I stumbled upon their iPad client, which is very good if you’re looking for a fast and intuitive diagramming application that doesn’t have all the features and menus of OmniGraffle, but still can let you create diagrams, flowcharts, or sitemaps structures with just a couple of taps.
Lovely Charts has very few exporting options (image, PDF, and Lovely Chart’s own editable format are supported) and doesn’t feature any form of online sync, which I hope will come in a future version, perhaps alongside an iPhone counterpart. Creating diagrams in Lovely Charts is simple: to add new shapes to your sheet, you draw them. You can make circles, rectangles, triangles, or squares, and recognition is pretty good; you can then tap & hold on an item to change it to a more complex shape like “document” or “rounded corners”, or draw a Z to delete an object. Multiple shapes can be connected with a two-finger swipe, which is also used to pan around a sheet and get a better overview of your document with pinch & zoom. You can double-tap to edit a label inside an item – the latest update to Lovely Charts gained the capability of applying custom styles as well, adding drop shadows and text formatting
I like Lovely Charts because it’s simple, polished, and intuitive. It may not have all the features of other diagramming apps available on the App Store, and I sure would like to have an option to easily find documents synced back to my Mac (maybe iCloud sync?), but at $4.99 Lovely Charts is a sweet app to create beautiful diagrams in minutes.
Graham Spencer - Inside the World of Dinosaurs
It may not be for everyone, but when I opened up ‘Inside the World of Dinosaurs’, a new app that launched a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. It’s not quite an eBook because it isn’t really a linear experience of page 1 to page 150 (although you can choose to browse through it in a linear order), but think of it as similar to Al Gore’s Our Choice app that launched last year. In any case, the app is about exploring the world of dinosaurs, as the name suggests, and what you find inside is a combination of great content, great narration and stunning visuals.
The app has what you might think of as three pillars of content: a selection of articles that give you an overview of various things in the world of dinosaurs (such as what the Triassic period was), an index of selected dinosaurs, and finally, information about some of the most famous dinosaur hunters.
For me, my favourite part is the articles included. They were detailed and interesting but not overly complex or long, great to get an overview of that particular aspect of the dinosaur world. The articles also covered a wide swatch of information, with articles ranging from explaining the three key periods in the world of dinosaurs, explaining how fossils are formed, detailing some of the big fossil find locations and even detailing a rivalry between two prominent dinosaur hunters. On top of all that is the icing on the cake - narration by the excellent Stephen Fry. He really needs no introduction and it’s probably clear already that the narration is great – it is. Like always, his narration is eloquent and draws you in to the subject’s matter. The developers have also enabled automatic page turns, so you really can turn this app into a truly lean back experience.
Once you’ve done reading (or listening) to the articles, you can move onto the dinosaur and dinosaur hunter files. They’re a more detailed look at a specific dinosaur or person. It’s great for those who have read the articles and want more information and are fascinated by the topic.
Finally, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t impress upon you how much effort the developers have gone to with this app in the area of 3D models. Every dinosaur featured in the index (that is, over 60 dinosaurs) has been created as a 3D model for the app — a model that can be rotated and viewed in any angle you wish. The models look great and it really adds to the value and experience of the app. Without them the app would have been a good read for an overview of the dinosaur world and information on some of the more known dinosaurs, but because of the models, the app is just a great educational experience that deserves a download. There are also models for some of the plants, trees and other animals that inhabited the world – and all the models can be double tapped to be seen full screen. Finally, the developers have even made sound effects for the dinosaurs, so make sure to put your headphones whilst using the app!
“Inside the World of Dinosaurs” is available on the iPad App Store for $13.99, and if you are interested in learning more about dinosaurs or have young kids this is a great app to try out and experience.
Chris Herbert - Skip Tunes
Skip Tunes is a brand new Mac app that gives you a simple yet elegant way to control music from the OS X menubar. It works with iTunes and can also control services such as Spotify and Rdio if you have the apps installed.
The user-friendly menubar controller is very simple. Click the glyph and you get a clean and beautiful drop down UI with album art, controls, track info, a minimal progress bar, a shuffle button, and access to the preferences. Everything looks great together and you can take it one step further and turn on the option to have access to controls in the menubar. My menu bar has too many icons the way it is so I prefer to hide the controls, but it’s a great option to have.
When iTunes isn’t open, Skip Tunes gives you a “Launch iTunes” button inside the artwork window when you’re ready to jam. One thing to note, ‘Music’ under the ‘Library’ sidebar must be selected for Skip Tunes to function. If you have your iOS device selected, it won’t work unless ‘Music’ is highlighted under your device. Skip Tunes can also control movie selection, along with TV shows, podcasts, books, tones, etc..
Skip Tunes is a nice alternative to other apps such as Bowtie, CoverSutra and other menubar iTunes controllers. It’s not feature packed or skinnable but it’s a great looking, simple way to control music from the menubar nonetheless. Skip Tunes is on sale right now in the Mac App Store for only 99¢ so check it out. BONUS ROUND: The developers are giving away 10 Rdio gift cards simply by sharing the good word about Skip Tunes. Click here to get more details.
To read more App Journals, take a look here.