My Favorite iOS Apps in 2017

2017 was the year I bid farewell to the Mac and went all in with iOS. Following the lead of Federico Viticci and Gabe Weatherhead, here’s a selection of my favorite iOS apps of the past year.

Apollo

Using Apollo (Free, $2.99 to unlock Pro features) on my iPhone X to browse Reddit is such a delight. It has an elegant design that feels uncluttered, and includes a ton of features and options. Despite all that, the app never feels bloated, complex, or clunky.

The app is clearly a labor of love by someone who frequently uses Reddit. There’s a great community of users in /r/apolloapp, where the developer also discusses bugs, feature requests, and what’s to come in later versions.

The iPad experience does need some improvement, though the developer has plans to overhaul this experience as part of version 2.

Apple Notes

Notes continues to be my preferred note-taking app. I’ve used many different apps and services over the years, from Evernote to Bear, but I just keep coming back to Notes for it’s simplicity and stability.

It’s a great example of an app and service that “just works”. Syncing is always rock-solid and fast, with changes immediate reflected across all my devices. The improved Share Sheet in iOS 11 has made it even easier for me to quickly capture thoughts or pieces of information.

There isn’t much I need from a note-taking app, and Apple Notes fits the bill.

Castro

I don’t have the time to listen to every episode of the podcasts I’m subscribed to. The rather unique approach Castro ($1.99) takes to podcast management is one I truly appreciate—and why it’s my favorite podcast app.

Instead of adding new episodes to a play queue automatically, they’re placed into an Inbox to triage first. I can then take a look at each episode and decide if I want to add it to the queue. This is especially useful for managing shows with daily episodes that aren’t required listening. For some of my must-listen shows, I have Castro skip the inbox and add them to the queue directly.

Coda

I’ve owned Coda ($24.99) ever since it was released, but it became one of my most frequently used apps this year. With it, I’m able to use my iPad for web development.

Coda is really three apps in one: a text editor, SSH client, and file manager. Any time I need to make a change to my site that requires editing code, I can connect to my development server using Coda and make the necessary changes.

Since I have full command-line access to that server using Coda’s SSH client, I can start an instance of Jekyll and test the changes I’ve made. If everything looks good, I use git commands to commit the changes and push them to GitHub.

Unfortunately, the future of Coda isn’t clear. Earlier this year, Panic published a retrospective of 2016 and highlighted that the company has struggled to make their iOS apps profitable. I’m optimistic about its future though—if anyone can figure it out, it’s Panic.

MindNode

I started using mind maps earlier this year, and MindNode (Free, $14.99 to unlock all features) is my app of choice. I can quickly hide the interface and create a distraction-free environment as I’m writing down my thoughts, and there are a wide range of formatting options to style and structure the resulting mind map.

MindNode’s support for iOS 11 allows you to open and save mind maps anywhere that’s supported by Files. Mind maps can also be exported into a variety of formats. The app even integrates with Reminders and can sync tasks and completion status.

Things

I used to be a Things user back in the day, but the lack of custom timed alerts on tasks drove me to 2Do. But after recently giving Things 3 for iPhone ($9.99) a try, I immediately switched over.

The app itself is stunningly beautiful. It feels more laid back than most other task management systems, yet still has a lot of the same functionality you’ll find elsewhere. There’s no friction between me and the tasks I create or need to accomplish, and even the task list view shows only the most important information.

It’s not as feature-rich as 2Do but, like Apple Notes, it does everything I need, and even includes a decent Apple Watch app and Siri integration. I also use Things 3 for iPad ($19.99), which is available as a separate purchase.

Working Copy

Working Copy (Free, $14.99 to unlock all features) is one of my all-time favorite apps. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s a fully functional Git client for iOS that seamlessly integrates with services like GitHub and GitLab.

Working Copy is an integral part of the process to manage and update this site. Any changes I make (e.g., new blog post) are committed and pushed to GitHub, after which Netlify regenerate’s the site and deploys the changes automatically. I also use the app to manage the Workflow Directory repository on GitHub.

Working Copy is one of the best GUIs for Git I’ve ever used. Without it, I doubt I’d be using my iPad in the way I do today.

Tiny GIFs in iMessage

As my wife, friends, and work colleagues can attest to, I often communicate using GIFs (hard G, don’t @ me). Most of my usage is within Slack, though I do occasionally use them in iMessage. However, my experience with iMessage and GIFs has been problematic. Whenever I’d send someone a GIF via iMessage, the recipient would often reply saying it was unwatchable because the size of it was so small.

It didn’t matter where the GIF came from (either pasted in or sourced from an iMessage app like GIPHY), the resolution of the GIF received was always extremely low. I had no idea what was causing this and just assumed it was an issue with iMessage’s handling of GIFs. But after receiving watchable GIFs from friends, I began to investigate the issue.

I took a look at some settings for Messages and noticed that there is a Low Quality Image Mode option that was enabled. I remember enabling this option several iPhones ago to save bandwidth whenever I sent photos via iMessage, back when I was on a terrible data plan in the UK. After turning this option off, GIFs were untouched when sent and were received as intended—in their full, bloated glory.

To everyone in my iMessage conversations, I apologize in advance for the upcoming impact to your data plans.

Device Screenshots Workflow Updated for iPhone X

I’ve updated my Device Screenshots workflow with support for iPhone X (direct link to workflow). As with other devices, it automatically detects the orientation of the screenshot and generates either a portrait and landscape image.

iPhone X device screenshot

For landscape screenshots, the notch is located on the right.

iPhone X device screenshot in landscape

I’ve also added a Set Name action to the workflow so a name can be given to the finished device image before saving it.

Phantom Folders in Notes

For months, I had some phantom folders stuck in Notes. Every time I deleted them on my iPhone, iPad, or even iCloud.com, they’d come back a few minutes later. I tried every combination of possibilities to try and remedy this, from turning off syncing completely to deleting folders on every device simultaneously—but they just kept coming back. The only remaining option was to erase all Notes data from iCloud.

I could have left the folders alone since they were empty, but I keep Notes organized and their existence was an annoyance. Before I wiped all my notes from iCloud, I wanted to back them up. I enabled the “On My Mac” account in Notes on my iPad, recreated the folder structure I had in iCloud, and moved all my notes1. I then deleted all Notes data from iCloud from the iCloud Storage options.

Deleting Notes data

After confirming all Notes data was erased, I recreated the folder structure back on iCloud, and moved my notes back. The phantom folders had been successfully exorcised.

I’m still not sure what caused the problem, and likely never will, but it started not long after I began using the public beta of iOS 11. Regardless of what caused it, deleting Notes data resolve the issue for me.

  1. I usually delete notes I no longer need, so I only had about 60 notes across eight or nine folders to move in total.