Mac

Walknote — The App to Discover New Music

The main app display has three kinds of recommendations — artist spotlights, genre mixes, and new/recent releases.

Finding new music you like is hard. If you’re not completely enmeshed in a community that happens to perfectly match your taste, you’re sure to be missing stuff you’d like, and only Top 40 pop is reasonably represented in the mainstream.

That’s probably why big names like Amazon, Apple, Last.fm, Pandora, and even the top record labels invest heavily in tools that suggest songs and artists you might like, based on databases they piece together from your listening or buying preferences.

Walknote brings its own recommendation algorithm to the table, coupling it with your iTunes music library and an attractive interface. It’s unlikely to surface many obscure gems by artists you haven’t heard of before, but between its genre-sorted recommended mixes and tight integration with YouTube, Last.fm, Amazon, and the iTunes Music Store, Walknote brings just enough to the table to be useful.

Knowledge is Power

As with most recommendation algorithms, Walknote benefits from more information. It automatically pulls song data from your iTunes library (you can change which library it uses), and also has an option to manually input a number of your favorite artists. I found the recommendations are biased toward your manually-elected favorites and whoever the two or three most represented artists are in your library.

The main app display has three kinds of recommendations — artist spotlights, genre mixes, and new/recent releases.

For instance, I had lots of recommendations based on my fondness for Sugarcult, The Clash, and The Cure, seemingly because of the sheer quantity of songs I have by them. But I wouldn’t call myself a fan of The Clash at all. I like some of their music, sure, but it’s pure coincidence that I have several of their albums.

I only have one album by rapper Kendrick Lamar, however, and as many recommendations showed up based on him as on Jay Z — by whom I have more than 50 songs, presumably because I explicitly stated that Lamar is one of my favorites (and did not do so for Jay Z).

This is good, in as much as the app adjusts its brute-force suggestions based on your more nuanced “favorites” input. But I haven’t seen any way to tell it, “hey, I don’t like that artist you suggested,” or, “I know I have music by Rihanna in my collection, but those three songs are just an exception — I don’t really like her stuff in general.” I’m getting ahead of myself, though, so let me step back for a moment before I explain how this one thing hamstrings the app.

Sometimes strange suggestions sneak in; previews are either iTunes snippets or YouTube clips.

Sometimes strange suggestions sneak in; previews are either iTunes snippets or YouTube clips.

Brute Force Recommendations

Walknote takes a few hours to process larger music libraries — mine includes over 17,000 tracks, and it seemed to be four or five hours before the import bar in the Processing tab disappeared in lieu of a statistic boasting 938 recommended tracks. The app checks every day for new releases by artists in your library — also a slow process when you have a big collection.

This all happens in the background, invisible to you unless you seek it out. I wouldn’t quite call it seamless, though, because the Home tab only refreshes when the app boots up — so you don’t actually find out whether Walknote found new recommendations until you quit and re-open, then painstakingly look through the new releases and Recommended Mix panels.

There's a lot to process, but you can enjoy the entire app's functionality while you wait.

There’s a lot to process, but you can enjoy the entire app’s functionality while you wait.

There are three artists spotlighted atop the Home tab each day and 30 recommended mixes across the central panel — broken into genre groupings that are presented with a nice rounded square of four album covers, drawn from recommended tracks.

Clicking on any of these takes you to the playlist view, which features a vertical pane displaying the Recommended Mix and a main pane that shows either a music video or a band image — with a mouse-triggered overlay of artist info and links to iTunes, Amazon, Last.fm, and YouTube. The music itself, meanwhile, is drawn from either iTunes or YouTube — so you get short previews on some and full tracks on other songs — and automatically continues down the list.

There's an attractive playlist presentation you can hop in and out of by clicking on the track info in the bottom left.

There’s an attractive playlist presentation you can hop in and out of by clicking on the track info in the bottom left.

It’s very well presented for the most part, with lots of images, large text, and fairly-intuitive controls — even if it is hard to gauge why the app chooses one preview source over another. Although I can’t fathom for the life of me why the space afforded to the middle and lower panes does not match the space they require, which leads to unsightly vertical scroll bars that harm the aesthetic.

The new releases panel at the bottom of the Home tab shows album art and album titles for the 50 newest albums by artists in your library. In a bout of inconsistent design, clicking on these opens the iTunes album page in your default web browser. Hoping to preview the tracks right in Walknote, as you normally would? You’ll have to use the search field.

It’s the little things that Walknote gets wrong. It looks good and has a great workflow…until these minor issues start to stick out. I stumbled across a niggling problem every time I started to like …read more

Filebase Provides Access to All Your App.net Files

Filebase has a really simple interface.

