Nine Years of Siri

Nick Heer, Pixel Envy:

Given its age, inconsistency, slow response times, and unreliability, there is little doubt in my mind that Siri is one of modern Apple’s greatest software failures. I do not understand how, after a decade of development, it still struggles with fundamental expectations.

My confidence in Siri waned over the past few years, and the above quote sums up my sentiments exactly. It’s not a feature I use with any verve, anymore, though I keep persisting.

Cosmicast 2: A Podcast Player Devoid of Complexity

Cosmicast, a podcast player released a couple of years ago and recently redesigned from the ground up, is set to disrupt the two-horse race currently led by Overcast and Pocket Casts as the two coveted full-featured third-party podcast players on the App Store by offering on par features, platform access and unique design-centric delights.

Interface & Interactions

Cosmicast 2

One of the traits that help differentiate and establish uniqueness in Cosmicast is the bold approach to its design by semi-adopting the foregone skeuomorphic1 look and feel with the use of an animated spinning turntable on the player interface. Reminiscent of the tape deck found in the native Podcast app in iOS 6, it is sure to evoke nostalgic feelings. I’d love to see a selection of different record players and audio speakers like a gramophone, for example.

In keeping with today’s design standards, however, Cosmicast offers a single streamlined interface with gestures2 to access primary functions on the same interface directly. Accessing other core options can be done via an ellipses and settings button, which, understandably, takes your attention away from the current task on the single interface.

But with the use of gestures, simple button taps to reveal focused and straightforward modal windows, navigating and interacting with elements on the app is devoid of complexity even when swaying away from the current task. A simple dismissal of the modal window transports the user right back to their suspended state before entering the modal context. Such an approach eradicates complexity and makes me wish more apps consider adopting this approach to reduce navigational fatigue.

The app features playful interactions with the turntable, after all, what’s a turntable without the ability to scratch it. Users can scratch back and forth on the turntable to skip forwards and backwards, tap and hold to reveal episode details, chapters and all episodes from the current playing podcast episode.

Along with the spinning vinyl, the design aspect of Cosmicast is a real delight, even more so on the iPad, where I usually set my display auto-lock to never. I’d love to see a setting option to keep the screen awake while Cosmicast is active so that I can enjoy the delightful display of the spinning turntable when I’m not actively using the iPad.

Features and Discovery

Cosmicast

Feature parity is paramount if you want your app to stand a chance of being regarded as one of the best in its category. Cosmicast offers a lot of the existing core features found in some of the renowned podcast players on the App Store. In terms of appearance, the app supports Dark Mode with a selection of tint colours to alter the theme to your taste, along with a wide range of app icons.

Discovery is essential on media platforms. Cosmicast features a built-in directory that enables users to browse an extensive list of categories and topics regionally which automatically populates a list the most popular shows for your chosen region under the Popular tab.

Platforms and Pricing

Cosmicast is available as a universal purchase which gives you access across all platforms: iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, tvOS, and CarPlay support.

Following the revamp, Cosmicast started life again on the App Store with a single upfront one-off payment of £8/$10. The app has since switched to a subscription model due to needing ongoing funds for the continued development of Cosmicast. Users can opt for a monthly, yearly sub or a one-off lifetime payment of £23/$29. I find the subscription pricing reasonable, giving the list of feature parity and platform access.

Conclusion

In all my years using podcast players on iOS, from Instacast to Downcast, to the currently available selections leading the way, it is refreshing to see another new worthy contender in this category. I can firmly say Cosmicast belongs in the upper echelon of podcast players on the App Store.


  1. Some say it resembles the more modern Neumorphic design, you decide!
  2. A list of all the available gestures can be found and activated in Settings.

LumaFusion Video Editing Tutorials

Doing work on the iPad is a hotly debated topic, subjective and objective, depending on what your work is, of course. When it comes to video and audio media productions, some YouTubers, filmmakers, and podcasters, for example, are performing all work involved with their creative media processes using just the iPad, from start to finish, with professionally-looking results.

Chris Wilmshurst, a videographer, has put together a few LumaFuison tutorials (with more to come) aiming to help you learn and utilise some of the primary and more advanced features in LumaFusion. The tutorials are very well put together, easy to follow along and digest. Videographers and filmmakers will benefit from these tutorials.

