App


App

The NHS COVID-19 App

5th May 2020

The NHS has come up with its own contact-tracing app, “NHS COVID-19”, and there are already plans for it to be trialled with key workers on the Isle of Wight.

However, it’s doesn’t use the more privacy focussed solution that Apple and Google have come up with, but rather a centralised one. Where the data about the tracked interactions will be sent. Although it doesn’t seem exactly clear what that data is. It could simply be a list of unique IDs that the device has come into contact with, along with your own ID. Or it could also include other sensitive information. Who knows? All I know is that, that question will always exist while it uses a custom solution.

Privacy is not only the potential issue with the app though. My concern mainly is with its effectiveness. This is how they claim it works:

  • Once you’ve installed the app on your phone, it can detect (using Bluetooth) if other phones that are also running the app are nearby.
  • Importantly, the app knows how close it has been to other phones running the app, and for how long. This allows the app to build up an idea of which of these phones owners are most at risk.
  • If you then use the app to report that you’re experiencing coronavirus symptoms, all the phones that have been nearby will receive an alert from the app.
  • Users reading the alert will now know they may have been near a person with coronavirus, and can then self-isolate.
  • If the NHS later discovers that your diagnosis was wrong (and your reported symptoms are not coronavirus), the other users will receive another alert, letting them know if they can stop self-isolating.

My questions would be the following:

  • How often can it run? If it’s just an app with no special entitlements, then surely it is bound my the background restrictions like most other apps.
  • If it’s monitoring it relatively often, then surely even Bluetooth Low Energy will have an impact on the battery level?
  • What happens if a device is put into low power mode? Is all tracing stopped? Because surely background tasks aren’t run as often then.
  • Can you really trust it to trace every contact you’ve had? For example if you sit next to someone with COVID-19 for 10 minutes, but for some reason the background task to monitor Bluetooth doesn’t run, then does it really do it’s job?

And I’d just like to point out the PDF that NHS made to explain the differences between a decentralised and centralised model. The only difference I see, is that their centralised model also includes an “NHS clinical algorithm” to detect the risk posed from each of your interactions.

I for one, will not be using any contact-tracing app, that doesn’t follow the solution that Apple and Google have come up with. Because, apart from wanting to control the data yourself, and possibly even retrieve more data than necessary, there’s no real gain to use a centralised approach.

App

Combining Screenshots with Picsew

19th April 2020

When writing about apps, it’s very common that you’ll need to combine screenshots together if you’re trying to capture a rather long page. One common case of this is when you’re trying to capture a screenshot of a Shortcut, which is why I looked for an app like Picsew, when I was getting screenshots for my recent article about how I’m using Data Jar to help writing link posts.

I’ve used apps like Tailor or LongScreen before, but I found LongScreen to be hard to deal with, and Tailor only support the iPhone. So I explored the App Store trying to find a solution for the iPad, and luckily I found Picsew.

Similar to the previously mentioned apps, Picsew has the ability to automatically combine multiple pictures together. But it didn’t seem to work well with the screenshots I took of some shortcuts. This is where the more “manual” option comes in. And I think that option is actually much more impressive than the automatic feature.

So after you select the photos you want to combine (in the correct order), and choose either vertical or horizontal, you use a pretty cool editor to adjust the position of each screenshot where you wish it to join the next one.

It’s quite intuitive actually, and was much easier than I thought it would be. You just tap on the join you wish to exit, and “push” the content towards the join until you’re happy.

Video: Picsew Edit Photo Join

You can also crop the entire photo inside the app as well, which is pretty handy as when you get a pretty large photo, it’s hard to do fine adjustments in the Photos app.

Video: Picsew Crop Photo

Anyway, I found it to be a very handy utility. So if you’re looking for an app that can join various photos together, or if you’ve used another one previously, I’d recommend checking out Picsew.

Download Picsew from the App Store

Automation

How I’m Using Shortcuts and Data Jar To Help Write Link Posts

18th April 2020

Last night I spent some time reading on my iPad, and I noticed a few articles that I might want to link to from my blog. Except I didn’t want to start creating drafts in iA Writer, or doing any manual work. I just wanted a way to remind myself that I want to link to this at some point.

