11th October 2019

Whenever I want to add a table to a blog post, I always wonder if an app can do it for me. As I find writing Markdown tables to be rather tedious. The only problem is, I never actually looked. However, I’ve now been using an aptly named app “Markdown Tables” and it’s just perfect.

It features a really clean interface, that lets you focus solely on the table content. You have all the necessary tools at the top, there’s one to create a new table with a certain size or from the clipboard, inserting and deleting rows/columns, alignment, whether to include the header row, and the export button! It looks simple, however, it has all the functionality that you’ll need. It handles large tables quite well, as you can scroll around the content, and then simply tap on the field you want to edit, and it snaps it into place.

Exporting is maybe the most important feature of the app, and it couldn’t get any easier. All you need to do is tap the export button above the table, and the formatted table will be copied. Markdown Tables actually supports Markdown and HTML exporting, each with their own options for customising the format. Such as compact mode for Markdown, and also whether to pretty print the HTML.

It’s a fantastic utility, and I recommend it to anyone writing Markdown on iOS.

Find Markdown Tables on the App Store.

23rd July 2019

About a week ago, the popular mail app for iOS and Mac, Airmail, switching from being a paid upfront app to one based around a subscription. Understandably, this brought a lot of conversation online (mainly on Twitter), about the ethics of it, the App Store rules that may be broken by the switch, and general complaining. I’m obviously “late to the party” on this one, but I would like to think of this being about an app moving to subscription in general, rather than solely Airmail. Although, it has a few specific mentions.

The major issue that I’ve seen around the Internet about Airmail’s business model switch, is that it has been to a degree, forced upon users that have already purchased the app. Because when they purchased the app, it was a paid upfront app, with no notice about needing to pay for a subscription in the future. So they’ve essentially had their purchase taken back, and been told to pay a monthly ransom to keep using it.

There’s certainly the argument that if developers are constantly updating and providing support to apps, that they should be able to charge for it. But when you purchase an app, you’re more than likely not thinking about a scenario where features will suddenly be put behind another paywall. This is not to say that it’s the developers fault for providing quality updates, but instead, maybe a fault of the way app updates are handled. For example, there still isn’t a proper way to do upgrade pricing. And I think that alone would provide a better experience for everyone. Developers could have a more clearly defined line between major updates, and it would give users a real chance to evaluate an update, and even say no to them. Especially if they feel like they’d rather not get any more updates if it means not paying a subscription for features they’ve already paid for.

The two features that are being put behind a paywall with this switch, are multiple account support and push notifications. Two notable features of an email app, and for the majority of people, I would imagine these being deal-breakers.

That being said, the first feature, is still free if you had already purchased the app. So this is only no longer available for free, for future users. That’s a bit better, however, it certainly seems strange to me that such a common feature would be behind a paywall. Especially with one that costs either ~$3 a month, or ~$10 a year.

As for the latter, this also seems like such a fundamental part to an email client. Sure, there’s the possibility that this was the reason it was put behind a subscription fee, but I don’t feel like that feature alone is worth the fee. I know that there are server costs for push notifications, but is it honestly $10 a year worth?

I also think it’s worthwhile to note that if you are a paying customer already, while you still maintain access to multiple account support for free (well, free after the initial purchase), the subscription price for the remaining one feature, is the same as what new customers would pay for both features.

There are also a few sections of Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines, that also create a few questions about whether the switch also follows the rules or not.

The first one is that if you switch to being subscription-based, then you’re not allowed to force users to pay for features that they have already paid for:

If you are changing your existing app to a subscription-based business model, you should not take away the primary functionality existing users have already paid for. For example, let customers who have already purchased a “full game unlock” continue to access the full game after you introduce a subscription model for new customers.

I’m guessing they’ve handled this by maintaining multiple account support, but there’s an argument to be made that this should also apply to push notifications.

There is also a rule regarding push notifications:

Monetizing built-in capabilities provided by the hardware or operating system, such as Push Notifications, the camera, or the gyroscope; or Apple services, such as Apple Music access or iCloud storage.

