Here we are again. It's probably obvious I don’t write this blog all day everyday. All the same, I would like to have gotten this out earlier than now. The first two posts in this little series — for the iPad, and then the Mac — had a more ‘productive’ focus. Essentially, they were about work of one sort or another. The iPhone is different. It’s not that I never use it for any kind of work, more that I find more value in the other things it enables. Not in a million years would I shell out the criminal cost of this device if it were not for the camera, and thankfully the fun doesn’t end there. 1 Among the best iPhone apps of 2017, these were personal highlights.
Yes, I use Telegram. It's still the best cross platform message platform, and a surprisingly effective means for sharing, and transferring media files. iMessage has a way to go before it can match Telegram’s growing network of automated bots. With one caveat, though. If much of what’s been written about Telegram’s encryption has been easily countered, should you have more serious encryption needs I would recommend Signal, or Keybase. I continue to enjoy the service Telegram would be dramatically improved by default end-to-end, standard public key encryption.
The Keybase app is a front end for a public key directory that provides both secure communication, and verification of identity. I have used the Signal messaging app on and off for years, and while I trust the encryption it has never had the greatest user experience. There is more going on with Keybase, but it does an admirable job of making nerdy protocol easier to use. The effort to demystify public-key cryptography is something we should do everything we can to promote.2
This also made the iPad list, it’s even better on the iPhone. Clever touches like the Jump Bar make Reddit a less masochistic experience than ever. Whether or not using Reddit more is good thing remains to be seen. Apollo is a showcase of good design; an advertisement for the Apple design guidelines
Gamification once seemed silly to me, then I got really sick. I have since tried all manner of ridiculous methods for forming new, and better habits. Or indeed to break old ones. This is the only app of its kind that has stuck. That it limits the number of habits you can track at once is part of its charm. Such sensible decisions run through the app. With Apple Health integration, Streaks has been a helpful form of pseudo-psychological trickery.
Getting accurate weather data where I live can be difficult. There are no Weather Underground stations close enough. For accuracy, we tend to use New Zealand’s own Met Service, and their abominable app — if we have to. For the purposes of gathering data, historically, we have been left off the map down here. 3Weather Line uses Dark Sky, 4 so data-wise it is a bit of a Hail Mary. And yet, the forecasting hasn’t been too bad. The app itself is exactly want I want from a weather app, clean, simple, and fast to read. This is single purpose design done properly.
I have tried many different notes apps, but I always end up back at Drafts. The fact that I can do so much with the text when I’m ready to process it makes it ideal. It says a lot about this app that despite how long it has been around, and despite how long I have used it, I still find new uses for it. Yet again, it has genuinely been a highlight.
Still my favourite vocal recorder on iOS. If you need a little more than the built-in memos app can offer, this is probably for you. It also has speech-to-text powers, which work about as well as anything else using iOS native dictation. As you can see from the screenshot, the results can be amusing.5 However, the transcription function is useful for searching recordings. Automated cloud storage is nice peace of mind for important recordings.
My frustrations with RSS clients are akin to those with email apps. I’d much rather be using RSS than email. I still like the layout of Feedly’s official client, the magazine aesthetic is a better reading experience than most RSS apps. Unfortunately, it is buggy, slow, and like a lot of web wrappers it can be really annoying on iOS. Worse, it doesn’t support basic native in-text functions of iOS 6. Lire’s granular full text caching, and clean readability make it an ideal foil for Feedly’s shortcomings.
Novel Shots and Momentos
As I mentioned at the outset, the camera is the reason I dream up excuses for owning this device. The native camera app is almost always good enough. If you're interested, the featured photo of this post was taklen with the native app. There is no filter, and no HDR, it is simply a point and shoot from my balcony one evening. Having said all that, innovation in mobile photography means there are still discoveries to be made. Among the best iPhone photography apps in 2017, these were the ones I got a kick out of.
With the range of impressive camera apps available for the iPhone, it can be difficult to know where to start, let alone where to land. Especially if your enthusiasm outmatches your knowledge. I could have chosen any number of apps, but if the challenge is to pick just one, this is it. Unlike a lot of other manual ‘power user’ cameras for the iPhone, ProCamera can shoot video. It also captures some the best HDR images I have seen.
