Sweet App: Hues for Mac

This Sweet App review is the first in a new type of post I’ll be writing for the site: short, mini-reviews of apps that come across my path. I’ve had it in my head that the only valid software reviews I shall ever publish to shawnblanc.net are ones which exceed 3,000 words. Moreover, I shall only write about apps which have become an integral part of my day-to-day computing life.

Well, that’s baloney. What about the apps I like but which don’t change my life? What about the apps I want to talk about but don’t have 3,000 words for? The weekly Sweet App review is the answer to these conundrums. Enjoy.

Hues

Hues is a simple and useful color finding tool for your Mac. I came across this app when its developer, Zach Waugh, emailed me to let me know about it.

Hues Color Picker for OS X

I like Hues because it has the familiarity of the built-in OS X color-picker tool, yet it with a few special modifications of its own:

  • It gives you the HEX, RGP, and HSL values for any color you pick. Since I design live in a browser having a light-weight app that helps me find colors and their HEX values is super helpful. I’m embarrassed to admit that used to launch Photoshop for the sole purpose of finding a color I liked and copying its HEX value. Needless to say, Hues is much more economical for that purpose than Photoshop is.
  • It has 5 rows for saved swatches instead of one. (Update: news to me is that if you click and drag the little dot underneath the swatch palette you can adjust how many rows of saved swatches are visible.)
  • In the app’s preferences you have the ability to remove any of the color pickers from the toolbar that you don’t use. I, for instance, only ever use the color wheel, so I removed the Sliders, the Palettes, and the Crayons.
  • It works, looks, and feels just like the native color picker, just better.

Hues is $3 in the Mac App Store.

Sweet App: Hues for Mac

Speaking of things that make you go “huh”, HP is making more TouchPads:

Despite announcing an end to manufacturing webOS hardware, we have decided to produce one last run of TouchPads to meet unfulfilled demand. We don’t know exactly when these units will be available or how many we’ll get, and we can’t promise we’ll have enough for everyone. We do know that it will be at least a few weeks before you can purchase.

Huh. I laughed when I read this. I told Anna about it during dinner and she laughed. It’s funny because it doesn’t make any sense. Didn’t HP have their $99 fire sale so they could unload their inventory of these things and move on?

Perhaps the $99 TouchPad was the fastest-selling item that HP has ever sold. Maybe HP wasn’t expecting the TouchPads to sell so quickly and the sudden rush of attention and sales got them all fired up and now they want to fan the flame and feel that rush one more time.

More TouchPads on the Way

Equal Parts Art and Logic

From start to finish I spent about a month building Tools & Toys. It was mostly during weekends and evenings. Working on the site reminded me just how much I love designing.

As much as I love writing there is no denying the fact that it is a quiet and lonely endeavor. When writing, I need long and silent stretches of uninterrupted time. I have to shut off outside communication to avoid distractions that would derail my train of thought.

But designing, at least for me, is much more lively. It’s more inviting for frequent social feedback, and I can design with the music turned up. Moreover, designing uses the right and left sides of my brain in a way that writing does not.

Writing certainly has its creative and problem-solving elements as well, but the way design combines art and logic is different. I enjoy both outlets, but design seems to be more equal parts painting and problem solving, and I love that about it.

What I also love is the way various creative and problem-solving outlets fuel one another. Designing and building Tools & Toys helps me to write better. And being a writer helps me do better design work.

It’s different for everyone, but that’s part of the fun. Don’t you love creativity?

Equal Parts Art and Logic

I’ve been selling sponsorships of the RSS feed for almost a year now as one of the primary revenue streams that has enabled me take the site full time. Moreover, the feedback from advertisers has always been positive, and a handful of companies have booked repeat sponsorships.

If you’d like to promote your company, product, or service to an audience of nearly 11,000 daily readers then right now is a great time to book a week-long, exclusive sponsorship.

And here’s some good news: as of last week there is a new format for the sponsorships. The “thank you” post goes up on Monday and is more like a mini-review of the sponsored product. This has quickly proven to be more interesting for readers and more effective for sponsors.

