Holiday Gifts – Treat yourself to an App

I love this time of year. The time off from work, the promise of snow, the tree, the food, family, the presents… I usually stuff an Apple Gift card in my wife’s stocking and of course, to be self-supporting, one for me. I traditionally go off to their store in search of a quality app. I have been accumulating a few over the years and thought it would be good to share some of my favorites:



Paper by FiftyThree is by far the most seamless Moleskine replacement. I have been complimenting it with their stylus and a Cosmonaut pen. Great way to get concept sketches out and share

Note Taking


I have been going between multiple apps way before palm recognition: Noteability, Penultimate, Notes Plus but what gets my vote is Noteshelf. Don’t get me wrong, they are all competent, but the best behaving, most responsive with my 53 Stylus is Noteshelf. My only gripe is that the pages are too small for my writing. Notability does a great job sharing files, recognizing you palm and combining voice recording, they have even included exporting to social media which is a nice touch. Penultimate I was least impressed with, they have positioned themselves uniquely with Evernote and Jot Script Stylus. Yet if these are your bed fellows, it may convince you to lie with them.

Let’s also not forget the flowing note application of One Note by Microsoft. This iPad application connects to others across platforms. Add images, photos from your camera, write notes and do basic sketching with your pen. A nice feature is shape recognition and stylus support. Totally worth it, especially when it’s free!



Go beyond the sketch and watercolor feel of Paper now place layers and effects to your work. I love the perspective functionality and curve guides of Sketchbook Pro. Procreate is a mature offering and has a nifty time-lapse recording function to showcase your creative skills; Draw feels very responsive and intuitive with some nice UI – hold your pen down in an enclosed region and it automatically fills. All apps allow for PSD export with differing choices to either your Creative Cloud, Dropbox or Autodesk 360 accounts. No clear winner here… love ‘em all.

Diagrams & Illustrations


If flow diagrams are your thing, Grafio is a delightful offering. Simple and easy to use with attractive looking graphics. Only downfall is its limited export functionality with the only options of compressed PNG or JPEG format. Interoperability would be greatly enhanced with scalable vector graphic (SVG) export.

Bez, Inkpad and Graphic are great tools for those seeking Adobe Illustrator on iOS. Depending on what you are willing to spend, Graphic seems to contain the most comprehensive toolset. I find that all provide the necessary tools to produce quality illustrations in an easy and manageable UI. If you are a serious Illustrator, the large iPad Pro and Pencil will be an absolute must.

Immersive gameplay


For anybody who loves atmosphere, puzzles and interactivity… The Room is the best entertainment you can buy… and there are 3 of them! This is a richly immersive environment, from the eerie sounds to interacting with the puzzles to advance you from room to room, this would be amazing in VR. There is even a board game variant out there.

PDF Editing


I always wanted to keep within the Bluebeam stable but PDF Expert seemed to do it better. No arrows or clouds here in this offering unfortunately, but free form sketching can be a good substitute. Functionality includes extracting and reordering your pages, adding images and signatures. Improvements would be to include layer management and a copy/paste snapshot tool.

3D Modelling


FormIt is the SketchUp for the iPad. Connect to Sketchbook and you have a great architectural visualization workflow. Formit is easy, intuitive and has been designed with the iPad and Pencil in mind. Connect to your A360 and you can work on the desktop App at work. Multiple users can even work in the same Formit Session. Just be warned that your tasks are linear – undo your work, can also undo others!

Shapr3D has recently turned up with Pencil support. I have yet to try it but it looks awesome. This offering seems more for product designers and makers, but the intuitive nature of their demo reel is compelling, although the $99 Pro version may be steep for some. The free version may be enough if you are not looking for high quality STL exports or working with any other CAD / BIM models. As @amsbrstr notes, “This does for Solid modelling on iPad what Solidworks did for Windows. Game changer. Great use of Pencil input as well.”



Writing this Blog, I typically fire up my laptop and type away in Word, storing my document on Dropbox or OneDrive. Word is an industry standard and Microsoft have done good job of opening it onto the mobile market. Connecting to WordPress or sharing to social media is usually a multistep process. Of course you can write directly in the WordPress App and check statistics, however it nice to work offline, collating your thoughts and publish when ready. iA Writer does just that in a focused, clutter free environment. I also found Hanx Writer to be a fun novelty to focusing your writing by listening to click clack of an old type writer, albeit without the usual paper wastage.



We all know of Facetime and Skype, but Slack is a neat perpetual chat platform where you can post comments, images and videos in numerous channels across multiple teams. There is direct messaging and video and voice calls. It works across platforms and devices too, but the best part, it’s free until you hit your 5GB limit.

So that’s my list of favorite iOS apps. I do wish there were more cross-platform functionality to some and that publishers would develop more for Windows tablet devices. That said, mobile apps are fantastic to your workflow and most are affordable, if not free to try. Please share if you have any that are your favorite go-to applications. I am always looking for a good app to tinker with.

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday and that Santa brings the App of your choice!


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