iOS & Mac reviews

Coffitivity review: perfect for working from home

coffitivityCoffitivity is a free app that recreates the ambience of a coffee shop with three different audio tracks to match the mood you want to create. It’s completely free and available for iOS, Mac and Android, or you can load up in your browser and play the sounds from there. And it’s had a huge impact on my ability to focus when working from home, so I highly recommend it.


I’m a freelance photographer so I should be good at focussing, right? Ba-dum-TSH, here all week folks, try the veal.

Seriously though, I spend a lot of my free time kicking around the house either relaxing with Netflix or a game, doing chores, or, most problematically, studiously avoiding doing chores. When I’m on a job somewhere, surrounded by other people also working, I have zero distraction issues but at home, alone, in silence, I have a serious problem with procrastination and distractions, particularly when it comes to doing certain computer tasks.

I recognise my procrastination and avoidance issues and I’ve got a number of tools and personal processes to combat them: I’ve made jotting down anything I remember I need to do in Things much more of a habit, meaning I can stop worrying about what things I might have forgotten to do and just get on with doing them; I keep our budget spending updated daily using the YNAB iPhone app; I try to remember to turn off distractions like Safari, Mail and Tweetbot when I sit down to do computer work; and I keep an Rdio playlist of gentle jazz handy as background noise.

Turns out background noise has a much bigger impact on my ability to focus than I thought and reassuringly there’s scientific research backing this up. When I sit down to tackle something that needs to be done in the lonely silence of our flat my mind wanders and has a terrible habit of dredging up all sorts of negative emotions, drawing on past negative situations, and projecting negative futures, all of which scare me off making decisions and taking action by making me afraid of how I might fail, and how it’s easier to just avoid failure than it is to face up to the possibility of it occurring.

Pretty heavy, huh? Well that’s a post for another day. Right now I want to tell you about the simplest step that made the biggest difference to my focus and my mental attitude when I sit down to work: installing Coffitivity.

Coffee shop ambiance, at home

Music has always been my first recourse to silencing the silence of our empty flat, but that can be a distraction in itself. Do I want to put on the same old playlist? Find something new? But what genre? Nothing too pop, rock or dance. Nothing too atmospheric in case it’s depressing (so no Clint Mansell soundtracks then). I could spend half an hour idly flicking through Rdio, then hop onto Safari to research ‘work at home’ playlist suggestions… And before you know it I’ve run out of time allotted for the original task.

The ambiance provided by Coffitivity seems to let me get right into the task at hand, puts me In The Zone. I tried it for the first time a couple of days ago and spent the next five hours without distraction compiling the year’s expenses for my tax return, something I’ve been putting off since April. Sure, I had to do it this month anyway, but surrounded by other (imaginary) people all doing their own thing, working away and supping coffee and getting on with it, I got started and… enjoyed the process of working. It’s like a human version of ‘white noise’, that somehow keeps my brain marching forward following the map rather than wandering off into the shadowy forest of distraction.

The details

Once installed the app lives in the menubar. Click to reveal the drop-down menu, pick a track, set the volume and hit play. You can have it launch at login, and there’s a ‘one-click’ mode to play or pause whenever you click the menubar icon, with a right-click revealing the drop-down.

The icon itself is the coffee cup from the logo. It’s black and grey when not in use and turns a kind of aquamarine colour and presents a swirl of steam while a track is playing. I’d love an option to set it to black to match my other menubar icons, though.

The tracks are different enough from each other to suit various moods and are all long enough that the looping won’t start to grate. However, I noticed that when they looped it was a noticeably hard cut back to the beginning rather than a crossfade, which takes the sheen off the illusion somewhat. The University Undertones track in particular had a 1-2 second pause when it looped – ouch.

Still – it’s free, and these things can be fixed with small updates. All in all, while you may well be able to find similar background sounds in other ambience apps, Coffitivity does one thing and does it well. I’d love a more modern icon and would welcome a couple more tracks but those would just be an extra syrup shot in an already excellent cup of virtual joe. It works for me – I highly recommend it!

