Great apps, reads, and more, curated by the MacStories team and delivered every Friday.
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Issue 5
In this issue: Pinpoint, Public Transport Apps, Clayton Morris' Home screen, a media pick from Graham, plus the usual Weekend Pick, Tip, Links, and recap of MacStories articles.
Correction: Lookmark, featured last week in 'App Debuts' is free, not $1.99. Our apologies.

MACSTORIES FAVORITE

A great app that deserves to be on everyone's iOS device or Mac, selected by the MacStories team.


$2.99 - Download 
Universal iOS App

LongScreen


Federico: I take a lot of screenshots on a daily basis. Whether it’s an app review, a tweet, or something I need to communicate to my colleagues over Slack, my Photos app sports an impressive amount of screenshots that are usually going somewhere else. Lately, I’ve been covering Apple Watch apps in addition to iPad and iPhone software, and I’ve found myself looking for a solution to better present Apple Watch screenshots on MacStories. For years, I’ve been combining iPhone screenshots with scripts and workflows, but I don’t find the same layout to be an attractive option for Watch screenshots.

LongScreen is a simple utility that, besides stitching screenshots together vertically as the name suggests, also lets you clean up status bars and put screenshots inside pretty device frames. The app does everything automatically: you pick screenshots in the main view (there are filters to only show a subset of screenshots from some devices), choose how you want to combine them, then hit Merge. LongScreen takes care of laying out screenshots in different orientations next to each other and, even better, it can align screenshots from different devices – such as an Apple Watch and an iPad – in the same composite image.

A great touch that I like is the magic wand icon at the bottom of the Merge screen. With this feature, you’ll be able to choose Space Gray and Silver frames for Apple Watch, iPhone, and iPad screenshots, adjust padding, and control how devices will be placed in the final image.

I’ve been using LongScreen to come up with nicer screenshot combinations for MacStories, and it has saved me several minutes I would have spent looking for device templates and assembling everything manually in Pixelmator. A must-have if you work with iOS screenshots frequently.


MACSTORIES COLLECTIONS

Public Transport Apps

My thanks to Marc G, Brooks S, Daniel W, and Alexandre B for sending in their suggestions for Public Transport apps after I asked a few weeks ago. 


Free - Download 
iPhone App

Transit

Supported Cities: Over 100 cities. View full list here, includes most North American cities and selected cities in Western Europe.

Graham: Transit’s a real powerhouse in this field and one of those apps that comes highly recommended from those who have used it. It provides details for all upcoming buses/trains/etc that are nearby, enables you to plan trips from A-B, and can track the location of (supported) buses and trains live. It even has support for bike sharing stations, car2go and Uber built in. In short, if your city supports Transit, you simply need to give this app a go.



Free - Download 
iPhone App

Citymapper

Supported Cities: 29 major cities around the world, view the full list.

Graham: It doesn't have quite the coverage as Transit does, but Citymapper is also a very well-regarded app. Citymapper can provide routing directions, live locations of buses and trains, times for the next departures and it also connects with Uber and Hailo. 

 



Free - Download 
Universal iOS App

NextThere

Supported Cities: Most of Australia and selected US cities.

Graham: NextThere is a great choice for those of you who commute and just want an app that gives you the key information of when the next bus or train arrives at your stop. NextThere also has a great Notification Center widget (which will automatically display the nearest saved stop), an app for the Apple Watch and a recent update added support for 3D Touch shortcuts. Just keep in mind that some features are limited to users who purchase a (relatively cheap) subscription.



Free - Download 
iPhone App

Moovit

Supported Cities: 700 cities in 58 countries, view the full list here

Graham: Moovit has great global coverage, and all the core features that Transit and Citymapper have. But it's also got a neat feature where fellow Moovit users can report various things (even down to the cleanliness of a station) that might affect you on your commute. 

Apple Maps

Supported Cities: Limited to China and a few major global cities.

Graham: iOS 9 added support for public transport directions in Apple Maps for the above cities. What makes Apple Maps particularly unique is that Apple has mapped the exact location of each train station and its entrance/exit – particularly useful for those cities with underground networks.



Free - Download 
Universal iOS App

Google Maps

Supported Cities: Hundreds (probably thousands) of cities across the world, view the full list here.

Graham: To round out this collection I have to mention Google Maps. It supports more cities than any of the above apps and it has always been reliable for me. In fact, it's often my go-to public transport app if I'm catching a bus or train from an unfamiliar location. 


