My Top 10 Favorite Apps

Adapted from an edition of my newsletter, Newley’s Notes, sent November 18, 2020. Image via William Hook on Unsplash

In recent posts I’ve shared my ten favorite email newsletters and my ten favorite podcasts This time…

My Top 10 Favorite Apps

(Note, I’m an iPhone user, and some of these are iOS-only.)

💬 1) WhatsApp – I may use this app more than any other, not just because I need to know how it works for my job, but because it’s hugely useful. Especially for communicating with family and friends internationally.

🎧 2) For podcasts, I like Overcast. It works well, has done for years, and is actively maintained by one, single, meticulous developer, Marco Arment.

🔒 3) 1Password is my password manager of choice.

(What’s that? You’re not using a password manager? Use a password manager! “Remembering dozens of different 14-character passwords isn’t realistic,” my colleague Katie Bindley wrote in 2018. “But coming up with only a few passwords – or just one – and reusing them is a terrible idea from a security standpoint. It might be time to consider a password manager.”)

🎵 4) provides ambient sounds the company says are engineered to help you focus. I use the app (and website, when on a computer) to drown out distractions while I’m working.

(Similarly, I also love the Environments app for groovy soundscapes. These are recordings made by sound recordist Irv Teibel and released as LPs in the 1960s and 1970s. They include sounds of a be-in, an aviary, a “psychologically ultimate seashore,” a cornfield in a summer, and more.)

📖 5) Instapaper is one of several read-it-later services – you activate it and it saves the text of a website or document you’re reading, then you can access it for perusal later. It’s great for long-form articles that you don’t want to read in a browser. People love Pocket, a rival service, but I haven’t tried it because Instapaper has proved reliable for me for years.

☕ 6) Coffee nerd alert: AeroPress Timer is a fun app for brushing up on my favorite brewing method’s various recipes. I prefer the classic recipe (boring, I know!) but sometimes experiment with new ones, like inverted techniques.

🎙 7) For recording interviews, I typically use one of several trusty Olympus recorders I have owned over the years. But just in case that method fails, I’ll often record simultaneously on my phone. For that I use the app app, which provides automatic transcriptions.

🏋️‍♂️ 8) Sadly I have not been in a gym for many months (thanks a lot, pandemic) but for barbell training I found an app called BarCalc that I really like. It provides a simple function: you input the weight plates you have at your disposal, enter the weight you want to put on the bar, and it shows you which plates to use. This is useful when you’re adding odd weight totals to bar.

🗣 9) If you want to know what’s lighting up Twitter, but don’t want to dive into the service itself, check out Nuzzel. You can view the links that people you follow have tweeted the most over the last 4 hours, 8 hours, 24 hours, etc.

📰 10) The Wall Street Journal app – of course! One feature I find indispensable for following stories by my colleagues is the ability to get alerts from the app when their pieces are published. I described how to do that in this post – basically, just click the plus sign after an author’s name when you see his or her byline on a story in the app. You’ve done that for my stories, haven’t you?!

What do you think of my picks? Did I miss any of your must-haves? Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter; I’m @Newley.

Journalism Tech

Popular Weather App Collects Too Much User Data, Security Experts Say

2019 01 03weather app

That’s the headline on my latest story, out Wednesday. It begins:

NEW DELHI—A popular weather app built by a Chinese tech conglomerate has been collecting an unusual amount of data from smartphones around the world and attempting to subscribe some users to paid services without permission, according to a London-based security firm’s research.

The free app, one of the world’s most-downloaded weather apps in Google’s Play store, is from TCL Communication Technology Holdings Ltd., of Shenzhen, China. TCL makes Alcatel- and BlackBerry -branded phones, while a sister company makes televisions.

The app, called “Weather Forecast—World Weather Accurate Radar,” collects data including smartphone users’ geographic locations, email addresses and unique 15-digit International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers on TCL servers in China, according to Upstream Systems, the mobile commerce and security firm that found the activity. Until last month, the app was known as “Weather—Simple weather forecast.”

A TCL spokesman didn’t address queries about the amount of data the app collects.

The weather app also has attempted to surreptitiously subscribe more than 100,000 users of its low-cost Alcatel smartphones in countries such as Brazil, Malaysia and Nigeria to paid virtual-reality services, according to Upstream Systems. The security firm, which discovered the activity as part of its work for mobile operators, said users would have been billed more than $1.5 million had it not blocked the attempts.

Click through to read the rest.


