Appgasm! My Big Happy List of Not Crappy Apps

All revved up for yet another scathingly bitter blog post, I realised I’m so bloody negative. I figured maybe that’s why commenters have called me a “cunt”, or criticised my “knowing superiority” saying “no-one is interested in my pile of shite” (it’s of course entirely possible that they say those things because they’re true)*.

With this in mind, I thought I’d mix it up a bit, drop the grump and share some of the things I encounter daily that aren’t shit (nor NSFW). So here, gorgeous reader, is my entirely affirmative inventory of incredible apps.

Awesomely ace apps

Scrivener (Mac)

With Scrivener, it’s less a question of ‘where have you been all my life?’, and more ‘how did I ever live without you?’ Working on a novel (what twat isn’t?), I was used to fussing over several docs, notebooks, bookmarks and scanned scribblings to keep my thoughts in order. This mess is alleviated by Scrivener’s most obvious feature: the ability to ‘project manage’ your writing via integrated notes, images and character and setting cards. The most useful feature for me, however, has been the ability to structure chapters and sections with synopses, allowing me to delineate my progress (which may not be the most productive approach, but certainly suits my style) without losing track. There are tonnes more professional-level functions I haven’t needed to use, but even at its most basic Scrivener has made the daunting task of producing a novel far less of a ball-ache.

Website | Mac App Store

Coda (Mac)

I’ve been through a few code editors over the years and few have struck the balance between lightness and functionality that has made Coda my current fave. There are few stand-out features, only a simplicity and slickness that makes writing HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP , etc. and editing FTP content pretty effortless. Saying that, I don’t think I’d be able to live without Clips: saved lines of code that can be quickly added to your files using shortcut terms. I do find myself wishing for code clean-up and a way to quickly select between tags, but the latter, at least, can added through the TEA for Coda plugin.

Website | Mac App Store

Google Chrome (Mac)

A similar story to Coda, there is little Chrome offers that other web browsers don’t – even the mighty omnibar (making the search and address bar one) is no longer unique. In fact, Chrome’s bookmarks sync doesn’t seem to work properly between my work Mac and home Macbook and there are still some add-ons that I have to turn to Firefox for. Despite all this, Chrome is still my first choice in browsers because it provides a streamlined, minimalised web experience.

Website

Handbrake (Mac)

The free Handbrake has been my go-to video converter for yeeeeears. And I haven’t found anything that offers more without becoming needlessly complex. It’s perfect for ripping DVDs or converting videos into iTunes- and HTML5-friendly formats (note: it doesn’t do OGG) in the minimum amount of clicks.

Remember: pirating movies is wrong and evil!

Website

ColorSchemer Studio (Mac)

I downloaded ColorSchemer Studio from the Mac App Store on a whim but now use it almost daily. If you want an instant, cohesive colour scheme for your design, ColorSchemer Studio makes it ridiculously easy. Less time fussing about colours means more time to experiment with other aspects of the design. Besides, it’s great simply having an app that saves the colour schemes of my designs for quick reference later.

Website | Mac App Store

Xcode (Mac)

There’s just no better way to create iOS applications. In fact, there’s no other way at all! Ok, so there’s no choice if you want to create apps for Apple devices, but I still find Xcode massively more intutitive, helpful and pleasant than any other IDE I’ve used.

Website | Mac App Store

Flipboard (iPad)

It’s inconceivable to me that any iPad owner would not already have Flipboard, which is, until the day they’re projected onto Kate Beckinsale’s butt, the sexiest way to browse RSS feeds. Flipboard comes preloaded with a selection of sources to browse and the ability to pull in from (and push out to) your Facebook and Twitter feeds, but I barely use these features. I prefer instead to sync it with my Google Reader account and find flicking through Flipboard’s gorgeously simple interface just a pleasant, seamless experience.

Website | App Store

Paper by FiftyThree (iPad)

‘Fucking awesome’, I think is the best way to describe Paper by FiftyThree. Coupled with a capacitive stylus, it’s an incredibly intuitive and addictive way to sketch and (to a lesser extent) take notes. While nowhere near as feature-rich as many of the (also great) drawing apps available for the iPad, its stripped-down nature and tailored palette makes it far more inviting to pick up and create. You’ll want this.

