Category Archives: Mac Apps

Coffee Shop Computing circa Dec 2012

Let’s agree that computing extends to iPads and iPhones, tablets and smartphones and the iPod touch. I prefer to get my morning exercise and some caffeinated computing done while outside the house at a local coffee spot. My rule is that I can’t go play at the local coffee shop unless I walk there. Seems fair.

I have a near weightless REI backpack to carry my gear – the kind designed for carrying water while cycling. Here is my current configuration:

  • retina MacBook Pro 13″
  • iPad 3 and/or iPad mini
  • iPhone 5

With this lineup, there’s no need for an extra keyboard, I’ll use the rMBP if there’s much typing involved. And love every minute of it. Cost 3.5 lbs.

Favorite writing apps include Day One, Byword and iA Writer. I’ve grown to prefer apps that support markdown because rich text isn’t universally supported across apps and is especially weak on iOS. I also prefer doing my email (Mail), strenuous web research (Safari) , free form diagramming (Scapple) and other non-iOS work like FileMaker Pro development on Mac (I just finished release 12 of my Studio Manager product – yay!). I got a lot more enthused about Mac once I acquired this retina wonder in October.

Reading, which is probably the biggest chunk of my time on these outings, is done on iPad 3 with its awesome retina and better reading form factor. It’s almost a toss up between the 3 and my cute, svelte, nearly weightless iPad mini. I often take both of these so I have the choice between the sheer eye pleasure of retina or the feather-weight delight of the mini. If you take the iPad 3, what’s another .68 lbs? Both offers you the chance to switch away from the iPad 3 if it starts feeling heavy after a while. The already rumored retina mini may make this twosome obsolete next year. The only casualty in all this has been a Kindle – I haven’t popped for a nearly free ($119) Kindle Paperwhite due to lack of juggling capability. Even I have my limits.

Where does that leave the iPhone 5 then? This handheld of choice is still relevant my friends. The form factor is incredibly ahem handy especially when moving or in line. You still can’t beat the ease of use you get when in motion – walking to and from my coffee place of choice. If not in hand, it is in pocket and ready at a moment’s notice. I still prefer this little guy when reading in bed or on the couch in many cases. This preference will probably go away once the retina iPad mini is here. But the iPhone 5 awesome retina – better than ever due to blacker blacks, is a serious competitor for reading with the much less rewarding text of the iPad mini. Don’t forget all those lines we wait in. The omnipresent iPhone 5 is there by your side. No pack or purse required. It doesn’t hurt that it has cellular data either.

Writing on Mac, iPad, iPhone – Best Apps

iPad, Macbook Air, iPhone 4 side by sideThese days people have two, three even four computers when you count smartphones and tablets. It helps a lot if the writing tools you have can roam freely between Mac, iPad and iPhone. Some apps I recommend work on all three which can be ideal. I’ll look at four different writing situations and the top app for each.

Besides app power, one must consider return on learning curve and whether or not an app has staying power. Evernote, for example,  recently acquired additional millions in  funding so can tick the staying power checkbox with an exclamation mark. Money isn’t everything, though. Nimble and innovative independent developers, like Marco Arment of Instapaper fame, have often beaten out much better endowed competitors.

As an independent knowledge professional, two things are critical:

  • You can’t do your work without Tools and Technology.
  • Time is short – Learning curves need to be kept in check.

Going Apple. By consolidating around Apple products right now, you save time on those infernal learning curves and position yourself for the future. With iPhone and iPad hitting the top customer satisfaction ratings year after year, it behooves you to choose them if you already have a Mac.  The trifecta of Mac-iPad-iPhone is the most streamlined, powerful, future-proof toolkit available.

iPad is Where the Action Is. I’ve been focusing on the iPad in this blog since the first iPad came out March 2010. Most posts are about iPad apps for knowledge professionals. The reason I focus here is that the iPad is changing the way we work. Knowledge professionals need to learn about this new kind of computer and what it can do for you.

These are early days. There are lots of apps and some are still getting better at a rapid rate. There are clear winners but victory is fleeting. Some apps have benefitted by being early but have lagged and can’t compete a year or two later. Newer entrants that took more time to make better apps or have leveraged the latest iOS, hardware and emerging ideas, have taken the lead in many cases. Writing Kit and Drafts are perfect examples.