CLUB PERKS

As Club MacStories members, you'll occasionally have access to to giveaways, discounts, and free downloads.

$4.99 - Download 
iPhone App

$9.99 - Download 
iPad App

Fantastical 2

Exclusively for Club MacStories members, we have 20 coupon codes for Fantastical 2 for iPhone, another 20 coupon codes for the iPad version and a 20% off coupon for the Fantastical 2 Mac app for the first 50 people. Fantastical 2 is our favorite third party calendar, and is simply a must-have app. 

Redeem a free copy of Fantastical 2 for iPhone*
Redeem a free copy of Fantastical 2 for iPad*
Get 20% off Fantastical 2 for Mac*
*NOTE: This giveaway is limited to the first 20 people who redeem a copy of Fantastical 2 for iPhone and the first 20 people who redeem Fantastical 2 for iPad. The 20% off coupon code for Fantastical for Mac is limited to the first 50 people who redeem it.

RELAX, IT'S THE WEEKEND!

It's the weekend (or almost is) and you deserve a break. Here's something we enjoyed watching, playing, reading, or listening to.

Manhattan

 

TV Series


Season 1: iTunes, Hulu

Season 2: iTunes
Graham: Manhattan airs on some obscure cable channel in the US, but it is honestly one of the best new series out there. Season 2 just started, so if you haven't watched it yet, jump on to iTunes or Hulu and watch the first season. It's not just me, TV critics love this show. I'm tempted to just leave it at that, but I guess I should at least give you a general idea of what it's about. I'm sure most of you probably guessed from the stylistic (A) in the logo and the vintage clothing in the cover art, but if you hadn't, yes, this is about the Manhattan Project which developed the first nuclear weapons during World War II. 

TIPS

Tips and tricks to master your apps and be more productive.
Graham: This tip is courtesy of Myke Hurley who explained on Connected #61 that you can set up Launch Center Pro to have shortcuts that automatically open a specific Google Doc. That's useful to me because I want quick access to the MacStories Weekly Archive spreadsheet (on Google Sheets) and a few university documents. 

To set it up, create a new action, open the Action Composer, choose Apps with Actions, scroll down to Google Docs and select Open Google Doc. From there you just need to paste the URL of the Google Doc (minus the "https://" bit)  and you're all set. Super handy when combined with Launch Center Pro's 3D Touch shortcuts or its Today widget. 

WEEKLY Q&A

Your weekly correspondence with Federico and Graham.
Question: I am wondering if there is any downside to running multiple ad-blockers, like decrease in performance or faster battery life drain? I notice you run 3, and would like to hear more about your justifications for doing so. (Ken Ng, @runestar3)

Federico: In theory, there is a downside to enabling multiple Content Blockers. With multiple sets of rules to parse, Safari may become slower as it needs to account for different blocklists upon loading a webpage, though in my tests the differences haven’t impacted my daily usage. However, I’m now using a single Content Blocker on my devices – 1Blocker. I was using the app before publishing my iOS 9 review and before Peace, then I switched to Purify, but I’ve moved back to 1Blocker this week thanks to an update that added a whitelist and more settings to customize what can be blocked. I recommend checking out the app if you haven’t yet.

Question: Don’t you have concerns regarding privacy on mobile devices, especially Apple Watch? Aren’t you worried that all your health data may eventually find their way to, for example, insurance companies? (Maciej Jakubowiak, @jakubowiak)

Federico: Not particularly. I use HealthKit on my iPhone, a system framework built by Apple with privacy in mind that doesn’t share my data with any third parties. Every Health-compatible app I try has to request my permission to read and write health data on my iPhone, which makes me feel safe about downloading apps as I know I’ll always have to be the one granting them access to my information. More importantly, HealthKit information is stored securely on my iPhone and doesn’t sync with iCloud, which makes a data breach unlikely.

Question: Being an University student studying English, I’m always struggling to keep up with weekly readings and assignments for my classes. I’ve tried a couple of to-do apps, a couple specifically made for school and general GTD apps as well, but I often find myself jumping between apps a lot. Do you guys have any tips for keeping up with school work or any other general tips for school or productivity? (Justin Parker, @justinparker81)

Federico: There are two issues to consider here, Justin. First, as geeks, we have a natural tendency towards trying multiple todo apps and constantly optimizing our workflows and routines. With the abundance of great task management apps on the App Store, I believe what you do is completely normal – I’ve done the same thing for many years.

