Best iOS App Updates of 2012

I gave you my Favorite iOS Apps of 2012 earlier and one of my criteria for that post was that they would all be apps that either came out in 2012 or that I discovered in 2012. But there are a few additional apps that have been around for a while and saw huge improvements in usability and/or functionality with new versions that came out in 2012. Some were already great and are just even greater, while others weren’t quite ready for primetime until now.

N.B. Click the images for larger versions of the screenshots.

1Password 4.0 for iPhone and iPad

1PasswordWhen I setup a new computer or iOS device, one of the first pieces of software I install is 1Password from Agile Bits. they make it for all the major platforms, Mac, Windows, iOS, Android. 1Password stores all your online passwords, credit card numbers, software serial numbers, and sensitive notes in a secure database. But it does so much more. The idea is that it allows you to create long, random passwords that are extremely difficult to crack, and allows you to use them in software protected by a more memorable password that unlocks 1Password. That password is theoretically more secure because it nevers leaves your computer or device. 1Password on your Mac or PC also integrates with your web browser so you can login to websites with your secure passwords right without leaving the browser. That’s it in a nutshell.

They’ve had a couple different versions of 1Password for iPhones and iPads with one kind being called Pro and being a Universal app and it was all kind of confusing. Now with 1Password 4.0, it’s one app for all. And it’s even better than ever.

First, it syncs your passwords with 1Password on your computer as it always has, and now allows you to sync either through Dropbox[1], if you use that service, or iCloud.

Second, because the Safari web browser in iOS doesn’t allow the external hooks that web browsers on the Mac do, 1Password can’t work from within Safari on iOS. Instead, they built a web browser into 1Password. This browser existed in previous versions, but the new one works even better. It now allows you to keep multiple tabs open and could even be your every day web browser.

The new 1Password also allows you mark certain password listings as favorites so if you find yourself consulting the same entries again and again (Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, etc.).

The interface also got a much-needed overhaul to make it sharper and more useful and the syncing works faster. Your master password is also the same across platforms now. It used to be that you could have different passwords on Mac, iPhone and iPad. And on the iPhone you had both a 4-digit PIN and the master password. Now it’s all much more convenient and consistent. had a comprehensive first look at the new 1Password that’s worth checking out.

1Password is currently $7.99 for the iOS version for a limited time.


EvernoteAnother piece of software that’s in the first five applications installed on any new device is Evernote. It’s also available in Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS versions, plus a few more. Evernote is your second brain or external memory. It comes in both free and paid versions and it let’s you store text and images (and other kinds of documts in the paid version) and then indexes all the text (including text in images) to let you search for it later. It, too, integrates with web browsers to make it easy to store and retrieve information. I wrote about Evernote’s desktop version about 18 months ago, but it’s gone through several important revisions since then.

The biggest improvement in Evernote for iOS has been the speed boost. Everything is much snappier now. Searching for a note or opening notebooks used to take a long time, especially when you first opened the app and it was downloading the latest updates from your Evernote notebooks in the cloud. But now you can open it up and get to work searching right away without hardly any lag.

The next big improvement is the stability. There were times when I’d tried to capture a photo of something with my iPhone into Evernote and just after I’d snapped the picture and was trying to type a title for the note it would crash. Crashes are much less frequent these days.

The new layout is also great. You can now see your most recently accessed notes as you start the app and you can easily browse by notes, notebooks, tags, and now places. Yes, you can now see all your notes that were created in a particular place, which could useful for, say, when you’ve been to a conference. For example, if I go to Macworld Expo every year, I could gather all my Macworld-related notes from all the years I’ve gone, just by looking at notes created at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

There are a lot of other improvements in the app and a big new area is Evernote Business, which is designed for, you guessed it, companies and organizations to use collaboratively. I don’t use it myself so that doesn’t enter into my calculus for why this is one of the best app updates of 2012.

Evernote is free to download and use. A premium account is $45 per year and gets you more file types that you can upload and larger upload quotas.

Evernote Food 2.0

Evernote Food Another Evernote product is Evernote Food. No surprise, I love food, both cooking it and eating it. And I’m obviously not alone to judge by all the food blogs and photos of dimly lit restaurant entrées posted to Instagram and Facebook.

The idea behind Evernote Food is that it helps you document the food-related parts of your life, whether it’s a meal you cooked yourself or an outing to a restaurant or food-related business. The first version of Evernote Food was just okay at this, but version 2 goes much further to add an element of food and recipe discovery, especially in the iPad version.

It offers four sections now: My Meals, in which you document meals with location, photos, and captions; Restaurants, which lets you find food business around your current or another location; My Cookbook, which uses some intelligence to sift through your full Evernote account for food-related articles you’ve saved; and Explore Recipes, which offers up recipes from a panoply of food blogs.

The Restaurants section is powered by Foursquare and it will show either places you’ve saved in Evernote already, places you’ve documented in My Meals, or places you search for based on a keyword and location. Once you’ve found a place, you can call up details and save it to your Evernote. Of course, being powered by Foursquare, the reliability is subject to the overall reliability of Foursquare’s database. I found several outdated or inaccurate listings in my small hometown.

However, the sections I use the most–after the somewhat foodie self-centered My Meals–are Explore Recipes and My Cookbook. I’d saved some recipes in Evernote in the past, but not too many only because we have a dedicated recipe program that we use on our kitchen Mac called MacGourmet. But with this easy discovery through this app, I can see adding many more recipes here through a quick clip from my web browser as I come across them. And Explore Recipes is a fun glimpse at an interesting an eclectic mix of recipes that you won’t find in any established cooking magazine.

Evernote Food is free to download and use.

Flickr for iPhone

Flickr for iPhoneI’ve been a Flickr user for a number of years and I’ve been a paid user since 2006. Similarly, Melanie has been a paid Flickr user for almost as long as she’s had her blog. The service’s strengths are in the ability to organize your photos and to use it as a way to host images for a website. (Melanie uses it this way.)

