An update on my Brydge Keyboard for iPad

A little while ago, I tried out a Brydge Keyboard for my 10.5-inch iPad Pro. TL;DR: It’s a nice, solid keyboard that works well for its intended purpose. I returned mine because I often use my iPad for different things, but I still recommend the Brydge Keyboard if your main goal is to laptop-ify your iPad.

The good

It really is a solid keyboard. Weighing just over one pound, it’s a sturdy chunk of aluminum with a good overall feel. The two hinge arms are lined with rubber gaskets to help grip your iPad, but not so much as to make it difficult to remove. Coming from a rigid Smart Keyboard, it certainly is nice to be able to adjust the angle of my iPad like a real laptop.

Now, I’m a fan of low-travel keyboards like in the current MacBook (reliability problems notwithstanding) and even the Smart Keyboard. The Brydge Keyboard keys travel more than I’d like, but I still got used to it pretty easily.

Unlike Apple’s keyboard, the Brydge has a welcome row of shortcut keys for things like Spotlight, display brightness, volume, and more. It’s also backlit, which was handy.

Why I returned it

I want to be clear about this: I really like the Brydge Keyboard, and I recommend it. If you mostly or only want to use your iPad as an actual laptop replacement, the Brydge Keyboard is a great option.

But. I returned mine because I often use my iPad in that ‘slightly propped up by a Smart Cover’ configuration for stuff like reading, gaming, drawing, and music tinkering. There isn’t really a way to do that with the Brydge Keyboard, outside of perhaps keeping a Smart Cover on hand and switching to it, or awkwardly using my wallet or other items as a makeshift prop. I tried it, didn’t like it.

Apple’s Smart Keyboard has a few drawbacks. But it’s noticeably lighter, a bit thinner, and has that ‘Propped Up Mode’ that I want readily available. I also like that it uses the Smart Connector for power, which the Brydge Keyboard lacks. It’s a good ol’ fashioned Bluetooth keyboard, complete with the little annoyances of Bluetooth.

As I write this, it occurs to me that most laptop-style iPad keyboards probably have to be on the heavy side in order to act as a counterweight to balance the iPad. The Smart Keyboard probably gets away with its relatively light design because of the way it props up the iPad from the back.

Anyway, there’s my story. The Brydge Keyboard is really nice, but it just isn’t what I need.

The daily App Store

A couple months into the major iOS 11 App Store redesign, it’s become a daily “thing to check” for me.

The stream of content on the Today tab is consistently interesting, even if I don’t want every app. I enjoy the variety of pieces and roundups, especially the developer deep dives where they put a face to an app, so to speak. After all, there are humans behind all these little round squares.

My only minor complaint is that I wish the Apps tab would update more frequently. Rotating the entire thing daily sounds a bit much, but perhaps some parts could swap out more often than they do now.

Anyway, hats off to the App Store team.

Good Google Drive alternatives for collaborating on documents, notes, presentations, and more

Back in the day, Google Drive was early to market with a halfway decent, browser-based collaborative document editor. Relatively bare-bones and free, it caught on quickly with a portion of the market.

These days, Google Drive is far from the only game in town. Subjectively, it also isn’t very good anymore, and bugs often stick around for months or years. Remember the “randomly indent parts of paragraphs for nearly two years, even in Chrome” bug? The iOS apps have also steadily deteriorated.

Thankfully, there is a strong selection of alternatives for different audiences. Whether you need a full-featured professional suite or just a scratchpad to jot notes with others, give these a look.

Quip

Quip is perhaps the closest to Google Drive in terms of browser-based simplicity and mobile apps. It has a unique, minimal interface for basic editing. But for simple, collaborative documents, adding notes, and discussion about the document (instead of getting lost in email), Quip is a great choice.Bonus: Quip has partial support for Markdown. If you paste it in, Quip leaves it alone. But if you use Markdown syntax while you write, Quip will turn it into rich text. If you’d rather keep it as markdown, just press Delete once after the auto-conversion.

