Airmail for Mac supports Markdown (per account, too!)

Airmail for Mac (and iOS) is a powerful email app with lots of customizability. The Mac version supports composing emails with Markdown, and you’ll even get a live preview as you type. For bonus points: you can enable Markdown as the default editor on a per-account basis in Airmail’s preferences.

What's wrong with iMessage?

Messaging is easily one of, if not the most important things we do with our mobile devices. The industry for messaging apps is huge, and smack dab in the middle is iMessage and its vessel, Messages, which Apple says is by far the most-used app on its devices. At WWDC 2016, it also said iMessage sends around 17 billion messages per day which, while impressive, is below some competitors, lIke WhatsApp at 42 billion per day.

Despite those impressive numbers, I strongly believe that, as the iPhone was five years ahead of the industry, iMessage and Messages have been roughly five years behind their competition. I feel that, so far, it has been one of Apple’s worst, most tone deaf products. From what I’ve seen of the iOS 10 beta so far, Apple has tried addressing a couple of these flaws, and the upcoming App Store for iMessage might allow developers to narrow the gap. Might.

I’ve talked about this in various capacities elsewhere, but folks have asked that I further explain my position and reasons. Before I elaborate on just a few here, I want to make something crystal clear: my thorough distaste for Messages and iMessage (from here on referred to as just ‘iMessage’) is not about any one problem or missing feature. It’s born from thousands of paper cuts, many of which have lingered for years, most of which stem from what I perceive is Apple’s perpetual, fundamental misunderstanding of how and what people communicate.

If, even after reading this, you still don’t get it, I implore you to try some of the competing apps to broaden your understanding of the market, namely Telegram, WhatsApp, Line, and Facebook Messenger (you don’t need a FB account). Chances are, you have at least a couple friends on some of them, but go in with the right intention: to explore what unique ideas and tools they offer for communication, and to understand why billions of people choose these apps instead of, or at least alongside, iMessage.

Technically ridiculous

Let’s get iMessage’s technical issues out of the way, as I find them to be less important in my grand scheme of things. The service has always had a variety of reliability problems since the beginning, ranging from delivering messages out of order to simply not at all, even to known, long-time iMessage accounts. Oh, and inexplicably splitting conversations into two threads.

Now, I should note that I am not a developer. Maybe there are technical hurdles for iMessage the likes the world has never seen, and perhaps I’m being overly harsh. But as an end user, I have never seen, and almost never heard of, messages being delivered out of order on any of Apple’s competitors, including WhatsApp, Line, Signal, Facebook Messenger, Hangouts, Yahoo Messenger, Telegram, Skype, and more.

Identity crisis

A continued source of iMessage confusion stems from its support for adding multiple email addresses to your ID. I actually like that we can use an email address, as telephone numbers are far harder to remember and identify these days versus johnny5@alive.com. I dream of a day we can get rid of phone numbers through society.

But multiple addresses create all sorts of confusion. Sometimes a person enabled an address on one device but not another, so messages get involuntarily lost or ignored. Other times you can’t be sure which address to use; will my recipient see the message in time, or at all? Which device, if any, is this message going to reach?

My last papercut example here is the silly mechanism that, when starting a new conversation, iMessage has to pause and check with Apple’s servers to verify whether your recipient is an iMessage user. Sometimes this process takes a heartbeat, usually it takes a few seconds, especially when not on wifi. It happens with long-time accounts and addresses saved to Contacts, even to phone numbers saved with Apple’s custom “iPhone” label.

I have not found a single other messaging service that experiences this problem, and I have used or at least tried almost all of them. Pair this with iMessage sometimes choking and displaying a known, verified account as not iMessage-compatible (after taking some time to check), and the entire process becomes maddening. Again, this simply doesn’t happen on other services.

A fundamental misunderstanding of how and what people communicate.

Lost in sharing

Since its inception, iMessage’s sharing abilities have not evolved much farther beyond a late 90’s Instant-Messenger-competence of text and photos. Meanwhile, the messaging industry has been doing things like rich media previews for web links, GIFs, places, and other content for years. In iOS 10, iMessage will finally do rich previews for web links (a feature Notes got last year in iOS 9), but out of the box, it will still lag significantly behind competition.