Unfortunately, with all the turmoil within parent company Yahoo in recent years, Flickr has been somewhat neglected and hasn’t kept pace with other similar services. And even though they’ve had an iPhone app for a few years, it was pretty bad and I never used it.

That all seems to be changing. The new Flickr app for iPhone came out in December, fortuitously, just as Instagram was alienating its user base, and it’s good enough to bring me back to using it instead of Instagram.

For one thing, the app excels at taking photos now and while it offers the now ubiquitous silly “artistic” filters, they are easily ignored. Where Flickr is an improvement over Instagram is that it doesn’t force me to crop all my photos as a square. Plus the presentation of photos is far prettier and user friendly and I can set up sets and collections and manage privacy in a granular way. Yet like Instagram, I can choose to share my photos to Facebook, Twitter, and a Tumblr account.

Of course, another reason for my immediate switch to using Flickr–maybe even the best reason–has to do with the old adage that if you’re not paying for a service, you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold. Since I have the option of paying for a Flickr account (and do), I have more confidence that Yahoo won’t try to monetize me and my photos through onerous privacy-stripping means, unlike Instagram which provides no mechanism for me to truly opt-out.

The Flickr app is free, but only comes in an iPhone version at this time.

  1. That is an affiliate link. I earn extra space in my Dropbox account if you sign up for a free or paid account. You also get bonus space too.  ↩



Favorite iOS Apps of 2012

Perhaps the most tired cliché in all of publishing is the end-of-the-year “Best of” list. But since this hasn’t been the most scintillating spot for intellectual conversation in the blogosphere lately, you’ll have to take what you can get.

Actually, I’d written a post like this last year, but I managed to accidentally delete the post–after hours of work–before uploading it. Alas, you will never know what were my favorite iOS apps of 2011. But rejoice, because now you can hear about my favorites of 2012! Let’s get right to it.

N.B. Click the images for larger versions of the screenshots.


Google Chrome

My preferred web browser on all platforms is Google Chrome. Not only is it faster and less prone to memory leaks than either Firefox or Safari, the browser extensions are great (with some that you can’t find for either of the other two)[1] and the syncing among all your computers and devices works great.

This year, Google brought Chrome[2] to iOS and I’ve been using it whenever I have a choice. First, it allowed syncing of tabs before iOS 6 brought it to Safari and since I only use Chrome on my Mac, this is the only way to syncs them. I can also access any individual tab on any of my devices, like my work Mac, my laptop, our kitchen computer, my iPad, or my iPhone, from any of the other devices. Can’t tell you how handy that’s been.

Now the downside. Apple doesn’t allow you to switch default browsers for iOS. While individual developers can choose to you the option, you can’t (unless Apple changes its mind in a future iOS update) have a link in your email, say, open up in Chrome as long as you’re using the stock Mail app on your iOS device. (Of course, you could use the Gmail app, if you’re using Gmail, and then get links to open in Chrome.

Chrome is free to download.

Tweetbot for iPad

Tweetbot for iPad

Tweetbot, the awesome and popular Twitter client, was one of my picks for 2011 for it’s iPhone version, but 2012 brought us the iPad version, specially constructed to take advantage of the larger screen.

I’ve tried many Twitter clients for iOS. (At least fifteen by my rough estimate.) Tweetbot is the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. The interface is intuitive and makes reading your tweets a pleasure. A very nice feature is the ability to synchronize between devices so you can pick up on your iPad where you left off in Tweetbot for iPhone or Tweetbot for Mac. Also, not to be underestimated is the ability to monitor several separate Twitter accounts which benefits those who have split personalities or who need to access work and personal accounts.

Tweetbot for iPad is $2.99.[3]

Drafts for iPhone and iPad


At first glance, Drafts (for iPhone and iPad) looks like a simple notepad app. When you first launch it, you’re presented with a blank screen and a couple of icons. Each time you open it, you’re presented with a blank slate to work with, while your previous notes are available with the tap of an icon.

Where Drafts really comes into its own is its integration with other apps on your device. Type some text into the note screen, tap the share button, and you can have a long list of actions to take with the text: Email it; Tweet it; post it to Facebook; send as an SMS/Message; Print it; Add as an item or note to Omnifocus; Create a Reminder; Create a calendar event; Save it as a text file to Dropbox or append it to another file; Save it to Evernote; Send it to a dozen different text editors or social media apps. The list goes on and on.

I like to use it to take meeting notes at work and then send them right into Evernote for long-term storage. It’s also handy for quickly creating a calendar meeting or appointment, especially in conjunction with another favorite, Fantastical (see below). And by keeping it in my Dock, it’s available for quick launch. Drafts is just a very versatile toolbox disguised as a simple notepad.

iPhone version is $2.99 and iPad version is $3.99.

Fantastical for iPhone

Fantastical for iPhoneAs with Twitter clients, I’ve tried a number of different calendar apps to find the one that works best. My calendar needs are somewhat complex with my personal calendar in iCloud, another personal calendar in Google that subscribes to my wife’s Google calendar; and a work calendar in Google, plus any number of subcategories in each. Getting all of my calendar items to show without having any duplicates has been difficult for most apps to accomplish.

Fantastical isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’ve been using the OS X version for some time and on the Mac, it sits in your menu bar and when you want to add a calendar event, you click on it and then start typing in plain English. The app has enough smarts to figure out the who, what, when, where, and why of your event and parse the different parts into the appropriate fields. The iOS app does the same thing, as well as displaying your calendars in a uninque day-at-a-time view.

Where other apps like Calvetica and Agenda display events in a pleasing manner, entering new events is a much greater hassle than it should be. Fantastical makes it much simpler. And if you have a newer iPhone you can simply dictate the event to the app. What could be easier?

Fantastical is $3.99. It’s not a Universal app and there is no iPad version yet, but the iPhone version works fine on the iPad.

Just Landed for iPhone

Just LandedThis is an app that you’re not going to use all that often, but provides a handy service that most of us can appreciate. Many people have experience with having to pick someone up at the airport and while there are apps that can tell you whether a flight is on time, Just Landed goes a step further.

