[I’ve been meaning to get to this for a little while now, and it’s not news about Hootsuite; it’s really more of a rant about Instagram because I’m having more fun with the service now. I also thought it deserved some follow-up since we had a number of very helpful commenters chime in on my last post.]
I got really excited when I first heard that Hootsuite could schedule Instagram posts, but that feature isn’t quite what it’s touted to be. Hootsuite did gain the ability to add streams, posts, and searched hashtags as columns, but it doesn’t actually post anything to Instagram from within the app.
What Hootsuite can do is schedule posts and place them into a queue with the text already in place; later on, at the appointed time, you’ll then head to that queue and use the iOS share feature to copy that text and picture into the Instagram app (which you must have installed). This is decent for users with a single Instagram account, but it isn’t useful for managing multiple brands across different Instagram accounts — which is what I had wanted it for. Hootsuite is also only optimized for iPhone users, as there is currently no iPad-optimized version of the official Instagram app. If you want to schedule posts from the iPad, you’ll have to use a blown-up version of the iPhone app.
This is disappointing, although it isn’t Hootsuite’s fault. Instagram has relaxed when it comes to content (no more square picture restrictions!), but they still insist that content has to be posted straight from their own app. So, until that changes, all that social media management apps like Hootsuite can do is essentially ease the pain of cutting and pasting content into Instagram.
It doesn’t make sense to me that the iPad is treated as a second-class device in the Instagram world. Visual apps thrive on the iPad, and browsing experiences, especially pictures, are much improved on the larger display. It’s really surprising to me that, given the popularity of the service, that Instagram still has no official presence on the iPad.
I originally bought Dispatch so that I could triage emails on my iPhone a little faster for work. I make heavy use of flags for emails, but I find those often aren’t enough for me, as they don’t have any categories or due dates attached to them. The differentiating factor for Dispatch was that it could share (“dispatch”) entire emails and send them to other apps on my device, which was really handy for quickly turning emails into tasks in Things or 2Do. The catch was that Dispatch was iPhone-only when I bought it, so I couldn’t take advantage of the larger screen on my iPad at work.
That has changed with today’s 3.0 update, which turned Dispatch into a universal app that works on iPhone on iPad. As a result of having owned the previous iPhone-only version, I gained Dispatch on the iPad for free.
It took a little longer than the stated two weeks, but 2Do with Push Sync is now live on the App Store. I tested the sync speed earlier this morning at work while I ticked tasks off of my content calendar.
The sync isn’t instantaneous, but it’s reliable. I can complete tasks on my iPhone and have a completely updated 2Do list when I get back to my iPad a few minutes later. I’ve come to expect this kind of data sync from my iPhone and paired Apple Watch, and it’s really great to have it in one of my favourite universal apps.
2Do wasn’t the first to do push sync — OmniFocus and Things got there first — but adding the feature to 2Do really helped to tighten up one of the few remaining weak points of the app: sync speed and consistency. Things is still top notch in terms of syncing speed, but 2Do has closed the gap considerably with today’s update. It has made a great app even easier to rely on.
The only thing that will require some getting used to is the shift of the “new task” button’s location to the bottom of the screen. This makes a lot of sense on the iPhone because you previously had to reach up with your thumb every time you wanted to add a new task, but I’m not sure it fits as well on the iPad where you’d use the device in two hands. I wouldn’t even register this as a complaint — just an observation of how changes can be applied to universal apps in a way that caters more to one device type (the phone) than another (the tablet).
Final Fantasy VII arrived earlier this week, and early reviews on the App Store are calling it a pretty good port. The game first debuted in 1997 and sucked up hundreds of hours of my childhood, and it’s mind boggling to think that it’s now playable on a 9.7″ tablet instead of a dedicated console.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the game supports third-party Bluetooth controllers, so you’re stuck with touchscreen controls if you’d like to play. However, there are a few niceties that have been added to this iOS adaptation:
- Manual iCloud saves (or should I say Cloud Saves?) are supported, so you can start the game on the iPad and continue on the iPhone.
- There’s also a Max Stats feature cheat code that’s built right into the game. Final Fantasy VII has a fantastic story but takes a ton of time to work through, so this is an interesting way to experience it without sinking all of your time “grinding” (levelling up your characters).
FFVII features a ton of gameplay for $16 and is ideal if you’re using your iPad as your main gaming console, or if you just want to relive a classic. Just be aware that you’ll need at least 4 GB of free space in order to download and install the game, so 16 GB device owners beware!
I’ve continued to use the Notes app in iOS 9 and it’s been a great, simple scratchpad for ideas and compiling research links. However, the kicker is that it’s just not accessible on my work PC. The Notes app is available as a beta within iCloud.com, but it’s not nearly as powerful as the version on my iPad.
However, a coworker recently turned me onto another cross-platform possibility: OneNote. I’d never really considered OneNote before because I thought it was best used by students. My sister did some incredible stuff with OneNote in her psychology courses, but I hadn’t realized that you could store files within OneNote in much the same way that you can with Evernote.
I’ve started to listen to podcasts again, but the first-party Podcasts app from Apple is still a little buggy as of beta 4 of iOS 9. Beta 5 did come out yesterday and it may have fixed the issue, but it actually doesn’t matter to me any more because, in the interim, I ended up buying Overcast.
What I really like about this app is the gigantic set of buttons, and the spacious, non-standard layout. There are more ornate podcast apps out there, but there’s a beauty to the simplicity of the icons and white space present in Overcast. Subscribing to podcasts is dead simple if you know the name of the show you’re looking for, and the interface makes it easy to find new shows by category or podcast network. This doesn’t sound remarkable but it’s a lot cleaner than the default Podcasts App, which prompts me for a URL whenever I want to add a new show.
