Great apps, reads, and more, curated by the MacStories team and delivered every Friday.
Issue 105 - Friday, November 17
In this issue: LookUp, iOS Audio Apps for Focusing, Relaxing, and Resting, an interview with Benjamin Mayo, Guilherme Rambo's Home screen, an Animoji workflow, plus the usual Weekly Q&A, Tips, Links, App Debuts, and recap of MacStories articles.

MACSTORIES FAVORITE

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

LookUp

Ryan: Normally when it comes to a simple utility like a dictionary, when iOS includes system features that meet my need adequately enough, I don't bother to look for a third-party option. For example, iOS' built-in Look Up feature (not to be confused with the app I'm highlighting) is a handy tool that I use all the time – nothing beats selecting a word and getting a definition with a single tap. But sometimes there's a third-party app I simply have to use because it so impresses: LookUp is one such app.

LookUp's strength isn't in having the best, most comprehensive listings for each word, nor in some standout feature that you can't live without. What keeps me coming back to LookUp is its gorgeous design. The app is reminiscent in many ways of iOS 11's revamped App Store, with a bright interface housing colorful, attractive content cards. The cards' rounded rectangles and other features are so similar to stories on the App Store's Today screen, it's almost as if Apple could have designed LookUp itself. Text is also clear and beautiful, making content shine on the iPhone X's Super Retina display.

A key piece of LookUp that combines its looks and functionality is the word of the day, where every featured word is accompanied by a lovely illustration. While I'm not normally that interested in learning new, uncommon words, I've found myself frequently drawn in to check out these words in LookUp because of the illustrations. Simple as they may seem, they add a lot to the experience and anchor the app's design language.

LookUp is available on both iPhone and iPad, and the iPad version supports iOS 11's drag and drop. You can drop a word into the app to receive its full dictionary listing, or even drop an image in – LookUp uses Apple's Vision framework to recognize the image's primary object and provide its definition. This same technology powers a feature called LookAround, which allows the app to recognize and define objects in the real world using your device's camera. Both features have room to improve in the accuracy department, but when they work right, they're very neat.

If the standard, systemwide dictionary tools in iOS aren't enough for you, or you're simply looking for a great place to learn new words, give LookUp a try.


MACSTORIES COLLECTIONS

iOS Audio Apps for Focusing, Relaxing, and Resting

John: Whether you’re simply trying to drown out a conversation coming from the next cubical over and focus on your work, unwind, or get a good night's sleep, white noise, nature sounds, and music can help.

Noizio

John: Noizio features 15 different nature tracks that loop continuously. Each has a volume slider that allows you to mix and match sounds to create a unique combination you find relaxing. For example, you can mix the sounds of a campfire with a summer night and wind chimes or create a storm by combining rain, wind, and thunder clips.

Sounds are turned on by tapping the icon next to them. Noizio remembers your volume settings, so if you’ve found a level that works for you, there’s no need to adjust a sound every time you open the app. Combinations of multiple sounds can be saved and reloaded anytime you’d like too. You can set a timer that pauses playback at a specific time, which is useful if you use Noizio for falling asleep at night. At the appointed time, Noizio slowly fades the audio. Noizio’s strength is its simplicity and the quality of its soundtracks. It’s also a plus that the app is available on macOS.

Noisli

John: Noisli is similar to Noizio, but can also be played through a web browser. The app has 16 big, easy-to-tap icons that each start a different sound. The majority are nature sounds like rain, wind, and waves, but the app also includes a train and white, pink, and brown noise. Like Noizio, Noisli has a timer, lets you adjust the volume of each sound with a slider beneath its icon, and save sound combinations. During playback, the background of Noisli’s interface slowly changes color, which is relaxing to watch. Unfortunately, Noisli does not support landscape mode, which is not ideal for an iPad.