I started to think that I could simply create a reminder in the Reminders app (I’ve switched from Things), possibly with the URL as a note so I could get back to it when I needed it again. However, that would require me to then later load the URL, and fetch the details from it. And seeing as I would have had the article loaded at the time of reading, it made more sense to store this data, and then be able to reference it at a later date.

So I came up with an idea of two shortcuts, one to store relevant data about the article I wanted to reference, and then another which I could use to select from the list and kick off a draft in iA Writer.

That’s when I thought about using the recently released data store app, Data Jar, which is a fantastic tool for storing all kinds of data.

Store Link Post Idea

To start off, the Shortcut I created to do the initial data storing and reminder creation was relatively simple. It accepts input from the Share sheet, in the form of a Safari web page, and then has just three actions:

  1. Add a new reminder with the title of the article to my blog list.
  2. Create a dictionary with four pieces of data – the title, URL, any text that was selected that I want to quote, and also the author. Although I’ve found the author to not be very reliable.
  3. Store this dictionary at the end of my drafts list in Data Jar.

Download the Shortcut: Add to Drafts List

Starting a Link Post

This shortcut is a bit more complex, as it has to do quite a few things:

  • Retrieve the list of link post ideas from Data Jar.
  • Show the list, and allow the user (me) to select an option.
  • Transform the various pieces of data into a link post outline.
  • Create a new document in iA Writer.

It’s a bit long, so I’ll put the long screenshot below, and then explain why it may seem pretty complicated for what it does, and the things I had to work around.

Start Link Post From Draft Shortcut

To start off, the shortcut gets the list of drafts from Data Jar. This contains all the drafts that have been saved.

It then does a little transformation with that data, using a temporary variable in Data Jar. It clears the value for the specific key I’m going to use, and then it loops through the list of articles, and extracts the title and the index of each article into a new list. This is because we need to show the list of articles, and also perform operations on the specific article that was selected.

The temporary list is then displayed, and from the chosen article, the Index is then used to fetch the complete article data from Data Jar. That includes the title, author, page selection (snippet), and the URL.

Once that data is extracted, the page section is formatted as a Markdown Blockquote via Text Case (my app), and then it’s put together with the rest of the data to form a basic link post outline.

Finally, the outline is URL encoded and opened as a new document in iA Writer via the URL scheme.

Download the Shortcut: Start Link Post From Draft


These two shortcuts are simple in theory, and to be honest I could have achieved the same result with less complexity, and maybe even without Data Jar. However, I like that the storing and kicking off a link post in iA Writer are separate processes. Because it allowed for more flexibility in the future and also doesn’t distract me at the time of reading an article. Which was one of the big reasons for me making these.

I really liked using Data Jar for these as well, so I hope I can make use of it again in future shortcuts!

Links

Find the apps used, and the shortcuts below:

Project

Text Case 2020.1

14th February 2020

It’s time for Text Case to receive its first update for 2020. Only a relatively small one this time, but it brings with it two new formats, and some work under the hood that should go unnoticed.

The new formats are quite straight forward:

Straight Quotes. This does the opposite of the “Smart Quotes” format, and converts all curvy quotation marks to the simple straight versions.

Slug. A bit of a weird one if you’re not already aware of what a slug is, but essentially it’s the more human-readable part of a URL that identifies what the page is. For example, a blog post will have a slug usually based on the title of the article. So this format will strip out all non-alphanumeric characters, and separate each word with a hyphen.

This update also contains a few extra things that shouldn’t be noticed, for example the way the UI is managed, and rounding corners, etc. It looks the same, except it’s done in a much more reliable way.

There is another less-than-tiny update to the UI that you may notice, and that is the gradients at the top of each format in the list view. These are now slightly more prominent.

Links


I’m guessing you would have noticed the 2020.1 version number, this is something I’m adopting from now on with all of my apps. The format will simply be YEAR.INCREMENT, where this is the first update to Text Case in 2020.


