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Editorial 1.1 is Out

The new version of Ole Zorn’s Editorial is out. It is a Universal build so if you bought the excellent iPad version, you get the new iPhone version for free.

It is magical. Zorn is a wizard. There is no other possibility.

Viticci has written another comprehensive and quintessential review of the apps and their features and it is well worth checking out if you are on the fence. Pour a big cup of coffee before starting it. It is epic-length and has videos.

Go buy Editorial now. It has finally unseated Nebulous Notes as my go-to text editor on all devices running iOS and it is worth far more than the paltry $6.99USD price tag. Finding the app may be a challenge however since searching for “Editorial” on the App Store yields tons of useless garbage not related to editorials or text editing. I found the app by searching for “Pythonista”, Zorn’s other tour-de-force, and then looking under the heading “Other apps by this developer”. Nice job, App Store. Real nice.

Unread: Now With 100% more Newsblur Support

I’ve wanted to try Unread because I’m a huge fan of Jared Sinclair’s writing and I have loved his other apps1. He recently released an update to Unread, his RSS reader, which enabled reading of Newsblur accounts (my RSS aggregator of choice).

The functionality is really nice and the themes, animations and gestures are all well thought out and executed with skill. If you were on the fence about Unread and have a NewsBlur account, your wait is over. Go snag it.


  1. I’ve written at length about how I think Riposte is a nearly-perfect ADN client and Whisper serves me well for ADN messaging. Both have great design sense and utility. 

ThreadOne

Finally, my hope for an ADN messaging client has been realized. ThreadOne, created by developer Aaron Vegh, has hit the App Store and it is exactly what I have wanted in an ADN chat client. While Kiwi was functional1, it struggled with presenting private messaging because of its relatively slow refresh times and mechanics more suited to a stream-based message list. I basically wanted a version of Whisper on my Mac and ThreadOne has so far delivered on that wish.

It is a focused effort for a first release but Vegh has plans for further development to add features down the road. 2 I’ve been using it and have noticed a few things that ThreadOne does better than any of the ADN messaging alternatives I’ve used on the Mac so far:

  1. It’s lightning fast. It is as quick as using iMessage or any of its competitors.
  2. The interface is minimal and melts out of the way.
  3. The sound notifications are well done. Subtle and unobtrusive but informative.

So far, ThreadOne does exactly what I needed it for. More features would be nice (font size and choices would be my highest priority) but it is doing the job I bought it to do and shows what a good developer can do with the well-designed, fast and capable API ADN has put together.


  1. And made great strides in the recent release. 

  2. As Aaron Vegh comments in his article about the “Story of ThreadOne” on his blog. 

Dark Sky - A Defense

There have been a lot of critical things said about the latest version of Dark Sky since its last release. Some of it may be warranted (and I’ll get to that at the end of the piece) but some have been focused so much on some elements of the app’s design that they put the actual daily usefulness of the app aside to make their points.

Data Visualization

From the Dark Sky website:

Dark Sky uses state-of-the-art technology to predict when it will rain or snow — down to the minute — at your exact location, and presents it to you alongside the most beautiful weather visualizations you’ve ever seen.

I have long sung the praises of Dark Sky’s ability to predict bad weather with uncanny accuracy. It’s not always correct, but I understand that weather is an unexact science. Sometimes it predicts rain, like right now, when I’m actually getting snow so heavy I can’t see across the street. The inflection point of a temperature change along a front is understandably a hard thing to predict with 100% accuracy. I think we all understand that as reasonable people.

So that being said, as reasonable people, we would know that looking at a chart, no matter how many labeled axes and tickmarks, no matter how many data points which show a temperature trend inching upwards or downwards twelve hours from now, it is really just an approximation of what the actual weather might be. We understand, as reasonable people, that the weather might be something quite different when that time arrives 12 hours from now. It turns out that it wasn’t 14F, but 18F or even -4F (no thank you).

Yet I have read many words over the last week criticising the lack of exactingly-labeled graph axes. The line on the charts have tickmarks labeled with a time and a temperature when there is an inflection point. It’s that simple. Sometimes it doesn’t change at that exact datapoint because the line is a smooth curve, not a jagged chart. Given that, the savvy designer will know that the line can’t change quickly when there are two temperature inflection points close to one another but yet that is the criticism I’m hearing.