Brain.fm

John: Federico first told me about Brain.fm several months ago. It’s a web service and companion iOS app that plays AI-generated music. The web app divides its music tracks into Focus, Relax, and Sleep. The iOS app adds Meditate and Nap categories. The music often has an electronic component, but other tracks incorporate instruments like piano, and nature sounds like the beach. All you need to do to get started is tap a category and music starts playing. If you don’t like the track that starts, tap skip or try the Explorer section to pick a specific track that appeals to you. The iOS app, which works in portrait mode only, features a big play/pause button in the middle of the screen with background photography that matches the music’s theme.

You get five free listening sessions with Brain.fm, after which you need to sign up for a subscription to continue. Paying $6.99 per month or $49.99 per year unlocks other music categories and allows you to download your favorite tracks for when you don’t have a connection to the Internet.

Thunderspace

John: Thunderspace is a great choice if all you’re looking for is soothing, high-quality rain and storm tracks. The app touts its 3D stereophonic sound that makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the storm, especially if you are using headphones. By tapping the lightning bolt icon, you can enable lightning flashes, which are timed to coincide with cracks of thunder in each track for further realism. These are some of the highest quality storm tracks I’ve heard. The app comes with two free tracks: Roof Garden and Waterscape. Additional tracks and track bundles are available as In-App Purchases.

Tide

John: Tide combines a Pomodoro productivity timer with your choice of five nature sounds. As you work, the sounds play, the timer counts down, and the app displays nature photography and inspirational quotes that are shareable. The timer’s duration defaults to 25 minutes but can be modified in settings, as can the breaks between focused work. Tide keeps track of each timer you finish so you can review your statistics at the end of the day. Also, by connecting to Apple’s Health app, your focused time will be recorded in the mindfulness section of the app.

The nature sounds in Tide cannot be adjusted as they can in apps like Noizio or Noisli, and their quality isn’t as good as some of the other apps featured here, but the ability to combine the audio experience with a Pomodoro timer is an interesting approach that makes it worth a try if you use the Pomodoro Technique to get work done.

Rain Rain Sleep Sounds

John: Despite its name, Rain Rain features a wide assortment of sounds ranging from rain, wind, and fires, to snoring dogs and purring cats. The app’s interface leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s got one of the largest collections of free good-quality soundtracks that I’ve seen. Up to five sound clips can be combined and each clip’s volume adjusted independently. To help keep track of the sounds you like, you can mark them as favorites, which places them in a separate tab for returning to later. If the large number of free sounds is not enough, there are additional sound packs that can be added with In-App Purchases or a subscription plan.


TIPS

Tips and tricks to master your apps and be more productive.

Force-Quitting Apps on the iPhone X

Federico: While I don’t understand those who obsessively force-quit all their iPhone apps as soon as they stop using them, I do occasionally need to manually terminate an app that isn’t working well or is stuck in a specific screen due to a bug. By default, the iPhone X makes the process of force-quitting apps slightly more tedious: to not interfere with the system’s swipe-up gesture to navigate apps and multitasking, there’s now an additional step in between revealing the app switcher and force-quitting an app. In theory, Apple wants you to open the switcher, long-tap an app’s card, then tap the red close button that appears on top of each app.

Tap and hold, then swipe up immediately to quit an app.
In a way, I appreciate the side effects of this decision, which should dissuade users from uselessly force-quitting apps. However, there’s a faster way to quit an app for those times when you actually have to: swipe up and pause to open the switcher, long-tap on an app to reveal the close button, then, without lifting your finger, swipe up on the selected app to force-quit it. The iPhone X will still recognize the gesture as associated with the force-quit action, and you won’t have to precisely tap the tiny red button.

Advanced Filters for Twitter Links

Federico: I was recently putting together a list of links to cover on MacStories, and I realized I was missing a link someone had sent on Twitter that I didn’t save anywhere else. I started looking for that link in my mentions in Tweetbot, then in the official Twitter app, but I still couldn’t find it. Eventually I found the original tweet with an advanced Twitter search that filtered tweets containing links directed at me. I thought the method was useful enough to turn it into a bookmark in Safari I can return to whenever I want.