Download Coffitivity for iOS
Download Coffitivity for Mac

iOS & Mac reviews

Mac app review: Analytics for Clicky

mac clicky app

I love tracking visitor stats on my websites and right now I have a bit of a thing for Clicky‘s really user-friendly interface. Google Analytics is running as well of course – it’s free and has incredible visitor tracking power but it’s also got a steep learning curve. Clicky’s interface isn’t so fussy and puts all the important stuff up front with plenty of levels to drill down into Goals, Conversions, Outlinks and so on. There’s monthly tariffs and a free option if you only have one site to track.

Because GA can be so daunting there’s plenty of third party apps trying to do a better job of presenting the key data – on my iPhone I turn to Quicklytics and on my Macs I use the GAget dashboard widget by Zoltan Hosszu, which graphs visits, new visitors and bounce rate in a lovely panel just a keystroke away.

I find these sorts of apps really useful to get a quick fix of stats so once I got Clicky all set up properly I started looked around for something similar, a little widget or menubar app to save me going to the Clicky website all the time (lovely as it is!).

mac-app-store-downloadRight now the only Mac app filling the niche for Clicky users is a handsome-looking little menubar widget called Analytics for Clicky ($3.99), and so I gave it a go.

How it works

Analytics for Clicky lives in your menu bar as a little pie-chart icon and digit representing current visitors on your site. Clicking it brings up a clean display of all the headline stats from Clicky’s site, organised via tabs: Dashboard is essentially ‘The Basics’, listing today’s visits, uniques, average actions and duration, and bounce rate; and the Content, Search and Links tabs list today’s top ten pages, in-bound search terms and referring domains.

mac clicky stats app
The tabs keep the array of Clicky stats organised neatly

Oh, and there’s Settings but that’s really just for your login and setting up the visitor alert, which will buzz you if the number of simultaneous visitors on your site passes a certain threshold.

Pros and cons

Like GAget, Analytics for Clicky is focussed on quickly scratching that stat-check itch and it serves that purpose admirably; it’s always just a click away, updates every few minutes, and looks great with a clean, organised interface. The range of stats packed into the tabs gives you a great overview of the day your site has had so far, and the fact it’s all live combined with the ease of access in the menubar makes using the app quite addictive, particularly at first.

Given all that, and also that it’s the only Clicky app for Macs out there right now, it feels a little churlish having niggles but there’s just a few things I’d like that I think would make it an essential purchase. In no particular order:

  • it doesn’t list your Goals stat – you need to click through to Clicky’s website if you want to see it (using the handy button top right). This can be a key stat for webmasters so I’d love to see it added to the Dashboard panel in an update
  • no graphs – graphs are a stat-junky’s friend and make it much easier to convey loads of data at a glance. The GAget widget is so awesome precisely because of its graphs so I wonder if Clicky’s Dashboard graph could be squeezed into Analytics either as a tab or by redesigning the top space, with the option to set the time-scale tucked into Settings?
  • you can only track one site – I’ve got three sites I want to track so I just have to pick one and hit ‘Open Clicky’ if I want to see the others. GAget lets you place multiple widgets and set each up with a different GA profile; Analytics for Clicky has to fit everything into one ‘widget’ so it could really do with a site-switching option somewhere. The app title at top left feels redundant so perhaps it could be replaced with a clickable/switchable site-name?
  • the stat order doesn’t match – the key stats are listed in one order on Clicky’s ‘The Basics’ and a different order in the Analytics Dashboard. This might seem really picky but humans like patterns so if you get used to one source, even a momentary search for the same stats on the other source will niggle at you. Well it niggles at me, anyway.

In conclusion

Analytics for Clicky is a neatly organised, good-looking, lightweight quick-fix solution for Clicky users on Macs, and the only one on the market at that.

