State of the Apps 2014

I often get asked about what applications I use and since I spend a lot of time evaluating what works best for my needs I thought there would be some value in sharing the tools I'm using heading into 2014.


Omnifocus (OS X & iOS)

The one app to rule them all.

Omnifocus is the dashboard to my life -- I've tried and used every task-management app and Omnifocus is the one that works the best for me. It strikes a nice balance between looking good and being powerful.

Omnifocus is available everywhere I need it -- OS X, iPad and iPhone -- and each version has its own particular strength: OS X for setting up complicated templates and perspectives, iPad for review, and iPhone for ticking off items.

1Password (OS X & iOS)

Because I live online, I've collected a shockingly large number of websites I need to log into (133 as of this writing). And, being paranoid about security, I won't use the same password twice, so I need an encrypted password manager and 1Password is my tool of choice.

In addition its ability to securely store important documents has really saved me on several occasions.

Alfred (OS X)

Command-space your way to any application or file on your Mac instantly: a necessity for keyboard shortcut junkies. I'm forever between Alfred and Quicksilver as my launcher of choice, but I've recently bought the Alfred powerpack and want to try out its full potential.

Launch Center Pro (iOS)

Think of it as Alfred for iOS: Launch Center Pro is an app that gives you big buttons to launch other apps and actions. This allows me to hide a ton of quick-check apps such as Dark Sky or ConvertBot in a folder on the last screen.

It's iPhone only and they cannot come out with an iPad Version soon enough.

Drafts (iOS)

This is the app that allows Automator-style automation on iOS. (Especially when combined with tools like dropbox and hazel to send stuff to an always-on OS X machine for processing). It's shockingly powerful and difficult to describe, so you're probably best off reading Federico Viticci's numerous articles on the possibilities of Drafts.

It kills me that there isn't a sync feature for the snippets. First world problem, I know, but keeping my actions in sync across four iOS devices is a real hassle.

Also, it has tiny tap areas for the actions, but Drafts works with Launch Center Pro, so you can use the latter as an alternative interface to the former.


Editorial (iOS)

This year Editorial dethroned Byword as my main writing app. I don't use 1% of its available power but the few extras make it all worthwhile. (For example, the ability to dump a random idea at the bottom of a document without leaving where I'm currently typing.)

I have some visual problems that make reading black text on a white background irritating (Thanks a lot, iOS 7) so a dark mode is mandatory and Editorial has a great looking one: off-white on dark navy. (Too many app's dark mode is just white text on a black background, which is harsh to look at and highlights every fingerprint smudge)

There's no iPhone version so I'm using Byword on my iPhone to access my scripts on the rare occasions I want to edit them on the go.

Notesy (iOS)

I'm using Notesy for my list of notes an all sorts of general topics. Despite the astounding number iOS text editors it's difficult to find one that meets all my needs for notes: dropbox, markdown, dark mode, and global search. Notesy is fine though I don't love it.

Goodnotes (iOS)

I've bought and tried every iOS handwriting app and Goodnotes is the only one that fits my particular requirements.

Editoral, Dropbox, and Hazel work together to generate up-to-the-minute PDFs of all my scripts that I can then import into Goodnotes to mark up by hand and then export for transcription.


Evernote (OS X & iOS)

Evernote is my dumping ground for lots of random video-related pre-research. I use it, but reluctantly: the lack of a dark mode is irritating and its inability to export data in a reasonable way means I'll never trust it fully, but there is nothing that works as well across iPhone, iPad and the Mac.

Articles (iOS)

Articles is my Wikipedia reader of choice. Unfortunately it is no longer supported by the developer so I'm looking for a replacement.

OmniOutliner (OS X & iOS)

I'm not a fan of mind maps, but for bigger projects OmniOutliner is great for providing high-level structure.

Terminology (iOS)

Dictionary / thesaurus that I prefer to Apple's inbuilt version.

OmniGraffle (OS X & iOS)

OmniGraffle is perfect for the research phase of drawings when I don't want to go into Inkscape-level detail but I need to be able to sketch some venn diagrams or flowcharts to keep things straight.

Video Production

Inkscape (OS X)

Pretty much everything drawn in my videos is made in Inkscape. The interface looks awful being both non-retina and running in X11 but I've yet to find anything that can surpass it.

GarageBand (OS X)

While I'm trying to learn Logic Pro X it's slow going and I find myself mostly still falling back on old, reliable GarageBand for all my audio needs.