However, with a response to MacRumors, Airmail state that they are “not using system push notifications of CloudKit or other operating system features, but its own server infrastructure.”. I guess they are claiming to show that this rule should not apply to their implementation.

However, regardless of any guidelines, and the ethics in general of making the switch from a paid app to a subscription-based app, it’s surely best to let customers know about the switch as soon as possible. As most complaints, I found online, seemed to come from a place where this is a surprise, and they feel that they’ve been asked for money with no reward being offered to them. Rather than functionality that they have already paid for.

The switch to a subscription app is always going to be hard, especially for an app like Airmail that has existed for so long already as a paid upfront app. As you have to make the subscription seem appealing for new users, and at the same time making existing users feel like there is also something to gain for them too.

In my opinion, this specific case seems a bit rushed. And I think a bit more care could have gone into ensuring new and existing customers had a good experience. Either it should have been coupled with a bigger update, that actually added new features to a subscription, or simply had a longer grace period for existing customers. Four months feels a bit short.

What’s worse for Airmail, is that there are other great email apps available for iOS. Including the stock Mail app that comes with iOS, which is what I use myself.

13th May 2019
Permalink

Becky Hansmeyer on pricing an app:

$5 should be the absolute rock bottom price for a quality indie app, full stop. So, for whoever might need to hear this: stop kidding yourself, you’re not going to make it up in volume, raise your dang prices, thank you and good night.

I wouldn’t class Text Case as some kind of massively featured app, but I recently rose the price of it from its initial price of $1 to $2 with the last 2.0 update. But now I’m starting to think I should up it to $3.

23rd April 2019

For quite a few years now, I’ve been using Overcast as my podcast app of choice. It’s a great app, and it’s praised by basically anyone that uses it. However, I had never really used an alternative. So I wasn’t sure if I really was using the best app that was on offer.

After doing a bit of research, and hearing about it in the past, I decided on Castro. It’s the app that I’ve seen the most talked about online, second to only Overcast.

As I mentioned on my journal entries on April 8th and 9th, one of the best features of Castro, in my opinion, is the focus that’s put into queuing episodes. And in particular, the idea of triaging new episodes, so that you can have a more refined queue. This helped me a lot, as I was getting to a place where I had so many episodes build up in my list, that I didn’t know what to listen to next. And in some cases, there were episodes that I knew that I would never get around to listen to, but I just didn’t want to remove them.

Starting with an import of my subscription from Overcast via the export/import OPML files in both apps, the Inbox in Castro was filled up with the most recent episodes of all my subscriptions. From there I started assigning each episode to either the top/bottom of the queue, or removing it from the list. This resulted in a pretty small queue, I think it was around 6 episodes, and my list would usually be around 20 in Overcast.

As new episodes continually appeared in the Inbox, I found it rather easy to sort through them, and pick out the episodes I wanted to listen to. It seems strange, but this feature alone made me listen to many more podcasts. It removed some of the unnecessary choice, so I could always find something I wanted to listen to. Because of the queuing, and the fact that you prioritise episodes in the queue when triaging the Inbox, it’s always ready whenever you just want to jump in a quickly listen to something. Or maybe in the morning, when you haven’t quite woken up yet, but you still want something for the commute.

I did think I would miss the two great enhancements that Overcast offers, Voice Boost and Smart Speed. However, Castro have their own versions, Enhance Voices and Trim Silence. I didn’t notice any difference in this regard. So either, they both work with a similar level of quality, or I just don’t notice the feature on either apps. Either way, it’s not an issue for me.

One thing I did notice about playback though, was when resuming an episode, I really missed Overcast’s “Smart Resume”. It’s really handy when you pause in the middle of a word, because Overcast will rewind slightly to the gap before the word. It sounds like a minuscule feature, but you soon get used to it.

Something else that caused me a bit of friction when I first started using Castro, was the way you found the show notes of an episode. In Castro, you swipe left → right and “activate” the Info button, which launches the show notes above the current context. However, I was really used to the interface in Overcast, where you swiped right → left to view the show notes, and then once more to view the chapters (if the episode had them). These are nothing major, and are mostly caused by muscle memory.

