5 Apps from my Friends that You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

As part of my epic quest to bring you Apps to Make Your Life Better, this week I reached out on Facebook and Ghacklabs to ask you for great apps. Here’s the catch – I asked for really obscure apps that most people haven’t heard of. Here’s what I got! (These descriptions were all written by those who submitted, although some were edited by me)

Opinion – Record & edit podcasts on your iPhone

One app that I love to use is called Opinion. It allows you to create a podcast from your iPhone, without any hassle of complex software or cutting/mixing/etc. I use it to record the Building Task Pigeon podcast. I was looking for a solution that would allow me to quickly and easily record and upload a podcast to platforms such as iTunes, without having to download the file to my computer, edit it and then submit it. It really has saved me a ton of time, and I enjoy using it as a way of sharing short and interesting stories on what I am doing with Task Pigeon.
Submitted by Paul Towers

Reverb – Buy and Sell Gear

Reverb.com is the best place on the internet to buy and sell musical gear. There are thousands of listings, but the Reverb app very well designed. The filters are very specific and allow me to easily narrow my search to find exactly what I want. Reverb has tons of listings, but the app makes it easy to find whatever I’m looking for.
Submitted by Ryan Foster and Daniel LaRoche

Cachebot Geocaching

If you’ve never been geocaching, you’re in for a treat. People hide “caches” all over the world and post the coordinates online, and then you go find them, signing the log book and swapping trinkets. The official Geocaching app won’t let you view advanced caches without paying, so using Cachebot is a good alternative.
Submitted by Austin Adams

Moji Edit – Your Custom Emoji Avatar Face

This app allows you to express your personality and identity literally. It was founded by two twins. You can create a custom representation of yourself in the app, changing the look and outfit, and then send stickers to your friends.
Submitted by Luke Fitzpatrick

Clipper – Clipboard Manager

This app is a clipboard that saves the last 20 text clips you copied into your phone’s memory buffer. This app is available on Android; if you’re on iOS, Clips is a similar app.
Submitted by Alex Yong


Have an app suggestion, feedback, or just want to say Hi? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com.

Burn and Chill with Nike+

Nike+ Training Club – Free on the App Store

Like most people, I could definitely use more exercise. I’ve been taking a walk each morning lately, and I love doing that, but I rarely work out. In an attempt to change that, I downloaded the Nike+ Training app. This is Nike’s app specifically designed for strength training (as opposed to Nike+ Running Club).

I’ve been really impressed with the app’s design and functionality. It looks great and it’s easy to use. I especially like the voice prompts during the exercises; they’re better than other fitness apps I’ve used. At the start of each exercise, the voice tells me the basics of how to do the move. About 15 seconds in, it will then give an additional tip – usually about form. Something like, “Make sure to keep your core tight!” I really like that the app doesn’t just bombard me with all the details of a move at the beginning; it’d be too confusing. Instead, the app lets me start to get the hang of something, and then gives me tips on how to do it better. That’s nice.

I downloaded this app for strength training, but after a few workouts, my plan included a workout focused on stretching (or mobility, as Nike calls it). I found out I really enjoyed this. I used to do martial arts, and I always loved the stretching time we had at the beginning of each meeting. Intentional, guided stretching feels amazing. And that’s the great thing about Nike+ Training Club: whether I want to burn calories or chill out and calm myself down at the end of the day, there’s always a workout available! ••


Have an app suggestion, feedback, or just want to say Hi? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com.

Windows Down with VeloCity

VeloCity – Free on the App Store

One of my favorite parts of summer is driving with my windows down. The problem is, I’m constantly adjusting the volume. When I’m going fast, I have to turn it way up, but then I pull up to a stoplight and my music is blasting, so I turn it down. Then the light turns green and I have to crank the volume up again. Last summer I was riding somewhere with my girlfriend, and I decided that there had to be a better way. One Google search later, I found VeloCity.

