Tag Archives: Apps

iPad Journal: Looking for a new writing & blogging sweetspot

A couple weeks ago the developers of Ulysses took the app to a subscription model. I don’t do subscriptions. So, I said my goodbye. Then I began my move back to Byword for writing and publishing to WordPress. It works pretty well. There are a few quirks. For example, while it is possible to publish a post with an image the image must first be uploaded to the web and a link inserted for this to work. Compared to Ulysses which took care of uploading the image during publishing. Not as convenient but still not worth a subscription.

Another, when working on something of several pages, Byword lacks the ability to quickly jump to the beginning or end of the document with a keyboard shortcut. I often do podcast transcripts of many pages so this is important and a bit of a hassle when it’s lacking.And, on the note of trying to navigate through many pages with keys, I easily loose track of the cursor and have to tap the screen. Not the end of the world but just one of those little oddities. Byword still has not added the overlay for displaying keyboard shortcuts. As far as I know,there is no shortcut in Byword to easily add a link. Not the end of the world but just another little annoyance.

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Enter, iA Writer
So, with reluctance I’ve purchased yet another writing/publishing app: iA Writer. Reviews are good and, like Ulysses and Byword, it offers publishing to WordPress. At $3.99 it’s certainly worth a try. The way I see it, it’s still far less expensive than locking into a Ulysses subscription.

My initial impression is that it is certainly a solid app, pleasant enough to work with. Whether little annoyances such as those I mentioned about Byword begin to show, well, more time using the app will bring those to light. I’m not sure what I think about the font choice for writing but it’s not changeable. Something lacking that I was hoping for is an option to share text/urls from Safari. Currently, I can send such things to Drafts or Notes as a go between. Or, just as likely, I’ll use Clips. With iOS 11 around the corner it may be that I’ll be getting in the habit of dragging and dropping text and urls.

What I like:

  • The blue cursor and highlight are nice and easier to see than the dark gold used by Byword.
  • Set-up for publishing was very easy. It publishes as a draft and then opens up the page via web which is perfect. From there I can set the post type and add keywords and categories.
  • I can select text then use the Command-k shortcut to turn the text into a link with the URL currently in the keyboard. It’s a little thing but one I really like.

What I don’t like:

  • I’ve tried uploading an image with this post and I get an error that the request timed out. So, that’s a bummer.

Time will tell.

So long Ulysses

Well. Darn it. Count me among those that enjoy Ulysses but will not subscribe. I’ve used it for a year and it’s a great app. The best feature, in my scenario, is posting to WordPress. I’m happy to pay well for apps like Ulysses and pay for updates as needed. But I’m not willing to pay for a subscription. I can’t afford to subscribe to every app I use. If it is essential for what I do, maybe. But even then I’m not happy about it. But for a text editor? No. There are too many other options. The one feature of easier blog posting is not enough to keep me around.

I may continue to use the current version till it no longer works but I’ll likely look into other options and probably begin the transition to something else. I suspect it will feel strange to invest further documents into an app that no longer has a long-term future on my devices. In fact, it only took me the time to write those two sentences to decide that I would begin phasing out my use of Ulysses this very moment. The problem is that every document in Ulysses is held in a monolithic database. Compare that to an app like Byword or Editorial, both of which store documents as individual text documents in their app folder on iCloud or Dropbox, respectively. 

So, as of this moment, I’m giving up the benefits I found in using Ulysses and switching. I’ll revisit both Byword and Editorial for now. Also, there have been quite a few updates to the official WordPress app. I’ll give that another look for the actual mechanics of blog posting. 

A final brief but blunt note about app subscriptions: NO. Your app is not a magazine or a music or video service. It’s an app.  It is a thing that I want to own, not a service I want to rent. There’s a time and a place for subscriptions but apps is not one of them. At least, not for me. Let me pay a fair price for an app. Offer paid updates as needed. But I want to own it. I don’t want to be locked into paying for it again and again. Not for a dollar or $2 or $5. 

Sigh.