ScreenFlow (OS X)

Fast but powerful for screen recordings.

Final Cut Pro X (OS X)

Despite the grumble when it was introduced I really like FCP X. It really hits the sweet spot of power and ease of use and it's what I use to combine the audio and animations I make into the final product.


Instapaper (iOS)

Probably the first paid app I bought. Instapaper is a beautiful read-it-later service that integrates with all of my Internet browsing apps. Since I've collected far more articles than I'll probably ever read, Instapaper's sort functions (longest, shortest, popular) are very helpful for picking something to read given the time and energy I have available at the time.

Kindle (iOS)

I really want to use iBooks as my primary reading application -- it's far better looking than Kindle, but Kindle just has a wider selection of books, integration with Audible and, of course, the physical Kindle reader which forces me to put up with its hideous, hideous typography choices.


Feedly (iOS)

I use Feedly as my YouTube subscription replacement. You can learn more about how I do this here.

Pocket (iOS)

Non-YouTube videos I want to watch later get sent to pocket.


Downcast (OS X & iOS)

Since listening to podcasts is about 80% of my iPhone use a high-quality podcast app is a must and Downcast is superb.

The granularity of their iCloud sync options allow me to sync the podcasts I've listed to across all devices, but tell my poor 16Gb iPad to only stream episodes, while my phone and Mac can download for offline listening.

Smart playlists allow me to sort by chronological order, reverse chronological order, longest and shortest and even have favorite podcasts jump to the top of the queue regardless of other settings.

I'm curious about Marco's announced podcast client but without desktop sync I probably won't be able to switch.


Pretty much all my audiobooks I listen to with audible rather than the built-in music player.


FlightTrack 5 (iOS)

If you ever fly ever you need FlightTrack 5. I do my best to limit flights and this little guy has saved my transatlantic butt so many times that I would easily pay the asking price every time I fly. I don't know how they do it but I've frequently had this app notify me about gate changes, flight delays / cancelations before the airport announced changes. Seriously, just buy it, no questions.

Field Trip (iOS)

Field Trip beeps if you pass by an interesting landmark. Fun for travel or if you live in a big city.

Fog of World (iOS)

Gamification of exploration. The real world is covered by a RTS-style fog of war and your location reveals it. Fog of War has definitely encouraged me to take more side streets and find more interesting things in my adoptive city.

Placeme (iOS)

Placeme records where you've been automatically and can send it to Evernote.


Cyclemeter (iOS)

Cyclemeter tracks your cycle journeys.

Mental Case (iOS)

Mental Case is the best study app that exists. Spaced repitition makes memorizing much faster than the traditional brute force method.

Full Fitness (iOS)

I used to use Full Fitness to track my gym routine, but since the iOS 7 transition the app is crashtackularly unusable. Not that I mind too much as it had a lot of UI annoyances, but I still have yet to find an adequate replacement. (Strong is currently a contender.)

Fitbit (iOS)

When you work from home you're in danger of sitting down all day. I used this with the FitBit One to try and log 10,000 steps a day. The One also acts as a silent alarm clock which is great for getting up early without disturbing the wife.

AntiRSI (OS X)

I have RSI problems in my hands and AntiRSI necessarily annoys me by forcing me to take repeated micro breaks. Now if only iOS allowed such apps to exist.

Internet Fun!

Alien Blue (iOS)

Alien Blue is the reddit app so vastly superior to the competition it makes iPads the optimal redditing experience.

MiniHack (iOS)

Hacker news client.

Reeder (iOS)

Great-looking RSS client with perhaps the best dark mode of any app. After the death of Google Reader this year I'm using Reeder as the interface for Feed Wrangler.

Tweetbot 3 (iOS)

My Twitter client of choice. Does timeline syncing, dark mode and, vitally, the ability to temporally mute topics and people.

Chrome & Safari (OS X & iOS)

Chrome is the default browser on my Mac and Safari is the default on iOS. I want to have a unified choice across both platforms but each is so superior in their own domain that it's not practical.


Catan HD (iOS)

The greatest board game ever, in iOS format. The only way it could be improved is with asynchronous multiplayer.

Kingdom Rush & Kingdom Rush Frontiers (iOS)

I'm a sucker for tower defense games as mindless relaxation and these two are by far the best. (Note: they do have in-app purchase, which is normally a deal-breaker in games for me, but they're the only games where it is genuinely unnecessary or adds new features to the game.)