LumaFusion by LumaTouch is one of the more popular and preferred pro video editing and effects app available on iOS that provides a robust set of features that in many respects rivals some of the more common counterparts found on traditional PC’s.

Ulysses Writing and Text Editor App

In celebrating the iPads upcoming tenth anniversary since launch, the MacStories team is having a week-long write-up covering various aspects of the iPads ten-year history. Three articles have been published so far including one where the team ‘explore the most impactful iPad apps of the decade’.

One of the apps featured in that article is the writing and text editor Ulysses, where Ryan Christoffel wrote:

Ulysses offers a unique twist on Markdown editing, offering full Markdown support but opting to hide certain syntax – most notably URLs – behind visual content blocks. This approach isn’t for everyone, but I absolutely love it. I have a hard time using traditional Markdown editors now because I’ve grown so spoiled by the way Ulysses hides links, displays image previews automatically, and by some of its other design choices. The editing interface is clean, minimal, and enables customization of key details like font, font size, and text spacing. When you write for a living, the last thing you want to do is stare at a displeasing editor design, so this is very important.

Another strength of Ulysses is its top-notch export features, several of which I use all the time. Exporting to PDF provides an array of beautiful style options, more of which can be downloaded online or even customized yourself on the Mac. I also export to plain text Markdown regularly so I can save my drafts in Working Copy when collaborating with Federico and John. The most crucial export option for me, however, is WordPress publishing. This feature works flawlessly, offering access to all the tools you’d want such as tags and categories, and it’s something you just won’t find in practically any other Markdown editor.

There is no shortage of excellent text editors on iOS and iPadOS, thankfully. I have dabbled with some, and used some extensively: Bear, iA Writer, and Ulysses, with each offering their unique interfaces and feature-sets. Ulysses has been the text editor I used the most and Ryan has outlined all the reasons why I stuck with it in the quote above.

Although I don’t write for a living, I certainly enjoy writing Chambyte and in doing so, seek out the best tools for the job that fits my use-case and preference. For now1, Ulysses is the text editor that ticks all the boxes for me, especially when it comes to the way it handles linked URL’s in a visual content block as you write, which helps maintain a clutter-free interface. I too, love this feature amongst many of its comprehensive list of features it has to offer.


  1. I took advantage of Ulysses’ 50% Off Sale and subscribed for a year, which is due for renewal in August 2020. In my efforts to limit app subscriptions, I will decide whether to renew or use other apps like iA Writer that offer similar capabilities.

NetNewsWire 5.0 for iOS Overview

NetNewsWire 5.0
NetNewsWire 5.0 on iPhone

The iOS App Store is not short of great RSS Readers. My current favourite RSS client is Reeder 4 by Silvio Rizzi — I love the elegance, simplicity, and the number of RSS services it can connect to should I ever part ways with Feedly.1

Reeder 4 recently had issues with automatic background syncing with the Feedly service, which coincided with my time Beta testing NetNewsWire for iOS — the highly popular and respected open-source RSS Reader for Mac under development for iOS. As I patiently waited for Reeder 4 to sort out its sync issues, I switched to using NetNewsWire on my iOS devices and loved it. It boasts the same simplicity I found in Reeder 4 but even faster when it comes to fetching and updating feeds.

NetNewsWire is not littered with complicated features as it prioritises speed and reliability to provide an app free of unruly bugs that weakens the experience. The app currently offers Feedbin and Feedly RSS account sources and feeds saved locally on your iOS device. It provides the expected staple features you come to expect in RSS clients on iOS; timeline feed sorting, article and layout options, subscription OPML import and export options.

NetNewsWire values quality over a plethora of ‘Power Features’, which bodes well for the minimalist that wants to launch the app and consume content in the purest form with excellent readability. Such simplicity makes for a compelling reason to give NetNewsWire a good try and see how it fits your use case.

NetNewsWire 5.0 is free to download on the iOS App Store.


  1. Currently on Feedbins 14-day free trial as I explore using RSS clients to consume Newsletters. ↩︎

On Apple Letting Users Switch Default Apps on iOS

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

The technology giant is discussing whether to let users choose third-party web browser and mail applications as their default options on Apple’s mobile devices, replacing the company’s Safari browser and Mail app, according to people familiar with the matter. Since launching the App Store in 2008, Apple hasn’t allowed users to replace pre-installed apps such as these with third-party services. That has made it difficult for some developers to compete, and has raised concerns from lawmakers probing potential antitrust violations in the technology industry.