The other knocks are that there are two stacked representations of data on the “Next 24 Hours” screen. One is labeled “The Sky” and shows what his happening in the sky over the next 24 hours and has an x-axis for the next 24 hours starting from now. That makes intuitive sense.

The chart below is labeled “Temperature” and has an approximation of temperature across the same 24 hour period. Looking up at the chart you can interpolate temperature to time but you can intuit that 12 hours from now is halfway.

“How can I see what the temperature is fourteen and a half hours from now, smart guy?”, they bellow.

To them I say, “You are missing the point. This is a weather app and even if there was an exact 24 hour chart with a 100x zoom to the minute, the temperature will still be approximate 14 hours from now. That is the point of these charts and that is fairly well conveyed to me when I look at them.”

I’d go so far as to say that if it does bother you, this probably isn’t the weather app for you.

There are also some pretty smart people criticising the lack of labels on each page to denote what they represent. I’m with Dr. Drang on this one when he dissects Jared Sinclair’s complaints about the app.

I can only assume he thinks “casual users” are idiots. It’s true that having a heading on only one of the screens is inconsistent, but I don’t see how anyone could mistake what these three screens are for.

That’s right.

Colors

If you could make a color on a chart representing rain, what color would it be? A watery blue, right? That makes sense. How about snow? Maybe an icier blue? Check. Clouds should be gray and fog should probably be a darker gray. Check and check. Those all make sense intuitively and those are the exact colors used on charts when those weather events are taking place.

The complaints about colors (or lack thereof) appear to me to be uncompromisingly harsh given what the app is describing. You could have criticised the last version for being too dark.

Refresh Time

There is nothing but a pulsing circle when you open the app.1 The pulsing continues until it gets enough information to display and then the screen updates with up-to-the-minute information.

Many designers have said that it is bad design to display just a pulsing circle. I am not exactly sure what they feel should be displayed while data is being fetched. If it was cached data, as some suggest, it clearly wouldn’t be up-to-the-minute data. The app needs to connect to a server to get its information. That’s just the way it is and if it takes a while, that’s a function of a lot of things that aren’t entirely in the app’s control.

I fail to see where a spinning globe or a dancing pickle would alleviate your pain. Just wait a second and you’ll get your information. If not, check back in a few minutes. Also, it’s the actual weather so maybe poke your head outside and take a look.

Some Things Actually Do Need Fixing

After spending some time with the new app, there are some things that could use some help. The radar view always is zoomed out to view the entire eastern seaboard for me. I am not quite sure why but they should fix that. It should be about a 35 mile radius around my current location.

The feed from alerts.weather.gov depicting winter warning news is showing an ugly non-mobile-formatted webpage right now. It’s a minor thing but it would be nice if it was easier to read. Knowing that I’m about to be hosed by awful weather is easier to take when I don’t have to zoom in on a webpage that looks like something best viewed in Netscape Navigator.

Conclusion

I get that people hate change. Having a healthy critique of a beloved app that underwent a pretty major makeover is healthy however much of the comments I have been reading over the last few days has seemed like design buffs trying to one-up their peers on which pixel ended up in the wrong place. It’s the “gotcha” school of collective design.

Sorry if this seems a bit critical. I was ignoring this whole echospheric event until I caught up on the ADN comments this morning and felt like I needed to clear the air a bit. I’m also cranky and miserable that the clouds above (as seen as a pretty rainbow of reds and oranges in Dark Sky) are dumping another 8-10” on snow on my car outside right now.

this is total bullshit


  1. That has been a big criticism I’ve seen as well. I like that its a circle but again I’m in the minority. Those of you who hate the circle and don’t know why it is a circle, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Would a square be better? A smiling raindrop? A cute puppy? 

Dark Sky: Weather with a New Look

Being forced to stay in tune with the weather this winter has kept me opening weather apps to see what horrible stormfront is going to pelt us next. Check The Weather has been a favorite because of the seven day view and the Forecast integration. Dark Sky, the app, has gotten a major facelift and functionality change today and I’m really happy about it.

Dark Sky was one of those apps I’d demo to people and blow their minds. If someone asked for an iPhone app recommendation it was top of the list and if they wanted a weather app it was an obvious choice. Even though the window of the weather forecast was small, the data was top notch – almost prescient. I was always shocked by how accurate it was and when I’d get a push notification warning me of immanent rain in 15 minutes it meant I had to find somewhere dry fast.

The new screens are clean and thoughtfully designed and, although I haven’t had much time to put this new version through its paces, since it is deriving its data from the same place as it was yesterday I have no questions about its veracity and accuracy.

