My Favorite App: It's the Bomb Diggity
After trading up from a $30 flip phone for an iPhone 5s, I became an unabashed Apple fanboy in short order, I must admit, and I did so primarily due to two things — the Apple community (its mere existence and the intelligence of its members) and third-party apps. I love independent developers most of all, not so much from a desire to help the little person, as it were, but because they’re the ones taking chances, pushing boundaries, and, in practical terms, producing software and applications that cater to niche markets. That I am helping the little person is a nice bonus.
I support locally owned restaurants for similar reasons: the food is typically better, and I want them to stay in business. That they're not soulless corporate shills places a cherry on top. Not to digress (a blatant lie), talk of restaurants makes me ache for Louisville, where I lived for six years. For a city its size, the restaurant scene in Louisville is first-class. I might even say one would be hard pressed to find a place that matches its ratio of outstanding, award-winning restaurants to number of residents. I’ve no idea how such came to be. I imagine James Burke beginning an episode of Connections by holding up a pencil or a playing card (because the connection is never obvious; that’s sort of the point), and ending the program standing in front of a Louisville City Limits sign.
In the absence of Burke, I won’t even attempt to guess. Much likely has to do with the Highlands neighborhood and its eclectic collection of artists, professionals, and freaks. Naturally, that’s where I lived. I judge any new place according to the restaurants considered superb by its residents. If said restaurants truly are superb, I then judge, if I’m honest with myself, those who selected completely different restaurants.
Before you say it, yes, I know the notion of superb food is inherently subjective, making my reasoning fallacious from the start. True enough. But as I’ve been telling students of all ages for twenty years, that you are entitled to have an opinion doesn’t mean that all opinions are equal. My qualifications with respect to restaurants are that I've eaten lots and lots of different foods in a whole mess of restaurants, in America and Europe. Chances are, you think what your parents fed you is the ultimate bomb diggity not because it truly is but because, well, it's what your parents fed you. It's familiar, it’s what you know, what you're accustomed to. Growth is change, and change is scary.
Anyway, I'm not much of a gamer—okay, I'm not one at all (a post for another day)—so games aren’t my cup of app, to mix metaphors. Because I'm over the age of 35, lifestyle apps, as a group, aren’t especially important to me. No, my apps of choice, predictably, fall under the productivity banner, which is somewhat ironic given that Nintype is classified under utilities. But it's just a matter of lexical semantics. Nintype earned the designation simply because it's a keyboard app; at its core, though, it’s clearly designed to make one more productive.
What makes Nintype so special is the degree to which it is customizable. As its developer, Jormy (the only developer I follow on Twitter), puts it, pretty much everything is customizable. This is attractive to writers such as myself who make frequent use of characters on the second page, what Apple labels .?123. Using highly responsive shortcuts, a colon is as near my fingertips as any letter.
This ability alone makes it worth four times what Jormy currently charges. But wait! There’s more! For the power user, Nintype offers more complex capabilities. One can emoijify characters, which themselves can be configured into shortcuts; and one can expand shortcuts into nearly any text, really, similar to the basic functionality of Smile’s TextExpander, or simply store frequently used words; and one can even change themes, including to themes downloaded from Reddit. Or, what the fuck, build your own theme!
Nintype even includes a number of functionalities beyond mere typing, such as copy/paste. As a bonus, Jormy includes hidden gems, from bad pick-up lines (is there any other?) to various—various!—air horns. Oh, and the keyboard is resizable; this, combined with an Apple Pencil mode, make it superb on the iPad Pro. One can also split the keyboard and type with two hands, even on a small screen of an iPhone.
The final blow Nintype delivers to other keyboards is its swipe functionality. Not only can one switch with ease between peck and swipe typing, the swipe mode is extremely accurate and responsive, complete with options for various visual cues to help guide the typist. Once you master swipe, you don’t go peck. Nintype ruined me for all other keyboards, and I adore virtual keyboards the way John Gruber covets physical keyboards.
I’m amazed by how little Nintype gets mentioned within the Apple/iOS community. Even podcast episodes dedicated to productivity apps, or keyboards, for that matter, almost never mention Nintype, despite its being by far the most versatile and powerful app in the App Store. Even Federico Viticci seemed to never mention Nintype until he finally did so during an episode of Canvas. He acknowledged its power but seemed intimidated by it. Mr. iPad Workflow himself, intimidated? Huh. Wouldn’t have thunk it.
Viticci’s reaction is highly illuminating in that it probably points to why others ignore or overlook Nintype—namely, that it’s too powerful. Power users learn Workflows and Apple scripts, which can be powerful and complex, because both can do so, so much; they're not just applicable to any one application, function, or utility. Nintype, for all its charms, is still only a single app, is still just a keyboard. Consequently, the time investment likely doesn’t seem worth the pay-off.
Personally, I enjoy exploring new apps and apps in general; it’s part of the fun. I love that new iOS releases contain hidden gems, functionalities I hadn’t realized were there until I trip one by accident. Apple is brilliant in this regard: the particular UI remains functional even with no knowledge of the additional action or feature. The job gets done. But knowing the extra step brings additional, non-critical benefits, such as speeding up a process.
My fondness for exploration helps explain why I usually know an iPhone’s Settings better than most journalist-podcasters. You didn’t know Bold Text is found within Accessibility? Really? Okay, but surely you knew that tapping the tiny clock under Battery Usage will display the length of time each app ran in the foreground and background. Right? Admittedly, those are easy examples, as I can’t recall specific instances. Nevertheless, I can assure you I've heard many an expert at times seem less than such. Not that I'm an expert or without flaw. This blog is one big monument to my failures. But I do so love to learn new things, and I do so love me some Nintype.
Incidentally, this isn’t a paid endorsement. This blog doesn’t get enough traffic for even a we’ll-really-appreciate-it endorsement, as even that requires being noticed in the first place. Your secondary guesses, however, are all correct: yes, I have too much free time; yes, I'm a bit bonkers; and yes, I do not, in fact, have a life. I have little more these days than this blog, and blogs, being all words and such, beget keyboards, and Nintype is one helluva keyboard.
So why, then, have I recently been cheating on Nintype with another keyboard? Alas, we’ve gone long; best to save that for another time.