Thoughts on the Mac mini, running a business, and long teeth

Parts of the Apple community have been upset lately about the Mac mini left in update limbo for nearly three years. I get that the mini has a following. But at the end of the day, I don’t blame Apple for spending so much of its attention elsewhere. It’s a business, after all, and businesses have to spend time on things that are either important now or show strong signs of being important soon.

Here are a few things that might bring context to the situation.

Intent

Tim Cook recently answered a customer email about the Mac mini. Without offering any details of a forthcoming update, he stated that the Mac mini is “an important part” of the Mac’s future.

Some dismissed it as empty promises, claiming that Cook simply said what any CEO would about a current product. But here’s the rub: it’s a great bet that Tim Cook’s (public) address gets a ton of email. He—or more accurately, Apple’s marketing department—could simply have sent that email to the circular filing bin with so many others. They knew responding to that email would spark media coverage and expectations.

Numbers

As for why Apple hasn’t updated the Mac since December 2014, let’s do some fuzzy math on its sales over the last few years. Starting from a bird’s eye view, Apple sells around one Mac for every 6-10 iOS devices, at least in the low or normal quarters. By itself, the iPhone is a majority of Apple’s revenue.

Among those Mac sales, the various flavors of MacBook take a whopping 85 percent. That means desktops—iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro—are just 15 percent of Mac sales. Apple does not get more granular than notebooks vs desktops, so the mini’s portion of that 15 percent is anyone’s guess. My guess is the iMac takes the lion’s share of that 15 percent, followed distantly by the Mac mini and Pro.

In its most recent quarter (non-holiday, mind you), Apple sold 46.7 million iPhones, 10. Million iPads, and 5.4 million Macs. That means Apple sold, at most, around 810,000 desktops last quarter. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mac mini sold in the very low six figures, or less.

Priorities

Businesses spend time on things that are either important or show strong signs of being important in the future. Retail employees spend time on assigned tasks. Actors focus (mostly) on projects that further their careers. Small business owners like myself spend most or all of their time on things that will help the business and support themselves and/or their families.

When we look at the numbers, and take a guess at what Apple knows about how and how often the Mac mini is used, I don’t fault the company at all for spending its attention elsewhere. Even if we get more speculative and try to look at products which experience big upgrade cycles, I have a hard time believing the Mac mini ranks anywhere significant. It sure seems to me like people swap out their smartphones, notebooks, and even tablets more often than Mac minis.

Sum

Looking at Apple’s numbers, perceived priorities, and statement of intent, I do buy that the company still cares about the Mac mini and plans to update it. If I were a gambling person, I’d bet it would be within the next year, give or take. A mention at WWDC 2018 would be convenient, but so would an addendum to either the iMac Pro event later this year or Mac Pro event early next year.

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.

My first macOS ‘meh’ upgrade

I feel strange.

There’s a big new version of macOS out today, High Sierra. Since I got my first Mac in 2002 and started writing about them in 2004, days like today were exciting. I’d usually have my PowerBook MacBook with me and I’d rush to get the DVD start the download as soon as it was out. But this year is the first time I’ve ever felt indifferent about a major macOS upgrade. I’ll get to it when I get to it.

I do so much of my work and personal stuff on my iPad these days, I am uncharacteristically not in a rush to upgrade macOS. My Mac takes more of a backseat these days. Actually, it’s probably closer to the trunk; around for emergencies and rare cases when I need it, but otherwise usually out of sight and mind.

I’ve been steadily shifting from my Mac to iPad since around iOS 8 and 9. 10 helped a good bit, but 11 is a huge leap forward in nearly every respect. It also helps that more and more companies gradually caught up with the monumental, societal shift to mobile, introducing apps, or at least web apps, suited for it.

Still, this is the first year where I’ve felt this indifference to a major macOS upgrade. In many ways, the Mac opened the door for my career when I started writing at Download Squad and TUAW (RIP) for Weblogs Inc. But the iPhone, and later iPad, blew that door wide open.

