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iPad Shelf Apps: A Roundup of the Best

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Left to right: Dropped, Workshelf, The Shelf, Scrawl Pouch

Left to right: Dropped, Workshelf, The Shelf, Scrawl Pouch

The iPad platform has come a long way in a mere matter of months, thanks to new iPad Pro models and, of course, iOS 11. Earlier this year Federico laid out his wishes for iOS 11 in a concept video and accompanying article, and many of his hopes came true: we now have drag and drop, the Files app, and a variety of other improvements in iOS 11. But one major idea from the concept is missing from iOS 11: a shelf where content can be dropped and stored temporarily. Fortunately though, the App Store has a robust developer base, and several third-party apps are launching alongside iOS 11 to remedy this omission.

The need for a shelf springs from the addition of drag and drop to iOS 11. It’s not always practical to drag content directly from one app to another; sometimes you know you’ll need that content soon, but you’re not ready to drop it elsewhere yet. Additionally, in some situations you may wish to drop the same data into multiple places over a short period of time, and it can be cumbersome to re-open the data’s source app to pull it out multiple times. A shelf can solve these problems: it serves as a temporary resting place for anything you know you’ll need quick access to soon. In this way it can serve a role similar to the macOS desktop, which is commonly used as a temporary holding zone.

While Federico originally envisioned the shelf as a baked-in iOS feature, thanks to some of the multitasking changes in iOS 11, third-party shelf apps can remarkably still offer a systemwide solution that works just as well as an iPad power user might hope.

The revamped Slide Over feature in iOS 11 is perfect for a shelf app. Slide Over allows you to tuck away a single app off the right edge of the screen and easily recall it into view no matter which app or space you’re currently viewing. An app in Slide Over is the only app that remains present no matter which other apps you’re viewing, so that as you’re working throughout the day and encounter text, photos, files, or other content you wish to save for later, you can simply pick up that content using drag and drop, swipe from the right edge of the screen to bring in your Slide Over shelf app, and drop the content there. It will then be waiting for you in one centralized, easily accessible hub whenever you need it.

Developers have created many excellent shelf apps designed to take advantage of iOS 11’s new capabilities. Here are a few of the standouts:

Dropped

Dropped is a shelf app that feels very much at home in iOS 11. It uses the same style of fonts, glyphs, and headings as apps like the App Store and Apple Music, giving it the appearance of a first-party app.

Dropped is the only app on this list with auto-generated sorting of content types within the app. While the average user who keeps their shelf app tidy may not need the feature, heavy shelf users will value the effortless organization enabled by Dropped. There are five navigation tabs along the bottom of the app: Most recent, Media, Texts, URLs, and Files. If you’re working with a large assortment of files, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for with no additional work required to sort things.

While most of the time you’ll be transferring content from Dropped via drag and drop, there are several built-in alternative methods of interaction. One is for getting content into Dropped: you can hit the clipboard icon in the top left corner to add your clipboard contents to the app. In the area of getting content out, you can do that by tapping an item. The tap will bring up an action menu with several possible options, including Copy, Share (which loads the share sheet), and Delete. Additionally, depending on the content type, you can choose to either view the content using Quick Look or open it in its native app – for example, URLs present the option to open in Safari.

Workshelf

Workshelf is unique in that it allows the creation of multiple shelves, making it ideal for keeping content for different projects you’re working on at once. Inside the app, simply hit the Edit button to add new shelves or rearrange your existing shelves. It’s similar to the different tabs of Dropped, but you get to choose exactly how items are sorted among various shelves.

Another unique benefit of Workshelf is its inclusion of richer options for transferring stored content. Tapping an item pulls up a list of its available data types, both in basic and advanced forms. The basic form is listed at the top, and includes things like Plain Text and Rich Text for a text selection. Next to each is a handy share icon, so you can share the file in that specific format using the share sheet. Or, of course, you can drag the whole row out of the app to move the content, in your specified format, via drag and drop. These same interaction models also work with the advanced, raw file representations.

