It’s been another big year for iOS, with the release of iOS 12 which added great new features, but more importantly focused on fixing the bugs and issues that were in iOS 11. Apple also opened up iOS to third party developers, meaning that more apps could integrate with Siri and make it a more powerful experience.
I’ve mostly used third party apps over first party ones from Apple, and this is usually because third party ones are simply much more powerful. It’s been interesting to see how many apps have shifted to subscription based pricing over the year, despite it being introduced two years ago. Developers also seem to be testing different approaches, such as subscriptions that are optional, and different was to unlock features. Personally, I’m not a fan of subscriptions, so I prefer to do a slightly more expensive one time purchase.
Apps that are frequently updated are also apps that I am more likely to use – I like it when apps adapt to take in the latest changes in iOS, such as Siri integration, and when bugs are fixed and the developers update their apps.
This is my fourth year using my iPad Air 2 as my primary device, and whilst I’ve used many of the apps that I covered in last years review, I’ve also discovered many new apps that I have been using on a daily basis.
Ulysses. Ulysses has been the app I’ve been using to do nearly all the writing on this site for the past year, and also writing smaller essays when I don’t need to cite. I love the way that Ulysses presents markdown and in-line images, and think that it is the best markdown app on the App Store. It makes publishing posts to WordPress easy, and also allows you to tag, set images, and so much more. Ulysses also allows you to export to multiple formats, from PDF to .docx, which makes it easy to get your things out of Ulysses. I also use the highlighting markup a lot, to leave notes, and to mark spaces where I want to insert an image in the future.
Things 3. I’ve been using Things 3 since release, and was a user of Things 2 for a long time. I love the app, and it lets me keep on top of all my tasks without feeling stressed about them. However, the major feature for me, is the ability to both schedule and set a due date for tasks. This is why I use Things 3, and it allows me to easily schedule tasks for completion earlier than their due date. In addition, Things has had many updates over the course of the year, including the 3.4 update, which introduced the Things URL scheme, something that made the app much more powerful. I really recommend Things 3 to those who feel overwhelmed by their tasks, as it’s certainly kept me on track.
Managing large projects with Things is also great, as you can split your tasks up into subheadings, and see the overall progress with the pie chart that shows by the task name. A due date, and a scheduled date, can also be set for the task.
Working Copy. Working Copy has been on my iPad for years, and for a good reason. It allows me to easily update Github repositories on the go, with no hassle. Everything works brilliantly, and I can also sign my commits. I can see the history on my repository, work on different branches, and anything you would expect from a Github client. I’ve easily started whole projects on the bus, and Working Copy is an amazing example of a Github client. For anyone that uses Github, Working Copy is a must.
Textastic. This is the code editor I use on iOS, mainly with HTML. The syntax highlighting and auto completion is great, but one of the main reasons I use it is because it allows me to open repositories from Working Copy, and edit them right in the app. Then I can go back to Working Copy and commit. Textastic is a great editor, with a built in preview that works great with HTML.
Evernote. Five years later, and I’m still using Evernote every single day. All my notes, from school notes to notes for this site, are stored in Evernote. The ability to easily search through my notes is what makes Evernote great – if I want to find something, I can plug in the relevant data in the search bar, and Evernote will search everything in my account. This includes Word documents and handwritten notes that I have scanned in. In addition to this, Evernote makes it easy to organise your notes into notebooks, and further organise them with tags.
OfficeSuite. Editing Word documents is a pretty important part of what I do on my iPad. Whilst Microsoft offer an official Word app, many features are locked behind Office 365, and I wanted to have an app that would offer me full access to my documents. OfficeSuite is exactly that, and it allows me to do nearly everything I can on PC, including reference management1, saving directly to Dropbox, and more. It also allows you to work with Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoint documents, and more.
Drafts 4. Despite the release of Drafts 5, I have felt no need to move to it. I try to keep the amount of subscriptions I have to a minimum, and I really like Drafts 4. Drafts 5 looks a little too cluttered for me, and I don’t find myself needing any of the extra features it offers. I usually start writing in Drafts 4, and then it moves to a more permanent place. For example, I start to write a note for school, and then move it to Evernote when I have more time. I’ve written a post on how I use Drafts 4 to file my school notes in a second, and you can check it out here.
