Posts tagged apps

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On iFlow Reader getting “screwed”: Apple’s policy is bad for users

BeamItDown Software recently announced that their iOS eBook app iFlow Reader will be discontinued, and the company will be shutting down. The stated reason for this is Apple’s policy, implemented this year, that in-app purchases must go through their system, with a 30% fee (which is more than eBook sellers can generally afford to give up). Ben Brooks thinks the effect on BeamItDown Software and iFlow Reader is justified by an evolving market:

It sucks that iFlow can’t figure out an alternative, but it’s not Apple’s job to help iFlow run their business.

That’s true, but it is Apple’s job to support the app ecosystem they’ve created. That doesn’t mean they’re required to cater to every app’s specific model, but changing a policy, when it negatively affects some app publishers so directly, is inconsiderate and anticompetitive (especially since any eBook seller is a direct competitor to Apple, due to iBooks).

To add insult to injury, Ben thinks that iFlow screwed themselves by investing solely in Apple’s platform:

So iFlow, Apple didn’t screw you — you screwed yourselves. Linking your success to being able to sell one app in one market screwed you and it can and will happen to others.

It’s true that it’s a often bad idea to put all your eggs in one basket. This is especially true with networks, like Twitter. But with iOS and the App Store, Apple wants people to make it their exclusive market. Apple wants people to be building and selling only for iOS (and Mac OS X). Is The Daily “screwing itself” by relying entirely on Apple’s platform? Oh right — they’ve got a special deal with Apple. Is that what it’ll take to succeed on the App Store? Or at least, to feel safe that your business model is sustainable? Maybe that’s what Apple wants.

But it’s certainly not fair, and it doesn’t set a very good precedent for future companies deciding where to focus. If Apple wants their closed App Stores to be the best sources of software and services (and it seems they do), developers need to be assured that their business model won’t be pulled out from under them. It’s certainly Apple’s right, but it’s not necessary, and it doesn’t promote innovation, risk-taking, or exclusivity on their platform, or trust among developers (and users).

Furthermore, since Apple requires that the App Store price be equal to or lower than outside prices, even if developers rely on multiple platforms and multiple markets, this still puts them in a situation where, if they choose to remain on Apple’s platform, they need to raise prices outside the store as well. Apple’s policy doesn’t just require companies that can’t currently afford 30% to shift their App Store strategy, but their entire pricing strategy. Whatever the fairness of this, it’s undoubtedly bad for the users.1

This may be one of the first casualties of Apple’s draconian policy, but it won’t be the last. A nonnegotiable 30% cut on all in-app purchases is bad for developers, bad for competition, and worst of all, bad for users.

  1. When this policy was first announced, John Gruber wrote, “if this subscription policy knocks a bunch of good apps out of the store, sure, that’ll be bad for iOS users.” This is only one, but as Ben predicts, it “will happen to others.” 

Filed under Apple iOS iPhone App Store Apps Ben Brooks policy

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Tools of the trade: better tools don’t make better writing

The great thing about writing is the number of tools needed to do it effectively. There’s really only one: something to write with. Right now, for me, that’s my laptop (and my iPod Touch while on the go). In the past it’s been a pencil and notebook, and various computers.

There are other tools I use, and each has its purpose, but none of them make me a better writer. Writing makes me a better writer, and while the right tools (arguably) make me write more, and modern tools may make writing easier, none of them are essential in their own right.1 The only thing I really need is a reason to start: inspiration is more valuable than any accessory.

There’s a saying in photography that “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” The same can be said about writing: the best tool is the one that’s with you.2

  1. As Kevin Whipps wrote in his analysis of minimalist writing apps, “When it comes right down to it, there’s one way to get your writing done: You write.” 

  2. It’s fitting that the book that seems to have originated (or at least popularized) that phrase is all about iPhone photography, and the iPhone is also one of the most accessible places to write. If we are to agree, at least for creative processes, that the best tool is the one you have with you, then something like the iPhone — powerful, versatile, and always in your pocket — is the best tool for a lot of things (with apps being key). 

Filed under writing creativity blogging iPhone apps

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Reading time: a time-based reading service and recommendation engine

I remember last summer in Paris, in a great English bookstore, finding a book that collected poems and stories, categorized by the amount of time each took to read. Each section contained pieces of the right length for a specific situation, from elevators to planes. It was an attempt to solve the problem of knowing what to read when we have only a finite amount of time (which, ultimately, is all the time).

