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Mark Myerson

Avid photographer of no note whatsoever, and professional Facebook loather.

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For many of us, recording memories and life experiences is a labour of love — and as with most things in modern life, “there’s an app for that.” Or, more accurately, there are now many apps dedicated to personal journal-keeping.

MacJournal and the now-retired Chronories led the way on Mac, and in their wake have come new, original offerings such as Bits, as well as iOS imports such as Day One.

The latest addition to this genre is Life, a heavyweight diary app built by the folks at MacAppStudio, which features an advanced search and numerous methods of capturing day-to-day happenings, as you might expect of an app that costs $59.99. But does it make life-logging sufficiently frictionless to be worth the hassle? I went hands-on with the premium beta to find out…

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At the best of times, even with the smallest of images, photo editing has always been a challenging process for any app to cope with. This problem has only worsened with the ever-increasing number of pixels being added to sensors, and the ever-increasing size of the files those sensors produce. Add the uncompressed nature of RAW files into the equation, and you have a recipe for crash-inducing disaster — a disaster that is only avoided with highly skilful development.

Adobe has managed to avoid such troubles, in the shape of Photoshop RAW plugin, and with Lightroom, both of which are trusted by photographers the world over. Apple, too, has raised the standard of Aperture over the years, and it is now as good as any all-in-one you’d care to mention. And the choice doesn’t stop at the software giants — Capture One, darktable and CameraBag are great RAW converters as well.

Hoping to join this league is AccuRaw ($29.99), a new, lightweight conversion app from small development studio, PCDMagic. It looks the part and is well equipped on paper; but is AccuRaw an alternative that’s worth having?

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When in the flow, concentrating hard and making progress (or not), I, for one, find it difficult to quantify the passing of time. When I’m messing about, tweeting and generally procrastinating, it’s even harder. And that can be frustrating; for the freelancer or pro rata worker, the slipperiness of the seconds, minutes and hours can be very costly.

As always, technology is ready and waiting to help. But time-keeping apps so often fall by the wayside because we just can’t be bothered to use them. And even if you can be bothered, remembering to start and stop the digital timer at the precise moment you begin work, or put down your tools, is a task of nagging tedium.

Maybe that is why nulldesign (aka Lars Gercken), the developer of freshly hatched time-keeping app Tyme (retailing at $4.99), feels the need to entertain users with snazzy graphics and in-depth analytics. But are a few pretty bar charts really enough to keep you focused on your time management?

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As a photographer brought up in the digital age, the taking of photos, to my mind, has always been inextricably linked with computing. And my computing has always been done on a Mac, and Macs have always had iPhoto to keep pictures neatly organized. Okay, so iPhoto hasn’t been around for ever — it was introduced 11 years ago, alongside OSX 10.1 — but as a child of the OSX period, it’s hard for me to imagine what photo handling looked like, pre-iLife.

However, as the versions of OSX have rolled by, iPhoto has grown and grown, adding more features and a heavier CPU workload along the way. In some respects, this one-time light, nimble, agile photo library is now too large for its own good.

Which is where an app like Unbound ($9.99, beta release free) has an opportunity. It doesn’t edit, it doesn’t let you create cards or calendars, but it does claim to give you quick-time access to your photos. But does Unbound’s simplicity and speed outweigh iPhoto’s heavyweight functionality?

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It would take a cold heart to write off the night sky as merely sparks of light in the blackness. Yes, gazing upwards on a clear evening provides a beautiful show, but it also offers a perspective of our location in the middle of everything. So, it seems bizarre that astronomy is often thought of as a niche hobby of knitwear-clothed nerds, but perhaps that perception can be attributed to the depth of mind-stored knowledge that has traditionally been required to fully appreciate the heavens.

It seems to me that this perception is due an update. Information about the stars has never been more accessible, thanks to technology and, in particular, apps. One of the first generation of standout iOS apps was GoSkyWatch, which utilized the iPad’s accelerometers and compass to allow users to pan around a virtual sky filled with information. But sometimes, you just want to digest information in the light, warm surroundings of your sitting room.

Hence, there seems to be a place for OSX apps like RedShift Astronomy. Packed with information, and brimming with 3D visualizations, this $18.99 offering should be a hit with anyone interested in exploring the universe. But does it do the magnificence of space true justice?

