Instagram gets an update, but the horrible icon remains

I opened the App Store today, as I find myself doing multiple times a day for some reason, and checked the Updates tab. I noticed Instagram had received yet another update. At first I assumed it was just a bug fix update, which is receives almost weekly, but it turns out I was wrong.

The update is actually a fairly major one for Instagram, as it sees the introduction of five new filters. These are, in fact, the first new filters Instagram has seen for two years.

I have been an Instagram user for years now, but it's fallen out of favour for me a little. I think that, while my photography is still very amateurish, I find the over compression and square cropping both limiting and a bit jarring. I have started to use services / apps like EyeEm and the fantastic VSCO that seem to respect the integrity of photos far more, maintaining both their original aspect ratio and quality.

Unfortunately, the update to Instagram doesn't fix much in the realm of maintaining image quality, but the new filters are of a lot higher quality, and are more subtle than the older offerings. They are much closer to the VSCO filters than before, which is great in my opinion.

The Instagram blog has the following to say about the new filters:

Slumber, Crema, Ludwig, Aden and Perpetua. They soften and subtly shift colors to achieve the look and feel you want for your each photo.

image.jpg

The update also brings a few more UI tweaks, which are also quite nice. Will this new update stop me preferring to upload my images to VSCO, EyeEm and even Ello before Instagram? Probably not. Will it make me reconsider Instagram as a viable secondary location for photos? Sure, why not? Until they update that horrendous icon, however, it's not very likely it will ever find a home on my homescreen again.

Homescreen: December 2014

I think I have said this in my introduction of nearly all of my Homescreen posts so far, but once again I cannot believe another month has flown past. It went so quickly I even missed posting this on the first of the month.

It's been a month of few developments for me really, apart from my gorgous daughter continuing to grow and impress me every day. She's now sitting up fairly well and is even starting to say a few words. She's going to be a talker ...

Anyway, you've probably not come here to learn about my trials and tribulations as a new parent, so I will get on with sharing my homescreen. It's been mentioned in the past that I should start also including my iPad, so this month I've added that too.

iPhone 6 Plus

As with last months post, there haven't been huge changes this month, so I will only highlight a few:

  • Dropbox Suite - I have added Dropbox, Mailbox and Carousel to my homescreen this month, because I have finally given in and opted for a, fairly pricey, Dropbox Pro account. I had hoped Apple could fix my storage solution problems, covering both photo uploads with iCloud Photo Library and general file storage with iCloud Drive. This, however, did not work out. The main issue with iCloud Drive, currently, is the fact that it syncs everything to my Macbook Pro. This completely defeats the purpose of cloud storage, however, because to have the items in the cloud, you also have to have them on your system. The fact Apple now supply their low end and midrange systems with fairly small Flash drives, makes this a no-no. Dropbox was the next best thing, and I'm really liking their suite of apps so far.

  • EyeEm - This app comes and goes on my homescreen. The main for it's lack of staying power is that terrible icon, but I have to let that pass. EyeEm, for those unfamiliar, is a photography based social sharing / network service. The app itself is nicely designed, with some decent built-in editing preses, but the real joy of EyeEm is the community behind it. There are some impressive photos and photographers on the service, which I did not expect. They are also launching a new Market tool, to help photographers sell their images, which is a nice touch. I've sold 5 myself. My cut is only $5 per photo, which may not be great for some, but my photography is never going to make me millions, so it's nice to think my work is of value to some. Look me up should you decide to sign up, and say hello. If you're into photography at all, I would highly recommend it.

  • Manual - This next app utilises a new API in iOS 8, which enables manual camera controls. It's a very simple, yet beautifully designed app, that lets you manually control shutter speeds, ISO, white balance, Focus and exposure compensation. It's a fairly niche app, to be honest, but I have had some interesting results from it so far.

iPad Air 2

Next up, as mentioned previously, I will be sharing a few details about my new iPad Air 2. When I picked up an iPad mini 2, I said to myself I would never get a full size iPad again, yet here I am, with an iPad Air 2 ...

As you can see, my iPad homescreen doesn't get anywhere near as much love and thought as my iPhone's. I'm not exactly sure why that is, to be honest. It may be because this isn't really my device, as such. I will often leave this at home, to be used as a family device, though it has been setup fully with me in mind. My wife generally only needs it for Safari and a bit of Spotify.

Many of the apps featured here are also on my iPhone, so I wont go into too many, again, but here are some highlights:

  • Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft - This is the only game that has ever found its way onto my homescreen. Hearthstone is a free to play strategy card game, from Blizzard, the company behind World of Warcraft. In their words it's Deceptively simpe. Insanely fun." They are not wrong! I am in love with this game. While I am also terrible at it, it's a testament to just how good this game is that I keep coming back for more, whenever I am able to. If you've not checked it out yet, download it today. It's completely free to get started, and can potentially be free forever, so you've got nothing to lose.

  • Pixelmator - Pixelmator has been available on the Mac for a long time, so I was excited to grab a copy of the iOS version when it was shown off at the recent October 2014 Apple Event. Pixelmator is a low cost, high quality Photoshop alternative. The iOS version is extremely powerful, and allows you to either create an image from scratch, or to enchance your photography. With an ability to Handoff to the Mac app as well, this is an absolute steal.

That's another month down, so come back next month to see how things are looking in January.

I hope anyone reading this has a fantastic Christmas and New Year with your friends and family. I appreciate any of you that visit this site, and I do aim to start getting out more regular content. Thanks for sticking around this long!

Podcasts: Audio Awesomeness

Apparently, podcasts are back! I missed the memo that hold me podcasts had even gone. I have been a big fan of the medium for years. Podcast consumption is now my #1 use case for my iPhone, beyond even photography.

We are all spoilt by a literal endless supply of completely free content, from some amazing talent. What's not to love? I listen to podcasts throughout my entire daily commute into and out of London, and often quite a lot of my day at work, whilst working hard, of course.

My current app of choice is the fantastic Overcast, by Marco Arment. You can read all about the app from the man himself.

I've threatened previously to share my podcasts of choice, and I've finally got around to doing so. This list isn't exhaustive, I have a few more I'm subscribed to, but the below are some highlights.