The last time I took a look at App.net’s file storage, I took a look at Swing, a Droplr-like app for easy file sharing using the social network’s storage API as its backbone. I loved it (and still use it), but also saw the need for an app that could leverage ADN’s API to act more like Dropbox.

Entire Filebase: It’s a beta app developed by Pete Burtis, but it’s largely stable now and mostly feature complete. Let’s take a look and see what Filebase has to offer Mac users.

Dropbox, Sort Of

Filebase is reminiscent of Dropbox in some ways. Not unlike Dropbox, it acts as a repository for any files stored in ADN’s cloud. It also makes them accessible. Think of the app like a gateway to ADN’s servers where you can upload, download and share files. You can even upload and share the contents of your clipboard, a feature power users might find useful.

Filebase has a really simple interface.

But the app is different from Dropbox in a lot of other ways. First of all, unlike Dropbox, it doesn’t sit in a folder on your computer. Filebase is an app that looks like a Finder window, but it isn’t. Unlike Dropbox, it doesn’t live in your Mac’s menu bar and it isn’t always on. It’s also Mac-exclusive.

ADN’s API is open, so all it takes is a savvy Windows or iOS developer to get something like this on other platforms, but for now, Filebase is the only app of its kind I’m aware of. So files stored in Filebase are only useable in between Macs. If you have Mac at work and home, you’ll find it to be an incredibly useful service, but users who don’t have more than one Mac will only really find it appropriate as a cloud-based backup solution.

Adding files to Filebase is as easy as clicking and dragging or using the in-app Finder navigation.

Adding files to Filebase is as easy as clicking and dragging or using the in-app Finder navigation.

The advantage, of course, to using Filebase over something like Dropbox is privacy and security. ADN isn’t interested in what you store on its servers, and they have no intention of selling your information because you’re likely already a paying customer.

Separating Filebase from the Pack

Filebase does have some functionality that separates it from Dropbox and other similar cloud-based storage apps, though. The major difference lies within its Preferences pane, wherein you can choose the hotkeys you want to use to share content publicly on ADN. You can set your hotkeys to be available system-wide, with the caveat that the beta software doesn’t check for sensible hotkeys (Command Z is totally okay, as the screenshot suggests).

Command Z sounds legit.

Command Z sounds legit.

Filebase is also different because of its support to ADN, which you can post to directly from the app. This separates it from Swing, which allows you to upload but doesn’t include a fast way to post to ADN directly. In the case of Filebase, if there’s a photo you’d like to share, you can quickly drag it into the app and immediately tap the Share button and choose App.net.

I really appreciate the ability to share directly to ADN.

I really appreciate the ability to share directly to ADN.

Finally, what makes Filebase really useful as an ADN client is the ability to download files to your computer that you uploaded from other devices (such as an iPhone). Let’s say you shared a photo to ADN from Felix on your iPhone. It’s available right in Filebase when you get back to your computer. Every file you’ve ever uploaded to ADN is available within Filebase, which makes it really handy to have for efficiency alone.

About the Beta State

At the time of writing, Filebase is at version 0.5.1, precisely half-baked. Pete has provided a lovely summary of the app’s shortfalls on the download page, even including a note that the app “has a stupid icon” — no arguments there. As far as I’m concerned though, Pete’s awareness of and dedication towards fixing the problems mostly negates them.

It's worth noting the app's detailed info pane for each file.

It’s worth noting the app’s detailed info pane for each file.

And for what it’s worth, the software is incredibly stable as it is. Animations aren’t buttery smooth when I resize the app, but I haven’t had any issues with files not uploading or downloading. The app works completely as promised, with the exception of the issues Pete’s specifically made a note of.

That being said, there are a couple small things I hope Pete addresses by version 1.0 that he doesn’t list.

Improving Usability

The first thing I’d like to see is a menu bar tool for the app. I don’t need anything fancy (or want anything fancy), but something like Dropbox’s current implementation would be great. It would also be a handy way to note the app’s activity. Dropbox’s menu bar addresses this problem with a checkmark or a blue loading icon, and I think Pee’s service could benefit from something as simple as that.

I’d also like the option to run in the background and open it automatically when I log in. Instead of having a dock icon, I’d like to be able to choose between an icon in the menu or the dock (or both). That way any file activity I have on ADN is always ready to go on my Mac.

It would be nice if the app supported multiple accounts, so tapping on the username in the bottom right would …read more

Favoriteer: A Simple New RSS Reader for the Mac

Favoriteer presents each post or article in a really clean interface.