Office

You heard me. Microsoft Office has improved significantly over the past few years, especially on iOS and macOS. I can’t speak to the depth of its feature set, but it feels more organized, approachable, and usable than ever.

The native apps and web apps also have collaboration now. It doesn’t have a free version like Google, but Microsoft also isn’t mining your documents for advertisers. Paid Office 365 plans start at $5, which include the web apps and hosted domain Exchange email. Compared to Google Drive, the entry level Office plan gives you far better web apps, broader industry file compatibility, collaboration, and more standard, app-friendly domain email for the same price.

Jessi and I share a family Office subscription, which gives both of us access to the native apps on iPad and Mac. I’ve use the email for Chartier.land and my business Bit & Pen domains for about a year now, and I’m happy.

iWork

Considering this crowd, I probably don’t have to say much about iWork. It’s a solid suite for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, and Apple recently added collaboration on both the web and native apps. I think it’s also free when you buy a new Apple device now, so financially it’s a win.

Apple Notes

If you just need a simple place to share things that are more note-like than full-on documents, and everyone you want to share with is on an iPad, iPhone, or Mac, Apple Notes is a good choice.

It does basic formatting like headings, lists, bold, and italics. It handles photos and you can add rich media links from Safari. I’ve heard from people who use Apple notes to share family todo lists, idea scratch pads, and even collaborate on blog posts. It’s pretty flexible.

Dropbox Paper

Dropbox recently launched its own basic document collaboration tool. I can’t speak to it much since most of my work is in Quip, Google Drive for some clients, or Ulysses, but I‘ em heard from people who are happy with it.

Zoho

Zoho has its own growing collection of web apps and services that I would put somewhere between Google Apps and Salesforce. At the core, though, are apps for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, sites, wikis, and much more.

You can sign up and use some of the apps for free, and pricing varies based on the collection of apps you want.

Honorable Mention – Texpad

Texpad is another online collaborative document system with native apps. It’s built around LaTeX, a “document preparation” system popular in academia, hence the honorable mention. Its audience is niche, but enough people responded to my original question on Twitter that I wanted to include it.

Any others?

This list is mostly stuff I know about and have used at least a few times. Did I miss any good ones? I’m happy to expand this list, so let me know on Tumblr @chartier, Twitter @chartier, or here.

You can scroll the Files app menu on iPad

Just tap Show More. This is a pretty handy way to quickly get to a recent file.

Doesn’t work on iPhone though.

Things 3 has kick-butt Siri support, including on Watch

“In Things, remind me to finish my blog posts tomorrow at 2pm.”

“Show my Today list in Things.”

“Add support Finer Things in Tech on Patreon using Things.”

Seems like it all works from Apple Watch too. Per this Twitter thread, it sounds like developers must deliberately add that; they don’t get it for free just by adding Siri support on iPhone.

My favorite behind-the-scenes iOS utilities

I rely on a handful of iOS utilities—things that help me or other apps get things done. I think they all deserve a lot more attention, so here’s my shot at that.

GIFWrapped

GIFWrapped for iPhone and iPad is a simple, useful app for collecting GIFs. An app extension can pull them from webpages, tweets, and elsewhere. Dropbox sync has you covered. A search tool and clipboard sniffer make it easy to expand.

Terminology

Terminology for iPhone and iPad is an excellent dictionary and thesaurus with a lot of smart features. My favorite is the app extension, which makes it easy to define words while reading and use a thesaurus while writing. Synonyms and antonyms are all linked, making it easy to explore for the right word.

Annotable

Annotable for iPhone and iPad is a damn useful image annotation and basic editing tool. It’s easy to highlight areas, zoom in on something, and blur elements for privacy. If you need more than Apple’s built-in Markup tools, Annotable is where it’s at.

Zinc

Zinc for iPhone and Apple TV is like Instapaper or Pocket for video. Use its app extension to save videos from Vimeo, YouTube, web pages, tweets, and elsewhere, then watch them later all in one place. By far, I watch videos the most on the Apple TV app. It could use some polish, but it works.