Year Walk (iOS)

If there is any game that can convince people that video games can be art, year walk is it. Do yourself a favor: don't read anything about it, just buy it, turn off the lights, and play. You can easily get through it in an evening.

There is also a companion app that you should read through after you've finished the game.


Rymdkapsel is an interesting twist on the tower defense genrea. A little short, but fun.


XCOM is a totally absorbing turn-based combat and base-building resource management game.

Bastion (iOS)

Bastion is a great mix of action and storytelling with a soundtrack that will make you weep.


Hailo (iOS)

Summon a taxi to your exact location and pay through your registered credit card. Hailo falls under the rarely-used-but-invaluable-when-necessary category.

Master AZ Atlas (iOS)

I honestly haven't used The A-Z in years, but I like to have it on my phone in case my Internet connection goes down.

Citymapper (iOS)

CityMapper has replaced Tube Deluxe, Train Times and BusChecker as my transport apps of choice. Though I still highly recommend Tube Deluxe if you have a set schedule as you can have it give you an alert at a specific time about any problems with specific lines. (This was a must during my commuting career.)


Dark Sky (iOS)

This is the most 'magical' app that exists. Hyper-local, amazingly accurate rain prediction within the hour. You won't believe how accurate it is unless you try it. It might not be necessary in a city like London where the weather is 'drizzle' 90% of the time, but in North Carolina where thunderstorms are both shockingly sudden and terrifyingly violent Dark Sky can be literally lifesaving -- especially when combined with auto-alerts.

Check the Weather (iOS)

Check the Weather is a clean-looking weather app that integrates with Dark Sky. (OS X & iOS)

I use notes as a cross-platform clipboard for all my devices. I'd love it if TapBots made Pastebot work the way it should so I could ditch notes but, alas, the last update was two years ago so I'm not holding my breath on that one.

Iconical (iOS)

Hate an app's icon? Iconical lets you change it. (I'm looking at you, Kindle)

Fake Shower (iOS)

You may laugh, but if you share a studio flat this is a necessity. As Fake Shower says: "Love is blind, not deaf".

Convertbot (iOS)

Fun converter for every unit imaginable, even though Convert Bot still hasn't been updated for the iPhone 5 screen.

Delivery Status Touch (iOS)

Deliveries tracks when packages arrive. If you've signed up for Amazon Prime, you'll be using this a lot.

Synchronize (iOS)

Beautiful app to check the time in different locations. Synchronize allows you to 'slide' the clock to more easily do the When-it's-9AM-in-San-Francisco-what-time-is-it-in-London calculations.

Agenda (iOS)

Agenda is a superior calendar than the built in iPhone default. Now if only they'd hurry up and make an iPad version.

Bugshot (iOS)

Bugshot marks up screenshots.

GoodReader (iOS)

Butt-ugly but Goodreader is perfect for downloading files that your iOS device wouldn't otherwise let you. I used this frequently to push files to Dropbox for later use on my Mac.

Screens (OS X & iOS)

Screens is for when you're laying on the couch and need to do something on your Mac but you're just too lazy to get up.

Due (iOS)

I use this handy little trick to combine Due and Drafts and Tweetbot to schedule a tweet for later.

Battery Time Remaning (OS X)

In Mountain Lion apple took away the option to see the estimated time left in your battery. This little app brings that ability back.

Flux (OS X)

Automatically reddens the computer screen at night. What I would not give for an iOS version.

GrandPerspective (OS X)

Easy way to find out what's taking up space on your hard drive.

Moneydance (OS X)

There is no app I probably dislike more, but still use, than this one. The state of finance apps in Apple land is pretty dismal and Moneydance is the only one that meets my requirements.

Kindle Paperwhite Review: Brighter, Better, Fatter

I used to read a lot, but as I aged and gained responsibilities, books became less central to my life. When I moved to a new city with a poor local library that was just a little too far out of the way my habit of reading died a silent death – and it took more than a year before I even realized.

Then, one day, it hit me: ‘I’ve forgotten about reading. I need to fix this’. My local library wasn’t going to move any closer to my apartment, so I looked into getting a Kindle and settled on the non-touch, D-pad version. Access to books was no longer a problem, and my reading went up.

But not by a lot.

