Dropmark is my new service for bookmarks and collecting, sharing neat stuff

Like many nerds, I started using Pinboard for a bookmarking service quite a while ago. Being an app person, I’ve shuffled through a handful of iOS and Mac apps as my actual interface for it. I’ve also bounced between Droplr and CloudApp for sharing files from time to time. But a few months ago I found Dropmark and its still-in-beta but excellent iOS app, and it’s become my replacement for all of this.

Pinboard is a fine enough service, but I have two big complaints about it. First, I find its design lacking and difficult to navigate and use. While apps are a decent enough workaround most (but not all) of the time, my second and more important complaint is that Pinboard refuses to support multi-word tags. They’re really important to the way I think and work.

Plus, I’m able to use multi-word tags on nearly every other service that matters to me—Tumblr, WordPress, Weebly, Squarespace (for client work), Pocket, Evernote, the list goes on. If you ask me, multi-word tags are basically synonymous with internet content, and have been for nearly two decades.

Dropmark calls itself “a smart way to organize all your links, files, and notes into visual collections” (collections = folders). I use it for two main purposes: bookmarks and sharing files or collections. For example, my main bookmarks are private (and I actually edited out a couple private collections in my post screenshot for unannounced projects), but here are my public collections of:

I’ve created a couple Dropmark collections of example links and videos to share with clients for new projects. It went pretty well. I also have a “Scratch” collection for when I need to quickly share a file with someone when email or MailDrop aren’t a good fit.

Dropmark has a great browser extension and Mac menubar app. For the past few months, it’s also been beta test a really good iPhone and iPad app that has a strong app extension. Even though it’s only in beta, the iOS app was really what got me to buy in, being a mostly-mobile person these days.

Dropmark has a few free and paid plans. Theres a trial for testing out all the features, a free plan if you don’t need much, then paid plans for individuals and teams. I’m on the Individual Pro plan at around $50/year, which unlocks features like:

  • tags
  • unlimited collections
  • private collaboration (you can add people to a collection so they can add things with you)
  • a custom domain (you can see all my public collections at share.chartier.land)
  • quite a bit more

I’ve been pretty happy with Dropmark and now consider myself to be switched over full-time. I still use similar services like Evernote and Pinterest for specific purposes, but I like Dropmark for what I need it to do. I also like that it’s a paid service, and even its free options seems refreshingly reasonable to me. You get a free trial of all its features, but the ongoing free plan restricts a good amount of stuff. If you need more, you can pay to support the service. Seems fair.

Some thoughts after upgrading to an Apple Watch series 2

I’m a fan of the Apple Watch and I’ve worn my original (series 0) nearly every day since it arrived in May 2015. While watchOS 2 and 3 have been a big help in making the Watch more useful, mine started feeling more sluggish as I used more features and newly native apps more regularly. A little while ago I decided it was time to upgrade, and last week I jumped.

I went from a stainless steel, 42mm, series 0 Watch to a Sport space gray, 42mm, series 2. The stainless steel was just a tad too flashy for me, but somewhere down the road, I’d like to pick up another Watch or two in other colors.

For context, I’ll break out how I use my Watch and what I’ve noticed with the upgrade.

My Watch uses

This is a good place to note that two of my goals for wearing an Apple Watch are to carry my iPhone less and be more present. I get notifications on my iPhone (and iPad) for a variety of things, but I treat my Watch as a sort of “VIP notification safe place,” where only the most important get through. I try to put my iPhone in a bag or coat pocket more often to reduce distractions and be more present around people.