Opener

Opener for iPhone and iPad is a clever utility for opening links in the apps of your choice. For example: use its share extension on a Twitter link to open it in Tweetbot instead of Twitter’s official app or a Safari tab. I think it also works on email links so you can draft your message in Airmail, Spark, or other Apple Mail alternatives.

Copied

Copied for iPhone and iPad (and Mac) is a multi-clipboard utility. It has two app extensions and a custom keyboard to make copying stuff and pasting elsewhere a breeze.

My two favorite tips: 1) The main app extension has great tools for reformatting the text you copy. For example: you can select text on a Safari page, then use the extension to copy it, plus the webpage URL, plus the title of the page or article, then reformat it all as a linked Markdown quote—all with one tap. I know, right? Hot.

And 2) On an iPad, if you open Copied in Split View alongside another app, Copied can scoop up everything you copy in that app. Once you have Copied in an easily accessible place and you get in the habit, it’s a decent alternative to not being able to let it run constantly in the background.

Launch Center Pro

Launch Center Pro for iPhone and iPad is a great app for simplifying many of your common, repetitive, everyday tasks. Let’s say you often snap a photo, then iMessage it to a specific friend. You could create a one-tap Launch Center Pro action that creates a new message to this friend and grabs your latest photo. All you need to do is tap Send.

LCP can do much more powerful things than this. But I have 3D Touch and widget shortcuts for all sorts of things, like sharing my ETA via Chicago transit, searching 1Password and many other specific apps or services, and messaging certain people.

Drafts

Drafts for iPhone and iPad is an unassumingly powerful app for capturing, manipulating, and sharing text to all kinds of apps and services. It supports scripting, appending and prepending text, and sharing custom actions with other users.

One of my main Drafts workflows: I use the Apple Watch complication to instantly dictate new ideas for stories and tweets, which are then saved to Drafts on iPhone. Later, I can move that text into my other apps for writing, sharing, creating lists, and more.

Blink

Blink for iPhone and iPad is a great app for creating iTunes and App Store affiliate links for, say, articles like this. You can add multiple affiliate tokens (accounts), and create multiple campaign tokens to help track click-through from various sources. There’s an app extension for quickly creating links, and a good amount of customizability, including Markdown formatting of links and content names.

That’s enough for now

I certainly have more apps, but what do you use? And how? I love hearing and sharing new ideas for doing more with apps, so let me know on Tumblr at @finertech and @chartier, or on Twitter @finertech and @chartier, or right here.

The iTunes moment for Apple Watch

Before 2011, every iPhone and iPad had to be plugged into iTunes before you could use them. A Mac or PC was required for the activation and basic setup process. Apple cut that cord with iOS 5, allowing iPhones and iPads to start working right out of the box. Now that Apple Watch Series 3 has gained LTE connectivity, I wonder if it will head down a similar path.

I’ve met people who would love to have an Apple Watch (and a Bluetooth headset) for basic calls and messaging, then an iPad for everything else. They don’t take a lot of photos, and they don’t have a large need for carrying around a phone other than calls and messaging—things the Watch does pretty well now.

From an end user perspective, I’d love to see this option arrive. I certainly would like for my Apple Watch to have connectivity when I’m away from my phone, but I’m not ready to pay $10 per month for that luxury just yet. Down the road? I could see it.

From a product design perspective, though, I wager there’s a significant challenge to building an autonomous Apple Watch: setup. It’s easy to type your iCloud account into an iPhone or iPad. But a Watch? Not so much.

In watchOS 4, Apple did make this process easier by bringing the AirPod setup simplicity to the Watch. This might be exclusive to Series 3, but I’ve seen a demo where all you need to do is unlock your iPhone and power on your brand new Watch, and they just find each other and begin the process.

It isn’t a 100 percent cordless setup, but it’s a step. If Apple allowed the iPad to set up a new Watch, it might help users who don’t necessarily want or need an iPhone.

