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8 essential apps for iOS developers

Make iOS and macOS do more work for you

Paul Hudson       @twostraws

App developers use apps just as much as anyone else, but as well as things like Overcast, PCalc, and Reddit, we also use apps specifically designed to make development easier – apps aimed at developers.

In this article I want to pick out a handful I can personally recommend. None of these were provided free; I bought them all and can recommend them all from experience. If you make a development-focused app that I missed off, send me a tweet with a link and I’ll check it out!

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Adaptivity A

Apple gives us many sizes, colors, icons, and more to work with, and sometimes it can be hard to remember which is which – should you use readable content margins here, to layout margins? Which Dynamic Type font is the correct choice for a particular layout? How about when all those are used inside a local notification UI?

Adaptivity by Geoff Hackworth is an app that aims to answer all those questions and more, allowing you to see visually how various layout guides interact, how all the Dynamic Type font families look (even with custom font support), how the safe area adjusts as navigation views and toolbars are shown and hidden, and practically everything else you could want from your layouts.

The app itself is remarkably simple: you see various common layouts such as plain view controllers, table view controllers, split view controllers, and more, each overlaid with various colored lines showing you the available space using differing measurement guides. But the app then goes on to show you more complex scenarios: what happens if you show this view controller in a context menu, or as part of a local notification? It even has a home screen quick action showing you how the layout adapts inside an action extension!

It seems ridiculous that this app costs just $3.99, because if you use it just once to figure out a layout problem it has earned its money back immediately. Even better, it’s a universal purchase that works across both iOS and macOS, making it even better value for money.

Adaptivity is not just highly recommended – it’s essential.

Buy Adaptivity A on the App Store

Working Copy

Working Copy from Anders Borum is one of the apps that transforms your iOS device into a true pro powerhouse, because it provides a comprehensive Git client right on your iPhone and iPad. I know, I know, GitHub released their own free iOS app recently, and it’s really nice too, but Working Copy takes everything – everything – a step further, delivering a desktop-class Git client that does everything you need and more.

Editing code (with syntax highlighting!) then committing your changes? Done. Getting diffs of changes, including a fantastic slide-over image diff? Done. Visualizing branches and merge history, fixing merge conflicts, or even rebasing? Done, done, and done.

There are lots of things to like about Working Copy, but easily my favorite is how often it gets updated – Anders adds new features regularly, both for free and pro users, with the most recent update including cursor support for iPadOS 13.4. The free version gives you so much right out of the box, including Siri Shortcuts, repository search, submodules, and more, but when you upgrade to Pro you get a whole raft more features plus the knowledge that you’re directly helping support such an excellent piece of software.

Buy Working Copy on the App Store

Screenshot Creator

Once you’ve taken screenshots of your app for all devices and all languages (Fastlane, anyone?), that’s only the start of the journey because to get great screenshots for the App Store you should really add a theme and some sort of descriptive text around them.

That’s where Screenshot Creator from Mark Bridges comes in: you can add all your screenshots to a single collection, arrange them with various fonts, backgrounds, devices, and more, then export them in a single pass. You can use a single size for all compatible devices if you want, such as using an iPhone 11 screenshot for the 11, the 11 Pro, and the 11 Pro Max – the app will scale them up or down as needed.

All the functionality of Screenshot Creator is free to use, but when you export your pictures you’ll see they have a watermark that can be removed with an in-app purchase.

I’d like to see the creator improve the UI around the in-app purchase flow, so it’s clearer what you get and what you’re being charged. It would also be nice to see built-in design templates with suggested layouts, images, and color combinations, to give folks a starting point for creating more advanced layouts. Still, though, this is an app that will help automate what is easily one of the most tedious parts of submitting something to the App Store!

Buy Screenshot Creator on the Mac App Store

Aurora Color Picker

Looking for the perfect color? Look no further than this app from Shihab Mehboob – it helps identify, track, complement, and even code colors all in one app, while having a delightfully playful user interface that makes it fun to use.

Let’s start with the basics: you can type any hex code in to see how it looks, along with a breakdown of its RGB, HSV, and CMYK values. If you want to fine tune it, a single tap shows two virtual taps that let you adjust the brightness and contrast for the color so you can get it exactly as you want.

From there, you can switch over to the live camera view, which picks colors based on wherever your camera is pointing, or you can import a picture from your photo library and pick from there. (Tiny nit: I’d love the photo color picker to update as you move your finger, rather than when you release!)

And when you find the perfect color, you can get details about it in every possible format: RGB, HSV, HSL, CMYK, XYZ, LAB, and more, plus matching palette suggestions, complementary colors, shades, tints, and more. A normal color app might stop here, but Aurora goes further by providing CSS code, Swift code, and even Objective-C, all allowing you to put the color into use immediately.

This app is a lesson to us all: even today you can take the simplest, most run of the mill topic and make a great app for it.