With this in mind, I use my Watch for:

  • Siri – I use Siri quite a bit for many of the typical things, but also some niche stuff: creating reminders and timers, messaging, asking basic information (“how many ounces in a cup” – don’t judge me), starting directions, and controlling our gradually expanding set of Hue lights.
  • Dictation – I dictate a lot of stuff, like new ideas in Drafts, new tasks in Todoist, and replying to messages. Pro tip: some messaging services, like Wire (which offers cross-platform E2E encryption, by the way) allow you to reply to messages from a Watch notification, even if they they don’t have a dedicated Watch app. If you’re concerned about privacy with non-Apple friends, Wire and Signal are much better options than SMS.
  • Notifications – I am continually evolving my strategy here, especially as Watch apps and notifications become more useful. But as stated above, in this context, I think of my Watch as an always-present notification widget for a handful of must-see alerts. It’s with me more than my iPhone is (or ever was), so it works great for my needs here.
  • Location tracking – I check into places with Day One and Swarm, generally. But I also do a fair amount of maps directions, and since I’m a transit or foot commuter, I mostly use my Watch and its wrist-tapping directions.
  • Workout tracking – I’m not a huge runner, but I generally do cardio and weightlifting with Gymatic at the gym 1-3 times a week. On the weekends I also love to take my rollerblades down to Chicago’s lakefront and explore the loop area. I usually do anywhere from 4-8 miles in a session and track the route with RunKeeper.

What’s different with series 2?

Apple did a pretty good job of advertising what’s new in series 2. But if your uses overlap with any of mine, it’s hard to overstate just how significant of an impact those changes can have.

Speed

Seriously. Seriously. I recently wrote a piece for Mac Observer about how the new app Dock in watchOS 3 is a huge improvement for Watch app users. But the dual core CPU in series 2 takes it to another level.

Most apps start up very quickly, even if the aren’t in the Dock, and everything feels much snappier. You know that feeling when an old Mac or iPad tips over from being sluggish to annoyingly sluggish, and its replacement feels like a refreshing new world? That, but on your wrist.

Battery

Battery life so far has been fantastic. Most days when I put my series 0 on my bedside charging stand, I can have anywhere from 20-40 percent left. Over the last few days, my series 2 has been consistently in the 60 percent range, sometimes more.

Sleep tracking

There is a handful of generally well-regarded sleep tracking apps for Apple Watch. But thanks to the battery life improvements, series 2 is the first time I feel like I consistently have enough juice at the end of the day to properly try one. Upon Federico’s glowing recommendation, I picked up AutoSleep this weekend. We’ll see how it goes.

Water resistance

I know series 0 is supposed to be ok in the rain and shower, and even Tim Cook is on record as saying he wears his in the shower. But the fact that it isn’t officially water resistant always gave me pause.

It could just be my paranoia, but my series 0 seemed to act a little funny after some showers, and I enjoy swimming more often these days. Of course, I don’t need to wear my Watch in the shower or pool, but I’ve found it surprisingly useful. Like a lot of folks, I feel like I have some of my best ideas in the shower, so being able to fire off a transcription into Drafts for parsing later has been really useful.

It feels good to have official word that I can wear my Watch in every water-related setting I care about—not to mention warranty and AppleCare coverage. Performance has been great, and that occasional post-water behavior wonkiness is gone.

I’m glad I spent the money

In case it isn’t obvious, I’m happy I spent the money on a series 2 (though, for the record, I’m going to eBay my series 0 to recover some of the funds). I use mine a lot and the new features have made it well worth it to me. I’m not too worried about a series 3 arriving this year; if I had to guess, that feels like a 2018 thing to me.

But even if a series 3 shows up this year, I’m still planning to eventually pick up one or two more Apple Watches somewhere down the road (probably an aluminum and/or gold, possibly even a rose gold). I like watches as a fashion statement, and I was already in the middle of picking up a second old school watch when Apple released one.

If you’re curious about the series 2, I hope this piece helped. But you can always ask me questions on Tumblr and Twitter, and I’ll answer as best I can.

Here's a sample of the Finer Things in Tech Newsletter

If you haven’t seen it yet, I started a weekly Finer Things in Tech Newsletter. For a while, I’ve wondered whether email would be a great format for the kind of bite-sized tips I like to publish here, and so far it’s doing pretty well. 

However, since it’s a newsletter, I’m not publishing it online yet. I’m not sure I will, I’m still new to all of this. But I can give you a sample of issue 2 that went out this week.

If you like the cut of this newsletter’s jib, you can subscribe here. I aim to get it in your inbox on Mondays by 5:30am US central time. I’m also working on a few occasional goodies for future issues, but there will be more to say about that later.

