Tag Archives: products

Good and sustained products of 2015

I thought it might be interesting to some what software and hardware I’ve been consistently using this year.

Words —
First of all, Nisus Writer Pro is still by far and away my favourite word processor. I have never for a second regretted investing in this (years ago already). It has a proper New Zealand English dictionary for a start, as well as proper dictionaries for most other languages you can think of. It’s a linguists’ delight but as a general word processing tool, it’s also unbeatable: elegant, fast, comprehensive and doesn’t groan under feature-weight like Microsoft Word does – and of course, it opens and save Word files anyway.
Otherwise, I’m a heavy user of Apple’s Text Edit for notes and lists as it’s so quick to use, but if I’m writing a book heading for iBooks Author I use Apple’s Pages, which is fine.

iBooks Author — I often say, Apple doesn’t give away much for free, but when it does it’s usually great – this is the case with Numbers (I stopped using Excel years ago, but my spreadsheet needs are not professional), Keynote (way better than PowerPoint) and Pages. iBooks Author is in this category. If you want to make books for iBooks (see below), while it’s limited in controlling layouts to the umpteenth degree like you can do in Adobe’s InDesign, as far as making rich content easily, it’s really impressive. All our CreativeTech Multitouch books for iBooks have been made purely in iBooks Author.

Adobe — I grudgingly still use Adobe InDesign for laying out MagBytes but have to admit I’ve been looking for an alternative for years. Little frustrations seem to be allowed to persist in Adobe’s world (like Microsoft never managing to make a persistent English English dictionary in Word for decades already). In this case, the fact you have to set the parameters in the Drop Shadow dialogue every single time, after years and years of complaints, seems to me utter arrogance on Adobe’s part. But I have tested several alternatives and they always fall over on one major detail or another (Pages, for example, for page layout does’t let you set up a several-page document easily to design the content into). So I’m still using InDesign, and it does generate a nice PDF at the end. But I use it grumpily.

iBooks — Lordy lordy, I have bought so many great books in this free Apple app, so I’d better not forget the iPad when I go away up north as I have some excellent reading lined up – but they’re also on my Mac anyway, all perfectly synced up. Why more people don’t use iBooks is a mystery to me – it’s super cool, and it’s already on your Mac, your iPad and your iPhone.

Photoshop is still king of the hill for real image editing, and I use it daily, and little incremental improvements via the new Adobe Creative Cloud platform are really appreciated. But I’ve been really impressed with Aurora HDR, which anyone can use to make a good photo fantastic. And Apple’s free Photos app, which replaced iPhoto, is actually a very handy and well-developed app – the fact you can install various MacPhun extra imaging packages into Photos as an extension is wonderful.
FuseBack to Adobe though – wow, Fuse! Slightly buggy, a bit slow to interface with Adobe CC Libraries online (but we are in New Zealand after all) but wow, being able to construct characters for fiction and other projects is sensational. Once a decent guide is produced and the bugs worked out (some of the animation and further customisation has to be continued on in Photoshop and it’s not exactly intuitive to work it out), this will be incredibly useful visualisation software.

As far as other Apple software goes, I really like Apple Mail and I have all sorts of different email accounts set up in it, with individualised signatures and form letters, and I bought SpamSieve a few years ago and never looked back – it’s a better spam filter that, although third-party, works very well with Apple Mail.
Safari I am also most happy with, but I’m as critical as most people are of iTunes. It’s hard to navigate, a resource hog and I wish it was broken up into components like it is for iOS: Podcasts, Music, Movies etcetera.

Preview is another hidden free Apple champion of an app
Preview is another hidden free Apple champion of an app

Apple’s Preview app (it’s on every Mac in the Applications folder and deserves to be in your Dock) is so quick, fast and easy to use for markup on images and PDFs, I use it constantly to make pictures for Mac NZ and MagBytes more instructive. (That’s where all those coloured boxes and arrows come from.)

Logic, Apple’s professional level audio software, never ceases to amaze and intrigue me. I’m a massive fan and I learn new things about it every week. The new synths that arrived this year are awesome. But I also still dive into GarageBand and iMovie to knock together various ideas or make instructional videos.
That said, I’m also a big fan of Final Cut Pro X – is it still controversial to say that? It shouldn’t be.

Out there — CARROT Weather. I love it on Mac and I love it on iPhone/iPad/Watch. It’s sassy, dripping with attitude, but it’s also smart and accurate.

Fallout Shelter is an iOS game made by the famous developers of the Fallout PC game series.
Fallout Shelter is an iOS game made by the famous developers of the Fallout PC game series.