VeloCity is a simple app that automatically adjusts your volume based on your speed. My girlfriend and I were blown away by how well VeloCity works. Honestly, at first I didn’t think it was working, because the volume matched the noise of the wind so well, I didn’t even notice it. It didn’t sound like anything special was happening; the volume of the music over the wind stayed about the same, exactly as it should. It’s like magic. Once you’ve used VeloCity, you’ll never go back to changing your volume constantly as you drive.

VeloCity’s automatic mode works pretty well, so you can be up and running immediately after opening the app. There’s also a custom settings option which allows a little more control (my settings are shown in the screenshot above). VeloCity is a fantastic little app that does exactly what it promises with zero hassle. And it’s free, so what do you possibly have to lose? Summer’s coming! ••


Have an app suggestion, feedback, or just want to say Hi? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com.

New Workflows from 2016: 2Do

Hi everyone!  I’m finally on Christmas break for the year, so I’ve got some more free time, and I wanted to get back to the blog and do some writing.  A lot has changed in the way I use my tech in the past year.  I’ve discovered several new apps that have really changed the way I use my devices to get things done.  That being said, I wanted to share a few of them over the next couple of weeks.

One app I’ve just started using is 2Do.  I’d been using the stock iOS reminders app for almost 4 years now, and it’s never worked away I wanted.  2Do, on the other hand, meshes with the way I use reminders perfectly, and I really enjoy using it.  This post isn’t meant to be an app review, it’s more just a commentary on the way I use 2Do to get things done.


The way I used the reminders app was weird.  I had all notifications except the app badge turned off, and all reminders set for the morning (the default time of 9am).  That way, everything was technically “overdue,” and the app badge just showed my total number of tasks for the day (side note: I know some people hate app badges but I love them and think they’re incredibly helpful and useful).  That worked OK, because most of my tasks aren’t time specific.  But that meant I couldn’t make a reminder that went off at a certain time (or location) if I wanted to, since notifications were off.  This system had once worked for me, but more and more now it felt like I was fighting it (and don’t get me started on fighting the Reminders app itself).

I know there’s lots of great to do list apps out there, but I refuse to use one that doesn’t at least sync with iOS reminders: I simply can’t give up setting reminders with Siri.  I had initially overlooked 2Do because I didn’t think it supported iOS reminders – it doesn’t ask to access your reminders the way it would photos or contacts.  However, 2Do supports syncing with iCloud reminders as a CalDAV server.  This seems odd to me, but it does work, so no complaints I guess (and I’m sure there’s a good reason for this that I don’t understand).

One of the most important features 2Do has is separate due dates and alarm times.  This means I can have most of my reminders due on a certain day, without that 9am alarm, and yet still have notifications on for other alerts.  I ended up turning off notifications for 2Do and letting the stock reminders app handle them, just in case I add a reminder with Siri that goes off before 2Do gets a chance to sync.  More on the way I implemented Siri later.

Before that I want to talk about the app itself.  It runs so much better than the stock reminders app, which is always crashing for me.  And it has so many more features, like due dates and tags and projects with subtasks.  Some of these advanced items are a little wonky when they sync over to the reminders app, which I still use on the Mac (because 2Do for Mac is $50), but it’s not a big deal.  I realized that I’d really outgrown the Reminders app; I really need the extra power of 2Do.

Speaking of power, the last thing I want to talk about in 2Do is smart lists.  2Do has unbelievable search and filter tools, with lots of keywords and AND/OR/! logic operator support.  My first smart list is my “Today and Location” smart list, which uses the search: !hide type: nodue OR overdue OR duetoday.  This list shows everything due today (or that I missed prior), and the “nodue” keyword includes location-based reminders (which don’t have a due date).  This list also excludes anything with the “hide” tag.