Since I write software myself, albeit using FileMaker Pro (which does have an iPad and iPhone counterpart by the way), I focus on the software for iPad and iPhone.

Mac Still Matters. The Mac is part of the picture and Mac apps can be synergetic partners with iPad and iPhone apps. That’s Apple’s plan. Apple isn’t pushing the Mac so much as it is reinventing computing on all three of its platforms: Mac, iPad and iPhone.

The Cloud is the Glue. The fourth partner in the mix is the Cloud and iCloud. Dropbox has developed quite a following among iPhone and iPad users, especially for those who want to do a bit of real work on their mobile device(s). Since iOS has this quirk of not having a shared storage place on board (like the Finder on Mac), you can substitute the Dropbox cloud for that shared storage spot.

The couple of gigs Dropbox provides is enough for most document sharing schemes and you can get more by inviting friends or paying a few bucks. I have light concerns about security from hackers, lost laptops and government prying eyes but Dropbox is so handy that I use it anyway as needed – without overdoing it. By the way, I have least concerns about Apple than any other cloud provider which leads me to iCloud.

iCloud. The new Cloud on the block. The “it just works” thing about iCloud is completely addictive. I turned iCloud on in February and it has been working flawlessly for me. These are still early days, though, since most apps don’t support iCloud yet. Brooks Review just wrote a good piece on iCloud today.

Dropbox Does Have Advantages. The one issue with iCloud is it doesn’t allow for sharing data between apps. But Dropbox does. It takes a decent app to be programmed to allow you to use the same dropbox folder or all dropbox folders, but when it is, you can then avoid using many folders for similar kinds of things if you happen to be using three or so writing apps which is what I am going to recommend in a minute.

My Top Picks for Writing Apps

Four Kinds of Writing Apps. Writing is a big deal for a knowledge professionals and all writing is not alike. I recommend you have at least two writing apps and I use three. That doesn’t count some other Mac apps that come into play from time to time.

Drafts App iConCapturing Quick Notes. Right now the coolest capture app on iPhone is Drafts from Agile Tortoise. What makes it great for capture is that when you open the app, it instantly creates a new document, handles naming for you, and brings up the keyboard. If you have the iPhone 4S, you also get a microphone key that lets you dictate the note. Also, Drafts excels at getting your notes from Drafts to where you need them for a project. You can send your note on to email, the clipboard, Dropbox, Pages, Writing Kit, Elements, iA Writer, Byword, PlainText, WriteRoom, TaskPaper and more. Drafts is a great example of do one thing well and play well with others. This is a great new trend for apps on the iPad and iPhone. Drafts is not yet available on iPad, there you may want to go with your favorite distraction free text editor to get a speedy open for those important fleeting thoughts and notes. (Drafts 99¢ in the App store).

Distraction Free Pure Writing. Most of the best plain text editor writing apps these days offer a really good distraction free writing experience. The best experience is iA Writer, but there is competition here. Just know that iA Writer is super simple, clean and pristine with a truly great monospaced font. Also, iA Writer is available across the board on Mac ($8.99 in the Mac App Store), iPad and iPhone (iOS Universal app 99¢). That’s where you get the most mileage if all 3 apps are really good which is the case with iA Writer (iA stands for Information Architects and that’s what these people are). If you are willing to go down a notch in clean and simple but still want distraction reduction, try Byword. Byword is also available on Mac ($10), iPad and iPhone ($3) and it is more powerful and gives you some customization options in return for a wee bit of distraction.

Longer Document Online Writing. I just wrote about this option in my last piece on why you should be using Writing Kit for iPad and iPhone when you write. Writing Kit is a pleasure to use with some great typefaces, a wonderful extra keyboard row, built-in Duck Duck Go search and a browser plus deep integration with Instapaper and much more. Here’s where you can write your blog post, eBook or anything that will require a bit of onine research along the way. The only weaknesses here are that this is a full-on rig! Writing Kit gets out of your way, but its powerful tools at your fingertips aren’t going to provide quite the pristine zen-like experience of an iA Writer. However, what you get in return is sheer efficiency with a lot less time lost to interminable app-switching. ($5 for both iPad/iPhone).