This version is a free upgrade to current users and new users can get it for $3.99 USD on the App Store.1


  1. NOTE: Dark Sky currently supports the United States, including Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico and the UK, Ireland, and surrounding areas. 

Reading Things Later

I have noticed a slow change, over many months, to how I read content on the web. Instapaper was the only thing I’d use for saving articles that I wanted to read later and I never gave it a second thought. I needed a place to store links that weren’t long form reading though and rather than keep a local bookmark repository (before the days of iCloud), I turned towards Pinboard as a way to do that.

As luck would have it, over the last couple of years, as my uses for Pinboard increased, so have the iOS clients that support it. My current favorite is Pincase. It has a nice parser and some sweet discovery features. It smartly walks you through the creation of a shortcut in Safari that will load sites into Pincase almost instantly. I’ve been really happy with it as my iOS Pinboard client of choice.1

Bookmark List Discovery Features

Still, reading things on iOS isn’t always what I want to do. I often safe longform links and want to read them on my Mac. I could read them right through Pinboard but I want to cut down on the visual clutter when reading longer articles. Safari’s “Reader” mode is quite nice but I found a way that I like better: Nick Wynja’s Paperback.

Paperback is a Pinboard reader which strips all of the visual clutter and formats the article in a nice font on a clean white background. There are some minimal Pinboard controls (like the ability to read the full article, read the original article and mark the article as read in Pinboard) but the site is largely set up to get out of your way.

As these tools and apps continued to proliferate and get better, Pinboard just gradually took over all of my “read it later” duties and Instapaper has fallen to the wayside. I currently save articles to Pinboard on my Mac using an Alfred shortcut. On my iOS devices, I’ll use the native “add to” controls in Tweetbot and Riposte. In Safari, I’ll use the Pincase shortcut described above. For apps that don’t support Pinboard natively, they will generally allow me to bounce out to Safari so I can use the Pincase shortcut anyway.

Pinboard is a pay service but it has been worth every penny. I can’t think of a more integral and important tool for how I personally use the internet. If you try it and just don’t “get” it, do yourself a favor and keep using it for a while longer. For me, it went from a intermittently-used, semi-convenient repository to something I use all day long.


  1. I also use Pinbook because of its quick tag searching and it continues to be my tool of choice on the iPad. Search is front and center for Pinbook and it is blazing fast. 

Some New Alfred Workflows

Every once in a while, I stroll through the Alfred forums looking for new workflows to help me keep my hands on the keyboard. While I was perusing the forums yesterday1, I found three workflows that instantly worked their way into common use. They replace things I do all day long in other ways but these are really fast and easy to use.

PinAdd - As the title on the forum post states, PinAdd takes the foremost window or tab in your browser and adds it to you pinboard library but allows you to tag it in-line as you add it. You can add a “.” before the tags and it will mark the link as unread, which is great when you want to pick it up again later in Nick Wynja’s Paperback, which I do all the time.

AlfredMaestro is the name of a workflow that does some pretty amazing things if you’re a user of Keyboard Maestro. Typing in the shortcut (“km” by default) will bring up a list of your macros in a list. Selecting the number corresponding to the macro you want will execute it.

As a bonus, any text you add after the “km” command will filter your macro list so if you have well-named macros, it is super fast. This thing is great if you are old and can’t remember one of your copious, hand-rending keyboard combos.2

nvALT Search and Open will take a command like:

    nv {search term}

And pop up your nvALT window with that search displayed. Very handy if you can’t remember which virtual desktop you have nvALT sitting on.

Alfred keeps getting better and better through user extensions like this. If you’re not using it already, it’s worth your time to check it out.


  1. Mavericks broke my Bluetooth Toggle Alfred macro, sadly. I have yet to find a replacement. 

  2. OK I admit it. I’m old as dirt and can never remember keyboard combos. 

Kaleidoscope

Unfortunately the Black Friday sale for Kaleidoscope ended or I’d be posting their coupon code for everyone to take advantage of it. Given that I like using tools before I mention them on the site, I started putting the tool through a trial-by-fire over the last 24 hours. I can see why so many developers swear by it. It’s a really great app.

If you’re looking for a tool that will compare… well basically anything, and then display differences, look no further. I was able to upgrade this site to a new version of Statamic (1.6.5) and install a new site search (Bloodhound) and it all worked flawlessly thanks to having a precise file comparison tool.

