My iPhone and iPad apps of the year (2020)

I use a lot of iPhone/iPad apps. This year, I thought I’d list my favourites. Without further ado…


10. Voxel Max: An interesting creativity app, based around drawing in voxels rather than pixels. Packed with features that feel desktop-grade, especially when used on an iPad.


9. Longplay: An intriguing music player, designed to get you listening to albums again, mostly by omitting or hiding controls for messing around with individual tracks. Entertainingly lets you sort albums by most ‘neglected’.


8. Looom: This iPad-only animation app is an oddball. Want a traditional timeline? Steer clear. Fancy something that’s more like playing an instrument and that makes great use of an Apple Pencil + free hand set-up? Then it’s ideal.


7. Photoshop Camera: These days, the ‘Photoshop’ brand is slapped on a lot of products. This is one of the better ones—a creative live camera app with a slew of imaginative, fun and customisable filters.


6. Zen Brush 3: There are loads of great painting apps for iPad and iPhone, but Zen Brush 3 offers something different, carefully emulating East Asian ink brushes for a meditative and unique creative experience.


5. Pastel: Anyone of a visually creative bent will work with palettes at some point. This minimalist yet powerful app lets you quickly make your own—including from photos—manage and stash them, and also sync them across iCloud.


4. Portal 3: You’ve likely seen and used audio apps designed to help you sleep or focus by drowning out background noise. Portal is a more immersive experience, integrating beautiful looped video that helps take your mind somewhere else for a few moments.


3. Universe in a Nutshell: If you ever wanted to know your place in the universe, this app will make that very clear. Comparing objects from the Planck length to the size of the observable universe, it’s a fun ride for kids and adults alike.


2. Halide Mark II: The original Halide did enough to cement itself on countless iPhones. This evolution takes things further, effectively becoming the only pro take on a camera app you really need—especially if you’re into shooting RAW.


1. NetNewsWire 5: RSS is a tech I’m baffled isn’t more popular. Perhaps if there were more readers like NNW5, it would be. It excels in elegance, simplicity and options. That it’s free means you’ve no excuse for missing a story from favourite publications.

December 31, 2020. Read more in: Apps

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My Android/iPhone/iPad mobile games of the year (2020)

I play a lot of mobile games. This year, I thought I’d list my favourites. All titles are available on Android/iPhone/iPad, except Little Orpheus, which is part of Apple Arcade. So without further ado…


10. Bird Alone: What initially looks like a vapid virtual pet quickly transforms into an intriguing tale of making a connection with another creature, underlined with emotional clout you don’t see coming.


9. Ord (Android/iOS): Classic text adventuring distilled into three words, with each scene being a single-word set-up, action and outcome. It seems reductive, but your mind plays in the gaps of this intriguing, amusing experience.


8. Fancade: Absurdly ambitious, Fancade is on the surface a bunch of entertaining mini-games. But dig deeper and you find an entire customisation engine—and even full frameworks for crafting your own creations.


7. Empty.: A rare free puzzler that isn’t out for your wallet, Empty. wants you to relax with its gorgeous soundtrack and reduce its tiny worlds to nothingness by spinning rooms and matching the colours of objects and flat planes. Beautiful stuff.


6. Krumit’s Tale: With an unparalleled level of sophistication and depth, this title feels like the last word in cramming dungeon-crawling into a shoebox. It looks great, has plenty of depth, and includes several distinct modes. Fab.


5. Ready Set Goat: The goat runs left! And then it runs right! Also, it’s being attacked by invading nasties. All you can do is prod to make it jump. It’s like a claustrophobic Canagoat, and I’m rubbish at it—but it’s annoyingly compelling.


4. Little Orpheus: In 2020, Apple Arcade offered deeper experiences than this Limboish platform puzzler, but a mix of visually awesome set pieces and a properly chucklesome script for me lifted Little Orpheus above the competition.


3. Super Fowlst 2: Demons are invading and only a chicken can stop them! Fantastic two-thumb Metroidish larks here as you flit about, bonking baddies on the head, grabbing gems with which to buy missiles you poop at your foes.


2. unmemory: This one starts off looking like an illustrated ebook, before events send you down a rabbit hole that reveals the game to be a set of room escape puzzles reworked as a book (or the reverse). It’s the modern mobile era’s DEVICE 6.