Games — It’s been a bad and good game year for me in 2015 – bad in that I haven’t discovered any new and really good games (Blitzkrieg and Company of Heroes 2 being terrible disappointments). The only one I’ve stuck with has been Fallout Shelter on iPad, which I can happily dip in and out of. It would have been boring except for developer Bethesda has managed to release great little updates at just the right time to keep my interest.
But good that not having any full-on game obsessions has allowed me to be more productive. Dang …

I’m still over the moon with my 2012 SSD-based i7 MacBook Pro 15-inch, but I expect this line to change next year taking on some of the innovations that showed up in this year’s new MacBook, which I otherwise consider overpriced and underpowered. The Air consistently gets good reports but people also consistently underestimate how small the internal SSDs are, and what they can actually fit on their Airs, so they fill them up in no time flat. So here’s to SSDs getting cheaper and bigger at the same time. SSD (and Fusion) is the best thing that ever happened to Macs.

The 2015 Retina iMac is sensational. My partner had to buy 27-inch  one to make films on and … all I can say is ‘wow’. Even though she filled up her 3TB Fusion hard drive in a week thanks to all the cool art movies she’s making.

IMG_0035For the rest, the IK Multimedia iRig Keys 25 is a super-handy little player, small enough to throw in a bag but also, more importantly, to keep on my desk as it’s so little. While it won’t please serious keyboardists who simply need the full range of keys, for musical haberdashers like myself it’s excellent being able to get a tune or riff down in relative comfort and so handily. Likewise, IK’s various mics that plug variously into iDevices and Macs are uniformly excellent and useful, and in the field, please give me one of those any day over one of those damn Zoom things that field recorders seem to like – they’re hard to use, unintuitive and fail when you need them most (in my experience, anyway).

As far as audio input into my Mac goes, I know people have had struggles with these keeping up with new versions of Mac OS, but I bought an Alesis 2-input io|2 in 2007 and I’m still using it. It has never been incompatible with any system – even all the Betas before El Capitan was officially released – and it still sounds wonderful. This unit has been superseded by a better model, but I have had no need to upgrade so far.

I don't know if Ryan would make another one, but this custom valve preamp thing (I call it 'Valvo') is awesome.
I don’t know if Ryan would make another one, but this custom valve preamp thing (I call it ‘Valvo’) is awesome.

But this year I got Ryan of the Amp Shop, in Symonds Street Auckland, to build me a low-wattage valve preamp. The idea is, you plug your guitar into this, and the preamp, in turn, into your Mac’s input (my io2) and you still get a valve sound. It’s SWEET! Ryan did a great job. Also, you can use it to get a lovely valve sound from a solid-state amp. Plus it looks really cool (it’s about the size of a Weetbix box.)

Ultimate Ears (aka Logitech) makes an excellent speaker, the UE Boom 2. This can be used in all sorts of applications and is easy to take to a beach, barbecue or party. We use one to get excellent sound from our Sony TV, which has a great picture but tinny, anaemic sound. If you have two, you can use a free app to make them work in real stereo.

IMG_5748iPhone 6s, Apple Watch … iPhone 6s is the best iPhone ever made. No contest. It has an almost identical form factor as the 6, which is still a fine phone, but the 6s is much better.
Watch … I’ve been using one for several months and I won’t be buying one when I send this unit back, sorry Apple. Although I’m really impressed at the build quality and I love wearing a watch (especially once I got the ProductRED strap), and although I’m impressed at what Apple managed to lever into this little thing, it’s a little laggy. I think the next version will be better and I’ll wait for that. That said, if I was wealthy and busy, I would have bought one straight away. Day-to-day functionality where iPhone functions appear on, and can be dealt with from, your wrist is pretty compelling.

iPad Pro, Pencil, Smart Keyboard — Apple is usually really good at getting me to see the latest products, but with the end-of-year rush (I presume) I have yet to lay eyes on any of these.

web.jacket.3Semi-hardware — I joined the Kickstarter for The Affair’s 1984 ‘Stealth Fashion‘ range of high-tech clothing designed from descriptions of the apparel in Orwell’s eponymous (and prescient) book. Manufacture was delayed, but once the ‘Outer Party Workers’  jacket (for my partner) and pants (for me) arrived, we were both really impressed. These clothes are awesome, and whereas clothes have been designed before that fit high-tech gadgets, I’ve never seen anything as well made – and flat-out cool – as these. And they come with ‘unpockets’ – slip your phone in, and no signal gets in or out. The Affair ships worldwide for free.

2016 — I expect a new MacBook Pro that shows off a substantial redesign, at least three products we haven’t even really imagined, and watch 2.
But don’t quote me on that. I hope you have a fantastic holiday season, and please keep safe out there.