Underscore David Smith proposes 14 steps to a better App store:

The App Store has (in part) driven the wild success of the iPhone. Having a great user App Store experience helps everyone. It helps Apple sell more iPhones. It helps customers enjoy their iPhones. It helps developers sustain their development.

Agreed. The App Store is in dire need of improvement.

From where I’m sitting (which is at home, at my desk, if you’re curious), the two biggest issues I see facing the App Store are search/discoverability (for customers) and financial incentive (for developers).

Regarding search, I almost never use the actual App Stores to search for an iOS or Mac. Rather, I use Google. If I’m looking for a specific app, I can find it faster through Google. And if I’m looking for the best within a category, Google will help me find reviews and roundups that have already been written. The App Store is just the last step for me — it’s where I land when I’m ready to buy the app I’ve already found.

Another cool idea along the lines of search and discoverability is an App Store-centric social network of sorts. A way to follow folks and see the apps that are on their home screen. Because, honestly, the vast majority of apps I find are thanks to the word-of-mouth recommendations of my friends.

Secondly, regarding financial incentive for developers, I’ve said before that I think apps like Diet Coda, Editorial, 1Password, Fantastical, OmniFocus, Day One, 53′s Paper, PDF Expert 5, et al. are some of the quintessential examples of apps that really push the boundaries of what iOS devices can be capable of doing. I sometimes worry if the financial incentive will remain for a developer to spend the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours it takes to build a powerful, thoughtful, delightful app. And, what is Apple doing to educate its user-base that these apps are worth their “whopping” $3 price tag?

Our latest app review on The Sweet Setup is for the best password manager (and why you need one in the first place). Robert McGinley Myers, Stephen Hackett, and myself looked at 5 of the most popular Mac / iOS password managers to see if 1Password really is the best. In short, it is. We also hit on how 1Password and iCloud Keychain can work in tandem, and why the latter is not a full-on replacement for the former.

And, as it turns out, there is a huge update to 1Password for iOS today. I’m with Federico Viticci, that the best part of the iOS update (aside from the massive design refresh, of course) is the persistent search field.

If you’re already using 1Password, then the iOS and Mac updates are free. If you’re not, well, check out our review and then snatch up the apps while they’re half off this week:

I really enjoyed reading Robert’s home screen interview on David Sparks’ site. Robert shares excellent thoughts and concepts related answering a deeper philosophical “why” regarding some of the apps he uses.

Monday, April 21

This is a fantastic review on so many levels. For one, Jared hits the nail on the head when discussing one of Glassboard’s unique features: that messages can have comments. The hierarchy design has also confused me, but, as Jared points out, it would be a shame to do away with that hierarchy all together. Some friends and I use GroupMe for our group discussions. And while it’s nice, it also has some significant draw backs, in that it’s nearly impossible to respond to a comment made by someone once the groups’s conversation has moved on.

Also, Jared shares some excellent input on design and branding, with some advice that’s relevant to anyone, not just Justin Williams. Both Riposte and Unread sit as some of my all-time favorite apps for the iPhone. Jared has some strong opinions and sometimes wild ideas, but his work speaks for itself. I think developers and designers would do well to listen to Jared’s thoughts.

Dr. Drang, consulting engineer by day, scripter/blogger by night, and benevolent snowman on Twitter, shares a bit about his Mac setup:

The computer screen shown in the photo is fake. It didn’t turn out well in the photo, so I comped in a screenshot using Acorn’s Instant Alpha tool. I also used Acorn to obscure my name on the diplomas and PE license on the wall. Thanks, Gus!

Rediscover your favorite independent writers with Unread for iPhone. Unread’s relaxing, distraction-free design is unlike any RSS app you’ve used before. It now supports five popular RSS services: NewsBlur, Fever, Feedly, Feedbin, and FeedWrangler. With new features and a refreshed interface, now is a great time to find out how Unread can help you get back to a stress-free way of reading.

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A huge thanks to Unread for sponsoring the RSS feed this week. This app is, in my humble opinion, the best way to read your RSS feeds from your iPhone. It is well-designed, enjoyable, and feature rich. And the latest version that’s brand new today includes some great updates. Definitely worth checking out.

Friday, April 18

On today’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I was joined by my internet pal, Stephen Hackett, to discuss a topic that is near and dear to any parent out there: kids, touchscreen devices, and screen time. In short, how do we raise our kids to have a healthy relationship with something that can be so easily addicting.

Sponsored by:

Thursday, April 17

Earlier this morning we published a whole new section to The Sweet Setup that is everything related to backing up your Mac. It’s a 5-part series of articles that cover what a backup system should look like (i.e. local and off-site), our top pick for local backups (Time Machine), our top pick for off-site backup service (Backblaze), the best hard drives, and more.