In addition to tracking a particular flight, it also notes your location in relation to the airport and monitors traffic conditions in between, calculating the best time for you to leave where you are to get to the airport as the plane lands. It even provides notifications to you when the app isn’t open.

While the plane is in the air, you can see it’s estimated time of arrival and even the terminal and gate number, as well as a countdown to when you should leave. When you arrive at the terminal you are given the option of sending a text message to the person you’re picking up alerting them that you’ve arrived. When the plane lands you’re sent a notification and even told which baggage claim area you should go to.

This isn’t a multitasking wonder. Just Landed does one thing and it does it so well, you’ll want it on your phone always.

Just Landed is $0.99.

Day One

Day One for iPad

In a sense, my pick of Day One (iPhone and iPad versions are separate) is for the app on both iOS and OS X. This beautifully designed app lets you keep a journal or diary. You’re not the “Dear Diary” type? That’s okay, because you can use it to keep track of anything that will benefit from chronological entries. Track the progress of projects. Document meetings at work. Keep track of your children’s school assignments. Write drafts of blog posts.

The iOS and OS X apps sync via iCloud or Dropbox so that you always have access to all your entries. (And it’s all password-protected so you can feel free to be as honest as you want to be.) But the iOS version has a few added features, namely it can automatically add the location of your entry as well as the weather. Both versions let you include photos and on iOS you can add snap the photo with the camera right then and there. If you link to your Foursquare account

You can “star” favorite entries; put tags on them for organization; show your timeline as a list or on a calendar or list them by year.

It’s like your a blog or social network for your eyes only.

Day One is $4.99 each for the iPhone and iPad versions which must be purchased separately.

Sara Jenkins’ New Italian Pantry

Sara Jenkins New Italian Pantry

This is a relatively recent addition to my iPad and while I haven’t delved deeply into the recipes yet, Sara Jenkins’ New Italian Pantry still one of my favorite apps of the year due to its beautiful design and unmistakable promise.

Jenkins is a New York chef who owns an Italian restaurant and an Italian sandwich shop. What sets the app from other cooking apps is that it’s designed to help you cook in the classic spontaneous Italian style, where you cook creatively from your pantry and whatever the market has available.

To that end, the app starts with a visual list of 16 core Italian pantry ingredients as assembled by Jenkins that give the mximum variety. The user selects which ones he has in his pantry as well as whatever main ingredients you have or are considering–chicken quarters and asparagus, say–and then the app generates a list of recipes using those ingredients.

Each of the 16 pantry items has an accompanying video narrated by Jenkins explaining the ingredient , how to select it, and her take on it in Italian cuisine. The app also starts up with a video that explains the entire concept and while it’s a good introduction, I wish it didn’t automatically play every single time you launched the app. (You can stop it and move past to the main menu, but it’s a bit of friction in an otherwise nicely designed app.)

New Italian Pantry is $3.99 and is iPad only.

And that’s my list of favorite iOS Apps introduced in 2012 (or that I installed in the year anyway.) Next up is my list of iOS Apps with Best Updates in 2012 and my favorite OS X Apps in 2012.

  1. To be clear, none of the iOS versions of these browsers allow the use of extensions.  ↩


  3. All links go to the iTunes Store.  ↩


  5. Prices were current as of publication date of this post.  ↩



My iPhone 5 review

IMG 0017

I purchased a new iPhone 5 last month[1]. I don’t want to do a full review–there are plenty of more qualified people who have done those already–but I wanted to touch on a few highlights and some things have struck me as I use it.

Much has been written and said about how this is not a revolutionary upgrade over the iPhone 4S. I think they’re right, but they’re also wrong in what that means. They acknowledge that the iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter, and taller with a bigger screen, but that there’s not much else new. But where I think the critics are wrong is in the comparison to last year’s model, the iPhone 4S. Unless you happen to make your living writing about technology–that is, if you’re not a normal consumer–you don’t upgrade your phone every year. Instead you don’t upgrade until your carrier gives you the okay, which is every two years. Thus the proper comparison is to the iPhone 4 and from that phone this is a big upgrade: The processor is much faster and everything about the iPhone feels zippier; I finally get access to Siri; The camera is a huge improvement.

In fact, I would say that there hasn’t been a truly revolutionary year-to-year upgrade since the iPhone 3G brought 3G speed, a real camera, GPS, and everything else. (Some might argue the Retina display upgrade from the 3GS to the iPhone 4 was revolutionary.) Since then it’s been incremental and evolutionary from year to year with enough features for the typical upgrader to buy a new phone.

Even though I do think the iPhone 5 is a great upgrade, I still might not have upgraded this year, except the home button on my iPhone 4 had stopped working.[2] That’s not to say that I don’t love my new iPhone. Like I said, evolutionary.

Improved features

IMG 0025

That said, it looks gorgeous. I opted to get the all-black version and it’s sharp. The aluminum back will be more durable than the glass, undoubtedly and the sharp, deep blacks of the Retina display blend seamlessly into the black bezel that surrounds it so that the display almost feels like it’s floating in space. The gorgeous contrast and brightness of the display almost demands a great black and white photo as your lock screen, like mine.[3]

From a more functional standpoint, I’m finding that I love Siri. Sure, it’s not perfect, but my understanding is that over time it will gain more and more functionality as Apple develops the server side[4]. Even now it’s very useful. Ironically, it’s restored a workflow I had four years ago that stopped working. I wrote in 2008 about how I used the now-defunct web service I Want Sandy and the now-defunct voice recognition service Jott to send stuff I wanted to remember to my task management app Omnifocus from my ancient Nokia dumb phone while on my interminable commute. Now, with Siri and the Omnifocus iPhone app (which work together), I’ve got that back and even better. I just tell Siri, “Remind me to…” or “Remember…” and it goes to my Omnifocus in-box.

