For a year, the MacStories team tries hundreds of apps. We test them, live with them, poke, prod and break them, and then we write and talk about them. Overall, thousands of hours of thought and analysis are at the macro level aimed at answering the question: What makes a good app? There is no single factor or simple formula; If so, almost every app would achieve greatness. But after evaluating as many apps as we have, we all have a nice instinct of stand-out devices when they come to our radar. We write about lots of amazing apps, but each year stands a handful as exceptional. The exact quality that sets an app apart is often harder to identify than the app itself. Some are apps that drive the limits of Apple's operating system to new territory, while others are taking old problems. Despite the millions of apps in the App Store, so often an app that's really inventive and opens up a whole new category of apps. This year, we are starting something new to celebrate the apps that stand out from the package with a new feature, which we call MacStories Selects . For this introductory year, we cover three app categories: Best New App, Best App Update, and Best New Games. Along with a top choice for each category we have chosen runners who also stood out from the crowd. Before the end of the year, we reveal two other components of MacStories Selects: Federico's App…
For a year, the MacStories team tries hundreds of apps. We test them, live with them, poke, prod and break them, and then we write and talk about them. Overall, thousands of hours of thought and analysis are at the macro level aimed at answering the question: What makes a good app? There is no single factor or simple formula; If so, almost every app would achieve greatness. But after evaluating as many apps as we have, we all have a nice instinct of stand-out devices when they come to our radar.
We write about lots of amazing apps, but each year stands a handful as exceptional. The exact quality that sets an app apart is often harder to identify than the app itself. Some are apps that drive the limits of Apple’s operating system to new territory, while others are taking old problems. Despite the millions of apps in the App Store, so often an app that’s really inventive and opens up a whole new category of apps.
This year, we are starting something new to celebrate the apps that stand out from the package with a new feature, which we call MacStories Selects . For this introductory year, we cover three app categories: Best New App, Best App Update, and Best New Games. Along with a top choice for each category we have chosen runners who also stood out from the crowd. Before the end of the year, we reveal two other components of MacStories Selects:
For today’s app views, we only looked at titles released in 2018. In addition, we reviewed for best app update each independent update independently of anyone else, as opposed to updating updates from all year.
Selects is something new for us here on MacStories as we expect to grow over time. We hope you enjoy. Now to our choices …
Federico: Agenda is not an easy app understand first. On the surface, it works like a regular noteable app – it allows you to create project for notes that can be assigned tags and formatted with a Markdown-like common text syntax. You can attach files and images to a note (the app also supports x-callback url automation to do it from shortcuts), it integrates with keyboard shortcuts on iPad and it synchronizes your notes with iCloud over iOS and macOS. At first glance, Agenda looks like a rather traditional notepad, perhaps with fewer watches and whistles than options like Bear, less functional than the user-oriented Drafts, but more flexible than Apple Notes.
If Agenda Steers is removed from the conventions of the many notebooks for iOS – and where most users may be initially confused – lies in its unique mix of notes and dates. In Calendar, you can schedule notes. Each note can either be assigned a due date or marked as “on the agenda”, a special filter that allows a single note to be listed in a top of the app. Additionally, Calendar Notes can be calendar events: By creating an event for a note, you can not only assign a date to it, but you also have the opportunity to include a link to that note in the event itself, allowing you to easily open the note when the event is due. But why would you like to assign dates to notes, and what makes Agenda so unique that it’s our favorite app debut of 2018?
It’s just there in the app’s name: Agenda is a date-focused noteable app that turns the genre on its head with a timeline-based listing organization approach rather than a classic folder-based. Agenda is a new spin on notes, and it takes a while to understand where it fits your workflow because no other notebook app works like it. While most apps easily provide you with a place to write and in some cases add attachments that ultimately invite you to make notes to a suitable due date, Agenda contains these aspects in a single, integrated, beautifully crafted package.
I have used the agenda differently in recent months. I record 3-4 podcasts every week, and each show has a unique subject that requires research and planning. With Agenda, I can create contours of formatted text, add links to them, and mark the note as due for recording date so that when I’m on my Mac to record a podcast, the note will appear under the “Today” section of the app, ready for I refer when I speak. Another example: I created a “Quick Settings” project in Agenda and saved notes for different shortcuts. I want to work on either MacStories or the club. With the calendar, I can send a date to a note and it will appear in my calendar (and in my task manager, GoodTask, thanks to the calendar integration) when it’s time to build that shortcut. All this is possible with other notable apps, but Agenda removes a crucial step from the process (manually turning a note to a todo) and as such it becomes a convenient way to move projects forward by giving a time and space to each note. If you, like me, organize your big work projects by taking notes for everything, “On the agenda” and “Today” view of the app will be important companion for your supervisor.