The funny thing is that I didn’t actually need to buy Overcast. The basic features in the freemium version are quite enough for me, as all I really need area list of shows and a way to download new episodes automatically. Smart speed can cut silences out of recordings and Voice Boost enhances the listening experience, but I just haven’t felt the need to use these features so far. I’m simply content to use the incredibly clean and post-iOS 7 interface.
The main reason I decided to pony up for the $5 in-app purchase is because I want to see more indie apps like it. I’ve read enough articles at this point about the viability of being a developer on the App Store, and so I want to make sure I’m actively supporting the software I really enjoy using.
I’m now responsible for a number of Instagram accounts at my day job, and so I’ve been the lookout for apps that can manage multiple accounts, simultaneously. Given the popularity of the service, I’m surprised how difficult this task has actually been.
Hootsuite would have been my first choice because it can handle Twitter and Facebook. I can customize each brand into a tab, and each tab can have several panes for tweets, direct messages, or searches for specific hashtags. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that Hootsuite has no access to Instagram.
The next app I decided to try was Grab for Instagram. It’s a free download with no in-app purchases, and although it won’t let me post images or video due to API restrictions, it does support multiple logins. I can use the sidebar to switch between accounts, check on engagement rates, and repost images that are deemed on-brand.
So far I’m liking Grab for Instagram, but not loving it. I’d really like for the app to save my logged accounts through iCloud so that my iPhone and iPad stayed nicely in sync. Having to log in to the corporate accounts twice — once on my iPhone and once again on the iPad — just feels pointless when I’m using the same app on both devices. However, until I find something better, Grab for Instagram will have to do.
[If anyone has any recommendations for great Instagram-compatible apps on the iPad, I’d be all ears.]
Background App Refresh was introduced with iOS 7 two years ago, but I’ve found that it only seems to work about 50% of the time for me. I still see many of my apps — e.g. Reeder, 2Do, Evernote — syncing upon startup, when they should have already loaded most of the data in the background. The issue here is the way iOS asks users to simply trust how it will balance the load of background tasks, when it should really allow us to prioritize specific apps that we always want to keep up-to-date.
That’s why the latest blog post from 2Do has me excited. Push Sync is promising faster syncing that pushes changes from my iPad straight to the iPhone, moments after I’ve made a change, and regardless of what syncing service I use for my tasks. You can bet I’ll be testing this new feature out when it hits the App Store in two weeks.
Musixmatch is a great case of a new breed of iOS apps that tend to function more as services than outright applications. Musixmatch does have a UI for when you load it up, but it’s really best used as a widget for the songs you’re already playing. The only setup involved is activating the widget in Notification Center.
Once that’s done, Musixmatch can stream the lyrics for most of the songs in my library and display them right in tune with the audio — kind of like my own personal karaoke machine. Soundhound has a similar feature they call LiveLyrics, but it isn’t available as a convenient widget.
I had previously taken a few hours to tag all of my own songs with lyrics metadata so that I could reference those lyrics at any time within the Music app (one tap on the album art would show me lyrics while a song was playing). However, anything I add to my collection through Apple Music will not have the benefit of any lyrical metadata, and that’s why Musixmatch is so key to me. The service has a great database of lyrics, and it works with songs that I’m streaming to my iPad through Apple Music.
If you haven’t done so already, I’d highly recommend giving Musixmatch a try on your iOS devices. It’s free to use, and it’s a lot of fun to watch lyrics update as you scrub through a song.
Apple Maps in iOS 9 now grant transit options for users in a select number of cities (inlcuding Toronto, thank goodness!). However, Google isn’t sitting on their laurels in the mean time. Yesterday’s Google Maps update added a number of interesting features, including direct sharing to Facebook and Facebook Messenger (great for events and friends who are showing up late).
However, the most useful feature for me has been the addition of live transit schedules built right into the app. It’s now easier to identify different kinds of routes, and these routes are differentiated the moment you request transit directions. I tested a few different locations and Google would divide its suggestions into Fastest, More by subway, and More by tram. Tapping on a particular line (e.g. 501 on Queen) displays the upcoming arrival times, so you can check to see how much leeway you have in case you miss the first streetcar or bus.
Google Maps has had transit directions for quite a while now, but it’s nice to see the UI has been cleaned up and now offers more granular detail. Apple Maps still seems to have an advantage in Canada due to the mapping of specific station exits, but this update from Google Maps is running a close second.
At the World Wide Developer Conference last week, Apple introduced their all new RSS reader app called News. In all honesty, I see it as a good move on their part–it makes sense. By offering a free news aggregator that automatically is included in iOS 9, iPad owners are much less likely to go outside the Apple ecosystem in search of a an alternative. This move to provide a more comprehensive, all encompassing experience on iOS will be a good hook for new iPad and iPhone users. However, after talking with some current users, many of them were not as impressed.
Will the News app be a viable alternative to much more established and successful RSS readers like Feedly and Flipboard? Yes, and no. Traditional RSS reader advocates will likely stay with their current choices. However, new iPad users looking for a way to consume content more easily, and all in one place will likely find News to be the first and perhaps their last choice since it will be pre-installed on their device. Never underestimate the power of convenience.
Sites like Facebook and Twitter seem to be absent from the list of available feeds that can be included in the News app–which might be a little discouraging to some users. I for one, won’t miss them, as that is not the way I consume social media content. I’d rather just read those kinds of posts from within their respective apps; and I would bet that the majority of Facebook and Twitter users would feel the same way.