I’ve been trying to find just the right RSS feed reader. I’m pretty low maintenace. I just want to put feed URLs in and get posts from my favorite sites out. If the app looks good and doesn’t take up too much space, that’s even better.

That’s why I was so excited to try out Favoriteer. It’s a slimmed down feed reader, and it looks to have just the features I want with none of the extra cruft that just gets in my way. Can Favoriteer stand up against all the other feed readers on the market?

It Might Be A New Favorite

Click the Favoriteer menu bar or Dock icon to open the Favoriteer window. It’s going to be pretty boring to start out — just a bunch of updates from the developer. You need to get your RSS feeds into Favoriteer, right? Click the RSS icon at the bottom left of the window to open the subscriptions settings. There are a lot of default feeds already set up, and you only need to click them to subscribe. Lots of them are great, and they’re sorted out by subject, so you can look for topics that interest you.

Favoriteer presents each post or article in a really clean interface.

That still doesn’t solve the problem of getting the feeds you read daily into Favoriteer. You’ll do that by pasting the feed URL into the address bar at the top and clicking the plus sign. Full disclosure, when I first downloaded Favoriteer, I couldn’t get it to add any of my feeds, which you can imagine was sort of a bummer in a feed reader. With their most recent update, thought, the problem has been solved and I haven’t had any more issues. Find all of the feeds you’ve added by clicking the drop-down and selecting #My Favorites.

When you add a new feed, it can take awhile for it to show up in the Favoriteer window. Speed the process along by clicking the Reload icon. Quickly scroll to the top and check out your newest posts with the up arrow icon. The windows icon in the bottom right will automatically resize the Favoriteer window to the default.

Subscribe to default feeds or add your favorite RSS feeds to Favoriteer.

Subscribe to default feeds or add your favorite RSS feeds to Favoriteer.

Favoriteer is great looking, if you want a really clean way to read your RSS feeds. It’s also super easy to share stuff with your friends. There are links for Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and even LinkedIn sharing, but rather than use OS X’s built in Twitter and Facebook integration, all of these links direct you to the social network websites. It’s still neat to be able to share right from Favoriteer, though. Clicking the email icon, however, opens Mail.app, and that’s not the mail application I use. If I want to mail an article, I have to go about it in another way.

Adjust how Favoriteer opens and syncs.

Adjust how Favoriteer opens and syncs.

Pros and Cons

Favoriteer will display an entire article if that’s how the individual feed works, and while I usually prefer to read the whole article in my reader, it’s nice to get a preview snippet before I commit to loading the whole thing. If I’m not interested, I have to scroll through the whole article to get to the next article. Any feeds that don’t display an entire post will have a clickable link that loads the article at the original site in your browser.

All of your feeds are sort of mixed together, and there are pros and cons to that, too. Everything is in there chronologically, so you can read all of the newest stuff first. Users up to date on all of their feeds won’t have a problem, but if you’d like to just read a single feed or feeds about a certain topic, you’re out of luck. Your only option is to turn off all of your other feeds temporarily. It’s not a hardship to do that, but if you like to read each feed one at a time, Favoriteer isn’t going to make it easy.

Share what you read or open your browser to read more.

Share what you read or open your browser to read more.

An oddity is Favoriteer is that you’re automatically subscribed to updates from the developer in Favoriteer, and if there’s a way to unsubscribe from that, I haven’t found it. It’s not so bad, though, because the updates are pretty infrequent. Still, it would be nice to have the option to turn all that off.

Final Thoughts

Despite the inability to read single feeds, I’m on board with Favoriteer. That’s not really a feature I need on a daily basis, and if I do want to just browse one site’s past articles, I have other readers that will do that. I like the single, clean stream of news I get from Favoriteer.

I wish I could import my feeds from another reader, but Favoriter has a lot of other great stuff going for it. It’s small and stays out of the way until I need it, and it looks really good when I finally do want to do some reading. If you’re looking to try a new RSS reader and want something that’s going to take up a bit less visual space, Favoriteer is a nice option.

…read more

How to Use and Sync Android With Your Mac, iPhone, and iPad

Do you love your Mac, but still prefer using an Android phone? Or perhaps do you have an Android tablet but a Mac and iPhone? It’s more common than ever these days to use a number of different operating systems, and thanks to cross-platform apps and cloud syncing services, it’s also easier than ever to get them all to work together.

Our sister site Android.AppStorm has put together a roundup of the best tips and tricks to get your Android devices working great with OS X and iOS. Take a few minutes and jump over there to see how you can get all of your devices working together they way they should anyhow.