Word Processing. I seem to avoid this category more often than not, but you may either have a long-term love affair with Microsoft Office, have to live with it due to company policy, or just want a real word processor for your writing needs. If so and you have a choice, you should start with Pages which is available for $20 on Mac and $10 for the universal app for iPad and iPhone. Pages has great iCloud document handling which will get even better in Mountain Lion (right now the Mac is lagging iOS relative to iCloud and you have to actually download things yourself from iCloud when on a Mac. I also highly recommend Keynote at the same prices as an amazing all-purpose creation app that will do graphics, outlining, presentation-creation and animation. It’s not strictly a writing app but you sure will find it handy and it does work with all 3 of the holy trinity.

One Last Thing to Look Forward to. I’m a sucker for index cards as an organizing tool and really think Scrivener on Mac rocks. It’s available on Windows too. Scrivener on Mac is so hot that I am willing to hold out a lot of hope for what we will see when they release their iPad and iPhone versions of Scrivener. Beware of vaporware, folks but this could be really good. Meanwhile, these various writing apps are so good that I would never wait before meeting my needs now with what is real and available on iPad and iPhone. Happy writing!

Why Knowledge Professionals Should Try iBooks Author Now

Independent Knowledge Professionals benefit greatly from writing eBooks. Writing a book puts you on the map as an expert in one stroke. Since you are a knowledge professional, you can also augment your income by selling knowledge products, especially eBooks. A small eBook purchase can be the starting point for a future full-service client. You’ll be writing non-fiction books, the kind that benefit most from graphics, charts and other engaging elements that old-style eBooks don’t provide.

I Thought iBooks Author Was for Textbooks. Not really. Actually, Apple says it is for lots of other kinds of books too. They are just leading with text books right now. Think reports, of the jaw-dropping variety. If you give one of these eBook reports away, you don’t even have to talk to Apple or give them a percentage.  You can post a link to your website or send it in an email.

Ebook Prep Sucks — Until Now. We’ve been stuck with arcane and limited tools to create eBooks. This patchwork quilt of marginal tools has been perfect for eBook prep specialists, but a nightmare for independent knowledge professionals who can’t spend all their spare time fiddling with unwieldy tech. Writing is hard and time-consuming as it is.

Apple’s new iBooks Author solves these problems. It is easy to use and lets you add tables, graphics and widgets to your eBooks. There is a catch in that the eBooks made by iBooks Author require an iPad for display. I’ll explain why that limitation isn’t something that should stop you.

System Requirements for iBooks Author. First the bad news, you need an iPad to display your eBook while it is in progress and you need a Macintosh running OSX Lion. If you already have an iPad and are running Lion, you are set. Otherwise, read on to see if it would be worth your while to upgrade and/or expand your technology now.

Compelling Reasons to Adopt iBooks Author Now. It’s the only end-user eBook creation tool. There are no other options if you want your eBook to look the least bit good short of spending a lot of money for it to be created in InDesign and even then it won’t look that good in the Kindle Format. There’s a new Kindle Format that is supposed to be good for media-rich eBooks, but there’s no creation tool for it yet. Cross that off your list.

Apple has leapt into the void here. If you are writing novels or non-fiction that doesn’t require illustration, you could scrape by using current tools if you could figure or hire them out. But knowledge professionals need to illustrate ideas with visuals. You can open up iBooks Author and start inserting graphics and more in a few minutes. The output on an iPad will be delightful.

Kindlestore vs. iBookstore. Right now Kindle books are the only game in town you say or may have heard. That’s true up to a point but that point of change is now. Even Amazon has started to abandon the lame eBook format (Mobi) they’ve been using and replaced it with what they are calling Kindle 8 which allows for decent graphics and interactivity (see above). Amazon released the Kindle Fire and broke all their own rules about how e-Ink is the best way to read books.

A lot of people compare the Kindle Fire to the Kindle Touch and like the Fire better for books because of the vivid color and responsiveness. I don’t think things will end well for e-Ink devices. They are niche devices in a world that is filling rapidly with full-featured iPhones, Android and Windows phones and iPads.