There are still a lot of people who don’t back up their stuff. My internet pal, Rick Stawarz, runs a Mac consulting company, and he says that “it’s rare for us to walk into a new client’s home and find a computer that’s actually backed up properly.” So, while I realize all of you guys reading this already know the why and the how for backups, and you’ve got your system in place, tell your friends they should buy an external drive and turn on Time Machine.

Wednesday, April 16

Mat Honan:

But the ever-present touchscreens make me incredibly uneasy—probably because they make parenting so easy. There is always one at hand to make restaurants and long drives and air travel much more pleasant. The tablet is the new pacifier.

I agree with Honan’s concluding paragraph that there isn’t a clear-cut answer for appropriate boundaries when it comes to our kids and their usage of iOS devices.

The goal has to be teaching (and then enforcing) moderation and boundaries. Heck, even the most healthy things our kids could be doing — like happily playing sports outside with friends — still needs boundaries and moderation. “When it’s family dinner time, that means it’s time to come inside and stop playing outside.”

This is something Anna and I talk about often, and we keep coming back to the basic guiding principle of active and engaged parenting. Letting our sons play a learning game on the iPad or watch an episode of The Magic School Bus isn’t wrong in and of itself, and we don’t want them to grow up feeling shame related to the usage of digital devices. But neither are we going to let them zone out for hours watching cartoons on an iPhone so we can live our lives without the “inconvenience” of little boys who constantly want our attention. That “inconvenience” is what the beauty and responsibility of parenting is all about.

Bradley Chambers on ways iOS software and hardware could be improved for its use in education.

Tuesday, April 15

This week I was honored to be a guest on The Menu Bar podcast. Andrew, Zac, and I talked about the recent Dropbox news and just how central Dropbox is to our multi-device lives. Then we talked a bit about how I got into the full-time blogging racket and the differences between self-learning how to do a creative craft versus self-learning how to run a business.

Monday, April 14

Screens 3 for Mac is a beautiful, yet powerful Screen Sharing and VNC client that lets you connect back to your Mac, Windows or Linux PC from the comfort of your living room, the corner coffee shop or anywhere in the world.

Screens 3 adds many new features and refinements that makes it the best VNC client for the Mac.

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My thanks to Screens 3 for sponsoring the RSS feed this week. Personal note, this app truly is stellar. If you ever want to access your Mac from your iPad, or from another Mac, Screens is the way to do it.

Meng To’s review of Sketch:

Photoshop has a big legacy and I can sense the unwillingness to make a switch and say goodbye to years of building libraries. But if you can overcome that, not only will you improve your overall design process, but you will be ready for the future as all your new designs will be completely vector-based, flexible and resolution-independent. You will design faster.

The good news is that Sketch is very similar to Photoshop and has more or less the same features that you are familiar with including keyboard shortcuts, layer blending, styles, blur, noise, patterns, etc, except it won’t have all the filters and photo editing capabilities that you probably don’t need as a user interface designer. It’s not a watered down Photoshop, it’s a robust design tool that has completely adapted to today’s design standards.

Update: Originally I linked to Meng To’s article stating it was a review of Sketch 3, but his review is over a year old. It’s still relevant, just not recent. My apologies.

This week’s setup interview is a fun one. Interviewees usually focus on only one device — iPhone, iPad, or Mac — but this week Chris shared a bit about all three.

Parody or not, it’s hilarious:

In the back-pocket of every airplane seat, sandwiched in between a sickbag and air safety instructions, is one of the most influential in-flight publications of the 21st century.

This catalogue is SkyMall. And I write for it.

Friday, April 11

On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly: choosing to focus our time, energy, and attention on creating something worthwhile instead of constantly checking our inboxes and trying to keep up with the “new” and “cool” and “urgent”. Because so long as our attention is focused on the urgent or the incoming, we won’t be able to do our best creative work.

Sponsored by:

Elegant. Fast. Pretty much all around fantastic. And it’s still just a beta.

In light of the Heartbleed vulnerability, AgileBits is selling 1Password for half-off. The Mac version, normally $50 is just $25; and the universal iOS version, normally $18 is just $9.

I cannot recommend this app enough. It’s at the top of my list for Mac apps you should be using. And we’re in the middle of writing an article for The Sweet Setup about the best password manager, and I’ll tell you now that 1Password is the winner by a mile.

Also, a few months back I posted an episode of Shawn Today that covered how 1Password and iCloud Keychain syncing can work together, and why you still need 1Password.