There are lots of other useful and glorious details in the Agenda in addition to dates and calendar integrations. In the latest 4.0 version, the app supported appendices, allowing you to easily mix photos and files with text in a note. The app is beautiful and elegant, and it’s a pleasure to enter thanks to inline format controls and external keyboard support. Notes can be reordered in a drag and drop project, and you can quickly jump back to notes that you have recently worked with thanks to an additional sidebar on the right. Notes can be tagged and these additional pieces of metadata can become filters to create saved searches to more easily access a subset of notes from the left sidebar. You can add notes to Siri as shortcuts, export text in different formats and choose from a regular light theme and a wonderful dark – you can also change the accent colors for the user interface in the app. And I’ve barely scratched the surface of what you can do with Agenda on IOS and its (even excellent) Mac counterpart.
It’s rare to find a notifying app that redisplays such a tight market with really useful ideas. It’s not gimmicks, but one that manages to improve because of several major updates over a year’s span. But Agenda does it all, and therefore deserves to be our favorite new app for 2018.
Federico: If you go home automation and is a fan of Apple’s HomeKit platform, there’s a good chance that you’re not completely satisfied with one aspect of the ecosystem: it’s the barebones Watch app, making it almost impossible to quickly trigger specific scenes. HomeRun, the latest creation of HomeKit app developer extraordinary Aaron Pearce, fixes this with a simple yet effective solution: a Watch app that has a route of downloadable HomeKit scenes so you can perform them with a crane.
HomeRun is one of the programs you wonder how you managed to live without using it for a few days. On iPhone, HomeRun allows you to create the scene that you later see on the smaller Watch screen. The scenes are automatically imported from the Home app, and each can be assigned a custom color and icon saving from a selection of hundreds of assets. HomeRun’s gallery does not contain textual labels, but the combination of colors and descriptive glyphs is enough to identify scenes at a glance and drive them. In addition, the network layout is flexible so you can choose to fit up to three buttons in the same row, two larger or one rectangle.
On Home Watch, the HomeRun app launches quickly and the scenes run immediately after selecting one. With the latest 1.1 update, however, Pearce has transitioned from the ability to create customized complications that have the same color and icon previously assigned to a scene on iPhone. With customized complications (also supported on the new Infograph faces for Apple Watch Series 4), you get quick access to a certain HomeKit scene as soon as you raise your wrist: just press the icon and launch the HomeRun app, automatically run the scene as is linked to the complication – no further knocking is necessary. According to our experience, this feature has proven to be a great blessing for HomeKit automation – now with just a girl in your wrist, changing color of your lights, slamming smart plugs or, if you’re brave, triggers specific homebridge plugins becomes easy tasks to perform at the clock without talking to Siri.
HomeRun is the perfect example of an app that does one thing incredibly well: it makes HomeKit more powerful and enjoyable for Apple Watch users, and it is among our favorite App debut of 2018.
Ever since Scriptable came out in September, I’ve used it to show me custom overviews of my upcoming reminders and calendar events, for example, or to choose a file from its iCloud Drive container and move it elsewhere. I wrote scripts to load a QuickLook preview for a particular document or photo, or to select a screenshot from the Photos app, upload it to our CDN and copy its URL to the system clip. There is a comprehensive list of built-in iOS bridges in Scriptable – from alerts to QuickLook and shareware – which gives you the freedom to program your own add-ons to iOS, which I have not ever seen so well since Pythonista came out in 2012.
But even better than that, Scriptable can present the result of a script directly inside Siri or the shortcuts app thanks to Siri shortcuts in IOS 12. The image you want to download several times a day? Write a script that retrieves it from a folder in files, give it a Siri phrase and preview it with the assistant. Do you want to expand Siri with results from a web service that is not supported by Apple? Just type your own application to contact an API in the background and Siri will provide a custom response after you assume a personal phrase. And so on for dozens of integrations and APIs that you can program in Scriptable and make it available to the entire system thanks to shortcuts.