Monzo. I recently changed from a Lloyds current account to Monzo, and it’s a lot easier to see where my money is going. Monzo is a internet bank, and has no physical branches – this being said, it is FSCS protected, and undergoes all the regulations that a normal bank would go under. The major attraction of Monzo to me is the summary view, and the home page view where it shows all your transactions. In addition to these, the instant transactions is incredibly helpful2. Searching transactions is very useful, and you can also view the average, and total amount, you have spent at shops, and group transactions using hashtags. Then, the average and total amount of these groups can also be seen.
Monzo also offers pots, allowing you to easily sort and save your money. For pots with over £1000, you can get 1% interest on these pots.
You get a physical card which is mailed to you, and I’ve been using Monzo for all my spending and it’s been perfect. However, it is UK only at the moment.
Spark. This is still my email client of choice. Whilst it may not have all the features of clients such as Airmail, it has worked flawlessly for me. With other email clients I had issues where I was not getting notifications, and where I was not able to send or receive. With Spark, I haven’t had any of these issues – it just works. I can reply to email, signatures sync across devices, I can pin certain sections of email, and that’s all I need. Plus, it’s free.
Shortcuts. I’ve written quite a few posts on Shortcuts, what used to be Workflow, and it’s still one of my favourite apps. The ability to build workflows that do tedious tasks is brilliant, and the integration with Siri is also great. If you want to view my various posts on Shortcuts, you can do so here.
People are making much more powerful Shortcuts, some even including automatic updates, that are taking advantage of APIs and other features that will certainly impress you. If you want to see what Shortcuts can do, I certainly recommend checking out routinehub.co, a collection of Shortcuts that you can download. Many of these Shortcuts automatically update, so issues will be fixed.
Shortcuts could be viewed as a smaller version of the App Store, allowing users to create their own apps catered to their lifestyle. I really recommend checking out Shortcuts, as you’d be surprised what you can automate in your life.
1Password. After one of my social media accounts got breached, I decided it was time to stop using the same password for every site. After a little research, I decided to go with 1Password – it seemed to have the most features, and whilst it was a expensive subscription, I was willing to give that to something that would secure all my passwords.
The pace at which 1Password picks up new features is very impressive, and I’m glad they take advantage of the latest iOS features. One of these is the password auto fill that was introduced this year, allowing third party apps to take advantage of this and be added as a password manager. This makes 1Password seem like part of the system, and the developers were very quick to add this to the app.
In addition to the great developer team that add new features quickly, the Watchtower feature is great. This alerts you if your accounts have been breached, if you have the same password for multiple sites, 2 factor authentication that has not been enabled, and much more.
For those looking at improving their security online, I really recommend 1Password – it works across all platforms, and has browser extensions for desktops as well as native clients.
Proton VPN. When I’m in another country and I want to watch BBC shows, or if I can’t get on a US website due to GDP restrictions, I use Proton VPN. Made by the developers of Proton Mail, Proton VPN is free, and gives you three countries you can use. In addition to this, it’s quick, even on the free plan, and I haven’t had any issues with it.
Carrot Weather. This app has been on this list since my first one, and for good reason. The developer is constantly updating with new features, including new iOS features. Carrot Weather delivers the weather in a quirky and fun way, and allows you to choose from four weather sources, and view which weather stations are nearest to your location. In addition to this, it lets you easily see the forecast, a rain forecast, weather maps, and so much more. For those looking for a solid weather app, Carrot is the right choice.
AdGuard Pro. To block ads on iOS, I use AdGuard Pro. I generally don’t like to block ads, but on some sites it’s just necessary. It’s easy to add sites to a whitelist, and also to block certain elements on a page. The DNS level protection that can be enabled is great too, even blocking ads in apps and free games. For those looking at an ad blocker on iOS, I do recommend AdGuard. However, note that the Pro version cannot be updated as Apple updated the App Store terms to not allow what AdGuard does with the VPN, however there is a free version available.