The 10 Must-Have Apps I Install on Every New Mac

Following my recent post about what’s on my iPhone home screen at the beginning of 2016, I decided to do the same for my must-have Mac apps.

I consider these apps requirements when setting up any new machine — essentially, I feel that I need them to use the computer effectively.

Hopefully this will give others who are looking for new or useful apps some ideas.

1. 1Password


1Password — my password manager of choice for many years. (This one’s also on my iPhone home screen, you’ll recall.)

Strong passwords, of course, are key to protecting yourself online. You should use a different, complex password for every important account. This can be hard, though, if you’re trying to store all this info on your head.

With a password manager like 1Password, you can remember just one strong password, which you use to open the app. Then you can automatically generate ridiculously strong passwords for every account you have within the app, and access those on the fly, no matter which device you’re using.

2. Dropbox


Dropbox — Confession time: I once ruined a one-month-old MacBook Air by spilling a full bottle of Stella Artois beer directly on the keyboard.

It’s a long story. But, BUT! I had saved all of my important documents, images and other files in Dropbox, so I lost nothing — except money and my pride, that is.

Dropbox lets you stores your files in the cloud, so that they’re accessible on various devices.

For example, I’ve long kept many of my basic lists in plain text files, and use Dropbox to keep them synced across my Mac, my iPhone, and my work machine.

3. Chrome


Chrome for Mac — I was a loyal users of Apple’s browser, Safari, for many years. But a while back I switched over to Chrome, which, in my experience, is faster and more reliable, even though Safari looks prettier and is obviously built for the Mac.

One caveat: Some say Chrome is more resource-intensive than Safari, meaning it will drain your battery faster.

4. TextExpander


TextExpander — this app, which I’ve been using for many years, lets you use abbreviations for frequently used bits of text.

For example, if I type “eemail,” the app will instantly insert my personal email address. If I type “eeemail,” it will insert my work email. If I type “ddate,” it will insert “February 8, 2016,” etc.

I also have so-called snippets set up for my home and office addresses, various email signatures, and much more. It’s the kind of tool that is totally indespensible.

5. PDFpen


PDFpen — let’s get this out of the way: at $74.95, this is not a cheap app. But the ability to manipulate PDFs by typing and writing on, and signing them, is nearly magical, and makes the app well worth the price.

I’ve used PDFPen, which is made by the same folks behind TextExpander, to fill out and send back any number of forms, applications and the like.

Forget about printing out and manipulating physical documents — you can do it all digitally with PDF Pen.

6. Evernote


Evernote — Somewhat sadly, I hardly ever use what had been my go-to writing app since 2007: Scrivener.

I used Scrivener to write my graduate school thesis, composed hundreds of stories on it, and even used it to tackle Nanowrimo many moons ago.

The problem: While it’s great if you only ever use on computer, it’s not so great if you want to be able to work on the same documents across machines or devices. (The company behind the product has been saying for some time that they’re working on an iOS version.)

So I’ve increasingly been using Evernote — it’s designed not as a word processor, but as a catch-all for tons of different digital material, from text and images to audio and more. But you can certainly use it for writing.

7. TweetDeck


Tweetdeck — the best way to access Twitter on your Mac. I have several columns set up so that I can access my various Twitter lists — accounts I don’t want to miss, fellow WSJ folks, notifications when people respond to or like my tweets or stories, and more.

Note that Twitter recently released a new version of its Mac app, but I’m sticking with Tweetdeck for now.

8. Spotify


Rdio was my streaming music choice for several years, but when it shut down last year, I switched to Spotify.

I like it a lot — especially the excellent Discover Weekly feature, in which the service automatically generates a playlist of new music for you based on your listening habits.

I mostly use Spotify on my iPhone, but the app also works well on the Mac.

9. Caffeine


Caffeine — this tiny little app does one thing and does it well: it keeps your Mac from going to sleep.

The app lives in your menu bar, and you can simply click it to keep your machine awake if you’ll be away from it from an extended amount of time, or don’t wait it to dim or go to sleep when you’re watching a movie, for example.

  • Cost: free
  • For more and #Protips: that’s all you need to know — it simply keeps your Mac awake!

10. Noizio


Noizio — like Caffeine, this is a small app that lives in your menu bar and has a singular task: to provide background noise.

If I’m being distracted by various sounds when I’m working on my Mac, I simply throw my headphones on and choose one of Noizio’s ambient sounds — I especially like “Paris Cafe” — and work away.

  • Cost: Free.
  • For more and #Protips: that’s all you need to know — it simply provides background noise!