The second issue, I think, is that it can be difficult to truly understand what you need. Sometimes, app curiosity is stronger than objective workflow considerations: do you really need to manage tasks with dozens of tags, powerful search, and smart lists, or are you just intrigued by the availability of those features because you like complex software and figuring them out like puzzles?

I would suggest to think carefully about what you truly need. Take some time, evaluate what you actually find yourself doing for school on a daily basis, and make a list of features an app has to be capable of handling. Based on your aforementioned setup – university, multiple assignments, weekly reading – I would suggest apps like OmniFocus and 2Do, which can create custom perspectives (smart lists in 2Do) to narrow your lists of tasks to specific subsets. I’ve been using 2Do a lot over the past few months to move across the different work projects in my life (MacStories, the Club, two podcasts, etc.), and I plan to write about it soon.

Graham: I'm also a University student, juggling my studies with MacStories and another part-time job, so I can definitely relate with that situation Justin! Here are a few things that have helped me keep on top of things (mostly):

  1. I print (yes, ugh) a calendar which has all the major deadlines for assignments, tutorials and other assessments and blu-tac it to my wall next to my monitor. This way, with a quick glance, I know what's coming up and can re-prioritise things if I see a few assessments coming up in the next week. 
  2. One particularly effective productivity trick I've found with myself is tracking the time I spend studying each subject (I use Hours on the iPhone). It's actually an effective motivator because if it's 11 AM and all I've recorded is 20 minutes, it guilts me into focusing more. 
  3. When things get really hectic I take my tasks from OmniFocus and add them to my Calendar (just the electronic one this time!) and literally block out time for each task. This helps prevent me from procrastinating by doing some other task that is on my task list but really isn't as important. 
Of course, these suggestions might sound great, the difficulty is implementing them and actually sticking with it... 
Submit your own question
Have you got a question for Federico, Graham or someone else on the MacStories team? If you do, you can submit it here. Your question can be about almost anything, it doesn't need to be related to iOS or Apple. 

INTERESTING LINKS

Great reads and links from around the web.

Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger on building Instagram for the past five years and the challenges faced by their team.

Wearing an Apple Watch to a haunted amusement park. We honestly don’t know how the author of this article isn’t afraid of creepy clowns.

The technical details of Apple’s 3D Touch, and a request for developers who are implementing the technology in their apps.

An illustrated history of OS X, updated for El Capitan. Cute and detailed illustrations.

Using OmniFocus for grocery shopping – with a cool use case for Apple Watch.

Photosmith is being discontinued, and its developers have put together some interesting stats and numbers on how the app performed.

SimpleX is an upcoming Plex client for the new Apple TV. You can follow the app on Twitter here.


FEDERICO'S NOTE

Thoughts and notes from Federico on Apple, MacStories, and life in Italy.

On App Embargoes

I’ve done some pretty crazy things for app embargoes over the years. In hindsight, they weren’t probably necessary, but I still find it fun, and I like the pressure that an embargo puts on me.

First, some context. In tech blogs, an embargo means a time until which you won’t be able to publish a story you’ve prepared in advance. These times are agreed upon with the company which asks to honor the embargo time. The iPhone reviews you see come out at the same time every year are all under embargo by Apple, as are some of the big app launches such as Tweetbot, Overcast, Fantastical, and hundreds of new apps released each week. In the iOS app scene, there can be embargoes for new app releases as well as app updates; in blogging lingo, an embargo “lifts” when you’re free to publish or it’s “broken” if anyone publishes the story early. Either common courtesy or the result of a non-disclosure agreement, an embargo essentially allows a company to control the timing of press coverage by ensuring they’re ready for the announcement.

Since I started MacStories in 2009 and after getting the chance to test apps in advance to write about them and provide feedback, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of being absolutely precise with an embargo time. I don’t know what it is about embargoes that clicks in my brain. I guess the idea of an article published exactly at the right time, as early as possible, and not the kind of article that is quickly put together in two hours just two say “First!” – that’s what resonates with me. I usually spend several weeks (often months) working on a single story or app review, and I like to get it out as soon as possible, appearing in other people’s timelines as one of the first websites with a good story worth reading. I like to call this “timely quality”, although it’s probably just another manifestation of the same feeling that feeds my ego when it comes to Twitter faves and retweets.