I remember following with keen interest the antitrust case against Microsoft for restricting users and manufacturers the ability to choose browsers other than Internet Explorer as default. I’ve been expecting the same antitrust case brought against Apple regarding restricting competing third-party developer apps to be made default by users on the iOS platform.

I cannot see this having any severely debilitating adverse effect in the long run if Apple allows users to switch to third-party apps as their default. If anything, this should spur competition which will see Apple not rest on its laurels and do more to keep their apps on a seriously competitive level as the company continues to push on its Services front.

We have already started to see many of the default Apple apps receive significant enhancements from the barebones state they once were — Apps like Mail, Safari with desktop-class capabilities on iPadOS, Reminders and Maps, to name a few.

I regularly switch to using all default apps during iOS Beta periods. Over the years as I’ve watched some of the default apps evolve with ‘power feature’ capabilities I relied on third-party apps for, it’s prompted me to switch to using some of the native default apps on a more permanent basis.

Some Apps and Services I’ve switched away from in favour of default Apple alternatives:

  • Evernote (Notes)
  • Spotify (Apple Music)
  • 1Password (iCloud Keychain)
  • Todo/Task Management apps (Reminders)
  • Podcatchers (Apple Podcast)
  • Dropbox (iCloud Drive)
  • IFTTT (Shortcuts)
  • Google Maps (Apple Maps)

Continued enhancements with feature parity to the default native apps will continue to elevate their prominence and stake a claim as worthy options without the need for Apple to force them as the default on the OS.

Expressing Gratitude to Developers

Jason Burk, Burk.io:

I can understand that this path you have chosen can feel thankless but please know that there are many of us out here that appreciate your hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, the perceived value of the work you are doing is being warped to an unsustainable level. Perhaps this is because of the faceless nature of your work, or the warped sense of values and entitlement in the world of technology. Regardless, please know that that the vocal minority does not represent all users. There are many of us who care, and care deeply about the relationship we have with each of you. I admit, we do not express our gratitude often enough or loud enough, but it is unwavering.

The launch of the iOS App Store in July of 2008 with an initial 500 apps was received with merriment. After making do with web apps, I cherished the opening of the App Store with third-party apps, some of which offered a more superior functionality compared to the default native apps of the same ilk by Apple. The App Store gold rush of yore was one of the most exciting and enjoyable periods in the App Stores history. The slogan ‘There’s an App for that’ was so befitting as the App Store continued to receive a plethora of new apps that fulfilled an incredibly wide variety of use-cases. Thanks to Developers.

Today, in 2020, third party apps and services on iOS continue to play a pivotal role in the growth and stability of the platform. And long may that continue. I have been a huge proponent, and supporter of third party apps throughout their revenue-generating business model changes on the App Store over the years. Changes that have always been necessary for helping keep app development sustainable as the platform grows. A thriving App Store holds so much benefit and value for the platform, its users, and developers.

Like many, I have bought - and continue to do so - apps I had no immediate need to add to my workflow and put them to use because I may have others in the same category that are far superior and commanded a Homescreen spot. I do it to support and contribute towards maintaining the healthy state of the app store economy because I respect and value the core ideas behind the apps, the quality of care, and the skills that went into building and maintaining the software.

Even more importantly, there are humans behind the apps. Humans that recognised the importance and role the devices we use and rely on daily to run our lives require the right tools to carry out the tasks efficiently. You can argue because of such talented developers creating some of the undeniably great tools we use on these devices, said devices wouldn’t have held the same level of importance in our lives.

Anyone that used iOS before the launch of the App Store feels my pain. We have been spoilt rotten, living in such a healthy, well-maintained app ecosystem, thanks to the many talented developers that despite some of the hardships they face, they maintain their high-level craftsmanship. Developers that continue to walk this path, spending their lives building and maintaining these tools regardless of whatever fulfilment goals they have, be it financial or otherwise, deserve gratitude.

I salute you. Thank you for all you do.

Source: GABZ/ML via Jason Burk.

WWDC App Renamed Apple Developer App

Apple Developer Blog:

Starting today, the WWDC app is now the Apple Developer app and delivers in-depth information from Apple experts all year round. Stay up to date with the latest developer news, informative videos, WWDC content, and more.