For example, think about all the situations where you want to share a place with friends. Maybe you’re going out somewhere, maybe someone is coming to meet you, maybe you want to tell friends about a great new place you found.

Up to and including iOS 10, iMessage’s only ability is to drop a red pin on a map—good for directions, but that’s it. For years, other messaging apps have shared places not just pins—business names, addresses, maybe even photos, but always some sort of one-tap link to the actual information people need to know about that location like a phone number, business hours, attire, ambience.

A pin on a map is practically useless by comparison, and even in iOS 10, Apple still doesn’t get it.

Now look at something like sharing a song from Apple Music over iMessage. Just look at that mess and attempt to explain how it makes one lick of sense.

A fundamental misunderstanding of how and what people communicate.

An app best served cold

Another paper cut is that iMessage has always felt freezing cold and impersonal. While I don’t care much about personalizing my fonts and colors, I sometimes watch how people use their devices in public and they absolutely do. Just look at the popularity of the myriad iOS and keyboard customization tools in the App Store, even though iOS restrictions functionally kneecap most of them in all sorts of ways.

But open an iMessage conversation and look at who it is. Your only actual indication is a first name at the top; no last name, no avatar, nothing to otherwise bring some humanity to your conversation partner(s). I’ve always felt like I’m talking to a bot.

Again, look at the rest of the industry. Sometimes avatars are at the top, sometimes they accompany each message in the back and forth. Sometimes you can customize a conversation’s background or just the color of the bubbles. They’ve all offered something, and for quite some time.

Remember, this isn’t about specific features. The point is: these elements add humanity to an otherwise impersonal medium. Seeing a friend’s face, even as a tiny round circle, can make a big difference.

A fundamental misunderstanding of how and what people communicate.

Just plain lost

The final paper cut I’ll bring up for now is Apple’s continued muddying of mute and block. iMessage only recently gained both of these features (block I think in iOS 7, mute in 8) which, again, were things many other apps adopted years ago. But in iMessage, there isn’t much of a functional difference between the two.

Think about it: you block someone, they’re gone; they can’t message you until you dig into Settings > Messages and remove them from your block list. Muting someone is functionally and equally permanent. It stays that way until you manually un-mute, except there isn’t really a list like blocks to check for muted people and group chats.

Unless you open Messages and deliberately view your conversation list (which, remember, not everyone uses Messages that way), a muted recipient could easily fall down your list of conversations ‘below the fold,’ and you could never hear from them again. Some nerds might laugh, but I’ve met multiple regular folks who discovered the mute feature, used it to get a temporary breather from That One Family Member or Friend, then inadvertently ignored them for weeks or, in one case, over a month. Imagine the hurt feelings and drama.

Other messaging apps have long understood that there needs to be more of a functional difference between mute and block. This usually means that, when you mute someone, you get a prompt with options beyond “forever,” such as “for one hour,” “for five hours,” and “until tomorrow morning.”

If installing other messengers isn’t an option, Tweetbot’s mute is a great example. If you never want to hear from someone again, you block (or mute permanently). If you just need a break, you get temporary options. These are simple concepts of human interaction both in both the real and digital world.

A fundamental misunderstanding of how and what people communicate.

A case for hope

Fortunately, Apple is finally paying some real attention to iMessage again, exhibited by some pretty whiz-bang stuff introduced in iOS 10. But when I step back and look at what Apple introduced, most of it is cosmetic, empty calorie fun.

Now, I am very much a fan of adding fun to messaging; I’ve taken plenty of crap for touting the wonders and mood-improving powers of stickers. On one hand, I’m glad to see this stuff.

On the other hand, with iOS 10, Apple did not directly address most of iMessage’s foundational problems. It will finally make sense of web URL gobbly gook, but many of the other tools and features have no improved what and how we can communicate, so the app and service remain overall years behind their competition.

The one saving grace might, might, be the forthcoming App Store for iMessage. Within the last year or two, competing apps began turning into platforms for third-party apps to add all sorts of useful and fun things.

Apple clearly noticed this trend and did what it does best: built what looks like a great platform for developers to create good stuff. We’ll just have to see how much power and freedom developers have to enhance iMessage and catch up to competition.