Things 3 after 5 months

Over the past few years, I’ve been searching for the right task manager for my needs. Doing both client work and freelance writing—almost entirely on iPad now—I navigate a mix of teams, Slack channels, and tools. I’ve tried a number of apps including Todoist, 2Do, Trello, OmniFocus, and others. But when Cultured Code released Things 3 for iPad, iPhone, and Mac back in May, my interest piqued.

Getting started

My original goal for trying Todoist and Trello was that my clients and editors could collaborate on tasks with me. Unfortunately, more often than not, they either already had their own task manager or they couldn’t get into those options. I work in Trello a little with a couple clients, but it hasn’t become a staple.

I picked up Things 3 on iPad and iPhone toward the end of Cultured Code’s beta and moved over a couple small projects. It’s certainly a unique experience from most other task managers; surprisingly simple and focused. You can’t pick your favorite (or any) colors for projects or set a pretty wallpaper photo.

After a couple weeks, I found that simplicity and focus to be refreshing. Once I caught onto the flexibility in Things 3, it clicked.

One thing I’ve never liked about many task managers is how rigidly dependent they usually are on deadlines. Working with clients (mostly) in the indie app space, projects sometimes slip or suddenly grow in complexity. It means a lot of tedious fiddling with calendar pickers and number wheels.

“Today”

A core feature that draws me to Things is its clever, fast, no-pressure “Today” system. You can quickly and easily mark one or more tasks as “Today,” and they’ll all appear in that section in the sidebar. They don’t get stale or turn red if you don’t complete them today. It’s just an easy way to quickly build a list of tasks you want to focus on.

Now, you can set due dates, deadlines, and reminders for tasks, and I do for some. But these options are not a primary focus of the interface or organizing tasks. I like that.

Due dates, deadlines, and reminders

When you do want a due date or need a nudge to finish a task, Things 3 does some cool stuff. There are three options, which can be used separately or together:

  • Due Date – The task will appear in Today on the day you choose. Does not fire an alert, does not become overdue
  • Deadline – Similar to a Due Date, but can become Overdue and get marked as such. Does not fire an alert
  • Reminder – An actual task alert. Can fire at a specific time on a due date, deadline, or any other time

I thoroughly enjoy this system. For example: when I have a MacLife column due, I create a task with a deadline for a specific day. I also set a due date of a few days before. This makes the task appear in Today, but gives me a few days to finish it because I don’t always finish a column in one day. Sometimes I need to research or stew on a concept, or finish a first draft, trash it, and go for round two.

In most other task managers, a task simply has a due date. If not checked off that day, the task takes on some variety of scolding, anxiety-inducing OVERDUE badge. For a lot of my work, I don’t think or operate that way, so I’ve usually had trouble with this aspect (and others) of most task managers.

Drag & drop and headings

Another of my favorite aspects of Things 3 is how thoroughly it supports drag and drop. To reorder tasks or projects on any device, simply drag them up and down the list.

On iOS, you can tap and drag the new tasks (+) button anywhere in a list to creat a task right there. It’s very useful, especially with the next and final feature I’ll mention here: Headings.

You can now create multiple Headings in a project to organize tasks. I find it to be a great way to break down large projects or just create separate ‘buckets’ or types of tasks. For example: in the past few months, in my Finer Tech newsletter project (to which you should totally subscribe!), I had an “iOS 11” heading for collecting those tips. I also have an “Ideas” heading for saving ways to improve the newsletter.

Things 3 all the way

If it isn’t obvious by now, I fully switched to Things 3 for all of my personal and most work project management. Previous versions lacked a few things I wanted, but I’m very happy with 3. Since I work mostly on iPad and iPhone, I use it there the most.

I’m hopeful that Cultured Code will soon add iPad goodies like keyboard shortcuts and support for iOS 11 drag and drop from other apps. And, while we can filter by tags in a project on iOS, I’d like at least iPad to mirror the Mac version and place those tags under the project title at the top for easier access.

If you’re queasy about trying Things 3 on iOS, remember that the App Store has a decent refund policy now. For Mac users, Cultured Code’s website has a trial.