The updates to Text Case have been quite small and more incremental updates recently, and that I think is down to the maturity of the app. There’s not that many text transformations that people do regularly enough to need it in an app such as Text Case, and there’s only a limited amount of ways you can interact with the app.

So until there’s an advancement in iOS/iPadOS/macOS I can take advantage of, I would expect the updates to continue being small tweaks, and the occasional new format.

In the mean time I should really be working out what app I’m going to be building next!

App

Decline - 25 Stickers To Help You Say No

8th January 2020

I can’t say I’ve purchased many iMessage Sticker packs since they were added way back in iOS 10, but Timothy Buck let me know about Decline, a sticker pack made in partnership with his wife, Alyssa Guerrero, and it’s pretty great.

With it, comes 25 different ways to say ‘No’.

Decline Stickers

A simple ‘Nah’ or ‘Pass’ may sometimes suffice, but maybe you want to show your disgust with ‘Ugh no’, or the mysterious ‘I must decline for secret reasons’. Either way, they’re pretty funny!

They’re available to purchase on the App Store, and if you want to get physical, you can purchase physical stickers too.

Timothy also shared a video showing the lettering process, so you can see how the individual stickers are made.

Project

Text Case 2.5

24th December 2019

There’s yet another update to Text Case, and it brings with it three new formats, theme syncing, and an action extension for the macOS version!

New Formats

New Formats

Smart Quotes – This changes any straight single of double quotation marks, into their curly equivalents, all based on your localisation.

Small Caps – ᴛᴜʀɴ ʏᴏᴜʀ ᴛᴇxᴛ ɪɴᴛᴏ sᴏᴍᴇᴛʜɪɴɢ ʟɪᴋᴇ ᴛʜɪs!

Upside Down – Just another fun one, this attempts to flip the characters upside down.

These new formats are available on all versions of Text Case, iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.

Automatic Theme Syncing

Theme Options

Text Case has support for themes, but previously you would have to manually switch between them. With this version, you can select “Automatic” to have the Text Case theme sync with the light/dark mode of your system. This works on both iOS, iPadOS, and macOS!

Format Text Action Extension for macOS

Convert Text Action

On the iOS/iPadOS version of Text Case, there’s an Action Extension that lets you select text anywhere, and then get direct access to the different formats in Text Case. This is now coming to the macOS version, with essentially the same behaviour.

Now you can select a portion of text anywhere in macOS, right-click, and under “Share”, there should be a “Convert Text” action. (If it doesn’t appear, you will have to go to System Preferences, Extensions, Actions, etc enable it.)

That will bring up the Text Case UI, and selecting a format will result in the formatted text being copied to your clipboard!

Links

Text Case on the App Store

Text Case on the Mac App Store

Text Case Website

Text Case for Mac
Project

Text Case for Mac

19th December 2019

I’ve been slowly working on this for quite a few months now, but I think it’s finally time to release Text Case for Mac.

With it comes all 32 formats that are currently supported in the iOS app, and the same customisation options (except custom app icons).

To recap all of those:

  • Title Case (AP, APA, CMOS, MLA)
  • URL Encoded/Decoded
  • Uppercase
  • Lowercase
  • Capitalise
  • Capitalise Words
  • Sentence Case
  • Reversed
  • Strip HTML
  • Strip/Trim Whitespace
  • Markdown Blockquote
  • Markdown Code Block
  • Markdown Ordered/Unordered List
  • Markdown to HTML
  • Camel Case
  • Snake Case
  • Pascal Case
  • Kebab Case
  • Hashtags
  • Mocking Spongebob
  • Emoji
  • Base64 Encoded/Decoded
  • Rot13
  • Clap Case
  • Shuffled

In fact the macOS version is 2.4.4, and the iOS version is sitting at just 2.4.3. The only differences being some improvements to the Emoji format, where some localisations could cause the format to not work at all (it now defaults to English if it doesn’t support the language). And also some macOS specific changes, which are mainly to remove parts of the app that won’t work such as Siri Shortcuts support, and also fine tuning the macOS experience.