After using Castro as my podcast app for a while, I was in a situation where I wanted to listen to a podcast on my iPad. And that is when I discovered the lack of Castro! So after all the benefits I found with the queuing feature, the nice refreshing interface, and also a few pain-points, I literally couldn’t use the app anymore. I kept using the Castro app on my phone for a few days, but I had to stop, because managing two podcast apps would be crazy.

In conclusion, I would like to state that I really like Castro. And while there are a few things that I was used to in Overcast, that caused friction when using Castro, the overall experience was great. I just can’t use an app on iOS that isn’t universal anymore. I’ve gone back to Overcast for now, and I’m going to try and take small things I’ve learned from triaging episodes in Castro, so I can better handle my podcast list. But I’m always going to be hoping for the day when Castro comes to the iPad.

13th March 2019

Twitter have announced (on Twitter) that an updated camera interaction is on its way. So you’ll be able to access the camera with just one swipe:

This is a really good improvement. I’ve even downloaded the official Twitter app again, so I’m ready to try it out.

11th March 2019

So, there’s been a ton of new information shared about the upcoming Harry Potter AR game, Wizards Unite. And it’s certainly shaping up to be an incredible game!

Here’s the back story:

A calamity has befallen the wizarding world, causing artefacts, creatures, people, and even memories to mysteriously appear in the Muggle world. Witches and wizards from across the globe must come together to solve the mystery of The Calamity, overcome the confounding chaotic magic that surrounds these “Foundables,” and return them to their rightful place, keeping them safe from Muggle eyes.

Your journey begins as a new recruit of the Statute of Secrecy Task Force, established by the Ministry of Magic and the International Confederation of Wizards for the purpose of investigating and containing The Calamity.

From the story alone, there’s a massive scope for what the game could turn out to be. On one side of the scale, it could have been a simple rip-off of Pokémon GO, but essentially a hide-and-seek game with a Harry Potter theme. But instead, what we’re getting is a much more all-rounded role-playing game!

Image

Of course, at it’s an AR game, one of the key mechanics will be exploring the world, finding some of the “Foundables”, casting spells, and also Portkeys that offer a full 360 AR experience out in the real wold. That already feels to me a more immersive experience than Pokémon GO (And I’m a big Pokémon GO player!).

Where I think the richness of the game will come from, is the things like potion making, challenging other wizards and foes in Wizarding Challenges, and developing your Wizarding skills while specialising in certain professions.

It sounds like a game with many ways to play. You can simply explore the world, while finding “Foundables”, Portkeys, potion ingredients, etc. You can compete with other players by battling with them at Fortresses, but you can also team up with them and compete Wizard Challenges together. And at the same time as all of that, you’re developing your own character, gaining new skills, and just taking your own route through the game.

One thing I’m unsure about though, is the “Spell Energy”. I’ve never found a mobile game that has some kind of perishable energy source to be that great. As there’s usually long waits to refill, mostly with the aim for players to spend money on in-app purchases. You can find food and drinks at “Inns”, which will be in certain places around the world, and will replenish your Spell Energy. Hopefully there’s enough of them so it doesn’t inhibit gameplay.

My other worry is that the game will be too rich. Sure, I wrote earlier that it’s one of the reasons why I like the sound of this game, but maybe other people won’t appreciate it. As not everyone is as well versed in the Harry Potter universe as others (me), and a steep learning curve for a mobile game may not work out well.

But despite how anyone else finds it, I can already tell I’m going to be really addicted to this game.


You can find out more about Wizards Unite on the website, and also find more of the details I mentioned on their blog.

1st March 2019

There are loads of apps that track your Macs CPU usage. But only one of them uses a running cat to visualise it.

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RunCat is a free Mac menu bar app that features a running cat that adapts to your CPU speed. If it’s running relatively slow, then the cat will just be running at a leisurely pace, but if it’s running really high (try building a huge Xcode project), then the cat will go crazy!

It’s really fun!

Runners

It’s not just a cat either, you get to choose from 21 different “runners” for free – Cat α, Cat β, Cat γ, Cat Tail, Mock Nyan Cat, Parrot, Human, Push-Up, Sit-Up, Rubber Duck, City, Sausage, Dots, Dinosaur, Terrier, Hedgehog, Horse, Penguin 2, Hamster Wheel, Octopus, and Steam Train.