Frogpants

The Frogpants Network, helmed by Scott Johnson, is what initially got me into podcasting. The term network is fairly loose in this instance. Frogpants is more of a collection of like minded podcasters, with a decade or more experience in producing some quality content. The overall theme is general geekery, which is just how I like it. The list below isn't exhaustive, but it covers a fair few.

  • The Morning Stream - This is a daily morning show streamed live, or uploaded each day. It's my daily listen on my commute to work. I listen the day after each recording, being in England. The show covers a huge variety of subjects and will often include various cameos from other Frogpants stars. This is a great jumping on point if you want to try out the network.
  • Film Sack - This is by far my favourite of all of the Frogpants shows. The show is a round table discussion of, usually bad, films that are available for streaming on Netflix. Always funny, sometimes profound, I cannot recommend this highly enough. Some particular highlights include the recent Minority Report and Clue.
  • Current Geek - This weekly show, featuring Scott Johnson, Tom Merritt and a rotating guest, is a weekly injection of geekery from tech news, movies and gaming to name a few.
  • Daily Tech News Show - DTNS does exactly what it says on the tin. This is a daily tech show from Tom Merritt and regular co-hosts Patrick Beja and Justin Young and covers the latest news in a compact 30 minute(ish) chunk.
  • Diary of a Cartoonist - Diary of a Cartoonist is a chance for Scott Johnson to unwind and, usually, get a bit more serious and get some thoughts off his chest. Despite the name, the show is rarely about cartoon drawing.
  • The Instance - The Instance podcast is fast approaching its 400th episode, and is the longest running show on the network. This is one of the more specifically themed podcasts available, revolving around the Blizzard MMO World of Warcraft. I've not played the game for months now, but still enjoy this podcast, which is a testament to the quality of the content and the hosts.
  • Boop! - Boop is a new solo podcast from Scott Johnson. It's a bi-weekly gaming news roundup show. If you're into gaming of any kind, this one's for you.
  • The Angry Chicken - TAC is another specifically focused podcast, this time following Blizzard's Hearthstone. It's a game I love, and this podcast compliments it perfectly.
  • Comic Dorks!

Relay FM

Relay FM is more like the traditional podcast network that Frogpants. Founded just this year by Myke Hurley and Stephen Hackett, it follows a similar rough theme as Frogpants, in that the featured podcasts are of a fairly geeky nature. For such a new network, Relay has gotten off to an amazing start. The fact the founding members, and all show hosts are extremely experienced and passionate clearly helps here.

  • Analog(ue) - According to the Analog(ue) page on Relay.fm, this show, hosted by Myke Hurley and Casey Liss, ...is about how devices make us feel and how they change our lives for the better, but also for the worse. This sounds a little more restrictive than the actual content, however, as the show is often just a very interesting, more general, discussion between Myke and Casey and is a great relaxing listen.

  • Upgrade - Myke takes to the mic again for Upgrade, this time along with ex-Macworld lead editor and current Six Colors owner Jason Snell. This podcast is again technology focused, and looks at how various forms of technology ... shapes us over time ....

  • BONANZA! - You'll never guess who the main host of this one is ... Yes, Myke is back again, bringing along Mr Matt Alexander. This is the newest show on the network and actually has no theme at all. It's a general talk show, which inevitably will still involve various tech or geek discussions.

  • Clockwise - What's that? A show on Relay that doesn't feature Myke Hurley? This fairly short round table discussion is hosted by Dan Moren and Jason Snell, and various other guests. Each episode includes a discussion on four different topics, for ~5 minutes on each subject. The right nature of the format keeps this one very interesting and punchy.

  • Connected - This podcast was formally known as The Prompt, when Myke Hurley was part of Dan Benjamin's 5by5 network. It was the podcast that first introduced me to the podcasting talens of Myke, Stephen Hackett and Macstories owner and writer Federico Viticci. The podcast was reborn as Connected. The show is a weekly panel discussion on how technology affects all of our daily lives, with a particular focus on Apple and the ecosystem that accompanies it.

  • Inquisitive - Another Myke Hurley vehicle, Inquisitive features a special guest each week. The podcast then focuses on how the guest in question has worked to create various interesting products or services.

  • Virtual - Virtual is another ex-5by5 podcast, renamed from Directional to Virtual. This one, hosted by Myke and Federicco, is all about games, gaming and surrounding ecosystem. I have this podcast, when it was still The Prompt, to thank for convincing me to buy a Wii U. That isn't sarcasm, I really do love my Wii U ...

Independent / Other

  • Accidental Tech Podcast - This is a bit of an odd one really. It's a very dry tech podcast, featuring Marco Arment, Casey Liss, and John Siracusa. The guys go into great depth about various tech related stories and share some really interesting insights along the way. The podcast is fairly heavy going, however, so might not be for everyone.
  • The Talk Show with John Gruber - This is another very dry, yet insightful tech podcast, from the very talented John Gruber (and friends).
  • This American Life - This American Life is a public radio broadcast, shared as a podcast. The team behind the show, headed up by Ira Glass is really fascinating. The show features 2-3 articles each week, across a plethora of themes. Each one is extremely well researched and presented. Cannot recommend this highly enough.
  • Serial - Serial is a new podcast from the team behind This American Life. The show takes the well researched approach of the parent show, but goes 10 steps further. The show is split into seasons to investigate a single subject, in extreme detail. The current topic, a 15 year old murder case, is truly fascinating. If you only check out one podcast from my list above, make sure it's this one.
  • Iain Lee - This is another slightly odd choice, being a local radio show from a County I do not live in, but I'm a big fan of Iain Lee and have followed him across various shows he's done in the past. While this is a local radio show, it very rarely goes into anything too specific to the County it's based in.
  • No Such Thing as a Fish - This is a weekly podcast from some of the researchers behind the BBC show QI. Enough said I think!

★ An iPad Air 2 review as beautiful as the device itself

Josh Ginter, over on Tools and Toys has written a fantastic review of the Apple iPad Air 2.

The review not only sums up the iPad Air 2 perfectly, it includes some beautiful product photography. This has become a calling card of Josh's reviews and posts. If you don't need to read another review of the device, which is amazing by the way, this is worth a view for the images alone.

