It’s been a little less than a year since I last wrote about Screens. The purpose of the app hasn’t changed: it’s still a VNC app for remotely connecting to a Mac or PC from an iOS device. But there are a few specific features released in Screens 4, which is a free update to all existing users, that are so tasty that I just have to talk about them.
Curtains for you (well, for anyone really)
One of the coolest new features is Curtain mode. I really like this idea for providing a little bit of extra privacy when I’m remotely connecting to my own machine. I haven’t had the need for this feature very often, but I’m really impressed with the implementation. Sometimes you want to connect remotely to a machine, but have that session remain private. If you want to grab some files from your machine quickly without providing access to anyone who might be near the actual computer, Curtain mode is a great way to go about this. When activated, this pulls a curtain over the screen of the machine you’re connecting to, disabling all of the local controls and also blocking view of the monitor with a gigantic padlock. You can set specific remote sessions to always launch right into Curtain mode, so if you frequently need to VNC into a computer that’s in a very public location, this is a great way to go about it.
Ulysses 2.5 really is a very, very impressive writing environment. This latest version does enough new stuff, and fixed one of the most irritating bugs I was experiencing, that I think it warrants a fresh look since my last review of Ulysses in June 2015.
Ulysses isn’t a notes app, it’s a writing app. As such, it’s meant for longer form writing and has special features to help you structure larger bodies of text, as well as keep your eyes on the prize as you write.
Each of my documents is called a Sheet, and all of these Sheets sync up over iCloud. The Sheets are in plain text but do support in-line Markdown formatting, which is great if you write for the web like I do. Ulysses also supports the addition of extra metadata, like pictures, notes, and goals in the sidebar.
What’s fun about Ulysses is that it embraces choice. There are choices of themes, fonts, layouts, and multiple export options (including some solid DOCX support). There are a lot of different ways you can use Ulysses, and it’s not one of those apps that tries to shoehorn you into a specific way of thinking.
I’m not a huge PDF reader, but I am always into trying out great new iPad apps; so I’m surprised that LiquidText has flown under my radar for this long.
It really feels like one of those apps that was waiting for the age of tablets to be born. Like Paper by FiftyThree, LiquidText is an app that really comes alive on a large tablet screen. It takes the rote routine of PDF reading and makes the process feel a lot more dynamic. I would have absolutely loved this app while I was in university, and I’ve been sending it to all of my PhD candidate friends, since they spend hours every week trying to tie ideas together across pages.
The idea behind LiquidText is to make longer text documents feel more fluid, so that it ultimately becomes easier to tie major themes together, or build your perspective on a piece. The age-old way of doing things is to dog-ear a page to bookmark it, or write into the margins beside a particular section. It adds a sense of history to the reading, and also provides a great sense of placement. You may not remember what page you read a passage on, but knowing that you had a bookmark or note there can ease the process of recall.
The proclaimed demise of email has seemed to been imminent for years. Love it or hate it, most people refer to their interaction with email as not voluntary, but more of a necessary evil. I prefer to take the high road. Although there have been countless attempts to replace the typical email client interaction, I really don’t mind the basic format that we have all come to know. That’s not to say I don’t think email can be improved–because it definitely needs some help. There have been many attempts to do just that with dedicated apps that support the iPad’s larger screen. However, few have stuck around and from the ones that have, even fewer continue to refine and update their app to improve the user experience. That was until Spark email was introduced for the iPhone, and subsequently updated last week to a universal app.
Evernote has had a firm foothold on the productivity app market-especially when you consider their deep integration across multiple mobile platforms, in addition to the web. I myself have tried several times to find new, more appealing alternatives to fit my basic needs without all the clutter. However, in the end, I always seem to come back to what I know best, and where I have the biggest investment. That’s not to say there aren’t new productivity apps, and improvements to existing apps that continue to challenge Evernote for the crown. Even a simple option like the Notes app in iOS, is enough for many users.
Centrallo has been around since August of 2014, providing users with a clean and easy way to prioritize, organize and create lists to make their lives more productive. I liked their app well enough to give it a look when it first came out. It was a cross platform app that was also available in a web version–a must for me. It was good, but not great for my needs, and so I haven’e been back in a while.
One of the apps that the iPad Pro has really unlocked for me has been Autodesk Graphic (previously iDraw), an incredibly powerful vector illustrating app on iOS. I picked Graphic up late last year while it was on sale, and I’ve been playing around with the app over the past few weeks.
I’m pretty new to vectors, but I’ve used Pixelmator for a few years now, so the toolset isn’t completely foreign to me. The left toolbar features move tools, brushes, pens, pencils, basic shape tools, and even shape libraries to insert specific pre-made objects onto the canvas. There’s also a great RGB colour picker, complete with hex values. I love Pixelmator on the iPad, but having used Graphic for a few weeks now, I think the Pixelmator team could have afforded to be a little more traditional (read: desktop-like) with its UI, especially on the iPad Pro.
I used Outlook full-time in early 2015 and liked the Exchange integration, but the Mail app got so much better in iOS 9 that I just went right back to it. However, with the recent Outlook 2.0 overhaul, I decided to give the app another shot. I’ve been really impressed with how quickly Microsoft iterates on their iOS offerings, and although the app doesn’t quite have feature parity with Mail app, I do believe it’s only a matter of time until it mirrors and supersedes Mail’s feature set.