Highly recommended.

Kaleidoscope | Black Pixel | $69.99

Some Things Stick

This site is a place for me to capture things that catch my eye, appeal to me or improvement my life in some measurable sense. I’ll hear about some app on the internet, a gaggle of blog writers will praise it effusively and I’ll give it a try. Generally, I’ll get the appeal and I’ll download the app to see how well my opinions match up. At first, adoption of the new thing will be very novel and captivating but what makes apps stick?

I decided I’d go back through some old posts and see what apps I’ve continued using and which apps I haven’t. It seemed like an interesting experiment. It isn’t meant to highlight my capriciousness or how much I apparently hate money but to try and discover what makes one app “sticky” and one app fall by the wayside.

One thing that I notice when looking back is that the recommendations and must-buys aren’t all mistakes of poor judgement. Apps that I write about favorably are all solid apps which I enjoyed and used for quite a while before posting my comments1 Often, solid apps are supplanted by even more superior apps. As a user, that’s a good thing. Other times, life or workflow changes cause apps that once fit a niche perfectly to become outmoded or inefficient. I don’t ascribe to the idea that an app has to be maintained, changed, prodded, poked or otherwise tweaked to appear “new” in order for it to be a vital piece of kit. In fact, sometimes changes to an otherwise solid app can cause it to fall out of favor 2

Apps That Didn’t Stick

Knock - I used this app a lot for the first few days. After noticing some instability, I deleted it and stability returned (to both my phone and Mac). After hearing of a new version, I re-installed it and have been unsuccessful in getting it to run. I suppose I’ll try it again later but the hard shutdown that precipitated from my last installation attempt has me wondering if it is worth it.

24/7 was something I used for weeks and loved. I still use it to track my heartrate but Sleep Cycle alarm clock is a more effective sleep schedule alarm clock and I’m still tracking steps and weight via my mini Fitbit ecosystem.

Weather Line is a cool app but I find I still reach for Check the Weather for its clarity and radar maps.

Airmail is a fantastic email app and the price can’t be beat (other than Mail.app being free, I guess) but I’ve switched over to Mailmate and couldn’t be happier.

Mynd looked like a nice opportunity to have a reactive, smart calendar but Tempo fits into the niche better for me. But then Fantastical 2 came along and, while it serves a different niche than the two aforementioned calendaring apps, it’s amazingly good.

Sparrow was my staple email app and, even today, I wish it would work with other IMAP accounts. It was slick, powerful and smart. But I’ve left Google 3 and don’t plan on ever going back. Since then, I’ve been bouncing around with email clients but I recently reached equilibrium with Dispatch. It has some real downsides (no access to folders) but the ability to clear my Inbox is front and center. An ideal iOS email app is a hard thing to pin down.

Apps That Stuck

Alfred 2 replaced Launchbar and is incredibly helpful. The stats it collects says I’ve launched it 3000 times since I installed it and it feels like more than that. I use it to launch apps, open files, search the internet, check times in different timezones, do math, open my remote servers and a lot more.

Folding Text is still in daily use, mainly because it handles work meeting notes so well. The ability to “roll up” meetings has become essential on busy weeks and the markdown support is stellar.

Launch Center Pro is a staple for me, as I explained in the linked post. It has most definitely stuck for many, many reasons.

OmniFocus 2 for iPhone has hung around but it was replaced for a while by Todo Cloud in a concerted effort to find a better task manager. The test concluded a few days ago and there were too many gaps in Todo Cloud’s functionality. I have some serious muscle memory built up with OmniFocus and, despite my frustration with the current OmniFocus iOS offering, the things I really needed continued to work. I’m going to try to find some ways to make the current OmniFocus experience better and it seems this app, despite being on the ropes for a few weeks, has stuck.

Bartender is incredibly useful. My current menu bar has the date (in Fantastical), important email notifications (thanks Mailmate), Caffeine and the time. Everything else is hidden away. On a small screen, that is so important. Essential app.

Textastic is used for all coding projects and long-form markdown. It’s also my “default” for opening text files. Great app.

Nebulous Notes is my favorite iPhone Dropbox-enabled text editor. There are a lot of other great options out there and, sadly for my wallet, I own many of them. A new text editor version will get released and I’ll try it out (most recently Byword for iOS) but, almost invariably, I run into some showstopper of a problem. It could be a bug or it could be a workflow issue but I always come running back to Nebulous Notes. It just “works” and I’ve never lost data which is more than I can say for the rest of them.

