3 iOS apps I’m liking: AdBlock, Feed Hawk, Argent Film Simulation

AdBlock

iOS 9 saw the introduction of content blockers for Safari. They’re excellent at speeding up navigation, reducing websites’ clutter, and helping you save some battery life on your devices. At least, that’s what I’m told. I’ve never been able to take advantage of this feature because my devices, an iPhone 5 and iPad 3, have a 32-bit CPU architecture, and content blockers only work on 64-bit iOS devices. I’ve always found this limitation quite irritating because — as I often stated — this is the kind of feature that would be especially helpful on older devices. A lot of today’s websites are so littered with ads and all kinds of unrelated, superfluous content that loading them becomes unnecessarily cumbersome and resource- and battery-draining. On older devices the issue is exacerbated: my iPad 3, which is still a good performer overall, becomes very sluggish on certain ad-heavy websites. Swiping up and down while the site is still loading is sometimes a painful spectacle to behold — the browser struggles, and every now and then even freezes, until all content is loaded.

So I’ve been wondering whether there might be an app featuring some workaround that would allow even older 32-bit devices to block some content. Thanks to the ever-useful AppShopper, I found AdBlock, which appears to do just the trick. As explained in the FAQ of the app’s website:

AdBlock for iOS uses the VPN OnDemand feature. It installs a “dummy VPN” profile with a list of domains. The list of domains is controlled using the app. Every time some app tries to communicate with one of the blacklisted domains, it will automatically trigger a connection with the “dummy VPN” server (which is not a working VPN). This makes the connection impossible and results in ad being blocked in all kinds of apps.

One neat consequence of this is that AdBlock doesn’t block ads only inside browsers, but also in other apps that may display ads served over the Internet. On the flip side, if you navigate to a site serving ads through its own servers, AdBlock won’t work. (You may want to check out Weblock for that, from the same developer. See the difference between Weblock and AdBlock explained on this page.)

There is an important bit of information on the app’s website and App Store description:

Due to a confirmed bug in iOS 9.3 – 9.3.5, AdBlock can cause some websites to freeze when loading. Apple fixed the bug in iOS 10. Please update to iOS 10 to resolve this problem. Unfortunately this cannot be fixed with an app update (it’s a bug in iOS, not in AdBlock app).

I’ve been using AdBlock for a week now, and haven’t found any issues so far. Sites like iMore and Macworld load faster and ad-free, my iPad 3 feels more responsive, and the battery life improvement isn’t just marketing, it’s noticeable, at least in my experience. Once you enable AdBlock, you may notice that the progress bar in Safari doesn’t go from 0 to 100% — that’s because technically the website-with-ads isn’t fully loaded. Only the good stuff is loaded. At least, that’s what I’ve deduced.

AdBlock is $1.99 on the App Store

Feed Hawk

Until recently, there wasn’t a simple, direct way to add a website’s RSS feed to your RSS reader of choice if you wanted to subscribe. Feed Hawk by John Brayton of Golden Hill Software is the missing piece of the puzzle. The app description in the App Store really says everything you need to know:

From within Safari, simply open a share sheet and tap Feed Hawk. Feed Hawk will find the feed for the site and subscribe to it. If the site has multiple feeds, Feed Hawk will allow you to specify the feeds to which you wish to subscribe.

The Feed Hawk extension works inside most browsers including Safari, Safari View Controllers, Google Chrome, and Marcato.

It works with the following feed services: BazQux Reader, Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, FeedHQ, Fever (self-hosted), Inoreader, Minimal Reader, NewsBlur, The Old Reader, tt-rss (self-hosted).

The developer kindly reached out to me via email and offered me a code to try out Feed Hawk. If I’m talking about Feed Hawk here is not because I simply felt it was the polite thing to do. If I don’t like your app, you can send me all the codes (and sometimes even pre-packaged PR material) you want — you won’t get a mention from me. But Feed Hawk works as intended and does the job well, so I’m spreading the word. The feed service I primarily use is Feedly, which sadly is not supported, but I also have an account with Inoreader, so I tried Feed Hawk with that service and everything was fine. If you use iOS as your primary platform, you want as little friction as possible in your workflow. With Feed Hawk you can add a website to your feeds with a couple of taps. So purchase it already. It has a cool icon, too.

Feed Hawk is $2.99 on the App Store

Argent Film Simulation

This is my most recent discovery, and you won’t believe what I did to find this app: I launched the App Store and initiated a search for “film simulation”. And things worked like they should. Argent Film Simulation was the top result, and got me intrigued. I searched for “film simulation” because I wanted to see if there was some kind of professional photo app that offered a wide array of faithful film renditions and a bit more versatility than the mostly automatic iPhone camera approach.

The good news: Argent Film Simulation appears to be that app. The somewhat bad news: the user interface isn’t immediately intuitive, and can get busy. The good news again: the companion website explains the interface clearly and in detail. All it takes is a bit of patience — once you figure out the various controls, the app becomes more intuitive and rewards you with good photographic results. Let me say that again: if you want a photo app with cool filters for your Instagram-driven instant gratification, the App Store has plenty of those. You probably already have plenty of those. Argent Film Simulation is more aimed at the photo enthusiast (or professional) who likes to tinker with manual settings. It has a high degree of customisation and flexibility. Sure, you could leave everything set to automatic and then apply the film presets, but the fun comes when you experiment with different settings, while you’re shooting and afterwards.

The app is developed by Sean M. Puckett, who is a professional photographer (here’s a link to his website). What ultimately made me decide to purchase the app was this ‘Historical Note’ at the end of the app’s companion website:

This app is the result of ten years of development of a suite of analogue film simulation equations and techniques. They were originally created for a long defunct camera raw processing program called Bibble, and later ported to Lightroom. But always, the simulations were applied in post-processing.

With the advent of hand-held devices with adequate cameras and CPUs, it no longer makes sense to me as an artist to have a separate “photography” and “post-processing” phase. I should instead be able to just create a software camera that combines both steps in real-time, so I can just see in a viewfinder before I click the shutter what I will get when all the post-processing work is done. And that’s what Argent is.

No matter how frequently I’ll end up using Argent — I’m happy to support people like Sean. I like to see competence and this kind of approach in an app.

One last note: predictably, an app like this is rather resource-intensive. I don’t know on faster, more recent iPhones, but during my tinkering in Argent my iPhone 5 got a bit warm and battery life lost 2-3 percentage points. That didn’t particularly bother me. Your mileage may vary.

Argent Film Simulation is $1.99 on the App Store

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!