If you haven’t heard of it, VUE is a montage video camera and editor. Even if what creates is nothing new, this app has always been a clever way to create short, and unique videos. Thankfully the developers have never given in to feature bloat. Changes, and new features have only ever enhanced the app.
It is possible this app appeals more to me as a parent than anything, but I wouldn’t write it off too quickly. It started life as a kind of memory experiment, which even became a TED talk. 1SE received some welcome attention for the iPhone X, adding — among other things — some automation for the nostalgic, but lazy, user. To be fair, I might fit the bill, if it weren’t for being a control freak too.
You might have come across Tasty Pixel’s clever Loopy app. If you haven’t, let Jimmy Fallon show you what it does. On the road to building a pro version of Loopy, Tasty Pixel released this ridiculously fun little app. As much as it is clever way of testing the looping engine, the playful, rainbow coloured interface of Samplebot belies a neat, self-contained package of sound-mingling fun.
There are so many amazing iOS music apps these days. I decided to highlight a couple of apps that absolutely anyone have some fun with, no matter how novice, or expert you might be. This kind of app is not new to iOS, we already have the likes of Figure and Auxy , and Focusrite’s own Blocs Wave. Yet, with Groovebox they really seem to have hit on the formula for accessible, semi-automated composition. Groovebox is free, but heavily extensible. If you ever wanted to make some beats but didn’t know how, this will get you started. Never mind the purists, this is what fun looks like.
This article from The Washington Post is doing the rounds. It’s impossible to stay away from the implications of this. If you have even the slightest inclination to think critically, the sharing of facial recognition data should raise questions for you. Something that bothers me about a lot of so-called critics in the Apple space, they don’t so much give Apple the benefit of the doubt, as simply overlook critical details in favour of the hype machine. I’m enthusiastic about technology, but I’m much more enthusiastic about thinking for oneself.
I made a throwaway remark about the Warby Parker app, hidden in the show and tell links a couple of weeks back . 1 It has been on my mind since, not least because there seems to be a lack of nuance in a lot of the coverage on this stuff. You either get the cheerleading for what the technology can do, or the fear and doubt clickbait. Neither is helpful. While it’s early days, it’s not hard to see there are some sticky contradictions at play.
Apple has no need of the data for monetisation itself. They make the big numbers from their hardware, but the software is what gives the hardware itself value. 2 Privacy is part of that value. In other words, privacy is important to Apple because they can trade on it. It was a smart decision to make privacy and security a point of difference, regardless of how effective it might ultimately be. Where the lines start to blur is where apps and services operate on a contradictory model. Where data is the thing that Make no mistake, that data is extremely valuable.
Indeed, Apple—which makes most of its money from selling us hardware, not selling our data—may be our best defense against a coming explosion in facial recognition. But I also think Apple rushed into sharing face maps with app makers that may not share its commitment, and it isn’t being paranoid enough about the minefield it just entered.
Navigating these contradictions is vitally important, making mistakes with it now will have serious consequences,
Apple’s face tech sets some good precedents—and some bad ones. It won praise for storing the face data it uses to unlock the iPhone X securely on the phone, instead of sending it to its servers over the Internet.
Less noticed was how the iPhone lets other apps now tap into two eerie views from the so-called TrueDepth camera. There’s a wireframe representation of your face and a live read-out of 52 unique micro-movements in your eyelids, mouth and other features. Apps can store that data on their own computers.
Incidentally, I have no interest in being another ‘called it’ ego tripper. My concern is that people are thoughtful, and careful about what they give access to, and how. ↩
The site is not really about this this kind of thing. So if this is something you are looking for, take it as a good sign I felt the need to write it up. You see, I have a bit of a problem with the dropsies. It's bad, I drop my iPhone constantly. I’m both easily distracted, and often in a hurry. I have recently taken up both mobile photography, and mobile music making. 1Both of which are hazardous for handling devices. Being such a proficient a device dropper requires that I find the ideal protective case. Preferably the best ultra thin iPhone case possible. In lieu of having an indestructible, scratch proof device I’d prefer a case that doesn’t feel like a case at all.
