It's the end of the year, time again for the staff of iMore and Mobile Nations to talk about what gadgets and software they've been using for the past year. 2013 marks a change for us - we're going beyond iOS hardware to include whatever tech that improves our lives. Without further ado, here are the gadgets and apps that have improved my life this year!
Over the years I've had a lot of Mac laptops, starting with the PowerBook 540c. But the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro is by far my favorite laptop ever. It has extraordinary power, is light for its size, and has a gorgeous display. I haven't found anything that doesn't work great with it - I expect to have this laptop for years to come.
I have a special place in my heart for my 2008 ("Harpertown")-era Mac Pro. Five years later, I still haven't hit the limit on what I can do with it. The eight-core design keeps up with just about everything, and I've replaced hard drives and video cards and upgraded RAM to keep it up to date. What's more, it's the only machine left that still works with my beloved ADC-equipped Apple Cinema Display.
It has a lot of apps itself that I use regularly - YouTube, Netflix, and Crunchyroll are my top three - but the real reason I love the Apple TV is because it gives me an easy way to stream content from my iPhone and my MacBook Pro to my television, and to stream music and other content via iTunes.
I've been a user of Bare Bones Software's BBEdit for much longer than I can remember. It's one of the first apps I install on any new Mac. I don't use a tenth of BBEdit's functionality, but it's the one text editor that doesn't get in my way when I need to lay down content, so that's what I stick with.
I switch between Mac and iOS devices pretty regularly throughout my day, and I depend on Twitter to keep me abreast of what's happening in the tech world and what's going on with friends and colleagues. So being able to sync read messages is a boon - that's one of Echofon's strengths. Plus I appreciate the simple, intuitive interface.
RSS may be as out of fashion for e-mail for some Internet users these days, but I still depend on RSS subscriptions to keep me abreast of what's happening on web sites I care about. NetNewsWire is my go-to RSS newsreader. Fast, simple and reliable, NetNewsWire shows me today's new articles at a glance, lets me search for content I'm interested in, and lets me easily tag articles for later reading if I'm in a hurry. A new version (available for free download) is currently in development; you can save half off if you pre-order it now.
Time Machine is great, but what happens if the hard drive or Time Capsule you're using suddenly stops working? That's why it can be a good idea to have a secondary backup system. That's why I pay for a family subscription for Crashplan, which backs up all the computers in my house to a central service. I can restore individual files or recover entire hard disks (that can take a long time - Crashplan will optionally send a hard drive with your backup on it by courier). It's peace of mind that's well worth the money.
I use Skype a lot - mainly to do to podcasts. To that end I depend on Call Recorder, which records your Skype calls. Recordings are split into two channels (left and right); one contains your audio track and the other contains the audio of whomever else you're speaking with, which makes Call Recorder a great tool for podcasting.
I like carrying my laptop, my iPad and accessories in a backpack, but I don't like to look like I'm on a school field trip while I do it. The Staad is an elegant-looking backpack that combines leather and ballistic nylon in a durable, comfortable-to-wear design. Internal pockets give me space for the iPad, power cable and other accessories; external pockets make it easy to get to things by just sliding off one shoulder strap and reaching around. Superbly designed. I get a lot of compliments about my backpack when I carry this around.
When I work on lengthy writing assignments I prefer the tactile sensation and crisp response of a mechanical keyboard - one that uses physical switches underneath its keys. To that end, i've been a long-time fan of Matias, a Canadian keyboard maker that produces keyboards which use switches that have a similar design as what was in my all-time favorite, the Apple Extended Keyboard II. Mechanical keyboards are louder than the soft-switching keyboards found in today's laptops, but they feel great.
Anybody who's watched the iMore podcast has seen me wear these over-the-ear headphones. The MDR-X10s feature thunderous levels of bass, which is just how I like it (audiophiles looking for clean reproduction can look elsewhere). The cups can be folded beneath the headband for easy portability in a bag or backpack, and it comes with two flat, removable red cables - one's a straight headphone connection, the other sports inline controls and a mic. A carrying case and 1/4-inch adapter is also included.
No surprise to iMore readers, I'm sure - I got the iPhone 5s the day it came out. Touch ID is a total game changer for me. It's a constant source of frustration that my iPad doesn't have a Touch ID sensor. Between Touch ID and the extraordinary A7 processor, the iPhone 5s is Apple's best iPhone yet.
I'm still limping along with a third-generation iPad - the first Retina display-equipped model - because I'm sore at Apple for not including Touch ID with the iPad mini with Retina display. If that thing had Touch ID I'd pick it up in a heartbeat. But for now, I make do on this oldie but goodie.
Remember what I was saying before about being able to sync read messages? That's the same reason I use Echofon on my iPhone too. I can pick up right where I left off without having to mark messages as read already. I also prefer the simple, clean interface to the other Twitter clients I've tried. It looked like the developers were going to shelve the desktop software when Twitter made some API changes, but they've made a resurgence since then.
I don't use it all the time - the car service Uber isn't everywhere and can be expensive to use. But it sure beats hailing a cab when you want or need to get from point A to point B and don't want any fuss. The transaction is handled automatically so you never hand the driver cash and don't have to deal with a tip either. Just watch for elevated rates during peak hours.
This slick journaling app makes keeping track of what I've been doing a breeze. You can incorporate photos, use Markdown syntax if you want, quickly identify location and much more, all in a very intuitive and clean interface that makes it dead simple to look at past entries.
I prefer to use a TiVo DVR instead of the cable company's option, because I prefer the software interface and the programmability. The TiVo software lets me contact my box remotely to set up a recording when I'm not home. I've used this more times than I can count when I'm out and suddenly am reminded that there is something on later that I want to watch.
PDP has a license with Marvel Comics for several of their classic comic book franchises; I picked up the case featuring the cover art from Giant-Sized X-Men #1. It's made out of durable polycarbonate, and while it doesn't offer any front-facing protection, it looks great on my iPhone 5s and has held up well under heavy use.
I like a good folio-style case because it provides back and front protection for the iPad. My favorite is Moshi's Concerti, which combines an inner silicone liner. You can set the screen at just about whatever angle you want on the inside of the case, if you're watching movies or typing on it. An elastic strap keeps the front closed when not in use, and a hand pocket makes it easy to hold. The microfiber is very soft and holds up well to constant use. Plus it's available in purple - always a plus.
At the risk of sounding like a Moshi fanboy, they make another product I consider indispensible - the iVisor screen protector. If you've ever struggled for hours to get a screen protector on without trapping bubbles, the iVisor - available in antiglare (AG) or clear (Glass) - is a revelation. Goes on in an instant, no bubbles. Ever. It's pricey compared to some screen protectors, but it's the last one you'll have to buy.
You've heard from me, now I want to hear from you. What are your favorite gadgets, devices and software from 2013?
Looking for more great gift ideas for the geeks - and non-geeks - in your life? Check out the rest of our 2013 holiday guides!