Tag Archives: apps

Ulysses vs. Scrivener

In a brief Reddit discussion, users of both writing apps ding Ulysses for relying on Markdown for formatting, while Scrivener uses rich text.

That surprises me. I find Markdown quite natural, which goes a long way to explaining why I do most of my writing in Ulysses.

I’m writing this post in Markdown, and if you’re reading it on Facebook or Google+, that’s how you’re reading it. But I’m not writing this post in Ulysses; I’m composing it directly in WordPress, which is how I do most of my writing for the blog and social media.

Via the Mac Power Users podcast, which compares Scrivener and Ulysses. I’m listening to the episode now.

Why TextExpander’s move to subscription pricing was a bad decision

The three-year cost of running TextExpander on the Mac has gone from $20 to $142.56. That puts TextExpander in the price range of Microsoft Office, Adobe Lightroom, and TurboTax.

And more.

As for me: Smile says it will continue to support the current version of TextExpander through the current and next versions of OS X. I’ll stay with it until I get a compelling reason to upgrade or switch.

Ironically timed, just this morning I saw a write-up of an intriguing alternative for large numbers of complex text snippets.

TextExpander 6 and TextExpander.com [Michael Tsai]

TextExpander for Mac is going to a subscription model

TextExpander is a keyboard-shortcut app for the Mac. You configure TextExpander to output a long block of text when you type a short text string. For example, people enter their email signatures in TextExpander and type out the whole long thing by just typing “ssig” or some other short string. I use TextEpander to store a lot of full names of the companies I cover, their Twitter handles for when I tweet out headlines about them, “dts” to type out the current date and time, “mmob” for my mobile phone number, and so on.

Now, TextExpander is going from a paid app to a subscription model.

$60/year seems like a lot of money. The new features outlined in this article don’t interest me all that much – I don’t have a team to share snippets with.

On the other hand, TextExpander is one of my most-used apps, and I do believe in throwing financial support to indy apps I use heavily.

I’ll stay with the current versions on Mac and iOS until some compelling alternative comes along, which could mean upgrading to the new service and could mean switching to a competitor.

Julie and a couple of my Apple-using friends like to give me grief for switching apps so frequently. And that’s true for some apps – text editors, to-do apps, and I haven’t even talked here about my quest for the perfect clipboard manager. But I’ve stuck with TextExpander since a few months after I switched from Windows to Mac in 2007,

TextExpander Updates Focus on New Service [John Voorhees – MacStories]

Link

That’s a screenshot above.

A lot of people are going to be happy about this, but not as happy as when it actually ships.

From Alpha to Beta [KB – Literature and Latte: The Cellar Door]

Stay on top of Apple Mail using Mail Perspectives

I was pleased to once again have a two-minute audio tip featured on Mac Power Users. In it, I describe Mail Perspectives, software that lets me stay on top of email by displaying a mini-window showing key information about recently arrived messages.

My tip starts here.

Listen to the whole episode here: #309: I Haven't Discounted The Possibility That You're Crazy

AppStorm gives the Notebooks app a thumbs-up review

Notebooks: A Flexible and Powerful Note App in Beta

This is a review of the January 2013 beta, but it looks pretty similar to the final version. Notebooks seems to be developed by one guy, and it’s a complex app, so it’s reasonable for development to be slow. 

I tried the desktop version this morning. It’s nowhere near as sophisticated and polished as the iPad and iPhone version. It’s pretty basic. But basic is good for me for a writing app. Like John Scalzi said: I just want to type. Nearly all my writing is plain text with very light formatting; I don’t need layout tools or complex formatting. To this day I am uncertain how to use stylesheets. 

I get the idea that the desktop version is still in development and features from iOS will make it in there eventually. But my rule is never to commit to an app based on the developer intentions. I decide whether to commit to the app based on what it does now. And what it does now seems OK to me. I’m not in love yet, but I’ll stay with it. 