Its not a hill I’ll die on, but I do hate putting cases on my devices. If you’ve been carrying around a plus size iPhone, and you have to add extra bulk to it; that is some nuisance. To be honest, I find the fetishising of these devices troubling. 2 Then again, it’s not hard to indulge a little hypocrisy if you appreciate them as design objects. If you’ve ever carried an iPhone around with a case, only to take it off for whatever reason, maybe you know what I mean. Once out of its case, you suddenly get a sense that serious time is spent making sure people enjoy holding them. 3 Maybe that is why there is something about a case — with at least one notable exception— that seems to detract from an iPhone’s function.
The Search for a Super Thin iPhone Case
Put these things together in one heavy internet user and you get a search history loaded with queries like this: ‘ world’s thinest iPhone case’, or ‘case that doesn’t feel like a case’, or ‘magical, invisible phone protector for fumbling idiot.’ You get the picture. For as long as I have had the need, I have been on the look out for a genuinely protective, super thin iPhone case. You know, something that would allow me to never change my behaviour. That search history means I have found my share of bogus claims around the thinest iPhone case. From the weird, greasy rubbery, transparent ones that get all yellowy and dirty. To bizarro bumpers, adhesive skins, and so on. Most of those are either ineffective, or accentuate the problem. I’m difficult to please.
Eventually all of that searching turned up three options. First, I quite like the Spigen cases; some of them anyway. They fit the bill of producing a an ultra thin iPhone case. Sadly, Spigen feel compelled to make their branding unmissable. Then there is the official Apple leather case. Since they sorted out the buttons, it works nicely on the smaller sized phones . The problem for most people is that case is obscenely expensive.
It was in looking to replace that Apple case that I came across Totallee. They have a kind-of leather case. It’s not actually leather. Well, it has leather on it, but it's really polypropylene with a leather finish. 4 Its ok, but the standard version is the real hot tip. Without getting weird about it, somehow Totallee have absolutely cracked the code for the best ultra thin iPhone case. Their case is the closest thing I have come across to not having a case at all. Not just because it is super thin, but the texture is right. It’s minimalist, and yet still protective. Putting your iPhone in the ultra thin Totallee case doesn’t make it feel weird to hold. More than that, it’s not festooned with any brand. Actually, if it matters to you, the Apple logo is still visible if you buy a complimentary colour.
I like it. Enough said.
You can pick them up on Amazon via the links below 5
There was a time that Safari was a clunky, annoying browser that you could install on Windows. To be fair, pretty much all browsers met that criteria at one time. Things change. In this week’s show and tell I included a link from The Verge, who are shipping Safari as the best reason to upgrade your Mac to High Sierra. So far it’s hard to argue with that. With features added to both iOS 11 and macOS, there is a lot to like about the development of Safari. Of particular interest is the new ability to control some of the internet's more annoying tendencies with Safari's iOS style permissions
This is one of the areas that I have tried to balance security concerns with usability. I haven't always felt comfortable with the results. For a time I used a tricked out install of Firefox, in accordance with one of my favourite privacy resources. The industry around tracking and data collection is so cunning that extensions can become a data point for tracking in themselves. This is one of many reasons the evolution of Safari has become so interesting, moving protection to within the webkit framework brings that balance a little closer.
Safari's iOS Style Permissions on macOS
It is the new granular approach to permissions that I am most impressed with. Particularly on macOS. Safari itself now contains the kind of detailed permissions that we are used to applying on a per app basis for iOS. Something I find incredibly annoying — and invasive — is having websites try to send me push notifications. Who in their right mind would want their browser to badger them all day long? It's more than just an annoyance, though. While some of the older security issues of Push have been incrementally addressed, by design they provide another means for tracking. Look closely and you will notice there is an irony in the way Apple is implicated in the origins of this. Thankfully, they are getting better at addressing these — perhaps unintended — consequences. Notifications are among the many things addressed in the new ability to control permissions for Safari. The upside of Push, it is a permission based protocol. So ultimately, it is one of the web’s annoyances that we can actually opt out of, and now without much trouble. It is not the only one.