For an app launched three months ago, Scriptable is extremely powerful and functional, and it launches a new era of iOS automation where scripts can coexist with visual shortcuts and URLs instead of replacing them. Scriptable is a remarkable app debut and an app to be watched in the next few years.
Ryan: For software, 2018 was a decommissioning year for iPad in many respects. The big leaps forward in IOS 11 did a lot to satisfy the wishes of iPad users, but in some ways they just downloaded our appetite for more. While debut of shortcuts this year brought a lot of added capacity to Apple’s tablet platform, it continued an overall lack of iPad-focused progress in 2018.
Considering third party updates for the year was the best challenger. However, the most up-to-date update for the MacStories team is one that achieved something apps rarely do: push iPad forward in a meaningful way.
Issues 3.6 were launched at the end of May as part of a rapid succession of strong updates for the cultured Code’s popular task manager. However, it was the first of those updates to focus on iPad only. And it did it by tapping the power of the external keyboard.
With many iPad apps, keyboard shortcuts by developers are considered an unnecessary luxury. If they are present, they are often very limited. You may be able to speed up some actions with shortcuts, but for a long time you will find yourself needing to reach out and touch the iPad screen to get something done. Things are different, however. More than just an add-in, keyboard shortcuts in Things 3.6 became a true option to touch. Our own Federico Viticci did the best:
With version 3.6, Things has the best implementation of external keyboard support I’ve ever seen in an iPad app.
On paper, a keyboard-focused update is not the fastest or most exciting. In fact, I had heard that an iPad-focused update was on my way before I started things 3.6, and found myself initially disappointed when it only turned out to improve keyboard navigation improvements. But after I installed the app, I quickly discovered how much of the difference it does when an app offers keyboard shortcuts for some things compared to providing full keyboard control over all .
] When using items for iPad with an external keyboard, you can navigate almost any interface in the app with keyboard keyboard keys. Anytime the app is open, a button on the up or down arrow key will show a blue checkbox indicating that a task has been selected. From here, you can use Enter to open a task’s detail view with its title, listing and checklist fields, all of which can be navigated via the arrow keys. turn on enter a second time takes you back to your work list. When a task is highlighted in blue, you can also use ⌘K to select the task complete, ⌘S to schedule the due date, ⌘T to add it to your Today view, ⌘E for this evening, ⌘N to create a new task, and the list goes on. The full list of shortcuts is available here.
In addition to the extensive support for keyboard shortcuts, things 3.6 also took the Mac version Type Travel feature to iOS. Type Travel makes it possible to search the entire app without ever having to open a search box – just start typing, no matter what section of the app you’re viewing, and the Things search box opens and populates directly with your question. Eliminating the need for manual activation of the search field can not seem a big deal, but in practice it makes a much softer, frictionless experience. I wish iOS own system function has worked like this.
Issues 3.6 is a strong example of extensive keyboard support which unfortunately has no other iPad app that I know has matched. But the potential is clear there. If app-crossing keyboard navigation became common practice on iPad, I do not hesitate that it would be transformative to the platform’s power users.
Ryan: ] It’s rare to see an annual app undergo the kind of powerful revitalization that Drafts experienced in 2018. It’s still rare that it happens in One step from a paid business model to a subscription. With the transition from Draft 4 to Draft 5, developer Greg Pierce developed success on several levels, thus inspiring a new add-on for the app.
One of the exciting new instructions like Drafts 5 took everyone to lean into the role of a real Markdown editor. While the app has long been technically capable of being used as a primary Markdown editor, its identity was reinforced in the concept of being a place where the text simply began, not where it should finally live. That identity, however, extended thanks to the introduction of new tools to organize your drafts: workspaces and tags. Armed with these additions, Drafts 5 allows creating custom writing environments that consist of only the draft and actions you need for different types of writing work. Tim Nahumck refers to these settings as modules, and they make the app a valuable tool for a versatile set of needs.
Another important aspect of Drafts revitalization has received Drafts 5’s subscription model. Unlike most apps that have subscribed, there seemed to be some public rebellion over the change, and in contrast to this, most users seemed to offer continuous support for the app. I think this positive receipt has a lot to do with how Pierce shared free features from those who are subscribed via subscriptions. Much of the app’s basic functionality is available in the free version, while features aimed at power users – such as action editing, workspaces, and enhanced automation – are limited to Drafts Pro subscribers. I suspect that users who get the most out of Drafts recognize the value in the app and are therefore happy to pay for what they get.