Buy Aurora Color Picker on the App Store

Fireworks

Xcode has a built-in particle editor for SpriteKit, but doesn’t provide the same for the marvelous CAEmitterLayer equivalent that can be used in UIKit and AppKit. Enter Fireworks from Besher Al Maleh, which gives you the same sorts of controls as Xcode’s editor, along with a live preview so you can see how it looks, but now it also generates Swift code for you on the fly so you can see exactly how it works and start using it in production.

As much as I love Xcode’s particle editor, Fireworks just does it better. You get more advanced features such as subcells and emitter modes, with subcells being put to use immediately in the app’s name – you can literally create fireworks with this app, because one particle system acts as the overall firework, with child emitters for the firework trail and the actual explosion effect.

When your creation is finished you can go ahead and copy the code for either iOS or macOS, or export a Core Animation archive that’s ready to go. It doesn’t support SpriteKit, presumably because Xcode already does that, but it would be nice to be able to “gracefully degrade” an effect once you’ve got it just the way you want it.

Buy Fireworks on the Mac App Store

BBEdit

What would a text editor look like if it had over 25 years of feature development, upgrades, bug fixes, and more? You don’t need to wonder, because that’s exactly what BBEdit is: a macOS app that has been going longer than OS X.

Yes, BBEdit gives you all the predictable fundamental features of a good text editor, including syntax highlighting for more languages than I can count, Git integration (including comparing revisions), plus search and replace, but it doesn’t stop there. Instead, BBEdit has so many advanced features that I could’t possibly mention them in this small space – remote file opening via SFTP, automatic detection of unmatched brackets, an Xcode-like jump bar, extensive AppleScript support, and more.

Even with those power features, the things I rely on most are BBEdit’s thoughtful and thorough support for text manipulation. I rely on things like Zap Gremlins, which removes invisible characters that often cause problems (think control characters or ASCII 0), adjusting hard wrapping for lines, and its extensive support for regular expressions. Honestly, BBEdit’s regex pattern playground could be an app all by itself.

I’m not going to claim that BBEdit is cheap, because at $49.99 it really isn’t, but if you rely on high-quality text editing for your job and want a tool that simply will not fail you, BBEdit is the one.

Buy BBEdit for macOS

Rotato

Do you want your app to look beautiful? Of course you do, so you should buy Rotato. Yes, that’s it – stop reading and buy it now, because trust me: Rotato is guaranteed to make your app look awesome.

Still here? OK, let me explain what it does. Rotato is an app where you drag in screenshots of your own app running, and Rotato places them in a 3D Apple device. From there, you can add movement and music to make movies, captions around the device, shadows, animations, and more, creating a beautiful trailer for your app.

What Rotato does particularly well is provide some slick animations out of the box – you can get great effects with literally only a couple of clicks of your mouse. And if you want more control, you can customize things like the lens length, blur, and more, and even add custom reflections.

You’ve done all the hard work of building your app, so now sit back and let Rotato make it look its best.

Buy Rotato for macOS

Asset Catalog Creator Pro

Another macOS app from Mark Bridges aimed at automating common tasks, this one aimed at create asset catalogs more easily. The most common use case is when you want to create something like an app icon using a single asset – rather than scaling it down yourself then dragging in individual files, you can just make Asset Catalog Creator Pro create all varieties from a single input.

As well as iOS app icons, this app supports layered icons and top shelf icons for tvOS, watchOS icons and complications, macOS icons, and general image sets for other purposes such as macOS side bar icons and more.

This app does precisely one thing, but it does it well. You If you don’t need all the features of the Pro version, the regular free version still supports iOS icon creator and is a safe bet.

Buy Asset Catalog Creator Pro on the Mac App Store

And finally, one to watch: StudIO – Code

This is a relatively new attempt at building an editor for developers, and although it has quite a few rough edges it shows great promise for the future – I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you buy this one now, but certainly keep a watch for how it improves in coming versions.

You get a lot of common features such as syntax highlighted code editing and Git check out, but it also adds an interactive SSH shell, push notifications using web hooks, plus support for reusable code snippets.

I know it’s early days for this app just yet, but there are a few areas that could do with some big improvements. For example, Undo doesn’t always work, sometimes the code you’re editing goes under the keyboard, it doesn’t have a previewing mode for graphical formats such as PDF, and some parts of the UI are just a bit confusing. I hope with some more attention and development from the author, this will prove to be a great app!

Buy StudIO – Code on the App Store

What did I miss?

If you make a development-focused app that I missed off, send me a tweet with a link and I’ll check it out!

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About the author

Paul Hudson is the creator of Hacking with Swift, the most comprehensive series of Swift books in the world. He's also the editor of Swift Developer News, the maintainer of the Swift Knowledge Base, and a speaker at Swift events around the world. If you're curious you can learn more here.

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