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Weekend APPetizers: Paul’s favorite apps

Weekend APPetizers (see what we did there?) is our latest feature where we tell you about some of our favorite apps that reside on our smartphones.

Paul’s favorite apps

Hi, I’m Paul, and my daily driver is an iPhone, so invariably a couple of these apps will not be available for you Android users out there. What follows are my top 5 favorite apps that I use on a regular basis.

For this first article in the series, I’m going to avoid the more obvious core apps, such as social media, messaging and navigation and focus on other categories of apps in an attempt to bring you something different. Due to space constraints, we’re only able to provide overviews of the apps as opposed to full tutorials.

IFTTT

Platform : iOS & Android
Cost : Free
Website : ifttt.com

IFTTT, stands for ‘If This Then That’ – did that make it clearer? Simply put, it’s a cool and easy way to get devices and services talking to each other through the use of simple, easy to understand Applets. An Applet consists of a ‘trigger’ event and the subsequent ‘action’ to undertake when triggered.

IFTTT also extends the functionality of your existing apps and devices providing new and unique features. You may not even be aware that IFTTT support has been added by the manufacturer to the devices and services that you use, but you’ll be surprised how widespread IFTTT integration has become.


Ready made Applets Create a new Applet Trigger & Action Handy Widget for quick acess
Ready made Applets Create a new Applet Trigger & Action Handy Widget for quick acess
Ready made Applets Create a new Applet Trigger & Action Handy Widget for quick acess
Ready made Applets Create a new Applet Trigger & Action Handy Widget for quick acess

Ready made Applets Create a new Applet Trigger & Action Widget for quick acess

I use Google Wifi at home, and with its IFTTT compatibility, among other things, I created a couple of Applets that notify me when my son enters or leaves the property (identified by when his device connects or disconnects from Google Wifi) as he gets back from school before us. Using IFTTT in this manner provides an extra level of accuracy when compared to ‘find my friends’ alerts.


IFTTT notification when the 'action' is triggered.

IFTTT notification when the ‘action’ is triggered.

An additional level of simplicity is attained as IFTTT supports widgets. So whereas my Belkin Wemo app doesn’t support widgets, the IFTTT widget provides quick access to control my Belkin Wemo smart home devices.

For the more technically minded among you, check out the Webhooks IFTTT service that integrates with any device or app that can make or receive a web request. I’ve used this in conjunction with the Garmin Webhooks widget on my watch to control my lights for those lazy moments when I’ve left my phone somewhere in the house.

So spend a little time exploring the available Applets and services and you’ll be surprised at the extra features you’ll end up creating.




Get it on Google Play

Vivino

Platform : iOS only
Cost : Free
Website : vivino.com

Back in the day, the only thing I used my phone camera for was photographing the wines that I drank and loved – not that I’m an alcoholic, mind. Of course, searching back through grainy pics wasn’t particularly intuitive – it was better than nothing though.

With Vivino, you can take a photo of any wine label and learn that wine’s rating, review, and average price instantly while delving into greater detail regarding the wine region and producer. So simple in fact, that you can do it while drunk!

Once you’ve identified the wine, you can rate it and thanks to your phone’s GPS you can select the restaurant or supermarket where you drank or purchased the wine. In this manner, you quickly build up your virtual wine cellar, with your ratings and reviews combined with millions of users worldwide.


Old school search Photograph the label Confirm picture And you're done
Old school search Photograph the label Confirm picture And you're done
Old school search Photograph the label Confirm picture And you're done
Old school search Photograph the label Confirm picture And you're done

Old school search Photograph the label Confirm picture All the info at your fingertips

Things don’t stop there. When framing the wine labels, you can compare several wines to pick either the highest rated or the one that goes best with the food you’re eating. Usefully, when you’re in a restaurant, Vivino allows you to scan the wine list which is augmented with the ratings and the links to the wines – cool stuff indeed.


Scan multiple bottles to compare Select a wine for more info Scan the wine list
Scan multiple bottles to compare Select a wine for more info Scan the wine list
Scan multiple bottles to compare Select a wine for more info Scan the wine list

Scan multiple bottles For more detail select a wine Scan the wine menu for instant ratings

While Vivino may not have turned me into a wine connoisseur overnight, it has allowed me to enjoy my wines far more, and I can’t remember (that’s probably due to the wine) the last time I ordered a bottle of wine that I didn’t like.




Get it on Google Play

ProCam 5

Platform : iOS
Cost : $5.99 & Offers In-App Purchases
Website : procamapp.com

The camera app within iOS falls short for me. Sure, for those times when you want to capture that quick, spontaneous shot it’s great. However, invariably when the time comes to ‘tweak’ those settings to get a better shot – it’s hair pulling time. Either the setting is not in the camera app itself or as is more often the case there’s no setting at all! ProCam 5 has been my go to camera app now for several years providing a far higher level of control over the pictures and videos that I take, not quite DSLR levels of power but not far off.

ProCam 5

There is honestly too much to go into here, so I do recommend checking out the website to see all the features. Highlights from the app features include:

Night mode
Switch between wide-angle and telephoto lens
3D Photos utilizing the dual lens camera system to create wrigglegrams
Manual exposure, shutter speed, ISO, focus, and white balance controls
Focus Peaking
Zebra stripes – overexposure warning
Live shutter speed, ISO, focus, and WB value
RAW (DNG)
Adjustable aspect ratio (4:3 / 3:2 / 16:9 / 1:1)
Video audio meter (Avg. / Peak signal levels)
Nondestructive editing – all edits, including cropping, are completely amendable/reversible
60 filters
17 lenses: Vignette / White Vignette / Fisheye / Tilt Shift / Macro / Tiny Planet / Wormhole / Split / Kaleidoscope I, II, III, IV, V / Ripple / Striped / Hatched / Halftone
19 adjustment tools


Settings galore from within the app itself - go figure
Settings galore from within the app itself - go figure

Settings galore from within the app itself – go figure

My last remaining issue, and it’s targeted at Apple, is that I long for the day when Apple allows me to assign another camera app as its default, to quickly access it from the lock screen. The ProCam 5 widget doesn’t help in this respect.