Website | App Store

Instapaper/Pocket (Web, iPad, iPhone, Mac)

There’s a certain amount of sentimental guilt attached to this one. Both Instapaper and Pocket (formerly Read it Later) allow you to save web content for offline reading. In fact, for my uses, there’s very little difference between them. I’ve long been attached to Instapaper, largely due to its gorgeous design. But then, Read it Later reinvented itself to become Pocket and release an equally gorgeous set of apps. Like a shameless hussy, I dumped Instapaper and jumped into bed with Pocket. Out of residual loyalty, I recommend both…

Instapaper: Website | App Store

Pocket: Website | App Store

Tube Deluxe & UK Train Times (iPhone)

I find this killer combo of apps essential. In one click, Tube Deluxe lets me know the status of all London underground tub lines, while my favourite feature for UK Train Times shows me the ‘next train home’ wherever I am. Brill.

Tube Deluxe App Store

UK Train Times App Store

Honourable mentions

iA Writer / Byword (Mac, iPad, iPhone)

I’ve only just started using the Markdown text-to-html conversion, but already I love it. If you blog using tags (H1, LI, EM and so on) I seriously recommend it. There are a fair few Markdown text editors to choose from; I’ve very briefly tried iA Writer and Byword (I’m writing this in Byword on the Mac, my post from earlier was started in iA Writer for Mac and finished in Byword for iPad), and early impressions are mixed. iA Writer for Mac looks incredible and functions brilliantly, but I found the iPad version to be limited. Byword for iPad, on the other hand, is fantastic (with some clever and useful keyboard additions), but I found the Mac version not as good as iA Writer. Unfortunately, with both offering their own kind of iCloud integration, you kind of have to stick to one (note: Byword also syncs with Dropbox).

At the moment, I’m tending towards Byword for its cool ‘copy as HTML’ feature, making blogging a snap.

iA Writer: Website | Mac App Store | App Store

Byword Website | Mac App Store | App Store

Pixelmator 2 (Mac)

I really want to love Pixelmator, and for basic image-editing (like wanky blog pics) it does the job. It’s got a great UI and feels light without lacking too much in features. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced too many crashes when working with PSDs (which the creators claim it’s able to handle), resizing layers takes ages, and I haven’t really pushed its potential in terms of web design, so I can’t really recommend it yet as I’m not sure if it suits my needs. I mention it because it may suit yours…

Website | Mac App Store

That’s it for now. There may be more to add in the future (I’ve just downloaded Photoshop Touch for iPad – I like it!). Until then, I’ll probably be back to my normal miserable self soon. Yay!

*For the record, most of the comments I’ve received have been extraordinarily kind.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the idea of a 7-inch iOS device…

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This article was originally intended as a frothful rant aimed at Macworld UK’s Ben Camm-Jones, who opines that Apple should launch a 7-inch iPad. ”Absurd!” I was to proclaim, and ”pointless!” I planned to spout. It was going to be a classic example of the type of rambling sub-analytical blog-turd that has led this humble writer to be hailed by ‘critics’ worldwide as “an arrogant piece of shit.”

But then something funny happened. The more I thought about a 7-inch iOS device, the more I found myself thinking, hmmm… this might just work.

That doesn’t mean the iPad Mini hype-mongers are right. I maintain that a budget, low-spec, small screen iPad makes no sense for consumers or Apple. However, I’ve grown exponentially infatuated with the idea of a big iPod Touch. I don’t know whether this interest is due to a previously undiscovered void in my digital lifestyle (that has to be one of the more pretentious sentences I’ve written), or whether it’s just your basic Kindle envy (on my daily commute, I now see more people reading Kindles than paperbacks). All I know is Apple should definitely launch a big-ass, 7-inch iPod Touch.

I think this makes infinitely more sense than an iPad Mini. For although the iPad is routinely dismissed as a mere consumption device, its lasting appeal is that it can accomplish a huge range of tasks through a massive choice of apps using creative new modes of interaction. The future of the iPad will only see more advanced apps allowing users to accomplish even more complex tasks. This requires more power to be crammed inside the iPad’s dinky frame. So even if the iPad never truly replaces desktops or laptops (as I doubt it will), it will still need to develop in capability relative to these. A second tier pad with minaturised screen will only hinder the evolution of the platform. It would be a downgrade creating two ‘speeds’ of development.