My 16 favorite iPhone apps of 2011

These are the apps I find most useful. I compiled the list just by reading the app icons off the first and second screen of my iPhone. The only apps on this list are ones that I’ve been using more than a month, to prevent infatuations from getting listed.

Social

Tweetbot ($3). My favorite Twitter client. Mac bloggers can get rhapsodic and precious in their Tweetbot reviews. I just like Tweetbot. It’s fun and easy to use.

Instagram (free). My love for this free social photo-sharing app snuck up on me. I thought I was just trying it out, and then I tried posting a couple of photos, and a few months later I was hooked. Whereas Flickr seems to have gotten crustier over time with useless features, while failing to keep up on essential capabilities, Instagram does everything a photo-sharing site should and very little that’s unnecessary. Using Instagram, you can post photos, write captions, share with other people, view photos from other people, Like photos, leave comments, share on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social networks, and that’s about it. It’s like Twitter for photos. Oh, crap, now I’m the one sounding precious, aren’t I?

I can do without the filters on Instagram, but everybody else seems to like them.

Foursquare (free). I check in regularly. I don’t know why. I never get any offers. Rarely, someone I know has checked in at the same location, but if they’re there I almost always know it already. And yet I still keep tapping that button.

Facebook (free).

Fitness

Lose It! (free). Keeping a food and exercise journal is key to losing weight and getting fit; you need to write down every bite you eat, and every time you work out. That’s important for two reasons: For controlling the amount of food you eat, of course, but also to become conscious and mindful of what and when you’re eating.

Most fat people aren’t mindful; they just eat compulsively and automatically. Keeping a food journal requires you to be aware of what you’re putting in your mouth.

I weigh and measure every meal and snack. I take precise measurements with a scale when I’m home, often down to the gram. When I’m out, I estimate. Lose It tracks the calories of those foods, and also the calories burned exercising, and does so with an easy-to-use and attractive interface.

This year, Lose It added a bar code scanner, which has proven very useful; when I’m eating packaged food like a frozen dinner, I just scan the barcode with the iPhone camera and Lose It automatically tallies the calories.

Lose It’s database and calorie calculations aren’t the greatest. I find that most of the foods I eat aren’t in the database; I have to add them manually. Fortunately, I only have to do that once for each food; after that, Lose It remembers. Likewise, I’ve had to adjust my daily calorie budget; Lose It’s recommendations are way off. But Lose It makes it easy to do those things.

I use Google to find the calories of any foods that aren’t in the database. For example, Google grilled turkey and brie sandwich and you’ll get several entries; I just pick the median amount and enter it in to Lose It.

RunKeeper (free). I use it to track the duration and distance of my daily walks.

Both Lose It and RunKeeper have social features and badges that I don’t pay any attention to, with the exception of posting my RunKeeper results each day to Facebook.

Weightbot ($1.99). Lose It lacks a good diary for keeping track of your weight over time; it’ll tell you what you weighed last time you weighed yourself, but not what you weighed six months ago. That’s what Weighbot is for. It’s less important now that I’ve hit my goal weight, but I keep it up anyway.

Media

Podcaster ($2). I listen to hours of podcasts every week, and Podcaster does a better job managing them for me than the native iPod app. Podcaster does automatic, over-the-air updates of new podcast episodes, and lets me create a playlist and listen to one podcast after another without having to manually start each one.

Audible (free). Audiobooks.

Productivity

OmniFocus ($20). The iPhone version of the ultimate to-do-list management app. I also use the iPad and Mac versions. Mainly, I use the Mac version, and use the iPhone version to add new items.

Due ($5). Reminders and timers. I use it instead of the built-in iPhone timer for a couple of reasons. One is because it supports pre-set alarms. For example, I have a pre-set configured at 5 minutes to time steeping tea, and another at 32.5 minutes for the turnaround point on my walk.

The other reason I prefer Due to the built-in timer is you don’t have to press a button to turn off; it rings for a second or two and then shuts off on its own.

Since this fall, iOS 5 has its own reminders app; I haven’t compared Due with that.