The problem, however, is that apps don’t go live on iTunes’ servers exactly when developers want them to. And for app embargoes which don’t say “you can publish this review at 9 AM EDT” but simply require to “wait until the app is live on the App Store in the US”, that becomes a very annoying problem. Provided you know what the final iTunes link of the app will be, that only means one thing if you want to publish a review as soon as an app is live in the US: you’ve got to hit that browser refresh button hundreds of times and pray that Apple’s DNS propagate fast enough for you to see the updated App Store webpage of the app.

For many years, that’s what I’ve been doing – often in comical and awkward situations. With an app’s final iTunes URL (the product link) and confirmation that I can publish my review when the app is live in the United States, I start hitting refresh in the browser or on the App Store dozens of times per minute, sometimes for hours without ever distracting myself.

If I have to publish an app review under embargo and I’m at home, I open the iTunes link (which goes to a 404 because the app isn’t live yet) in Google Chrome (because it has a built-in option to never launch the iTunes app for iTunes links, which Safari does) and start spamming CMD-R until I see the app. On iOS, both Safari and Chrome automatically open the App Store for iTunes URLs (there’s no web preview), so I either copy the link and tap & hold the Safari address bar to launch it on the App Store (and see if the app is live) or I send a message to myself and tap the link in the conversation to open the App Store over and over.

In most cases, waiting for an app to propagate on iTunes’ servers means I’m spending from 30 minutes to 2 hours refreshing a broken webpage. On a few occasions (I remember a Tweetbot update and Marco Arment’s Peace), it took the app several hours to go live, so I had to keep refreshing while eating dinner or ask my girlfriend to do it for me while I was driving. Many of my app reviews have actually been posted and tweeted by her with a script I prepared in Editorial for the article and a draft for the tweet in my Twitter client.

But I’ve done worse. One time, my girlfriend, her sister, and I were in my car (I was driving), and I had her sister check on a Tweetbot embargo for a couple of hours. She successfully caught the app update first and published my review and tweet. I’ve often requested the help of Myke, Stephen, and MacStories colleagues to keep refreshing links for me as a backup option in case I needed to go to the bathroom or do something around the house. Last year, my girlfriend and I were shopping at IKEA but I was waiting for a Fantastical update to drop, and when it did (I was walking with my iPhone in hand, constantly opening the App Store) I stopped our cart, put my iPad on a bunch of IKEA closets, and used Editorial to publish my review. Obviously, I’ve also posted embargoed reviews when doing treatments, buying groceries at the supermarket, and from the beach. My professional life so far has been a constellation of embargoed reviews published from odd and beautiful places.

I realize that this is going to sound crazy to a lot of people. But I take the timeliness of my reviews very seriously. Besides the personal pleasure I derive from publishing before others, I also feel an obligation to readers who may be waiting for my review while a new app is live and they don’t know if they want to buy it or not yet.

But aside from what I feel, does this really make a difference? Could I have spent all those hours relaxing, waiting for someone else to do the hard work, and then publish when it was easier for me? I could have, yes. But I also feel like people can tell when hard work is being put into something, and MacStories is my life, so every aspect of it deserves respect and deep care.

I know that this isn’t healthy, that it’s become an obsession, and that my girlfriend is amazing for putting up with me. I’m lucky, and I can’t stop doing this.

I may have to stop, though. In the past few months, I’ve noticed that iTunes links for the US App Store have gone live in Italy with a considerable delay, long enough to let others publish ahead of me as I was still refreshing, thinking an app wasn’t live. And, Apple has changed a few things in the latest iTunes Connect, allowing developers to set the time they want an approved app to go live on the App Store. If the system works well with propagation and there’s no delay, this could make the whole dance of refreshing and checking version history useless.

To overcome this, I’ve had some help from TJ Luoma, who put together a script on his Mac mini which can monitor an iTunes link and send me an iMessage when it spots changes. That’s what I used to publish my Tweetbot 4 review, and I’ll likely continue to use similar services to check US links so I don’t have to wait for Italian DNS to catch up.

When the day comes that my system to check for app updates and new releases will be entirely automated, I’ll be relieved. I won’t lie – being first with app embargoes and refreshing App Store pages for hours has taken its toll on me, and my doctor says I should relax more (disclaimer: she’s great). But, in a way, I’ll also miss the days of the old Tweetbot embargoes and adventurous publishing workflows while buying tortellini at the supermarket.