Like Dropped, Workshelf includes a button to import the contents of your clipboard into the app. When you’re ready to remove content, just drag it to the red bar at the bottom of the app.

The Shelf

The Shelf is another excellent shelf app – it opts for a minimal UI that has little in the way of hidden menus or options. What you see is what you get, with nearly everything displayed in the app’s main view: all your saved content, and a Paste button in the upper right corner. The only other interface appears when you tap stored content. For example, tapping an image will load a larger preview of the image with two options up top: Copy and Share.

The feature I love most about The Shelf is its use of contextual drop targets. Whenever you pick up content from The Shelf and begin a drag, two drop areas resembling large buttons appear at the bottom of the app: one containing a share icon and the other a trash icon. The option of easily exporting content through the share sheet is extremely handy for apps that either don’t support drag and drop yet, or that you don’t want to have to manually open, and I especially love how all of these options are tied to the one simple action of dragging and dropping.

The Shelf, along with Workshelf, includes rich previews that are a lot smaller than those of Dropped, which for different users could be either a good thing or a bad thing. If you want to fit more items on-screen, The Shelf and Workshelf will likely provide just the approach you’re looking for; on the other hand, a higher valuation of large content will drive you to Dropped. The Shelf also tags all saved items with sizable icons to represent file type, allowing you to identify content type at a glance.

Scrawl Pouch

Similar to The Shelf, Scrawl Pouch opts for a very minimal approach in terms of menus and options. There’s one screen, housing all your stored content – and that’s it. There’s an Edit button on that screen for the purpose of deleting content, and not much else. The app provides beautiful rich previews of content, perhaps the best I’ve seen in a shelf app, but that’s likely because you can’t tap on content to view full Quick Look previews for it. Instead, tapping an item presents a simple menu containing a few options: Cut, Copy, Delete, and Rename.

And this brings me to why I love Scrawl Pouch.

The app is attractive. It looks nice, and its rich previews are great. But there’s one extremely minor option that I value, probably more than I should: the Rename button. I’m an organizer, such that even if I know content is only going to be in my shelf app for a single day’s work, I still want to be able to customize a file’s name. In particular, images pulled into the app benefit from this: the name ‘IMG_1397’ means nothing to me. With Scrawl Pouch I can either rename that photo to reflect its content, or even rename it in a way that reminds me why I threw it into the app in the first place. It’s really a small thing, but to me it’s huge.


Shelf apps make up a new App Store category that is perfect for iPad power users – but they also may be tremendously useful for the casual user. The concept is so simple, and is such a perfect fit for iOS 11’s new and improved Slide Over, that I can see shelf apps being intuitive and helpful for all sorts of users. The less-than-tech-savvy crowd can be shown how to add a shelf app to Slide Over and keep it there as a permanent fixture – the functional similarity to a macOS or Windows desktop proves it’s a concept any computer user can understand.

While Apple creating its own shelf solution would surely have been a nice addition to iOS 11, it’s not needed. Thanks to the the creativity and customization of third-party shelf apps, I’m left with no regrets over the lack of a first-party option.


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If you read one sci-fi series this year, it should be The Broken Earth

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The final book in the trilogy, The Stone Sky, just came out. It completes an incredibly satisfying exploration of the overlap between scifi and fantasy.

Sometimes a book series is so important that you want people to put everything aside and just read it. I'm not the only one who feels this way about N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy. The first and second novels in Jemisin's trilogy, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate won the prestigious Hugo Award for the past two years in a row—the first time this has happened since Ender's Game and its sequel Speaker for the Dead won sequential Hugos in 1986 and 87. Now the final Broken Earth book, The Stone Sky, is out. You can gobble up the whole series without interruption.

There are very light spoilers ahead.