Homescreen: November 2014

I'm sat at my desk at almost 4pm on a Friday afternoon, looking out of the window across London as the sun slowly sets. It's surprising to me that not only has another week flown by, but a whole month has also. This can mean only one thing. It's 'new homescreen post day'.

October has been yet another crazy month for me. My daugher is now almost six months old, which is just unbelievable to me. She's changed so much already, which in turn has led me to change quite a lot as well. That, however, is perhaps a post for another day. The only changes you're probably interested in 1 are those that affect my homescreen. You'll be pleased to know there are quite a few changes in this department as well.

  1. The word 'interested' may be pushing it a little, but you're reading this aren't you, so something must be appealing.

The homescreen I posted last month was fairly dull, but I've started to take a bit more advantage of what my iPhone 6 Plus has to offer now, which is reflected in some of my app choices.

Some apps, like the official Twitter app, Overcast and Day One are staples, and won't be changing any time soon. Drafts is another staple app, but things have changed in this department. The app has been redesigned from the ground up to take full advantage of iOS 8 and the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Pretty much anything I write, from this post to many of my tweets, starts life in Drafts. If you've not yet tried it out, I recommend you rectify that as soon as possible.

Thanks to the ginormous and beautiful display on the iPhone 6 Plus, I've been purchasing and watching a lot more films and TV shows of late. I'm really enjoying Gotham, The Flash and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D to name a few. Thanks to this rekindled interest in TV, and my fairly long daily commute, Videos.app is getting a lot of use, and has finally graduated out of my Apple junk folder.

I'm still quite happy with the iOS 8 version of Mail.app, but I received an invite to Google's new Inbox app, so I thought I'd take it for a spin. While the app is quite pretty, I'm still not really convinced by it, and can't see it still being on my homescreen come December. It seems like a fantastic solution for someone to manage a load of junk emails, but it doesn't seem hugely functional for anyone that has to work with a lot of genuine emails all day. As with all of these apps promising to change the way we use email, it falls well short for me.

I'm a massive fan of Twitter, but I heard a lot of buzz for a similar service called Ello, so I thought I'd give it a try. Awful name aside, it's quite an interesting service. Ello bills itself as the anti-Facebook, but it's basically Twitter without the ads. The ads on Twitter don't really bother me, but the service has a good community of photographers which is quite appealing. Now that I've dropped Google+ from my life, Ello can now switch that photography itch, at least until the next thing comes along.

The final change I'd like to mention is the long overdue return of Flipboard to my homescreen. I always found it fairly cluttered and over-engineered to just consume some written content. It's basic function hasn't changed much beyond this, to be fair, and I still prefer Unread for most of my consumption, but Flipboards new curated daily news feed is quite impressive, and it once again looks great on the iPhone 6 Plus' big screen.

That's another months update done and dusted. I might start sharing details of my iPad screen soon also, if my iPhone screens continue to be small revisions over the previous month. On a side note, if anyone is after an Inbox invite, give me a shout on Twitter. Until next month, goodbye for now.

Hardware: iPhone 6 Plus Review

I’m sitting here alone and bored in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, twiddling my thumbs for something to do. In between catching up on episodes of Gotham, American Horror Story and Justified I have been using my new favourite bit of tech, my iPhone 6 Plus, almost non-stop.

I was inspired by reading Josh Ginter’s fantastic review on Tools and Toys to get my own review done. If you want a truly great read, I’d recommend heading to the link above. I have no doubts it’ll be the better choice read. If, on the other hand, you want an alternative view, please read on.

For the first time in, well, forever, we iPhone users had a tough choice to make when it came time to order our new phone. The biggest choice Apple has given us in the past is that of colour and capacity. Whichever you chose in these regards, you’d basically get the exact same experience. During Apple’s iPhone and Apple Watch event, we were introduced to not one new iPhone, but two. We were given the choice of the 4.7” iPhone 6, or the monstrous 5.5” iPhone 6 Plus.

Until I saw this device I had maintained that the size of the iPhone 5 / 5s was ideal, and I’d not want a bigger device. I now need to eat my words, however. If you’re looking for the TL;DR version of this review, I can say that I absolutely love it.

As I said in my October Homescreen post, the iPhone 6 Plus appealed instantly, but I was very unsure which to go with. Early reports pointed to a greatly improved screen and battery life, but that size was just something else. After much back and forth, and hassle with various pre-orders and returns, I finally opted for a 64GB, Space Grey iPhone 6 Plus, and I’ve not looked back.

Hardware

Firstly, I’m going to state the obvious, by saying this device is absolutely gorgeous. It feels fantastic in hand, and the fact it’s only 7.1mm deep actually makes it feel smaller in your hand than you’d think.

The thin, smooth device is actually a bit too thin in some ways. It feels extremely delicate and, because it doesn’t fit so snuggly into the palm of your hand like an iPhone 5 / 5s, I had fears of dropping the device whenever I used it without a case. I’ve never been a big fan of cases, and have always opted for a Snugg slip case. This time around, however, this felt far too risky to me, so I picked up one of the official leather Apple cases. It’s a nice item, and feels great. I feel a lot more comfortable using the phone with this case, even though it does hide a lot of the well designed body.

The cameras in the iPhone have always been a major draw for me, so I was keen to try out the upgrades in this area, and once again I was not disappointed. Bar the protruding camera lens (which you could always ‘fix’ if it bothers you that much) the camera is fantastic. There are very few physical improvements over the 5 / 5s camera, beyond Focus Pixels and Optical Image Stabilisation in the Plus only. There must be some trademark Apple magic going on from the software, however, as the camera feels noticeably better from where I’m looking. Here are a few test shots I took:

The image above is an un-edited, straight from the phone image taken in Bournemouth, Dorset.

The image above was taken in Covent Garden, London. This one was edited, this time using the seminal VSCOCam.

This is another direct from the camera un-edited photo, taken in Bournemouth, Dorset.

Along with the camera, the feature that really pulled me towards an iPhone 6 Plus was the promised battery life, and I was not disappointed. I have quite a long commute to work, and I had to charge every previous phone once I got to work, so I could make it back home. Thanks to the iPhone 6 Plus, however, this is now no longer required. I can easily get through a full day on a single charge now, and often well into the 2nd day. That's just unheard of in other models of iPhone. Yes, the phone is huge, but if the benefits you get from that size outweigh the possible downside of the size, you can't go far wrong.