My other smart list is my “Inbox” for tasks I’ve set with Siri.  Trying to implement Siri was a conundrum.  I wanted alerts if I told Siri to “remind me in two hours” or “remind me when I get home,” but I didn’t want that default 9am reminder for something I set for next week.  So first I went to the reminders app and created a new default list named “Siri.”  Any new reminders created with Siri go on this list, but 2Do’s default list is still my standard “Reminders” list.  All this mess brings me to my smart list: !hide Siri type: alarms AND !duetoday OR nodue AND nolocation.  This shows all reminders: #1 On my Siri list, #2 That still have an alarm, and #3 That aren’t set “in two hours” or “when I get home.”  I then just keep an eye on this list and remove the alarms on any task that show up here (and then they disappear from the Inbox because they no longer match #2).

Is this a little convoluted and maybe even absurd?  Sure.  Does it fit the way my brain gets things done and help me accomplish more?  Oh yes.  ••

 

January App Review: Tiny Scanner

App: Tiny Scanner
Developer: Appxy
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

After switching from Evernote to the new iOS Notes app (more on that in a future post), I lost the excellent Evernote document scanner.  Because of that, I needed a new app.  Enter Tiny Scanner.


Tiny Scanner is a simple app that pretty much does what it says.  You point the phone at a document and take a picture.  After that, it automatically selects what it thinks the region of the photo that contains the page, and you adjust that as needed.

Then the magic happens.  Have you ever taken a picture of a document with the camera app?  I’m guessing the photo didn’t come out very well.  I mean, I’m sure it was usable, but it’s certainly not pretty.  The paper is an off-white, the page probably isn’t completely straight, and there’s a big shadow of your hand on half the page.  Tiny Scanner processes the photo into black and white, with a truly white background and nice, crisp, dark text.

And that’s honestly about it.  You can choose between a black and white document, a color document, or just the unprocessed photo.  You can also choose how dark the text is, sort of like a photocopier.  Then you just save it as a PDF, and share it to any app.

One more cool thing – what happens if you already took that awful, discolored, crooked photo?  You could go dig up the original document again, or you can simply import the photo in Tiny Scanner, and it’ll do it’s regular processing.  Neat!

There’s lots of share options that Tiny Scanner gives you, but most of them require the $5 Pro version.  However, if you click “Open In,” you’ll get the default iOS share sheet (which I prefer to almost any app-generated share sheet), you can share to Notes, Evernote, Dropbox, and many other apps.  Since I’m using the Notes app, that means I don’t need the Pro version.  One more limitation with the free version: you can only have two scans saved in the app at one time.  Again, since I’m exporting everything to Notes, this isn’t really an issue, but it’s sort of a pain to have to delete old documents every time.

A document scanner was basically the only thing I lost when I jumped ship from Evernote, and Tiny Scanner filled that gap nicely.  It looks nice, it’s simple to use, and it works great.  What more could I ask for?  ••

December App Review: IFTTT

App: IFTTT (If This Then That)
Price: Free
Developer: IFTTT
Platforms: iOS, Android

This one is honestly less about the app and more about the service, but it’s a really cool service so I decided that it was worth writing a review for.  If This Then That is a service that connects all your other web services – like Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, and so on.  You create simple statements that connect actions from one account to actions in another, things like “IF someone tags me in a photo on Facebook THEN save that photo to my Dropbox.”  Neat right?  Here I’m going to briefly cover the app, and then talk about three of my favorite recipes (what IFTTT calls each trigger-action combo).

 

The app is really simple and straightforward.  Opening the app shows some suggested recipes at the top, and below is a history of all your recipes and when they fired.  It’s really cool if you’re curious what IFTTT has been doing for you lately.  Tapping the mortar and pestle in the top corner opens up your recipes.  Here you can turn them on or off, see their individual histories, or create new ones.  Of course, you can do all this from IFTTT.com, but the app is an easy way to keep up with recipes on the go.  It also unlocks other channels, like iOS Photos and Reminders or Android Location and SMS.

Now I want to talk about three recipes I either currently use or have used in the past.  The first (in the order of the screenshot above) is for RSS subscriptions.  I have a recipe that takes an RSS feed and puts every article in my Pocket account so I can read them later.  Lately, I’ve been using Apple News for most of my reading, but iMore’s Pixel Project comic is good enough that I want to make sure I see all of them.