A mesmerizing world

There are a lot of reasons why this series has been hailed as a masterpiece. There are unexpected twists which, in retrospect, you realize have been carefully plotted, skillfully hinted at, and well-earned. There are characters who feel like human beings, with problems that range from the mundane (raising kids in a risky world) to the extraordinary (learning to control earthquakes with your mind). The main characters are called orogenes, and they have the ability to control geophysics with their minds, quelling and starting earthquakes. Somehow the orogenes are connected with the lost technologies of a dead civilization, whose machines still orbit the planet in the form of mysterious giant crystals called obelisks. To most people on the planet, the orogenes are known by the derogatory term "rogga," and they're the victims of vicious prejudice.

A few, very special orogenes are allowed to train at the Citadel, becoming masters at stopping earthquakes, volcanoes, and other natural disasters. They're still treated like second class citizens, and aren't permitted to live outside the Citadel for very long. But they are permitted some freedoms, and watching their powers emerge is a major part of what makes the first novel in the series so compelling.

But Jemisin is hardly retelling The X-men, only with orogenes instead of mutants. She's created a sociologically complex world, and the more we read, the more we understand how the orogenes fit into it. As we travel with our protagonists across the planet's single megacontinent, we discover the place is full of many cultures, often at odds with one another. The brown urbanites from the tropics think the pale, rural people of the poles are ugly idiots; the coastal people aren't too sure about the inland people; and of course everybody hates the orogenes. These tensions are part of a long and complex history that we learn more about as the series develops. There are a number of mysteries to unravel in this series, but one of them is understanding the devastating origin of prejudice against orogenes.

Combining the powers of science fiction and fantasy

Another mystery is what exactly powers the orogenes, the obelisks, and several other strange creatures with connections to the dead civilization. And this is where Jemisin's series has been a game changer, because she's deftly woven together the tropes of fantasy and science fiction so well that she makes it impossible to separate the two genres. Though Jemisin is hardly the first writer to do this, she's one of the leading lights in a movement among speculative writers to break down the boundaries between magic and science in their storytelling. In The Broken Earth, the results will surprise you with their devious complexity.

I don't want to give away any spoilers, but rest assured that Jemisin's goal is not to cheapen science, nor to create some kind of pseudo-rational magic system. Instead, she is exploring what you might call the common ancestor of both science and magic: the urge to exert our will over nature. Some call it sorcery; some call it geophysics; some call it whatever will allow them to manipulate the largest number of people.

One of the greatest pleasures of The Broken Earth is the way Jemisin uses geology as the cornerstone of her world-building. We get to explore a planet with a single megacontinent that's rifting apart in a series of catastrophic eruptions which are entirely plausible—indeed, it wasn't too long ago (in geological time) that Earth itself went through a similar process. And this planet has a rich geological history too, with multiple mass extinction events that have shaped the various ecosystems we encounter. It's rare to find an author who can convey both cultural and scientific nuance in a single story, but Jemisin has done it effortlessly. That's why she's been invited to speak at MIT as well as countless science fiction conventions.

Incredible storytelling

Jemisin wrote a number of critically-acclaimed novels before The Broken Earth trilogy, including the incredible Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. She is obviously at the top of her game. Her prose in the trilogy is gorgeous, disturbing, and often quite funny. The whole series is told in the second person, addressed to the main characters, which is incredibly difficult to pull off. Not only does Jemisin make it work, but her stylistic choice has the eerie effect of making it feel as if the novels are addressed directly to us, the audience. By the third novel, we get a satisfactory explanation for why the story had to be told this way, but not before it contributes to several fascinating plot twists.

The Broken Earth is exciting, full of incredible technology, and powered by a dark historical mystery. It's something you can read to escape, or to ponder philosophical questions in our own world. In short, it's that rare series that appeals to a love of adventure, and to the urge to reflect on the unseen forces that drive our civilizations.