Copied. This is a brilliant app that makes it easy to manage your clipboard across multiple devices. If I want to save something for easy access on either of my devices, I can quickly save it to Copied using the widget, and retrieve it whenever I want. Copied is also great for those looking to move pictures, text, URLs, and nearly anything else between their devices quickly – this is something else I use Copied for a lot. In addition to a widget (the part of the app I use the most – it’s really easy to save and get stuff from the widget) Copied also offers a keyboard extension, to make it even easier to insert things.
Opener. Once again on my list, Opener makes it easy to use third party apps, and to open content in those apps. One of my major issues with iOS is the inability to select your default apps – for example, I can’t set Tweetbot as my Twitter client to open Twitter URLs, and I can’t set Apollo as my Reddit client to open Reddit URLs. However, Opener allows you to share URLs to it, and it opens those URLs in your preferred app. It sounds simple, and it is – it also works brilliantly.
For example, if I am online and I see a link in Reddit, I can just hold down on it, tap share, tap on Opener, and then Opener will open it up in Apollo or your Reddit client of choice. For those who use a lot of third party apps like me, Opener is a must.
Launcher. I love widgets on iOS, and Launcher lets me make custom launchers in widgets to easy open up apps, make calls, URLs and so much more right from the notification centre. You can set widgets to appear and disappear depending on your location or time, and I use this for a widget set for apps I use at school, showing them when I am in the geofence and hiding them when I am out of it. I also have a widget with Things 3 launchers using the Things URL scheme, so I can easily make large projects in a tap.
Slack. I didn’t know if to put this in the social section or here in utilities, but decided this would be a better fit. I use Slack mainly for formal purposes, such as projects, and for coordinating mod teams on Reddit. Why use it over Discord? The search is a lot better, and it has many more integrations, meaning that we can get a message in a channel via Zapier whenever something gets flagged for moderation. It works well, but it can be a bit overwhelming at times for new users.
Apollo. I use Reddit a lot, both on my computer and my iPad and iPhone. Apollo is the client I use – it looks great, and works just as well. In addition, the developer often adds new features, and the app is very customisable. Update 1.3 brought real time notifications for replies and messages, making the move over from the official app easy to do. I spend hours on Apollo every day, and can’t recommend it more. The swipe gestures are great for quickly replying and upvoting, and it’s easy to navigate big threads.
Tweetbot. Despite the Twitter API changes, that restricted third party apps, I still prefer Tweetbot over the official client. It looks better, and I like that it doesn’t show in line ads. I do have Twitter on my devices to receive notifications, but I always use Tweetbot to view them. I don’t really use Twitter as much as I used to anymore – I prefer Reddit, however when I do occasionally read my feed, it is always in Tweetbot.
Discord. A brilliant voice calling app, Discord is the primary app I use to talk to my friends. It’s free, available on all platforms, and I’ve had few issues with it. The app works quickly, isn’t as clunky as Skype, and the voice quality is great. In addition to this, it’s easy to manage different servers, DMs, group calls, and much more. The ability to have bots on servers that can play music in voice calls is also very useful, and I recommend Discord to people who are using Teamspeak or Skype – it just works better.
News and Reading
Lire. I used to be a big fan of Reeder, but I really wanted something will full text extraction, so moved over to Lire. Whilst Reeder worked fine, I always hated opening up articles in my browser to read them. Lire offers full text extraction, meaning that even on truncated RSS feeds, Lire can grab the full text and show it to you in app. This is by far the best feature of Lire.
Lire also recently added a ‘Discover’ section, with filters like authors, calm feeds, hot links and linked list. I personally have only used calm feeds, and this shows you all the feeds that post maybe once a week or less. Often for me, these blogs are more valuable for me so I usually check in there.
My feeds are all sorted in folders, and Lire makes it easy to filter by folders. However, I wish there was a way to star feeds to show them in the main menu when there are unread items.
Apple News. If I want to browse less specific news, I use Apple News. Whilst I don’t often use native apps, News must be one of my favourite – it looks good, and shows me important news first. You can also filter what content you want to see, and remove channels from your main page in case you aren’t interested in their content.
In addition to this, The Nerdy Student is also available on Apple News, and you can subscribe using this link.