I have hope. I like Apple, and I increasingly feel it’s one of the few companies that is actually fighting for our individual rights to privacy, so I prefer to use its relevant devices and apps when I can. I would love to see iMessage evolve, perhaps with the help of some third-party developers, into the messaging app that understands how and what we want to communicate with others in the 21st century.

Slack _can_ be hard, but a little planning can do wonders

There’s a thread going around that Slack is making work worse or less efficient. But the tool is often not the problem, and I believe that’s the case with Slack.

Without a little conscious organization, Slack can turn into a large, at times complicated tool. This simply means it needs a clear purpose with rules, or at least guidelines, in order to effectively solve an organization’s particular problem.

Maybe you can just toss everyone in and hope for the best. But you can dramatically improve your chances by creating or adopting a style guide similar to the one Slack is beginning to build for all of us.

A key portion to think about, which I believe is coming in a future post on Slack’s (Medium-powered) blog, is defining a purpose for each part of your Slack account and the integrations you add. How many channels do you actually need? What is the point of each channel, and should everyone be allowed to create them? What kind of do-not-disturb hours (one of my favorite features) can you set for a good work-life balance? Should a channel be open to your whole org or, if it’s for a specific team, would it be better for that team to have privacy and focus?

Slack can be much more than a centralized IRC or list of chat rooms, and I highly recommend you think of it as such, otherwise it very well may fail to be the great replacement for intra-org email that it can be. Here’s a use case to consider: if you set up a channel for a company task or department (CS, marketing, dev, whatever), you can take advantage of Slack’s ability to collect files shared in that channel and star messages for posterity. Share links in that channel to Quip or Drive of key docs for department processes, style guides, and other resources, then star them all. Now you have most, possibly all the onboarding materials you need for you next recruit in one easy place where they can ask questions and get feedback from other team members and leaders. When you combine this deliberate approach with its large and growing list of integrations, Slack can become incredibly powerful and enabling—as long as you spend a little time thinking critically about these options and which can actually work for you.

If you’ve found yourself curious about or using Slack but stumbling over whether it’s a help or hindrance, I highly recommend following Slack’s blog for the rest of the series.

A few ideas for how to use multiple journals in Day One 2.0

Day One for iOS and Mac (affiliate links) is one of my favorite apps, even though I may not use it every single day. With 2.0’s introduction of support for multiple journals, though, I’ve found a number of new uses for it beyond personal journaling and reflection.

Note: If you need help with the core questions of why and how to journal for yourself, Day One has a pretty good series on its blog.

As for what to do with the new multiple journal support, I’ll share a couple of my own cases and a few ideas below that you can use as inspiration. While other apps may cover some or all of these tasks for you, mixing these with Day One’s other features—attaching locations to entries, automation with IF, multiple photos per entry, plotting entry dates on a scrolling calendar, and more—make it a compelling option for saving and looking back on all sorts of things:

  • Social journal – Create a new journal specifically for saving certain kinds of activity on across all your social media accounts (mine is simply called “Social”). With Day One’s new, dedicated channel on IF, you can automatically save things like favorited tweets, Facebook photos you’re tagged in, liked videos on YouTube, Instagram photos, you like, and much more. You can also use Day One’s powerful app extension to cover that last mile of stuff you don’t want to automate. This is one of my favorite uses of Day One’s journals, especially after my previous tool for this, Favs, seems to be abandoned.
  • Work journal – Some people don’t like to mix work and personal lives, so this is a good way to separate your journaling and reflection for work purposes.
  • #Winning journal – If you’re like me, and sometimes you have a hard time remembering how far you’ve come in terms of personal or professional growth, a journal for cataloging milestones and other wins could go a long way. This could be instead of, or in addition to, a Work journal, but the idea is to set rules or goals for what to catalog here. Things like finishing a big project, receiving a compliment, getting a new client, and overcoming a personal fear or challenge are all good ideas.
  • Photo a day – Maybe you want to build and explore your photography habit, or maybe you just need a place to keep your self portrait progression shots somewhere besides your Photos app. A dedicated Day One journal could be great for this, especially if you travel and want to record the location of your shots.
  • Quote journal – I like saving quotes, and for a couple years now I’ve used the excellent Quotebook from Lickability. But recently I realized I sometimes post quotes to services like Tumblr, and I wanted an easy way to collect those too. I created a new Day One journal, hooked up a couple recipes in IF (such as “if I post a quote to Tumblr, add it to X journal in Day One”). I like that I can pull in these quotes from other places, in addition to manually adding them, and they’ll sync to all my devices, including my Mac.

