Monument Valley

Monument Valley

My latest iOS gaming obsession is Monument Valley, a new platformer inspired by the art of M.C. Escher. You play as Ida, a silent princess who must navigate a series of seemingly impossible architecture by solving puzzles and avoiding the Crow People and other strange inhabitants.

Each level presents a structure that looks impossible to traverse at first, but by moving or rotating sections of the environment, you can alter these optical illusions to create a path where none existed before. Watch the official trailer and you'll see what I mean.

Monument Valley - 2

As noted in a behind-the-scenes video, every stage is like a different work of art, beautiful enough to be printed out and hung on a wall. As you interact with Ida's world, you are greeted with pleasant sound effects and music, so I recommend playing with headphones for the best experience. (I wonder if the developers plan to release the soundtrack, because I would buy it.)

Monument Valley is one of the most gorgeous and thoughtfully considered games I've seen on iOS, one that answers the question, "Are video games art?" with a resounding yes! And it's only $4, so there's no reason not to treat yourself to one of the best iOS games of 2014.

Shawn Blanc's Preferred iPad Keyboard Setup

In my experience, the two most popular iPad keyboard setups have always been:

  1. Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, which is a keyboard, hard shell cover, and docking stand rolled into one.
  2. The combination of an Incase Origami Workstation and an Apple Bluetooth keyboard.

I use the former, while Shawn prefers the latter. His reasoning is perfectly solid:

“However, I have three quibbles with the keyboard case class of iPad keyboards (which includes cases, covers, folios, etc.)

  1. Most keyboard cases are designed to a specific iPad form factor. If you upgrade your iPad every so often, then you must also upgrade your keyboard case.
  2. Because I don’t mostly use an external keyboard when using my iPad, I don’t want a keyboard cover that attaches to my iPad. Though I do enjoy using the iPad for writing, that is not my chief task.
  3. For the iPad mini, it’s universally acknowledged that no good keyboard case exists. Of the ones that do fit onto an iPad mini, they have to be so small that they’re awkward and uncomfortable to type on.”

Point #2 is where I differ from Shawn. I actually do use my Logitech Ultrathin keyboard nearly constantly because all my writing is done from my iPad. Even when I'm not typing, I still keep my iPad docked on the Logitech just because it works so well as a stand and as a protective cover when closed. I almost consider it a part of my iPad at this point.

Like anything, each setup has its pros and cons. It all depends on your needs.

Fantastical 2 for iPad Released

Fantastical 2 has been my calendar app of choice for the past few months. My one quibble so far has been that it was only designed for iPhone. I have used it on my iPad in 2x mode, but it has never been a great experience.

That all changed with today's release of Fantastical 2 for iPad. All of Fantastical's key features—including the DayTicker and its ability to understand natural language input—have been carried over from the iPhone version. The main difference is that the iPad app takes full advantage of the larger screen to display more information at once. It's more than a basic calendar; it's a detailed dashboard for my schedule.

As it stands now, the iPhone version is where I will quickly create new events, and the iPad version is what I'll use to manage and review existing events. I recommend picking up both if you haven't already done so, especially since the iPad app is on sale for $10, a discount of 33%.

Diet Coda 1.5

Diet Coda is the code-editing app to get if you have to maintain websites from your iPad, and it just updated with some great new features. Files can now be stored locally and synced with Dropbox, and the app now supports a slew of new syntaxes, including Markdown. It's a $20 app, so only serious coders need apply.

The Best Pinboard App for iOS

Shawn Blanc invited me to write about iOS Pinboard apps for The Sweet Setup. It's a pretty crowded market these days, but after thoroughly testing the various Pinboard apps out there, we selected Pushpin as our top pick in the end. A very close second went to Pinswift.

Anyway, go check out the article and hit me up on Twitter to let me know what you think!

RealMac Wants to Make Things Right

Remember when RealMac came out with a new, separate version of Clear a while back, and it caused a bunch of confusion and frustration with their customers?

