Little Bit, Snapshots Of The Universe, Write Right, Yahoo News Digest, And OutRead Are Our Apps Of The Week

Now that a good chunk of the US is hiding out from the cold, there’s no better time to hunker down with your iOS device and get some new apps. We have an interesting iPhone app that tries to train you to learn a new habit. After that we have an iPad app from one of the world’s most famous scientists. After that, we have an iPad text editor that puts the emphasis on language. Then we have Yahoo’s attempt at a news digest. Then finally we have a speed reading app for the iPhone.

Little Bit – iPhone


Want to learn a new habit? Little Bit has you learn that new habit by making sure you repeat it twenty-one days in a row. When you do so, it becomes a complete habit. You can then move on to your next goal. If you skip a day you lose a half a day’s progress towards your goal. Each day you can set a reminder to accomplish your goal, and when you mark it complete, you take a photo to commemorate the achievement. These are used to create a tapestry that counts up your progress.

This is a neat little utility that likely will find traction with people who read a lot of Lifehacker. Is isn’t going to change your life, or manage your day to day workload. It will help you take care of those things you’re supposed to be doing, but are ignoring in favor of streaming another episode of Castle.

What’s Good: Nice interface, streamlined options keep app focused.

What Sucks: No way to skip picture process and just use a gold star or other marker of your choice.

Buy it?: If you’re looking for an app to change your habits or learn something new grab Little Bit for $2.99 on the App Store.

Stephen Hawking’s Snapshots of the Universe – iPad


Stephen Hawking may be one of the world’s most well-known physicists outside of Einstein. He’s written several books about science that attempt to bring the subject to a lay audience. His new app, Snapshots of the Universe, breaks down eight physics concepts into easily demonstrable simulations. In addition to a demonstration of the concept by showing you gravity’s link to acceleration, you have a brief article or video that introduces the concept.

Though this is a beguilingly designed app, and it makes scientific concepts comprehensible; it is woefully brief. There are only eight activities and articles, and then a final article with summaries of more advanced concepts. With as well-designed as this is, there just should be more to it. There should haven even enough here to fill up one of those Icon Introducing books, but this is barely a Science Channel special.

What’s Good: Excellent design, well written, and fun.

What Sucks: Entirely too short.

Buy it?: If you like science, and are looking for something fun to pass a few hours, grab Snapshot of the Universe on the App Store for $5.99.

Write Right – iPad


Though most of the iOS text editors have reached parity, it is still a fairly competitive marketplace. Now that almost every editor has Markdown, Dropbox, and special characters, it’s time for unique services to be the differentiator. WriteRight decides that the best way to stand out among the crowd is to focus on writing and language. Rather than focusing on where your writing is going to go, this app focuses on creating the text itself.

The most stand-out feature is the Thesaurus, which allows you to easily look up the synonyms and antonyms in the app. Find and replace is another heavy duty word processing feature that is included. This obviously isn’t going to be for every writer, but a lot of writers rely on this type of reference for their workflow. You can also preview the document in various document sizes, so you can optimize your layout. All of these features are easy to use, and the app makes it all pretty obvious to figure out. It’s only draw back is a limit to exporting options, you can’t easily get the raw HTML from the Markdown you create.

What’s Good: Find and Replace and Thesaurus options are great features.

What Sucks: Missing export options.

Buy it?: If you’re a writer looking for some more beefy options and don’t mind a limit on your export options, grab Write Right for $2.99 on the App Store.

Yahoo News Digest – iPhone


Marissa Meyer was on the offensive at CES this year. In a show full of gadgets bound for the Skymall catalog and your IT guy’s sample pile, she was dishing out a new content strategy at the purple dinosaur that included a renewed focus on news. While the news focused mostly on David Pouge and Katie Couric, they announced Yahoo News Digest. This is an app that updates twice a day with eight stories that represent the largest news stories of the day. The app owes a huge debt to Circa, right down to it’s formatting and layout.

That isn’t to say that Yahoo didn’t throw money at the design, this app looks really nice. The list of stories is headed with a large photo from the lead story. As you dig deeper, each story has a nice lead photo, along with the helicopter view of the content. They provide links to older stories, as well as those with more context. Once you’ve read the morning stories, they provide a reminder that a second set will come in the evening. While it is obvious that they built a lot of this on Circa’s model, it is more focused on summary rather than context.

What’s Good: Nice design, good amount of links out to sources and more information.

What Sucks: Takes a lot from Circa in terms of function and content.

Buy it?: This is a free app, and if you’re looking for a quick summary of the news, grab Yahoo News Digest for free on the App Store.

OutRead – iPhone


Speed reading apps are quickly becoming an entire category on the App Store. OutRead has a lot of granular controls and a document view that manages to balance the speed reading lesson with your normal reading view. You can import your Instapaper, Pocket, or Readability accounts for content lists. If you prefer, you can load an article from a URL. You can also install a bookmarklet in Safari that copies a page to the app. The app doesn’t offer preloaded sources like some other speed reading apps, but it does make it simple to get content.

There are a lot of controls to how you read and how fast. You can adjust both the speed and the size of the highlight that guides you through the test. You have four font choices, all of them are fairly comfortable to read quickly. The whole article view allows for you to see the images in articles, not just text flying by. This may be a bit on the fiddly side, but it is more empowering than cumbersome.

What’s Good: Great amount of options for both reading and importing content.

What Sucks: Lacks built in content streams. No ipad version.

Buy it?: If you’re looking for a speed reading app that focuses on the whole article, grab Outread for $2.99 on the App Store.

Mac geek? Gamer? Why not both? Mike is a writer from Wisconsin who enjoys wasting immense amounts of time on the Internet. You can follow him on Twitter.