A complaint from some Apple fans is that the iPhone 6 Plus is just too big to use comfortably with one hand. My question is: ’so?’ While Apple has tried to help those that need to use the phone with one hand, via Reachability, the iPhone 6 Plus is essentially meant to be used with two hands. I would often type using two hands on the 3.5” and 4” iPhones, so this isn’t an issue for me. If it is for you, however, perhaps this isn’t the device for you.

Another great feature of the Plus is it’s glorious ’Retina HD’ screen. By bumping the screen size up to 5.5”, Apple were able to include an almost painfully gorgeous 1920 x 1080 true HD screen. This thing makes games, movies and websites look even better than ever before. Those apps that have been updated for the larger screen size also look incredible, though the updates are coming through very slowly.

Software

While not limited to the new iPhone models, there are some unique and specific iOS 8 points that only apply to these new models. I’m no app developer, so excuse my possible ignorance here, but I have been told updating an app for the new screen sizes is not a big task, yet it took the likes of Facebook and Instagram about a month to update their flagship apps. Google is still yet to update many of their main apps. This aside, those apps that have been updated look really nice on the huge new screen.

The few big name companies that have updated their apps have just released scaled up versions of the originals. Very few devs, so far, are taking the time to really re-assess their options and create an app accordingly. I do appreciate this takes time to do, however, so I’m excited to see what we get over the comings weeks and months. The increased screen size, mixed with Extensions and the like all go together to ensure the remainder of 2014 and into 2015 are going to be interesting times for iOS users.

One developer that has really embraced iOS 8 and the new iPhone screen sizes is Agile Tortoise with their excellent app Drafts 4. This was recently released as an iOS 8 only application, because it takes full advantage of Extensions and various other iOS 8 improvements. The app is also really, really, really ridiculously good looking.

All in all, the iPhone 6 Plus is, to me, the perfect combination of hardware and software. Something Apple has always expressed as something they pride themselves on. The OS upgrade this year has taken a lot of flack, but it’s far more stable than iOS 7 was before it, and I’m seeing very few issues personally.

Part of my plan with getting the iPhone 6 Plus I sold my Retina iPad Mini. The screen sizes were far too close together. Since doing so, however, I have been missing the larger screen. I have now gone and done something I promised myself I'd never do again. I have just ordered a big iPad, in the shape of the new iPad Air 2. I think the combination of an iPhone 6 Plus, along with an iPad Air 2, is quite the formidable pairing. When the Apple Watch also joins the family, I think I will have the perfect set.

The iPhone 6 Plus brings Apple’s best screen, camera, battery and (in my opinion) design along with OS features people have been asking for for years with custom keyboards, extensions and many other improvements. Like it or not, the future is big. You can choose to go big, or even bigger, or you can chose to go elsewhere, though you’ll be hard pressed to beat the beauty and efficiency of the iPhone 6 Plus.

Homescreen: October 2014

Can you believe that it's October already? The nights are drawing in, and the leaves are dying on the trees, but it's not all doom and gloom, at least when it comes to a good old iPhone homescreen post.

Last month saw a bit of a blast from the past, with me back on an old iPhone 4S. This month, however, things are bigger and better, literally.

On the 12th September I, along with four million other people hit Apple's website to order a new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. The experience, for me at least, was not an enjoyable one.

I had to take a 2.5 hour train journey to Brighton for work, so at the time of the pre-orders going live, I was sitting in Victoria Train Station waiting for my train. As is always the way with an iPhone launch, the moment the pre-orders opened all hell broke loose and Apple.com/uk/store was down for the count. After about 1.5 hours of constantly hitting the Apple Store site, the mobile app and the reservation page, I managed to snag myself two preorders, and an actual order. The panic of finally getthing through threw me off, and all orders were for devices I didn't actually want, but I stupidly wanted to get something for my efforts.

Before I go any further, let me roll back a little. This time around, unlike normal iPhone release days, we all had more than colour to decide upon. We now had the difficult choice of size as well. We had the option of the big 4.7" iPhone 6, or the really big 5.5" iPhone 6 Plus. Awful naming decision aside, the Plus instantly appealed to me. This device was not just a spec bump like most years, it was pretty much a new category item. We have the phone, we have the tablet, now we have something else. The Plus features a huge new battery, a gorgeous new screen and a slightly improved camera over the 6. The better camera on the Plus sure is a very minor improvement over the standard 6, but I'm a sucker for any camera improvements.

The only down side I could see was the size. This was, however, quite literally a very big downside. Shortly after the announcement, various sites were offering paper cutout versions of the Plus so you could, in a way, road test the device in your hands and trousers. While I felt like a bit of a moron doing it, I gave it a try.

I think I subconsciously squeezed the paper a little bit, to make the device seem smaller. 

The effort, and slight embarrassment, was worth it however, and I'm convinced I made the right decision.

I have probably waffled enough at this point, this is a Homescreen post after all. I might share some thoughts on the device itself in a separate post. Without further ado, however, here is my current screen. You must excuse the dull presentation of the screen this month. To be perfectly honest I could not find a new 6 Plus mockup to use, and I don't have the Photoshop skills to create one myself, so you'll have to make do with a basic screenshot I'm afraid. Get in touch if you do have a nice mockup I can use for the next year, however!

The first thing you'll probably notice with this months homescreen is that there is now a lot of room. The bottom row must, of course, remain clear, but I now have two empty rows. The phone itself is still pretty empty, to be honest, for a very good reason, namely optimization, or more accurately, lack thereof.

For one reason or another, many developers, even big name players like Facebook and Instagram, have yet to update their apps to optimize them for the larger display of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. I don't think it's harsh to say that the apps that are not yet updated look absolutely terrible. The fonts are huge and the apps themselves are blurry messes. I know this will be sorted out very soon, and it's less offensive to the eyes than the non-Retina optimized apps were a few years ago.

The apps I am using this month are fairly lackluster in terms of stepping too far away from the stock apps, or anything hugely different from last month. I am still finding my feet with the phone and want to wait and see how apps are updated, if at all, before getting too invested in them.

