Change your hardware more often than your apps
Could you survive a day without the apps on the first screen of your iPhone? Last week I experienced something unique in the app front. For the first time in years three of the apps I use everyday came up with new versions. These are the ones that you install in every device you own. They have earned a space on your home screen. They are so familiar that you rarely question deleting them and favour a newcomer. In fact, if you've probably upgraded to an iPhone 5 or an iPad mini and still use keep using the same apps. Although I keep installing apps and games daily, this for me as an unexpected early Christmas present.
What if these new apps were apps that have already won your favour? I'm talking about Instacast 3, Twitterrific 5 and Fantastical for iPhone. My podcast, Twitter and calendaring clients of choice. They have become some sort of iOS household names having won the trust of the users before the eventual question of "is the upgrade worth it?" Why would you even consider changing something that works for you?
Instacast for podcasts
The first of the trio, Instacast, is a standalone release of what would be version 3.0 of the podcatcher. Most developers release incremental upgrades for their apps free of cost for the user. In this case, developer Vemedio decided to pull from the App Store the previous version and substitute it with this new 3.0 version. I'm perfectly happy with this method pioneered by Atebits transitioning to Tweetie 2. Every person has to buy the app again or keep using the old one. I don't have any problem supporting the refinement of an app like this and actually prefer it over experiments with in-app-purchases — which were used in Instacast version 2.0.
The question here is whether the new features are enough to convince users to pay for the app again or not. For an app in a category that isn't precisely mainstream, this opportunity is like a vote to say you want to see more work from Vemedio. I've been using the app for some less than a week and, even if it's early days, I'm enjoying a lot of what I see. I'll give my views in more detail in my upcoming review.
Fantastical for calendars
If removing the old version of Instacast to replace it with the one didn't represent any layout issue on my home screen, Fantastical is a different story. I have been using the desktop version on my MacBook for some time and have really enjoyed the clever way it recognises the words you type and puts them in context. Developer Flexibits is fixing an actual problem there. For a calendaring solution, adding new events typing some sentences in natural language is a killer feature.
When I heard Fantastical was coming to the App Store I immediately downloaded it. No doubt about it. I really appreciate the amount of work that has gone into adapting the experience for a touch screen device. I always thought the Mac version would make a great iOS app anyway, but reinventing the interaction and coming up with a week view carousel with all those animations is admirable.
With the promise of native sync with Reminders in the works, finding a place for Fantastical on my home screen was a must. In this case I cannot delete the default Calendar app — I like to see the date and day of the week when I unlock my iPhone. For the first time I see the need to have two calendar apps using space on the limited grid of the first screen on my device. I know it sounds a bit silly, but I know I have two calendar apps with the red band on top of the icon because I know I'm going to be using them regularly.
Twitterrific for Twitter
Early iPhone adopters and Twitter users have probably followed the same pattern trying different clients as they were made available on the App Store. Since Tweetie was bought and became the official Twitter client, I've been using different things unashamedly following trends. As far as I remember I've had Osfoora, Twittelator Neue and, more recently, Tweetbot. This full-featured client by Tapbots is probably one of the most popular right now, but we cannot miss a big chunk of its users were at some point using Twitterrific.
Developed by The Iconfactory, the 5th version of the app is a huge step forwards. The options to customise the look, select the fonts you prefer, choose between a dark and white theme are very good arguments. I love how the UI has been extremely simplified to follow this flat colour minimalism adopted by Microsoft with its Metro visual language.
I'm not going to have two clients sharing the same screen, that's for sure. Although I like the Tweetbot, I'm not really using every feature included there. Actually, mine is a light use. Iconfactory has reinvented its signature app and all the improvements made and enticing enough to consider replacing Tweetbot. This isn't the whole package I'm expecting — notifications are a notable omission — but I get the feeling the new version of Twitterrific is going to be much easier for the use I give it on my iPhone. I'm not trying to make a point saying one is better than the other. They're both fantastic and show the things that can be done using a third party API.
Polished apps at a premium
This Monday I looked at my iPhone and it looked different. Along with other usual suspects, these three new apps where invited to the party and are now sharing the privileged space on the home screen. I can't even remember the last time this happened. Maybe it isn't such a big deal, but seeing my friend's home screens I don't think I'm the only one with this OCD.
The whole idea of writing this is demonstrating that the apps worth your time and attention are absolutely worth your money. Apps of this kind are not only investments but the best compliment to the hardware. You want to be using tools of this class. The three I mention in this post just happened to be released closed to each other. I wouldn't hesitate upgrading in any case. There will be always room for premium apps.