The influence of the mobile platform on macOS is becoming more and more obvious. The rollout of Continuity has no doubt made this inevitable, but we have seen more and more features make the crossover. From small, but important additions like Night Shift, to the way iOS devices have been the testing ground for significant new technologies. From a user standpoint, I feel the most significant, visible influence right now is the approach to permissions. The improved preference allow a user to block an entire category. Or you can manage them on a case by cade basis. Like iOS, you can manage access to the microphone and camera, access to location, and notifications. Then there are usability features, like the ability to turn on Reader mode by default for particular sites. And, you can now put an end to those pesky auto-pay videos — you know who you are… Macworld.
You can access all of these permissions in Safari’s preferences. Or, if you want to change settings on the fly, you can right-click — or ctrl + click — on a website’s name in the omnibar, and select Settings for this Website…
The reality of the modern internet is it is a cesspit of shady behaviour by supposedly legitimate actors. Without even getting into the relevant arguments, the performance of websites is a case in itself for having control over the excess. I won’t lean into the rest of the story here, I can make my case another time. Suffice to say, there are good reasons to have some control over this. I will say that Apple’s interventions are doubly interesting, considering the industry built up around its fandom. Apple related sites are some of the worstoffenders too. My sense is there is much more nuance to this than you can glean from the exploding heads who are worried about their wallets. The argument that Apple is doing more to save advertising than harm it in these moves, should carry water with anyone thinking clearly.
But Webkit more generally has ushered in significant, positive changes. Especially when it comes to performance. Webkit also provides significant advantages for the implementation of content Blockers. One of many reasons Safari is starting to back up some of it’s claims.
Reasons to use Safari Browser on iOS
iOS users have had good reason to keep an alternative browser around. I still keep iCab Mobile on hand, for all the little things it can do. It has always been like a browsing pocketknife. It really is the only genuinely extensible, standalone browser on iOS. 1 The built-in download manager retains its utility, even as we move into the brave new world of the iOS Files App. For as long as I have been an iOS user, anytime I hit a road block while browsing, I knocked it over with iCab. However, Safari is extensible insofar as iOS itself is extensible. As the operating system has improved, so too have the default apps. Like other native apps, it is the system wide hooks that make it so useful. 2 From handoff, to iCloud synced history, bookmarks and reading list. All of these features are available system wide. Where third-party developers have cottoned on to the beauty of app extensions, iOS has improved out of sight. With Apple taking possession of Workflow, this is only going to get better.
From the more incremental improvements in iOS 10, it is hard to argue that Safari is Apple’s most mature, even its best iOS app. In iOS 11, Safari comes loaded with all kinds of new tricks. Like macOS, there is further control granted to user permissions. Although, it is more clear the influence iOS has had on the Mac. There is also the addition of WebRTC and media capture, and even access to experimental features. Nobody could argue that iOS — the iPhone in particular —hasn’t significantly influenced web technology. One of its most significant achievements is surely that hand it played in burying Flash. I would argue that this trend is going to continue through the extension of new features in Safari.
If, for whatever reason, you have held on to the impression that Safari is a clunky waste of time, trust me it is worth another look. You don’t have to go far to find lingering impressions of the browser are outdated. 3 I know, I was a subscriber to that view. Even for established users, there are new reasons to to use Safari. The changes in macOS High Sierra and iOS 11 are impressive. Apple has found a way to make privacy its point of difference. While I would urge people to see that for what it is, I'm not churlish enough to overlook the way it benefits users. These a big improvements.
In case you haven’t seen this yet. There is still a version of iTunes that includes the App Store. Apple recently removed the App Store from iTunes on the desktop. Given it had been such an integral part of the way so many people manage their devices, it is understandable that it was received as a wind up in some quarters. If a backdoor is going to turn up anywhere, it is bound to be on Reddit. And so it goes.