So, in short, readership is up, the format is improved, and the value is higher. Click through for more details and to get in touch.

RSS Feed Sponsorship Openings

The Amazon Tablet

There is something fun about speculating and guessing. It’s part wish-list and part wild guess, and it’s fun to see how things actually turn out. And so, in the spirit of enjoyable speculation, here are my thoughts on the Amazon Tablet.

Right now there seems to be three potential concepts for what this rumored Kindle Tablet will be:

  1. A full-fledged tablet, powered by Android and with an LCD screen and glass display. (Basically Amazon’s entry to the tablet market.)

  2. An improved version of the current Kindle: one with no physical keyboard, a touch-sensitive black & white, e-ink display. (Basically Amazon’s version of the Nook Simple Touch.)

  3. Something in the middle. Like option number 2 but with color e-ink.

As someone who owns an iPad already, option 3 sounds the most appealing to me. A device like this would have all the advantages of the current Kindle (such as its light weight, low price, long battery, and great use as a reading device), plus some new advantages (such as color display and no keyboard). However, as Marco points out, the cost of color e-ink is still very high and its response time on a display is still very laggy. In short, color e-ink is still too expensive and poor in performance for a Kindle. So option 3 is likely out.

Marco is convinced option 1 is what it will be. And, while I think it is very likely that we’ll see a full-fledged tabled device with Amazon’s name on it, I have a hard time seeing it as being interesting at all.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t sell well. Again, Marco:

If Amazon can deliver a $249 tablet that does a serviceable job for reading books, browsing some top newspapers and magazines, watching movies and TV shows, and playing some casual games, that’s going to be very attractive to a lot of people.

We know for sure that the Amazon Tablet will have at least two things going for it:

  • The Amazon brand and ecosystem: which is strong, has a great reputation, and people love their Amazon Kindles. Regardless of the details about what the device looks like, how much it costs, etc., Amazon is one of a few tech companies with a household name and a positive reputation.

  • The Price: Every rumor and speculation I’ve heard has pegged the Kindle Tablet as being somewhere around $250 or less.

Perhaps it will be cheaper than an iPad, and perhaps it will be better than all the other me-too Android tablets out there. But I simply cannot imagine what would be compelling about a full-fledged Amazon tablet, powered by Android, other than the fact it would be cheap and carry the Amazon brand and ecosystem.

If Amazon is going to make an inexpensive device that is backed by their brand and ecosystem, then why not make a better Kindle rather than a crappy tablet? Is the Kindle market saturated? Are they trying to increase the perceived value of the Kindle by making a secondary, more expensive device?

However, if the full-fledged tablet idea is not true, and they are just going to make a better Kindle then why did they set up the Amazon Appstore?

Here’s a thought: what if the there are two future Kindles: something like a Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch HD.

Or, put another way, what if Amazon shipped both option 1 and option 2 above?

The Kindle Touch (option 2 above) would be black and white e-ink technology, no keyboard, and a touchscreen. The Kindle Touch HD (option 1 above) is the full-fledged tablet device.

And if the Kindle Touch HD were a 7-inch tablet, then that would help make it lighter and easier to hold (one of the biggest strengths of the Kindle and biggest complaints against the iPad as a reading device).

But what about the Retina Display iPad?

There is another elephant standing just outside the room: the iPad 3. An iPad with a Retina Display is Apple’s answer to the Kindle.

If and when the next iPad ships with its Retina Display, it will obviate the need for a “better” dedicated reading device in the minds of many consumers. Amazon doesn’t need another me-too tablet. They need something that pulls on all the strengths they already have: the high readability of e-ink, a low price, lightweight, a huge ecosystem, and a strong brand. If not that, then what?

The Amazon Tablet

I now publish two websites: shawnblanc.net and Tools & Toys.

Tools & Toys is a collection of items for the pickiest of gadget geeks, software aficionados, snowboard junkies, music lovers, writers, coffee nuts, and all around collectors of fine paraphernalia.