One last item I will mark as I think has done Drafts 5 such A success is the app’s aggressive development pace. Since version 5 debuted in April, it has received a very consistent mix of both major updates and bugfixes. The promised Mac version has also come a long way in its development and is currently available in beta version to all Drafts subscribers. The app’s strong development rate connects well with users paying for subscriptions, as it has been so evident how recurring revenue has allowed Pierce to pour as much time as possible to further develop the app.
Draft 2018 was Drafts an App Store veteran, yet Drafts 5 could bring a whole new set of users. If the app continues to receive its current level of development attention, it seems preferable to have another successful year in 2019.
Ryan: Photography works as such important role for iPhone, but most of us are happy with Apple’s built-in camera app rather than branching out and seeing what the App Store has to offer. Access to Apple’s built-in app is a challenge for third party apps to overcome, despite the clear benefits that these apps can offer with manual controls that Apple’s camera does not provide. This challenge is because I think Obscura 2 deserves recognition, because with its major reconstruction it took a big step forward for manual control of the camera to be more elegant and accessible.
At the center of the Obscura UI, its control wheel, which puts all of the app’s settings, is right at your fingertips. The control wheel goes well with Obscura’s smallest design, while all controls are easily identified thanks to clear labels and iconography. You navigate through the control wheel by scrolling with horizontal gestures, similar to changing port lighting settings in Apple’s camera. Each move to the left or right of the control wheel is accompanied by a satisfactory touch of haptic feedback. This tactile element feels good and helps to give you the feeling that you really have control over what’s happening on the screen.
Thanks to its control wheel, Obscura is the manual camera app I feel most comfortable and capable of using. When other camera programs, including Obscura 1, are often unavailable to the novice of the photographer, Obscura 2’s design helps me to feel competent to play and learn more about the controls it puts in my hands. In addition, if I do not feel like managing a myriad of controls myself, Obscura’s strong set of built-in filters is useful.
Obscura 1 was a good app, but Obscura 2 is a good one and that’s why it belongs to this list.
Ryan: Since its four-year debut, Overcast has consistently earned its position as one of the premier podcasts clients on iOS. The launch of the app was enhanced by innovative audio features like Smart Speed and Voice Boost, but over the years since its debut, Conservator’s creator Marco Arment has consistently taken thoughtful reforms to the app’s interface and feature that prevents it from growing out of date or behind the competition. Cloudy 5 was launched this autumn as the latest major version of the app, introducing a strong blend of new features and user interface improvements that make the app better than ever.
Comprehensive Siri shortcuts are one of the main features of the update. Overlay uses iOS 12’s new shortcuts to enable voice control of many aspects of the app, including to skip chapters, enable and disable Smart Speed or Voice Boost and of course the very important feature to start playing your queue or another playlist you have created. These options significantly reduce Apple Podcast’s advantage with regard to Siri control. Now, the podcast actions you usually want Siri to perform are fully accessible through their own Siri shortcuts.
Cloudy 5 also brought major improvements to the Apple Watch app, enabling offline Apple playback previously removed from the app due to limits in watchOS. The enhanced Watch app has also added volume control through the Watch’s Digital Crown, another significant low-hanging fruit like watchOS restrictions that were previously made impossible. Finally, cloud 5 added two smaller features that I would never know I needed until the app added to them: view-specific search and podcast rate information. The former means transparent can search an episode title, description and view notes to help you find any older episode you might be looking for. Frequency Details is a practical addition that tells when new episodes of a show are released in general. I like to work with certain views in specific time slots in my schedule, so getting that information on the front is a nice touch.
On the UI front, Cloud 5 took a redesigned screen for now that plays to the app that does things like audio controls and display notes more discoverable and close to hand. Haptic feedback was also implemented throughout the app, a wonderful addition to those with the latest iPhones. These improvements, combined with Siri shortcuts and an upgraded watch app, made Moln 5 one of the strongest updates of the year.
John: Alto’s Odyssey succeeds in incorporating the limitations on mobile devices and refining every aspect of the infinite runner genre to create something that exceeds the sum of its parts as well as its predecessor, Alto’s Adventure. Many of the elements in the Odyssey have been made earlier, including by Team Alto himself in Adventure. What’s different with Odyssey is that it takes what made Alto’s Adventure a success – from game mechanics to artwork and sound design – and fine-tuning it to form a deeper experience that’s more fluid and immersed.