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Among photographic editing apps, Adobe’s Photoshop is not exactly strides ahead of the competition, particularly not in terms of the features required by the average user. Yet it holds the majority market share, mostly due to the Photoshop brand’s early establishment as the go-to image editor. Nowadays, it is a brand name we even use as a verb.

But the competition is catching up. OnOne is not as well known as Adobe, but it is a development company dedicated to photographic apps. Perfect Photo Suite 8 is the latest instalment of its flagship series, and it has just been unveiled in a pre-release beta. It is a package that is designed to work as a comprehensive standalone editor, but it is also happy to work alongside the likes of Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture.

But can OnOne’s latest offering tempt long-time Adobe customers away from their beloved ‘shop?

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At AppStorm we pay very close attention to the App Store. We monitor the introduction of new apps in much the same way that a trader keeps their eyes glued to the markets. We know what’s going up, what’s going down, as well as what’s desperately in need of a bug-fixing update.

As a result, I’m able to inform you that the general trend among vector drawing apps is downsizing. Rather than competing with Adobe’s mighty Illustrator, apps such as iDraw, Artboard and Sketch offer something a little simpler, more compact and more reasonably priced. Happily, from the app buyer’s perspective, the growing number of apps in this niche is creating intense competition, which, in turn, is having a positive effect on quality. In fact, vector artists are spoilt for choice right now.

Yet somehow, still more contenders are finding the room to squeeze into the ring. One such app is Bluetail. It wants to undercut the undercutters, offering a stripped-back, no-nonsense workspace at a rock-bottom price. But does Bluetail fall on the side of value-for-money simplicity, or does it creep into ill-equipped incapability? Time to find out.
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Delicious. No, I haven’t just finished a meal. I’m recalling a time, not so very long ago, when we all used bookmarking services to keep track of our favourite parts of the web. It seems strange, then, that most of us have moved on. It is undoubtedly the case that we still save plenty of bookmarks. Equally, the link capturing tools at our disposal have barely changed in the nine years since Delicious stepped onto Yahoo’s slippery, corporately-greased slope.

Of course, Delicious wasn’t the only option back then — there were native bookmark library apps available, too. With the advent of modern-day cloud syncing, the concept of keeping bookmarks somewhere other than in your browser seems weird. For folks who make a lot of bookmarks, however, the abysmal bookmark organization tools with which browsers are still lumbered is a problem which a third party app can solve.

So, it would appear that there’s still a place for apps like Pins — a native OS X bookmark manager priced at $14.99 in the App Store. It offers to attach tags and notes to your links, it provides cloud syncing, and it even captures page previews, but can Pins really provide a compelling, Utopian alternative to your browser’s in-built bookmarks manager?

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For most people, science classes were a memorable part of their education, but the reasons for this differ from person to person. Some individuals found the talk of nuclei and cell structures to be some of the most engaging and relevant information they had ever encountered. Others simply appreciated it as a good background to some of their most engrossing and creative daydreams.

Both camps could, in general, agree on one point, however — science is better seen than read. Obviously, practical considerations prevent the classroom dissection of a whale, or the physical inspection of lava. Modern technology can provide the next best thing, though, in the form of interactive on-screen experiences.

A shining light in this field has been an iPad app, named, quite simply, The Elements, which provides detailed descriptions, interactive 360º imagery and high quality videos of the periodic table’s constituent parts. Now, it has arrived in the OSX App Store, priced at $19.99. Given that a major part of the original iOS app’s appeal was the ability to “touch” elements on a display, can the desktop environment really provide the same, insightful experience?

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For many of you, March 13th was a dark day. In fact, in the intervening months, just the mention of the words “Google” and “Reader” in the same sentence has been enough to send chills down many a spine. The time has come for all of you who are wedded to the Google style of RSS aggregation to face the facts, though, and find a new home for your feeds.

The innovation and competition among feed readers in the Mac App Store, however, is rather lacking. The granddaddy of Mac feed reading, NetNewsWire, is currently beta testing a new version, and the reading later app ReadKit has emerged as one of the best new RSS readers if you’ve switched to one of the new reading services. Outside of this, the field is looking wide open.

There is one promising entry, though. Mixtab Pro is the $4.99 descendent of the free, long-term resident of the App Store, which was named, simply, Mixtab. It is one of the new breed of magazine-style readers, which provide a highly visual way of staying up to date with the latest headlines. The popularity of many such apps on touchscreen devices shows that this look can be popular, but does that extend to the desktop environment? (more…)

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