A review of Monitor-IO, a little gadget that wants to talk about your Internet

Monitor-IO is a $100 IoT gadget that tells you whether your Internet is working well, poorly, or not at all. The idea is you put this little black box next to (and plugged directly into) your router, and a quick glance at its color-coded screen will let you know if the Internet’s working solidly,  if it’s having some problems, or if everything is just plain out. Monitor-IO even promises to tell users granular details like how long a connection has been up, or sketchy, or out.

All of this begs the question: do you need a gadget for that?

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Game Day: Holedown

It’s not often that a game grabs me and won’t let go the way Holedown has. Once I started playing, I couldn’t stop. I have the iOS 12 Screen Time reports to prove it. Even when I’d burned through all of the game’s levels reaching the final endless one, I kept coming back for more. Holedown has very quickly earned a spot as one of my all-time favorite iOS games.

Like most great mobile games, Holedown is simple. The game is a little like Breakout turned upside-down with a dash of pinball added. Each level begins on the surface of a planet. The object is to bore a hole through to the planet’s core by launching balls that bounce off of obstacles that advance up the screen with each turn you take. If the obstacles reach the surface without being cleared, you have to start over and try again with

Continue reading “Game Day: Holedown”

Serial Reader Adapts Books for the Smartphone Age

Our Internet-driven society has seen a decline in book reading, though not necessarily a decline in reading altogether. Despite book readers being less common than in past decades, we all do a fair amount of reading each day on our smartphones – reading messages from friends, or tweets, emails, Facebook posts, notifications, articles, and so on.

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed reading books, and I continue to read them regularly – though not as much as I’d like. However, I also read an abundance of emails, tweets, messages, and articles every day. A day may pass with me not reading a book, but that never happens with the likes of email and messages. Part of the reason my Internet-driven reading habits are more consistent than my book reading habits is that I have to read those things to do my job. But there’s another reason too: email and Slack demand my Continue reading “Serial Reader Adapts Books for the Smartphone Age”

Castro Adds iCloud Drive Sideloading and Chapter Playback Pre-Selection

Supertop has released another solid update to its podcast player, Castro. In today’s update, Castro adds file sideloading for Plus subscribers, significantly adding to the app’s utility as general purpose audio player. All users can pre-select the chapters of a podcast they want to play too.

For plus subscribers, the update adds a ‘Castro’ folder in iCloud Drive. Add an MP3 or AAC file into the ‘Sideloads’ folder, and it shows up in your Castro inbox (or wherever else you designate in settings) ready for playback.

Adding audio to Castro is equally simple on a Mac or iOS device. On a Mac, open the Finder and drag in the audio files you want to add. On iOS, use the Files app to add files to your Sideloads folder from any file provider like Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive.

Once added, audio files show up in your Castro Inbox by default

Sideloading a draft episode of AppStories and deselecting chapters for playback.

Continue reading “Castro Adds iCloud Drive Sideloading and Chapter Playback Pre-Selection”

Spect: Simple Image Management on the Mac

Spect from Steven Frank is based on a single, straightforward idea: separating image navigation from the Mac’s folder hierarchy. Point the app at a folder and tell it how deep to peer into subfolders and the app quickly generates thumbnails of the images to that depth of the folder structure. If you’ve ever found yourself drilling down into folders and subfolders only to have to back out and follow another path, you’ll understand the power of Spect immediately. The app saves users from a tremendous amount of clicking around.

Just like the Finder, your image thumbnails can be resized with a slider in the lower righthand corner of the window. In the bottom lefthand corner is where you specify how deep Spect should look into your folders.

Highlight an image and hit the space bar to toggle preview mode, which fills the window with the selected image. In preview mode,

Previewing an image in Spect.

Continue reading “Spect: Simple Image Management on the Mac”

AeroPress Timer for iPhone, Now with Custom Recipes

One of my favorite iOS kitchen utilities, AeroPress Timer ($4.99 US), has updated to version 3 with a complete rebuild and new functionality.

AeroPress Timer is an iPhone app that steps you through the stages of coffee making with an Aerobie AeroPress. Each step, Pour, Stir, Steep, and Plunge, has its own countdown timer. Once you get into the world of AeroPress, there are a hundred different variations and precise recipes for making different types of coffee, so it’s a handy guide.

The app has always had a great selection of AeroPress recipes, but the biggest, baddest new feature: you can now create and add your own recipes. You can also favorite recipes, add notes, and there’s a new visual grind size guide accessible from any recipe.

This update did lose Apple Watch functionality, which is a bummer, but the developer plan to have it back soon.

