I can't give any higher praise to Ivory other than that it's largely the reason why I'm still using Mastodon today. Before Ivory, I always felt friction when I tried to use Mastodon. I was drawn back to Twitter because it was easier. But when I finally got on to the Ivory beta, it gave the platform much more weight for me. It was as if this client app suddenly gave Mastodon years of experience in one go, and now I was using a seemingly more mature platform.
You could say that is exactly what Ivory did to Mastodon. Because essentially Ivory is "Tweetbot for Mastodon", and Tweetbot was already a fantastic Twitter client, and had evolved so much throughout the years to reach its final state. And now all of that growth has been applied to a brand new platform.
I won't go into a full app review—Federico Viticci has done a great job of that on MacStories—but I will say that if you're on the fence about Mastodon, I would suggest giving Ivory a go. To get all the functionality you will have to pay a subscription, but you can test it fully for 7 days for free. Which I think is more than enough to discover how much this app enhances the experience of using Mastodon.
Just a little over a month ago, I was pretty enthusiastic about a new web browser called Arc. My exact feelings were:
I’ve been using Arc browser for about 15 minutes, and I’m already happy enough to set it as my default.
My reasons early on were to do with its attitude on what a browser should be, how feature-rich it was, and how I thought it was designed for the modern web.
Well, I can say that after a month of using Arc, both for personal use and at my day job, I've switched back to Safari.
I have to point out that I am not completely against Arc, nor am I declaring its existence to be a failure. I've just decided that it's clearly designed for a different type of user.
For a moment I was mesmerised by its features, how it behaved, and the quirkiness of it. Maybe it was because it was the new and shiny toy I wanted to play with. Regardless, the way in which I want to use a web browser doesn't quite fit with Arc.
You could say, I discovered that I wasn't a fan of the modern web. That would be somewhat true. I am a big fan of relatively-small websites, personal blogs, and any website that is free of the usual bloat. So there was part of me that was always falling back to a more traditional web browser like Safari.
However, there are definitely features of Arc that while may be fun for others, made my use more difficult than it needed to be.
I'll start with the Sidebar. This is probably the most obvious visual difference when comparing Arc to other browsers. It's essentially a combination of a bookmark bar and a tab bar. Except there is a slight difference, in that instead of bookmarks, you have pinned tabs. Which can stay active, and keep your session loaded without needing to open the bookmark link in another tab/window.
I can see how the pinned tabs can be a smart idea, but for my use, they started to irritate me. In my mind, a bookmark is just a URL that I can then choose to open in a new tab/window. I didn't always want it to keep its state after I was done with it.
One good part of it is the player controls at the bottom if you have something playing. This worked for me with both YouTube and the Spotify web player. I used it a few times, but when I want to control what's playing when it's not the active tab, I just use the media controls on my MacBook keyboard.
The biggest problem I had with the sidebar was its prominence. It's simply too big to keep open at all times. As someone that constantly navigates between multiple tabs, it's quite hard to do that without the sidebar open. With it closed, I literally have no idea what tabs are open, where they are, and how to quickly navigate to them. Whereas in Safari, I can see my open tabs at all times, and I can either use the cursor to select one, or the keyboard shortcut (CMD + SHIFT + LEFT/RIGHT).
I must say, websites do look good when you hide the sidebar. But it does feel a bit restrictive. Especially when the sidebar also contains the address bar. And even when you do have the sidebar open, the address bar is tiny.
This may seem like it's more of a personal preference, rather an issue with Arc itself. But I would think most people would appreciate their passwords and bookmarks to sync between their devices.
I use iCloud Keychain for passwords on all of my devices, and of course, my bookmarks are synced via Safari. So when I tried to use Arc, nothing was in sync. I had to slowly move passwords into Arc (the migration didn't work for me), and if I created a password in Arc, I'd then have to remember it again when I used another browser.
Even if I conveniently forgot that iCloud Keychain also provides my passwords for apps, there is no Arc browser for iOS or iPadOS. So, that was always going to be a problem.
Another great feature that is packed full of functionality, but I found it more complex for my use case than it needed to be.