Right now it doesn’t quite scratch my personal statistical itch as satisfyingly as I’d like – although full satisfaction via the full Clicky site is always just one more click away, regular use of that reduces a rather lovely little utility to a glorified browser shortcut. With the addition of goal-tracking, multiple sites and – maybe? – a visitor graph, it would easily be the most essential Clicky utility available for Macs.

mac-app-store-downloadYou never know what delights future updates might bring but as it is it’s still a great tool with more than enough at-a-glance stats here for most people, and for the price I can happily recommend you give it a try.

iOS & Mac reviews Reviews

Bike Repair, a useful app that practically pays for itself

bike repair appBike Repair is a photographic guide to the 80-odd most common repairs and adjustments you’d need to make on a bike. I picked it up to save myself a bit of money on servicing and repairs and I’ve learned a few things about the art of bicycle maintenance along the way.

Recently it’s grown to include price comparisons, cycling forums and a personal bike log, but it’s the repair instructions I’m there for. These are split into ‘Problems’ and ‘Guides’ – pick the issue that sounds like yours and discover what’s likely to be causing it along with a link to the relevant photographic guides to do the fix yourself.

bike repair app guide

The photos are bright and clear with detailed, legible annotations, and there’s a photographic glossary available to brush up on the terminology. A pro may well know all this stuff already but for the budding novice willing to get his hands dirty it’s an excellent resource.

Perfect for keen cycling amateurs

When I first got my bike, which I only really use for tootling around Wandsworth in London, I had no real idea how to maintain it so when the first big issue cropped up (brake cables fraying) it was tempting to run it in to Evans Cycles for a tune up.

But I figured if I can code a website I could probably handle a brake cable so I looked the process up in Bike Repair, got stuck in and felt very pleased with myself afterwards – yes I know now that it’s a piece of cake, but let me have my moment!

Total cost, about four quid to cover the app and new cabling versus about a tenner to have my local place do it for me, so the app paid for itself twice over the first time I used it.

Since then I’ve handled a full brake replacement, an afternoon cleaning the chain and gear set, and fine adjustment of the gear cable tension. It’s almost always easier than I’d expected so I’ve grown in confidence and have picked up a few more bike tools. I’m not quite for a whole inner tube and tyre replacement just yet, but I watched the bike repair shop do it the other day and reckon I could handle it now.

bike repair iphone

There’s a few apps on my phone I don’t often have call for but I know I would definitely regret deleting. Bike Repair (£2.49) is one of those, so if you’re a cyclist that could do with a helping hand I recommend picking it up.

Thanks for reading!


iOS & Mac reviews Reviews

Tube Map Live, a cool new app from the Tube Tracker guy

I’m a big fan of Andy Drizen’s Tube Tracker, one of my three favourite London travel apps I wrote about here. It has some very cool features, one being the ability to track particular trains across the network in real-ish time using TfL data.

Andy’s just released a new app, Tube Map Live (Free), which takes that Tube Tracker feature and applies it to the whole London Underground Map, and it’s pretty damn cool. Take a look:

live tube map app

First launch triggers a quick tour but it’s pretty straightforward: you can zoom in and out with a pinch, turn lines on or off by tapping their name in the scrolling ticker below, and tap on a train to display it’s destination and location. If you’ve got Tube Tracker installed you can jump over there to get more detailed info.


It’s not quite accurate enough to plan a journey as TfL’s live train data can be patchy in places – I’ve occasionally seen a random train shooting along the line overtaking everyone else, and I’ve not had a look late at night yet but Andy says the data TfL sends often shows ‘ghost trains’ whizzing around – but I can definitely match up trains I hear passing nearby with those on the map. The integration with Tube Tracker is fun (and I do love that yellow-on-dark icon) but it would be cooler still if TT was updated to be able to send train tracking information back to a friend’s Live Tube Map, not just their TT app.

But I’m nitpicking – it’s a fun wee novelty that’s enjoyable to scroll around and watch, and a good advert for some of the smart features in Tube Tracker, all for the awesome price of Free.