Additions:

  • Booze journal – Another place where attaching places and locations, as well as tags, can be real handy for cataloging the beer, wine, and spirits you try and enjoy. Thanks Jay Ray.

That’s all I have for now. If you have some Day One journal that might be good fits here, let me know on Facebook and Twitter.

Use Day One to save personal and work wins, review how far you've come

imageI’m one of those people who suffers from some forms of imposter syndrome. “Everybody already knows/does this stuff,” goes one train of thought, “so why should I bother doing, talking, or engaging in it.” I also have a hard time remembering how far I’ve come on a particular journey, or looking back on the wins I’ve had in my personal and work adventures.

The idea hit me a little while ago that Day One 2 can help here. Now that it supports multiple journals, I created a second one called “Work” and started cataloging things like compliments I receive on my work, skills I learn, and general things that could fall under the #winning tag in your mind.

Maybe you keep it all in the same journal, or maybe you set up multiple journals in a different way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that, if you have these same problems, you start recording your wins somewhere that is both easy to get to when the time calls for it, and easy to review when you need it.

I have a hard time remembering this stuff, especially on days when I feel defeated and ineffective, which just makes things worse. Now that I’m recording wins in Day One, I have a bread crumb trail—a way to remind myself that I’m doing good work, I’ve learned new things, and of course still have plenty to go.

Maybe this could work for you too.

Answers to your questions about Ulysses 2.5 for iOS

When preparing my review of Ulysses 2.5 for MacStories, I asked my fine Twitter followers for any questions they’d like me to answer. I covered some of them in my review, but it occurred to me that I left quite a few on the table. Here is my attempt to clean up.

Note: if you’d like to support my work here at Finer Things in Tech, you can buy Ulysses for iOS and Mac through my affiliate links. I get a small cut of your purchase, you get a fantastic app—everybody wins!

Can you publish to WordPress, Medium, and other CMSes? Also: how about those export features?

No, yes, and no. Ulysses has never really been about publishing, but with this recent, major 2.5 update, it can now publish to Medium. In fact, you can even add multiple Medium accounts.

However, Ulysses has very powerful and flexible export options that can prepare your content for just about anywhere it needs to go. It can convert one or more sheets written in Markdown with links and style into HTML for pasting into WordPress and other CMSes, or strip all the Markdown out and make them plain text. You can create ePubs, PDFs, and even DOCX files for Office folks in the audience, complete with any images you embed in-line.

Yes, you read that right. Ulysses is primarily a text editor, but you can also embed images. This is aimed at those who produce document-based media, such as PDFs and ePubs; the images will not make the trip if you export to HTML for pasting into WordPress.

Is there a dark mode?

Yep, it’s a switch under the gear menu. All the default themes and the few third-party themes I have installed seem to work pretty well with it too, all adjusting their unique colors for proper legibility.

What about smart quotes?

Yep, but you have to use the option from the keyboard bar (under the Command icon), not the on-screen or hardware keyboard quote button. There might be a custom keyboard shortcut to create them, but I don’t have a hardware keyboard to try finding it.

Is Ulysses good for taking notes?

I think that would depend on how complex your note taking system needs to be. You’re basically dealing with plain text, Markdown, and some clever enhancements added by The Soulmen.

You can easily create the facsimile of a bulleted list thanks to smart Markdown shortcuts and even indent items. But if you need more advanced tools or visual cues in your notes, such as bolded section titles in larger sizes, the ability to collapse certain sections to focus on others, or highlighting certain notes, I don’t think Ulysses is your tool.

What is the Attachments panel, and how do you use it?

The attachments panel is toggled by the paper clip in the upper right (iOS and Mac), and it houses four separate features: keywords (tags), Word Goals, notes, and files.

These are four separate, optional features that will each appear in this sidebar if you make use of them, which I highly recommend you do since they’re one of the best things about Ulysses.