At the start, I would use the command bar to quickly make a web search, open a new tab, (try to) launch an existing tab by entering the name of the page, and even perform actions like pinning the current tab.
But after a while, it started to feel like it did too much. When I tried to quickly do a search, it would either autofill a URL, or match an open tab, so I was always opening things accidentally.
The command bar essentially becomes the entry point for most things in Arc. But it never felt fast to me. It's certainly powerful, but I'm used to using keyboard shortcuts to quickly navigate and use Safari, so I never found this to be very useful.
To wrap it up, Arc is a good browser, and I'm sure many people would find it fun and easy to use. It may even open them up to even more complex actions because of the command bar. But it's just not for me.
There are certainly good parts to the browser, I like the design, split-view, separate spaces, chrome plugins, the concept of a command bar, and a few other things. But for how I want to use the web, and a web browser specifically, I started to get the feeling like it was working against me. And I don't have the energy to use a web browser that makes me feel like that when there are much better options available for me.
So now, I'm back to good ol' Safari. Where I can see what I have open at a glance, navigate between tabs quickly, keep everything in sync with the rest of my devices, and in general not feel as if my web browser is trying to make an impression on me. It just lets me do what I want, when I want, and as fast as I want to do it.
Text Case 2022.2 has just been released. It’s a relatively minor update, as the main reason for it was to fix 2 bugs. But I still threw in two new formats that have been requested.
As for the new formats, they are:
Replace “X” with Line Breaks
Replace Line Breaks with “X”
Relatively simple, but I’ve been getting quite a few requests, so I thought I’d add them in. These new formats are available when building a flow, and also via new actions in the Shortcuts app.
And then for the bugs, one was a rather simple one that one of the formats wasn’t appearing in the formats list. But the other was rather annoying, and was specific to the macOS app, where when you selected the Settings tab, the app review prompt would appear. And it would happen every single time. So, thankfully that should be fixed too.
It’s the first update to Text Case this year, and to be honest the first one in quite some time. I’ll get on to that in a bit, but first I’ll go over what’s in this update.
Two fixes. Firstly to address the Guardian title case that wasn’t correctly following the rules where certain words are always lowercase. And secondly, to address the bug when searching the formats list and the empty section headers would still be present.
Refreshed dark mode . The previous dark mode took inspiration from other iOS apps when it was first designed, where it used a lot of jet black, and everything was very dark. But it’s always been a thing that I’ve not 100% been a fan of, so I took some time to soften the colours a bit, and I think it looks a lot better.
New accent colours. Text Case has always had a red-ish accent colour throughout the app. This colour was taken from the original app icon. However, the default icon changed back at the start of 2021 when 12 new variants were added. The new default icon featured a slightly different red, and a new blue colour. So for this update I’ve decided to adjust the accent colours to match this icon, which means in light mode the accent will be red, and the blue will be used for dark mode (which works well with the new dark mode I must say).
Support for Shortcuts on Mac. Definitely a finally. This has been long deserved, and I’m to be honest I’m surprised more people haven’t ben reaching out and asking for it. But it’s finally here, and I think it makes Text Case a much better option now for people who want their automations to work on all of their machines.
1 new format. This update wasn’t planned to be filled with new formats, but there was one that I was getting a few requests for, and that was to be able to remove line breaks from a piece of text. It’s relatively simple, so I thought I may as well add it now. There are a few more I have lined up that will be in a future release, I just wanted to get this update out sooner rather than later.
This update is available now for iOS, iPadOS, and macOS!
So why has it been so long since the last update?
Okay, so it mainly comes down to one event. Which was pretty much self-inflicted, and probably shouldn’t have happened.
So, a few months ago I was playing around with Linux, and installing various distros on a partition on my Mac. This time I was testing out Pop!_OS, which is a relatively beginner-friendly distro, and seemed Mac friendly.
I created all the necessary partitions, making note of the macOS partitions to keep away from them, and I installed the OS. It went fine, and I was able to play with it, and spend some time installing a bunch of packages and desktop environments. And once I was a bit more comfortable, I decided to clear the partitions and reinstall the OS, and then use what I learned to make a cleaner configuration.