OvercastListening to podcasts has overtaken taking photos as the biggest use case for my iPhone, so a good podcast app is a must have the moment I set up a new phone. As with last month, I am still in love with Overcast. I reported last month that the apps Smart Speed feature saved me a total of 12 hours so far. Over the last month, this is now nearing 20 hours! That, alone, is pretty damn impressive.

Marvel UnlimitedI have been a subscriber to Marvel Unlimited a few months now, having treated myself to a years subscription. Until now it was reserved for my iPad. The screen on the 5s was far too small for viewing comics comfortably. The iPhone 6 Plus changes this, however. I can now easily view comics on the go during my commute or in bed. A full sized iPad will probably give you a far better reading experience, but the iPhone does make this far more convenient, and I'm getting a lot more use out of my subscription now. That can only be a good thing.

CarouselI have found this photo management app from Dropbox getting quite a lot of use recently as well. I was very excited for iCloud Photo Library when it was first announced, but it now appears that it's release has been pushed back. While this is very disappointing, hopefully it will mean it will come back bigger and better than before. Until it does rear its head again, Carousel is a nice alternative. It's appeal was fairly limited before, given the cost of Dropbox storage, but this is now far more competitive. That being said, it's still £7.99 a month, so I will stick to my free 17GB's for now. Once that is full, Apple will hopefully have something to offer me to take advantage of that 200GB of storage I have with them.

With that I will close off this months homescreen update. Next month should, hopefully, see a far more interesting update, as apps, both big and small, will see updates to take advantage of the many features iOS 8 has to offer, along with the larger real estate of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Check back here next month to see how things go.

The Evolution of the iPhone Camera

Lida Bettany, co-founder of Camera+, on the advancements of the iPhone camera technology:

In the past seven years, each new advancement in iPhone camera technology has made dramatic improvements to image quality. The iPhone 6 is no different. Besides being faster to shoot and easier to focus, the images taken with the iPhone 6 camera show greater detail and are significantly better in low-light.

The camera featured in the iPhone has always been one of the major draws for me, so this updated comparison from Lisa is really interesting. The comparison notes are very interesting.

Homescreen: September 2014

Unbelievably, another month has now flown past so, following on from my August post, it's time for me to share my latest iOS homescreen.

As wih last month, it's all change again. This time around, however, there hasn't been as much of an app shakeup. The device, on the other hand is all new (and old, at the same time).

As alluded to last month, my iPhone 5s is now in the hands of another person, thanks to Amazon and a Seller Account. In preparation for the iPhone 6, my beautiful 5s has been replaced by a, not so beautiful, 4s, courtesy of an eBay seller that doesn't understand the term 'excellent condition.'

Given that I will only, hopefully, be using the device for about a month, I've taken much less care in putting this months homescreen together. I'm not using too many of the more advancved apps such as Dispatch, Launch Center Pro or Drafts. And, as threatened last month I'm back to using the official Twitter app, and liking it much more than Tweetbot once again.

While it was present last month, I've started to get a lot more use out of Dropbox's nifty Carousel app. For those of you unfamiliar with this particular app it is, basically, a way of backing up and viewing images in Dropbox. This was limited, previously, due to the ridiculously uncompetative Dropbox pricing. The guys at Dropbox, however, have finally rectified this and their new Pro account is now even cheaper than Google Drive, assuming you pay for a year up front. The prospect of 1TB of storage data, with auto photo backup, is now very tempting indeed. I am, however, holding fire on signing up to a year long Pro subscription, until I see what Apple can offer with iCloud Photo and Drive next month.

The only real addition this month is Swarm from FourSquare. Swarm is the result of a change at FourSquare, which resulted in their primary app being stripped down to, essentially, a Yelp equivalent. Swarm is now used purely for check-ins.

I change my mind often on the value and usefulness of 'checking-in' with apps like FourSquare or Facebook etc. and I'm not sold on the idea of Swarm, as yet, but I thought I would give it a try this month and see how it goes. The chances of it making it's way onto my iPhone 6 are, however, slim to none. I'm finding no value in it being there, and if I ever visited somewhere that I really needed to remember, I would be posting it in the excellent Day One app.

My most used app this month, as it probably will be ongoing, is Overcast. Whichever podcast app I have installed is always, automatically, my most used app. I subscribe to about 35 podcasts, so it's always in heavy use. The fact that Overcast is a particularly great 'podcatcher' doesn't actually make me listen to them more, but it does make listening to them a little more pleasurable. Due to Overcasts Smart Speed ability, I have saved myself 12 hours of my life. Granted, those same 12 hours are probably going to be consumed with yet more podcast listening, but that's beyond the point.

Next month things should be all change again, and I'm beyond excited to drop my 4s and pick up an iPhone 6 in the coming weeks. With the changes coming to iOS 8 there is potential for a lot of excellent applications that were not even possible prior to this, so it should be an exciting time from a software perspective as well. Next month I may even have an iWatch homescreen to share ... 

Fatherhood: Three Months On

I've tried ... I've really tried ... My daughter turned 3 months old on the 25th August and over those 3 months I've tried my hardest to not post about her constantly, turning this blog into a being a parent is tough, let me tell you all how tired I am kind of fare.

Today, however, that changes, just momentarily. The main reason for this is actually to excuse the lack of content there has been here since launching the site a few months back. According to Squarespace's analytics tools a fair few people have actually subscribed to the blog. I've no idea why you've been kind enough to do it, but for those that had I felt I owed you an explanation.

The whole point of this blog was to be an outlet for things that interested me and I felt passionately about and, like it or not, there is now nothing I love more in the world than my beautiful daughter Sofia May. Move aside iPhone’s and MacBook Pro’s, something with far more drool is vying for my attention.

The birth itself was far more traumatic than I, and especially my wife, had envisioned, which saw Sofia in intensive care for the first 4 days of her life 1 . Without going into too much detail, my first sight of my daughter involved seeing her silent body being taken over to table with 5 or 6 doctors and nurses for, what felt like a life-time, only to finally hear some weak cries finally break free. I then had to leave my wife on the operating table while I followed my daughter out into intensive care. The moments that followed will live with me forever. As I watched my helpless, yet determined little girl literally fight for her life I knew that I would be there to protect her from that moment on. This kid is going to get away with murder ...