There is a process involved. But if you need access to your library of apps on the desktop for any reason. Or you are bloody minded enough to want to take this all work again while you can. This is what you need.
Perhaps the biggest problem with how this change was handled is that it came out of the blue. Users updated iTunes as they normally would. Upon opening it the message was delivered. No more iOS App Store on the Mac — or Windows for that matter. This workaround is not ideal, but it does exist.
Whink Notes is a relatively new app —at least compared with similar, more well known apps — that I haven't had the chance to dive into properly yet. For a cursory introduction I would call it direct competition for Notability, as it has almost the exact same feature set, right down to the the inclusion of audio recording — albeit for some subte differences. Like Notability, the most glaring ommision to my mind is OCR for searchable handwriting. From the brief play around I have had with the app so far I can say it is a very tidy app with everything you would expect from a modern, mobile notes app, making it a viable alternative to the more well known apps in the handwritten notes category, such as Notability, GoodNotes and Notes Plus. The current discount is available until the 13th of September
When I started this, earlier this year, I had in mind a friend who was heading back to school and setting up an iPad for the first time. That was at the start of the first semester in the Southern Hemisphere, so it is fair to say I have been a little remiss in getting this more substantial collection together. Nonetheless, it is finally here – and in time for a new school year for that other hemisphere, no less. To my mind, these are the best iOS apps for both students and academics.
Most of the apps on this list are universal – i.e., they work on both iPhone and iPad, and come as a single purchase. That said, certain workflows tend to suit one device over the other. For example, it is a good idea to use the device with the better camera for scanning and applying OCR to documents. I would also add that like everything on this site, what follows might be pitched in the direction of study and research, but most of these recommendations hold well for all manner of creative and project work. So, fill your boots nerds.
Communication, Administration and Planning
Airmail – My preferred email client, for the simple reason that it includes an unrivalled list of integrations. Adding tasks to any major task manager, clipping emails to DEVONthink, managing attachments, adding notes and so on, it’s all trivial with Airmail. A sound alternative is Spark by Readdle.
Fantastical – My favourite calendar app across all platforms. Fantastical has the best natural language engine of any app that I have come across. Even though I love the design of Timepage, I can’t give up Fantastical for the utility and ease of use when it comes to adding events.
Todoist – I have covered task-management here. I use Todoist for a few reasons. The clean, minimal design is easy to work with, and like Fantastical Todoist operates on natural language input. Todoist’s web API also means powerful automation options – for example, with Zapier and IFTT.
Due Reminders – Because sometimes it is not enough to have the singular reminders of a task manager or calendar. If there is truly something you cannot forget, Due is designed to pester you until you do it.
Taskmator – An iOS version of the excellent lightweight, plain text planning app Task Paper. The unique blend of outlining and task management is particularly helpful for planning writing projects. Being plain text, getting information in and out of it is a cinch.
PDF Expert – There are a number of excellent options for PDF viewers on iOS, including the free PDF Viewer that will be enough for many people. PDF Expert remains the standard for the fact that you can go further than annotation and actually edit PDF files. I am yet to find fault with its search capabilities, and unlike many apps that create document copies, PDF Expert will edit your files in place.
Documents by Readdle – It is possible that iOS 11 will make this app almost redundant, but I suspect it will retain a certain amount of utility. Fo awhile it has been the de facto file management app on iOS, but it also includes local sync services, a Wi-Fi drive, and a download manager that have made it something of a problem solver.
Scanner Pro – The last of a Readdle triumvirate. The OCR functionality of mobile scanning apps has improved steadily with the advancement in camera technology to the point where actual hardware scanners are unnecessary for most people now. Scanner Pro is not only one of the most accurate scanning apps, but includes some light automation features. Between scanning articles or books, and digitising forms, either this or Scanbot are very handy.