I find Siri to be very useful in other ways as well. Launching apps with it can be faster than hunting among the several hundred apps in dozens of folders on multiple pages on my phone. Playing music can be good too, although sometimes Siri has difficulty understanding what I’m asking for. For instance, when I ask for “Matisyahu”, she[5] thinks I’m saying “modest Yahoo”. If I ask for his song “Miracle”, she plays Kenny G’s “Miracles”. If I ask by the iTunes partial album “Miracle-Single”, I get Darlene Zschech’s song “Miracle” on her iTunes partial album “Miracle-Single”. I have too many songs in iTunes that refer to miracles.

When introducing iOS 6, Apple made a big deal about Siri being better at sports, movies, and restaurants. Since Melanie and I almost never get to go to the type of restaurant at which we can make reservations, that part goes unused as does the movie theater bit. (We go to the movies about as often as we go to fancy restaurants, which is to say never.) But I regularly make us of her ability to tell me about the weather or to give me information about sports.[6] She’s also great at providing random information, such as the kind the kids ask for, like what time is it in Australia right now and is it daytime or nighttime there.

What else do I like about the iPhone 5? As I said before, the camera is a big improvement, especially in low light conditions. (There have been some complaints about purple hazing under some conditions, but my solution is simple: Don’t do that.)

The larger screen is nice, although I can’t say I felt cramped on the old screen. Having a fifth row of icons on the main screen does mean I don’t have to dig quite so deep for more of my apps.

Other improvements are due to the iOS 6 upgrade available to many iPhones and iPads so I won’t include those as iPhone 5 improvements.

Like I said it’s not revolutionary. Instead, I would say that iPhone 5 is about polishing the jewel, not mining the raw diamond and cutting its facets. I love this phone. It’s the best iPhone I’ve ever had and part of the reason for that is that it’s not a huge change from what came before. How much more perfect can perfect get in one year increments?

  1. My tale of woe in ordering the phone may amuse you. I tried to order it as soon as pre-ordering opened on Friday, September 14 at 3am Eastern (since Sophia had conveniently woken me up to tuck her back in) and then realized I wouldn’t be able to. We were headed to Texas the following week for my brother-in-law’s wedding and Apple’s order system wouldn’t let me change the shipping address from my billing address to my in-laws’ house. So I went back to bed and got up at 7am and the shipping time had slipped to two weeks by then, at which date we’d be home.  ↩


  3. You can continue to use your iPhone if your home button stops working by going to Settings > General > Accessibility and turning on AssistiveTouch. This puts a movable software button on your screen that when you touch it gives you access to a number of hardware functions, including the home button.  ↩


  5. The image on my screen above is from the awesome historical photo website, This particular image dates to 1943 and shows a dock stevedore at the the Fulton Fish Market in New York holding an immense lobster claw. Compare it to the still-large lobster in his other hand to get an idea of how big this monster must have been.  ↩


  7. Much of Siri’s functionality happens off the iPhone in Apple’s servers somewhere on the Internet, which is why it requires you to have an Internet connection to work.  ↩


  9. Apple officially does not refer to Siri by gender, but it’s a female voice and so I will anthropomorphize it.   ↩


  11. Even here there are limits. She can give me the AFC East standings and tell me who is playing whom, at what time and on what channel, but she can’t tell me when their bye week is. And while she recognizes NASCAR as a sport, she admits she can tell me nothing about it. Way to be all blue state, Siri.  ↩



My review of the Touchfire, the Kickstarter iPad keyboard

Touchfire on my iPad

I like to back Kickstarter products, especially Mac and iPhone-related gadgets. In the past I’ve backed and received an iPad stand and power adapter covers (not to mention a coffee gadget, some musical productions, and more). Maybe it’s the hope and promise embodied in the little guy with a big idea.

So when I heard last fall about the Touchfire, an iPad keyboard, and watched the video, I knew I had to back it. After a series of manufacturing delays (you get a good lesson in the woes of product design from being a Kickstarter backer) and a re-design caused by changes in the iPad 3, I finally got my new Touchfire a couple of weeks ago.

It’s pretty remarkable and mostly lives up to the hype. While it’s designed to tuck up under the Smart Cover when not in use, I feel like it’s a little too bulky to keep there so I keep it in its case. And I think you will benefit the most if you’re a touch typist. But even if you’re not, you will still benefit from the tactile feedback it gives.

The Touchfire is a thin, clear plastic flexible film, with raised button pads to correspond with the onscreen keyboard underneath. (It may be obvious, but it bears pointing out that the Touchfire only works in landscape mode, but then that’s the only way I type when I use the iPad on a flat surface.) A touch typist will be able to rest his fingers on the home row, but even a hunt-and-peck typist will find their typing speed up.

Sure a real keyboard, like the Apple Bluetooth wireless keyboard or the Logitech keyboard case, will provide a better experience, especially since you don’t lose screen real estate to the onscreen keyboard with them, with the Touchfire you don’t have to worry about batteries or Bluetooth pairing.

Touchfire also has a nice website for new users to help provide some training and familiarization as you get used to it. By the end of the training, I was up to 120 words per minute.

At $50, it’s not a cheap accessory, but if you’re looking for an iPad keyboard that adds little to no bulk, it’s a worthy consideration.

Oh, and of course, I typed this review on my iPad using the Touchfire keyboard.


Favorite Mac OS X Apps of 2011

At the end of every year there is inevitable cavalcade of articles and posts listing “The Year’s Best of X”, where X is some category of stuff. At the risk of adding to the noise of such writing, I have been inspired to catalog my favorite software of 2011 for both Mac OS X and iOS (i.e. iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches.) This post is for OS X apps.

To be clear, this is not a list of my favorite software of all time, just those that I either first acquired this year or were released this year. All of them are apps I continue to use on a regular basis and have become a part of my normal workflow.