This new site is going to be a lot of fun. The writing is brief, relaxed and playful, and all the items posted are awesome. I hope you enjoy it.

You should follow along via RSS and Twitter.

Introducing Tools and Toys

My thanks to Alex Solonsky for sponsoring the RSS feed this week to promote his iPhone app, Saver.

Saver is, by far, the most attractive and clever expense-tracking app I have seen on the iPhone. It’s been featured by Apple, has been ranked as the #1 Financial App in iTunes, and has been praised by the likes of MacStories, Minimal Mac, and The iPhone Blog.

With its completely custom UI, Saver looks simply fantastic. It has a similar feel to what you would see from a Tapbots app, but custom designs in Saver are not quite as as heavy handed. And the design and attention to detail are still top-notch. It’s an app full of subtle animations and well-placed pixels, and they all add up to something wonderful. Only an iOS developer would take the time and the care to build a financial app that is so splendid looking.

But it’s not all looks — the functionality of Saver has also been well-designed. Regardless of the task — adding expenses, viewing past transactions, getting a high-level look at your budget, etc. — the app is fast and easy to navigate.

Here are a few things about saver that I find especially clever:

  • When looking at the overview of your budget, Saver shows you a colorful pie chart. Tapping on a color of the pie chart drills down to a detailed view of that category’s expenses.

  • Saver gets iPhone users: there’s an iTunes category that has sub-categories for music, movies, shows, Apps, and books. Clever.

  • You can set which startup screen you prefer. Most financial apps like this insist on believing that when you launch the app it must be so you can see the money you’ve spent. But 9 times out of 10 you’re launching the app so you can quickly add a new expense and be done with it.

    Since Saver lets you choose which screen you want to appear when you launch the app, you can tell it to bring up the New Entry pane upon launch. This way you launch it, add a transaction, and be on your way.

  • Automatic data backup to their secure servers. In case you don’t plug your iPhone in to your computer often (I sure don’t), Saver has an option to do OTA backups to

  • You can set a 4-digit passcode for when you launch the app.

  • You can add you own tags to expenses by sliding the tag chart over to the left and then tapping and holding on one of the three dots. Moreover you can add a note for each transaction, and you can even snap a photo or add a photo from your iPhone’s camera library. This is great for snapping a photo of a potentially-important receipt and then tossing the physical copy of it. (Lord knows I don’t like to keep receipts around, but sometimes there are ones which you know you’ll need.)

I see Saver as having a use case for both those with a complex budget, as well as for those with simpler budgeting needs. For the former, you likely already use an online or desktop financial tracking app — in which case Saver makes a great companion for helping keep track of where we spend that cash which is so good at burning a hole in our pockets. And for those with simpler budgeting needs, what better tool to keep track of your monthly spending than with an app that is with you all the time?

This week Alex is doing a giveaway to help promote Saver. Check out the Saver website for details.

If you don’t want to wait on, or take your chances in the giveaway, you can grab Saver for just $3 in the App Store.

Saver for iPhone [Sponsor]

I’m embarrassed to admit that I think Dan’s right. And by embarrassed I mean that I’ve been assuming that an “Amazon Tablet” would be just another Android Tablet Device Flavor of the Week that just so happened to be powered by many of Amazon’s services. But what Dan is proposing makes a lot more sense. Dan and I may be eating ours words later, but I hope not. I hope Dan is right about the “Kindle Tablet Whatever It May Be”. And if he is, I’d buy two of them: one for me and one for my wife. And my iPad would likely get a little bit dusty (sorry, boy).

Dan Provost’s Kindle Tablet Concept

Another action-packed episode:

Shawn and Ben start with some Keyboard Maestro tricks as weed whackers run in the background. Then they start talking about the new The Brooks Review design(s) and blog design in general. Shawn gives us a sneak listen to his LaunchBar review that he has been working on like it’s TextMate 2. And, of course, we talk about Steve Jobs and Shawn shares some very insightful thoughts on the timing of his resignation as CEO of Apple.

Brought to you by the heroes at Paste Interactive.

The B&B Podcast, Episode 24: Weed Whackers