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acdha
4 days ago
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Yes, yes, you should
Washington, DC
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sirshannon
6 days ago
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burn this money

David Pogue on why Face ID really failed ↦

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by Dan Moren

Veteran tech journalist David Pogue gets to the bottom of the onstage Face ID failure at Tuesday’s Apple event:

FINAL UPDATE: Tonight, I was able to contact Apple. After examining the logs of the demo iPhone X, they now know exactly what went down. Turns out my first theory in this story was wrong—but my first UPDATE theory above was correct: “People were handling the device for stage demo ahead of time,” says a rep, “and didn’t realize Face ID was trying to authenticate their face. After failing a number of times, because they weren’t Craig, the iPhone did what it was designed to do, which was to require his passcode.” In other words, “Face ID worked as it was designed to.”

So, unsurprisingly, it’s a feature, not a bug.

This does raise some concerns. MacRumors points out that Face ID allows for only two failures rather than the five that Touch ID allows, which could be a testament to how accurate Apple believes the technology to be, but also means that if anybody else—a friend, partner, or a child, for example—picks up your phone and it tries to scan their face, it doesn’t take much before you’re entering your passcode again.

I also haven’t seen confirmed news that Face ID allows only one face to be enrolled, though I have heard from a few different places that that is the case—at least at launch. That’s tricky for those of us who have enrolled our partner’s fingerprint in Touch ID to give them access to our phone, but I imagine it could also, again, be a pain for those who want to let their kids use their phone. If this is the case, hopefully a future update will allow for multiple faces to be enrolled.1


  1. I’ve heard a lot of people suggest the solution to this is “just give the other person your passcode.” Yes, that would work, but the virtue of Touch ID/Face ID is it means I can have a long, complicated passcode that’s more secure because I don’t have to type it as often. Asking someone else to remember my long complicated passcode, well, it’s not so much that it’s a burden as it’s just unlikely they will remember it.  ↩

[Read on Six Colors.]

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sirshannon
6 days ago
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I've been using iOS 11 for a few months and immediately recognized the message during the demo. Not a big deal.

Announcing In Depth Podcast

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Mike Rundle and I are proud to announce In Depth, a podcast on design and technology. You may know Mike from one of his many projects, including Treeo, Filters, his iPhone development books, or perhaps from his unflinchingly honest Twitter antics.

We're starting scrappy, and jumping right in, to cover the recent September iPhone X event. And there was lots to talk about. We discuss the new iPhone's screens, hardware, sensors, and also the software, like animoji, Face ID, and most significantly of all, everyone's favorite notch.

Here's a segment from the show:

Eli:

Apple has one patent for bezel-less phones, which may or may not come to be. It seems like a pretty difficult task to achieve. But they also have another patent for integrating camera sensors into the screen itself. So that would invalidate the need for a notch at all. It seems like they’re totally premature in having this ‘success’ language when they haven’t achieved it. They’ve have this really big protrusion into the screen.

Mike:

Yeah this is their “Mission Accomplished” banner on the aircraft carrier—the George Bush moment. It’s like they’re afraid to recognize that the ideal state is a big glowing rectangle. I guess It’s just marketing kerfluffery vs. the reality that I can’t imagine any designers or industrial designers think this is the final, ideal state for the iPhone that they won’t deviate from for a decade. Because obviously it’s a compromised design. The notch is all compromise.


RSS

Here's the RSS for the show so you can add us to your podcast app of choice.

Here's the show in iTunes.


Shownotes:

Corner radii

Apple introducing Photo Booth vs. Animoji

Patent one

Patent two

Mike's Article on the iPhone AR Selfie Revolution

Michael Steeber joke about flood illuminator

(Custom intro jingle by me.)

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You Can’t Protect Yourself From the Equifax Breach

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Rich Mogull, writing for TidBITS:

As much as I hate to end on a sour note, the reality is that, until the system changes, until our financial lives are governed by something stronger than some short strings of plain text that never change, we have to keep our guard up and hope for the best. And hope is never part of security best practices.

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sirshannon
6 days ago
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A company you hate, doing a bad job of a service you don't want, that you can't opt out of.
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