Admittedly, my Mac hasn’t been completely shelved. I’m even considering replacing it in a year or two since it is getting a little long in the tooth. I still do bits of client work that require a Mac (like screencasts, promo videos, and Squarespace site setup, management, and training). I also might need it if I move my podcast beyond the current Anchor channel, although I’ve heard it’s gotten easier to podcast on iOS in recent years.

Aside from those two use cases, though, I now think of my Mac as a safety net more than anything else. It feels strange to think about a Mac that way, but I’m also really happy with my iPad and iOS. Onward and upward, I guess.

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.

[iOS 11] Drag links in Safari for iPad to open them in a new background tab

In Safari for iPad on iOS 11, you can quickly open a link in a background tab by dragging it to the new tab (+) button.

Subscribe to my next newsletter all about Messages, iMessage tips

As you may know, I now publish a weekly Finer Things in Tech Newsletter alongside this site, and you should totally subscribe. In addition to a handful of bite-sized tips that are almost entirely exclusive to the newsletter, I also include a few links to insightful and inspiring reads from around the web. 

For example, last issue I linked the brilliant 100 Demon Dialogues about impostor syndrome and self-doubt, and this great piece from Benedict Evans exploring the cognitive dissonance and statistics around which traditional and modern devices have actually been used for creation versus consumption.
I’m experimenting with focusing some issues on a particular topic or app, and next week’s issue will be all about Messages and iMessage for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Be sure to subscribe now to make sure you get it, and share the signup link with friends and coworkers who could use help in the messaging department.

How to archive your internet likes with Day One

A long time ago, I had an app called Favs that collected everything I liked/hearted/bookmarked/whatevered across a ton of services (it was sadly abandoned). We’re talking Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, newsreader services, Pocket—probably over 20 services. It was a one-stop journal to find that thing I know I liked somewhere, and it made me happy.

IMG_0124I miss Favs, so I recently decided to try and recreate it using apps and services at my disposal. Last week, I settled on Day One + IFTTT, and so far it’s working pretty well. If you dig this idea and you’re a Day One user (2.0, not Classic), or this post inspires you to give it a try, here’s how to set it up. I’ll write from the assumption that you have accounts for both apps and a basic understanding of how they work:

  • Open Day One and create a new journal. Name it something relevant to you. I went with “Favs”
  • Open IFTTT, tap the Search tab, and search for the first service for which you want to archive your likes
  • (Optional) You might need to log into that service in order to enable it for your IFTTT needs
  • Tap it, scroll down a smidge, then tap “New Applet”
  • In the “If ‘This’ then that” screen that appears, tap ‘This’ and pick the action for your service related to liking something
  • “That” should now be highlighted in the applet screen. Tap it, then find Day One and select it (you might need to log into Day One to enable it for IFTTT)
  • Tap “Create new journal entry”
  • In the Day One journal entry customization screen that appears, be sure to select your new Day One journal for these entries
  • (Optional) Customize the entry template to your desires
  • Save your applet
  • Rinse and repeat for every relevant service

Day One can often grab things like metadata about the item you liked, and sometimes the related photo thumbnail or featured image.

Things To Know

One drawback of this setup is that IFTTT doesn’t support grabbing your likes from every service. For example, while Facebook does support IFTTT, it doesn’t allow access to grabbing your likes.

Other services simply may not be available since, as I understand it, even if they have an API, their maker needs to opt into IFTTT’s service and pay a monthly fee to be listed. Some, like my new bookmarking service Dropmark, do not yet have an interest or budget for it.

A Tip

When it comes to searching your likes later in Day One, you might need to make sure you select this specific journal. Day One has an “All Entries” view that searches everything, or you can search each individual journal by first selecting it, then searching.

So Far, So Mostly Good

I’m generally happy with this setup so far. My main gripe is that, since it’s dependent on IFTTT, there are a number of services I can’t plug in simply because they don’t support IFTTT. Swarm checkins are there (handy because I’m bad at remembering restaurant names), so are Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Pocket, and Feedly. But Untapped, Distiller, and others aren’t.

That said, I’ll probably stick with this unless something better comes along. I’d love to see Favs return or a new app built to solve this exact problem, though I realize indie App Store economics can be tough these days. Still, this is a good way to keep an ongoing catalog of those many things you like all over the internet.

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.