2015 Apps in Review

Since Apple does not appear to share my tastes in apps, I thought I’d wrap up the year with my own top 5 apps on iOS and OS X. I’m going to cheat, obviously, since I’m doubling on iPhone and iPad, but the goal is really to talk about a few apps that are not as well publicized, maybe. And they happen to be my most used apps.

iPhone

Spark

This email client is really neat, I have been able to triage my inbox much more quickly than using Dispatch (excellent as well, I recommend it). It is still young, but almost flawless, and has been a boost of efficiency for me. I’m almost never using either the iPad or the Mac for email nowadays, just keep it short on the iPhone. (I’m using Dispatch on the iPad, it’s good, but I prefer the UX of Spark nowadays). Spark will be coming soon to the iPad, I am longing to beta test it there.

1Password

It’s a classic, but honestly if you haven’t taken the dive, the Xmas break is a good time for it. Their refresh this year was most impressive, I am probably going to steal their idea of a bulletin board within the settings for xRapid. Having all your passwords synced on iOS and OS X is a must, you cannot live without. They have added categories, so that all my encrypted informations are in 1Password now.

Documents 5

Documents by Readdle, the advent of iCloud Drive and Dropbox still here, used for sharing all documents for xRapid, means that I cannot count the number of times Documents has saved my bacon. A clean interface, top functionality, makes it the perfect document manager.

Dropbox

I don’t think I would be able to live without. They have added preview and light editing of office documents, are well integrated with Office as well — I do not have any office suite installed on the Mac, it’s all coming off the iPhone and iPad. I couldn’t live without Dropbox. Also of note: the possibility to cache documents locally, which is another life saver.

Gerty(https://appsto.re/us/KlkW1.i)

I’ve got it down in the iPad as well, it is simply the best reader you can get on iOS. Perfect typography, perfect syncing with Dropbox, importing your EPUB library from Dropbox… It also has a smart pagination that allows for moving down/up pages by a simple touch. It’s the kind of stupid feature — stupid because easy to implement — that you pick up so quickly that it becomes a handicap in other readers that don’t have it: if I were Instapaper I’d copy this presto. Gerry also has shelves, and I have spent so much time in Jakarta’s traffic that always having something to read has been a life saver. Even though I’m extremely busy, I have read north of 50 books this year, all on iPhone/iPad. Pick Gerty, give it some love, I cannot remember what the IAP purchases, but I paid gratefully. Also: Google shamelessly copied their logo, I’d be pissed.

This is a gem, go get it. One last thing: it allows you to journal your readings, and your notes. It happens to be quite powerful, something to try on.

The deadly blue row

Yes, that could be seen as cheating as I picked 5+5, but there’s a row of apps I’m using all the time, and it’s been standing for a while now. Four blue icons on my main screen: Pinner, DayOne, PCalc and Skype. For the uninitiated:

  • Pinner: the best Pinboard client on the iPhone — all my bookmarks live in there
  • DayOne: the best journaling app on iPhone/iPad and Mac
  • PCalc: I’m an engineer, and trust me when I tell you that this remains, hands-down, the best calculator on all Apple platforms (yes, James, we know that you’ve ported it to the Apple TV as well, for fun I suppose). Also: RPN. It’s what HP should have made of their calculators if they had embraced the app economy
  • Skype: we’re still using it for meetings with multiple connections, although lately it appears that Gotomeeting is the better product for… everything. Still, Skype remains a standard for people outside of our organization.

iPad

GoodNotes(https://appsto.re/us/zjwAU.i)

I was teaching this semester, and I managed to assemble all my course using GoodNotes. Granted, it was sophomore mechanics, and I didn’t prepare much (if any), so I had decided that it would be better, in order to retain the students attention, to do all the derivations myself in direct. Which I did. The presentation feature of GoodNotes is what sealed the deal for me, together with the smart zoom. Together with the Pencil by 53, it worked perfectly. I tried many others, among them Notability and Paper by 53, it just didn’t cut it either for the ease of use or the presentation. The PDF export feature of GoodNotes worked flawlessly, so each time I was done with a course, I just needed to PDF the notes to Documents, and dispatch from there to the Dropbox folder for the students. The UI design is not so impressive, but it does the job remarkably.