Nowadays, many of us read more on digital devices than from books. But the problem remains, of fitting what we read cleanly into the time we have.

A great solution would be a service or plugin that categorizes everything based on reading time. At the most basic level, this would be calculated by the word count. There are already a number of plugins for Wordpress that accomplish this1, and it can be done with less than 10 lines of PHP.

Cennydd Bowles’ ideal reading app, which is an entirely excellent idea, would include “An estimated reading time [with] each article, calculated from its word count.”2

While this is a good start, I’d like a much more advanced time-based service. Word count would be the basic benchmark, but the service would learn from behavior. Over time, average words per minute would be calculated for the specific user. Average words per minute would even be calculated separately for different sites. There are some sites where I tend to skim the articles and others where I read thoroughly, even re-reading pertinent sections, and the algorithm would (broadly) reflect this. For example, reading 500 words on Mashable or TechCrunch usually isn’t the same as 500 words on the New York Times website. Aggregate data would determine average reading speeds for sites the user doesn’t visit frequently. Other factors could also be incorporated into the calculation of reading time, like reading level (obviously, the more advanced the reading level, the longer it takes to read).

Ideally, this would be integrated with existing apps, like Instapaper, Read It Later, Readability and Google Reader. While anyone can add reading time based on a simple calculation, the real power would come from the customization and the way it would be tailored to each individual user, learning from behavior. Obviously, its integration would be up to the individual developers, but scripts can be used to add functionality to Google Reader, and browser plugins can blanket every site with additional functionality.

With the number of distractions today, time is the ultimate scarcity3, and a reading site or service built with available time as its focus would fit perfectly into our busy lives.

A platform for digital reading

A central focus of reading time provides a lot of opportunities for advanced features, and the idea could be extended into a very cool general-purpose reading engine4.

Recommendations would be given, based on how much time the user wants to spend reading, or how much time is available. For example, articles in Instapaper and Read It Later could be organized by reading time. Public transportation to work? Open up your app of choice, tell it you’ve got about 20 minutes, and it’ll make sure you’ve got something to read until you reach your destination.

Over time, with the consent of the user to have all reading tracked (for the sake of more accurate estimations), trends could be provided online. Overall reading time, average time spent reading each day, total time spent reading each specific site, and more could all be calculated, and even factored into recommendations (For example, “something different” could provide a site you don’t read often). Recommendations would have an element of serendipity, but always the right length for the right occasion.

The Internet and all of our portable devices provide more opportunities for reading than ever, but the Internet also provides more than we could ever hope to read. What we need is something to help reach a balance: a reading service (or app) with intelligence, and with an emphasis on fitting reading into our lives as they are.

  1. 1, 2, 3, 4

  2. I’ve had these ideas as a draft for a while, but the this post is thanks to Patrick Rhone’s tweet of that article, which inspired me to finish and publish my concept. 

  3. An idea I first came across in Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price (p. 185). Time scarcity is directly related to attention scarcity and the attention economy. For more on my thoughts about Free, see my post on the problem with abundance thinking

  4. seemed promising as a broad reading platform, with history and recommendations. The Next Web called it “ for News.” Unfortunately, the project was discontinued due to lack of funds. Instapaper’s latest update, which added the option to follow what others “like,” is also an interesting direction. 

Filed under Apps App Idea Service Reading Books Time Instapaper Read It Later Readability Google Reader Scarcity Recommendations Wordpress Chris Anderson Free Readness

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What’s taking so long for HTML5 offline support in Google cloud apps like Gmail, Docs, Calendar and Reader?

The technical capability was there with Google Gears, and Google even helped get offline app cache implemented in HTML5. Yet Google Gears support (and with it offline access) was disabled in Google Docs at the beginning of May in favor of HTML5, with the promise of it returning soon, and in June 2010 for Google Reader (perhaps permanently, which would be a shame). It’s been more than six months, and while the Chrome Web Store brought various offline-capable web apps, Google cloud apps were not among them (although some apps developed by Google were, like Clock and Scratchpad). Even the mobile version of Gmail has offline access with HTML5 (although Eric Schmidt did say Google has a “mobile first” strategy). When the Chrome OS pilot program was announced, Google Docs offline support was said to be coming early this year, so it’s safe to say it’s right around the corner. I would say the same about Gmail, considering the amount of time it’s been (and in June 2010, a Gmail engineer said Gmail’s offline support would eventually be migrated to HTML5). Furthermore, offline support is a very important feature, especially with Chrome OS, and when Google wants Google Docs to replace desktop software. The fact that Google Docs and some other Google cloud apps can only be used with a reliable connection is a major hindrance to moving entirely into the cloud (which is what Google seems to want). Offline support through HTML5 must surely be coming soon — but I’ve been thinking that for months, so what’s taking so long?