What team Alto has achieved was no small achievement. Alto’s Adventure already removed the endless runner genre to its core and transformed it into a beautiful and engaging experience. As Federico explained in his review of Alto’s Odyssey in February, the way you play on a game like Alto’s Adventure:
begins with “more of the same” approach and makes every single aspect of Alto universe more beautiful, more peaceful, more challenging and ultimately more fun.
In other words, you make the template better.
The first idea you’re in for a familiar but different experience is visual. Odyssey opens at dawn with hot air balloons rising above a desert landscape, a setting that differs from the snowy adventure scenes that you can imagine. As the game progresses, players play for even more candy. In addition to the Odyssey fate full of dunes, jungle ruins, streams and rocky outcroppings are found. Combined with day and night settings, rain and amazing color palettes, Odyssey’s artwork sets the head and shoulders of the vast majority of iOS games.
A similar sophistication is evident in Odyssey’s game. Through new mechanics like rock climbing, rising from mini tornados and bouncing from the top of hot air balloons, Odyssey has increased the depth to the available combinations for the players. They are extras that serve to keep the game interesting for Alto’s Adventure fans without complicating the game in a way that would disable newcomers.
With some games, part of the fun is its painful, stress-inducing nature. Odyssey could not be anymore from that kind of game. The artwork and the game together with the soothing soundtrack make Odyssey a meditative experience that simultaneously absorbs and calms.
When I first heard that Team Alto was working on Adventure Follow-up, I was skeptical that they could replicate what made that game special, even less top it. However, Odyssey did much more than just copy a hit formula. Odyssey is a natural extension of adventure, a rare sequel based on the success of its predecessor without leaning too much on it; It’s an artful insight about what an iOS game might be.
John: The App Store is full of games with heroes that swing swords on monsters. Grimvalor has these common elements, but it would be a mistake to write it as more of the same, because it is not. Grimvalor, from the Finnish game studio Direlight, is a Dark Souls-inspired adventure game that does more to realize the genre on mobile than any other title in the latest memory.
As the hero of Grimvalor, the players are released in a dimly lit world’s overshooting of monsters. As you go through the game, defeat evil weaknesses, level your character and collect things, you will find yourself periodically chased by more powerful enemies. You have to decide to run or stand and fight. Of course there are also boskamps, which are very tough to win.
There is much to say about Grimvalor paid in front of. There are no ads to cancel the fun and no waiting times or any other mechanism to postpone purchasing. Instead, the players get a deep and engaging experience where the only way to succeed is to try, fail and try again – which does not seem to make the game an immediate classic, but it does in a largely free-to – play the world
Unlike many iOS platforms, Grimvalor has excellent controls on the screen. There are buttons to move back and forth, jump, dash and attack, and all work well on screen. But Grimvalor really shines when you connect it with an MFi controller. Direlight has done a fantastic job that allows the entire UI of Grimvalor to navigate with a controller, including the menu system and storage management. This makes the game much more fun as a lean-back experience played on a large-screen iPad or connected to an external monitor and speaker, where artwork and sound design are displayed.
Direlight is not ready to polish Grimvalor either. Just today, it released an update that utilizes the new iPad Pros full screen, a few other games have implemented yet. The same update increases the image speed to an amazing 120 frames per second on the new iPad professionals for some of the smoothest graphics renderings in any game. Add the option to change positions on the screenshot and jump the buttons and it is clear that Direlight cares deeply about Grimvalor’s audience.
There is much to explore in Grimvalor. Each level comes with unique challenges and wisely hidden treasures. Det är en design som tillsammans med det utmärkta konstverket håller spelet intressant och friskt när du slår dig från chef till chef. Det är dock den uppenbara omsorg och uppmärksamhet på detaljer som gick in på att göra Grimvalor som har skapat en unik upplevelse som gör det till en glädje att spela och en sällsynt pärla på App Store.
Jo det är det för vår inledande utgåva av MacStories Selects. Vi hoppas att du njöt av det. För att höra mer om våra val i år, se till att du kolla in den här veckans episod av AppStories. I avsnitt 92 diskuterar Federico och John valprocessen och tanken bakom varje val. Om du har en kategori som du vill att vi ska överväga för Selects i framtiden, kontakta gärna kontakt med Federico, John eller Ryan. Vi skulle gärna höra från dig.