Keywords are pretty straightforward: you can add multi-word tags to your sheets to aid in organization, filtering, and search. When viewing a list of sheets, your tags appear below the title of each sheet so they’re easy to pick out at a glance. You can search for your tags and also build Smart Groups that filter for them.

Word Goals are another of my favorite Ulysses features. You can set various goals for each sheet, or an entire group, of “at least” X number of words, or “no more than” Y words. If you trigger this feature, a colored word count pie appears in the top right of a sheet or group name in the list. It’s a great way to keep yourself on track for large projects like books, that long Medium article, or assignments with hard word counts.

Notes are pretty self-explanatory. I’m the type of writer who, in the past, added ideas and notes to the bottom of the document I’m writing in. Now I add them to the Ulysses attachment sidebar for a few reasons.

One is that they’re easy to get out of the way when I don’t need them anymore and just want to focus on writing. My other big reason is that I do enough work that requires specific word counts, and having all those notes in the document I’m writing messes with those counts. However, I do have a pro-tip here: if you display Ulysses’ word count bar (the speed dial button on the left of the text shortcut bar) and select some text, the bar will update live to show you the character count of just your selection. This is useful, but I still prefer to keep notes in the sidebar.

Pro-tip number two: Ulysses notes also support Markdown. If you like to add notes in bulleted lists, as well as links, you’re in luck.

Can I truly trust iCloud?

iCloud has its problems, though after iOS 8 and 9, nearly every iCloud syncing app I use has gotten much better, faster, and more reliable. In my experience writing nearly everything in Ulysses for the better part of the past year, it’s handled iCloud sync superbly.

I’ve never lost a document or even an edit, though a handful of times I have had to wait a little longer for something to sync. I often find myself on 4G though, and I’m pretty sure I was on it each of those times, so I’m not too worried.

I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but I do all my writing in Ulysses these days. Even if it ends up in Quip or Google Drive to collaborate with others, I now start virtually everything I write in Ulysses.

Of course, your mileage may vary. If it helps, Ulysses for iPad and Mac both have backup systems that fire every hour, week, and month. They even have a Time-Machine-like interface for exploring your backups and restoring anything you need. Fortunately, I can’t tell you how well these systems work—I haven’t had to use them yet.

Finally, I hear The Soulmen are working on adding Dropbox support. If iCloud just isn’t your thing no way no how, it sounds like you should have an alternative soon.

How does it compare to 1Writer, Byword, and Editorial?

If we use a scale of “easy and focused” on the left and “powerful, polished, and flexible” on the right, I’d start with 1Writer and Byword well on the left. They’re easy to get started with, don’t offer a ton of options, and basically use Markdown in a straightforward way like most other apps.

I would put UIysses around 65, maybe 70 percent towards the right on this scale. It’s polished and easy to pick up, offers a good amount of flexibility, and has a number of unique, powerful features for those who want them.

Editorial is at the far, far right end of “powerful, polished, and flexible.” It’s a big, jam-packed writing app, has its own scripting features, and has a ton of customizability. I’ll admit I even find it a little intimidating; like the Photoshop or Office of writing apps. I’m not a very good source for learning about Editorial, though. If you want to know more, check the Editorial tag at MacStories.

Is it your writing app of choice?

If I haven’t been explicit enough already: yes, absolutely. Even if I jump on one of these book ideas I’ve been kicking around, I’ll do it all in Ulysses.

I haven’t been happy with managing individual files in Finder for a while. I think this started when I explored app-based organization back in the days of iLife and iPhoto, which drew me to the advantages of managing my files with an app that offers flexibility, visual tools, and other advantages over a plain file system. Early in my career I sought out apps that could do this for writing articles, and I settled on MacJournal for quite a while.

I really like all the stuff I’ve mentioned across these two Ulysses pieces, and I highly recommend it. If you’re still on the fence, note that it is incredibly easy to ask Apple for a refund on iTunes and App Store purchases these days. Just find your original iTunes Store purchase receipt, tap or click ‘Report a Problem,’ and follow the instructions to ask for a refund.

That said, if Ulysses for iOS and Mac sound enticing, there’s a great chance you’ll like them. It’s a fantastic app that has made a big improvement to the way I work. I hope it does the same for you.