However, on the second install, the OS was written to the wrong partition. Somehow the macOS partition had been used instead. I’m 99.9% sure it wasn’t me, although if this was someone else doing it, I’d be 99.9% sure it was user error.
My Mac had essentially been wiped. Although, at this point I was relatively calm as I have my important documents in iCloud Drive, photos in iCloud Photos, and my development work hosted in GitHub repositories.
Except that last one wasn’t entirely true. For some reason, the work I did for the 2021.6 release of Text Case hadn’t been pushed. So the App Store version was actually ahead of the code.
This meant that before I could work on any new features, I’d have to rewrite the last update. The update contained 15 new formats, various adjustments, and a few bug fixes. On top of that, there was a slight issue I was having with Xcode where I had one framework causing me issues, because it was being linked in the Mac Catalyst app target, and also the macOS bundle which powers the macOS services support.
If you add in my laziness, and some irritation that I’d have to spend time on things I’d already finished, this work took longer than it did originally.
Eventually I had everything how it was in the 2021.6 release, and I got working on the new functionality that I mentioned above. Part of me was thinking that I should add more to the update to make it a bigger release, but with the big gap in time since the last update, I thought it was best to just get it out now. It’s not like I can’t update again in a few weeks.
So that’s the story. I’m certainly glad it’s over, and I’m sure some of you will find it funny. I’ve taken a few steps to make sure it won’t happen again, such as buying a NAS and setting up Time Machine, and also buying a second-hand ThinkPad to handle my Linux experiments. Hopefully that means Text Case can go back to being regularly updated with new formats and functionality.
The premium photo-sharing platform, Glass, has now introduced likes. However, they’re not quite like the likes that you’ll be familiar with.
Instead, as they have written on their blog, the feature is called an “appreciation”. And rather than powering algorithms and fueling the desire of that never high-enough like counter, it’s a quick way to show your appreciation for a photo that someone has shared.
There’s no visible counter on a photo, and you don’t even have an easy way to find the total for your own photos. But, you do receive a notification in the app that shows that someone has shown appreciation for one of your photos.
The way I see it, it’s a cleaner way to replace the “Nice shot” or “Great photo” comments. I think it both cleans up the comment section, and also allows more people to show their liking for a photo. As I know that I personally have felt that there are photos where I want to just show somehow that I’m a fan of a certain photo, but didn’t really want to add a typical short comment.
It might result in less comments on photos, which maybe goes against the idea of a community where photographers share their thoughts on each other’s work. But that’s not necessarily a sign of people not communicating with each other, it’s just a different method of showing appreciation.
My takeaway from the update (I’ve been able to use it for a couple of weeks now) is almost all positive. Being able to leave a small token of appreciation will replace the hundreds of times I write “great shot” or “love this” and means the comments I do leave have more thought in them.
I think as long as it’s treated like a quick comment and not a popularity contest we’ll be ok. Let’s see where Glass take it next but I’ll be keeping a close eye on it’s next step.
I don’t mean to point out the hesitation as any kind of put down, as I believe it’s well warranted. Most social media platforms nowadays love these little interactions, because they can add counters everywhere, and it can drive that feeling of wanting more, and never being fully satisfied. Like Lee, my opinions are based on it’s current form, and if it does change into the “like” button that you see on every other platform, I’ll soon change my tune.
You may have heard about Vinegar, since it’s been doing the rounds recently. However, if you haven’t, It’s essentially a Safari extension that makes YouTube videos look better, and act like standard HTML videos. Which means they use Safari’s native video player, which means that you have slightly more control over the video, but at the same time you do lose some functionality that YouTube has in their player.
As you can see, the video player still lets you change the video quality, use subtitles, stream to an AirPlay device, etc. So the basic functionality is there. And it makes Picture-in-Picture a lot easier to access, as the YouTube player requires three clicks, and the native player has a button in the top-left corner.
And as much as I would say that YouTube looks better with the native player, and that it’s easier to use, there are still downsides. For example, autoplay doesn’t work, you can’t access the YouTube Miniplayer, you can’t toggle Theatre Mode, and you can’t pause/play the video using the space bar.
The downsides will have different levels of importance to different people, and I’m personally a bit in the middle. I’m definitely keeping it installed, and going to be using it by default, but there are certainly ways it can be improved.