As always, thanks for reading.

iMessage apps have become pretty interesting and useful

Not stickers, apps. I’ve been a sticker proponent for quite a while, as stickers have been a massive (and profitable) hit in other countries for years. They also just make people happy, and in a world like this one, we need more of that. But some apps like Line attribute most (if not all) of their attraction and impressive revenue to stickers. Apple and iMessage basically just closed a five-year gap there.

iMessage apps are different. They appropriate functionality, which lives elsewhere outside of iMessage, and place it right in the conversation with you. For a while, I figured “why not just open that app and tap a share or copy link?” But tinkering with two iMessage apps helped things click for me: Pocket and Fandango.

They remove friction from switching apps to grab content, a link, or even functionality, and keep that stuff right there with me and my friends. There’s something useful about not having to break away from a conversation to go get this stuff.

In the case of Pocket, I save a lot of links there to either read or share with the Pocket community. Now, when I’m chatting with friends in iMessage, those links are just a couple taps away with the Pocket iMessage app, complete with rich media previews.

Fandango for iMessage gets even more interesting. You can go through the entire process right there in an iMessage—pick a movie, a day, choose from your favorite theaters you’ve marked in the app, buy tickets with Apple Pay, pick seats (at theaters that do reserved seating), and send a rich media preview to your friends, all right within the app (I think it can share the Apple Wallet ticket pass to the chat, too. But I’m not buying tickets just to verify for this post 😄).

Besides covering the big tasks of finding a showtime and buying tickets, Fandango’s iMessage app makes many of the little details of organizing an outing like this much more convenient—telling people which theater, offering directions, and sharing a link to find out more info.

Now that these two apps clicked for me, I flipped the switch on a bunch more iMessage apps to see if they’re a good fit as well. Copied and GIFwrapped are good candidates for sticking around, so is Citymapper and its list of recent, shareable locations you’ve saved or searched. There are a few others that I deliberately added to my first or second page of iMessage apps for testing. It’s a big help for me in making them convenient enough to use on any kind of regular basis. We’ll see if they stick, too.

If you haven’t bothered much with iMessage apps, now might be a good time to give them a look. Like Watch apps (especially after watchOS 3), I think developers (and us!) just needed some time to understand the platform and put it to good use.

Some of the apps are getting pretty polished, fast, and useful. I may have my gripes about iMessage, but at least it finally started to compete with the industry in becoming much more useful beyond sharing text and photos. I think iMessage apps have become one of the many little ways that iOS is moving beyond the Mac in not just interestingness, but genuine utility for regular folks.

My favorite early Apple Watch moment

Apple Watch I finally got to my first WWDC in 2015. I took the opportunity to scratch my train itch and took an Amtrak out there from Chicago. It was a two-day trip, so I split a roomette with my friend Dan Peterson and it was amazing.

Verizon had decent-to-good 4G nearly the whole way. We hung out in the snack and observation cars a lot, splitting time between working, sightseeing, reading, and striking up conversations with our fellow cross-country strangers.

The original Apple Watch landed just a couple months before WWDC that year, slowly trickling out to people who preordered. Like a good chunk of attendees, I had mine and was busy exploring what it was all about, how its features worked, and how it would fit into my life.

Not being a developer, I was out there for the community and to make new friends. By day I attended AltConf, an excellent new indie conference that runs in parallel and just so happened to be streaming the keynote in the Metreon theater across the street from Moscone West.

My memory wants to say AltConf attendees filled up probably three quarters of the theater. People streamed in, found their seats, silenced their phones, and the show began.

It was a good keynote, but my favorite part happened in the Metreon theater. About 50 minutes in, a cacophony of Apple Watches all beeped nearly at once—according to the Activity features, it was time for us to stand.

We remembered to silence our phones, but it sounded like most of us were not yet in the habit with our Watches. I’m pretty sure no one actually stood, but we all sprung into action to ensure the rest of the keynote went uninterrupted.