Due has many other capabilities, but I don’t use most of them.

Other

GV Mobile+ ($3). My preferred Google Voice client for the iPhone. I bought it before Google had its own, official client. It’s not so much better than the official client that I’d recommend others pay for it.

Soulver ($4). Better than the iPhone’s built-in calculator; it displays results adding-machine-tape style. You can also include words in your calculations.

TomTom USA ($40). GPS and turn-by-turn directions.

1Password ($8.99). Password management. One version runs on the iPhone and iPad, and it syncs with a version for the Mac. Essential for generating secure passwords, and remembering my hundreds of passwords for Web sites and networks.

Chipotle (free). Very nice mobile commerce app; it remembers our weekly order, and, with a couple of buttons, we order, pre-pay,then I drive over, cut to the front of the line (without making eye contact with anyone in the line — that’s important), pick up and go. I’ve been trying to get an interview with Chipotle about this app for The CMO Site for months; if you have any connections over there please let me know.

Trying out The Hit List as a possible OmniFocus replacement

I’ve been getting dissatisfied with OmniFocus for months now. It’s just too complicated. And it’s too rigid in some ways.

OmniFocus is a high-maintenance app. I was spending too much time working on my to-do lists, and not enough time getting things done.

What I’m looking for is something much simpler.

I’ve looked at a few Mac and Web-based to-do apps recently and none of them seemed satisfactory. Then I saw this recommendation for Potion Factory’s The Hit List ($50). I spent a little while Saturday afternoon copying my tasks from OmniFocus to The Hit List, and now I’m trying it out. So far I like it.

The plus side:

  • The Hit List is much more flexible than OmniFocus about the order in which you display tasks. I can easily create a list of things I want to do today, put the list in the order I want to do them in, and then get to work. I haven’t found a good way to do that in OmniFocus.
  • The Hit List supports tagging, which OmniFocus does not. Tags are a good way of organizing tasks, although you have to watch out you don’t go crazy with them.
  • The Hit List has an iPhone app and over-the-air synching.
  • It has a nice-looking user interface. It reminds me a lot of Cultured Code’s Things. Actually. I can’t remember why I gave up Things.
  • The app makes extensive use of keyboard shortcuts. I’m not usually a big fan of keyboard shortcuts; I have trouble remembering them. But The Hit List does a good job with them. And The Hit List has a hints bar at the bottom of the app window that displays the most common keyboard shortcuts. I love this. All apps should have it.
  • When you create a new task, it appears at the top of the list. In OmniFocus, new tasks appeared at the bottom, and I couldn’t figure out a way to change that. For me, more recently created tasks are likely to be more urgent, and therefore should be at the top of the task list.

The minus side:

  • No iPad app. I can live with that.
  • No Outlook integration. Outlook is my company standard mail and calendar client. I can work around the lack of Outlook integration.
  • Poking around the Web site, I see users complaining that development is extremely slow, and that the developer is unresponsive to support requests and bug fixes. In particular, there seems to be an ongoing bug with recurring tasks and the iPhone app. Over the air synching seems to be problematic.
  • The Hit List, like OmniFocus, has a quick entry window. You type a keyboard shortcut, and a little window pops up that you use to type in a task when it occurs to you, without breaking flow of whatever else you were doing. That’s great. But the quick entry window doesn’t let you link to email messages. You have to do that from within the application window itself. That’s inconvenient; I create to-dos to respond to email a lot. I found this script to add email messages as tasks with links to the original mail message in Mail.app (rather than Outlook). I tested it and it seems to work; we’ll see how well it serves in real life.

Fortunately, there’s a two-week free trial of The Hit List, and I plan to give it a good workout. If it works for me, I’ll buy it, and won’t expect any upgrades anytime soon.

If it doesn’t work, well, I guess it’s back to OF. Maybe I can make OF work for me. Or I’ll take another look at Things, although I’m not optimistic about that app’s future. I hear good things about Remember the Milk, too.