Second is a way to save pictures I’ve like on Instagram.  I’ve played around with different ways to do this, everything from having them emailed to me to saving them automatically to my phone.  I don’t keep most of the pictures this saves, but if a friend of mine posts a group shot of all of us there’s no way I’m going to let that pass me by.

The last one is a great way to link Twitter and Instagram.  When posting to Instagram, you can also publish your post to Twitter, but it doesn’t show up an a Twitter image, just an Instagram link (unless, of course, you’re using Tweetbot.  And you should be).  This recipe takes your Instagram post and puts it on Twitter as a regular image tweet.  This is nice first because the image looks a lot nicer, and because you don’t have to tap to publish to Twitter every single time.  It’s all automatic.

I’ve covered three recipes here, but I’ve only scratched the surface of what IFTTT can do.  IFTTT supports 245 channels, from every social media you can think of, to smart home devices, to fitness and wearables.  It’s a great service, and I totally recommend you check it out.  Oh yeah, and download the app too.  ••

November App Review: Evernote

App: Evernote
Developer: Evernote
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

I’ve mentioned Evernote several times before, both while talking about iOS widgets and Mac apps, so it made sense to write a full app review of it.  Evernote is an app I use every day, for all kinds of things, and it’s good at what it does.  I’m going to focus this review on the three things I primarily use Evernote for: memos, working towards being paperless, and school.


The reason I originally got Evernote was just for a simple alternative to the iOS Notes app.  I was generally happy with Notes, except that syncing took place through my IMAP email account, so that meant that changes didn’t carry over to other devices immediately.  I got tired of this and decided to give Evernote a try.  Honestly, if this is all you use Evernote for, it’s a little overkill, and the Notes app is actually simpler and easier to use.  However, it works well enough, and by downloading the app I was found out about its other useful features.

Like the document scanner.  I’m not a paperless fanatic, but I often find myself with a sheet of paper that I will most likely never need again, but I can’t quite bring myself to throw away.  I’ve taken to snapping a picture of these and putting it in Evernote, and then I can throw away the paper and stop worrying about it.  But here’s the cool part: Evernote’s camera isn’t just a camera.  If you take a picture of a document, Evernote will process the image, making the page white and the text darker.  It even does a pretty good job of removing your shadow on the page when you took the picture.  On top of all that, it attempts to OCR the documents, so that you can search them later.  I’ve found the searching to be hit or miss, but it’s still cool, and the scanner is great even without it.

The last thing I use Evernote for is for school documents.  Up until this semester, I was really just using Evernote for the two things above, barely tapping into its potential.  About a month into this semester though, I found myself staring at my Dropbox documents folder.  It was littered with all kinds of things – syllabi, teachers’ powerpoint slides, as well as documents I’d done myself to turn in as homework.  There was no organization.  I know I could’ve done that with folders, but it just didn’t seem as nice.  So I decided to throw all that stuff into Evernote, and I’ve been really happy with the results.  It’s great, because I have a pretty good mix of files from teachers, papers to scan, and just plain notes, and Evernote handles all of these together with ease.  I’ve got a notebook for each class I’m in, and Evernote makes it easy to keep everything all in one place.

Obviously then, I really like Evernote.  But I’ve been eyeing something else lately, the new iOS Notes app.  Notes finally are simply stored in iCloud, instead of on your mail server (an outdated system), so that fixes my aforementioned syncing problem.  The Notes app has also been updated to support documents, nicer looking links and pictures, and even drawing.  Not to mention, the Notes app interface is more straightforward than Evernote’s.  So I’m intrigued.  I’m not sure yet whether I’ll make the switch; I’m thinking I’ll try it next semester (instead of moving all my current school stuff over now), and see how it goes.  Even if I end up switching, though, I still think Evernote is a great tool for keeping things safe and organized, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for something a little more robust than the stock Notes app.  ••