AeroPress Timer Continue reading “AeroPress Timer for iPhone, Now with Custom Recipes”

PDF Viewer Offers a Pro Pack with Advanced PDF Editing and Collaboration Tools

As Federico and I discussed on AppStories this week, PDFs are a big part of the work day for many people. There are several solid PDF apps for iOS, but one of my favorites is PDF Viewer by PSPDFKit, the maker of a PDF viewing and editing SDK that many well-known companies use to integrate PDF functionality into their apps.

One of PDF Viewer’s advantages is that it’s free. With version 3, PDF Viewer’s core functionality remains free, but it is introducing a Pro Pack that is a set of advanced features available as part of a $9.99/year or $2.99/3-month subscription.

It’s a savvy move and one that’s been well-executed. By first building a free PDF app with functionality that rivals established paid apps, PDF Viewer has made a name for itself in a crowded market. The broad feature set of the free version of PDF Viewer,

Merging PDF documents from the document browser.
Editing metadata and password-protecting a document.
Presentation Mode. Image Source: PSPDFKit GmbH

Continue reading “PDF Viewer Offers a Pro Pack with Advanced PDF Editing and Collaboration Tools”

Doppler Enables Pain-Free Importing of Music and Podcasts from Safari on iOS

I’ve been an iOS-first user for nearly three years now, and during that time there have been very few tasks that required me to pull out my old MacBook Air. One remaining holdout has been downloading music or podcast files from the web and saving them somewhere I can conveniently access them on iOS. The ideal scenario would enable importing those files into iTunes, where they get added to my iCloud Music Library – unfortunately, that remains impossible on iOS today. But the next-best option I’ve discovered can be found in an iPhone app called Doppler.

Doppler launched a few months ago as a music app aimed at the non-streaming market. Despite the increasing popularity of services like Apple Music and Spotify, there are still plenty of users who want greater ownership of their music library, and that’s where Doppler comes in. It specializes in offline playback and custom library Continue reading “Doppler Enables Pain-Free Importing of Music and Podcasts from Safari on iOS”

Fantastical 2.5 for Mac Adds Time Change Proposals, Meetup.com Support, and More

Flexibits has released an update to the Mac version of its popular calendar app Fantastical. The feature that should be useful to most users immediately is the ability to send and receive new time proposals for events. Fantastical already could send meeting invitations and acceptances, but with version 2.5, recipients of an invitation can propose a new time. The feature works with iCloud, Google, Exchange and CalDAV calendaring services, which should cover most use cases.

Continue reading “Fantastical 2.5 for Mac Adds Time Change Proposals, Meetup.com Support, and More”

Documents Adds WiFi File Transfer

Documents by Readdle has been on the App Store a long time. Before Apple released its Files app, Documents filled the gap with features that made it indispensable for accessing files on iOS devices and doing things like unzipping an archived folder. Although the stock Files app has taken over many of my day-to-day needs for file handling, Documents continues to evolve and adapt, providing tools that aren’t in Files.

Today, for instance, Readdle added WiFi file transfers between a Mac and iOS device to Documents. The system is easy to use and more flexible than AirDrop, making it something to keep in mind, especially when you are moving large numbers of files between a Mac and iOS device.

Continue reading “Documents Adds WiFi File Transfer”

Anchor Brings User-Friendly Podcasting to the iPad, Complete with Editing Tools

If you’ve ever used Anchor to make a podcast, you know just how easy it is. That ease of use, however, has historically meant sacrificing any access to editing tools that most podcasters need. Today that changes, however, as Anchor is introducing basic editing tools as part of the debut of its iPad app.

Continue reading “Anchor Brings User-Friendly Podcasting to the iPad, Complete with Editing Tools”

WhenWorks Ends the Scheduling Back-and-Forth

WhenWorks is a new iOS app (and web service) from John Chaffee, creator of BusyCal. While it’s still related to calendars, it serves an entirely different purpose than BusyCal: making it easy for people to schedule time with you for meetings, lunches, podcasts, or anything else for which you’d usually do the back-and-forth availability dance.

In WhenWorks, you create an event type, which serves as a template for scheduling the same type of event with multiple people (or repeatedly with the same person). You define the meeting type, the duration, your default availability, and various other settings that ensure you’re getting the meeting you need. Then you get a link that you can send to the other person, and they get a list of available times. They pick one, the meeting is added to your calendar, and each participant receives a confirmation email with an invite to add to their

Continue reading “WhenWorks Ends the Scheduling Back-and-Forth”

OmniFocus 3 Review: More Approachable and Powerful, All at Once

If you’re anything like me, you probably remain perpetually dissatisfied with your task management setup. You may have chosen an app and settled in with it, but some of its design choices don’t quite fit with your way of working, so you’re always keen to try the latest and greatest app that comes along. Realistically though, you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that the “perfect task manager” doesn’t exist, and likely never will.