Using Twitter’s advanced search syntax, I put together a saved search that shows tweets mentioning me that contain links but do not have images or videos. The search also excludes tweets I sent to myself, as would happen with tweetstorms where I chain multiple tweets together.
If you also want to create a search to quickly find all your mentions that contain links, it looks something like this...

to:USERNAME filter:links AND -filter:images AND -filter:videos AND -from: USERNAME

...where USERNAME would be your Twitter username.

To bookmark this search, you can head over to search.twitter.com, enter your custom query, then save the results page as a favorite in Safari. Returning to this page will show you updated results every time, and you can tap links to quickly open them in another tab, or use drag and drop or a long-tap to share them with other apps and extensions.

I could have probably figured out a way to launch this search in the Twitter app, but I prefer the freedom granted by Safari and its native drag and drop support. I’ve been using this search for the past week as a timeline of interesting links people send to me on a daily basis, and, so far, it’s saved me a lot of time.

THE WORKFLOW CORNER

Get help and suggestions for your iOS workflows and productivity apps.

Workflow Essentials

Turning Animoji into Custom GIFs

Federico: This week’s workflow isn’t about productivity per se. Actually, it’s not even a workflow. This week, we’re making custom Animoji GIFs. Some might say this could be even more important than scripting Todoist or learning URL schemes at this moment in time, and I agree. I feel like we all could use more laughing cats and creepy pandas in our lives in 2017.

As those lucky enough to get their hands on an iPhone X on launch day were discovering the joys of Animoji karaoke, I was hatching a plan to make custom GIFs out of Animoji (while also wondering why a national strike of Italian shipment companies had to happen exactly during new iPhone launch week). By default, Animoji is confined to Apple’s Messages as an iMessage app that lets you either send static stickers or animated videos to other people. But because most of my communications don’t take place in iMessage and I generally want to show reactions – not speak with my voice – I had to find a way to generate regular Animoji GIFs I could share on Twitter, WhatsApp, and Slack.

My idea was the following: I could use iOS 11’s screen recording to capture the full-screen Animoji iMessage app (where you can make silly faces for as long as you want with no time limit), grab the resulting video from Photos, trim it, and run it through GIF Toaster to make a looping GIF out of it. And indeed, this method works. GIF Toaster is an excellent single-purpose utility that can take a video from your library and encode it into a GIF with a variety of options to set the appearance of the animated image. You can choose frame rates, speed, looping directions, and even add text captions to a GIF.

At the end, you can downsample the original video so it’ll result in a smaller and more portable GIF, and choose to rely on the app’s encoder or hardware acceleration to convert a video to GIF. In iOS 11, the Photos app saves animated GIFs into their own album, but if you want to, you can archive them in dedicated apps such as GIFwrapped. GIF Toaster does one thing extremely well, and I use it a lot for personal communications as well as GIFs in app reviews.

There is, however, an easier way to do this, but you have to be willing to install apps on your iPhone X without the App Store by sideloading them via Xcode. Keep in mind that, while I know the developers who make these apps and use them myself, you’ll still be running software that hasn’t been officially approved by Apple. Of these custom apps that have been released on GitHub and that hook into the private AvatarKit framework, I use Animoji Studio by Guilherme Rambo.
Animoji Studio allows you to record Animoji videos with no time limit and a couple of handy options: you can record with or without audio from the microphone (permissions to record are handled by the native ReplayKit 2 framework in iOS 11) and you can integrate with a Spotify account to stream songs while you record a video, which lets you create Animoji karaoke directly within Animoji Studio. For example, I made a monkey sing Live Forever by Oasis with Animoji Studio – make sure to take a look at its (my?) face during the guitar solo.

Once you’re done recording, you can tap the screen to stop the video, which you can share with extensions through the share sheet. At this point, it’s the same as above – save the video to Photos, trim it, then import the clip into GIF Toaster.

