Choosing the right academic software (Mac/iPadOS/iOS)

I am not doing a full-fledged review here, but there are some learnings I’d like to share here from my experience.

  • iPadOS/iOS is not a writing medium. I am still wrapping my head around it. Developers are expending insane energies in propping up a medium that doesn’t work. Devices with keyboards work. Effectively and efficiently.
  • Never trust the reviews posted on the App store. There is a whole industry behind getting “good reviews”.
  • Developers actively bid for “keywords” for App Store placements. Don’t trust them blindly. Use your discretion.
  • Are you overwhelmed when you just need a “mind-map” software? There are specific techniques to sell the product. Most of them have affiliate links on the websites (they split up revenues) based on the number of installs.
  • Always choose software to make you efficient or offers you something additional in your workflow. For example, I was evaluating LiquidText and MarginNote 3. The latter ends up on my shitlist because it is clearly a rip off from the original. Why I wouldn’t recommend MarginNote? Because it annotates in its own proprietary format and the export format cannot be read by other applications.
  • Always look at the support channels- any developer giving support via Twitter is not good enough. A direct email/forum support is usually preferable.
  • Features: How many do you need? A “feature-rich” option doesn’t suffice. Going back to my Margin Note example above- It relies on iCloud solution for “backup”. Anyone with any sense of technical background will realise that Apple’s solution is useless. It mangles the “blobs” of data, is slow and “buggy”. Likewise, export options. Always export your work in open standards (or in a manner that other applications can read it). Apple never had “engineering” DNA- they make excellent “designs” though.

One of the reasons I am stuck on the Mac “ecosystem” is because of the “simplicity”. There is better software support on Mac where open-source alternatives don’t exist. PDF annotation, for example, is a pain. Although web applications are moving towards the browser alone instances, the “progress” is slow. PaperPile, for instance, is a good reference manager, but it is intimately tied around the hip to Google and works “only” in Chrome. How restrictive (and stupid) can that be!

All these factors don’t come out in the review. I agree that some software is made only for a specific platform and I am okay with that. There should be a right balance between feature set and your usability.

Email clients are an extreme example. I use Spark on Mac because it is slick. CanaryMail (with read receipts) is an excellent option, but they haven’t rolled out the updates to macOS Catalina (despite repeated reminders). I have no means to claim a refund, and the developers are under no obligation to listen to me.

The stock email client on Apple is useless because they have no clue about making good software. The purpose of the blog isn’t to highlight the nitty-gritty of CPU cycles consumed in the process of launching an app.

I intend to make users aware that you need to ensure that your use case should match up.

I still believe in open source and genuinely hope that it would catch up with the “closed source”. However, beyond giving “free-software”, they should encourage payment models. Personally, I’d wipe off MacOS Catalina in a heartbeat if my workflows can be replicated in say Ubuntu Linux. I can also live without “typography” or the “curves on my serif-fonts”.

Choose wisely!

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