App


Textastic Code Editor 9

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.

Trying Out a New Email App, Big Mail

8th July 2021

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.

Parcel App

19th May 2021

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.

QuickZoom

A great utility app for Mac that makes it so much easier to join Zoom calls.

Instead of dealing with copy and pasting meeting IDs or passwords into Zoom, you just need to copy the details and QuickZoom will detect these details and show a prompt to join the meeting.

GlanceCam 3

GlanceCam is an app developed by my friend, Cesare Forelli, and it's once that I've admired for a long time. In short, it's an app that lets you view IP cameras from your Mac. But in reality it's so much more, especially with the recent major update.

It's a relatively minimal design, however it's still packed full of functionality. It support multi-windows, always on top, 4K streams, you can use it to sent HTTP GET commands to your devices, keyboard shortcuts, a URL scheme, AppleScript support, and so much more.

This app is probably the main reason why I'm thinking of investing in some cameras for my house.

Text Case 2021.3

8th March 2021

Text Case 2021.3 is a relatively small update, but it brings a few features that users have been desperate for, ever since the major 2021.1 release.

That update introduced the concept of building custom flows, but the flow creator was quite restricted. For example you couldn't easily reorder formats, and also for more complex formats that required custom parameters, there wasn't a way to edit these parameters afterwards.

Fortunately this update fixes both of those limitations. So you can both reorder and edit formats in the flow creator UI.

Additionally to those improvements, I also spent time rewriting the title case logic. That's not going to be something anyone directly cares about. But it allowed me to orient the title case formats around defined rules, and therefore made the process of adding new variants much easier.

Therefore, I've added four new title case variants:

  • AMA Title Case (American Medical Association)
  • Bluebook Title Case
  • New York Times Title Case
  • Wikipedia Title Case

This means that Text Case now supports 9 different title case variants. Which if you're interested in, you may want to read the post I wrote recently "The Various Types of Title Case" where I go into detail on all nine.

To top it all off, there is one more new format, Italics. Which means you can now do Bold, Italics, and Bold-Italics in the app.

Download

This update is available right now for iOS, iPadOS, and macOS!

My (Short) Experience With TAIO

6th March 2021

Continuing my quest to find the perfect writing app, I turned to TAIO (Text all in One). It's been touted as the next best writing app, with it's modern design, and extensive built-in automation support.

I must admit, that clearly I didn't do my research very well. Because as much as I love the level of appearance customisation, and the overall structure to the app, I did not realise that it is not available for Mac.

The developers are working on a macOS version, but don't plan on releasing it anytime soon. That's good news, and means I'll probably look at it again once it's out. Since by then I assume the overall product would have matured even more.

It's unfortunate, since I think TAIO has a lot of potential. But I really want to use one app across all of my devices. So for now I'll be going back to iA Writer.

That will be it for a while I think. I'll spend the next few days putting together some thoughts on what I took from the past few experiments. But I expect that I'll be sticking with iA Writer for a while.

Using 1Writer as My Writing App

5th March 2021

As you may or may not know, I’m currently in the process of finding the right writing app for me. I’ve tested many in the past, but so far I’ve experimented with Craft, Werdsmith, and now 1Writer.

The short answer is that it’s yet another app that doesn’t quite fit what I want.

In some ways it seems similar to iA Writer (which is my default app I use as a fallback) in that it has a utilitarian design, and has good Markdown support. And it doesn’t just support Markdown and convert it to rich text, you view the formatting as you write, which is something I prefer, and is something that apps like Craft lack.

One thing I really liked was that you can add external file providers to your library, so this allowed me to use the same folder I use for iA Writer. It’s one of the nice touches that I want in a writing app, because I want everything to have a level of flexibility so I’m not stuck in any specific process.

Flexibility is also a reason why I’m moving away from 1Writer, since I would prefer better automation support, either in the form of dedicated Shortcut actions or at least a URL scheme. A lot of my writing starts off with a shortcut to generate a basic template or link post, and while there is a Share extension, I’d prefer to have this fully automated.