There’s also another 21 runners if you want to pay for them – Cheetah, Dog, Puppy, Rabbit, Frog, Bird, Penguin, Dolphin, Dragon, Owl, Cogwheel, Bonfire, Drop, Rocket, Pendulum, Newtons Cradle, Sine Curve, Pulse, Coffee, Reindeer & Sleigh, and Snowman.

And if you really want to personalise RunCat, there’s a paid option to unlock the “Self-Made Runner”, which will let you create your own animation to track your CPU usage.

Options

There are a few options in RunCat to change the way it works:

  • Show CPU Usage – This puts the CPU usage percentage as text next to the runner.
  • Invert Speed – This means the runner will be running fast when your CPU speed is low, and vice versa. Sounds weird to me.
  • Flipped Horizontally – This flips your runner, so it will run in the opposite direction.
  • Launch at Login – I shouldn’t need to explain this.

Download

Check out the RunCat website, and download RunCat for free from the Mac App Store.

4th January 2019

It’s time for an update to Text Case! It contains four changes, and three of them were taken from user feedback! Which I really like, as it means I can tailor the app to how the app is actually being used, not an idea in my head.

So, here are the improvements:

  • A new format! Strip HTML will clear any HTML tags and any whitespace either side of the result.
  • You can now alter the order of the way formats appear in the app.
  • Pasting text via the keyboard shortcut (CMD + V) will now work even if the textfield is not selected, meaning you can get the formats much faster.
  • Any settings in the app are now synced between your devices.

Check out Text Case on the App Store.

3rd January 2019

Up until today I used Reeder 3, and it’s served me well for a very long time. However, in August the developer announced that Reeder 4 is being worked on, and in the meantime version 3 would be free to download. I planned on waiting for the update, but there’s a few minor issues that are causing me a bit of friction. The main one being that while it supports Dark “modes” on macOS, when using actual Dark Mode on my Mac it doesn’t actually alter the whole app.

I started my searching via SetApp, as I already pay for that. An app called Cappuccino took my fancy, and it also had a companion for iOS, which is ideal. That lasted about 5 minutes, as I discovered it doesn’t support external RSS feed services like Feedly that I currently use, so everything is stored in that app. That wasn’t the immediate turn off though, as I could use the iOS app as well. But then I checked out a few articles, and there just wasn’t any level of user presences apart from a few themes, and things like block quotes just weren’t being displayed correctly. So that was off the table. The other option on SetApp is News Explorer, and that looked okay, it also had an iOS app that I didn’t particularly like the look of.

So I checked out the Mac App Store (that I actually really like using), and I discovered that had already purchased a copy of Leaf in the past. So I’ve started using that again, and it feels good to have an app that lets me fine-tune my experience. It doesn’t seem to support macOS Dark Mode, but that is actually okay. As it supports its own themes like most other RSS readers. And unlike other apps without Dark Mode support, parts of the UI aren’t “automatically” adapted via the OS, so it doesn’t look half-baked.

For now I’ll keep on using Reeder on iOS, as there’s nothing there that irritates me. But that could be something I look at in the future. As there are a lot of alternatives available.


After having a search through my blog and past tweets, I discovered the reason why I switched to Reeder was the fact that it was free. It’s strange that the same reason that brought me to the app was essentially the reason I’m now leaving it behind.

12th October 2018

Another update to Text Case has just hit the store!



Just a small one this time though, to tie up a few things, before anything big can be planned or worked on. In fact it can be boiled down to three things:

  • A new text format, this time it’s KebabCase. And as usual it was requested, so I added it! There’s no chance that I can come up with every format possible, so if you want one added then please just let me know.
  • About section added (website links, App Store link, app version…)
  • And I’ve fixed a bug in the Action Extension. As the UI used to inherit some of the styles from the encompassing app, but it wouldn’t always look correct. I’ve fixed this by keeping it matching with the rest of the app, along with the chosen accent colour.

It’s not an extravagant update, but then again, they can’t all be.

Find Text Case on the App Store.