Ebooks Won’t Stop at Imitating Paper Books. Paper books are wonderful, but as we move to digital, other possibilities emerge that cannot be ignored. For example, iBooks Author lets you add glossary words in your eBooks. You get the most gorgeous glossary (with search) at the back of the book without any additional effort. And, automatically, the reader gets electronic flash cards that allow them to review and test their recall and comprehension. The eBooks you create for the iPad are truly eBooks. They are apps as well as books without you being a programmer — at all!

But, Shouldn’t You Wait and See? Maybe Apple will fall on its face this time. Don’t bet on it. The cost of waiting is that others will be there before you. Early adopters on this Apple juggernaut will be learning things as the technology rolls out. They will be looking tech savvy with eye-popping eBooks they’ve created themselves — running on the most desirable gadgets of our times.

Some technology is a pain and not worth adopting early. But, iBooks Author is made by Apple and is simple and easy. It is designed to be something anyone can pick up and use. I like blogging software like WordPress and recommend it to independent knowledge professionals, but iBooks Author is much more powerful yet as easy as using Pages or Keynote (Word or Powerpoint).

Resources. There is already a $4.99 eBook available that teaches you how to use iBooks Author. The title is iBooks Author: Publishing Your First eBook. The author is Maria Langer, an established tech writer who has written over 50 books. The moment iBooks Author was announced, Maria spent day and night and wrote, edited and prepared the book over a ten day period.

Even if you don’t have an iPad yet, you can check out Maria’s book or eBook and the materials and videos at This first version of Maria’s book is created with traditional tools to get the book in your hands as quickly as possible. She is working on a fancy iBooks 2 version but I recommend getting in on the ground floor now. Don’t wait for the fancy book. I plan to buy the iBooks 2 version for my iPad when it is available, but this chance to get a jumpstart on a new kind of eBook is too good to pass up.

Writing on the iPad, Part 2 – Rich Text Options

This is part two of my inquiry into the current state of serious writing apps for the iPad. For most iPad-toting knowledge professionals, I would recommend my favorite Dropbox text editors as a good but stopgap option. I explain the advantages in that post. I also mention that rich text is more fun at minimum. If you are so inclined to make something bold as you are writing, you should be able to do that. We’ve come to expect this and for good reason.

Unfortunately, rich text options on the iPad are still limited. The main two places to find some rich text editing on iPad is in Word Processors like Pages and the Word options in Office compatible apps like Documents to Go and in a some Notebook and Note-taking apps. I will cover my favorites.


Just a quick word on Mail. In iOS 5, Mail received the ability to bold, italicize and underline text. Yay for that. A little bit of rich text creeping into the iPhone and iPad. Rich text has a future, it’s just a little slow in rolling out.

Traditional Word Processors

Time is running out for the traditional word processor. We don’t write documents all the time anymore. We don’t write letters. Word Processing was designed for paper communications which are gradually dying out. However, the alternatives that are growing up to take their place are rarely as powerful and full-featured.

This option is especially useful to those who have a predilection for Microsoft Word or Pages on the desktop. It is not uncommon for computer users to use one application for almost everything. You have an application you are comfortable and competent with and tend to look there when attempting to do something with a document. That’s not a bad way to go although sometimes you’ll be trying to use your tool of choice on projects that don’t fit very well…

Pages is available on the iPad and there are several Office compatible apps that include Word-a-like functionality. Let’s take a look. All of these will give you rich text capabilities.

Pages ($10 – #3 Top Grossing iPad app). If you are already using Pages on your Mac, Pages on the iPad is the first place you should look for a word processor. Pages for iPad is much less powerful than Pages on Mac but it is more powerful than any dropbox text editor by a country mile. And it looks good and feels good to use. If you haven’t already bought Pages, look and see if it has the power you are seeking. The main drawback to Pages for iPad is that it doesn’t support Dropbox or other options besides iCloud. If you have gotten up and running with iCloud, this is your best bet.

The promise of iCloud is transparent syncing from Mac to iPad and back. I haven’t read enough manuals yet to be assured that iCloud is safe yet. If you have MobileMe, multiple Apple IDs and generally are dragging your feet regarding the still largely unproven iCloud, you will be stuck using iTunes to get documents from Mac to iPad and back. It works but is clumsy compared to Dropbox options. When iCloud just works, it will reign supreme.