As the days went on, and the Doctors were pleased with her impressive progress we were finally able to take our daughter home. Here is where the clichés begin. From the moment we left that hospital, life changed dramatically.

Dramatic changes such as my Wii U is now gathering dust at an alarming rate, untouched for months, and the fact I’ve managed to get to the cinema once in the last 3 months. There’s also the fact that I am now jointly responsible for the life of another person. And I thought the 150cc cups in Mario Kart 8 were intense …

  1. A day that is supposed to be the ‘best day of your life’ turned into the scariest I’ve ever experienced

I wont bore you all with the usual statements that come at this point other than to say yes, lack of sleep sucks 2 , it's scary not knowin what you're doing, right or wrong, and baby poo is as grim as you'd imagine.

  1. Though this does get a bit better, fairly quickly.

These are all things I expected, and anyone can plan for. What you cannot plan for, however, is how every one of those disgusting poos makes you feel as proud of your child as if they'd just won a Nobel Peace Prize, or their little knowing smile in the morning will brighten an otherwise bland day.

I'm looking to the future, excited about getting to know my daughter as she grows into a little person and then into adulthood. I'm looking forward to hearing her voice, and seeing what she becomes, and at having an excuse to watch Spongebob Squarepants again.

My life currently involves a lot less sitting around playing games over the weekend and a lot more vomit and urine soaked nappies, but I wouldn't have it any other way ...

 

 

Bicycles, Everywhere

During my recent mini photowalk around London I couldn' help but bump into loads of 'Boris Bikes', so stopped by for a quick snap. They aren't te most exciting of subjects, as you can imagine, but again, as before, I quite like them with this new perspective. I edited an alternative selective colour version which you may prefer.

At this point I should say that I appreciate sharing a photo doesn't really consitute a blog post, for most people. It is, however, going to consitute a blog post, from time to time, on this site.

Firstly, quite a large proportion of this site will be taken up with photography of some kind, whether it's a single image like this, or a larger, more in-depth piece. Secondly, quite honestly, I don't have a lot of time to post too much at this point in my life, while I'm busy at work, working with Appadvice and also helping my wife bring up our beautiful daughter when I'm out of work, so to me it's better to post some content here, however limited, rather than nothing at all.

According to the Squarespace metrics, which I can't really trust at this point, I have received just over 50 subscribers since launching this site a month or so ago. This sounds crazy, but if even one person has taken the time to subscribe to my RSS feed, then I at least owe that person some content. They will be aware of my previous content, so a single image post wont surprise them too much.

An Early Morning Photowalk

image.jpg

I usually get to work, in Central London, at about 7:45am, even though I'm not due to start until 9am. My reasons for doing this are varied, but it's basically because I'm up anyway, I'm used to traveling at that time having had no choice previously and I also have a very over the top need to not be late.

I usually go straight into the office and get working, but I fancied a bit of a change so headed over to Trafalgar Square to take a few pictures before the crowds started building.

image.jpg

While, as you can see, I didn't get anything to write home about, it was interesting to see the place so quiet. Visit even half and hour later and the place is teeming with tourists.

As I've said before, I'm using my photography as a way to experiment at the moment, and trying to improve my eye and composition. This, somewhat, explains what I've tried to achieve with the wonky, low angles. I'm not sure how well it's worked, but I quiet enjoyed the new perspective.

The images were taken on my Sony NEX-3, imported to my iPad and edited using Snapseed and VSCOCam. Since having the baby I just have no time, and no inclination really, to import everything to my iMac prior to editing. Hopefully this will excuse the quality, a little.

Somerset House

Every day I count myself very lucky to be working in central London. Not only is it one of my favourite cities I've ever visited, it's also, obviously, right on my doorstep.

Working here gives me an opportunity to get out, on occasion, during my lunchbreaks to see if I can find some interesing gems to shoot. These images were taken just a few yards from my office, at Somerset House

I'm a big fan of street photography, but I find it a little awkward to do. You are, after all, taking pictures of strangers while they go about their business. Being so blatantly voyeuristic and in your face is inheritantly un-British, to my mind, so I very rarely partake. The above is the cloest I could manage, on this occasion.

An Upset Baby And An Unexpected Sunset

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my wife and I recently had our first baby. All has been going swimmingly, after some initial complications during the birth.

Our daughter had to have her 8 week injections this week, which did not go down well at all. The first night was particularly difficult, and led me and my wife on a long drive, while we tried to settle her down. While driving in an almost random direction, we came across a beautiful lavender field, which also turns out to be part of the biggest lavendar farm in the UK. Crying baby or not, I couldn't resist jumping out of the car 1 and trying to get a shot. Here is the result.

  1. Okay, so I didn't actually jump out of the car, but I'm sure you get the point.

The image was taken and edited on an iPhone 5s

I only had my iPhone available for the photo, which tends to be the main camera I have to hand these days so the image is fairly noisy, however.

Shortly after taking this image my daughter finally settled down and started feeling better, for a time. All in all, the trip out with an upset baby and an unexpected sunset was a success.

Taking inspiration from Conor McClure's excellent daily photo series I am planning on taking and sharing photos more regularly on this site, so feel free to subscribe if you want to see more.

Homescreen: August 2014

A new month has arrived and with it comes a new homescreen. This months screen is looking quite different from last month's, with a move away from some of the stock apps and a new Twitter client.

A big feature of my current homescreen is productivity. I've recently moved my site over from Tumblr to Squarespace so I've added the offical app to ease posting on the move. While I'm still not posting heavily, the intention is certainly there to start increasing this. 1

To this end, the fantastic Editorial has also been added. If you're not familiar with this app, it is a feature packed text / Markdown editor. The iOS App Store has no shortage of note taking apps, but Editorial has a great USP, namely Workflows and Python script integration. With this, you can essentially write some basic scripts to do pretty much anything you'd like to do with your text. I, for example, have scripts that will easily add footnotes to my text or post my note directly to Squarespace. The app is so extensive that Federicco Viticci published a book about it. It's a smart choice if you plan to blog or write from an iOS device.

