writing about tech

Tag: apps

My favorite Apple Watch apps so far

Someone asked what my favorite Apple Watch apps were so far, and I boiled it down to this core list:

* RunKeeper, in tandem with the Exercise app. I like being able to control my GPS-driven workout app from my wrist. Being able to switch between them with a double-click of the Digital Crown is a nice touch.

* Overcast. I usually just control podcast playback from the media controls Glance, but sometimes I want more control, or sometimes my iPhone will get confused and play music instead of a podcast.

* Dark Sky. I find I use its Glance rather than the Weather glance, and I find its functionality – a detailed forecast for the next hour and the rest of the day – complimentary to the built-in Weather app’s function of giving me a longer-term forecast.

* Wunderlist. Love this app. I use both the Glance and the app to check for my to-do list. Great for shopping, too.

* Shazam. Now that I can launch Shazam right from my wrist, I actually use it again.

I have some others installed, but those are the only ones I’d qualify as a must-have. Deliveries almost makes the cut, but I don’t need to check my package status often enough to open the app more than one or twice a day, much less use the Glance.

I will say that having a Watch app available means I am more likely to try out app out – for example, I knew Overcast and Deliveries both existed for awhile, and I’d heard great things about both, but didn’t bother to try them out until I heard they had Watch apps. Now, I use and love both services.

Goodbye Any.Do, Hello Wunderlist

I’ve been a happy user of Any.Do for a couple of years now – I use it every day in an attempt to at least pretend my life is somewhat organized.  One of my favorite aspects of it is that I can tie into the “note to self” command in Google Now and generate to-do items that way. In fact, it’s quickly become the most common way I add items to it.

Last week, The Verge did a “This Is My Next” on to-do apps and came to the conclusion that Wunderlist was the best.  I tried Wunderlist years ago during my initial search, but wasn’t impressed, and eventually ended up settling on Any.Do.

So why was I looking at switching in the first place?  Well, primarily because Any.Do doesn’t support “note to self” functionality on Android Wear.  This may sound trivial, but considering how much I’m using voice commands recently, I find it’s a pretty glaring omission.  Even worse, it appears as though Any.Do has no interest in adding Android Wear support any time soon:

A little bit of research (read: Google searches) quickly revealed that Wunderlist did support Android Wear, and as a bonus, even had a native OS X app. After using it as my only to-to do app for the last week, I’m definitely matching the switch.  Not only does it have the Android Wear support I wanted, but Wunderlist’s style of list organization seems to better match the way I want things organized – Any.Do’s choices of “Today”, “Tomorrow”, “Upcoming” and “Someday” weren’t quite cutting it, especially when I knew I wanted to do something later in the week on a specific day. As a bonus, its DashClock extension is a bit better, as it shows my total count for the day as well as multiple items, rather than just the single item of the Any.Do extension:

2014-09-27 22.42.18

Really, though, my choice comes down almost entirely to the Android Wear support. Many ideas often come to me only when I’m biking or running, and if I don’t immediately write them down in some way, they’re forgotten.  With Wunderlist, a quick “note to self” voice command ensures that the idea is safely tucked away in Wunderlist’s Inbox, ready to be assigned a due date and specific sub-list if needed.

Ideally, in the future, Wunderlist will have a full-fledged Android Wear app similar to the Google Keep app I use as a hands-free shopping list:

2014-09-22 18.01.25

For now, though, I’m thrilled that the functionality I’ve been looking for since I picked up the Moto 360 is available – it’s just a bonus that Wunderlist’s style of organization seems to better match my own than Any.Do’s did.

I still think Any.Do is a great service, and I’d still recommend it – but it’s no longer my first choice.  This just goes to show how there’s multiple “great services” in almost every mobile app category, and that even the smallest feature can be a differentiator for some people.

Why I stopped using SwiftKey

First off: I love SwiftKey.  For a couple of years, it was easily the best software keyboard I’d ever used on any phone, and its existence was a large part of the reason I stuck with Android.   Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and about two months ago, SwiftKey and I broke up.

Why? Well, I met someone else.  Specifically, I met Fleksy.  Now, obviously, one doesn’t go looking for something new unless they’re unhappy.  So why was I unhappy with SwiftKey?  One issue, but a major one: performance.

One area where I’m particularly picky when it comes to response time is with keyboards.  There’s absolutely no excuse for lag or stuttering when I’m trying to type – it ruins the rhythm of typing and makes the whole experience just feel “off”.   It wasn’t just typing itself, though – there was often a noticeable delay between when I wanted to start typing and SwiftKey would actually appear, and it also tended to linger around the screen after exiting whatever I’m doing.  Sometimes the delay would be for a couple of seconds in either case – and that’s just unacceptable.  I honestly think SwiftKey has just gotten too bloated for its own good and needs to be slimmed down – perhaps the developers make a “SwiftKey Lite” available for those of us who just want SwiftKey’s amazing autocorrection/prediction algorithm and nothing else.