[Answer this question on Quora, where I originally posted it]


Filed under google google reader google docs gmail google calendar web apps cloud computing google apps apps offline HTML5 quora

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The Mac App Store’s missing apps

I noticed an interesting thing about the Mac App Store: many of the best apps are not available through it, especially free ones. While it’s only been a few days, I would have expected more developers to submit their apps. From my quick perusal, it seems to be dominated by expensive or new software. To test the Mac App Store’s selection of already-established software, I decided to see which of the apps from my list of essential Mac software were available (this was done by searching the title of each app). The results of what’s available are not good for the App Store (I’ve included Bodega for comparison):

Read more …

Filed under apple mac mac app store app store apps numbers statistics what's wrong with the mac app store

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Five Mac Apps to Watch in 2011

2010 was the year I fell in love with apps all over again. I got a Macbook Pro near the end of 2009, giving me a chance to finally pull the plug on my dying iMac G5, and start from scratch with an almost empty Applications folder. While hype in 2010 may have been dominated by iOS apps and HTML5, Mac OS X app development continued as usual. It was as good a year as any to re-discover the beauty of the desktop app. With the launch of the Mac App Store coming tomorrow, 2011 will be off to a good start, and it’s likely to be an even better year than the last for Mac OS X. The Mac App Store will likely bring a new round of apps and a new wave of eager developers, but I’ll be just as interested in watching some of my favorite apps improve as I will be in discovering new ones. With that in mind, here are five apps for which 2011 should be a significant year.

In September 2010, The Document Foundation was announced, to foster a truly open and independent alternative to Microsoft Office. LibreOffice was simultaneously released, and while in its current form it’s basically a re-branding of, The Document Foundation promises an exciting future with a focus on content and the document itself. “The Document Foundation founders foresee a completely different future for the office suite paradigm,” read an e-mail from November, “each single module of LibreOffice will be undergoing an extensive rewrite… Most of the new features are either meant to maintain compatibility with the market leading office suite or will introduce radical innovations.” LibreOffice is the logical evolution of While a lot of progress has already been made in the past few months, 2011 will be the year that The Document Foundation finds its footing, and LibreOffice gets a chance to fulfill its potential as a re-invigorated and truly independent alternative to Microsoft Office.

2010 saw the release of Plex/Nine, a long-awaited update featuring a restructured library system allowing for advanced features and greater control, as well as more independence from XBMC, Plex’s original source. Apps for the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad were also released. I’ve already said that Plex is the best media manager out there, and with the developers now working on it full time, a deal with LG Electronics, and an upcoming Windows version, 2011 should be a good year for Plex. I won’t be surprised if this is the year it finally reaches 1.0.

Mail client Sparrow has only been out for three months, but it’s already been downloaded over 150,000 times and become one of my most used apps. Development has been quick (it’s on beta 7), the developers are very responsive to feedback (on Get Satisfaction), and Sparrow continues to improve with each beta. Sparrow is one of the first apps in what will surely become a trend: an iOS-inspired interface for a desktop app (see also: Reeder, below). The developers have promised support for IMAP in 2011, making Sparrow not just an incredible Gmail app but a viable replacement for other mail clients.

Reeder (beta for Mac OS X)
The beta for the frequently lauded iPhone/iPad app Reeder was recently released for Mac OS X, to near universally positive reception. Reeder is another app that seems built for iOS but nonetheless right at home on Mac OS X. Considering the excitement surrounding even such an early beta, expect Reeder’s popularity to increase in 2011, especially with the Mac App Store and a more complete release.