I’ve mainly used Outlook as a mail app, but I’ve dabbled with it as a calendar as well. I’ve written about it as a Gmail user, but you could also add any other Yahoo!, iCloud, IMAP, or Exchange account to the app. Here are a few rapid-fire thoughts on the past few weeks of use:
Who doesn’t like great iPad apps? At iPad Insight we definitely do. With that in mind, we offer up a quick review of an excellent iPad app, or a few great iPad apps, here each week.
Our picks for Best iPad App of the Week are published here every week. Check out all out picks below and you’ll soon have a collection of stellar apps for your favorite tablet.
This week’s pick is Notability by Ginger Labs. Notability is a Productivity application that makes note-taking and PDF annotation simple and enjoyable. Recently selected as an Apple Editors’ Choice on the iPad, iPhone, and Mac, Notability also was recently recognized as the best selling paid productivity app of 2015–their 3rd year in a row! Now, for a limited time, it is on sale at 83% off, for only $0.99! You will not find a better productivity app for note taking, lecture and meeting recording, PDF annotating, sketching or drawing–especially a single app that includes all these capabilities and more.
I reviewed OmniFocus 2 for iPad earlier this year and found it lacking when it came to the batch management of tasks. There are a lot of different ways to view and manage tasks on the iPad version, but the desktop still leads the pack of OmniFocus apps because you can select multiple tasks and defer or re-assign them in batches. I think the developers at OmniGroup set this limit on purpose in an attempt to focus on the strengths of each platform, but I’d argue that there’s more than enough room on a 9.7“ and 12.9” iPad screen to pull off batch task management.
However, despite that criticism still holding true, I’ve been giving OmniFocus 2 another shot over the past few weeks — and I’ve been liking it! A big reason behind this second attempt is the iPad Pro. OmniFocus’ design looks so wonderfully clean, and the included Night Mode makes the app so unobtrusive that it’s easy to just keep it as an always-on companion in Split View on the iPad Pro. I really like working this way on the iPad. I have my main app on the left side and OmniFocus as a minimal Split View app on the right, allowing me to just jump from task to task very easily. This workflow will only get better ad more apps support Split View on iOS 9.
I’ve also tried a new approach to OmniFocus’ lack of batch task management: I’m using the Inbox a lot more and ignoring the Forecast view.
Every time I think of a little task I want done, I’ll throw it into the inbox without any due or defer dates. I’ll clear the inbox out whenever I have time, but I’m not too fussy about it any more. The act of capturing the task in OmniFocus is already enough to give me peace of mind.
Ignoring the Forecast view has been equally helpful in this second round with OmniFocus. I loved the idea of the Forecast view when I first saw it: seeing Past, Due, and upcoming tasks on a mini calendar seemed to mirror my thinking beautifully. However, I just can’t wrap my head around the way that the Forecast view treats deferred tasks (OmniFocus’ version of start dates). If a particular task’s deferred date comes and goes without my having completed it, it completely disappears from the Forecast view. However, based on my quick research, it seems this view is working exactly as OmniGroup intended, and it’s not likely to change any time soon. Knowing that, I’ve decided to stick to the Projects view and limit what I see by deferring everything I’m not actively working on. This keeps my Projects view clean and manageable, while still capturing any tasks for which the deferred date has come and gone. I realize how technical that can sound if you’re not am OmniFocus user yourself, but suffice it to say that his new approach allows me to watch one area (Projects) and reliably keep an eye on all of my upcoming and overdue tasks. That’s what I wanted out of the Forecast view, and I’ve managed to recreate it elsewhere within OmniFocus.
I do still wish that certain actions like assigning Projects and Contexts could be accomplished with fewer taks, but there are few other apps that blend into the background in Split View as OmniFocus 2 does, and that feature alone has been a great reason to revisit this app on the iPad Pro.
Evernote’s latest update to hit the App Store brings two great features to the iPad: drawing and multitasking. iPad Pro and Apple Pencil support were also added, but I couldn’t quite test that yet, for lack of all the necessary hardware. I’ll just have to take their word for it.
Evernote now plays nicely with other split-screen apps on iOS 9, so I can have it loaded alongside Safari or Mail for taking notes. This is a very big deal and is really changing the way I use the app across my iPad. I like keeping Evernote as my active Slide Over app, so that I can swipe left from any screen and quickly access or search my notes. This feels comparable to having a desktop-level widget on iOS, and I can only imagine how cool it would be to have Evernote open full-time on an iPad Pro.
Where did the time go? Paper grew up so quickly. It started off as a great drawing app, then it got a sweet custom stylus with innovative drawing and erasing features, and all of a sudden it’s a universal app for the iPhone and iPad…and it now supports text in Paper 3.0!
Text in Paper
Truth be told, I haven’t really embraced this latter feature, even a few weeks into this release. Text in Paper is interesting because it’s a text attachment to a particular sheet. Every file within Paper is essentially a sheet of paper, and the new text notes are like variable-length sticky notes that you can add to each sheet. The controls for the text are very interesting though: you can swipe on text to format it as a bullet point, checklist, or header. Basically every other note app I know of requires a specialized shortcut bar for those controls, but a horizontal swipe on a line of text within Paper will format it. Very slick.
Text doesn’t seem to be just an afterthought for Paper, either. In the few weeks following the release of Paper 3.0, FiftyThree added Spotlight support to the app. This means you can now search Paper straight from your homescreen for any text within the app.