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Posts tagged with "utility"

Puppr Review: Teach Your Dog New Tricks

I came across Puppr during its recent feature as Apple’s App of the Day and decided to give it a try. The app is a simple and fun instructional tool for teaching your dog new behaviors and tricks. Since I’ve been staying with my parents for the last couple of months, I decided to take it for a spin doing some training with the family dog.

Puppr’s Home view consists of a scrolling list of categories for dog lessons. You can start simple with the ‘New Dog’ or ‘Basics’ categories, but it quickly ramps up from there. Each category consists of a series of behaviors or tricks, and tapping one opens its details view. Within this view you can see a brief video of the trick in action with a real dog. There’s also a difficultly rating, a description, and a badge for whether it’s safe to teach this trick to puppies. Each trick includes a status dropdown which you can use to note that you’re in progress of teaching it to your dog, or that your dog has mastered it.

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Dato Review: Calendar Events and Time Zones From Your Mac’s Menu Bar

My calendar needs are pretty simple. I have a shared family calendar to keep tabs on personal obligations and a personal MacStories calendar for work-related events. I also share a calendar with Federico for scheduling podcast recording times and other events, but that’s about it.

If you spend lots of time in a calendar app because you have lots of meetings, having calendar sets, tasks, scheduling, video call support, weather, and other pro features inside your calendar app makes sense. My work is far more task-focused than event-focused, though. I don’t want to lose track of important events, but most days, Apple’s calendar widget on my iPhone is all I need.

The Calendar widget doesn’t quite cut it for me on the Mac, though. Widgets are out of sight in Big Sur, and there’s no way to trigger the widget panel with a keyboard shortcut. So, instead, I’ve been using a Mac menu bar app called Dato for quick glances at my calendar. The app isn’t new, but the recent addition of time zone support caught my eye, and it has played an important role in my daily workflow ever since I began using Apple’s Calendar app again.

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AirBuddy 2 Review: Fine-Grained, Customizable Control of the Wireless Headphones and Devices Connected to Your Mac

AirBuddy is one of those handy Mac utilities that you don’t know how you’ve lived without until after you’ve tried it. The initial release that I reviewed in early 2019 was primarily designed to manage Bluetooth headphones connected to your Mac and report the status of your headphones’ batteries; something iOS and iPadOS does better than macOS. With AirBuddy 2, developer Guilherme Rambo has added a bunch of new features, including new ways to customize the app and interact with Bluetooth devices other than headphones.

AirBuddy 2 can manage a variety of wireless headphones.

AirBuddy 2 can manage a variety of wireless headphones.

As with the original version of AirBuddy, when you open your AirPods or Beats headphone case near your Mac, a window opens, showing you the status of their batteries and connection. The app also works with Bluetooth headphones that rely on an on/off switch like the Beats Solo line. From AirBuddy’s status window, you can click to connect the headphones to your Mac or swipe to connect and set their listening mode in one gesture.

AirBuddy 2’s listening modes allow you to adjust multiple headphone settings all at once when the app connects your headphones to your Mac. For example, you can turn your headphones’ microphone on for meetings or off for listening to music and set the volume and whether AirPods Pro play audio in Normal, Transparency, or Noise Cancelling modes. The combinations you pick for your listening modes are saved as profiles in the app’s settings.

AirBuddy 2's menu bar app.

AirBuddy 2’s menu bar app.

AirBuddy 2 is also a menu bar app. Clicking its menu bar icon opens a window that shows all your connected devices and their battery status, including Macs, iPhones, and iPads. The devices are grouped, so, for example, your Apple Watch shows up as connected to your iPhone as would any AirPods you’re currently using with your iPhone. If you run AirBuddy 2 on a second Mac, that Mac will show up here, too, along with any Bluetooth peripherals connected to it.

Transferring a connected Magic Trackpad from my Mac mini to my MacBook Pro.

Transferring a connected Magic Trackpad from my Mac mini to my MacBook Pro.

My favorite part of having AirBuddy 2 running on multiple Macs is the ability to transfer Bluetooth connections from one Mac to the other using the app’s Magic Handoff feature. I spent a lot of the summer with separate trackpads connected to two Macs as I switched back and forth, testing Big Sur. AirBuddy 2 provides an alternate desk-clearing option by letting you right-click the AirBuddy entry for a trackpad, mouse, or keyboard connected to the Mac you’re currently using and switch it to the other Mac. For anyone who runs multiple Macs, especially connected to the same display, this is a terrific feature.

AirBuddy 2 includes extensive settings to customize its behavior to suit your tastes.

AirBuddy 2 includes extensive settings to customize its behavior to suit your tastes.

AirBuddy 2 is highly customizable too. In addition to setting up custom listening modes, which I covered above, you can open the app’s settings from the menu bar and assign keyboard shortcuts to display the headphone status window and to quickly connect to a favorite device, switch listening modes, toggle your microphone on or off, and take other actions. Settings also lets you specify the devices that are shown in the menu bar app, your favorite headphones for quick connection purposes, the status window’s size, and where it appears onscreen, among other things. You can even view historical battery and usage data from the Devices section of the app’s settings.

AirBuddy 2's Catalina widget (left) and Big Sur three sizes of widgets (right).

AirBuddy 2’s Catalina widget (left) and Big Sur three sizes of widgets (right).

It’s also worth noting that AirBuddy 2 also includes a widget that works with both Catalina and Big Sur to display the battery status of each of the devices it tracks.

