Tools for critical thinking & Beeper's roadmap

Bartender silently sold to new dubious owner, Supernotes introduces loads of AI focused features, Environmental Psychology, and a lot more in this week's issue of Creativerly.

Tools for critical thinking & Beeper's roadmap
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina 🇺🇦 on Unsplash / Design by

My name is Philipp and you are reading Creativerly, the weekly digest about creativity and productivity-boosting tools and resources, combined with useful insights, articles, and findings from the fields of design and tech. The newsletter built for the creative community.

Hey and welcome to Creativerly 277 👋

I do not have a lot to add in this week's intro section besides the fact that we have another packed newsletter. I wrote about the Bartender controversy, as one of my most favorite macOS apps suddenly got sold silently to a dubious new owner, which added a tracking service to the app as a first official act.

You can find the whole story down below, but since I went on a hunt for a research, I also included a couple of apps that you can use to manage your Mac's menu bar items.

Besides that, I also got excited about Beeper's insights into their roadmap, how they are migrating their apps with Texts after both got acquired by Automattic, and that they are doubling down on privacy and security features.

Enjoy reading this week's issue.

New Ownership, Loads of Concerns: Bartender's lack of transparency

On June 4th, 2024, a user going by the name of 'misiek_to_ja' reported in the r/MacApps subreddit that MacUpdater (an app that automatically track the latest updates of all applications installed on your Mac) sent them a warning about an update for Bartender (an award-winning app for macOS to take control of the macOS menu bar and deciding to only display icons that a user actually needs).

The warning message said: The company and developer behind Bartender was replaced in a silent and dubious manner - updates to version 5.0.52 and newer are your own risk and responsibility.

The posting gained over 450 upvotes and over 350 comments. Most of the people discussed the question whether Bartender 5 is still safe or not.

Let us take a look at what we know so far. It seems like Bartender has been quietly sold approximately two months ago. The app has previously been developed by Ben Surtees, the solo-developer behind it. The emphasis lays on the word quietly here. Not a single user within the Reddit thread received any kind of information from the previous developer or the new owners about that acquisition. I am using Bartender since years, and I checked my inboxes multiple times to see if I had missed something. But, nope. It seems like both parties did not think it would be important to let their users know that the ownership of the app has been transferred. It almost feels like, both parties wanted to hide something.

My impressions of that acquisition are fueled by concerns and shadiness. And there is loads of evidence that led to my impressions.

To make Bartender working, you need to give it accessibility and screen recording permissions. Two highly sensible parts. Accessibility APIs basically give you the possibility to control a Mac, and Screen Recording APIs, well, let you see everything that is happening on the screen. An app that needs to access both, needs trust. I need to fully trust the app and the developer to give permission to basically access my Mac. While Ben Surtees had that trust before (otherwise I would not have used Bartender) he lost every single bit of it now. And the same applies to the new owners.

Speaking of new owners, individual users who took part in the discussion within the Reddit thread, quickly found out that Applause Group, a company that made buying app (and sometimes turning them into bad real quick) a business. This got confirmed within a Tweet as well as by Setapp, since Bartender is part of Setapp's offering and therefore made the ownership change visible by changing the name of the developer to Applause Group, Inc. on Bartender's Setapp profile. The first official act of the new owners was shipping an update that introduced Amplitude tracking analytics, which again feels weirder than it might be, just because of all the silence that users got faced with in the first place.

According to the Reddit thread, multiple users tried to reach out to Ben Surtees as well as the new owners, but with no success. As if the whole situation would not be already weird enough, emails to the Ben Surtees, the official developer of Bartender, got returned as undeliverable. CoreCode, the developer of MacUpdater, did an even deeper research and found out that earlier this year, the style of the blog entries on the Bartender website changed from informational entries to SEO-style articles probably written by ChatGPT. In April, suddenly the release of a new beta version of Bartender changed the code signature from the expected and safe 'Surtees Studios Limited' to 'App Sub 1 LLC'. CoreCode further found out that 'App Sub 1 LLC' seems to be a dubious company publishing a few low quality iPad apps. In May, the final release of Bartender 5.0.52 was released and again not signed by the known-and-safe 'Surtees Studios Limited', but rather by 'Bartender App LLC' which has never been seen before.

Acquisitions like the Bartender one happen all the time. The one thing that makes this one special is the total lack of transparency, which led to the lost of trust. The sheer initial lack of a message or post from Ben Surtees about the acquisition is incredible unusual. That, combined with the weird action of the new owner, left a lot of users with questions, concerns, and worries. Scrolling through the Reddit thread, it is clear that this acquisition and the actions (or no actions) from Ben Surtees and the new owners led to hundreds of people uninstalling Bartender and making the switch to alternatives.