Pixelmator(https://appsto.re/us/lUBh3.i)

Gosh that app is powerful. And I prefer to interact with pictures on the iPad anyway, so I simply could remove it from the Mac, and keep doing image modifications on the iPad. It is beautiful in its simplicity as well, I think one of the best UI design on the store, because it integrates so well with iOS 9.

Workflow(https://appsto.re/us/2IzJ2.i)

This one has been here for a while now, but it keeps being useful, at least to me. I could live without, but why should I? It’s one of those apps that make me think that iOS is shifting to being the better system.

Ulysses III

Got it also on the Mac, it has become my de facto editor for everything that is not code. Two things are missing for me: bring back the LaTeX export, and the iPhone version. The latter is coming, and I don’t know if I’m the only one requesting the former, we’ll see. For now it’s a bit of a convoluted path to export to LaTeX. And I can’t export to my LaTeX processor on iPad either… But: it’s good to write in Ulysses, and it conforms to everything I’m looking for in an editor. It also plays nice with my last pick.

Papers 3 (by Mekentosj)

The Mac version has been around forever, I was a user, gave up on it after many problems in the database it was building, around the passage from version 1 to 2, if I remember well. Now, I’ve been doing applied research again, have needed to build a library of papers, and to be able to cite them. I just love reading on Papers 3 and taking notes, it is perfectly integrated with the iPad. The syncing with my Mac is flawless as well (through Dropbox), it helps. And it just works. It is well connected to all the citation styles, and most articles databases online. It just does the job. I’d highly recommend it for keeping track of literature.

I’ll give you a tip about literature: build up your research library little by little. I am reading two articles a day, minimum. When I say reading, that is detailed reading: spend 20 minutes or so going in depth on the article. At the end of the year, you will have read and documented more than 700 papers, making you an expert in the field you have followed.

Mac

Marked

This little utility grows on you, it is really good and complements perfectly Ulysses. Tables anyone? Marked can do. Equations? Marked can do. I really like it.

Paintcode

I have mentioned that the only thing I use my Mac for is coding. Paintcode, if you haven’t tried it, is another life saver. It allows you to have parametric design ready to import into Xcode. It also imports Adobe (photoshop, ai) files, and converts them to elements that are directly imported in your code. It’s when you change a radius of rounded corners everywhere that you really appreciate the app: 1 value, 1 export, and you’re testing in your app.

Things I miss: being able to use a font parametrically — it would be cool if I could change the font family of the whole app at once and render it in a breeze.

Xcode

I spend my life in Xcode, so I thought I’d just say it is getting better. It is a good IDE, but it remains hampered by iTunesConnect. I don’t think I know one single developer that is happy about ITC and certificates. This remains a mess.

Graphic

I am using this one a fair bit, on the iPad as well, it is a good vector editor. By good I mean, with a little extra work, it will get to the level of my beloved Canvas V from the 90s. But yes, I am back to drawing figures in something else than TikZ, it makes my life easier.

Not making the cut

I have been using Microsoft Word and Excel on the iPad, and they are more or less good enough to interact with our London office. It still doesn’t feel right, though. We’ll see where this goes. But at the moment I’m not doing any office work on my Mac, so it works well enough. It’s just that some of the missing features make me drop it at some point, and get into Pages or Numbers. Those are not great, by the way, they are just good enough. The only member of the suite that is really good remains Keynote.

Yammer is another Microsoft product, I think they acquired it. It is in need of much love to get it to work faster. But it is simple enough and not geeky at all, so that all our team can use it. I have tried Basecamp and Slack, but the uptake by regular people was too steep. So Yammer it is for now, it serves its purpose, and greatly reduces the number of emails I’m receiving.

Todoist has been redesigned, the app is still OK, the UX hasn’t changed much although I do have a few friction points. But: the icon is ugly, like sergeant-major ugly. I am still using it, but have started the work on a new version of DashPlus.

Conclusion

Here we are, I hope that I’ve given enough love to those who rightfully deserve it. Here’s to hoping they have an excellent 2016 year!

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