Mac OS X Lion and the Mac App Store

Mac OS X Lion Let’s start with the foundation. In 2011, Apple released the latest version of its Mac OS X operating system, 10.7 Lion. There were a number of improvements in Lion that I immediately adopted wherever I could use them, including full-screen applications; Resume, which re-opens the apps you last had open when you restart your Mac and re-opens the documents you last had open when you re-open your apps; Autosave and Versions, which only work in Apple’s own apps so far; Air Drop, that lets you transfer files wirelessly within your network; and so on. Of course, there were some “improvements” that weren’t so welcome, including Launchpad, Mission Control, and the removal of always-visible scroll bars. Among the biggest changes, though, was iCloud, which lets me sync all kinds of data among all my Macs and iOS devices. Likewise iTunes Match is so big, it might merit its own entry on this list. For $25 per year, I get high-quality versions of all my music for streaming and/or downloading on all my devices everywhere: home Mac, work Mac, iPhone, iPad, AppleTV, and so on. I no longer have to remember to synchronize my Christmas music playlist to my phone in December—It’s just there already!

A related piece of software also makes my list this year: the new Mac App Store. For the first time, there is an authoritative place to find and download Mac software, both free and commercial. In fact, much of the software on this list can be found there. The best part of the Mac App Store is that you only need to buy a piece of software once and the license allows you to install it on all your Macs, In addition, all upgrades are done automatically through the App Store. No more wondering if you have the latest version and scouring sites like MacUpdate for updated software. On the other hand, the restrictions Apple imposes on software in the Mac App Store prevent many very useful utilities from being able to be included. However, there’s nothing preventing such software from being downloaded independently of the App Store and installed yourself, so it’s the best of both worlds as long as Apple doesn’t change that ability.

The rest of the list is in no particular order:



It’s been a good year for music lovers on the Mac. Before Apple made iTunes Match available, earlier this year Mac users in the US finally got access to Spotify, a service that allows you to listen to any of the millions of songs in their library for free (with a small catch) and even create and share playlists of music with friends, on blogs, and on social networks. The small catch is that the free music is only available on Mac and Windows computers. In order to listen to music on portable devices like iPhones, iPod touches, iPads, Android phones and tablets and more, you have to buy a Spotify subscription for $10 per month. That $10 gives you access to their entire catalog wherever you go, which is nice, but if you stop paying you then lose access to all that music. I prefer to own my music, which is why I don’t have a Spotify subscription. (I buy from iTunes or Amazon MP3.)

Instead, I use Spotify as a preview for music I might want to buy and as a way to discover new music. If I hear of a new artist or song or album, I can listen in Spotify to full tracks, instead of the short previews you get in iTunes or Amazon MP3. You can also see what your Facebook friends are listening to on Spotify as well. One caveat is that like many free services, you have to endure occasional ads. These short audio ads play every fourth song or so.


Sticking with our audio theme for a moment, a new app from one of the best Mac software developers around just came out and has already made my list. Piezo by Rogue Amoeba is a simple but elegant audio recording app, so simple in fact that it has two buttons. First, you select your source, whether it’s the Mac’s microphone or one of your apps like the DVD player or QuickTime Player or Spotify. (You might see the implications of this ability right there.) Second, hit record in Piezo and play in the source. Then when it’s done, hit the record button again and you now have a file on your computer. If you want a little more control, you can change what kind of recording it makes, but that’s about all. Now if you have more serious needs like timed recordings or autostart and stop or filters, then you’ll likely want Piezo’s more capable (and more expensive) cousin, Audio Hijack Pro.


FantasticalOn a more productive level, Fantastical from Flexibits has become invaluable for entering and tracking calendar events. The program lives in your menu bar and when it’s called, you start typing your new calendar event in natural language: “Meeting with Joe at Panera on Saturday at 10am.” Fantastical then parses your words and puts each piece in the correct box so that you just have to hit enter and — BAM! — you have a new entry in your calendar. Fantastical supports both iCal and BusyCal (my preferred calendar software) and even shows you a preview of your calendar events for the next couple of days or other period.



Moom This is a tiny piece of software, but oh, so practical. Moom by Many Tricks hardly has any visible footprint on your Mac until you hover, but don’t click, your cursor over the green zoom button in the window controls of any window on your Mac. A small translucent window pops up that allows you to both move and change the size of the current window. This is especially useful when you have multiple windows open that you want to place so that you can see more than one or copy and paste or something like that. You can either click on one of the preset positions/sizes or choose your own by clicking and dragging over the grid. It may seem a bit pricy at $5 for what it does, but use it for a few days and you’ll begin to think it’s a bargain.


YoinkYoink (where do they come up with these names?) from Eternal Storms is another one-trick pony, but it’s a useful trick. It’s a temporary holding place for files or folders that you’re moving from one place to another. On Windows, you can copy a group of files and paste them elsewhere, but on Mac OS X, you have to drag them, which can be a pain as you navigate several layers of folders while trying not to let go out of the mouse button. With Yoink, you drag the file(s) to the translucent Yoink pad that pops up as soon as you start dragging. Then, once you’ve got the destination folder open, drag them from the Yoink landing pad.

This is much like a particularly useful feature of the massive Finder replacement app, Path Finder, which I used to use but eventually gave up on because it was a bit unwieldy and taxing on the system. Yoink yoinks this nice feature out of Path Finder and makes it stand alone.




ScreenFloatAlso from Eternal Storms is my next pick, ScreenFloat. Often when I’m learning a new Photoshop or web design skill, I follow along with a tutorial I’ve found online. Unfortunately, I will find myself having to keep swapping between programs because their windows are overlapping and Moom won’t help because I need the windows to stay large for some reason. That’s where ScreenFloat comes in. With it I can take screen shots of windows or parts of windows and then have those shots float over everything else. It’s especially useful, for example, with Photoshop dialogs where I have to set many different values to accomplish a particular effect. You can have one or many shots floating at once and the program can store them in collections (say related to a particular task) or smart collections where they are group by rule-based criteria.