Task management is a tough problem to solve, because every option out there is optimized for specific use cases, resulting in different complexity levels. Some aim to remain simple and user-friendly, while others try to put every tool at your disposal, endearing themselves to power users while scaring off prospective customers who need a bit less. On this complexity spectrum, OmniFocus has historically been the poster child for the weightier end: if you have a lot of

OmniFocus 3
OmniFocus 2

Continue reading “OmniFocus 3 Review: More Approachable and Powerful, All at Once”

Retrobatch from Flying Meat Brings Nodal Batch Processing of Images to the Mac

Retrobatch is a new batch photo processing app for the Mac from Flying Meat, the maker of Acorn. Batch processing of photos isn’t new. There are plenty of apps available that let you manipulate collections of photos. What’s different about Retrobatch is how it goes about processing images.

If you’ve ever used Audio Hijack from Rogue Amoeba, you’ll understand the power of Retrobatch immediately. The app is based on the idea of linking individual nodes together to create complex workflows. Point your new workflow at a batch of images, hit go, and Retrobatch goes about its work, delivering your processed photos to wherever you specify. The power is in abstracting complex actions into simple building blocks that can be strung together and branched as though you were building a flowchart.

That last point is the essential distinction between Retrobatch and other batch processors. Most image processors are linear, moving

Each node has a series of properties that can be adjusted.

Continue reading “Retrobatch from Flying Meat Brings Nodal Batch Processing of Images to the Mac”

Agenda for iOS Review

Agenda, which launched on iOS today, is one of the most interesting note-taking apps I’ve used. The app is simultaneously structured around projects, like a task manager, and dates, like a calendar app.

Agenda immediately caught my eye with its beautiful design and unique approach to notes when it launched on the Mac in January. At the time, I was intrigued by Agenda, but the lack of an iOS version was a deal-breaker. Notes apps are one of those categories that benefit immensely from being available everywhere. When I tested Agenda in January, I found myself on my iPad wanting to refer notes that were locked inside Agenda on my Mac almost immediately, so I put Agenda away and waited for the promised iOS version.

On the iPhone, Agenda uses the same sliding panels where they dominate most of the screen.

On the iPhone, Agenda uses the same sliding panels where they dominate most of the screen.

With today’s release of Agenda for iOS, which

Navigation of notes is aided by a jump bar at the top of Agenda’s screen.
Any date can be assigned to a note.
Agenda lets you search by date with prebuilt time ranges or custom time periods.
Notes can be associated with events in your calendar.

Continue reading “Agenda for iOS Review”

Philips Hue App Update Enhances Light Management and Adds 30 New Designer Scenes

Philips has released an update to Hue, the companion app for its line of smart lightbulbs. The user interface will be familiar to existing users, but the update introduces a refreshed design that looks better than the prior version and surfaces features that used to be harder to find. Philips has added a bunch of new built-in lighting scenes too.

Continue reading “Philips Hue App Update Enhances Light Management and Adds 30 New Designer Scenes”

Things 3.6 Reimagines External Keyboard Control on iPad

Despite Apple’s message that the iPad Pro can be a viable PC replacement because, among other features, it natively supports a dedicated external keyboard, its software still isn’t fully optimized for keyboard control. This isn’t surprising at all: iOS was designed with multitouch in mind; as long as the iPad shares a common foundation with the iPhone, it’ll always be first and foremost a touch computer. The iPad Pro line, however, is nearing its third anniversary, and its external keyboard integration still feels like an afterthought that’s hard to reconcile with the company’s marketing.

Take multitasking for example: after three years, Split View, one of the iPad’s marquee exclusive features, still can’t be controlled from an external keyboard. If you buy an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard and assume that you’re going to be able to assign an app to a side of the Split View,

Cycling through a task's fields with the keyboard shows a blue highlight around the currently selected item.
Type Travel in action.
How to tag multiple items at once in Things 3.6.

Continue reading “Things 3.6 Reimagines External Keyboard Control on iPad”

Ulysses 13 Brings Upgrades to Writing Goals, Keywords, and Code Blocks

Ulysses 13 launched today for iOS and Mac, and it’s all about putting more writing tools in your arsenal. It takes existing features of the app and makes them all better, leaving the app no more cluttered, but notably more useful. Improvements are in three areas: deadlines and daily writing goals, colored keywords, and syntax highlighting for code blocks.

Continue reading “Ulysses 13 Brings Upgrades to Writing Goals, Keywords, and Code Blocks”