Video and Audio
Infuse 5. A recent addition to my most used apps, Infuse 5 is what I use to watch movies and TV shows on my iPad and iPhone. Infuse 5 syncs metadata to your movies, and automatically places shows and movies into categories so you can easily find something you want to watch. It also supports streaming services, such as Plex, and you can also use WEBDAV and FTP to get movies into Infuse 5. You can also use iTunes or a cloud service, so it’s easy to get media into Infuse.
It’s also easy to control brightness, volume, and skip back and forth with Infuse using gestures. Swiping on the left of the screen allows you to control volume, and on the right brightness. Swiping left or right anywhere allows you to scrub slowly through the timeline, letting you easily skip through or go back in your media.
Infuse 5 is a must for those that watch movies – it also has Trakt.tv support to make it easier to sync your watched movies and shows, and Infuse just makes it a lot easier to enjoy your media.
Trakt.tv. Whilst this is a web service, it allows your to manage your movie collection, and track your process in movies and TV shows. The latter is especially useful, allowing you to keep track of what episode and season you are on, and know the time the next episode is airing, and on what channel.
Trakt is a must have app for those who watch many movies and shows, and it also gives you interesting statistics about your watching behaviour, and how many hours you have watched.
Watcht. This is the client that I use to manage Trakt on my iPhone and iPad. It’s very powerful, and easy to mark things as watched, and to rate them. It also shows you what is up next to watch, your schedule, and notifies you when an airing is about to occur.
I won’t write too much about Watcht here as I recently wrote an entire review on it here.
Spotify. I still use Spotify as my music app, as it works well on all the platforms I use, and I really like the Discover Weekly playlists, and the For You playlists. I find they make it a lot easier to find new music, and quickly add it to your library. I also enjoy the radio option, which also makes it easier to find more music you enjoy.
Overcast. This is my podcast app of choice – the smart speed is amazing, and is very natural, allowing me to get through more podcasts in less time. In addition, I love the voice boost, which makes it a lot easier to understand the people talking by boosting their voices slightly. The interface is also clean and easy to use, and best of all, the app is completely free to use.
Whilst I haven’t listened to as many podcasts as I did last year, I still use Overcast as my podcast app.
I’ve been playing more games than ever this year, in particular the top two here. Since my computer has become pretty slow (seven years of hard use), I find myself playing more and more games on mobile. It’s also nice to be able to play the same game you do at home on your commute, or when you are travelling.
Arena of Valor. This is now by far my most played game – I play it every day, and I love it. Think of it as League of Legends on mobile, just a little more simple. Despite this, the game is challenging and really fun to play.
Arena of Valor is your classic MOBA game, where teams of five battle it out to take the opponents core. This game is always being updated with new heros, skins, and gameplay mechanics, that it’s never the same. In addition to this, unlike many games on iOS, it isn’t pay to win, so you can get to the highest rank without paying a penny.
A must have for any desktop MOBA player, and a must have for those looking for enjoyable, and challenging, online games that you won’t get bored of in a month.
PUBG Mobile. This is one of the best app releases of this year – I’ve always been a fan of PUBG, and now it’s on mobile I can play it wherever. Previously, I played a lot of Rules of Survival, a rip-off of PUBG on the App Store, but PUBG Mobile is light years better.
The classic battle royale game, and one of the first, in PUBG you need to be the last left standing out of 100 people. It’s and FPS based game, and is really fun. Different guns can be found, each with different recoil patterns, and armour, bullets, grips, scopes, and so much more can be found.
In addition to this, it’s easy to play and communicate with your friends through the game. For those looking for a fun online game to play with their friends, or alone, you won’t go wrong with PUBG Mobile.
Grimvalor. Another new release of this year, Grimvalor is my favourite offline game on my phone and iPad at the moment. A hack and slash action platform game, Grimvalor can be likened to a side scrolling version of Dark Souls. Grimvalor has no IAPs, and only charges you once, which is something rare in the mobile gaming world. In addition to this, it supports Mfi controllers such as the Steelseries Nimbus, making it even better for people who enjoy playing games on mobile.
It also has a lot of replay value – you can go different paths regarding weapons, and speed running is possible with the game if that is something you are into.
Stardew Valley. Whilst not new on desktop, Stardew Valley was released this year for iOS. I really enjoyed the game on desktop, and it was fun on iOS despite the initially clunky controls. However, controller support was later added, making it a brilliant game for iOS.
