4th November 2019

If there’s one game that I’ve been enjoying as part of Apple Arcade, it’s Outlanders. I have been mildly obsessed with it ever since I gave it a try, very soon after it was available.

Outlanders Map

In essence, Outlanders is a game where you control a town of people, have them build out the town, whether it’s a farm to create a sustainable food source, or a tavern which they can go to at night that increases their happiness.

It’s very fun, and it’s based around scenarios that have a primary and secondary goal that you aim towards. For example, the level I’m on right now (6, which is currently the last) has an overall target to build 7 Windmills (which are used to convert wheat to flour, in order for a Bakery to make food), and 5 Taverns. All within 120 days. The optional secondary goal is to have a population of at least 70 by the type you finish.

Outlanders Level 6

At the start it’s relatively simple. You have some people forage for foot, while others focus on getting wood, and building houses for a growing population. But eventually you have a big population, that requires a lot of focus on what needs to be prioritised next. The maps are also finite, so the amount of resources (wood and food) will eventually dwindle down, leading you to build farms, windmills, and bakery’s to sustain the food for the population.

The first five levels I managed all within a few attempts, however this last one is proving to be quite difficult. Which is actually one reason why I’m enjoying it. It’s a fun game, which requires attention, and a general plan on how you are going to build out the town and population.

I really hope that the developer adds in more levels soon, as it’s only a matter of time before I’m finished with this one.

You can download Outlanders as part of Apple Arcade, and I would recommend it as not only one of the best games from the subscription, but of the many games that I’ve played on iOS over the years.

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.

2nd July 2019

Ever since the iOS/iPadOS 13 betas have been available, I’ve been running them on my main devices. That’s down to multiple reasons, but one of the main ones was the new Dark Mode that’s now available system wide.

Before this global setting, I’ve been a big fan of dark themes for everything I use. Whether it’s a Twitter client, text editor, or Xcode.

However, recently I’ve noticed myself purposefully switching back to the Light theme. And I think it’s been down to two things.

Firstly, it’s been rather sunny here in England recently, and having a dark interface just isn’t clear enough. I’ve noticed this the most when I’m outside and catching up on Twitter. Thankfully I’m using Tweetbot as my client, so I can quickly two-finger swipe between themes, until I find a light theme where I can actually read the content.

The other reason is simple because sometimes a light interface just makes content a lot clearer. Especially because I’ve noticed a trend with some dark themes where the text is light grey with a dark grey background. Whereas the light mode alternative would feature black text on a white background. So the level of contrast suffers simply because of colour choices.

This won’t exactly be a surprising realisation for some people, but ever since I’ve had the ability to have a system wide dark mode, I’ve started to actually value the light mode more.

30th May 2019

I wrote recently about how I’m automating my daily journal, and it mainly focussed around how I started the writing, as the publishing was quite a manual process.

However, I’ve now managed to automate the publishing part of my writing process. Which I’ve been using for every blog post since, not just my daily journal.

I started off with Federico Viticci’s Publish to WordPress shortcut1, which he posted on his incredible Behind the Tablet article. But I had to make a few changes to make it work with the way I’ve configured my blog.

Here’s Federico’s description of his shortcut:

Publish a Markdown post to WordPress via the Shortcuts action extension. The shortcut can extract the h1 Markdown header from a post and use it as title. Optionally, you can publish both standard and “linked list” post types by adding a custom field supported by your WordPress installation.

The changes I made were:

  • Changing the Format parameter of the ‘Post to WordPress’ action to Ask When Run. This way I can alter between standard and link type posts. The shortcut already handled linked posts so it could extract a URL and add that as a custom field on a post. But my theme styles linked posts slightly differently, and it depends on the post format to do that.
  • I also changed the Publish Date parameter to Ask When Run as sometimes I like to schedule posts. Or if I’m publishing my journal, and I’ve slightly run into the next day, I like to make sure it’s published on the correct date.
  • One section I removed was the file saving, as I don’t particularly need another copy of the final results. I like to think of my blog as the place for canonical copies.
  • The last action was to open MacStories in the browser, so of course, I changed that to the url of this blog. So I can quickly check out the live version.

In essence, it’s a relatively simple shortcut, in that it takes text and publishes it here on my blog. However it takes care of so much of the annoying parts of the publishing process, such as setting the categories, tags, post types, extracting links for sources, and still more. I guess that’s the perfect case for automation.

One last thing I have to call out, is the natural language parsing when entering a publish date for a post. When using the web interface for WordPress, I found it really irritating to use the date/time picker. But now I can write something like “tomorrow at noon” or “yesterday at 23:00”, and it just understands it perfectly.

I’m not sure if this will directly benefit anyone, but I hope it at least shows some benefits of using automation when publishing to a blog. And also, that it’s very beneficial to keep checking out the many Shortcuts that people like Federico are sharing.

Download Federico’s “Publish to WordPress” shortcut.

Download my modified “Publish to WordPress” shortcut.


  1. The shortcut also includes the Title Case action from my app, Text Case. Which I (with a massive bias) find very helpful. 
28th May 2019

I was going to try and write a big long post about my wishes for iOS 13, but my list sadly never passed 6 items. So seeing as WWDC is just around the corner, I’ll publish what I’ve got.

Dark Mode

I’ve wanted this for quite some time, and it looks like we’re going to be getting it. So I think this is a near-guaranteed part of iOS 13.

Shortcuts API

I want apps to have a much deeper integration with Shortcuts. Mainly the ability to add native actions into the Shortcuts app. But also parameter support, so apps like my Text Case won’t need to interact solely with the clipboard.

Home Screen Widgets

We’ve been waiting for a refresh of the home screen for a while, and I think the ability to add “widgets” would be a good fit.