Marked Another small and focused app (detecting a theme?) is Marked from Brett Terpstra. I do most of my writing in TextMate, a powerful text editor, using a markup language called Markdown. Rather than writing and editing everything in HTML, which leaves all kinds of difficult-to-read code and tags to wade through, I use Markdown to write and edit and then when I’m done, I use a command in TextMate to convert to HTML. Thus this …

![Marked]( “Marked”)Another small and focused app (detecting a theme?) is [Marked]( from [Brett Terpstra]( I do most of my writing in [TextMate](, a powerful text editor, using a markup language called [Markdown]( Rather than writing and editing everything in HTML, which leaves all kinds of difficult-to-read code and tags to wade through, I use Markdown to write and edit and then when I’m done, I use a command in TextMate to convert to HTML.

… becomes …

<p><img src=“” alt=“Marked” title=“Marked” /> Another small and focused app (detecting a theme?) is <a href=“”>Marked</a> from <a href=“”>Brett Terpstra</a>. I do most of my writing in <a href=“”>TextMate</a>, a powerful text editor, using a markup language called <a href=“”>Markdown</a>. Rather than writing and editing everything in HTML, which leaves all kinds of difficult-to-read code and tags to wade through, I use Markdown to write and edit and then when I&#8217;m done, I use a command in TextMate to convert to HTML.</p>

However, it’s sometimes useful to preview what I’m writing to be sure it’s going to look right. I could convert back and forth between Markdown and HTML and then open it in a browser, but that’s cumbersome. TextMate has a built in previewer, but Marked is better. For one thing, it updates in real-time every time I save my document. For another, I can set up multiple custom CSS stylesheets so that the preview looks like the eventual web page it will post to.


ReederThe final entrant on this list is Reeder from Silvio Rizzi. I’ve used RSS readers for years, most faithfully Netnewswire, which in its later incarnation synchronized with Google Reader.

But once I got an iPad, I began using Reeder for iPad, which is the best implementation of an RSS reader that takes advantage of the unique properties of multitouch-based computing. It’s a smooth and intuitive process. So when Reeder for the Mac came out, I wanted to see if that same intuitiveness translated to the Mac, whose own strengths are somewhat different from the iPad. And it did.

The process of moving through feeds and entries and folders is just so easy as is the integration with external services like Instapaper and Evernote and social networks. It’s also been optimized for OS X Lion’s multitouch gestures and full-screen view. And the synchronizing with Google Reader is fast and easy. Well, worth the price.

So that’s my list. I’ve installed other applications and utilities this year, some I continue to use and others that have fallen by the wayside, but these are the standouts. I look forward to seeing what comes next year, but judging by this list, one thing’s for sure: a lot of it will be coming through the Mac App Store.

So what are your favorite Mac apps that came out in 2011?


Too Soon

Apple Logo with Steve Jobs silhouette is a tasteless and vile set of websites. I’ve felt their hateful sting personally. (I’m a big boy, I can take it.) And I’ve seen it wielded against people I know. They are lacking in taste, sensitivity and class.

Steve Jobs was no saint. Anyone who claims otherwise either doesn’t know anything or is kidding themselves. But those of us who posted remembrances over the last few days weren’t just glossing over those parts of his life. We were engaging in something called graciousness. As a society, we used to abide by civilized niceties like not speaking ill of the dead, at least before they’re buried. Remembering the good. The bad will be remembered on its own in time.

Some will say that there is already a sort of hagiography of Jobs being built. They may be more widely read on the subject, but I think I’ve read a fair number of posts and articles and I don’t recall seeing anything that ignored his fallen humanity or that failed to remark upon his remarkable temper and/or arrogance.

I’m curious if any of the folks re-posting Gawker’s tasteless folderol noticed that one of the criticisms they level against Jobs as a defect is that he prevented pornography from appearing in any of his app stores. That’s a virtue in my book, not a vice.

Some claim that Jobs also blocked worthy iOS apps on the basis of having Catholic content. I’m only familiar with one app that was rejected, related to the Manhattan Declaration, which was technically not a “Catholic” app. The declaration is a pan-Christian effort. And I don’t recall any definitive explanation for why it was rejected, just speculations.

Like I said, not speaking ill of the dead before they’re even cold in the grave, to put it bluntly, used to be considered good manners. I’m sorry to see how many self-appointed cold-water-throwing truth-revealers choose to ignore it by getting in bed with the lowest sort of “journalists”. And I found the Gawker article to be anything but balanced, relying as it does on assertions without accompanying data.

Steve Jobs was a hard and driven man who sought perfection in himself and others and sometimes he wasn’t “nice”. Well, excuse me if “nice” isn’t on my list of top 10 personal qualities. Plenty of the best people and most accomplished people were criticized for not being “nice”.

Again, I know he wasn’t a saint. He was an immensely talented man who had a vision that he pursued and he changed the world doing it. Consider the device you’re reading this on. Without Steve Jobs it would be immeasurably less easy to use and probably much buggier.

In 30 years, we’ve gone from computers the size of refrigerators that you interacted with via white letter on black background text-only screens to computers that fit in your pocket, that can connect to nearly the totality of human knowledge, and can now respond to natural language commands to accomplish all sorts of tasks. Steve Jobs didn’t take us from point A to point B by himself, but it’s safe to say that without him we’d be a lot further away from point B than we are today. Point B wouldn’t even be a dot on the horizon, in fact.

Gawker’s stock in trade is classless contrarianism and controversy. Some say Gawker might have done us a service despite itself, in exposing the scandal of the working conditions of the Chinese factories that build Apple products. Even there I don’t think it’s a criminal scandal deserving of special exception to the rules of civilized discourse, in that Apple has already taken steps to address problems with the subcontractor responsible, including moving some manufacturing to Brazil. Not to mention the issue of working conditions in China is an issue for all American industry, not just one and it’s a bit unfair to single out Apple as the bad guy. As a shareholder and a fan of the products, I have kept up with this issue and they have responded to criticisms of working conditions.

Jeff Miller offered the following cogent thought on Google+:


I try to follow Chesterton’s approach in that he can see both the good and the bad. He could applaud and critique the ideas of his friends such as H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw while remaining their friends. Usually what we find though in the case of the world of ideas is that not only are the ideas attacked, but the person themselves is to be personally attacked. This always moves a response to idea into something more hateful which does not serve the cause of projecting the response forward. Modern politics is full of this. We are not allowed to applaud anybodies accomplishments if they had personal flaws. Columbus Day being a case in point. Rather we should be doing a both/and of acknowledging what is good and not minimizing what is bad.