For people who enjoy relaxing farming games, Stardew Valley is the best out there, period. It has so much to do, and so much story content, that I cannot recommend it more. It’s not for everyone however. Multiplayer is coming to PC, and hopefully will be added to iOS soon, so you may be able to farm together with a friend.
Civilization 6. This is a well know title to many, having been available on PC for years. This year the game was ported to iOS, with all the features of the desktop game. I’ve spent days playing this game on iOS, and it’s a brilliantly done port. There are so many levels of depth to the game that it’s amazing how different the game is every time, and you can also select different starting options in the game menu. There are also scenarios that you can play out, and there’s so much to do.
The game includes multiplayer, however this is only between iOS devices3. Hopefully cross platform will be added at a later date.
Despite this being the must have apps of the year, I always like to include hardware/physical things near the end of the post.
Aukey 20,000 mAh battery. This has been my main battery that I have used this year – it’s always in my bag, and for good reason. It can fully recharge my iPad multiple times, and also recharge my phone around 7 or 8 times. Due to it’s big size it’s not something I lug around in my pocket4, however it is slim, so it can easily fit in my bag. It has multiple recharging methods, so it’s easy to charge with either USB C, lighting, or micro USB.
eBag Slim Professional. Since receiving this bag over one year ago, this has been my daily bag. It can fit all I need in it – my iPad, headphones, batteries, cables and a lot more. I love the hard ‘garage’ features, that lets me put in plugs without damaging the contents of the bag5, and the front section makes it easy to organise your things. The bag is very tough, and is water proof. It is also very slim, making it great for those who commute on the bus or the tube.
Blitzwolf BW-FYE1 earphones. These are a great pair of budget truly wireless earbud, and I’ve been using them for just under two months and cannot recommend them more. They are easy to set up, simply pairing to your phone via bluetooth, and have great battery life as they recharge every time you put them back in their recharging case.
Anker Soundbuds Slim. These are simply an amazing pair of earbuds, and I cannot recommend them more. For under £20 you get a high quality, comfortable and great sound quality set of Bluetooth earphones. For those that just want the ease of Bluetooth earphones, these are the ones to get. I’ve been using these for just over a year, and they’ve been going great. They got 5-6 hours of daily use since I got them to November, and now I use them as backup earbuds in case my Blitzwolf’s run out of battery and I forget to charge them.
The battery is around 7 hours, so I usually just recharge them as I get home. The battery life is the biggest disadvantage of these earbuds, which is why I use the Blitzwolf as my main pair.
TWSBI Eco. I started handwriting a lot more this year, and I’ve always been a fan of fountain pens. I wanted a demonstrator pen, due to the large ink capacity. However, I had a budget of around £40. The TWSBI Eco is a low cost demonstrator pen that can hold a lot of ink – perfect for lots of writing. The pen writes smooth, feels good in the hand and feels like it’s strong. It’s a great pen for those who write a lot on a budget.
Amazon Echo Dot. I picked up one of these during the Black Friday sales, and I really like it. Whilst I do wish they would allow Alexa Skills to be added to Routines, the Echo Dot hears me wherever I am in my room, and lets me ask it the news, weather, music from Spotify and so much more.
It’s been a great year of apps – new apps have come out that make it so much easier to work on iOS, and iOS 12 has also made iOS a better system.
Monzo – Pots
Pots in Monzo make it so much easier to save money. It’s easy to add money in the pots, and they can be locked for a specific amount of time to make it easier to save towards goals, and they can also be locked for a certain amount. Monzo Pots make it easy to save, and the rounded up transactions also mean that every spare penny is saved. This means that you won’t notice a large change in your account, but you’ll be saving a lot in the background.
Runner up – Things 3 Scheduling
I’ve written so much about this feature, but it’s amazing. It allows your to set a deadline for a task, and schedule it. For example, I had a project for this post, with the deadline being the 31st – they day I had to have finished and published it by. I also had it scheduled, for the 29th. This means that I can keep track of deadlines, but also move tasks into my today view, making it so much easier to keep on top of them/
Things 3 URL Scheme
This changed the way that I worked with Things. Now, it was so much easier to add, remove and manage tasks in Things. I use the URL scheme a lot, to automatically make projects for posts, and individual tasks related to the project with one tap, that would usually take me 10 minutes to set up. With the new URL scheme, you can do tedious things a lot more quickly in Things.