There are things that I’m already planning on adding the Mac version, such as an Extension so you can format text from outside the app, similar to how the Action Extension works in IOS, and also other automation support such as URL schemes. However, I feel that it’s much more beneficial for people to have Text Case for Mac now, rather than waiting even longer to get it into peoples hands. Because just like the iOS app, I really like to adapt the app to users feedback, and I already have a few extra formats (such as small caps) that I plan on adding soon. I also want to see what I can do with the Touch Bar!

Have a look at the Mac version:

Text Case for Mac

Text Case for Mac

Text Case for Mac

Find Text Case on the Mac App Store.

App

Bring Back the iPod Click Wheel With Rewound

12th December 2019

I came across a fun app recently on Twitter, called Rewound. It’s a Music app that simply acts as an interface to your music library, but it comes with a rather interesting quirk, it looks like an old iPod. And you can even go back to a click wheel.

Rewound App.

The control layout can be changed within the app, however to apply a matching skin you have to download them from Twitter/Weibo (You can find them with the #rewoundskins hashtag) or add custom photos from your device.

Depending on the skin you add, it automatically assigns a layout based on the size. And if you use one with a click wheel, you will actually be able to use the circular gestures to navigate through your music collection.

It’s a bit of fun, and I’m sure some nostalgic people will love to see it. I can’t quite say I see this as a long term product though!

Download Rewound for free on the App Store


Update: 18th December 2019

It turns out that Apple have now rejected Rewound, and it’s no longer available to download. (via Michael Tsai)

App

Twitter for Mac Is Not a Good Mac App

5th November 2019

Matt Birchler, writing at BirchTree:

I don’t know how to blame here, Twitter or Apple, but the Twitter app for Mac is really rough in its current form. Text editing specifically is really hard to justify and is not what I would expect from any app on the Mac.

I’ve been using the official Twitter app for macOS ever since it was available, and I’ve found it to be pretty reasonable. But just like Matt shows in this video, it still doesn’t feel completely at home on the Mac.

Hopefully improvements can be made to make it fit in with the macOS ecosystem. But I’m worried that this relies on changes to Catalyst, and potentially iOS, because this is essentially the iOS Twitter app. So I won’t be holding my breath. Maybe I’ll have to switch back to Tweetbot.

App

Outlanders - My Favourite Game from Apple Arcade

4th November 2019

If there’s one game that I’ve been enjoying as part of Apple Arcade, it’s Outlanders. I have been mildly obsessed with it ever since I gave it a try, very soon after it was available.

Outlanders Map

In essence, Outlanders is a game where you control a town of people, have them build out the town, whether it’s a farm to create a sustainable food source, or a tavern which they can go to at night that increases their happiness.

It’s very fun, and it’s based around scenarios that have a primary and secondary goal that you aim towards. For example, the level I’m on right now (6, which is currently the last) has an overall target to build 7 Windmills (which are used to convert wheat to flour, in order for a Bakery to make food), and 5 Taverns. All within 120 days. The optional secondary goal is to have a population of at least 70 by the type you finish.

Outlanders Level 6

At the start it’s relatively simple. You have some people forage for foot, while others focus on getting wood, and building houses for a growing population. But eventually you have a big population, that requires a lot of focus on what needs to be prioritised next. The maps are also finite, so the amount of resources (wood and food) will eventually dwindle down, leading you to build farms, windmills, and bakery’s to sustain the food for the population.

The first five levels I managed all within a few attempts, however this last one is proving to be quite difficult. Which is actually one reason why I’m enjoying it. It’s a fun game, which requires attention, and a general plan on how you are going to build out the town and population.

I really hope that the developer adds in more levels soon, as it’s only a matter of time before I’m finished with this one.

You can download Outlanders as part of Apple Arcade, and I would recommend it as not only one of the best games from the subscription, but of the many games that I’ve played on iOS over the years.

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