The great thing about Animoji Studio – and why I think Apple should either make an official Animoji app or open this up to developers – is that it combines multiple Animoji-related features into a single package that is easy to use and nicely integrated with the system. The mix of Animoji Studio and GIF Toaster is helping me create a library of custom Animoji GIFs that are making all of my nerdy friends jealous – or at least I like to believe this is what’s happening. They’re probably just creeped out.
Submit a Workflow Request

WEEKLY Q&A

Your weekly correspondence with the MacStories team.
Question: I have lecture files in a .m4v format and am trying to find the best app to watch them on an iPhone. I'd like easy import and file controls, the ability to watch offline, to change playback speed, and ideally several viewing dimensions (on iPhone X). I'm currently using an app called PowerAV but wonder if there's a better solution. (Jacob)
John: I think your best bet is VLC or nPlayer, both of which can handle everything you mention. I dropped a .m4v version of Apple’s The Crazy Ones ad narrated by Steve Jobs into iCloud Drive. From iOS 11’s Files app, I selected the video and opened the system share sheet with the share button. Because I have VLC and nPlayer installed, I could use the ’Copy to VLC’ or 'Copy to nPlayer' extensions to export the video to either app where it would be available offline. You can also connect both apps to other cloud services including Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, and Google Drive and access files in those locations from within the apps themselves, which makes a local copy that’s accessible offline.

If you tap either app's playback screen, its controls are overlaid on the video. From there, you can alter the playback speed and change the video's aspect ratio. There are other controls like an orientation lock too. The main differences between the apps is that nPlayer has more finely-controllable settings, is iPhone X-ready, and costs $4.99 (with a free ad-supported version available), whereas VLC is free with no ads.
The Crazy Ones playing in VLC.
If your video files are large, copying to VLC or nPlayer can take a few minutes, but that’s going to be the case with any app where you download or copy a version for offline viewing. When you’re finished with the video, simply delete it. Your original will remain where it started, so you can copy the video back later if you want to watch it again.
Submit your own question

INTERESTING LINKS

Great reads and links from around the web.
Tim Bajarin of Fast Company tells the story of Corning’s Gorilla Glass, which has been used for the screen of the iPhone since its launch in 2007. (Link)

Neil Cybart makes the case for why Apple should begin disclosing Apple Watch sales as part of its quarterly earnings reports. (Link).

Sally Rooney explains in The New Yorker how the app WaterMinder helped cure her of fainting spells. (Link).

Stephen Hackett makes the case for a different placement of Control Center on the iPhone X, removing it from the top-right corner of the display. (Link)

MusaicFM is a macOS screensaver based on the idea of the iTunes one, but for Spotify. (Link)

A higher-res, Display P3 version of the original iPhone’s clownfish wallpaper, updated for the iPhone X. (Link)

1Password X is a new browser-based version of 1Password that works on Linux and Chrome OS without giving up on the advanced features seen in native clients. Also, it’s pronounced “X” – whatever that means for you at this point. (Link)

Vimeo has rolled out full support for HDR video, which can be watched on Apple’s latest devices, including the 2017 iPad Pros and iPhone X. (Link)

Apple details how they leveraged machine learning techniques for face detection on iOS 10 while preserving user privacy. Highly technical, but fascinating read. (Link)

High Sierra Media Key Enabler, as the name suggests, is a utility that overrides a system change in High Sierra, redirecting all physical media key presses to iTunes and Spotify by default. (Link)

Zagg has introduced the Slim Book keyboard case for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which features a fabric weave exterior, a Bluetooth keyboard, and a Pencil holder. The keyboard supports multi-device pairing, is backlit, and works with the case to support multi-angle viewing options. (Link)

APP DEBUTS

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

SpamHound

Federico: With this SMS spam filtering extension, you’ll have access to more advanced controls that aren’t usually available in similar apps. SpamHound allows you to set up rules based on regular expressions and wildcards, so you can catch that annoying message that keeps being delivered to your phone number every week. In addition, SpamHound can use your social accounts to sync rules across devices, so even though it doesn’t have an iPad version, you can install the iPhone app on your iPad, sync its rules, and have a consistent set of SMS filters between them.