Scanner Pro

Platform : iOS & Android
Cost : $3.99 – Offers In-App Purchases
Website : readdle.com/scannerpro

Sure, we’re using less and less paper, but it’s never going to go away completely. Be it managing receipts, sending ID documents, managing signed contracts or merely capturing that favorite quote from a paper book (yes – I still read those) is why Scanner Pro is one of my most used apps.

Frame the document, and ScannerPro automatically recognizes it and its borders proceeding to performs its scan while correcting for distortion. Job done.


Frame your document ScannerPro recognizes and scans And you're done
Frame your document ScannerPro recognizes and scans And you're done
Frame your document ScannerPro recognizes and scans And you're done

Frame your document ScannerPro recognizes and scans And you’re done

Of course, you could leave it there, but once you’ve scanned your document you can then convert it to text via Optical Character Recognition to copy’n’paste into other materials.

You can share your scans either as a JPEG or PDF or upload to several supported cloud services including iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive and WebDAV servers. You can even create simple workflows further speeding up your efforts.

Radar mode scans your existing photo library for possible candidates for conversion at a later date if you want to save time and use the default camera app.


Scanned document converted to text via OCR Share documents Build your own simple workflows
Scanned document converted to text via OCR Share documents Build your own simple workflows
Scanned document converted to text via OCR Share documents Build your own simple workflows

Scanned document converted to text via OCR Share documents Build your own simple workflows

If you’re an Android user, it’s highly likely that your default camera app will have this functionality built in, which may explain why the Android app lags behind its iOS counterpart in the features.




Get it on Google Play

Workflow

Platform : iOS only
Cost : Free
Website : my.workflow.is

Think of Workflow as IFTTT on steroids. This app got onto Apple’s radar, and earlier this year it purchased the company and immediately made the app free. We’re already starting to see the results of this acquisition appear in iOS 12 through Siri shortcuts.

Workflow has a Workflow Gallery which highlights the power of this tool or you should visit the website to get a better understanding, in the meantime, I’ve included a couple of examples below.

First, let’s re-create the best we can the Siri ETA Shortcut that we saw demonstrated at WWDC. When you create a Workflow, you can designate the Workflow as either an executable workflow, widget or as an iOS Action Extension.

You build you Workflow by dragging Actions into the Workflow. Our ETA Workflow uses three Actions as follows:

Contacts – this specifies the contacts address, in this case mine
Get Travel Time – Uses the current location to get the travel time to the address provided by the previous action
Send Message – composes the message to the receipient

You can test you Workflow during creation and tweak until you get the desired result. iOS security limitations prevent the message being sent automatically – undoubtedly one of the advantages of iOS 12 with Siri Shortcuts being built in.


Workflows Text ETA workflow Results of ETA workflow Add to Home Screen
Workflows Text ETA workflow Results of ETA workflow Add to Home Screen
Workflows Text ETA workflow Results of ETA workflow Add to Home Screen
Workflows Text ETA workflow Results of ETA workflow Add to Home Screen

Workflows Text ETA workflow Results of ETA workflow Add to Home Screen

Having added the Workflow to the Home Screen, it’s merely a case of selecting my Text ETA icon and completing the text message that includes the actual eta. In the examples below, I’ve pre-selected two Apple Music playlists for weight training and running. These I quickly access via the Widget.


Play a particular playlastEasily accessible from Widget
Play a particular playlastEasily accessible from Widget

Play a particular playlist Easily accessible from Widget

Moving forward, with this being an Apple product, I’m interested to see what other functionality will be either built into iOS 12 or what iOS 12 exposes to Workflow as a trusted app. I’ve been longing to create a Workflow that automatically plays a playlist when Bluetooth detects that my PowerBeats 3 are connected.

Duet

Platform : iOS only
Cost : $19.99 – Offers In-App Purchases
Website : duetdisplay.com

The astute among you will have noticed a couple of things awry with this entry. Firstly, indulge me as this is my sixth and secondly, this is an iOS only application – while being truly useful when running on an iPad.

I’ve become accustomed over the years to running a dual screen setup on my Mac. Duet, developed by a team of ex-Apple engineers, turns an iPad into a secondary display for your PC or Mac, so now I can quickly run a dual screen setup on my MacBook when required. Duet requires a small software driver to be downloaded onto the host computer.

macOS showing on an iPad Air 2 along with the TouchBar

The performance is good offering up to 60fps with very little lag. If you’re running older kit, you can improve performance by dropping down to 30fps and tweaking a few other settings.

That’s not where it ends though. On either PC or MAC you can interact it with the display via the touchscreen – the closest you’ll get to a touchscreen Mac. While, if you’re using Duet in conjunction with a Mac, you’ll see the TouchBar from the MacBook Pro in place. It also utilizes the Apple Pencil if you’re so inclined.





Windows deskop appearing on an iPad near you Windows & iOS working side by side

Duet is compatible with iOS 7 and above, allowing you to bring new life to that older iPad that you may have laying around. I’ve successfully used our old iPad 2 on my son’s Windows laptop.

Phew, made it. We look forward to hearing about your favorite apps – sound off in the comments section below.