Well, now they want to clear the air (see what I did there?) once and for all, by going back to a single, universal version of the app and making it temporarily free so that everyone can easily migrate over:

“As Apple doesn’t offer a way to migrate users between copies of an app, we’re going to make Clear free for 24 hours so owners of Clear+ can move to the correct version free of charge.

To make sure as many people as possible can move to Clear, we’re going to do this twice in the next few weeks. We know this is risky - we rely on the income from Clear to run our small, independent company - and so whilst this was by no means an easy decision for us to make, we simply want to do the right thing for you, our customers.”

Chicago Avenue Moon

Chicago Avenue Moon

Thanks to my buddy Nate Boateng, I discovered an awesome new app called Chicago Avenue Moon. As the developer describes it:

“Chicago Avenue Moon is a responsive, generative music app that gathers a set of variables including date, time, phase of the moon, and GPS location, and uses that data to determine how its music unfolds, in real-time. The piece is intended for a listener in motion, whose route and speed affect the composition. Composer Joshua Dumas wrote 1000 brief musical phrases which the app manipulates, sequences, and layers to create trillions and trillions of variations, a unique experience with every listen.

He imagines the piece as a personalized soundtrack for strangers’ mundanities—an effort to help re-enchant a person’s daily commute, trip to the laundromat, or evening jog.”

As I just wrote about on Tools & Toys, the music this app generates is very akin to the Journey game soundtrack, which I love it for.

Chicago Avenue Moon is only $1 right now, and will go up to $2 after Feb 11th. I highly recommend checking it out. If nothing else, it will totally change the way you experience a nighttime walk.

iOS App Store's Best of 2013

Apple just unveiled their 2013 Best-Of charts, encompassing all the types of media found on the iTunes Store (music, movies, tv shows, apps, books, and podcasts). Each category is interesting enough to check out, but being the nerd I am, I was mainly interested in the App Store results.

Some highlights that particularly caught my attention:

  • VSCO Cam was runner-up for iPhone App of the Year, and deservedly so. It's the only photo editor I need, and so it's the only one I've been using for the last several months.

  • Ridiculous Fishing received iPhone Game of the Year. This was also very well-deserved, because it's easily one of the most entertaining games I've ever played on iOS. Maybe on any console. The music alone is so good, I even bought the soundtrack.

  • Editorial was mentioned as one of the top 'Smart Productivity' apps. Can't hit the nail much harder on the head than that. I know that my own productivity and overall writing workflow have gotten a huge boost from this app.

  • Basil, a recipe manager for iPad developed by Kyle Baxter, made it into the 'Beautiful Cookbooks' section. Nice going, Kyle!

Many congratulations to all the developers – of which there are way more than I could comfortably list here – who got into top lists in their respective categories. It's been another exciting year for iOS apps, and I'm looking forward to what's in store for 2014.

'The iPad Setup of Chris Gonzales'

Shawn Blanc interviewed me for The Sweet Setup about the ways I use my iPad for work and play. I tried to convey just how versatile this device is, and how I have almost no need for an actual laptop to get my stuff done. I absolutely love my iPad.

If you're interested in the wallpaper seen in the screenshot at the top of the interview, feel free to grab it from this link.

Apple's October 2013 Keynote

Apple just wrapped up an event that was loaded with new product announcements. I won't bother going into insane detail since the big-name blogs will have it covered, but here's a quick rundown on what was talked about.

Software

The biggest news here is that OS X Mavericks, the iWork suite, and the iLife suite have all been made free (the caveat being that iWork and iLife are only free for newly-purchased devices from this point on) and they're all available for download today. Mavericks will also work on devices dating all the way back to 2007, which I think is pretty cool.