Thanks for reading!

iOS & Mac reviews

iPhone review: Stow – a slick packing checklist app

stow packing app

I like apps that do one thing really well, which is the main reason I really like Stow (£1.49), a checklist app dedicated to packing for a trip. I’ve already got plenty of apps that could fulfil that function such as Drafts, Simplenote, Things, or Reminders, but they’re all either too general and lack features, or are focussed on different sorts of checklists.

If you don’t travel much then any one of those apps would do the job for the occasional packing list but Stow provides certain features dedicated to the needs of the regular suitcase lugger like template lists, weather-specific suggestions, a departure countdown, list-sharing options and a button to ‘unpack all’ when you arrive at your destination so you can check it all off again before you return, which is very handy.

It even automatically adds the right number of underpants and socks based on your travel dates – unless you tell it you’ll be doing laundry while you’re there.

The app has a clean look and feel, using left and right swipes of the screen when in List mode to bring up more options or add new items, with a few of the most important functions in a bar along the bottom of each screen. It’s cannily avoided going the skeuomorphic route so it’ll fit in well with iOS 7 – although the icon is a deliciously pushable button.


While Stow would evidently be very useful for the frequent traveller, I don’t travel that much. Instead, I got Stow to see if I could use it as an equipment checklist when I’m packing for photography shoots. I’ve taken a few minutes to pretty much empty the pre-loaded item pool, removing all the stuff for golf, ski and city trips, adding a new category called Camera Equipment and filling it with every bit of kit I own from cameras and lenses down to tripod mounting plates. Then I saved a new template list called Photo Shoots that contained the lot, plus a few other essentials like ‘phone’.

Now when I have a shoot I fire up Stow, start a new ‘trip’ and pick the Photo Shoot template. It loads all those items into a new list and I remove any that I’m not going to need for this particular job. In future I might create more specialised template lists; for example, a portrait shoot will likely call for my strobes, lighting stands, umbrellas and softboxes, whereas on a unit stills job I can leave all that lot at home but I’ll need to remember my Sound Blimp.

Again, it’s nothing I couldn’t have tapped into Reminders or even done with a pencil and paper but knowing that I’ve got all my kit saved into Stow’s list templates reassures me that I’ll not forget to add something obvious to my list, like I might if I was having to write it out fresh each time.


There are a few little bugs and niggles that still need ironing out. For example, sometimes Packed checkmarks don’t display when you reload the app, but reappear when you switch to the ‘unpacked’ or ‘everything’ tab and back; I occasionally had trouble getting the ‘hold to delete’ function to register my touch correctly, and when adding items to a list sometimes the counter next to each item would zero as I scrolled down past it.

The item name rows are quite short, only displaying 13 characters in the item pool screen because of the add and remove buttons, so if you’ve got a lot of items with long names (such as ‘Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens’) you’ll have to use some abbreviations (such as ‘Lens 24-70’) to make it easier navigating the list.

Everything is ordered alphabetically which is definitely the best default but I’d like to be able to tap an Edit button and move things around if I want. For example, I’d like to be able to put my cameras, batteries and memory cards together at the top of the list. This is possible with a bit of crafty renaming to game the sorting system but it’s messy.

A bigger bother for me is that you can’t tap the iPhone status bar to jump back to the top of a list. I found myself trying to do this again and again, particularly at the bottom of a list and wanting to search for the next item – Search is at the top, so you have to ‘swipe and swipe and swipe and swipe, and type’, instead of ‘tap, and type’. Annoying.

To conclude

Despite those niggles I do really like Stow and it’s definitely worth a look if you’re after a packing checklist app. It’s not quite what I was looking for (an equipment checklist app specifically for photographers) but its customisability let me bend it to my needs while taking advantage of all the packing-focussed features, and the design strikes just the right balance between simple and clever in an iOS7- friendly package. And as a bonus, next time I go on holiday I’ll already have a packing app ready to go.