Office-a-likes. There are three leading Office-compatible apps on the iPad with variations: Documents to Go Premium ($19 – Word 2007, 2010 only #18 on Top Grossing iPad app), QuickOffice Pro HD ($20 – Doc & Docx #13 on Top Grossing iPad app) with Office2 HD ($8 – Doc & Docx) lagging behind. These are a little more expensive and I have not purchased any of these so I will bottom line what I’ve garnered in my research online. Documents to Go is the most Office-compatible but probably the least Mac-like. QuickOffice has the best user interface among these but slips down a notch in compatibility. Office2 HD is somewhere in between.

This is a bit of a pick your poison situation. If you must be compatible you are least likely to get an unpleasant surprise with Documents to Go which has a special capability that carefully preserves your desktop Office documents in full. QOPHD and O2HD sacrifice a little in compatibility for other virtues. Pages also opens and saves to Word format but will omit features in Word that it doesn’t understand. Don’t use Pages, QO or OHD2 to edit any but the most basic Word document created on the desktop that will get distributed as a Word doc.

Notebook & Note-taking Apps with Rich Text

Since we’ve already run out of options for word processors that can do rich text, the next stop is Notebook apps that can do Rich Text. I’m going to limit our discussion to notebook apps that are oriented towards allowing you to write something that resembles a document as opposed to putting in text boxes when you want to type (these are more like working in page layout mode – better for notes than more serious writing projects I think). These notebooks will flow the text and assume that text reigns above and beyond other objects which might be inserted.

OK. We are are simply writing here anyway, so does it matter whether you write in a word processor? Maybe it is OK to write in your notebook where you’ve put everything about this topic including images, web clips, your random notes, outlines, the works.

Keep in mind that you need to be able to get that writing back out of your notebook when you publish or distribute it in some way or other.

Evernote (Free). Just recently, Evernote for iPad has added the ability to edit notes and use rich text fairly extensively including bold, italic, strikethru, underline and the unexpected: highlight! You also get numbered lists and checkboxes. And Headings, Subheads, Paragraphs and Blockquotes. These are web-oriented but the web is a big piece of the action these days. Kindle’s new eBook format for the Kindle fire is HTML-based and ePub docs are full of HTML as well.

Evernote allows multiple notebooks and can be used free with lots of storage possible. Freemium  is done right. You are induced to upgrade with extra features, but the free version works really well on its own.

I did find some difficulty getting my rich text out of Evernote on the iPad. I found that if I synced the formatted text note to the cloud and opened the note on my Mac, I could copy and paste it into textedit and get rich text just fine with the exception that checkboxes for to do items did not come over. However, I couldn’t get rich text to paste into the iPad version of Pages.

I’m overall impressed and see Evernote for iPad as a viable rich text writing app. Evernote has gotten a huge amount of funding this year and looks like a really nice product with a great future. It is awesome for notes and support of multiple devices plus any web browser.

Circus Ponies Notebook ($30). Notebook supports rich text and has from the beginning. It is an alternative that has more bells and whistles than evernote including diagramming, scribbling, audio recording and outlining and colored text (actually, I like Evernote’s highlighting better but that’s a personal preference).

Circus Ponies Notebook is just beginning to hit its stride. It’s such a powerful app that it needs a lot of work to make all that functionality user-friendly by touch. At the price of free, Evernote is easier to like and recommend. On the other hand if you love the Mac version of Circus Ponies Notebook, you’ll be really happy to be able to bring your amazing notebooks with you on the road and around town.

All Purpose Writing Tools

Scrivener. This is a small category right now. I love Scrivener for Mac as an all purpose writing tool. It has outlining, index cards, rich text, supports markdown and much more. Unfortunately, Scrivener isn’t available on the iPhone or iPad. However, the makers of Scrivener, Literature & Latte have just announced a new project to bring Scrivener to iPad and iPhone in 2012.

Storyist ($10). In the meantime, a similar product dedicated to fiction writing does exist for iPad. It has outlining, index cards and rich text right now. Storyist has a Mac counterpart as well and really does best when used with the Mac counterpart which has more power. As a specialized writing app, Storyist is impressive. I bought it and hoped to twist it a bit to work for non-fiction. I’m sure it can be done but it looked to be difficult.

If you write fiction check out Storyist as an option and keep an eye out for Scrivener. I would guess it will be the latter half of 2012 before it shows up.