Focus – Productivity Timer – When I first heard of the Pomodoro Technique, I thought it was daft. I have come to realise it continues to gain in popularity for a reason. If you have a dopamine deficit, are easily distracted or given to procrastination when the pressure is on, this is something than can bring a little order to your endeavours. I’m skeptical of anyone who claims to use it to order an entire day, but intermittent use can be helpful. I settled on Focus as the app for the job for its clean layout, and timer synchronisation with macOS. There are many other apps that will do just as a good a job, just don’t go drinking the productivity guru Kool Aid.
DEVONthink to Go is meant as a companion app, but iOS only users will still get a lot of mileage from it for data management
DEVONthink To Go – There are a lot of people who ditched the iOS version of DEVONthink after the release of the first version – which was a bit of a mess – but the app has come along way. Although technically a companion app, even if you don’t use the Mac apps this is an excellent means for data management.
Papers 3 – My choice of citation managers on the Mac is also the place that houses my largest reading database. It includes a sound compliment of markup tools, and with a little help from an Editorialworkflow makes adding reference material to written work almost as straightforward as it is on a Mac. I also tend to do most of my PDF markup work in Papers, as it does a decent job of holding annotations together. The markup tools are not as comprehensive as something like PDF
Oxford Dictionary – This should be self explanatory, but there are choices to make here. In terms of functionality, Terminology is a much better dictionary app, giving users access to URL based automation and spotlight integration. Unfortunately, non American users might struggle with spelling. It is also worth pointing out that the native iOS dictionary has come a long way, and could well be all you need.
Pinner is the best iOS app for Pinboard.in
Pinner for Pinboard.in – One of the subscription services I have no hesitation recommending is Pinboard.in. If you have never heard of it, it may look like much, but it is unmatched for archiving bookmarks. Pinboard saves a copy of everything I bookmark as a complete archive, so even if sites disappear I will never lose important content I wish to keep a hold of. Pinner is the third-party app I use as a front end to the service on iOS
Pocket – Eagle-eyed readers will probably notice I have both Instapaper and Pocket on this list, it is true that you only really need one of these apps. My reason for using both is simple, I like to bookmark multimedia content seperate to online reading. I find Pocket best for audio and video.
Notebooks – This is one of those apps thats almost hard to categorise. I’m putting it under research, because ultimately that is how I use it, but it is really a note-taking app first and foremost. Notebooks allows me to set the content it contains as tasks, so if I have a project that requires a specific reading list I will add the documents to Notebooks and setup a reminder schedule. It obviously means I can mark material off as I have gone through it, this feature makes it a unique app for research and study. I covered it briefly here
The Kindle App is one of the best reading experiences on iOS
Kindle – If you are a Kindle user, the iOS app is surprisingly good. I still find the Kindle itself a better reading experience for long sessions than reading on the
Marvin – It is true that iBooks has come a long way, it still can’t rival the customisation of Marvin. If you use Calibre on the Mac, Marvin can sync with it too. My ebook collection is split between epub and mobi formats, so even though I prefer to read on the Kindle, I have a lot of books that the Kindle can’t decipher. Anything I can’t read on Kindle, I entrust to Marvin.
Zinio – If you’re a magazine reader, this is the app you want. If your library has newsstand access, you may be able to access untold free titles via what used to be Zinio for Libraries, but has recently become Rbdigital. The new app doesn’t have the polish of Zinio for discovery, but the reading experience is comparable.
Instapaper – I use Pinboard.in to archive everything I want to keep , but Instapaper for more immediate reading. Pinboard can automatically archive Instapaper articles too, if you want to set that up. Apple’s Reading List is getting better all the time, so that might be enough for many people. For research purposes, Instapaper gives you a log more control and a better reading experience.
I find Feedly’s RSS service to be the most user friendly
Feedly – A little while ago I went on a misguided quest looking for the best RSS tools. Ultimately, I ended up back where I started. To my mind, Feedly has the best user experience of all the services and apps I have tried. The free service is great, but you can hook into all kinds of automation and filtering if you want to part with some spare change. A more powerful option is Inoreader, but their apps leave a little to be desired so you would be best served by using it with a third-party client. My pick of clients is the excellent Reeder app that is available on both iOS and macOS.
