Epic Zen Garden, What Should I Tip, NYT Cooking, Storehouse, And Swype Are Our Apps Of The Week

It has been a rough week to be an iOS user: After all, iOS 8 has not exactly been the smoothest release in Apple history. However, if you have jumped onto the iOS 8 bandwagon, or have a brand new iPhone, we’ve got some apps to dull the pain of failed updates. Cooking fans will get some new recipe fodder from the New York Times. We’ve also got one of the new third party keyboards for iOS.

Epic Zen Garden – iOS(Universal)


Developers have yet to show off what iOS 8’s Metal technology can do for games, but the new Unreal engine has gotten a very impressive little tech demo. Zen Garden lets you wander around a house built on a rock floating in space. As a graphics demo, it’s very impressive, but that comes at a price: I couldn’t even get this app to open on my first-generation iPad Mini.

Though a technically impressive demo would be little more than eye candy, this app actually allows for a little bit of interaction with a Zen garden you can rake with your fingertips, hence the name of the app. It’s likely meant to show  off particle rendering in the engine, but it’s actually a neat little time waster.

What’s Good: Fun little time waster, shows off the power of your iOS device.

What Sucks: Crashy on some devices.

Buy it?: If you’re curious about what iOS can do graphically. Grab Epic Zen for free on the App Store.

TipThisMuch.In – Web


If you travel a lot, you always wonder what you’re expected to tip when you visit a different country. The iPhone is full of Tip calculators of various stripes, but I always though that was a waste of bytes. Instead, you can just bury this bookmark in Safari and when you need it pull it up (but bookmark it in your home country). That way, you can just tabulate everything on one page‚ including how to split the bill if necessary.

TipThisMuch.In loads really quickly, as do the changes to the tip percentage and number of splits. It just comes down to if you’d rather save yourself some storage and just keep the web app on your home screen. TipThisMuch.In is a nice utility, and the interface is actually more streamlined than most of the native apps. It is missing some countries, so you should check to see if your destination is supported.

What’s Good: Easy to use, gives information on a lot of destinations.

What Sucks: Missing some countries.

Buy it?: If you travel a lot or just want a web app for a quick tip calculator, get TipThisMuch.In. Check out the free web app.

NYT Cooking – iOS(Universal)


The New York Times may evoke serious news, but it has a ton of material outside of the headlines. Its food section is pretty well renowned for having interesting recipes for the home gourmet, and the NYT Cooking app offers a database of these recipes. You can search for recipes, or you can browse through collections populated with curated recipes.

NYT Cooking does lack some features, however: It doesn’t provide any nutritional facts with any of the recipes—not even calorie counts. So if you’re tracking what you eat, you’ll have to enter ingredients manually to figure out calorie counts. If you set up a New York Times account—free or paid—you can save recipes for later. You can also share out the recipes to some other apps. The problem is that this app doesn’t feel like sharing was central to the design—some of the new iOS 8 share extensions just do not work. I tried saving a recipe to Evernote, and it created a blank note instead. We’ll have to wait and see if The Times offers an update to correct this issue.

What’s Good: Excellent collection of recipes with a variety of cuisines.

What Sucks: Sharing doesn’t work with all apps, no nutritional info.

Buy it?: If you’re looking for a good collection of recipes with variety, check out New York Times Cooking. Pick it up on the App Store for free.

Storehouse – iOS(Universal)


Storehouse seeks to make it easier to tell a story using photos. Instead of simply sharing your vacation photos via Facebook, you can make a Storehouse album that you can share on Facebook and Twitter and give your photos a more distinctive presentation.

Storehouse comes with plenty of sharing features that will appeal to people who want to get their photos out there in front of others: The service integrates with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and others. Rather than making those the publishing platform, however, Storehouse really just uses them to find your friends. Instead, Storehouse has its own publishing system right in the app. You’ll see some fairly interesting stuff in here that your friends either publish or share, but I wonder if people will work Storehouse into the rotation.

What’s Good: Easy to create great-looking presentations.

What Sucks: Not sure if structuring this as a social network is the best method.

Buy it?: If you’re really into photography, check out Storehouse. Grab it on the App Store for free.

Swype – iOS(Universal)


Swype is a popular Android keyboard that has come to the Apple side of things with the release of iOS 8. I installed this initially on my iPad and my iPhone, but deleted it from the iPad within the first day. This won’t save you much time when you can just use the iPad’s landscape keyboard to type normally. I’m still using Swype on my iPhone, though.

Swype allows you to swipe your fingers between letters on the keyboard type, and it uses an algorithm to figure out which word you meant. It’s a little like texting blindly and trusting autocorrect to guide you, which isn’t necessarily a knock, but it does depend on your vocabulary. If you text using super common words, you should be fine; otherwise, you will have to spend a few days teaching it your more commonly used words, which actually makes Swype slower to use.

The keyboard also includes plenty of built-in shortcuts for buried keys, allowing you to swipe down from certain letters to quickly access symbols. It’s a nice touch, but it does take some practice. The security-conscious crowd may be interested to know that Swype doesn’t need any network access to access its custom dictionary—a concern some have expressed about other third-party keyboards.

What’s Good: Quick and easy way to type on your phone.

What Sucks: Has a learning curve, not useful on the iPad .

Buy it?: If you’re looking for a quick way to input text, try Swype. Download it for $.99 from the App Store.

Mac geek? Gamer? Why not both? Mike is a writer from Wisconsin who enjoys wasting immense amounts of time on the Internet. You can follow him on Twitter.