apps

I was struck by this call, in a New York Times opinion piece by Brian X. Chen, to "have some patience and empathy for the indie developers" as a form of praxis in the fight against big tech's power.

People often get frustrated when an app or game they love gets a big software update and charges another $3 to $10 for the new version, for example. Try not to get irritated — these are small outfits trying to survive, not big corporations trying to milk you — and be willing to pay. It’s the same amount of money as a cup of coffee or a sandwich, and you’re polishing a piece of software that you love.

I think I was already living my life this way beforehand, but it's something I'm going to try and do more consciously going forward.

And I wanted to try and help you all with a few recommendations for indie developers I gladly support. All of these are Mac or iOS developers, though a good many of them are Multiplatform.

YNAB

YNAB, short for You Need A Budget, is the single most transformative piece of software I've used in my life.

Big claim! But the app was instrumental in teaching me the difference between making a budget and tracking your spending. 

The latter is easy to do, and anyone with a vaguely quantitative mind probably does it already. It can help in a pinch – it's good to know when you're going to go into your overdraft before you do, rather than when you next go to take cash out at an ATM. And sometimes you can spot easy efficiencies in your spending patterns that save you money in the long run.

But YNAB gave me the structure to actually use a budget to get my finances in control.

At its simplest, YNAB is an implementation of the "envelope method" of budgeting: take your income, and portion it up amongst spending priorities. Put £40 on beers out, and you can spend that money in the pub freely. But when that pot is empty, it's empty – and you know exactly what other spending you're drinking away if you start shifting numbers around.

Newsblur

In 2013, Google killed Reader. The murder was either the cause, or the first casualty of, everything that's gone wrong on the internet since then.

But honestly, Newsblur is actually better anyway. The RSS reader is about £20 a year, and comes with a host of little extra features that make it a pleasure to use. You can feed email newsletters in, and treat them like their own RSS feeds; you can train the system to ignore certain writers or keywords (perfect if you subscribe to large multi-author RSS feeds); and you can automatically pull in the text, or even the whole website, from link-only feeds, so you don't need to click out to read articles.

Reeder

Despite all the niceness of Newsblur, though, I mostly use it as a backend for Reeder, in which I do most of my actual RSSing.

Bluntly, Reeder just has a nicer UI. It's a bit prettier, a bit more focused on text, and a bit less eager to show off its smarts. When I'm getting an RSS feed working, I appreciate being able to get under the hood and tinker. Bur when I'm just reading, I don't want any of those distractions.

Fantastical

This calendar app initially gained fame for its natural-language event input, and it's still pretty nice – if less novel – to be able to write "lunch with David at 4pm in the office" and see it become a perfectly populated calendar entry.

The newest version comes with some wonderful small features, including the ability to see a weather forecast for a particular day, a single click for opening up a videoconference event, and stellar watch syncing over the web.

Halide

The iOS camera app for pros. Halide lets you use your phone like a real camera, giving you manual control of things like the focus, shutter speed and aperture which are normally buried away beneath layers of algorithms.

Bluntly, one of the best things about the app is that it makes you appreciate the built-in camera that much more; not because Halide is bad, but because if you get handed actual control of all those things… nine times out of ten, you're going to fuck up a perfectly good shot.

But it's still so much more fun to actually take photos with care and precision, you know? Sometimes you don't do a shot justice if you just point the lens at it and hit a button: sometimes, it deserves time and effort.

iA Writer

I write this, and everything else, in iA Writer. It's one of the original breed of minimal text editors, dating back to a time when the default for writing text was either MS Word (boo hiss) or just directly into whichever content management system you were working with. And as we all know, never ever write directly into the CMS.

iA Writer offloads all formatting to Markdown, a very very simple markup language which you'll know even if you've never used: bold looks like *this*, italics look like _this_, and each header in this email is just "### this".

WaniKani

Yes this is very niche but if you're learning Japanese, just pay for WaniKani. The kanji learning website has a perfectly-tuned spaced repetition system setup, so that each time you learn a new character (or radical, or word), you're reminded of it a few hours later, then a few days later, then a few weeks, and then a few months. That system is crucial to developing long-term recall, and it's because of WaniKani that I can read around a thousand Japanese characters now, two years after I started learning the language.

Carrot

Weather apps are ten a penny. Why do I use Carrot? Partially because I like it. The app is fun: it's got nice design, full of little details; it has an achievement system ("experience a dangerously high UV index" felt like a nice one to get now); and it filters the whole thing through a homicidal AI.

Partially because I trust it. Weather apps, by virtue of needing to know your location to work, are notorious for leaking, selling or sharing tracking information. So pay for one that makes its money that way, and you might be better off.

And partially because Apple bought Dark Sky, meaning that's not really the indie choice any more.

Oh well! 

A nice response

Thank you, everyone who wrote in after last week's email, for the kind words. It was good to know so many people care.

It was also yet more evidence of the secret club of which I wrote – the many people who've experienced the same, or similar, pain, but feel like they "ought" to hide it, or not discuss it too much. If you find yourself in our situation, please, talk about it. You may not feel comfortable broadcasting it to the world, and neither was I for many months, but even amongst your close friends and family, I bet you'll find more support than you'd think.