AirBuddy started as an app that brought an iOS feature for headphones to the Mac. With AirBuddy 2, the app’s functionality has been greatly expanded beyond anything Apple offers, making it indispensable for anyone who connects multiple wireless devices to their Macs. Not only can you quickly connect headphones, so they’re immediately ready for a meeting or for listening to music, but the app helps keep you on top of the battery status of every connected device.

AirBuddy has been available for pre-order since last month, but today is its official release date. You can purchase the app directly from the AirBuddy website for $9.99 for new users, $4.99 as an upgrade from the first version of AirBuddy if you bought it in 2019, and for free if you purchased the app in 2020.


Grocery Brings Lists, Recipe Steps, and Timers to Your Home Screen and Is Right at Home on the iPad with a Three-Column Layout

Grocery has come a long way from its origins as a simple list-building app for the iPhone. The app has evolved to include a terrific Watch app, an iPad app, and support for meal planning, recipes, and inventory tracking. Whether you only use Grocery’s core list-based features or its more advanced features, today’s addition of widgets and a new iPad design enhance the experience of using the app for everyone.

I’ve covered Grocery in depth before, so I won’t retread that ground here, except to encourage readers who haven’t looked at Grocery in a while to try it out. At its core, the app is all about building intelligent grocery lists. No other grocery app I’ve used makes it as easy to add and manage lists as Grocery, through a combination of smart design and dynamic sorting which is based on the order you check items off as you shop. On top of that, the app includes meal planning, recipes, inventory management, and list sharing, extending its usefulness well beyond the grocery store.

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GameTrack Review: An Elegant Way to Discover, Track, and Share Videogames

There is far more media I’d like to try than I have time for. Between TV shows, movies, music, books and other reading, podcasts, and videogames, the supply of content far outstrips the time I have by an order of magnitude. As a result, I’m both picky and often slow to getting around to some media, especially games, which often require a substantial time commitment. The trouble is that it’s easy to lose track of games I’ve read about, that someone has recommended, and even those that I’m in the middle of playing if I can’t play regularly.

I’ve approached the problem in a lot of different ways. Text notes are a quick and portable solution but lack detail. Apps designed to track lots of different kinds of media have the benefit of consolidating everything in one place, but often don’t accommodate features specific to one kind of media. As a result, I’ve recently gravitated to apps that focus on just a single type of media. For videogames, that solution has been GameTrack, an app that we’ve covered in our Club MacStories newsletters in the past.

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Fontcase Simplifies Custom Font Installation on iOS and iPadOS

On Friday, The Iconfactory announced that it has collaborated with Manolo Sañudo, the developer of open-source font installation utility xFonts, on a new version of the app, which has been renamed Fontcase. The app greatly simplifies the process of installing custom fonts on iOS and iPadOS. Fontcase isn’t the first utility to do this. However, Fontcase has the advantage of being free and open-source, which should provide users confidence that it’s secure.

Security is an issue with font installers because they require a configuration profile to be installed in the Settings → General section of your iPhone or iPad. Configuration profiles can control important aspects of iOS and iPadOS that could be misused. Because Fontcase is open source, its code is publicly available for anyone to review to make sure it isn’t doing anything unexpected. However, even if you don’t review the code yourself, the mere fact that it is publicly available provides some comfort that someone else has done so.

Using Fontcase’s document browser integration to locate fonts to install.

Using Fontcase’s document browser integration to locate fonts to install.

You’ll spend most of your time in Fontcase’s Fonts tab, which is controlled by two buttons marked Import and Install. Import takes advantage of the document browser feature of iOS and iPadOS, opening the familiar Files UI for navigating to a folder in iCloud Drive, Dropbox, or another file provider where you have fonts saved that you want to install. Select the fonts you want and tap Open, and they will appear in Fontcase’s UI using the font itself to provide users with a mini-preview.

Tap any font you’ve imported to see metadata and a preview.

Tap any font you’ve imported to see metadata and a preview.

Tap on a font imported into Fontcase, and the app displays metadata about it along with a full preview of the font. On the iPhone, this makes sense, but it’s too bad that on the iPad, Fontcase doesn’t make use of a list and detailed view layout for the preview of fonts. Instead, there’s a vast empty space on the right-hand side of the iPad UI.

Fontcase’s installation workflow.

Fontcase’s installation workflow.

Once you’re ready to install your collection of fonts, tap Install, which bundles all of the fonts you’ve imported into a single configuration profile. Tap Download Fonts, and the profile is saved and ready for installation in Settings → General → Profiles. Tap on the Fontcase Installation profile in the Downloaded Profile section and follow the prompts to finalize the installation. Once installed, the fonts will be available alongside the system-provided fonts in apps like The Iconfactory’s Tot, as well as many other apps that support custom fonts, including Apple’s own Pages.

It’s nice to see The Iconfactory contributing to an open-source project to provide a safe and simple way to add fonts to iOS and iPadOS. If you’re looking for good writing fonts to try with the app, I like iA Writer’s Duo font and Courier Prime, both of which are available to download for free.

Fontcase is available as a free download on the App Store and is compatible with the iPhone and iPad.


Directive: A Terrific Way to Manage Recurring Maintenance Tasks

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.

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Due Adds Modern Shortcuts Support with New Reminder Creation Parameters

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.

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TV Forecast Review: An Elegant Way to Track Your Favorite Shows

I’ve tried a lot of TV tracking apps and none ever stuck for long, until I tried TV Forecast. Some of the apps I’ve used had busy UIs, were hard to navigate, or just weren’t organized in a way that fits with how I watch TV. In contrast, I’ve been using TV Forecast for the last 11 months and absolutely love it. TV Forecast elegantly combines a simple, modern design aesthetic with smooth, fluid UI that carefully balances the shows you already watch with effortless browsing of new shows.

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