I’ve tolerated with SwiftKey’s lag for the last year or so, though, simply because it’s so good at autocorrection and prediction.  Every time I tried something new, I’d end up going back, because even with the stuttering, I could type faster with it than I could with either the Sense or the stock Android keyboards.  Fleksy, however, finally lured me over with a combination of things:

  1. A gorgeous design with great animations.  Sure, that’s subjective and irrelevant functionality-wise, but it’s nice to enjoy using something that you literally have to use every day.
  2. Quick performance.  I’ve yet to feel the keyboard hesitate for even a moment – it’s as fast as the stock keyboard experience.
  3. Good – but not best-in-class – predictions.  SwiftKey is still the gold standard when it comes to autocorrect and predictions; it’s almost creepy how well it learns your typing habits.  I feel like that comes at a cost, though, given the “heavy” nature of the app.
  4. Gestures.  Not Swype-typing, mind you, but the Fleky-specific gestures you use to delete words and change suggestions/punctuation are truly awesome once you spend a few days and get the hang of them.  It makes up for the not-quite-as-good prediction engine if I can easily choose the correct word without ruining my typing rhythm.

That does, however, lead me into the one major downside of Fleksy – no gesture-typing.  If you’re a huge fan of Swype or similar functionality in SwiftKey or the AOSP keyboard, Fleksy is not for you.  For those of us who tap-type, though, this is the keyboard I’d personally recommend going forward, especially if you’re willing to put in a little bit of time to add words to your personal dictionary and learn the Fleksy-specific gestures.  I haven’t even touched on other areas of Fleksy, like the ability to resize the keyboard to fit your ideal height, or even to make it invisible entirely if you really trust your typing ability.

Software keyboards are among the most personal apps available; everyone’s going to have their favorite, and no one is “wrong” – people just do things differently, and we should be thrilled there are so many options available.  If you’re unsatisfied with some aspect of your current keyboard, give Fleksy a try for a week or; it’s free for a month, so there’s no immediate commitment.  On the other hand, if you’ve never tried SwiftKey, either, give that a shot, too!  You may be less picky than me, and it’s completely free now, so there’s really no reason not to.

Why I Uninstalled Foursquare (and Swarm)

Uninstalling an app I’ve used for years is a big move for me, because I hate giving up on things – but this weekend, after a couple of weeks of debating it, I finally gave Swarm and Foursquare the boot.

I’ve never really cared all that much where my friends were checking in – beyond the basic thrill of voyeurism – but it was entertaining to compete with them for mayorships and points.  When traveling, my friend and I would often race to be the first to check in to a new place, just for the extra points.  It was incredibly stupid and arbitrary, but like many things that are stupid and arbitrary, it was also pretty fun.

I was hopeful when I first heard that Foursquare was breaking out check-ins into their own app, Swarm, since Foursquare had started to feel a bit bloated lately, and an app devoted entirely to check-ins could have been a great move.  What I didn’t know it that they were also taking away the things I cared about most – I had to hop over to Foursquare’s blog to find that out.

Long story short:

  • Points?  Gone, because apparently they “became arbitrary and less reflective of real-world achievement”.  You know what they say – if there’s something slightly broken with a core system in your product, throw it out entirely.
  • Mayorships?  Neutered in favor of Mayorship 2.0: “With these new mayorships, if you and a couple friends have been checking in to a place, the person who has been there the most lately gets a crown sticker. Mayors 2.0 means that places can have many different mayors, one for each circle of friends, instead of just a single mayor at each place.”  Of course, if you rarely check in to the same place as your friends do, this is a completely worthless “upgrade”.  That was the purpose of points; to compete with friends without having to go to all the same places they do.
  • Badges? Gone, because apparently “badges stopped feeling special a long time ago.”  Thanks for telling me how I feel, Foursquare. Now, instead of badges, we get stickers – because apparently stickers are what makes me feel special now. Oh, Foursquare – how did you know?

Foursquare has, essentially, mined the information I’ve given them for years, then removed everything that made the product attractive to me, all in a (perhaps desperate) attempt to become more like Yelp.  The problem is, I don’t need Foursquare to be like Yelp, because I already have an app like Yelp – it’s called Yelp.  What I need is for Foursquare to be like Foursquare.

The current version of Swarm currently has a whopping 2 stars on the iTunes app store from 256 users, so it seems appropriate to close with a rant from one such dissatisfied customer:

As someone with 17,000 Foursquare checkins over the last 4 years, I would like to say a few things.

I got into Foursquare for the social gaming aspect. It was so fun to check in everywhere I went and earn points, badges, and mayorships. I met friends through Foursquare and tracked my long distance family. I even became a super user to help build the amazing database of locations and information that Foursquare has become.

Fast forward to present day Swarmsquare. What do you have here? A simple app to flush the original users out of the system. The ones that created the database Foursquare is now selling to the public. All the original users lose everything they enjoyed about Foursquare and must now juggle Swarmsquare apps if they want even the slightest semblance of what used to be.

0/5 stars for alienating your original customer base and losing the entire soul of Foursquare.

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