Shawn Hickman is back with another excellent update to Sofa, the downtime/media organization app for iPhone and iPad that we’ve covered several times on MacStories. Sofa remains my favorite one-stop app for managing lists of media I don’t want to forget to enjoy later. The app supports TV shows, movies, books, audiobooks, videgames, music, podcasts, board games, and apps, making it the most comprehensive media organizer I’ve used. However, what makes Sofa special is its design and extensive customization options, which is why it was the runner-up for Best App Update in last year’s MacStories Selects awards.
What I appreciate most about version 3.4 of Sofa is that it extends the app beyond its existing boundaries with list sharing and new Shortcuts support. To round out the update, Sofa also adds Lock Screen widget support and TV and movie provider details for Super Sofa subscribers. It’s an excellent batch of new features for an app that I already consider one of the finest in its category.
I enjoyed this article by Mitchell Clark, writing for The Verge, about the removal of the classic page-turn animation from the redesigned Books app in iOS 16:
Apple Books has been my main reading app for years for one very specific reason: its page-turning animation is far and away the best in the business. Unfortunately, that went away with iOS 16 and has been replaced by a new animation that makes it feel like you’re moving cards through a deck instead of leafing through a digitized version of paper. And despite the fact that I’ve been trying to get used to the change since I got onto the beta in July, I still feel like Apple’s destroyed one of the last ways that my phone brought joy into my life.
I forgot to mention this in the Books section of my iOS 16 review. The Books app received a major redesign this year, and I’ve heard from quite a few people over the past few months about why, for serious readers like them, the new UI layout of the Books app is a regression from iOS 15. All that aside, however, I don’t understand why the page-turn animation – a fun, whimsical aspect of the Books UI that felt uniquely Apple – had to be taken away.
I agree with Mitchell on this: the page-turn animation should come back – if anything, as an optional setting.
Sofa 3.0, an app that I last reviewed in March, is out with loads of new ways to track, organize, and browse the media lists you create. The app also has a new subscription business model for its pro features.
Media recommendations come at us all from every angle, whether it’s friends and family or sources like reviews. You can save lists of books, movies, videogames, and other media you want to try in lots of ways. You could use an app like Apple’s Notes or Reminders, but they’re general-purpose apps that don’t address the specific needs related to media consumption. Plus, trying to track media in something like a task manager gets out of control and messy fast.
Another option is to turn to an app designed for a specific type of media, and there are many good options available on the App Store. The advantage Sofa has, is that it makes it just as easy to pick a book as a movie or something else when you’re deciding what media to try next. It’s a subtle but important distinction. With single-purpose apps, you need to decide what kind of media you want to consume and then turn to an app to pick something. Sofa dispenses with the first step allowing you to answer a broader question: “How do I want to spend my free time?” That a one-stop approach is one of Sofa’s greatest strengths and one that the app leans into hard with the latest excellent update.
Sofa is a terrific downtime organizer. Since its release, the app has seen frequent updates that have added features and refinements that make it an excellent one-stop destination for collecting media you want to enjoy later. We’ve covered the app before, so I won’t revisit its core functionality here, but if you’re new to the app, be sure to check out our previous reviews for more details.
The headline feature of Sofa’s latest update is the addition of apps, audiobooks, and board games to the lineup of media it can track. I’m especially pleased to see that iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps have been added to Sofa. I’ve long considered trying new apps as a form of entertainment. Even poking around productivity apps that most people would consider ‘work’ apps is fun for many people.
The addition of apps is timely given the trend towards subscription-based apps with free trials. If an app catches your eye, but it’s got a relatively short free trial period, you can drop it into Sofa to try later when you can make the most of the trial. The addition of apps also provides a way to track games on Apple’s platforms that weren’t always available in Sofa’s videogame category. However, the change also means that you may have to search for an iOS game in a couple of different places at times.
I suspect I’m not alone in saying that 2020 has been a big year for personal media consumption. The absence of normal social events has meant more time for reading, watching shows and movies, and other forms of relaxation.
At the end of last year I wrote about how I was using Sofa, a media list app, to track the TV and films I’d watched in 2019. I’ve used the same approach throughout 2020, and it continues to work well for me. The only change is that I’ve been testing a big update to Sofa for the last few weeks that’s available now. Previously exclusive to the iPhone, Sofa now offers a rich iPad experience complete with Split View, Slide Over, and multiwindowing, keyboard shortcuts, and mouse and trackpad support. Additionally, today’s update adds a robust theming system to the app and seamless iCloud syncing. It’s a strong step forward for the app, making it more versatile than ever before.
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.
The App Store contains millions of apps, yet for some app categories there can be a real scarcity of quality options. Book tracking, for example, features a few solid choices that are still actively developed, but largely this category receives less developer attention than I’d hope. One new option that debuted recently is Book Track, an app designed to provide key library management features in a clean and simple interface. When it comes to utilities like book trackers, I prefer that apps keep complication to a minimum while still providing the key functionality I need. Book Track, with a few exceptions, largely succeeds at that.
Earlier this year when Oprah Winfrey took the stage at Apple’s March event, she teased a book club project that would manifest in some way through Apple’s new TV+ service. Today in a press release, Apple has shared the full details about this new project, officially named Oprah’s Book Club, which will utilize both TV+ and Apple Books in a special cross-service format.
Apple and Oprah Winfrey today announced Oprah’s Book Club will connect a community of readers worldwide to stories that truly matter by today’s most thought-provoking authors. Winfrey, the esteemed producer, actress, talk show host, philanthropist and CEO of OWN, will partner with Apple to build a vibrant, global book club that has the power to both transport and transform people — turning every book into an opportunity for self-discovery, and bringing the world together through reading.
Winfrey’s first book selection is “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, available for pre-order now on Apple Books in both ebook and audiobook formats, and debuting tomorrow. Winfrey will interview Coates for the first installment of her new exclusive Apple TV+ series, “Oprah’s Book Club,” premiering November 1. A new episode will be available every two months. For every Oprah’s Book Club selection sold on Apple Books, Apple will make a contribution to the American Library Association to support local libraries, fund programs that give access to everyone and create lifelong readers at an early age.
As if the marriage of TV+ and Books for Oprah’s Book Club wasn’t enough, Apple’s also leveraging its business by hosting the very first of Oprah’s author interviews at none other than Apple Carnegie Library. Additionally, Apple News today is offering a special preview of Oprah’s first book selection. Now that’s some synergy.
It’s exciting to see Apple start to utilize its roster of services such that they complement one another. The company has dabbled in similar efforts before, like through its featuring of the World Cup last summer, but we haven’t seen anything as sustained and on-going as Oprah’s Book Club will be. I’m curious to see what other potential cross-overs Apple has planned moving forward.
We live in a time when media options are growing at a fast pace. It’s a golden age for television, with great shows debuting all the time; the film industry is being transformed by the infusion of new competition from streaming giants like Netflix; podcasts are becoming more mainstream by the day; and despite books not being in a similar growth phase, new titles are still being written constantly. In this crowded media landscape, it’s hard to keep track of all the great content waiting to be enjoyed.
In the past I’ve kept notes in Apple Notes containing lists of TV shows, movies, podcasts, and books to check out. Lately, however, I’ve been using an app called Sofa.