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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Our Favorites: iOS apps

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

The iPhone may be approaching its tenth birthday, but it often seems as though the iOS app scene is doing anything but slowing down. That said, the huge preponderance of apps has made it trickier to separate the wheat from the chaff. Still, we soldier on, testing new apps as they arrive, and where necessary, pitting them against old favorites. We’ve combed through both recent and more longstanding apps for the ones that have stood out for us.

Scrivener for iOS

The contents of a novel project.

For as long as Six Colors has been running, Jason and I have both lauded Literature & Latte’s Mac app Scrivener for all our fiction (and sometimes non-fiction) writing needs. This year, at long last—and after more than a couple failed starts—the app finally made its debut on Apple’s mobile platform with the $20 Scrivener for iOS. While the iOS version may not have all the bells and whistles of its Mac counterpart, that’s mostly a good thing. Instead, it gets down to the meat of writing and organizing, and, most importantly, lets you sync your work back to the Mac (or Windows) version. That’s not to say it’s not a perfectly capable writing program in its own right: it still lets you format, annotate, and edit your work the way you want to. Thanks to Scrivener for iOS, it’s no longer an impediment to travel with just an iPad—or even just an iPhone—and work on your writing projects.—DM

Sleep Pillow Sounds

Sleeping away from home is always a little bit disconcerting. A different room, a different bed, different sounds, etc. As an especially finicky sleeper, it’s the last that I have the most trouble with. I like to sleep with some form of white noise, and that’s not always a possibility in a hotel room or a friend’s guest bedroom. Fortunately, I’ve found the excellent $3 Sleep Pillow Sounds, an app that not only plays back a variety of white noises but even lets you create your own personalized mix. So if you enjoy falling asleep to the sounds of a thunderstorm, a crackling fire, or waves lapping at the shore—or perhaps all three—that’s totally doable. Mix and adjust the various sound tracks to your heart’s content, set a sleep timer, and drift off to the land of Nod.—DM


I’m an admitted weather nerd, especially when it comes to the weather station I have attached to the corner of my house. In addition to feeding data into a custom weather web page, my station sends its data to Weather Underground, where it joins a constellation of weather stations feeding real-time data into the system. Wunderstation for iPad displays weather station data in a fun way, with lots of customizable tiles showing various sets of weather data. I got the app to view my own station data, but quickly discovered that it was a great way to keep track of the weather in other locations. Now I can see how hot it is at my mom’s place in Arizona before she calls, and can check to see what it’s looking like up in the Sierra foothills before we head out for a weekend getaway.—JS

Castro 2

The new version of Supertop’s podcast player Castro aims to be more than just an attractive podcast app. Accepting that we live in a world with a ridiculous abundance of podcast (I’m so, so sorry!), Castro 2 is designed for triage of podcast episodes. In Castro 2, you browse subscribed podcasts and add specific episodes to your listening queue. Yes, this leads to more of a grazing experience, but if you’re subscribed to five times as many podcasts as you can possibly listen to with your available podcast time, grazing is what you need to do. Your podcast app might as well help you along the way.—JS

Prompt 2

I’m no command-line wizard—more of a petty dabbler in the dark arts—but I adore Panic’s Prompt 2, the iOS SSH client. From troubleshooting to server management, the command-line is definitely useful tool, and this $15 app makes it accessible to iPad and iPhone users—while looking good to boot. With support for frequently used clippings, Touch ID security, and key management, Prompt is a powerful weapon in the arsenal of remote access. As someone who has had to manage a web server and a home server from thousands of miles away, I’m thankful for an app that lets me do that from a device that fits in my pocket. It’s saved my bacon more than a few times.—DM


Dan has praised this app before, but this was the year that I got into Screens, an app that lets you remotely control a Mac or PC remotely from an iOS device. On the iPad Pro with an external keyboard, it’s not quite like really being in front of a Mac… but it’s close enough to let me troubleshoot weird things on my Mac Mini server, whether I’m on the other side of the house or hundreds of miles away. This is especially valuable when I’m traveling only with my iPad and not a Mac.—JS


I sit a lot each day, and even with my Apple Watch’s constant exhortations to get up and move around, I find it handy to have another method to motivate and track my activity. David Smith’s free Pedometer++ is the best in its class, with a simple interface that belies the complex work it devotes to tracking your steps. Pedometer++ can take advantage of both the sensors in your iPhone and your Apple Watch to paint a more precise picture of just how many steps you’ve taken in a day. It’s also got one of the few Apple Watch apps I still use, including a complication that I’ve got on my everyday watch face. Plus, if there’s anything more satisfying than the shower of virtual confetti you get for hitting your goal, well, I haven’t found it yet.—DM


One of the things I’ve been working on this year is doing more on the iPad Pro, including podcast production. And sometimes I just need to edit a file that’s on my web server, with only my iPhone or iPad handy. For both circumstances, I’ve found Panic’s Transmit to be a valuable tool. It’s a file-transfer app, so I can use it to pop podcast MP3 files up onto a server when I’ve finished editing them.I can also edit files on my server directly using Transmit’s built-in file editor. It’s one of the tools that makes my iPad Pro feel like a real computer and not a compromise.—JS

Scorekeeper XL

Every time iOS gets updated, I have a brief stab of fear that one of my favorite apps, the free Scorekeeper XL, will stop working. I’ve had this app installed for years, and though it’s not one I whip out every day, I have found it indispensable on the many occasions that I do use it. As its name suggests, it’s a way to keep score of anything from an ultimate frisbee match to a multi-person board game. Scorekeeper’s interface is a bit on the fun-but-garish side, with big bold colors, but it’s clear and easy to understand, and it carries out its one job with aplomb. I hope its scorekeeping days are far from over.—DM


I’m not the biggest fan of logging everything in my life, but there are definitely times when keeping track of your activity pays off. Untappd is the rare app that actually makes data collection appealing: It’s a free social network for logging what beers you drink. There is a whole lot of beer out there, and it can get overwhelming to try and remember whether I preferred this porter to that lager. (Hint: It’s generally the porter.) It’s great to not only be able to keep track of new discoveries and old favorites, but to share them with friends, too. At present, I’ve logged 50 distinct beers, and earned a bunch of fun, if worthless, badges for my accomplishments. Best of all, I’ve gotten to drink plenty of beer.—DM

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