My family will probably be a lot happier, though.


APP DEBUTS

Noteworthy new app releases and updates, handpicked by the MacStories team.

Clicker

Federico: Clicker is a new Apple Watch app by The Iconfactory which lets you count anything and display a simple numeric badge on your watch face with a complication. Useful to achieve goals and monitor progress.

Taptronome

Federico: Taptronome, a great metronome for iPhone, now offers a Watch app in its Pro version. The Apple Watch app lets you set the tempo with your voice, by tapping, or by turning the Digital Crown. A useful tool for musicians.

Google Translate

Federico: Google Translate for iPad has been updated with multitasking support on iOS 9. You can now put Google Translate in Split View for easy translations and copy & paste between apps.

Golden Days

Federico: Golden Days lets you set up event countdowns for important days on your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. You can attach notes and photos to events, which sync over iCloud. There’s support for 3D Touch, configurable alerts, and glances/complications on watchOS 2.

Metapho

Federico: Metapho, a handy utility to view geolocation information for your photos, has been updated with location edit, iOS 9 multitasking on iPad, and a new photo editing extension that brings the power of the app to Photos for iOS.

Raindrop

Federico: Raindrop.io, a web service to collect bookmarks and favorite sites in a visual way, now has a native iOS app. You can organize bookmarks in collections and tag them, clip webpages with an extension, and sync with your account across multiple devices and the web.

RSS Offliner

Federico: RSS Offliner is a NewsBlur client for iOS that lets you navigate through headlines from your subscriptions and save them for offline reading with a single swipe. Useful if you’re a NewsBlur user and want to have a selection of offline articles for your morning commute.

Water++

Federico: Water++ is a new water tracker for iPhone and Apple Watch to keep track of your daily water intake through HealthKit. You can set a daily goal, add (customizable) glasses of water with 3D Touch quick actions on the Home screen, and collect achievements.


HOME SCREENS

Friends of MacStories share their iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch Home screens.

Clayton Morris

Twitter: @ClaytonMorris. News Anchor, Public Speaker & Founder of ReadQuick.
My Home screen (tap image to view full size) is always a work in progress. Last year I moved folders off my home screen because I wanted to be closer to the apps I use the most. Now with 3D Touch in iOS 9 I’ve moved some key apps like Camera back home.

Overcast: I’m a podcast junkie and I use Overcast 2 about 20 times a day. Marco Arment’s intuitive layout works the way my brain works and it helps me keep track of all the different genres of shows I listen to. The latest update added streaming and 3D Touch which makes this an indispensable Home screen app.

Slack: I run my own real estate investing company and Slack is an essential tool for communicating with my partners and employees. Documents, contracts and snarky comments all have a place in this app for my team.

Streaks: They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. That’s why I love Streaks. The daily reminder app lets you set up to 6 habits to check off during the day, all with the goal of creating streaks of accomplishment. I try to walk 15,000 steps a day, meditate twice a day, etc. I love checking off these goals throughout the day.

ReadQuick: This is my baby. The speed reading app I built, so of course it better live on my home screen. I built ReadQuick because I’m a morning news anchor and have to read hundreds of articles, many before the sun comes up. ReadQuick lets me speed read my articles saved to Pocket or Instapaper at the same time increasing comprehension. We just added Feedly and Evernote support along with a major update for iOS 9.

Periscope: I love this app and apart from doing daily periscopes myself I regularly check in to watch inspirational scopes, real estate scopes, and tech scopes. The candid raw broadcasts are the most important thing to happen to social media since the launch of Twitter.

OmniFocus: My go-to app for ‘getting things done. The OmniGroup’s seminal project planner keeps me sane by getting tasks out of my brain and into proper buckets for later management. The new watchOS integration is killer!


PREVIOUSLY, ON MACSTORIES

Our top stories from the past week.
Apple Introduces 4K 21.5-inch iMac, Force Touch Magic Trackpad, and Refreshed 5K 27-inch iMac

Tweetbot 4 Adds 3D Touch Support on iPhone 6s

The Background Data and Battery Usage of Facebook’s iOS App

Screenshot Markup and Loupes with PointOut for iOS

Live GIF Lets You Generate Animated GIFs From the iPhone 6s’ Live Photos