1. There Is No Game: WD: TING leaps between genres, after spending some time trying to convince you it’s not a game. What it is: a clever, witty, unique experience that shows what enterprising indies can do. My GOTY—on any platform.

December 31, 2020. Read more in: Gaming

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A tribute to Adam Banks

I heard last night that my friend and sometimes colleague Adam Banks had passed away. Maybe a week ago, I swapped some silly tweets with him about PETSCII art. (He and I were both C64 kids.) I last talked with him… I don’t know, but it was too long ago. Time is weird: you seem to have so much of it, and then you have none at all.

But time was something that Adam in his working life could bend like a sorcerer, given how much he could get done on any given day. During his second stint on MacUser, he was a combination of editor and designer that made the magazine truly his; us contributors clung on for the ride, like grinning passengers on an F1 car majestically zigzagging through the grid. The finished article was always brilliant and beautiful — a unique mix of words and visuals that felt like nothing else out there. I was gutted when it closed. I can only imagine how Adam felt.

After that point, Adam and I never regularly worked together again, but we’d communicate often, snarking about tech and chatting about random design and gaming things. I’d frequently dip into his Twitter feed, always full of sagely advice and wise thinking. I keep hoping this has all been a mistake and his Twitter feed will update. It never will.

Adam was a great person and my favourite editor, and I wish it hadn’t been so long since we’d last spoken. The world is a poorer place without him in it. Wherever you are, Adam, I hope you are at peace. Sleep well, my friend.


More tributes from Ian Betteridge, Chris Brennan, Mike Hirschkorn and Carrie Marshall. And here’s the PPA obituary, by Ian Betteridge and Steve Caplin.

November 27, 2020. Read more in: News

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The day I got temp-banned from Twitter for offering somebody support by using British slang

I guess it had to happen eventually: my Twitter account has been temporarily blocked. But it’s why it’s been blocked that’s interesting.

Earlier today, this tweet from freelance musician Zephy found its way into my feed. It’s a bunch of screen grabs detailing a conversation he had with someone asking him to work for nothing, and being rude, annoying and aggressive when Zephy politely refused.

I replied as follows: “All I take from this is that guy is a massive wazzock and your rates are too low. He should have bitten your arm off for what you were offering.”

Immediately, my account was locked because: “You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. This includes wishing or hoping that someone experiences physical harm”.

There are multiple problems here. There was no targeted harassment. This was a direct response to someone, not the person he spoke with. There was no wishing someone harm. At first, I assumed my account was locked for use of wazzock, a British slang word for fool or annoying person.

Except. I now note that I suggested to Zephy that the wazzock in question “should have bitten your arm off for what you were offering”. To bite someone’s arm off is also British slang, and it means to get really excited about something, not to mean them harm. Clearly, Twitter’s algorithm does not understand this and locked my account. So I appealed.

Twitter just responded: “Our support team has determined that a violation did take place, and therefore we will not overturn our decision.”

I’ll leave you to decide which word should best describe the people who made that decision — if indeed any people made it at all.

I have asked Twitter’s press team for comment and will update this article should they reply.

October 28, 2020. Read more in: Technology

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The iPad Air further cements the need for iPads to fully support external displays

Now the iPad Air has USB-C out, Apple’s seeming reluctance regarding full external display support for iPad is increasingly baffling. Surely the ideal should be to position the iPad as a fully modular device that promotes strong ergonomics? Most apps are designed to be responsive anyway, and so would automatically scale/resize for an external display.

The Magic Keyboard is superb in many ways. That you can detach the iPad in under a second beats every other iPad keyboard I’ve used, most of which force you to shove the iPad itself into a case. But. It still only turns your iPad into a ‘laptop’, not a desktop.

Laptop form-factors are ergonomic disasters—as I outlined in Working from home? Then set things up properly before you knacker your back and hands. They are like not-great office chairs: fine for short-form work, but terrible if you use them all day, every day. If Apple really does see iPad as the future, that future should enable you to fully use that device with an external display.

Right now, you can of course connect your iPad to big screens, and use external keyboards, trackpads and mice. But the iPad’s aspect ratio remains. So you end up with massive black borders left and right of the app you’re using. It seems such an obvious thing to fix—but when will it be fixed?

September 16, 2020. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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