Continue Reading on Android.AppStorm…

…read more

Interview: The Soulmen, the Story Behind Ulysses III, and More

Max Seelemann, one of the two Soulmen

There’s Markdown writing apps, and there’s rich text editors. Then there’s Ulysses III, the app that combines the best of both into one of the nicest writing environments on any platform. It looks sharp and works great, and I use it for a good portion of my writing these days — something I never would have considered back in the days of Ulysses 2.

Recently I had the chance to talk to Max Seelemann from The Soulmen team, and was able to arrange an interview with him about his team and their work. Here, for your reading pleasure, is their thoughts on OS X Mavericks, iCloud, building the best apps for each platform, and the story behind how Ulysses III came to be.

 

Max Seelemann, one of the two Soulmen

Thanks so much for taking the time to do the interview with us, even with WWDC going on. Since OS X Mavericks and iOS 7 are fresh in everyone’s minds, could you tell us your thoughts on the changes in Apple’s software and design strategy?

Apple is up to something big this year. iOS 7 is the long-needed overhaul we all have been waiting for. The interface is absolutely beautiful. Once Apple works out current inconsistencies and listens to some of the feedback it is getting right now, nobody will be looking back. We could not be more excited about it.

Mavericks, on the other hand, is a solid update to OS X. While it’s coming with little surprise, the changes are more than welcome. The removal of textures, addition of long-missing features like Maps integration in Calendar and finally fixing multi-monitor support are all great. And, of course, iBooks for Mac.

Your team already seems ready for iOS 7 — at least most of the way — since Daedalus Touch already has a flat design and unique document interaction gestures. Why’d you go with the document and gesture based layout when you did, while everyone else was still focused on menus and traditional interactions?

At that time, everybody was just porting over desktop metaphors. File lists, drill-down folders, etc.

Marcus wanted to focus on what made the tablet so wonderful: Multi-touch interaction, the instant manipulation of objects. The first sketches had no UI at all, just a text view and a loupe, which would be used for zooming out and search, with pinches and swipes used to access different parts of the text.

That was highly experimental, but we had lots of such ideas. At one point, we even had a truthfully recreated typewriter/page metaphor, with the iPad fixed in portrait, a fixed page height, and auto-swapping of pages, once you reached the bottom. Even five-finger pinch to crumble the paper. 😉

The final product has none of that, but what we are always trying to identify is a system’s unique appeal, its underlying concepts, then go from there. We will do the same on iOS 7.

Going back even further to 10 years ago when your company started, what originally inspired you to create Ulysses I?

The plain lack of an app designed for just writing longer texts. There were word processors designed for secretaries and code editors built for programmers. But no one had done a plain text app for book writers on any platform. We wanted to fill this hole.

What were the biggest changes in the world of writing apps that prompted you to start over with a whole new program in Ulysses III?

Ulysses III

Ulysses III

None, really. We started in October 2010 with discussing a UI redesign only. That was after Marcus saw the OS X 10.7 announcement and instantly got hooked on the new Mail.app interface. He started work on a modern look for Ulysses, and the more we discussed, the farther we went, and we eventually just realized that we wanted to build a completely new editor.

See, the editor component in Ulysses 2 was showing its age. There was very little room left for expansion, and we just couldn’t do a lot of what we wanted to do.

For example, Ulysses was started way before Markdown was publicly known, and it never was built to be truly semantics-aware. We made it look as if the app knew, but unless you told it during export, an emphasis was basically identical to an h1 or a link-tag. This was tedious, complicated, and we wanted it fixed.

We also always felt that while plain text editing was great, the file format itself has its own fair share of problematic limitations. For one, it’s overly technical, even with so called minimal markup. Images, Finder based file structures, the fact that you need to learn, master and remember a predefined markup in order to insert links – it’s no wonder RTF is still popular.

So instead of fixing what we had, we decided to take a shot at re-imagining plain text editing as a whole: Not so much as in “plain text, the file format”, but more in the sense of interaction – still a single font, tags instead of formats, a strong emphasis on semantics (sorry, no pun), but at the same time allowing advanced stuff such as annotations and footnotes without the clutter. All the stuff standard plain text/markup is really horrible at.

Out came the Ulysses III engine.

Once we swapped out the UI and the engine, there was little left to be bring over from old versions, of course. This is when we decided to really start anew and free version 3 from all dependencies on previous releases, going as far as opting out of any upgrade path for any of your previous content. We just “ended up” writing an entirely new application. From scratch.