“Apple’s Elephant in the Room"

Good food for thought on Apple’s supposed software ‘problem.’ I often say tech insiders, writers, and pundits are often out of touch with their actual audiences, and I work towards crossing this bridge and understanding regular consumer and business users. 

Maybe many of us could use a reality check. Yes, including myself.

How to use Photos for iOS & Mac editing extensions and revert to your originals

Photos for iOS gained editing extensions in iOS 8, allowing you to use third-party apps inside Photos to edit. With El Capitan, Photos for Mac can now do the same.

The Why

One of the perks of editing photos this way is sheer simplicity. When you’re browsing photos, it’s simple to look at one, tap edit, call upon the powers of your favorite third-party apps, and you don’t have to leave Photos for quick edits.

Perhaps a more important advantage is you get to use Photos’ automatic backup system. Whether you edit a photo with Photos’ built-in tools or these new editing extensions, Photos invisibly saves the original so you can roll back to it at any time down the road.

The How

Using these extensions is pretty easy. Assuming you have a couple apps installed that offer them. iOS offers no shortage of apps with extensions, and PixelmatorAfterlight, ASCIImator, and Fragment offer a good mix of editing, filters, and playing around. The Mac’s selection isn’t as wide yet, but Pixelmator, Tonality, and Snapheal should get you started.

To enable Photos extensions on iOS:

  • open Photos
  • tap a photo
  • tap Edit
  • tap the (…) button in the row of editing tools
  • in the sheet that appears, tap the More button to see all available extensions
  • enable some, then have at it

On Mac:

  • open System Preferences > Extensions
  • tap or click the Photos category on the left
  • enable the photo extensions you want
  • open Photos, tap a photo
  • tap Edit
  • tap the (…) button
  • have at it

The How to Undo

Once you’ve made an edit and tapped Done, you’ll notice Photos didn’t create a duplicate, it replaced your original with your new edited version. But if you ever want to undo your changes on iOS or Mac, or take another shot, simply tap the photo, tap Edit, then Revert. Warning: as far as I know, there is no way to undo this reversion; your edits are gone.

The Wrap-up

Photos isn’t perfect, but I really like this setup. It offers simple photo organization that syncs to all your devices, thanks to iCloud Photo Library, and it takes the pain out of organizing and editing photos The Old Way. Who wants to manually drag and drop images named 000001453.jpg and 000001453_01_copy.jpg over and over again? Hitler, that’s who. Thankfully, we have Photos instead.

"Activist Engineering"

Matthew Bischoff:

We’re better than this. As software engineers and designers, we’re in the room when decisions are shaped, and the only ones who have the power to actually execute them. It’s our responsibility not to forsake the people who trust the apps we make with our silence. To stand up and refuse to implement unethical systems and dark patterns. And even more, to educate stakeholders on the real human costs of their business decisions: the time, attention, money, and trust of their customers.

Five months with the 2015 MacBook

Last August, I switched from a 13-inch retina MacBook Pro to the 2015 12-inch MacBook (space gray, 512GB). While I do an increasing amount of work and play on my iPad and iPhone these days, I have still used my Mac for a number of tasks over these months.

If you want the simple verdict: I definitely recommend this machine. But more so than with other Macs, I think it’s very dependent on both your day-to-day and long tail needs.

Context

To start, I’ll give you some quick context about my needs for a MacBook:

  • I’m mostly a writer these days. I help app developers talk to their customers and about their products, I also have a monthly column in MacLife Magazine and freelance elsewhere, and of course I write here.
  • I am working on resuscitating the Finer Things in Tech podcast, which means I need a light podcast recording and editing workflow in both hardware and software.
  • I am a photography and music hobbyist, so I have probably far too many consumer, possibly prosumer, but certainly not capital-p-Pro photo editing and music making apps.
  • I prefer small and light now over heavy and powerful. My first Mac back in the day was the original 12-inch PowerBook, but I quickly switched to a large iMac. Then I went mobile again with a 17-inch PowerBook, then 15, then 13. Now I’ve come full circle to this 12-inch MacBook.
  • I don’t need a ton of stuff on screen these days. At most I usually have a browser or writing app front and center, and possibly a chat or Twitter app open next to it. I really, really like Apple’s new Full Screen and Split Screen features in OS X (and especially iOS) for quickly placing two apps side by side.