Those who link to and re-post Gawker’s manipulative and often factually suspect drivel ought to think twice about it.

Photo by Lightsurgery –



Steve Jobs, 1955-2011


Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

This statement from Apple’s “Think Different” campaign was originally applied to the great minds of the the 20th century, artists, scientists, entertainers, thinkers, and peacemakers. But it could also be said to apply to Steve Jobs.

I’m not going to write a hagiography of Jobs here or canonize him. I’m sure he was flawed and had his failings. But you can’t deny that he’s changed the world as we know it. In the past 30 years, he has completely changed four major industries: computers, telephones, music, and animated movies. And his influence has extended deeply into dozens of others.

Seven years ago, I wrote about the Apple computers that I’ve owned and used over the years and I’ve only gone deeper and deeper into the Apple ecosystem since then.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Steve Jobs has had more day-to-day influence on my life than anyone outside my family. It’s hard to say goodbye to him today. Something that Steve Jobs created through his incredible vision is never more than a couple of feet away from me at all times. And those amazing devices connect me to a world of information, entertainment, and more importantly, community that I could only imagine as science fiction just a few years ago. He will be sorely missed.

I would add, like I did at the CNMC, that Steve Jobs taught a lesson to Catholic communicators that we should stop selling toothpaste and instead sell clean teeth. Rather than trying to convince people of particular doctrines and dogmas, we need to show people how a relationship with Jesus Christ changes and improves your life.

I would say that some of the grief I feel today is for the man, Steve Jobs, and his family, but I didn’t really know him in those terms. To be honest, I think the greater emotion I feel is the uncertainty I feel for the future of the company he founded and the industries he’s shaped.

May Steve Jobs rest in peace.

Review: Belkin Bluetooth Keyboard Folio for iPad 2

IMG 1583

The Belkin Bluetooth Keyboard Folio for Apple iPad 2
is a useful addition to my repertoire of iPad accessories. If you have the need to type more than a handful of words on occasion, then a Bluetooth keyboard should be something you either have or are considering. But do you really want to lug along another item with your iPad. This case makes it easier.

I used to carry my Apple Bluetooth keyboard in a special case of its own, but it was bullky and I had to remember to turn off Bluetooth on my iPad or the jostling of the keyboard in my bag would turn the iPad on and kill the battery.

As for the Belkin case, on the plus side, the keyboard has an on/off switch to save its battery when you’re not using it and to prevent the problem I mention above. It also comes with a standard USB mini port and cable for recharging, which is better than having to fiddle with AA batteries.  The case also allows the positioning of the iPad at several angles, although not at the extreme angles you see in other cases/stands. I’ve used the keyboard case for about a month now now and it’s worked well and is comfortable. Battery life has been very good as well. I just now had to plug it in for a recharge for the first time. Also the way the keyboard folds up out of the way when not in use is convenient.

On the other hand, the keyboard is a bit cramped. The keys are a bit smaller and closer together than a full-size keyboard so my typo rate is higher. The case is limited to displaying the iPad in landscape mode, unlike the Targus Versavu Keyboard and Case for iPad 2 which allows rotation of the iPad to portrait mode. I’d use that sometimes if I could. As you’d expect the case adds a lot of bulk to the sleek, svelte iPad, but I’m not sure that’s unavoidable with an integrated keyboard. With a separate keyboard, I was at least able to leave it behind when I wasn’t using it.

Unfortunately, the Belkin case’s cover doesn’t incorporate Apple’s Smart Cover magnets so it doesn’t turn the iPad on or off as you open or close it. That wouldn’t be so bad, but I find the ports and buttons sometimes difficult to access. Plugging in the dock connector cable requires a very deliberate effort, for example. I’m not sure why all the extra fabric hanging out around the edges is necessary except perhaps for ease of manufacture. I find it annoying. Also, unlike the Smart Cover, the Belkin’s cover doesn’t do anything for wiping skins oils or fingerprints off the screen. I never realized how much the Smart Cover does clean until I what happens when it isn’t there.

The bottom line: The Belkin iPad 2 keyboard case is a decent product, but given it’s $100 price and the fact that the Targus Versavu keyboard case is less expensive, yet has fewer of the Belkin’s limitations in a better-looking package, I’d spend my money on the Targus. But since I have the Belkin now, I’m going to keep using it and it will serve me just fine.

Disclosure: I received the Belkin iPad 2 case as part of’s Vine program, in which certain customers receive free products in exchange for reviews posted on the site. While I get to keep the products I review, there is no expectation or pressure given to make a positive review of any product. All opinions are my own and completely unbiased by external factors. Links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. I will receive a small percentage of purchases made as a result of clicking on one of them.

Web Apps I use: Evernote


On the new social media website Google+, I’ve seen some conversation from people who are discovering Evernote and I thought I’d write about how I’ve come to use it. I’ve written about Evernote before:

But I’ve never done a writeup just on the service itself and how I use it.

Notice that I called Evernote a “service”. It’s not just a piece of software, but instead it’s a sort of ecosystem that becomes a backup for your brain. Here’s how Evernote describes itself:


I have Evernote on my personal Mac, my work Mac, the Mac in our kitchen, my iPhone, and my iPad. Plus Melanie has Evernote on her Mac and her iPhone. It’s everywhere. (And if you use Windows computers or have a BlackBerry or Android phone, you can get Evernote there too.) So how do I use it?

For one thing I clip webpages I want to keep into it. Every time I do a web search for something I think I might need to find again, I clip it into Evernote. They have extensions for all the major web browsers that make this easy. It’s especially nice in the Chrome browser because it will offer to save just the URL, grab the whole page, or intelligently clip just the relevant data. In addition, whenever I do a Google search, the extension also searches Evernote for the same words and lets me know if I’ve already got notes that match my search.