What was the most difficult thing to get right in Ulysses, with all the custom features you’ve included like hidden Markdown and the Pure …read more

Numi: The Magic Calculator That Blends Math with Text

A short introduction to Numi.

Let’s be honest, Apple’s calculator app nearly as appealing as the other stock apps on the Mac; heck, it even falls short against its iOS counterpart. With just the basic functions available, it’s one of the least used (not to mention forgettable) apps on my computer. And of all things, it has a Dashboard sidekick that’s even more forgettable.

On the flip side, this can mean more breathing room for more flexible and powerful mathematical tools for the Mac. In fact, a quick search on the Mac App Store shows a wide range of apps to choose from, ranging from scientific to purpose-specific calculators.

One of these that I’m interested in is Numi by Dmitry Nikolaev & Co, a menubar app that moves away from the typical way we use calculators by incorporating text into computation. The idea is that calculations can be made more comprehensive by adding text into the process, and so it is easier to see and understand how we’d arrive at the result.

 

Where Words and Numbers Meet

A short introduction to Numi.

To distinguish numerical expression from ordinary text, Numi bases it on the symbols used. If the line begins with numbers, operations, or parentheses, it would interpret it as a computation. Otherwise, it would treat it as text by enclosing it with mathematical brackets.

But the main purpose of Numi’s functionality is to combine the two in a comprehensive manner. To do this, you only need to press the Tab key to switch modes while typing. Numi then formats text and calculation in an organized manner, making it visually easy even for those who aren’t fond of math. For example, you can begin with a heading, then jump to the next line with a number or parentheses to start the computation. You can label these figures with text to indicate what exactly is being computed.

Numi computations

Math and text working hand-in-hand.

Numi automatically computes the total of a computation, placing the result on the right side of the screen. You can add, subtract, multiply, and divide as many numbers and combinations as needed, and you’ll get the correct result at the end of the line. Besides the regular operations, you can also get the percentage of a value, and vice versa. I found this particular function pretty handy whenever I’m computing for tax, service fees, and the like.

But it doesn’t stop there. You can get the sum total of all of the results of every computation by pressing CTRL+= until an empty row or separate sum appears and breaks the flow of the equation. There are more keyboard shortcuts to use — all basic shortcuts we’d use on the Mac — and can be found in Numi’s documentation.

More Math Magic

Numi features

Numi still lacks features that gives it that edge.

Numi reminds me of Hog Bay Software’s TaskPaper wherein you create tasks and task lists simply with plain text. Here we have calculations rendered using just plain text in that you only need to type numbers, text, and perform operations on the screen—Numi takes care of the rest through lightning fast (re)calculation, formatting, etc. This saves me the trouble of using my mouse to input values or the hassle of losing myself to the flow of the calculation, and having to start over again.

But before you get your hopes up, this is where the magic ends. Automatic summation, regular operations and percentage functions, and organized formatting are Numi’s notable features. Everything else, such as autosave and keyboard shortcuts, are understood to be necessary features for an app like this. Sharing your calculations with others isn’t even interesting; you simply copy and paste the data to an email or message to send to whoever you would like to share it with. Finally, it would be nice to have the ability to create a new “page” or “ticket” for a new set of calculations, since text is now a part of the process and can get unorganized at some point.

Extending Numi

I think the lack of features is really due to the limitations of a basic calculator. Unless this is a powerhouse scientific calculator or a weight loss calculator, there’s really nothing more for Numi to do but to perform simple computations.

A suggestion that could pump more juice into the app is to go beyond its limitations. Since integration is the theme, the developers can add integration with other note-taking apps, or synchronization with file sharing apps like Dropbox. I can envision this to work with Simplenote or Evernote, wherein you can save your calculations as notes for viewing, with sync and backups on Dropbox, Google Drive, or Skydrive—all this to keep your notes for safekeeping.

On the other hand, the developers can brush up Sharing by enabling users to email the calculations directly to the recipient. This would make things much more convenient than copying and pasting the data to share with others.

Conclusion

Numi’s plain text approach coupled with speed and convenience makes it a much better calculator to use than the stock Calculator app. It’s almost as if I were writing notes and Numi simply does the work of calculating and providing me with the correct results. The best part is that it saves all of my work, so I don’t have to worry about forgetting and redoing everything all over.

Where Numi is headed at this point we don’t know, but I believe it has plenty of space to work and become an even more innovative calculator for all users. It just needs a bit more magic to really give it that edge over other, regular calculators. By extending beyond its limitations, it has the potential of becoming a leader of its niche.