After the initial silence, Ben Surtees suddenly published a blog post with the title "A New Chapter for Bartender", informing users that he sold Bartender three months ago to Applause. The reason for that was that he realized that supporting all the users and maintaining the app at the high standard he expect and the users deserve was too much for one person. He also mentions in the blog post that Applause shares hs vision for Bartender and is committed to maintaining its core values while bringing in new features and improvements. Yeah, we already got a taste of that.

The fact that this statement only got published after all the users raised their voices and expressed their concerns makes the whole situation even worse.

I also deleted and uninstalled Bartender and went on a search for an alternative. While doing the research, I gathered some of the Bartender alternatives I found down below. Check them out.

Read the full post here:

New Ownership, Loads of Concerns: Bartender’s lack of transparency
Bartender, the most popular app to manage your Mac’s menu bar items, silently sold to a new owner. Find the whole story, as well as Bartender alternatives in this post.

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Fresh Updates & News

Buttondown* →

Buttondown just announced that they updated their long-term roadmap to reflect what they are working on and what they have planned for the future of Buttondown. While nothing is written in stone, it is exciting to see where Buttondown is planning to head to. The one thing that got me really excited is ActivityPub support.

Supernotes 3.1

The newest Supernotes update introduced a bunch of AI-focused features. Withn an email update, the creators of Supernotes mentioned that AI should help you think more, not less, which led to the introduction of Supernotes 3.1 packed with AI Superpowers which should help you identify mistakes and train you to become a better writer. They also shared a video on YouTube walking through all the new AI-powered features.

The AI Superpowers include 'Vision', which is a notecard AI editing assistant, and 'Collection Creator', which will help you creating custom collections.

Atoms by James Clear

Atoms, the official Atomic Habits app by James Clear, is now available on Android, and prices dropped to the lowest ever. You can now get Atoms Pro for $9.99 per month or $69.99 per year. Current subscribers were also moved automatically to the lower price tiers and will continue to pay those lower prices in the future.

Beeper's Roadmap

Beeper, which recently got acquired by Automattic to join forces with their previous acquisition of Texts to build the ultimate messaging app, shared insights into their roadmap in a recently published blog post. It does not happen that often that two competitors get acquired by the same company to continue working on the same mission. Therefore, getting some insights and details regarding what is ahead for both apps is well appreciated.

Texts and Beeper will merge into single apps for each platform. While the iOS will be built mostly from the ground up, the foundation for the Desktop app will come from Texts. Both new apps will adopt the design language that Beeper introduced in the new Beeper Android app. Besides that, the teams are continuing to migrate all connections to other chat networks from the cloud to a direct connection inside each app. Back in April, Beeper released a 'local' Signal bridge, and the new iOS and Desktop apps will feature those kind of local bridges too. This means that there will be no cloud server needed to send and receive messages, which ultimately increases the security and privacy for Beeper users.

Mental Wealth

Environmental Psychology: How Your Surroundings Shape Your Mind – “Look up from your screen for a second. Where are you right now? Do you feel comfortable, curious, a bit cramped? Notice how the environment around you affects your experience.”

Feeling unmotivated? Use “Skinner’s Law” to get yourself back on track – “The British philosopher built an entire philosophy around this idea — that we are all motivated by pleasure and pain. Lucky for him, then, that almost all of the social sciences today agree with him. We are a hedonistic, happiness-seeking species who fear the pain-inflicting monsters of the world. Under all the pretense and bravado, we can be reduced to the simple push-and-pull mechanisms of the carrot and stick.”

What to do when racing thoughts keep you up at night – “It’s time for bed. You lay down, pull up the cover, close your eyes, and then… the thoughts come rushing in. Maybe you’re replaying a conversation from earlier in the day, chewing on a piece of unhappy news, or thinking ahead to tomorrow’s to-do list. Perhaps you start worrying about sleep itself and whether you’ll get enough of it. With the lights out and nothing else to do, it suddenly seems impossible not to focus on these thoughts. So you lie there and wait anxiously for sleep to come.”

Tools for Critical Thinking – “You can train your brain to think better, and philosopher Daniel Dennett shows us how in his book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Critical Thinking. Dennett, a pioneering thinker in cognitive and evolutionary science for over 50 years, has been at the forefront of understanding how the mind works and why we believe the things we believe.”

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If you are on the hunt for a privacy-focused Gmail alternative, make sure to check out my post about privacy-focused email services to replace Gmail. Google is still a privacy nightmare, and so are their products. Making the switch to a privacy-focused email service is easier than you think, and there are solid Gmail alternatives available.

❯ Quick Bits

Till next time! 👋‌‌‌‌

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