Pixelboard

Federico: The latest release by Black Pixel is a collaborative whiteboard to sketch with other people in real-time. Up to 9 people can collaborate on a single board, and, as a team, you get access to 3 boards to work on. With intuitive tools to draw and highlight content on a board, Pixelboard looks like an elegant iPad-only solution for people who want to express ideas visually and show them to a team. Pixelboard is free to download with a $19.99 In-App Purchase to unlock the Pro version; as a launch promotion, you can get Pixelboard Pro at $9.99 for a limited time.

Homecam

Federico: A few months ago, I complained on Connected that Apple’s Home app doesn’t have a grid view to watch multiple streams from HomeKit cameras at the same time. Homecam uses the HomeKit API in iOS 11 to fix this problem, letting you keep an eye on multiple rooms and, optionally, select one to watch in full-screen. This app is great for now, but Apple should implement this feature in iOS 12.

Linky

John: I use Linky nearly every day to tweet links to MacStories articles that include the article’s title, URL, and a screenshot. The app supports Facebook too, but the story this week was all about Twitter. Linky now supports Twitter’s new 280 character tweet limit, which makes it easier than before to include the full title of a link and its URL. Last week, Linky also added iPhone X support.

Record Bird

John: Record Bird is one of my favorite music discovery services. It analyzes your Apple Music or Spotify library and provides a constant stream of updates about your favorite artists as well as discovery features to help you find new artists based on your music taste. Now, in addition to playing songs within Record Bird, you can add those songs directly to your Apple Music or Spotify libraries without leaving Record Bird, which is a great way to quickly accumulate new music to try.

Universal Paperclips

John: Described as an indie/management/strategy/sim game, Universal Paperclips is an addicting game where the goal is to become an artificial intelligence that has one objective: produce as many paperclips as possible. From manufacturing one at a time to selling paperclips to finance the ability to make them more quickly, things get complicated quickly. If this all seems a bit strange, that’s because it is, but the success of the game online before it came to iOS demonstrates there’s something about building a paperclips empire that has a way of grabbing hold of players.

Calcbot 2

John: About a month ago, Tapbots refreshed Calcbot’s design, which hadn’t been updated in about two years. This week, the calculator app that features a tape that shows your calculations was updated to support the iPhone X.

Google Translate

John: Slowly but surely, Google is updating its iOS apps to support iOS 11 features. This week Google added basic drag and drop support that allows users to drag text from other apps into Google Translate. It’s a handy feature when you run across a webpage in an unfamiliar language.

High Sierra Media Key Enabler

John: High Sierra Media Key Enabler is a menu bar application that I read about on 512 Pixels this week. One of the most annoying things about High Sierra on a Touch Bar MacBook Pro is that other apps can grab control of the media keys even if the laptop is in clamshell mode and using an external keyboard. Prior to High Sierra, the media keys were locked to iTunes. Media Key Enabler has one job and does it well. It locks your media keys to iTunes so watching a video on Twitter or YouTube won’t hijack your music listening.

DEVONthink To Go

John: Along with iPhone X support, version 2.4 adds new PDF features to DEVONthink To Go including the ability to rearrange PDF pages and rotate them. Labels and flags can be changed for multiple documents at one time. Importing multiple databases has also made the process of setting up DEVONthink To Go easier on a new device.

Tweetbot

John: Tweetbot added a small, but very handy feature this week. If you’re like me, you’ve accidentally tapped the status bar and scrolled to the top of your timeline more than once. Now if that happens, just tap the status bar again and Tweetbot will return you to your last read location in your timeline.


CLUB INTERVIEWS

A brief chat with friends of Club MacStories.

Benjamin Mayo

Twitter: @bzamayo. iOS developer and writer at @MayoBlog and @9to5Mac.
1. How did you get your start in app development?