Why? I loved my new Kindle and, reading my first book on it, The Diamond Age was a joy. But my optimal reading time is just before bed and, though the D-pad Kindle’s screen was great, its low contrast made night-time reading, even with an Anglerfish-style book light, difficult.

So when Amazon announced the Kindle Paperwhite, I ordered one immediately with the hope that it might replace my current Kindle and the improved, glowing screen would increase the amount I read.

First Impressions: Fatter, Brighter, Better


My first thought on lifting the Paperwhite was: ‘This feels like a brick’. Of course, it’s nowhere near that heavy, but I was accustomed to the weightless feeling D-pad Kindle.

The D-pad Kindle weighs 5.98 ounces (170g) while the Paperwhite is 7.5 ounces (213g). It’s only 25% heavier but that’s enough to make the Paperwhite just a bit too heavy to comfortably use one-handed.

The back of the Paperwhite feels like it’s covered with hard rubber. This might make the Paperwhite more resistant to drops, but it feels cheap – as though it has been engineered with careless children in mind.

But, the initial tactile impression aside, turning on the Paperwhite revealed why I bought it in the first place: the screen.

E-ink screens are nothing like computer screens. My D-pad Kindle has been the most enjoyable reading experience since my trusty old Palm III. But, the reason these screens are so great is because they’re not backlit.

Reading on a computer or iPad is like looking into a flashlight upon which paper cutout words have been placed. Sort of like the bat signal: it’s readable, but not ideal.

This really hurts my eyes.

This really hurts my eyes.

The absence of light was the key selling feature on the previous Kindles, so I was dubious about adding a light, in spite of Jeff Bezos’s nanoimprinted promises.

But, I was wrong to doubt. The paperwhite has achieved what I thought impossible: an illuminated screen that doesn’t blast light in your eyes. The effect is as though there’s a magic lamp in the room that only shines evenly across the Paperwhite’s screen.

In comparison the D-pad Kindle’s screen looks hopelessly low contrast with its dark gray text on light green-gray background.

The Paperwhite’s screen with its illumination is much higher contrast. Though I never thought I would, I leave the light on all the time. I didn’t realize how constrained by room lighting I was before when I wanted to read – always needing to align myself with a source of lighting before getting started. Now, there is no awkward couch position or room illumination that isn’t perfect for reading.

Unfortunately, the screen has a darker area near the top-center that is a little irritating. I’ve exchanged my Paperwhite not once, not twice but thrice (Amazon’s customer service is great) trying to get a perfect screen but they all have some slight amount of blueish, brownish distortion.

The only reason this bothers me is because the rest of the screen looks so good. Even with the slightly dark patch, I’ve never read a page of text this well illuminated. It’s just beautiful – now if only Amazon can just get the lighting even across the whole screen, it will be perfect.

There is also some irregular light at the bottom of the screen, where the LEDs are, that I’ve heard people complain about but, it doesn’t bother me as the shadows (mostly) don’t reach the text.

Typographically Dubious

The Kindle Paperwhite comes with six typeface choices: Baskerville, Caecilia, Caceilia Condensed, Futura, Helvetica and Palatino. There was a big fuss at the product announcement over how the typefaces were lovingly handcrafted to be pixel perfect on the new screen – and perhaps they were – but Amazon should have picked better typefaces to pamper.


Helvetica is the IBM of typefaces: boring, but no one ever got fired for using it. Futura, the other sans-serif, is great for the Internet but hideous for reading long-form text.

Baskerville is a fine, honest typeface but not the best choice for the Paperwhite. While the increased resolution of the Paperwhite is an improvement over the previous generations, it’s still not quite good enough to render a thin typeface like Baskerville at a small size. A full page of Baskerville looks a bit uneven with some of the letter forms lighter than others – almost like a photocopy.

This leaves just two typefaces: Palatino, a thin serif which suffers from the same problems as Baskerville, and Caecilia which, by means of attrition, is the only reasonable choice. 

The sizes, margin and line spacing options are fine, though could perhaps do with a bit more granularity – I’m never quite settled between text size four (a bit too small) and size five (a bit too large).

There is one further mistake that is completely unforgivable: Kindle’s full justified text is an abomination in the eyes of the typographic gods.

Seriously, full justified text is only used by students trying to puff up the look of their papers and by those who don’t know any better.