Nuzzel – If you want the links and articles from twitter and/or Facebook, but don’t want all the noise, then this is for you. It has some annoyances of its own, but I find it to be a valuable source of material.
I recently covered writing on iOS, in terms of word processors and text editors, but as you know there is much more to writing than where you put the words. Along with my preferred text editor, what follows are utilities that help with the process – whether that be thinking, planning or editing.
Editorial – As I write most often in Markdown, Editorial is ideal not only as a text editor, but for its powerful automation engine. For academic writing, Editorial allows me to format citations as universal citekeys.
Outlinely is one of the best available outlining apps for the iPad
Outlinely – A purpose built outliner creates structured documents, and by design helps in the organisation and planning of writing. An outliner is useful for all kinds of sequential planning, but shines in the structuring of academic papers. The opinionated, minimalist design makes Outlinely my preferred app for this on both iOS and macOS, but there are other options. At the high end, OmniOutliner tends to get most votes – it is hard to argue with that.
MindNode or iThoughts – For mind mapping on iOS, I find it hard to choose between these two. I once read that iThoughts is for ‘power-users’ , but aesthetics is probably the most crucial factor here. Mind mapping is an entirely visual thought process, so you have to like what you are looking at. Mindnode is a very clean, slick app – iThoughts is more customisable. A third option is the very tidy Lighten.
Day One – I am a late comer to this, but I have come to accept the value of journalling on the development of a writing practice. Writing as close to everyday as possible is one of the best things you can do to improve your writing, and the journal format is liberating. I am yet to find a better app for keeping a digital journal than this. Day One has balanced all the necessary features with nice interface design, but the Markdown support clinches it for me. This one of many apps to take up a subscription model lately, but you can access all the functionality you need to get started without throwing down more coin.
This is another area I have already covered in relative detail. Despite that being a fairly recent post I have made some changes since it went up. I’m, holding out hope that Brett Terpstra’s Bitwriter is not only forthcoming, but will include an iOS app. There are also interesting changes on the horizon with Appple Notes in iOS 11, most notably with searchable handwriting. Otherwise, the following options remain worthy alternatives.
GoodNotes – For a straight up handwriting app that works well no matter what kind of iPad you are running – pro, standard, or mini – GoodNotes is going to be up there. I prefer the design of Notability on the whole, but functionality matters when your notes are as crucial as they are for academic work, and GoodNotes has the killer feature for handwriting – searchable notes.
Nebo – If you have an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, Nebo’s handwriting recognition and ink engine is next level. Not only does Nebo use a contextual engine to correct word choice and spelling on the fly, but it will render diagrams, manage LaTex calculations, and even export text as HTML. The MySCript folks who make the app are the masters of handwriting recognotion, and the app can read 59 different languages. This is a truly remarkable app – all the more so when you consider it costs less that USD$3
Drafts – Keeping with the plain text rule, Drafts is usually my first point of capture for text, especially on the iPhone. If you are an Apple Watch user, Drafts has an excellent complication for dictation. The real utility of drafts, however, lies in its automation engine – something I couldn’t do justice to here. The screencasts on the Agile Tortoise website can get you started.
Just Press Record – The native iPhone Voice Memos app does a great job of capturing audio on the fly, but accessing it on other devices can be a nuisance . Just press record solves that problem with an added bonus. It can also do some on-the-fly audio to text transcription. The results are better than expected, although I wouldn’t rely on it to transcribe entire lectures – we are not quite there yet.
Notability – If it had optical character recognition for searching your handwriting, Notability would be the killer app for lecture notes. It gets pretty close with the ability to capture audio while note-taking; thus its appearance in this section. For students especially, the utility you can get from this one app will make it easier to bump a couple of others of your list. Handritten and typewritten notes, PDF annotation, and audio recording all rolled into one. Last I check it was still pretty cheap too.
Ferrite – If you ever need to record interviews, this is hands down the best, most feature rich app available on iOS for the job. Designed specifically for voice recording and editing, it can manage anything from capturing audio presentations to producing podcasts and other broadcasts. There are some truly excellent audio recording tools on iOS these days, but most of them are aimed at musicians. With features like ducking, and silence removal Ferrite stands out as the singular app for audio voice work.