My iPhone Home Screen, Early 2016


I’ve seen a few people posting about what they’ve got on their iPhone home screens now, with the new year upon us, and was inspired to do the same. I look forward to seeing how this changes over time.

Here goes:

On the top row, I’ve got the standard calendar app (I’ve tried the popular iCal alternatives, notably Fantastical, but was never sold on them), then the Photos app, standard Camera app, and — of course — Instagram. I like to keep all three photo-snapping-related apps in the top row, where I can reach them easily.

The second row holds the standard Clock app, Safari browser, the Voice Memos app (for easy access when conducting interviews; I use my iPhone to make backup recording should my stand-alone digital audio recorder fail), and Google Maps.

Row three contains 1Password, an insdispensible password manager that is one of the very first apps I install on any iDevice or Mac); the Settings app, Notesy (a simple app I’ve used for years that allows note taking via plain text files, syncable via Dropbox), and the standard Twitter app.

In row four I’ve got the excellent Pomodoro Timer, which I use to track quick dashes of uninterrupted work, per the pomodoro technique; the Pedometer++ app, for measuring steps; my favorite podcast app, Overcast; and, of course, the WhatsApp messaging app.

The fifth row is a row of containers. I love messaging apps so much I have an entire folder dedicated to the practice; it contains no fewer than 13 apps. Then Web/social is where I keep Facebook, Vine, and my favorite Pinboard app, Pinswift.

Apple Misc. contains the Apple stuff I mostly only deal with when I have to: the App Store, iTunes Store, etc. The red 1,374 represents the huge number of unread emails in my Gmail account. More on that below.

News contains our WSJ app, the NYT app, Quartz, Newsblur (a replacement I found when Google Reader died, and which I still love), and my favorite app for keeping track of English Premier League scores, theScore.

In row six are a couple more containers: Utilities, which holds the excellent calculator killer, Soulver; the Aeropress Timer (yes, an app for making coffee) and more. Navigation holds transport apps like GrabTaxi and Uber. And then there’s my two main reading apps, Kindle and Instapaper.

In the very bottom row are the Phone icon — unlike some, I still often use my phone for actual voice calling — and the app for my Gmail replacement, the awesome Fastmail. (I switched from Gmail to Fastmail not long ago. I may write about that in the future.)

Then there’s the normal SMS text message icon, and my latest streaming music service of choice, Spotify.

I wonder how this will look this time next year…


My 2 Favorite NYC Public Transport Apps

2013 03 24 nyc subway

Navigating New York City’s massive subway system, seen above, can be difficult. Especially for those, like me, who are new — or newish — to the city.

I use two helpful iPhone apps to streamline my various journeys.


The first is called Embark.

Opening this free app reveals a touch-responsive map of the city’s subway system:

2013 03 25 embark1

The stations are clickable. You simply 1) choose your starting point, then 2) choose your destination, as I’ve done in the screen shot above.

Then, when you click on the arrows at the top right of the screen, Embark will tell you which trains to take, when they’re arriving, and how long your journey will last:

2013 03 25 embark2

When beginning, if you know which station is closest, you can simply click that stop.

Or, if you need guidance, you can click a button and Embark will use your device’s GPS functionality to find the nearest station. Then the app will direct you, step by step, to that stop.

The maps are all built into the app, so you can use it underground, where there’s no mobile service. (GPS functionatliy, however, only works above ground.)

The maps showing your routes are simple and clean:

2013 03 25 embark4

One especially useful feature is that Embark will re-route you in the event of subway service interruptions.

So if, for example, a train stops running before you make your return trip, the app will automatically suggest an alternative route.

You can read more about Embark’s design and functionality here.

Exit Strategy

The second app I like is called Exit Strategy. It costs $3.99 and is available in iOS, Android, and Blackberry versions.

2013 03 24 exit strat3

The app contains detailed street-level maps of the city. But I primarily use Exit Strategy for what may seem like a trivial task: figuring out which subway car to ride in so that I’m closest to the exit when I reach my final station.

Some of the city’s stations are quite expansive, and have multiple exits. Knowing how to beat the crowds out of the station can save substantial time.

(Indeed, from a design perspective, I find it fitting that the icon, above, features a stick figure in mid-run. This feels like an apt graphical representation of NYC transport from a commuter’s perspective.)

Exit Strategy’s station maps look like this:

2013 03 24 exit strat1

And here’s what the street-level maps look like:

2013 03 24 exit strat2

Readers who navigate NYC’s public transportation system: What are your favorite apps? Am I missing any gems?

(NYC subway image: Wikipedia.)