I use the URL scheme a lot with Shortcuts and Launcher, to quickly make tasks and projects in a tap.
Runner up – 1Password Autofill
I’ve been impressed with how quickly 1Password updates their app with the newest features, and support for new iOS updates. iOS 12 added the ability for third party password managers to be essentially integrated with iOS, meaning that they work just like iCloud Keychain does. 1Password quickly updated to include this, making 1Password feel like part of the system, and making it even easier to fill in your passwords.
Best New Release
There are been many great releases on iOS this year, so it was quite hard to choose which apps should appear in this category.
I usually don’t include games in the awards, however PUBG Mobile has been a great release this year. I’ve played hours of the game, both by myself and with my friends, and could not recommend it more. it’s really fun ranking up in the game, and can provide you with hours of fun. Each game lasts around 20 minutes, and there are four maps to explore, meaning that there is even more to play through and discover. The game is frequently updated with new maps, weapons, and fixes.
Runner up – Watcht
I’be been very impressed with Watcht, and how easy it makes it to manage your Trakt account on your phone. Also, the notifications the app gives you before a show starts is great, and you can set how early you want these notifications to come before the start of the show. It’s easy to manage your watched library, and rate shows and films. Watcht is also completely free, and is updated regularly with new features.
App of the Year
I’ve been incredibly impressed with Cultured Code’s Things 3. It’s an app I use every day, and it’s the app that keeps me on track. Things 3 keeps my life in order, and makes sure I always stay on task in large projects, and I get things done before the deadline. The ability to both schedule something, and keep the due date on the task, is what makes Things so good for me, and I am incredibly surprised no other app has such a simple feature.
Managing large tasks and projects is also easy with things, with the ability to have areas, and projects, allowing your to easily organise your tasks.
The team behind Things 3, Cultured Code, also frequently update the app, supporting the latest iOS features, and also adding new features to Things such as keyboard shortcuts and the URL scheme.
Runner up – 1Password
Despite only being a user of 1Password for a few months, I’m loving it. The sync is amazing, so my passwords sync across my devices no matter where I edit them in a second, and it’s incredibly easy to quickly fill in the login details no matter what platform you are on.
1Password also makes it easy to store 2 factor authentication codes, for apps such as Evernote, so it’s all in one place, and are filled in automatically.
I would recommend 1Password to anyone who has more than one internet account – it’s important to use different passwords for all your accounts. If you use a secure master password to 1Password, combined with the key you are given by 1Password, it’s incredibly unlikely that your account will be brute forced into.
Second runner up – Civilization 6
This game has entertained me for days on end, and despite it being a port, it’s done really well. I have mango f the DLCs, as they were free on rotation over Christmas, so there’s even more to do. There are dozens of reviews on Civ 6 on the internet, so I won’t go too deep into it – I’m still discovering new things in the game. There is so much depth to Civ that it won’t ever get boring.
2018 has been another good year for the iPad, with the introduction of Shortcuts and more integration with third party apps. iOS 12 focused around improvements, however iOS has a long way to go in regards to enhancements that could truly make the iPad a desktop PC competitor. The files system certainly needs working on, as the Files app is unreliable at best, and multitasking needs to be improved. However, iOS is slowly moving forward, so I’m looking forward to what will be included in iOS 13.
Thanks for reading, and see you next year!
- I use Zotero for this however, so I usually write essays that require citations on my PC. However, when I’m on the go I use OfficeSuite. ↩
- Instead of going into a pending transactions tab – this occurred on my old bank and it was a pain to see how much money you actually had in your account. ↩
- Which is a pity as I’d love to be able to play Civ 6 with my friends on PC. ↩
- I use a smaller, 10,000 mAh battery for this. ↩
- I used to chuck plugs into the bags main section, however this once broke a screen so I stopped doing it, and it was a pain to find somewhere to put plugs where they wouldn’t damage the contents of the bag. This garage solves that. ↩