 

About halfway through secondary school, I just had this urge to make something that other people could download. I didn’t have an iPhone at the time, I didn’t have a personal iOS device for a while actually. I downloaded a lot of sample code that I didn’t understand, ran it on the simulator, and then watched the Stanford iTunes U course on iPhone development from start to finish in the evenings after school.

I had some experience making websites in PHP. Coding as a concept wasn’t completely alien to me, but there is a big difference between scripting languages and Objective-C. For a couple of months, I was just running code snippets that didn’t amount to anything special. I distinctly remember being over the moon when I built an ‘app’ that swapped one picture with another when I tapped a button. This was back when object memory management was still a manual affair; it was very tedious even finding where you had gone wrong. It really was a lot of trial and error.

I started around December 2010 and by March I had made the original 1.0 version of Bingo Machine. It was certainly not going to win any awards for form or function but I thought it was the bees knees. Underage, I made an iTunes Connect account under my dad’s name and submitted the binary to the App Store. I lucked out, the app got approved, and somehow saw downloads come in every day since. The sheer dumb luck of having at least one person pay $0.99, every day since I released it, is probably why I am still here today. The amount of motivation you can glean from a very small number is incredible, as long as that number is greater than zero.

What’s funny is that if you look at the App Store page for Bingo Machine, it still says my dad’s name, Anthony, as the developer. I really should get that changed.

2. How does being a developer inform and affect your writing?

There was no master plan. I was enamoured by the unveiling of the iPad. The rumours of the Apple tablet was how I found sites like Daring Fireball, MacRumors, and 9to5Mac. It also neatly coincided with me learning how to make applications. I think having an understanding of the technical details helps me justify (or critique) the choices that Apple makes for their hardware and software.

If Apple introduces a new API with seemingly-draconian limitations, I can reason about why they chose those priorities and explain (sometimes, demonstrate) what is possible within the constraints. I treat Apple’s software as the gold standard, and I get riled up when I see them release a feature or UI component that is sub-par. My experience on the technical side gives me the confidence to demand things from them, because I can know if they are technically feasible propositions.

There are also occasions when other Apple bloggers interpret something in a way that I don’t believe is fair. Often, the development perspective helps me formulate a better counter-argument. Does it mean I’m always right? Of course not. I’m just always trying to bring my best opinion forward.

As a general rule, I use my technical knowledge to inform arguments I write on Apple’s policy decisions and design topics, for Apple’s software and third-party apps. I usually do not blog about the best way to program a view controller transition. I just don’t think it is very interesting to write about.

3. How do you balance writing for 9to5Mac and your personal site with developing apps?

Again, I’d like to say there is a master plan. There isn’t really. I have a flexible relationship with 9to5Mac, I am always looking for new iOS projects to work on, and I post on my personal blog when I have strong opinions about something in the industry.

Maybe one day I will join the engineering department of a real company, but I like contracting on different things for a few months and then moving on. The dream would be to have a personal app portfolio that brought in enough revenue so that I would only ever have to work on my own development projects.

I have crafted the appeal of my personal blog in such a way that is intentionally not timely. I am very selective in what stories I cover there. It’s a link-blog format but I do not post something without bringing my own thoughts. This helps relieve any time commitments because I am not under pressure to write there as soon as something happens.

On 9to5Mac, I mostly post news stories. When I’m between development projects, I write there a lot. When a big news story happens, I try and make time to be the one to cover it. My part-time arrangement with 9to5Mac is such that I do not have strict working hours. If I’m unavailable, there is always a fantastic team of full-time writers who get the stories published.

I probably need a better system but I tend to juggle my responsibilities quite well on an ad-hoc basis. I’m only 22. I’m still figuring this stuff out. This interview will probably be outdated by next year.

4. What are some of the apps you’ve built and what do they do?

My personally-maintained apps are Bingo Machine and Visual Codes.

Bingo Machine replaces the need for expensive, bulky, equipment. Anyone can run a bingo game right from their phone. Beyond calling numbers, you can set automatic timers and have the numbers read aloud by male and female human voices. Connect to a projector or external display to show the bingo numbers on the big screen. Some foreign schools use it as a fun tool for teaching students how to say English numbers.