VLC Player – A lot of people seem to prefer the more polished Infuse, but VLC for iOS is just as good as its desktop counterpart. There is nothing it cannot play, and unlike its aforementioned rival, it is free.
Pixelmator – If you need photo editing software, the iPhone’s camera technology has encouraged a huge amount of development in this area. Pixelmator has stood out for some time as an app that goes beyond many of the filter and fix apps designed as mobile only utilities. If your needs are modest in this area, and you want an easy to learn, no nonsense app, this is it – and it is cheap.
Affinity Photo – If you have more serious needs, there is only one app that can claim to be a truly professional photo editing tool to rival desktop applications. Affinity is next level stuff.
Workflow is the singular automation utility for iPhone and iPad
Workflow – Acquired by Apple, Workflow is not only the singular automation utility on iOS, but one of the biggest leaps forward in the evolution of iOS as an operating system for serious productivity. If there is anything you can’t already do on your iPad or iPhone, chances are Workflow can help you out. No programming required. Stay tuned for more on this app in future.
TextExpander Keyboard – The sandboxing design of the operating system means TextExpander is not quite as useful on iOS as it is on the Mac. Yet, the Text Expander Keyboard is still well worth installing. The real value to installing TextExpander on iOS is to be found in the apps that include built-in support. Smile maintains a list of TextExpander enhanced apps here. Elsewhere snippets can still be expanded with the third-party keyboard.
1Password – Still my preferred password manager. Not only is it the best user experience, but features like Travel Mode make it an ideal choice for travelling researchers. Password management should be a no-brainer for anyone working on a university network, really it should be a no-brainer for for anyone period.
Soulver is part scratchpad part calculator
Soulver – Part scratch pad, part calculator, Soulver is a uniquely useful utility. The interface operates is a text editor that parses numbers for multiple mathematical operations, including currency conversion. This means you can work things out like you might on the back of a napkin. Adding notation to my scatterbrain calculations helps me make sense of numbers in a way that a traditional calculator can’t. If you need a powerful, more traditional calculator that includes scientific notation, then Pcalc is what you need
Copied – Advanced, cross platform, clipboard management. Copied can do all kinds of neat things, including customisable text transformation, and synchronised clipboard history across devices. A comprehensive URL scheme opens up all kinds of automation possibilities, and a keyboard extension provides easy access to media rich clippings. Other clipboard managers exist, but nothing comes close to Copied for functionality.
Prizmo to Go – There are times when you need to grab a section of text from a book, a journal article, or some random document. There are two apps that I know of that do this well, the other is Textgrabber. While they won’t capture the text perfectly every time, they come pretty close. It can seem like magic when they save you serious time.
Who doesn’t need accurate weather data?
Weather Underground – Weather apps are something of an iOS playground for user interface design, but where the actual weather data comes from is another story. The majority of weather apps on the App Store hook into the Darksky API, which can be hit and miss for accuracy. Weather Underground’s unique selling point is a vast network of local weather stations providing accurate real-time data. I also know of at least one sea captain who uses Weather Underground, so it must be good, right?
That’s a wrap…for now
I decided not to get too crazy here by starting into categories like entertainment, although I may revisit that at some point. One area I intend to delve into is audio production on iOS, but that can wait. For now, I would wager you will find on this list everything you need, and more to get serious work done. I have already said I believe there is no question the iPad can be a primary device for study or research, this should serve as sufficient evidence to support that claim. As ever, if you have any questions, if I can help in any way, hit me up via the contact details over on the left.
Pinboard has a basic bookmarking service, or for a little more it can save web archives of the pages you bookmark. This means you are never in danger of losing material to dead links ↩
On the growing list of topics I intend to cover in detail is the indepensible automation app Workflow, which these days is owned by Apple. To dispell the ever-present rumours of Workflow's impending death, the latest in a steady schedule of updates has been released. This time focusing in on a long list of bugs with third-party app and API interactions. If you haven't already tried this incredible peice of software, the is no time like the present.