Speaking of Chris Bowler, he’s in the middle of a membership drive on his site. I’ve been friends with Chris for so many years, and reading his site(s) for even longer. He’s an excellent and thoughtful writer.

Membership to his site is just $2/month and it gets you on the list for his Saturday email newsletter. Sign up before next Wednesday and you’re in the drawing to win something awesome, the least of which is a copy of Delight is in the Details.

Chris Bowler has written an excellent overview of some of the more popular task-management apps, such as Things, OmniFocus, Asana, and TeuxDeux. He wraps it up with why he’s back to using OmniFocus after leaving a while ago to try all the other options:

Here I am today, back to OmniFocus as my tool of choice. It’s ease of use on the desktop are top notch. And if it’s overkill for my needs, it’s designed well enough that the features I don’t need do not get in the way. And the improvements in the desktop version make it an even better choice.

OmniFocus certainly has the reputation as being the 900-pound gorilla among the Checkmark Icon Posse. It’s a well deserved reputation — OmniFocus is, by design, a cornucopia of features, functions, options, and more. But Chris is right about OmniFocus, in that it’s designed in such a way that it’s not overbearing or demanding if you don’t want to dive deep into all the features it has available.

But if you’re on the fence, this is a good year to be in the market for to-do list software. Not only is OmniFocus making some major updates, but the other two big players in this space — Things and Wunderlist — have also announced that they are working on the next big update to their software as well. I’ve been loving the beta of OmniFocus 2 for Mac, but I’ll also admit that I’m holding my breath for what Cultured Code has in store.

A note about shawnblanc.net and the Heartbleed Bug

Here on shawnblanc.net, I use SSL encryption on a few pages related to the membership sign-up and checkout process. Unfortunately, the OpenSSL libraries in use by this site were affected by the Heartbleed bug. If anyone targeted my server to exploit the vulnerability, it would only have affected members.

This is to let you know that my site’s vulnerability to the Heartbleed Bug has been patched.

My hosting provider (Media Temple) proactively updated my server’s OpenSSL libraries on Tuesday night, April 8th. Once I confirmed my site was no longer vulnerable, I had my SSL certificate re-generated.

Additionally, as a precaution for all members, I’ve logged everyone out from the site and changed the salt hashes that WordPress uses. All members will have to log back in to access the Membership section.

When you do log back in, please change your password. This can be done from the “Your Profile” page.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ping me on Twitter or email me.


— Shawn

Thursday, April 10

Mike Isaac at Recode:

Apple said Thursday that its mobile, desktop and Web services weren’t affected by a major flaw in a widely used set of Web security software that could have affected hundreds of thousands of websites.

Good news.

Mashable has put together a list of several of the more popular sites that were affected by the Heartbleed bug, and highlighting which ones have been updated and thus you ought to change your password to. If you’ve got accounts with any of these services — Dropbox, Facebook, Gmail, to name a few — you should change your password straight away.

Alice Lee shares a behind-the-scenes look at the wonderful branding and hand-drawn artwork of Dropbox’s new Carousel app. And speaking of, Carousel’s in-app onboarding experience is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Charlie Burt has a great interview with Gregory Kolsto, the owner of Oddly Correct, one of KC’s best local roasters and fussy coffee shops:

My mission in life, I think, is to make people feel something. I’m more interested in staff being kind and engaging with people coming through the door than being psyched about coffee. I mean, it has to be both, but because coffee has a tendency to be pretentious on the surface — like you almost expect it to be “hipsters” doing some weird thing with coffee — well, if you can engage people with kindness and information and art beyond that, I think its a beautiful thing. It’s totally disarming to both the weird art world and the weird coffee world. I feel like we have a fun opportunity to engage people where they’re at.

(Thanks, Jorge.)

Kevin Kelly:

Here is what I learned from 40 years of traveling: [...] it is far better to have more time than money.

Tuesday, April 8

Andrew Kim wrote an excellent review of Braun’s beautiful, 51-year-old “Phonosuper”:

This is it, the SK55 is my all time favorite product and there’s nothing in the world more important for me to share on this website than this. The Braun SK55, or the SK4 to be more specific, is in my opinion, the most important product in Braun’s history and therefore the most important product to the design of electronics today.

Now, take my comparison here with a grain of salt because I’m not actually on Facebook, but the new Twitter profile page design sure looks a bit Facebook-y to me. But who says that’s a bad thing?

For example, the new design has been rolled out on the U.S. Department of the Interiror’s Twitter page, and it looks absolutely fantastic.

The profile page design sure has changed from what it was 5 years ago.

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