The Finer Things in AirPods

Apple’s new AirPods have quickly become my favorite headphones I’ve ever owned. They have their shortcomings, but their excellent array of features greatly outweigh the cons for me.

I received mine just before Christmas, and there’s barely a day I leave the house now when they aren’t with me. In that time I’ve found AirPods to have some unexpected advantages and perks, so I’d like to dig into some of the details of what makes AirPods a great set of headphones.

They stay in through many kinds of physical activity

I’ve run and lifted with them at the gym. I also live and commute with them in Chicago, which means I’ve occasionally whipped my head around to check traffic or avoid someone rushing down the street. To my surprise, they stay in great.

You can opt to use just one AirPod like a ‘traditional’ Bluetooth headset

It’s really useful for phone conversations, podcasts, or listening to Anchor stations. It’s also discreet for when you’re at a social or other function and just want to quickly and quietly listen to or watch something.

If your pants have a ‘watch pocket,’ AirPods probably fit in it

I wear guy’s pants, and they all have had that tiny little pocket just above the right pocket (apparently, it was originally for pocket watches and dates back to at least 1879). These days I wear my Watch and, as it turns out, the AirPods case fits just fine in my watch pocket. Hence, they almost always leave the house with me now, just in case, as I usually keep them by my wallet and keys.

You probably don’t need to make space for them

I think it’s worth noting separately that AirPods don’t take up much space. You don’t need a separate bag to bring them with you in most cases, and they barely need any room in most bags and tech ensembles. I have a pair of Jabra Revo Wireless and similarly designed Beats Solo3s (which I’m eBaying soon). They certainly have their perks, but even folded up, they practically took up half my backpack.

Space is important. The fact that AirPods barely take up any is refreshing.

Total battery life is insane

A lot of the initial coverage focused on the ‘5 hours on a charge’ bit for the AirPods themselves. But in practice, I don’t use mine for nearly that long in a sitting. I use them for a phone call, then some music while I work, then put them back in the case to charge. I take them back out to take a break and play a round of Vainglory, or maybe a podcast or two while I commute somewhere. Put them back in the case.

There’s a cadence to my usage, which means my personal, total perceived battery life easily hits that 24 hour mark (so far I’ve only goften them in the red at 11 percent once). I’ve owned a few wireless earbud-style headphones over the years, but none of them can touch that. Not even Apple’s other brand new wireless earbud-style headphones, the BeatsX at 12 hours.

If you’re iOS only, you can reach the Charger Singularity

When I leave the house to work in a field office or co-op, I usually bring my iPhone, AirPods, and iPad (I use my Mac much less these days). This allowed me to achieved Charger Singularity—all I carry is a Lightning charger now (the 29-watt block charger with Apple’s longer cable for fast charging). It’s pretty nice.

Not for everyone, but they’re great for me

The AirPods certainly aren’t perfect for everyone; what is? But they fit my needs very, very well, and I’m an extremely happy owner. I hope these tips and perks help if you have a pair or decide to pick one up.

Stop hating everything new

Douglas Adams rules about tech

New tech comes out all the time. Some of it is a great idea and we all get on board. Some of it needs a little more time in the oven. Some of it simply isn't a good idea, and it'll get shut down soon enough. We're petty hip on how things work these days.

There is a time in most of our lives where new tech is awesome. It's amazing and the world is changing for the better and this is all fun and hey maybe I can even get a job involving this stuff.

Then there's a period of time I've watched a lot of folks go through where most, if not all, new tech stuff is just awful. The new things are terrible now and who needs this stuff and I don't even get it anyway why can't we just go back to the new awesome stuff that came out when I decided when stuff was awesome.

I really do believe Douglas Adams had a point here. I'm sure there are smart psychologists and white papers that can speak better to this, but it seems like something breaks in people. Maybe after they're done putting in some kind of common window of time and effort to understand the world, our brain flips a switch and we're done. No more new stuff, everything from now on is terrible. I don't know.

But frankly I'm sick of it. Why was the old new stuff any better or more amazing than the new new stuff? I can't find a legitimate reason for it. Snapchat isn't terrible and you aren't old. There are a thousand guides out there to explain how Snapchat works. It won’t kill you to look one up. I've seen all ages of people have to teach each other. You're not inherent old, and no I don't care what your age is.