Visual Codes creates QR codes that anyone can scan with the built-in Camera app on iOS 11. You can make QR codes that open web pages, add contacts, or even connect to a Wi-Fi network. You can print posters, share codes with friends, and summon Visual Codes from Siri on iPhone or Apple Watch. The most recent update also added a QR code scanner inside the app. Scan a QR code from the real world and import it into your own Visual Codes library to save for later.

I have built many other apps through my contracting work responsibilities. I try not to pick favourites, so I won’t call out any in particular here.

5. What are some of the most interesting uses you’ve heard about from users of Visual Codes?

For starters, I was just happy that people used it at all. Downloading an application and actually using its features in your own life are very different things. I was so happy to see people say that they had actually done the things I had envisioned.

There are people in the world who have used Visual Codes to make a QR code encoding their phone number and email address, and got that printed on their business card. It’s such a cool feeling for people to use something that you designed and developed.

One of the funniest things has just been seeing all the weird names people have for their home Wi-Fi networks. The database doesn’t leave the local device, but the 1.0 versions had bugs which meant some SSIDs were simply incompatible, so I received a lot of support email. I didn’t foresee Wi-Fi networks being called ‘————‘ or named using only fire emoji.

6. Selling apps has changed a lot since you started. What are some of the trends you’ve seen and where do you see development on iOS going?

Subscriptions are obviously the new trend in the iOS world. Personally, I don’t like how Apple has unfairly promoted subscriptions as the de facto monetisation method. The 15% additional revenue incentive (if you keep users for more than a year) distorts the feasibility of App Store business models away from other IAP options, which don’t offer similar incentives.

My personal app portfolio is small and built for a different era. I couldn’t reasonably add a subscription payment to Bingo Machine, for example. The app has been feature-complete for many years at this point. It gets updated for new iOS SDKs and new screen sizes (like iPhone X) but that doesn’t really justify a recurring fee.

The reality is, though, that I would not be able to make a comfortable living without having the contract work income. That was true five years ago as well, though, at least for me. I don’t think the heyday of the App Store is over. It’s just so much harder to compete as a one-person shop. I still believe I could one day make an app that made serious money. As long as that optimism is shared by people like me, the App Store will keep thriving. It’s not like devoting your life to iOS development is a dead-end prospect. If ‘indie’ doesn’t work out, you have a very good shot at getting a well-paid engineering job at a company.

I am worried about the ecosystems surrounding the new platforms, like watchOS or tvOS. I’d love to make a really cool Watch app, but the market is weak and the exposed APIs are very limited. Even as the total number of watches sold rises, I’m not convinced that there will be a thriving market for paid Watch apps. The tvOS App Store seems dead outside of ‘name brand’ content networks, like Netflix or Hulu.

HOME SCREENS

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

Guilherme Rambo

Twitter: @_inside. iOS developer @PeixeUrbano and panelist on @iPhreaks podcast.
There are two things that define my Home screen: the amount of folders and the presence of several default apps (I think some of them are in their default positions as well).

I've always found opening apps in folders to be faster than swiping between pages or using Spotlight, so I try to cram as many apps as possible on my first screen. The ones I use the most are out of folders, while the ones I still use a lot (but not that much) are within folders on the first page.

First Row

  • Messages: While I don't have a lot of blue bubble friends, I have a few of them - and some family members - with whom I talk to a lot. I also get SMS messages from time to time, that's why this must be easily accessible for me.
  • Calendar: I try to use Apple's default apps as much as possible. I find that this makes my experience more fluid since everything is so tightly integrated. I use the Calendar app to keep track of events and appointments. The company I work for uses Google apps and I have my corporate Google account linked so when I'm invited to meetings I get notified on my iPhone and Mac.
  • Photos
  • WhatsApp: It's the most popular messaging service in Brazil, so this is what I use to chat with most of my friends and family members.