An official Mac App Store might seem like a death sentence to an independent one, but I think Bodega can survive. That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy: Apple has the marketing dollars and exposure to get attention, the dominance to attract developers and users (which populate the reviews, making it more valuable for discovery), a powerful position of interest to bloggers and others in the media (there have already been more stories about the Mac App Store, even before it’s released, than Bodega, which has been around for over a year), and with the Mac App Store coming pre-installed with Lion, a guaranteed user base. However, I see the Mac App Store as an opportunity for Bodega. Bodega provides an open alternative to Apple’s restrictive policies, as well as a much more fair revenue split with developers (Bodega keeps only 7%). Aside from illegal and highly offensive apps, Bodega will accept everything, a stark contrast to Apple’s Mac App Store. A list of benefits for developers appears on Bodega’s site, and it’s easy to see why it would be more attractive than the official store. The most important factor is potential customers, of which Apple will absolutely provide more, but there will also certainly be demand for an alternative Mac App Store, and Bodega will be there to fill the void. Increased publicity around Mac OS X apps and App Stores is good for everyone involved, including — and especially — Bodega. “Bodega is not going anywhere,” Bodega’s Phil Letourneau told The Loop, “It will continue to grow in terms of developers and customers coming into Bodega.” I’m very excited to see what this next year holds for the original “corner store for Mac apps.”

Filed under mac os x mac apple mac app store Mac App Store apps software 2011 list LibreOffice The Document Foundation Plex Sparrow Reeder Bodega iOS

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My Essential Mac Apps

While many would claim the imminent end of desktop software (at the benefit of mobile and web apps), my daily use of technology is still largely defined by the “classic” software I use, from old staples to new arrivals. In 2010, many great Mac apps continued to improve, and there were even some notable newcomers. Here’s a roundup of the Mac apps I regularly use, with a focus on what I used a lot over the past 12 months (in no particular order).

Plex, free
Plex has long been the best media manager on the Mac, and with the long-awaited release of Plex 9, the developers have outdone themselves, while further distinguishing Plex from its source, XBMC. Plex 9 is absolutely the best media manager on the Mac (or on any system, I would say), giving media collections the beautiful presentation and organization they deserve.

Notational Velocity, free
Notational Velocity is a staple among Mac aficionados, but I only recently became acquainted with it. It’s now become essential, and contains content as diverse as lecture notes, book summaries, quotes, ideas, lists, writing projects (this was written in Notational Velocity, mostly while on a plane), random thoughts, references and more. Simplenote sync keeps my notes with me at all times (thanks to the iPhone app), and anything I think of on-the-go is synced to my computer. Simply put, Notational Velocity has allowed me to organize my mind.

Quick Search Box, free
Developed in party by Nicholas Jitkoff, the same guy responsible for Quicksilver, Quick Search Box provides easy access to everything on my computer. Mostly I just use it to search my computer (it uses Spotlight’s excellent index, and includes Google Chrome bookmarks), and as an application launcher. It also keeps a clipboard history (but I use Jumpcut), and can manipulate files, so I’ll sometimes use it to move a file. There’s some very cool system integration: aside from clipboard history and the ability to manipulate files (get info, show in finder, move, rename, etc.), it provides access to menu items of all open programs, as well as things like “Empty Trash.” There’s some integration with Google’s cloud services, like the option to upload files to Google Docs, and the inclusion of Google Docs files in search.

Picasa, free
Picasa’s not the best photo manager, and I’ve had plenty of issues with it. But it is one of the best free photo managers. And I like that, unlike some programs, almost all the metadata is written to the photo itself, so each file is self-contained, instead of relying on specific software (and folders are created in Finder for groups of photos). Geotagged location, tags, and description are all managed through the EXIF data. Unfortunately, Picasa is still missing features and there are some persistent issues, and new features are not very actively developed. I worry that Google’s focus on the cloud will cause Picasa to be ignored, at least as a self-contained photo manager (two of the most significant updates in the last year were integration with Picnik, the online photo editing site Google recently acquired, and better integration with Picasa Web). I’d love if Google were to open source Picasa and let the community develop it.

Hugin, free
Hugin is incredible software. It allows the creation of seamless panoramas from adjacent photos, and it’s very advanced. All that’s needed from the user is a set of decent photos and a few nudges in the right direction, and Hugin does most of the work. Hugin is actively developed as well, and while the interface may not win any prizes, the technology is impressive. With the latest release (at the end of 2010), the developers write that “For the first time Hugin can be considered feature-complete.”

Bean, free
Simple and effective word processing. While a lack of footnotes and similar advanced features prevents Bean from being the only word processor I use, it remains my go-to text editor (aside from Notational Velocity), and for almost everything, it’s exactly what I need, without being too much.

Preview, pre-installed
Preview is my default image and PDF viewer. It’s lightweight and fast, and perfect for everyday use.