Coda has definitely stuck. It’s a remarkable app that I use to maintain my website. The amount of functionality packed into the app is surprising at times. It’s like the difference between those crazy Swiss Army knives and the more sensible, pocket-sized varieties. Coda has just enough to be opened as a default when editing this website. It lacks some of the more obscure bells and whistles but they are often things I hope to never have to deal with anyway. A+ app.

Editorial is the most amazing text editor on iOS. Nothing really comes close.

Byword is what I’m using to write this post on my Mac. While I eschew the iCloud syncing, the publishing add-on and the iOS apps, as an editor this thing is amazing. I love it.

Fantastical, as I mentioned before, is great on both iOS and the Mac. While I’ve had dalliances with other calendar apps on iOS, this app usually sits alongside them rather than tucked into a folder.

Overall, I think I pick winners. There are the occasional apps that I review or comment on here that fade over time but this retrospective has been helpful in that they almost always fade for a good reason. It’s natural – even good – to have applications take a lesser role as time goes on because, as life changes, your needs as a user change too. It is also worth mentioning that, just because an app hasn’t been updated for a while, doesn’t mean its any less useful now than it was two years ago. In fact, I’m more worried that apps I use everyday get a “revolutionary new update” and change in ways that make them less useful to me.


  1. A pet peeve of mine is the too-quick review. I prefer to live with apps for a significant amount of time before posting a review. 

  2. Like in the case of OmniFocus 2 for iPhone. I find some things demonstrably worse in the new version. 

  3. I forward emails that straggle in from people who don’t yet have my new email address to my Fastmail account. I have DuckDuckGo set as my default search on the Mac. I’ve switched to iCloud for calendars, Dropbox for shared documents and haven’t logged into Google+ (intentionally) for months. Bye Google. Your weird and creepy policies won’t be missed. 

MailMate - On Board

It’s clear that Gabe has cost me a lot of money over the last year. His recommendations have all been spot on, however, and it’s fair to say he has been really pushing some amazing stuff lately. I can’t think of one thing that he’s pointed me towards that I haven’t stuck with1.

Last week he got me looking at Mailmate. I downloaded the trial, thinking there was no way I am spending $50 on an email app when I was happy with Airmail. I also have a ton of automation happening on a Mac Mini running Mail.app2 so it was unclear why I’d benefit from the automation that Mailmate brings to the table.

At first, Mailmate seemed fiddly and over-complicated but it’s not. It takes a very workmanlike approach to design and I appreciated that fact once I started using it. After a few days, I had hooked up all of my email accounts to it and was using it for everything. It is truly remarkable and powerful. I used the trial for a few days and then, convinced that the app had what I wanted for daily use, I funded the Indiegogo campaign and bought a license for 1.17 and the eventual 2.0.

Rather than go into exhausting detail, I’ll give you the highlights.3

  • Smart Folders – they are truly smart. I have them set up for the common things that I’m generally searching for on a daily basis.
  • Markdown editor – I’ve been using the Airmail markdown editor for a while now and it’s nice but not this nice.
  • It’s very fast
  • It doesn’t hide things I need to see – Visible item counts on Smart Folders for things like Flagged emails and Spam stay in my face so I remember deal with them when I have time.
  • The menu bar customization is pretty great – Gabe covered this in his article but its worth noting that the level of customizability is staggering and powerful. I set it up to see things that I really need to see but, otherwise, I’m left undisturbed to work in peace.
  • Quick File – moving emails to different folders is intuitive and fast. I use it to move things to my SpamSieve “TrainGood/TrainSpam” folders all day long.

Yes, $50 is a lot to pay for a function that is fairly well-covered with tools that already exist but I’m finding Mailmate to be a truly exceptional app that covers a lot of the edge cases I never knew I had. Plus, that $50 goes to making Benny’s business sustainable and nets me some great software. This app is only going to get better.

Grab the trial from the Mailmate site and give it a go. You don’t lose anything and you might be pleasantly surprised but what you’ve been missing.


  1. With the exception of task management apps but I am hoping to write something up about that in the very near future. 

  2. The Mac Mini Mail.app uses SpamSieve to keep my remote inboxes clean, archives stuff I know I want archived (like receipts) and forwards emails containing shipping information directly to Junecloud. 

  3. For the details, go read Gabe’s posts on Mailmate