Panic and the price of “pro” apps for iOS

Panic posted it’s The 2016 Panic Report and offered this very glaring and blunt statement about developing and selling iOS apps:

  • iOS continues to haunt us. If you remember, 2016 was the year we killed Status Board, our very nice data visualization app. Now, a lot of it was our fault. But it was another blow to our heavy investment in pro-level iOS apps a couple years ago, a decision we’re still feeling the ramifications of today as we revert back to a deep focus on macOS. Trying to do macOS quality work on iOS cost us a lot of time for sadly not much payoff. We love iOS, we love our iPhones, and we love our iPads. But we remain convinced that it’s not — yet? — possible to make a living selling pro software on those platforms. Which is a real bummer!

Yikes. Very disappointing. But I have to admit that I have very mixed feelings about Panic. I’ve used Coda and Transmit on the Mac for years. Now I use them on my iPad and they are two of my most used apps. They’re great apps. But here’s the thing, as much as I enjoy and use Panic apps there is this other thing that kind of bothers me. Take the statement above. Who the hell was using Status Board? My (admittedly vague) understanding is they started that app for themselves and used it in house. I may be mis-remembering that. But regardless, I looked at it and while neat I had absolutely no use for it. I don’t see how Status Board was a pro level app. Or, if it was, I don’t see why the failure of that one app should impact 3 other iOS apps that are most definitely “pro” apps and which I suspect have a much larger, more committed user base.

Panic’s public face often seems silly to me. A year or so ago a big deal was made about their clever sign. They seem kind of squirrely in that they seem to get distracted by fun and otherwise cute projects. On a certain level, that’s great. Fun is good, whimsy too. But it just seems odd that they put that much time and effort into a sign with an iPhone app that people can use to change the colors of the sign and yet, a year later they are complaining about the time and energy investment in iOS apps not paying off. It seems odd.

Meanwhile, Coda, introduced on the Mac in 2007, currently sits at version 2 which was released in 2012. That’s 5 years per version. Which seems a little long but not too bad. But based on Panic’s 2016 review and 2017 projection we should not expect Coda 3 anytime soon. I’m fine with that as I’m not using the Mac version much at all. But in the comments to their post was a link to a twitter thread involving a bug/missing feature in Transmit 4 (the current version). It was brought to their attention in late 2014 and while Panic replied steadily as time progressed the issue has yet to be addressed even though Panic first suggested they had a fix as far back as early 2015 and yet, two years later, that thread is still going and that issue is unresolved. That is poor form. And I’m sure it’s not the only example.

Panic is one of those companies that has a sterling reputation in the Apple Nerd Herd and I’m conflicted as to whether it is deserved. It’s important to be realistic in our expectation. I often think folks are not very realistic in their expectations of Apple. Perhaps I’m being too harsh in my assessment of Panic. They’ve got a nice chart demonstrating how active they were in updating their apps over the course of 2016 and they were. A few new features but mostly lots of bug fixes. Looking at the release notes it was lots of bug fixes. That’s not to trivialize the updates because removing bugs is important (hence my comment in the previous paragraph).

To reiterate, these are fantastic apps and they seem to be solidly supported. I suppose I just don’t understand their complaint about selling apps for iOS. It is they who set the prices. As of now it looks like Coda sells for $24.99 and Transmit is $9.99. In 2015 Coda was only $9.99 and was a free upgrade to those that had purchased the first version. That seems far too low to me and is certainly lower than the Mac versions. Why not bump up the price? I paid a good bit more for the Mac version of Coda and would happily pay more for the iOS version if it was asked and if it meant that Panic would be more committed to development on the iOS side of things.

I’m not an app developer. I’ve not done a comprehensive review of the costs of iOS apps that are being built for and sold to professionals. I do think that the developers of professional grade apps such as Coda and Transmit should sell their apps at a price they think is fair for the product. If it’s the same price as that being asked for the Mac version then so be it. I know that a version of Affinty Designer is in being worked on and if it sells for the same price as the Mac version I’ll pay it. Again, I’ll pay it enthusiastically because it’s an app I want and need to make my iPad more valuable as a tool for my graphic design projects.

This post seems a bit unfocused to me. It was Panic’s recent statement about selling “pro” iOS apps that set me off. Panic goes out of it’s way to share the many ways in which it is whimsical and it’s apps delightful to use. It’s evident in the design and presentation of the blog, the website, the apps. Whimsy is everywhere and it’s wonderful. But when it comes to pricing their apps, valuable tools that do indeed help professionals get real work done, maybe Panic needs to take itself and it’s user base more seriously.