I've recently started working with the team of iOS blog Appadvice 2 . My involvement with the site has lead to quite an increase in email volume. Not only do I receive a lot more, I also need to send many emails, with very similar content. This role has given me the opportunity to start using the app Dispatch, which allows for predefined text snippets to easily be inserted into an email being composed. You can also easily pass email content into other apps, such as Fantastical, if you need to create a calendar item out of it, for example.

Speaking of Fantastical, this app has had a bit of a comeback to my homescreen. It, along with Dispatch, sees me moving away from the stock iOS apps once again. The main appeal of Fantastical is its integration with Launch Center Pro, though the stock app also has this. It does allow me to replace both Calendar.app and Reminders.app with a single item. I don't, however, think Fantastical is as great as the hype would make you believe.

I try to avoid buying a ticket on the hype train as much as possible, so I had intentions to bypass my next new app completely. I'm refering to my new podcast app of choice, Overcast. Overcast launched in the middle of July, to great fanfare. The app is the latest release from the internets own Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper and a Tumblr founding member. Marco is an interesting guy, and is obviously extremely talented and knowledgable in his field, but I've also found him to be fairly arrogant. People that are confident in their own abilities often do come across like this, so I wont hold that against him.

I listen to a huge amount of podcasts 3 so my app of choice is very important to me. I've used the last majority of them, in the past, with Pocketcasts being my most recent favourite. That, however, has changed since Overcast was released.

Not only does Overcast look great, it also has some nice unique features. The first is Voice Boost which enhances and normalises speech volume. The second is pretty impressive, and can literally save you hours of your life. The app is able to analyse the episode that you've downloaded and cleverly adjust the playback speed to remove awkward silences or breaks in the audio. The real magic of this feature, which Marco calls Smart Speed, is that you can hardly notice it is doing anything at all, yet the results are very impressive. I've been using the app for a few weeks and, according to the settings screen, it has already saved me over 4 hours of listening time. That's 4 hours of extra content I'm able to enjoy.

The final addition to my homescreen I want to discuss is Tweetbot. This isn't a new app, by any means, but I've had a bit of an up and down relationship with this one. As with Overcast and Fantastical, the app is highly rated and raved over. I, however, have never been a massive fan. I feel it's over-engineered for the service it's been created for, feels heavy and is also quite slow. The official app, on the other hand, feels much nicer. The only thing that does appeal about Tweetbot, however, is the Tweet Marker feature which keeps my place in my stream, so I never miss a tweet. I've given into some peer pressure here, and decided to give the app another try, but I'm still not feeling it. In fact, in the process of writing this article, I think I've convinced myself to drop it once again and go back to the official app. I miss a lot of tweets, granted, but to be perfectly honest this isn't neccesarily a bad thing ...

This month sees the end of my iPhone 5s homescreens. My 5s will be sold soon, as is the usual yearly tradition, to maximise its value ahead of a new iPhone release. If the rumours are to be believed, the iPhone 6 should be interesting and I'm excited about what iOS 8 will bring to the table. I recently picked up an old iPhone 4s to use while I'm waiting for the 6, so I may well be sharing my setup on that little fella next month.

  1. In terms of both frequency and quality. That's the plan, at least.

  1. This isn't my actual job, I'm just helping the owner out with a new project in my spare time.

  1. The only thing I use on my iPhone more than a podcast app is the camera. I will most likely post seperately about all of the podcasts I'm currently enjoying.

Hardware Doesn't Matter

Since the birth of my daughter 7 weeks ago I've had absolutely no opportunity to get out and use my camera. I've taken plenty of pictures of my beautiful girl, obviously, but they are private and will only be shared with my family.

I've missed taking pictures, and need an outlet. I'm far from being a good photographer, but as is the way with any hobby, you don't have to be good at it to enjoy doing it. To this end I've been trying to at least take some photos, even if they are not with my real camera and I've been getting a lot of use out of my iPhone 5s recently. I love the camera on this device, and I think it can produce some impressive results..

One benefit, to me personally, is the option an iPhone provides for post-processing an image. My camera workflow involves taking the photo, uploading it to my iMac and Lightroom, editing and then finally sharing. With my iPhone I can load the image into Snapseed or, my personal favourite, VSCOCam and then edit and share it all on the same device, at the same time. There is a risk, however, in going either too far with the process, or editing just for the sake of editing, with no real understanding about what you're doing.

Someone I met on Twitter recently, Conor McClure isn't a big fan of mobile editing for this very reason. In a recent conversation with Conor he said:

Conor also wrote a very interesting article on the subject, which is well worth a read. When you consider how good Conor's photography is, and how poor mine is, he may well have a point!

As previously mentioned (once or twice, I know, but it bears mentioning), my photography skills leave a lot to be desired, so missing out opportunities to practice and improve need to be avoided. While photos from my iPhone wont be appearing in a Gallery any time soon, I see them as, at worse, an opportunity to improve my composition and ability to at least envision a great photo.

If you ask many photographers you'll often hear the phase 'hardware doesn't matter' While there are, of course, limitations to lower end cameras and devices, this is fundamentally true. The act of physically taking and processing an image only tells half of the story. If your composition is not right, or at least considered, you wont get a good photo, regardless of the hardware you're using.

If you take one thing away from taking the time out to read this article (thanks by the way, to anyone that has done so) let it be this: If you want to get into photography, but can't afford an expensive camera, don't let that stop you. An iPhone may not be any cheaper than a mid-range DSLR, but there are some very cheap point and shoot cameras available. These will be just as good as an SLR, if not better, when it comes to 'getting your eye in' and learning all about composition. It's the biggest obstacle I face, so I never miss an opportunity to try and fine tune this.

A cheap point and shoot will give you the benefits of having something lightweight to keep with you at all times, and the absence of advanced settings found in higher end hardware will allow you to concentrate on capturing that perfect moment. Don't miss out.

Things: Hyrule Historia

I’ve made it no secret that I have a bit of a Nintendo obsession, particularly for all things Zelda. The following image alone is enough to make me giddy with excitement:

The various games aside, there is one item that all true Zelda fans need in their lives, namely the Hyrule Historia!

According to the blurb of the book, it offers: ' … an unparalleled collection of historical information on The Legend of Zelda franchise.' The official website for the book calls it: '… the Zelda bible', and it’s not wrong.