Evernote synchronizes my data between my local software and company’s servers so that it can then automatically send that data to all my copies of Evernote. They also add search data for any images in your notes. That’s right, Evernote doesn’t just search text, but also searches photos and PDFs. When I get business cards I take a picture of them either with my phone’s camera or my Mac’s webcam and save them to Evernote. When I need to find that person’s phone number later I just type their name in to Evernote’s search and up it comes.

I have a document scanner at home and often scan bills or other important correspondence that I need a record of, but don’t need to keep the physical copy, and then put that in Evernote. Then I shred the paper and keep from having an overflowing file cabinet.

Here are some other ways I use Evernote:


  • I use the webclipper to save recipes I find online to a certain notebook.
  • We keep our grocery shopping list in an Evernote notebook that is shared between me and Melanie. We record items to buy on the kitchen Mac and then the list is always on on our phones. (At least theoretically: shared notebooks don’t work on Melanie’s iPhone 3GS, although apparently they’re working on a fix in the software to do it.)
  • We have a shared notebook called “Household ToDo & Wish List.” As we think of stuff we need to buy, projects that we’d like to do, and items that need to be fixed, we put them here.
  • I keep a “Takeout orders” notebook. Every time we order takeout I record what our order was. Very often Melanie or her sister will ask, “What did I get last time? That was so good.” Now we know.
  • Classic children’s stories are often in the public domain on various websites. So are the lyrics to many classic ditties and children’s songs. I’ve clipped them and now they’re always at the ready when I need to entertain a child.
  • Story ideas and blog posts in progress go into a notebook for that purpose.
  • Meeting notes from work get typed into a notebook.
  • When I travel I email my itinerary to a special secret email address that every Evernote user gets. I also clip information related to my destination, hotel reservations, etc.
  • Receipts from any online shopping and serials numbers for software purchased online get a notebook.
  • When I’m at a store, I often take photos of items that I’m thinking of buying, perhaps for a home improvement project, and save them in Evernote for later comparison shopping or planning.
  • I have a notebook full of magazine clippings from various camping and backpacking magazines that I’ve collected over several decades that I’ve scanned into Evernote.

The possible use cases go on and on. The best part is that Evernote is free, but not in the “free, but not useful until you pay” manner. The premium, paid version gives you even more awesome features, but the free version is completely usable. The difference is that for $5 per month, you get 1GB per month of uploads, instead of 60MB; You can put any kind of file in Evernote, whereas for the free version you can only attach images, audio, or PDFs; you can read and edit shared notebooks on the website instead of just read; The maximum note size if 50MB instead of 25MB; and your scanned PDFs are searchable.

I’ve only just scratched the surface of what Evernote can do. They have something called the “Evernote Trunk”, which is a program in which they’ve partnered with many third-parties to integrate Evernote into their hardware, software, or web-based products and services. The Evernote blog is also a great repository of tips, tricks, and use cases to inspire you.

Th whole point of Evernote is let you offload from your brain the stuff you need to remember, but have trouble keeping track of. It’s worth trying it out and seeing if it can fit in your life. I think you’ll find it can.


My first Kickstarter purchase: PadPivot

Pad pivot

Today I received my first Kickstarter project to result in an actual product. If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s a unique way of providing seed funding for entrepreneurial projects that would otherwise never see the light of day. Let’s say you have a great idea for a new beer-fetching robot. You get together with an engineer friend and you come up with a design, you build a prototype, and you work out the kinks. You’re ready to build your new robot, but it costs tens of thousands of dollars to buy the raw materials and hire a factory. In the past, you would go to your friends and family to chip in, you’d mortgage your house, and if you were lucky you got a bank loan or venture capital investment.

But Kickstarter allows you to crowd-source your production costs. With Kickstarter, you put your project online and you tell the story. You set a dollar amount to raise and deadline to raise it by. Then you offer a return on investment. Say, for $50 you get a robot t-shirt; for $100 you get a robot; for $175 you get two robots; for for $500 you get your name engraved on the side of your robots, etc. If the project gets fully funded by the deadline, you go to production. If not, nobody gets charged any money and you move on.

The great part is that the inventor can gauge if he really has a market for the device and if demand is high he can raise a lot of money. Some projects have raised 10 or 100 times more money than the initial request.

I’ve backed several projects on Kickstarter. I’ve backed the recording of a new CD by jazz-folk singer Burke Ingraffia, who I went to Franciscan University with. For $10, I get digital downloads of the tracks on the date of the CD release. I’ve also backed coffee joulies, an ingenious product that immediately cools coffee to the right drinking temperature and then keeps it there for an extended time. I recently backed Red Pop, a gadget that attaches to an iPhone and works as a shutter button. It interacts with an iPhone app to make picture-taking better. And then there’s the one I got in the mail today.

The PadPivot works with my iPad or Kindle or even my iPhone to do several things. When I’m sitting on the couch, it’s has a nice curve so it fits right over my thigh, keeping the iPad secure and positioned so I can use it. The Pivot comes with an elastic cord to secure the Pivot to my leg if I want to be extra-safe. The PadPivot can also hold my iPad on the desktop in either portrait and landscape orientation. Yet it folds up into a small portable size. The PadPivot holds onto the back of the iPad with a non-slip dust cover, but if I want extra security, the dust cover peels off and there’s a sticky yet re-usable surface to grab it. I wouldn’t use in a car on a bumpy road without a hand holding the iPad, but for all normal use it’s great. On the couch, on the plane or a bus or train, in an auditorium, laying in bed—all great uses for the PadPivot.

So I’m excited not just to use the PadPivot, but also because I had a hand in bringing it to market and learned a little bit about what it takes to create such a product. It’s the great American story.

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The PadPivot, folded up and upside down

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iPad on the PadPivot

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iPad on the PadPivot as a desk stand.

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Bare PadPivot strapped to my leg

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iPad on PadPivot strapped to my leg

(At this point, you may be asking where you can buy one. They’re now accepting pre-orders on the PadPivot website.)