Skim, free
When I want a bit more options when working with PDFs, I open Skim. It’s an excellent PDF viewer, with a focus on notating files — adding text notes, highlighting, etc. It provides a searchable index of all notes and highlighted sections in a pane on the right. Everything is exportable in a number of formats as well.

Sparrow, free while in beta, freemium after
I’ve always avoided mail software, as Gmail’s web interface is sufficient for my needs, but I was won over by Sparrow (released in beta in October), which sports a beautiful and minimalist interface, while including most of Gmail’s features (notably missing is Priority Inbox, but the developers are considering adding it). Sparrow is one of the first apps to bring elements of an iOS interface to Mac OS X. Even in beta, it’s already very promising.

Transmission, free
A well-designed, feature-rich, minimalist BitTorrent client. The popular uTorrent was recently released for Mac OS X, but Transmission remains my default (and favorite).

Handbrake, free
The classic DVD-ripping and video-encoding app, useful as ever.

Google Chrome, free
Google Chrome, my browser. Chrome is basically just a window to the web (and various “web apps”), but it’s an impressive and elegant window at that, and deserves a mention, as the single program I undoubtedly spend the most time using.

LibreOffice, free
I’ve resisted installing an office suite for some time, but with college’s demand for footnotes and presentations, along with the excitement of a re-invigorated and truly-open Office, I finally installed OpenOffice LibreOffice. It may be slow, cluttered and huge, but it gets the job done.

Flickr Uploadr, free
This program is far from perfect (and well past due for an update), but coupled with picasa2flickr, it has proved consistently useful for getting my photos from Picasa to Flickr, metadata and all.

Dictionary, pre-installed
Apple’s pre-installed Dictionary isn’t anything special, but quick and easy access to definitions and synonyms (just a right-click in many programs), even while offline, is invaluable (along with easy access from Quick Search Box).

iCal, pre-installed
I keep my school schedule in iCal, along with any other important events. It also includes Facebook events and television shows I watch (thanks to

Backblaze, $5/month
I hastily signed up for an online backup service when I feared my drive was done for (and I didn’t have a hard drive to use), and I’ve used Backblaze ever since. The great thing about Backblaze is that I don’t have to think about it — it runs as a Preference pane, so my computer is always backed up remotely, and aside from the occasional peak to make sure everything’s running smoothly, I just let Backblaze do its thing. Not only is everything backed up online, but I’ve got versions going back 30 days, in case I need an earlier version of a file. It also provides online access to my computer’s hard drive from anywhere, since I can login and download any backed up file, any time. It’s $5 a month for unlimited space and bandwidth (you can even include external drives), so it’s well worth the price.

iStat Menus, $16 
Bjango released version 3 of iStat Menus this year, and it’s continued to advance since then. The update also brought a price tag (it used to be free), but having constant access to network, memory and CPU usage from the menu bar is well worth $16. It’s great being able to glance up and see my download and upload speeds (or if I even have a network connection), or if a certain program is using too much processing power. I’ve even replaced the default battery and clock with the iStat Menus versions — the battery icon provides various details and a different look depending on the state (charging, charged, plugged in, etc.), and the clock gives me one-click access to a calendar, as well as the time in various (customizable) cities (not to mention sunrise, noon, sunset, moonrise and moonset times in each).

Jumpcut, free
This simple menu bar app provides a clipboard history, and allows copying of more than one thing at a time. It’s quite useful just as a back up, for those times when something important is overwritten by a thoughtless “copy,” or something used previously is needed again. The ability to copy many different pieces of text at once is incredibly valuable, especially when copying things like quotes, links, or tags (it’s also an easy way to paste something in plain text). There are more advanced clipboard managers like Ayluro’s Corkboard, but Jumpcut’s simple effectiveness is perfect for my needs.

CapSee, free
This simple utility adds a visual cue (like the one for volume, brightness, etc.) when the Caps Lock key is pressed. Never again type a sentence in all caps before realizing that Caps Lock is on.

HyperDock, free while in beta
A recent addition to the customization of my Mac, HyperDock is very useful for managing multiple windows in one app. Hovering over a dock icon provides a Windows 7-like popup of all open windows, which is a lot quicker than right-clicking.

The Unarchiver, free
A simple app for extracting archives with support for lots of formats, which I use as my default.

Read more …

Filed under plex notational notational velocity nv xbmc mac mac os x apps applications software qsb quick search box picasa hugin open source free free software bean writing editing photos skim pdfs sparrow os x sparrow mail transmission handbrake google chrome chrome