Podcast Apps: Overcast vs Apple Podcasts

I've been a podcast listener since 2005. I forget when Apple released its Podcast app but when they did I started using it. It was nothing fancy but it was functional. When Marco Arment released his Overcast app the Apple nerdery raved about it so I gave it a shot. It seemed to work pretty well and I used it a bit but eventually switched back to the Apple app because at the time I was also using iTunes on the Mac to listen to podcasts and I liked the fact that all my devices remained in sync. I could start a podcast on the iPhone and finish it on the iPad or Mac.

When Overcast 2 was released I updated and gave it another go. But after a month or two I ended up back with Apple's offering. I just didn't find the features of Overcast worth switching. Largely for the same reason as the first time. I still used iTunes on the Mac for some of my podcast listening.

With the recent release of Overcast 3 I thought I should give it another go. I don't listen to podcasts on my Mac anymore so I figured this time it might stick but this time around I found another reason to stay with Apple's app: Siri. When I'm listening to a podcast I'm usually walking or driving and when I get to an ad I tap an AirPod and ask Siri to skip forward 3 minutes (sorry there's only so many times I will repeatedly listen to an ad for a product or service I'm never going to use). Also, my mind occasionally wanders and it's nice to be able to request that Siri rewind a minute or two. Overcast doesn't seem to work with Siri in this way. Well, it does, but requires a second tap to be instructed to begin playing again. Also, I like to ask Siri to play the most recent episode of a podcast and this works pretty well with Apple's app but not with Overcast.

This fits in well as another example of my recent efforts to simplify my use of iOS. While I'll give an app a try if there's a chance it's better than my current choice, I'm not going to switch unless there are real benefits for doing so and in this case there aren't.

Mini-Review: iDraw for iPad

My main work machine is the 2012 Mac Mini. I’ve written before about my transition to a standing desk for health purposes. That said, I do want to be able to use the iPad as a tool to get work done. Having a flexible workflow is good and it would seem a waste, with the increased power of the iPad Air 2, to not utilize it when the need arises. My initial thought was that it would come in handy for editing the html of client websites and yes, that is a breeze with Diet Coda and Transmit. But why stop there? Those were tasks I could also accomplish with the 3rd gen iPad.

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In recent days I have also begun wondering if I might not also be able to get a bit of graphic design work done with the iPad. Adobe does not yet sell an iPad version of Illustrator or Photoshop but there are other options available. Pixelmator is the most recent crossover from the Mac. It has some pretty fantastic photo filters and the handy ability to be passed back and forth to the Mac version. It can also export to psd for crossing over to Photoshop when I’m back to my Mac. That said in the little bit of dabbling I’ve done with it I’m finding some frustrating limitations which I’ll likely explore in more detail soon. Suffice it to say for the purposes of this post that those limitations led me to try out iDraw and that has proven to be a great decision.

iDraw has been available for the iPad since the first iPad release in 2010 and there is a Mac version too though I’ve not tried it. Last week I downloaded the iPad version and have been giving it a spin. Fantastic. This is an app I can use to get real design work done. I’ve not yet used it for a client project though that will come soon enough. I’ve done enough with it in a few hours to know what it is capable of. Not surprisingly, it’s not as fully featured as Illustrator or Photoshop but it does have the most important tools and they perform very well. In fact, the iPad handles everything I’ve tried to with iDraw with ease.

I created the example image in my first spin with the app. Shape building, styling with gradients, adding text to a path are all very straight forward. I started with the rectangle tool and then used the pen tool to begin adding new points and then used the path tool to make my pen handle and tip. Apply stroke and gradient and then tweek. As with Illustrator, all the objects are put on one layer but layers are supported and easy enough to create. I used the same process for creating the inkwell. Styles include drop shadow, inner shadow, inner and outer glow. Multiple instances of these effects as well as multiple fills can be applied to each object. Very handy to be able to apply multiple gradients to single objects.

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The brush tool is very easy to use with width and smoothing options though I only found the one style brush tip. Will need to investigate. Adding text to a brush stroke is easy enough as is styling that text after adding it to the path. Adjusting the path or moving the text to different points along the path are also very easy. As you might expect, there are plenty of object options such as alignment, path combinations and more.

When you’ve finished you have quite a few options for using and sharing images. Before sending to any of the iOS 8 app extensions for sharing (Transmit, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) you have the option to choose the file size, resolution, and format: pdf, svg, psd, png or jpg.

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