The iWork and iLife apps have been totally redesigned across the board, with new features throughout.

iWork:

  • Full file compatibility across all Mac and iOS devices.
  • Pages has way better text-formatting tools than before.
  • Numbers has interactive charts. For example, you can see your expenses animated over some amount of time.
  • Keynote seems to be the biggest update, with new effects, animations, and transitions, with old transitions being updated with better physics. There's also real-time iCloud collaboration for your presentations now.

iLife:

  • iPhoto now lets you create and order photobooks on the iPad, a feature that previously was only available for the Mac.
  • iMovie now includes a feature called "iMovie Theater", which is a nice-looking collection of all your videos and clips in one place. Reminds me of a media center-type interface.
  • GarageBand on iOS now supports up to 16 tracks (up from 8) and lets you add customizable "drummer tracks" that are recordings of actual session drummers that can automatically play over the song you've created. Projects now sync over iCloud as well.

Hardware

Hardware was really the juiciest part of today's keynote. Along with the iPhone 5s/5c, Apple has now refreshed nearly their entire hardware lineup ahead of the Christmas season (excluding iMacs and cinema displays, basically).

The Retina MacBook Pros have been updated to be more powerful, and yet cheaper to purchase. The 13" model is now $1299 (down from $1499) and the 15" model is $1999 (down from $2199).

The new Mac Pro that will be available in December and starts at $2999, making it the most expensive ashtray I've ever seen. All kidding aside though, it does have some neat features:

  • Fastest processor and memory of any Mac ever
  • Dual-workstation GPUs (a first for Macs)
  • All storage is flash-based — no more spinning HDDs
  • Thunderbolt 2 ports
  • 4K video support, and for multiple displays
  • 70% less energy consumption than the previous Mac Pro
  • It's somehow as quiet as a Mac mini

Now, the new iPads were the most exciting announcement for me personally. Rather than calling the new full-size model 'iPad 5', they went with 'iPad Air', and they're releasing an iPad mini with Retina display!

A quick rundown:

iPad Air:

  • Thinner, lighter, and more powerful.
  • Bezel is 43% smaller.
  • 7.5mm thick, which is 20% thinner than the iPad 4.
  • Only weights 1lb, down from 1.4lb.
  • Reduced battery size, yet same battery life as before (10 hours).
  • A7 chip and M7 coprocessor (same as iPhone 5s).
  • Support for even more LTE bands, meaning better connectivity.
  • Available in two colors: silver/white and space gray/black.
  • Available at $499 (non-LTE) and $629 (LTE), and starts shipping Nov 1.
  • iPad 2 still available as a lower-cost full-size model at $399.

iPad mini:

  • Retina display!
  • A7 chip, but no mention of M7 that I can recall. (UPDATE: I've been informed by my buddy Nate that it does indeed have an M7 chip.)
  • 10-hour battery life.
  • Thinner than a pencil (as shown in a great video that I imagine will be available online soon)
  • Priced at $399 (no LTE) and $529 (with LTE).
  • New Smart Covers ($39) and new leather cases ($79). Both are available in Product (RED) in addition to the standard colors.
  • The non-Retina iPad mini is still available, and has been lowered from $329 to $299.

Overall, this was a huge announcement by Apple. This holiday season is sure to be exciting for a lot of people.

Reeder 2 is Now Available for iPhone and iPad

The wait is ~*finally*~ over. You can now pick up Reeder 2 from the iOS App Store for only $5, and it works on both iPhone and iPad. The previous iPhone version of Reeder already supported Feed Wrangler – my RSS service of choice – but this update also brings Feed Wrangler support to the iPad.

I've sorely missed being able to use Reeder on my iPad, and it feels good to have it back. My initial impression (after only 10 minutes of playing with it) is very positive, other than that it took a long time to sync my Feed Wrangler Smart Streams.

And as always, Federico Viticci published his review of Reeder 2 immediately after the app was available for purchase. Go check it out.

Writing on the iPad

Federico Viticci's epic review of Editorial is now available as an awesome book on the iBookstore, and is packed with a ton of new content for your enjoyment. For a limited time, it's available for only $3, so be sure to pick it up today.

If you're like me and you do a lot of writing on your iPad, this is an invaluable resource.

Congrats to Federico on publishing his very first book!

UPDATE: Looks like the book is already a success.