Second Row

  • Camera, Clock, Maps
  • Notes: I use this a lot. I like its simplicity and flawless syncing between iPhone, Mac, and iPad.

Third Row

  • Utilities
  • Security
    • Google Authenticator
    • 1Password: As a programmer, I have to manage several passwords. I also have to make sure I don't do dumb stuff like use the same password in several places or use personal information for security responses. To keep my sanity, I use 1Password to manage all of that (including two-factor authentication).
    • Firefox Focus: This is a nice content blocker.
    • Health insurance apps
  • Multimedia
    • Netflix, Vimeo, Shazam
    • VLC: When I want to have a specific video on my iPhone that's not an iTunes movie, I use VLC. I've used this in the past to get downloaded YouTube videos to watch on flights.
    • Pixelmator: I use it when I need to do more advanced image editing, but I use it mostly on my iPad.
    • Halide: This is my go-to app if I need to take a picture with manual focus or exposure controls.
    • Twitch: I follow a couple of programming channels on Twitch and their app is the best way to get notified when they're live and watch the streams.
    • SoundCloud: Sometimes I want to listen to something that's on SoundCloud on the go; that's when I use their app.
    • NOTE: I used to have the YouTube app here, but since it's destroying battery life on iOS 11, I deleted the app.
  • Web
    • Dropbox, YouTube Studio, Mail
    • V for Wikipedia: This is an amazing app for reading Wikipedia, it has an awesome UI and typography.
    • The New York Times
    • Medium: When I'm commuting and I don't have anything to do, I'll usually open up Medium and read some interesting articles. I follow topics related to programming, computer science, and economics.
    • Skype: I have some friends that like to call me on Skype to talk. I'm also frequently doing podcasts, and having the app on my iPhone helps me keep track of notifications without having to keep it always running on my Mac.
    • Hangouts: My company uses Hangouts for meetings and sometimes I can't join on my Mac, which is why I have the app on my iPhone.
    • Telegram: Messaging services are terribly fragmented. I have two friends (only two) that like to use Telegram for messaging, and that's the only reason I have the app.

Fourth Row

  • Music, App Store
  • Finance: This is where I keep all of my banking, investment, and credit card apps. I also have Appfigures here to get daily App Store revenue reports.
  • Organizze: This is also a finance app, but I use it so much that I had to leave it outside the folder. I've been writing down every earning and expense for a few years, and this app helps me keep track of all that, separated by account. At the end of the month I can go back and check if I'm following my budget correctly.

Fifth Row

Parcel, Tweetbot, Instagram, Facebook Messenger (yet another messaging app)

Sixth Row

  • ChibiStudio: This is the app I develop independently, with the help of a friend who's an awesome illustrator (shout out to Ewerton). I keep it on my first page so I can quickly launch it and play around with it to find bugs and have new feature ideas.
  • Peixe Urbano: This is my company's app (my full-time job). We're the largest local e-commerce service in Brazil with ~8M users. Our service is similar (but not identical) to Groupon.
  • Uber: Before anyone condemns me for still using Uber, let me explain: they're the only reliable car service available here. I use Uber almost daily to go to work and back home (when I'm not doing home office).
  • Settings: I frequently have to change settings. The ones I mess with the most are the proxy settings (to debug networking in the apps I develop) and the auto-lock setting, which I set to "never" while doing app development and 5 minutes otherwise. The latter I'm probably going to change now that I have the iPhone X, to avoid burn-in.

Dock

  • Phone, Safari
  • Slack: My company uses Slack as its main communication tool, and I'm also a member of several other teams.
  • Overcast: I listen to podcasts pretty much all day, and Overcast has been my podcast app of choice since its introduction.

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UP NEXT ON APPSTORIES

An exclusive sneak peek at next week's AppStories episode.
Next week on AppStories, Federico and John consider why some apps sit unused in 'folders of good intentions' on their iOS and macOS devices.

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Authored by Federico ViticciJohn Voorhees, and Ryan Christoffel.
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