You can use your email for iMessage, plus it’s more identifiable

By default, your iCloud account is your iMessage to/from address. If you own an iPhone, your phone number is enabled for iMessage and, as far as I can tell, becomes the default to/from address on every device.

You can also attach extra email addresses to your iCloud/iMessage to use as your default to/from address. I added my personal email (at chartier.land) and set it as the default on all devices. I think it’s easier to identify and remember than some random string of numbers, especially when I’m messaging someone new.

To do this:

  • iOS: Log into appleid.apple.com with the iCloud account you use for iMessage. Under the Account > Reachable At section, click Add New and add any other email addresses you want to use with iMessage.
  • Mac: Open Messages and go to Preferences > Accounts > your iMessage account. In the Reachable At section, click Add New. You can also use the iOS method if you prefer.

**Important Note**: Any email addresses you attach to your iCloud/iMessage account are no longer eligible to become Apple IDs. However, you _can_ detach these addresses later at appleid.apple.com to make them eligible again.


To set an email address as your default from for new conversations:

  • iOS: Open Settings > Messages > Send & Receive, then make your selection in the Start New Conversations From section.
  • Mac: Open Messages and go to Preferences > Accounts > your iMessage account. Make your selection in the Start New Conversations From section.

Now, when you iMessage someone new, or start new conversations with existing contacts, your messages will come from your email address instead of a phone number. Bonus points: if you set an email address you actually use, now your contacts also know your email address for sending more email-y stuff.

A guide for switching from Dropbox to iCloud Drive

A while ago, I switched from Dropbox to iCloud Drive. I did it mainly because I realized I was paying for too many clouds and, between the two, iCloud had become more indispensable to me than Dropbox. People asked me for a guide on how to do it, and I think I have something fairly straightforward for you.

This could probably work for switching between just about any Cloud Service A to Service B. The main requirement of my method is that you have on-disk file access to both services; not just silly web apps in a browser. In other words, their apps are installed and you have local/synced access to all files.

Naturally, before diving in, I recommend you back up everything and triple check them just to be sure. Here are the steps I took:

  • Find a file cloning utility like ChronoSync. I’ve owned a copy for years, and it’s always performed beautifully, including for this recent switch
  • Set up the file copy source as the root of your Dropbox folder
  • Set up your destination as the root of iCloud Drive
    • As far as I can tell, the Finder doesn’t reveal the actual directory location of your iCloud Drive. In the File selection sheet, iCloud Drive should be in your Finder sidebar. If not, Command-Shift-I will select it
  • (Optional) Exclude any folders you don’t want copied. For example, I have a “Family” folder in Dropbox for stuff I share with Jessi. Sadly, iCloud Drive still doesn’t support this in iOS 11 and High Sierra, so I didn’t see a point (yet) in copying that folder over
  • (Optional, but highly recommended) Do a trial run first. ChronoSync has a ‘test’ option that will display all the changes it intends to make. This helped me feel better that I had the sync set up properly
  • Run the copy. As long as you have the space for it, I recommend doing a copy, not a move, just to be safe. But if you’re short on space, a move might be your only option. Proceed with caution, backup backup backup, etc.
  • Check that everything is in iCloud Drive
  • Delete everything from Dropbox
  • (Optional, if possible) Uninstall Dropbox. It’ll free up a decent chunk of CPU and memory. I’ve seen people with big powerful MacBook Pros mention a slight, but notable increase in performance once they got rid of Dropbox’s sync client
  • (Optional) If your goal is to save money like me, don’t forget to downgrade your Dropbox account. I dropped back to the free tier, so that’s around $100/year back in my pocket

The end.

Of course, I still collaborate on documents with other people, moreso these days since I freelance for multiple clients. Your mileage likely varies, but most collaboration I do happens in Google Drive (unfortunately) and Quip, so I simply have less of a need for a shared raw file space.

Overall, it’s gone pretty well. I haven’t lost files, and the iOS 11 iCloud Drive Files app is a big leap forward. If Apple ever bothers to catch up to competition with shared folders, I might close my Dropbox account entirely.

I hope this helped. Hit me with any questions, and I’ll answer best I can.