What I can say, is that it’s definitely worth it’s £1.79 price. Which seems to be an opinion shared by others, as it’s currently sitting in second place in the Utilities category of the Mac App Store in the UK.
I have far too many Zoom calls at work, and I always hate the process of finding the calendar event, and then copying the Zoom code or link. Especially as it's never always in the correct place.
So I was seaching for an app that could make this experience better, and I found MeetingBar. It's a menu bar app that shows a list of the days meetings, and you can just click on one of them to join the associated video call.
It's massively customisable, and supports Zoom, Google Meet, Teams, and a few more. One thing I plan on looking at deeper is the custom regex for meeting links, as there are a few odd meetings in my calendar with rather oddly formatted meeting codes.
I wrote about wanting an offline capable Visual Studio Code app for iPad yesterday, and while I haven’t found an app that I feel to be equal, Textastic does seem to be the best code editor app I’ve found for iPad.
I’ve been experimenting with email again over the past week. This time it was trying out the new email app, Big Mail.
I won’t do a full product review, but I just wanted to write about my own experience with the app, where it excelled, and also where it also fell behind.
So, if you haven’t heard about Big Mail, the shortest description that I can give is that it tries to combine a great reading experience, with a screening tool similar to Hey, and the automatic sorting features of SaneBox, into a universal mail app.
It sounds like an incredible app in theory. But I’ll be upfront, in its current state, Big Mail is not the mail app for me. Let me explain.
First things first, I really like the design of Big Mail, on all platforms. And I totally get the idea of having a place for discovering new emails, separate places for newsletters, purchases, etc. and an email screener is handy to block unwanted email.
I currently pay for SaneBox (which I disabled during this experiment), so I definitely think I’m in the target audience for this app. But I’ve felt that the sorting in Big Mail isn’t that proactive and that I’ve had to assign categories to emails as they come into my inbox. This organisation is supposed to be “intelligent” and “automatic”, and maybe it is working as intended, or possibly it requires me to kick off some base data for the AI to kick in? Either way, it feels like I’m doing way too much manual sorting for it to be useful. SaneBox has possibly affected me in this regard because it’s worked so well for me, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s doing enough.
As for the reading experience, I’ve found that to be pretty good. I especially like the little touches such as the little accent colours and format when reading newsletters. There’s a decent amount of things you can do to an email, there are things like reply later, sort into a category, always ignore, starring an email, and the expected ones that all other clients support.
The major issues I have with Big Mail, except for the automatic sorting, is actually what I feel should be classified as basic functionality that you would expect in all email clients.
Here’s a list of some of those features that I expect in all email clients:
Ability to perform actions on multiple emails at once.
Keyboard shortcuts for basic email actions: delete, reply, forward, etc.
Access to your folders.
Swipe actions to quickly perform basic actions.
Drag and drop functionality to move emails into categories/folders.
The problem is, none of those features are available in Big Mail.
As much as some parts of the app I like and enjoy using, if the foundations aren’t there, then I simply can’t use it. So, I’m going back to Apple Mail on all of my devices for now.
I’ve still got hope that Big Mail can turn into a great product, and they seem to be listening to feedback already (It launched without an archive feature for one). So hopefully I can come back to it in the future and give it another go because there’s definitely potential.
I've been trying out a new delivery tracking app recently called Parcel, and it's been absolutely fantastic to use. And while it's a lot simpler than the popular Deliveries app, it does a few things that for me, make it a much better choice.
One main annoyance I had with Deliveries, was that Royal Mail (the main postal service in the UK) deliveries weren't supported properly. You could add them, but it would just redirect you to the web if you wanted to actually view the details. Fortunately, Parcel supports Royal Mail deliveries like any other, which makes it instantly better.
That's not it though as Parcel can also automatically track Amazon orders, which is incredibly useful. And while it's not automatic, there's also support for Apple Store orders, just use the order number and Parcel can fetch all the details.
So while it may not be the most feature packed app, or have the most custom design, I think it's fantastic.
If you want to try it out, then Parcel is free on the App Store, and if you want to track more than three deliveries at once and also have push notifications, then the premium subscription is just £2.99 a year.