Unlike my multimedia student days when I was learning complex Photoshop tools, Final Cut Pro video editing, and creating 2D and 3D motion graphics, I don’t push a Mac very hard anymore.

Day to Day

This thing is just fantastic. I actually prefer this keyboard to any other I’ve ever used, Apple or otherwise. But sure, this (inarguably superior, more productive) keyboard takes some getting used to, as does everything else in life that you’ve never used before the day you learned about it.

There have been a few days where I’ve second-guessed whether my MacBook was in my backpack; it’s that light, which makes me happy. Having a retina screen in a package like this is borderline magical. I really thought retina would come to the Air before Apple built anything that out-Aired it. I think it’s fair to say this is the MacBook alternative for iPad customers, in the same way that the iPad Pro is the iPad alternative for MacBook customers.

I’m able to do just about all of the tasks I mentioned without much thumb twiddling or waiting for the MacBook to catch up to my request. I do notice some occasional sluggishness on particularly long or heavy browsing sessions (Safari), but it isn’t deal-breaker material to me and not very different from when other MacBooks have been under a similar load.

One place where I have noticed some prohibitive sluggishness is in Photos, when making any moderately significant edits to decently high-res shots from, say, my iPhone 6S Plus. That’s one place where it’s bad enough that I just don’t want to do it on the MacBook, but I’m ok with this for two reasons: 1) I usually don’t make big or complex edits, and 2) I mostly use my iPad for photo stuff these days. However, simply organizing these photos and creating albums is just fine.

The Cable thing

I very, very rarely plug things into my Mac these days, so I went into it betting this singular next-gen, and therefore not broadly-supported-yet port wouldn’t be much of an issue. For the vast majority of the time, I’ve been right.

Still, I hedged my bet and bought a couple of Apple’s adapters, specifically the USB-C to USB dongle and the Digital AV Multiport Adapter. I can think of two to three cases where I’ve had to juggle cables because something was plugged in, usually power, and I had to plug in something else, usually my iPhone, to make a QuickTime screen capture or for doing something heinous and unholy with iTunes.

If you are more cable-prone than me, but still interested in this MacBook, I think some good options are emerging for you in the form of clever multi-port adapters that are more flexible and better designed than Apple’s. Put another way, I think we’re in the period where the market is catching up to The New Thing and answering the call. It also helps that, unlike Lightning, USB-C is taking off as a new industry standard, so lots of companies have incentives to make all manner of accessories for it.

Case in point: HyperShop’s USB-C 5-IN-1 Hub. It’s small, only $50, and offers a couple traditional USB ports, a couple flash storage slots, and a USB-C port for pass-through charging and 4K video. It’s basically a great little mini-dock, and there are plenty more like it appearing to solve all manner of connectivity situations. You have options.

Wrapup

I am thoroughly pleased with the 2015 MacBook. Again though, I think this Mac takes a little more scrutiny than previous models, due to some unique trade offs worth considering:

  • Power: It has a mobile Intel CPU, not a typical Core i5 or i7, and you can definitely tell if you start pushing it for certain types of tasks. But if you don’t do those things, don’t worry about it. The catch is: you really need to get real about what you actually do on your Mac versus the well-intentioned-some-day-but-won’t-happen stuff.
  • Size: It’s the smallest Mac Apple makes right now, but it scored a retina screen before the MacBook Air. If screen size is important to you, losing an inch from the Air and Pro lines is no small thing. But I’m a firm believer in the notion that we are one of the most adaptable species on the planet. If the weight and/or retina screen are also important to you, I believe in you. You can do this.
  • Ports: Cord non-cutters beware. It’s pretty clear that USB-C will become the new industry standard moving forward, and the ‘don’t have to care which way you plug it in’ factor is a small but very satisfying improvement. However, the industry is only now beginning to catch up with accessories and adapters.
  • Style: It’s the first Mac to start coming in the same colors as iOS devices. I know some of you are scoffing at this right now, but don’t underestimate how attractive this will be to some customers.

All this said, here’s where I land on the new MacBook: I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last MacBook I buy and keep for a few years. But if I’m still doing the same work down the road and I end up needing a new one, I’ll be happy to buy its successor.