Blog

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.

Productivity

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.

Writing

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.

Research

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.

Reading

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.

Watching

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.

Listening

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.

Audible

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

Travel

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.

Health

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.

Games

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 of 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

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

XCOM

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.

London

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.)

Miscellaneous

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.

Notes.app (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.