Know what makes you old? Getting so insistently stuck in your ways that you shit on everything new just because it might not make immediate sense to you, or it might require effort or a change of habit.

Computers were originally dubbed a fad. So was the internet. Get some fucking perspective and join us. This stuff is fun and amazing and the world is still changing for the better. Otherwise get out of the way.

Subscribe to the Finer Things in Tech newsletter, coming soon!

I’ve been toying with the idea of publishing a newsletter for a while, and now it’s happening.

Subscribe to the all-new, upcoming Finer Things in Tech Newsletter!

The Finer Things in Tech Newsletter will be a weekly handful of bite-sized tips to help you get more out of your tech and apps. Some issues might center on a theme, others might include a couple links to good, non-news reading around the web. I’m also trying to score a few goodies to include from time to time.

Each issue will have space for a sponsor, but in the form of a tip, just like everything else in the issue. I want every line of this newsletter to be informative.

My main goal is to bring you a tremendously useful, yet short and easily digestible newsletter of useful tips and apps. If that sounds up your alley, I’d love for you to subscribe to the all-new, upcoming Finer Things in Tech Newsletter! Also, if you know anyone who might enjoy this newsletter, I would really appreciate it if you passed the word along.

As always, thanks for reading!

Apple Watch faces for work, play, music, and every occasion in between

I wear my Apple Watch seven days a week, but recently realized that I do so for different reasons throughout the week. These days, it’s with me at least as much as, if not more than, my iPhone, so I decided to explore how I can make my Apple Watch even more contextually useful for each day’s tasks. After experimenting with the new watchOS 3 faces features, and getting a pair of AirPods, I’m getting the urge to break into song.

Context

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A whole new world

In watchOS 3, Apple added the ability to quickly swipe between multiple Watch faces. After playing with this effortless switching, I realized that it feels like swiping between pages of apps on an iPad or iPhone.

Now, I’m also the type of person who organizes my app pages by task or context. Page 1 is my most important personal + work apps, page 2 is for my photo, video, and music hobbies, page 3 is strictly work apps, and so on. Once I combined these two ideas, things started to click.

I got my Apple Watch in its early days, and my go-to face has always been an info-dense (for a watch, anyway) dashboard of my day’s events, tasks, and physical activity. I was looking for a way to be more present and cut down on how often I have my phone in my pocket or hands. This face was a great solution.

Around the beginning of December 2016, I decided to add a “relax mode” Watch face. It uses one of the new animated jelly fish backgrounds with only a clock and Drafts complication for quickly dictating ideas to revisit later. In the evening or on weekends when I had little-to-no work to finish, this “no work stuff allowed” face would serve as a nice on-demand reminder that it’s chill time.

After my standard work-based dashboard face, this was my second purpose-built Watch face. It worked great and made me think about Watch faces as the new app pages – quick access to a few apps for related tasks. Now that faces are so easy to switch between, what other occasions, tasks, or purposes could use a Watch face?

The Setup – Watch faces as the new app pages

It was easy to go down the rabbit hole, separating my days or even portions of them into all kinds of categories and “modes,” for lack of a better word. But I eventually settled on a few general purposes for which I think an individual, customized Watch face might be useful. Here we go, in order of appearance in the gallery below from top left to bottom right.

Music – The perfect AirPods companion for me

I love my AirPods, they go everywhere with me now. Pro-tip for pants people: the case probably fits in that little change pocket just above your right pocket.

However, I’d say around 50-60 percent of the time, I’m listening to a playlist I created or something I’m exploring from Apple Music, which means spurts of skipping. Since I’m trying to keep my phone in a pocket or, ideally, my bag or on the shelf at home more often, I realized I could create pretty quick access to media controls with a Watch face.

I didn’t expect to turn this music dashboard into what is technically now the first Watch face in my lineup, but there it is. Now I can quickly swipe a couple times to control my AirPods music without digging out my phone or fumbling with other app controls.