The final reason why I’m not continuing with 1Writer is that it’s only available on iOS, and while I do most of my writing on my iPad, I still write a decent amount on my Mac. Which meant I was using iA Writer on my Mac and 1Writer on my iPad, and I think that’s a rather pointless scenario when iA Writer is available itself on iOS.

So, again I’m left with another app crossed off, but this past week has helped me to redefine what I want in a writing app. I want it to be flexible regarding putting data into the app, and also taking it out and publishing my writing to my blog. I want an app that shows me the raw Markdown, possibly with a few visible formats like bold/italic, but I want to see the raw file as I write it. And I also want this app to be available on macOS and iOS. There are a few other things I would like, but these few points are what I’m setting as a standard going forward.

I’ve got one more app lined up in my experimentation, and that is TAIO. It’s a relatively new app, and I’ve waited to see some opinions of others before I give it a go. Iv’e seen some optimistic opinions on it, so that is where I will head next. After TAIO, I think is when my my decision will be made. As of right now, I’d say I’m heading back to iA Writer, but we’ll see.

My Experience With Werdsmith

22nd February 2021

As part of my challenge to find my ideal writing app, I turned to Werdsmith to see if it could handle my writing needs.

Werdsmith piqued my interest with claims about it being your “personal, portable writers studio”, it’s multiple themes, and “formats for every writer”. Initially, it seemed like it would be an app only for people like screenwriters, but I thought I’d give it a go anyway.

Sadly I was at least partially correct, it does indeed feel that Werdsmith is designed for a certain type of writer, and one that doesn’t seem to include myself.

Organising Your Writing

The first part of Werdsmith that made me think that the app wasn’t for me was the very simple document organisation.

There are two sections, ideas and projects. Writing starts as an idea, and then you can convert it to a project later on. This rather simple organisation makes me think that the app is best used with a minimal amount of projects. So not one that can be used with a large collection of well-organised documents.

Writing

The writing experience in Werdsmith is certainly distraction-free, the interface is quite minimal, and leaves you with just your writing.

However, the Markdown support is pretty lacking, and so are the formatting options in general. You have two headers, bold, italics, and quotes. So not exactly many options to choose from. Not even lists or images.

In addition to the formatting options, you have the option to set an overall format for the document. There are four to choose from, which I think shows the designed purposes of the app. The formats are text, novel, screenplay, or poem. I assume the text format was meant to be the one for general-purpose writing, but I honestly think it may as well not be there.

Export Options

There are export options, so it’s possible to use that to either move documents around or use it to trigger various automations. It’s rather simple, as it just exports the title and text contents of a document, but at least it’s there.

Final Thoughts

This review isn’t as detailed as it would have been if I had tried it out for a longer period, but that essentially shows how far I got with the app.

I’m not a novel or screenplay writer, so I can’t comment on how well it performs for what seems to be the target user, but I can say that it’s not the app for me. The document organisation, writing experience, and markdown support are all things that disappointed me. So while I may have liked other parts of Werdsmith, the fundamentals just didn’t click with me.

So it looks like I’ll be checking out another writing app, which I think will be 1Writer.

The Dispo Camera App

16th February 2021

Youtuber David Dobrik has a camera app that I've only just discovered called Dispo, which is essentially trying to mimic a disposable camera.

The idea is that you use Dispo to take photos, but you then have to wait until your photos are 'developed' to actually see them. Luckily you don't have to wait that long, with the photos being available at 9 am the next day. But there is a kind of lottery when it comes to how your photo will look since it also applies filters to make it seem more like a photo from a disposable camera.

A deeper reason behind the 9 am wait is to combat the kind of instant gratification we've all come to expect when taking photos, and to try and stay in the moment, rather than taking 100 photos and constantly looking over them to see if they're "perfect". To be honest, I understand that angle, but I'm not exactly sure if this app will make much difference in that respect.

There is a 2.0 version that's currently in beta, and while I'm not lucky enough to be testing it, it seems like it will be a pretty major upgrade. It will be interesting to see if they can take this simple camera app to something bigger. Maybe it's going to try and be the Instagram of the past that we all loved?

As for actual photos, I haven't exactly been out much recently, so I haven't been able to take any interesting photos. But here are a few that have already been "developed".