It’s terrible is because full justified text makes the spaces between words uneven which is a more uncomfortable reading experience. I understand that doing proper text hyphenation, giving you both a straight right side to paragraphs and even spacing between the letters is difficult, but is it too much to ask for from the largest ebook retailer in the world? I think not.

Terrible, uneven spacing.

Terrible, uneven spacing.

Barring text hyphenation, I beg of thee, Jeff Bezos please give Kindles the option to left-justify text. All I want is even spacing between my words.

Better than a Book or an iPad

This review may thus-far seem like mostly complaints, but don’t get me wrong: my Kindle Paperwhite is better than a book or an iPad.

The worst thing about reading on my iPad is that I’m reading on my iPad. Email and Twitter are just a double-home-button press away. As the Internet has become more the center of my life it’s increasingly difficult not to check in on it. One of the Kindle’s biggest advantages is its inability to get on the Internet in a remotely usable way.

“So what,” you say. “Books haven’t been able to get on the Internet since 1440”. True, but books from the library are disgusting objects filled with germs and stains of uncontemplatable origins. Newly bought store books are better (minus the expense) but still heavy, awkward to hold at the beginning and the end, and are completely unsearchable. Which brings us to the next section:

Touchscreen: The Highlight of a Workflow

The vast majority of books I read are non-fiction and many of these are read not for pleasure but as research for my videos. As such, being able to highlight books and reference those highlights later is a must.

Though I’m heavily invested in Apple’s ecosystem, I don’t use iBooks because of their limited highlights. While iBooks does allow you to highlight text it’s nearly impossible to get those highlights out in a useful way, to say nothing of simply trying to look at them on a laptop.

Amazon, however, is nothing if not omnipresent and has Kindle readers for the iPhone, iPad and most importantly, desktop computers. When I’m working on a video I can easily pull up a related book on my Laptop and see the highlights I’ve made.

I can even go to the Kindle website and copy the highlights into Evernote. Awesome.

The Paperwhite’s touch screen is good enough that it makes typing out notes attached to highlights a possibility – something I wouldn’t ever consider doing with the D-pad Kindle, even though it was theoretically possible.

But the touch screen does come with a big cost over the D-pad…


Lets imagine you’re reading a book. What’s the thing you’re going to do the most? That’s right: turn the page.

Now imagine that you’re in charge of making the world’s best ebook reader. What experience should you make the most pleasant? That’s right: page turning.

One of the best features of the D-pad Kindle was the dedicated page-turn buttons on the side of the device. They weren’t great buttons, but an adequate physical button for a frequently used task is 1,000 times better than the best touch-screen function could ever be.

Removing the buttons from the Kindle Paperwhite is a baffling decision. Page-turn buttons never made accidental pages and resting a thumb on the button, waiting to turn the page was simple and mindless.

As lazy as this sounds, a swipe or tap is a tiny distraction for every page turn. Gestures also make using the device one-handed just a bit more difficult.

The Kindle Paperwhite has three basic touch zones: most of the screen turns the page, while about an inch along the top brings up the menu and a bar along the left side goes back a page.

As I usually hold my Kindle in my left hand I looked for the setting to flip the tap zones to a left-handed mode. But, sadly, there is none. While it’s not too uncomfortable to do a swipe with my left thumb to turn the page, it’s another little dagger in my side that makes me miss the physical buttons of the D-pad Kindle.

The advantage of a dedicated ebook reader is that it’s a dedicated ebook reader. Unlike the iPad which has to be flexible, the Amazon engineers know exactly what people will use a Kindle to do: read. Taking away a button for the most-used task is a poor decision. If put in charge of the Kindle hardware team my number one priority would be to find the most satisfying button to click.


In the end, the Kindle Paperwhite reminds me a lot of my 3rd generation Retina iPad: a device with a great screen, that comes with some compromises.

But I bought the Kindle Paperwhite, to increase the amount I read, particularly when in bed, and to that end it is an unqualified success.

There is a little detail in the Paperwhite that I didn’t think much of at first but now can’t imagine reading without: on the bottom of the page it displays the approximate reading time left in the chapter – and this is no guess, but based on your actual reading speed. This seemingly minor addition allows me to make intelligent how-sleepy-am-I vs how-much-do-I-want-to-read-the-next chapter decisions that makes the whole process of reading at night frictionless.

If you’re thinking about getting an ebook reader, the Kindle Paperwhite, despite some of its irritations, is the one I highly recommend.