There’s a catch here, though, and I might have to tinker more. The music complication in the middle of this Modular face doesn’t have controls, it’s really just a nice big tap target for me to open the Music for Watch app and then start controlling stuff (tip: to quickly get back to your Watch face from an app like this, double-press the crown). I’ve considered adding a smaller complication to other faces, and maybe I simply don’t need this one. We’ll see.

Ultimately, I wish I could have one of two things. The first, and my preference, is an update to the Watch Control Center to give it multiple pages like iOS 10 added for iPad and iPhone. Also like iOS 10, it could remember the last page I picked, so swiping up on my Watch during a good music session could always display media controls.

Failing that, I could also go for a mini-music dashboard Watch face, or at least the complications we could use to build one. It could display the current thing playing and controls right on the face; no switching away from the clock to other apps. With the popularity of AirPods and how well they go with a Watch (iPhone not necessarily required), I wouldn’t be surprised if this arrives soon. Yes, I’ve submitted this idea to Apple’s feedback and bugreporter sites.

General purpose – Modular face

My standard face that I’ve had practically since day one with watchOS 1. Like my first iPhone and iPad app page, this is quick access to some basics for most days: date, Timepage in the middle (my new favorite calendar app), Drafts, Activity, and Weather Underground.

Work – Modular

This feels self-explanatory. Todoist in the upper left, Timepage again in the middle, then Drafts, Hours for time tracking, and AnyList in case there are errands I can run during my day. I’d prefer to have Trello in the lower right, but they don’t have a Watch complication yet. Hopefully soon.

Personal – Modular

A face for non-work personal days of errands, friends, and chores around the house. Timepage in the upper right, Todoist in the middle, then Drafts, AnyList, and Activity. I feel like I want to tinker with this one more, maybe replace Activity with something else. But for now it’s pretty good.

Activity – Analog

I deleted most of the default faces, but kept this one. On the (gradually more frequent) days where I exercise, I like having quick access to a dashboard of the health apps I use. Right now I use a mix of Apple’s workout tracking and RunKeeper, though I’m getting really unhappy with the latter. Details aside, I love having this big colorful view of how much exercise ass I’m kicking.

Relax – Motion

This is the chill out face I mentioned earlier, and in some ways my favorite. It isn’t just the pretty video—I love having an always-available dashboard, of sorts, which reinforces the idea that right now is my time, and I can do whatever I want.

Relax 2 – Photo Album

I sync my favorite photos from Apple Photos to my watch. This face is just an alternative for relaxing, and the only one that doesn’t have Drafts. I sacrificed it in the name of having a more complete view of my photos.

A work in progress

This is new territory for me, so I’ll continue to tweak my Watch faces and replace apps or switch faces altogether. Overall though, I’m really happy, as I feel like I’ve unlocked a new level of Watch usefulness. I hope some of these ideas can do the same for you.

The science and documentary TV format doesn't hold up well in the age of streaming

Jessi and I just watched this episode of Megastructures, about the Gotthard Base Tunnel project, on YouTube. It’s a 36-mile train tunnel Switzerland is building under the Alps—it’ll help people and commerce move much faster than going over the mountains. It’s a pretty wild project, nearly finished, that’s taken 50 years of planning and 12 years of work. You should check it out.

This YouTube cut has no commercial breaks, but the episode was originally written, shot, and cut for TV, so the original edits and padding dialog are still there. They talk about what’s coming up “after the break,” there are fade outs and ins, and they review what was covered so far after every one or two breaks.

It’s weird enough to see commercial break edits these days in streaming shows where commercials have thankfully been removed (from the likes of iTunes Store, YouTube Red, and Hulu premium). But info-rich shows that cover science and documentaries stick out even more since they usually opt to offer post-commercial summaries at various points. It’s probably to make sure the ads didn’t wash out everything that’s been covered, or to help channel-hoppers catch up.

Regardless, the format has not aged well in a time of on-demand content, where TV commercials and ‘jumping back into the middle of a show’ basically don’t exist anymore. It feels more and more like a relic of a different time with every episode and documentary I watch.