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On the other hand, a larger screen iPod Touch will only enhance the user experience in all the ways the device is intended: watching video, playing games, and browsing the web. I don’t imagine many people are currently using the Touch for reading books, but they could if it had a larger screen. There will be no step backwards in terms of technology, rather the opportunity for greater battery life and, of course, the bigger screen, which, with retina-level apps, needn’t compromise on the Touch’s current display quality. Why would Apple make an inferior iPad when they could make a superior iPod Touch?

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In fact, there are several advantages to using the iPod Touch as a basis for the 7-incher over the iPad:

  • Upscaled iPhone apps would look way better than shrunken iPad apps. All iPhone apps would work on a larger screen, while many iPad apps would be practically unusable squished onto a smaller screen.
  • Less developer work. Major changes to the iPhone or iPad line-up would mean devs will be compelled to take these variations into account. The need to tailor your app for the Touch audience is not as vital. I don’t think many devs are building apps with the Touch in mind. If that status quo remains, so be it. If devs actually want to optimise for the Touch because they find it’s worth the effort, that’s their choice.
  • It won’t hurt sales… probably. A 7-inch iPod Touch would be entirely different to the iPhone and iPad, meaning minimal cannibalisation of sales. I believe a smaller, cheaper iPad would detract from regular iPad sales as some people will always choose the cheapest option. Yes, it could also massively increase iPad sales, but if the user experience of the Mini is just as good as the Regular, there’s no incentive to buy the more expensive option. If it’s not, what’s the point?
  • No need to awkwardly split the product portfolio. The iPod Touch is pretty popular, but I reckon Apple could safely replace the current model with a 7-incher without negative repercussions. What the Touch would lose in pocketability (i.e. as a music player), it would more than make up for in terms of video, gaming and reading experience. It may even be a big benefit for the Touch to no longer be defined as a cheapo iPhone sans phone. Consider, alternatively, two different types of iPad, each offering a completely different experience and benefiting two completely different users. Why muddy the waters unnecessarily?
  • It’ll sell to current owners of iDevices. I can’t imagine most iPhone and iPad owners rushing out to buy the same devices with a different screen size. Likewise, there’s currently no real reason why these people would buy a contemporary-gen iPod Touch. The ‘Touch 7’ is different enough to be a justifiable purchase (arguably).
  • A bigger Touch will be cheaper than a smaller iPad (I’m guessing…). I don’t know for sure, but surely the tech required to power a 7-inch Touch will be less than that needed to power an IPad? Of course, even if the production costs were the same for both, the retail price for an iPad Mini would have to be somewhere below the iPad 2 and above the 4th gen iPod Touch (probably nearer to the former). In my hypothetical fantasy world, Apple could/should sell the Touch 7 for the same price as the present day Touch. This puts it in the same region price-wise as the Kindle Fire.

I think you’ll agree that those are six pretty awesome reasons for the Touch 7. But if you’re still wedded to the idea of a bigger iPhone or smaller iPad, allow me to summarise:

  • Big iPhone: reduced display quality, two-tier development on flagship device, won’t fit in pocket.
  • Small iPad: less powerful, inferior experience for creative tasks, too expensive.
  • iPod Touch 7: an upgrade that redefines the device, the cheapest option, no extra work for app developers required, 7-inch usage suits the brand.

It just makes sense.

How the iPad should’ve changed the internet (and still might)

I, for one, am extremely excited about the iPad. I want one. But I warn you, I have something of a mutant power when it comes to early adoption: I have a superhuman ability to always make the wrong decision*. Nevertheless, as cool as the iPad may appear to me and as flawed as it may actually be, I think Apple has missed a huge opportunity to stake a claim on a genuine revolution.

The image above represents the five channels of digital communication all brands should be adopting for their web strategy in 2010 (you can add social and widgetised channels as well). Notice the big iPad-like object second to the right? My big hope for Jobs’ announcement was not just a new piece of hardware, but a complete rethinking of how the internet is designed and digested.

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