Picture-in-Picture on iPhone

This is a feature that I don’t hold much hope of being implemented. However, there are scenarios where I want to watch a video while quickly doing something else on my iPhone. So Picture-in-Picture would
Be very handy. Although sporadically used.

More Widgets on the iPad

I’m not sure why this ever changed. But on the iPad you used to be able to see two columns of widgets, and now it’s restricted to just one. I want the whole screen to be filled with them!

Do Not Disturb while Using a Device

One last annoyance that has turned into a feature request, a Do Not Disturb setting that still applies when you’re using the device. If I’m watching a video with my girlfriend during dinner, I really don’t need to see notifications. Especially as it usually pushes what we’re watching momentarily.

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.

15th November 2018

Over a year ago, Niantic (the developers behind Pokémon GO) announced a game called Wizards Unite. In their announcement, they celebrated the state of their AR technology, including how successful Pokémon GO already was at that point (November 2017). It meant that they had the ability to expand on that and create an experience for the Harry Potter franchise:

We’re incredibly excited to announce this next step in the evolution of AR mobile entertainment. With Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, players that have been dreaming of becoming real life Wizards will finally get the chance to experience J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. Players will learn spells, explore their real world neighborhoods and cities to discover & fight legendary beasts and team up with others to take down powerful enemies. We’re thrilled to partner with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and WB Games San Francisco’s development team to bring this magical and beloved series to life in a brand new way. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite will leverage the full stack of the Niantic Platform while also providing an opportunity to pioneer all new technology and gameplay mechanics.

It sounded really impressive, but I didn’t expect it to take this long. Because we’ve only just been treated to a trailer, and it wont be released until 2019.

The story sounds reasonably interesting:

The Ministry is looking for witches and wizards willing to roll up their sleeves and volunteer to save the wizarding world from the Calamity. As a member of the Statute of Secrecy Task Force (a new task force formed in partnership between the Ministry of Magic and the International Confederation of Wizards) you will hone lightning fast wand reflexes, an ability to sniff out the faintest whiff of magical disorder from afar, and proficiency in advanced casting of multiple spells.

But it will all depend on the implementation of the real world scaling, the AR features, and just how it will be played. The idea of Pokémon works very well in this scenario, and Pokémon GO has only proved that. But I’m not sure how you could get a game based around the Harry Potter franchise, that is constantly pulling you in to do more, without it being a fixed storyline.

I’m a big Harry Potter fan, so I’m going to play it no matter what. But I hope it’s something long lasting.

You can find out more information, and also sign up for updates on the Harry Potter: Wizards Unite website.

12th November 2018
Permalink

Michael Steeber, for 9To5Mac:

We take photos to capture moments. A great photo can fill in the blanks of our memory, instantly recalling forgotten details and conversations otherwise lost to time. But has looking at a photo ever raised more questions than it provided answers? Let’s look at reimagining the Photos app to better tell the stories of your memories.

“Why was I wearing a winter coat in May?” “What were we listening to on that road trip?” “Why were you downtown so early on a Sunday morning?” Where our memory fails, technology can assist. Beyond being a great camera, modern iPhones store and can tap into rich libraries of data relevant to our lives. By interpreting this information through the intelligence of iOS, the Photos app could be expanded in two key ways to help weave our memories into vivid stories.

There’s a ton of great suggestions on the types of information that can be extrapolated from photos, and it’s certainly interesting to see how it would look in the UI.

I really like this concept, and it’s certainly something I think Apple could pull off. Even without collecting personal information en mass, as it can be done on the device. And anything that needs to be referenced from somewhere else can be requested completely anonymously, such as the weather or information about a location.

15th October 2018
Permalink

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors:

At its annual Adobe Max conference, Adobe announced plans to bring a complete version of Photoshop to the iPad in 2019.

Photoshop CC for iPad will feature a revamped interface designed specifically for a touch experience, but it will bring the power and functionality people are accustomed to on the desktop.

I’m interested to see how Photoshop will actually work on the iPad. They do say it’s the full version, but will it include the automation that was available on the desktop, and how will it fit into the iOS environment? For example, will it have support for Siri Shortcuts, support for a Photo Editing Extension, and how are the toolbars going to be translated into iOS UI?

Then there’s the price. Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo are both priced at £19.99, Pixelmator is only £1.99, and there are apps like Polarr that are free. I’m guessing they’ll extend their Creative Cloud subscription to include the iOS version, but I think a cheaper solution is needed to be competitive on this platform. £9.98 per month is their cheapest individual plan in the UK, and that will deter a lot of people.

Another recent announcement of theirs, Project Gemini, is something that’s probably more suited to my uses. As that is a lot simpler, and focuses on drawing and illustrating.

24th September 2018

I’ve started watching more television series recently, and more importantly, a goal to rewatch/watch all the episodes of Pokémon (Best not to go in to that one too much, I’ve been obsessed since I was a child).

Naturally, I decided to find an app that can help me remember where I am with everything, as my memory has never been excellent. After a little search I came up with a few suitable apps, including iShows and SeenIt, but I settled on Hobi pretty quickly.

It integrates with Trakt, which most of them do, so I was grateful to see some of my previously watched tv shows appear in the app immediately. It can also notify you when new episodes air, release dates are announced, or to notify you of season premieres.

It’s topped off with a pretty great design. I like how the most prominent parts of the UI are the cover art, and the name of each tv show. It looks a bit like Things for iOS, and I’m a big fan of the clean aesthetic right now. Especially when it’s joined with slightly larger and heavier fonts.

You can download Hobi for free on the App Store. But they also offer a premium subscription which enables advanced sorting options, no show limits, and also no limits on the number of devices.