The book is broken down into 4 sections, namely, “The First Story” or “The Legend Begins” which is an introduction to Skyward Sword and its world. this section is quite extensive. It’s a shame that Skyward Sword, a game that is arguably fairly weak among the series, is featured so heavily. The book was created to tie into this games release, however, so it makes complete sense.

The next section is very interesting as it presents a (rather loose) complete history of Hyrule. It follows the order of events of the series chronologically.

Next up we have “Creative Traces”, which holds a great amount of official and concept artwork along with various sketches.

The tome is then closed out with a lovely, but short, Skyward Sword manga. The story was created by Akira Himekawa, the leading author in charge of creating the manga of the Zelda series.

If you call yourself a Zelda fan, and you don’t have this reasonably priced book, think again!

Hardware: Nintendo Gamecube

Gamecube

I’ve developed a bit of a Nintendo obsession over recent months, ever since picking up a Wii U which I absolutely adore.

I’ve decided to start a bit of a collection of older systems, seeing as there aren’t that many (I won’t be going for all of the handheld units). After the Wii U and Wii, I now managed to find this little beauty, a Gamecube, for just £10. It works perfect, and is in very decent condition.

The device itself is surprisingly attractive, and compact. You also can’t help to appreciate the charm of a console with a carry handle built into its design. You can say a lot about Nintendo, but you can’t say they don’t take risks or experiment with some interesting designs.

If anyone has a NES, SNES or N64 they want to donate to my cause! please get in touch!

A Photography Experiment

Since having our baby a few weeks ago, my wife and I have not had a lot of time to ourselves, so my photography has tajes a bit of a backseat, unless you count 100s of photos of my daughter.

Now I’m back at work I do get a chance to get out a little during my break. I work in Central London so there are quite a few photography spots available to me, as long as I can get to them within about 30 minutes.

Due to my lack of spare time, I’ve had to look at alternatives to my usual photography process of taking the photo, importing inti Lightroom on my iMac, editing and then outputting and sharing to various sites. I’ve started experimenting with a mobile only solution.

While not as powerful as Lightroom with access to the Nik Collection, there are some quite decent options for light editing on iOS devices, such as Snapseed or VSCOCam

While my experiment continues, I still prefer to edit pictures on my computer and really take my time with it. I can now save a little time, thanks to the Lightroom iOS app. I can import images directly from my camera to my iPad and then sync them to the desktop version of Lightroom for real editing later.

Either way, as long as I’m getting out there and improving my photography that’s the main thing.

The image above is the National Gallery in London.

It was taken with my Sony NEX-3, loaded onto my iPad and edited using VSCOCam, SnapSeed and then synced back to my iMac using Lightroom mobile.

Screened: Ronnie Lutes

Welcome to another edition of my Screened series. Next up we have Ronnie Lutes, one half of the Pocket Sized Podcast. Enjoy!

Let’s start with some basics. Can you tell the readers your name and a little about yourself?

My name is Ronnie Lutes and I have an iPhone homescreen addiction, it actually borders on psychosis. I am the very lucky husband of Shawna and the proud father of two. I’ve lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA long enough to be considered a local.

Before we get to your setup, what is your mobile OS of choice, and why?

I enjoy Apple products. I enjoy them because of their simplicity and because they “mostly” just work. I believe that Apple cares about security and privacy and they are implementing even more measures in iOS 8, this aligns closely with my own belief system. I also have a Mac and an Apple TV so I’m fairly deeply integrated into their ecosystem.

Which device will you be sharing today?

Today I will be sharing my daily driver, a silver iPhone 5s. It’s actually my only iOS device, our family has an iPad but I very rarely use it.

Here is the device in question:

homescreen

What is your primary use case for the device?

I use my iPhone to keep me organized at work. I manage 40+ people and I need to be able to quickly get things done. I’ve used most every to do/task management app available and if I wrote this next week I might have totally different apps on my homescreen but I always seem to come back to the system I’m showing you here.

What are your top 3 ‘most used’ or ‘must have’ apps for your device?

Wow! That’s a tough question because there are so many but I guess I’ll go with the following:

  1. Launch Center Pro by Contrast is probably my most used app and it actually hides some of my other most used apps in folders on my second screen. Launch Center Pro would be hard to explain in a short interview like this but if you’d like to know more you can go to Alex Guyot’s Unapologetic or Philip Gruneich’s Blog. We’ve also done a couple of Pocket Sized Podcasts about it, one with Alex Guyot: Episode 152 and one with Phoneboy: Episode 153.
  2. GoodTask by haha Interactive is what Apple’s Reminders.app should be. GoodTask could be considered a Reminders.app client like Tweetbot is a Twitter client. It has an x-callback URL used with Launch Center Pro which is a must for me and it also has a Mac app that is nice but not necessary. At this point (I’m sure this will change in iOS 8 and extensibility), Apple’s Reminders.app is the only task management app allowed to be on the Today tab of the Notification Center and since GoodTask utilizes reminders from Reminders.app, you can mark them complete directly from Notification Center. I have tried a lot of other task management systems but only Apple’s Reminders.app clients have this ability. It’s nice to be able to swipe down in your lockscreen and complete tasks without ever opening your phone, it certainly saves a lot of time.
  3. Fantastical by Flexibits, which you won’t see on my homescreen, would have to be my final choice. I actually use Planner Plus by Appxy to view my calendar but I use a Fantastical Launch Center Pro action to input calendar events. Fantastical has the best natural language input method I’ve found but I’ve never really been fond of it’s looks, hence Planner Plus on my homescreen. Planner Plus is more powerful than just a calendar viewer but I love it’s look so that’s what I use it for.

Have you found any ‘hidden gems’ in your App Store of choice many users may have missed?

1Writer by Ngoc Luu is an exceptional writing app, in fact, I’m using it to write this post. It has a fifth row keyboard with all the commonly used Markdown functions and has a nice URL scheme, which is integral to any app I use.

And finally, do you have any final words you’d like to share, or a website for people to find out more about you?

I’m an app minimalist, which means I keep very few apps on my iPhone at any one time, however I try tons of apps. I’m @ronnielutes on Twiiter and I co-host the aforementioned Pocket Sized Podcast with my good friends, Scott Willsey and Vic Hudson of App Story Podcast.