I subscribed via RSS to the Apple developer news feed where I keep up to date with news and other relevant information about iOS development. I appreciate, however, the promise of more content from the developer news feed with year-round in-depth information sharing from “Apple experts via the newly rebranded Apple Developer app.

What used to be - for me, and I’m sure for many - a yearly install of the WWDC app for the week-long WWDC event looks set to now claim a permanent home on my iOS devices. Being able to receive timely push notification updates whenever new content is published is a big plus. I dig the new icon, too.

Dark Noise: A Refined White Noise App with a Liquid Smooth Design

I am new to the world of utilising White noise as a medium to emulate specific types of background noise to help sleep, relax or focus when writing even though I am aware of its existence. Music is the only tried and trusted medium I have used up until now. I had the chance to help Beta test the development of Dark Noise by iOS developer Charlie Chapman, which also prompted me to further look into the whole world of using White noise for relaxation and focus as an alternative to listening to music. I can safely say Dark Noise has introduced an incredibly reliable tool that reenacts the effects of noise to enter a calm, relaxed or focused state.

The App Store currently has a significant amount of White noise apps, but having been on the Dark Noise Beta since version 1.0 - if memory serves me right - and watching the app evolve to what it is now has had an unexpected magnetic effect that draws me towards it every time I think about exploring other apps of that ilk from the App Store. The simple reason being the incredibly beautiful design, simplicity, functionality and realism of the sounds in the app.

Dark Noise Press Kit
Dark Noise for iPad and iPhone

Noises

Dark Noise currently has a sound library of over 30+ noises with categories ranging from Water, Nature, Urban, Appliances, Fire, and for any unique users who like the sound of snoring, the Human category has you covered. Noises, crafted from a mixture of available royalty-free public domain sounds with enhancements for suitability with Dark Noise for better realism and what impresses me the most; the developers own original recordings of sounds.

Touching on the noise authenticity, the combination of the HomePod audio technology with its all-encompassing sense of space and the realism of the sounds from Dark Noise fills the room replicating a true to form sense of being in the environment the noises are emulating, especially when listening to the Office and Coffee Shop noises in my case.

My one feature wish is to have the functionality to create noise playlists, where noises can be queued and automatically play after a set amount of time.

Design

You know you’ve got the app design right when a fellow respected developer of a White noise app tweets you about how impressed he is with your app and would probably recommend it above his.

Designed with simplicity in mind; the simplicity and functionality are what I value the most. Not a single part of the app setup or interaction is trivial and require instructions. It has a clear set of general and advanced options for the user to personalise the experience of how they want the app to function interactively; haptic feedback, auto-play on open option and visually; selection of crafted themes including Dark and Light mode, app icons (If you’re into tech podcasts you’ll love the choices), and glorious noise icon animations with motion graphics that makes me wish for an Apple TV app. Watching the noise icon animations on the TV with background themes automatically switching will be a delight and adds to the relaxation effect.

The Play user interface screen consists of carefully selected and easily reachable set of controls that are tucked low level on the bottom half of the screen on the iPhone, with the play button just above them allowing the noise icon to take center stage with its delightful motion graphics for that particular noise. As the Steve Jobs saying goes: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”, this is undoubtedly true for Dark Noise, no complicated interactions whatsoever. Simple and straight to the point in as few taps as possible, right from the first time launching the app to configuring your preferences in settings.

The ease of which to invoke play of your favourite noises is remarkable, Dark Noise supports the use of customisable widget which can display favourite noises or recently played noise to activate with a single tap, users can also force touch on the app icon to play noise with a selection of other functions or activate the option to ‘Auto-Play on Open’ from settings, which enables the app to automatically start playing from launch. If you are in a position that restricts activation of a noise physically, you can use Siri shortcuts automation to start playing a noise. The noises can be played directly on the device or use AirPlay to play the noise on an Apple TV or HomePod.

I haven’t yet utilised Dark Noise app to help me sleep, planning to do so soon. Its effectiveness in helping me focus has been tremendous, and it has dethroned my use of music for such situations.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7BDtu9CkAI&w=854&h=480]

You can hear more about the development and plans for Dark Noise on The Outpost Show podcast where the developer discussed the process and evolution of the app from a little ‘learning project’ to what could now potentially be the best app of its kind on iOS.

Dark Noise is a universal app available to download from the iOS App Store.