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.

A simple way to ease social media anxiety, use it as a positive, healthy distraction

I live in the U.S. and I am the most anxiety ridden and frequently demoralized about our current state of affairs than I have been in my adult life. Already a little overweight before the election, I’ve gained 10 pounds since November.

Social media has been an overwhelmingly negative influence, but I recently had an idea for turning it into a positive tool. It’s helped me a decent bit. Maybe it can help some of you too.

It’s a simple idea: find accounts, hashtags, and channels on various social media that focus entirely on positive, helpful, or simply entertaining content. Create lists and bookmarks, or just do your thing to keep them within easy reach. They can be a soothing reprieve for the times when you don’t want to disconnect, but the current state of affairs is utterly draining. Tumblr and Reddit are my tools of choice here.

A strong driving force in both is the idea of focusing on a topic, which makes it easy to curate a feed around just the stuff you want to see. Tumblr makes it easy to create multiple blogs on a single account, which encourages users to spin out single-serving topical blogs instead of jumbling everything in a single place. Reddit is entirely based on communities, called subreddits (much like forums), all of which are laser focused on just about any topic you can imagine. No, seriously.

Recommendations

If you could use a head start, here are a few I like:

  • ARCHatlas – A Tumblr of gorgeous, unique architecture, design projects, and art. One of my favorite Tumblrs ever
  • We Rate Dogs – A Twitter of cute, funny, great dog photos
  • City Landscapes – A Tumblr of beautiful city scenery
  • ZandraArt – One of my favorite Tumblr illustration artists
  • r/Get Motivated – A subreddit of generally motivational quotes, stories, discussions, and community help
  • r/Real Life Doodles – A subreddit where people anthropomorphize and GIF objects and food for humorous effect
  • r/Animals Being Bros – A subreddit of uplifting, cute, and endearing pet and animal photos, videos, and GIFs

I know it’s a simple thing. But those can sometimes be the best solutions. When I need a break from our daily horrors, or want to switch gears from work but don’t need to see Trump’s daily stupidity, accounts like these have been a great alternative for me. I hope they can help you too.

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.

Rethinking app organization because of iOS 11

I’m pretty used to iOS 11’s new Dock and multitasking features on my iPad. But right now, my Dock is what you see here in this post.

I defaulted to basically recreating my Mac’s Dock—a simple collection of many, but not all, of my most-used apps. But iOS 11 also supports folders in the Dock, which opens up some doors that I haven’t explored very well.

Sure, I can always drop back to the homescreen to grab an app for Split View. As you can see in my recent video, it’s easy enough to do with just one hand. But being able to flick up the dock while already in an app or a Split View removes one step of friction and makes Split View multitasking even more one-hand-able. Not having to exit the current app setup is handy, so I think it’s time to tinker with reorganizing my app pages and Dock. Maybe a couple more folders are in order.

Once you get your hands on iOS 11 and get used to the new Dock, I’d recommend going through this process. Having more apps at a flick of your fingertips might be a pretty big deal.

[iOS 11] One-handed multitasking on iPad

I really like the new multitasking features in iOS 11. It’s also time that I start making videos again, so here’s the first—a quick tip on how to put apps in Split View with one hand.

I don’t publish a lot of videos on my YouTube channel yet, but I do have more planned. Feel free to subscribe there, but I’ll blog them here, too.

The music is Moonlight Jive by Proleter.

One reason I stick with Apple stuff: respect

A big reason I often stick with Apple stuff is that the entire tech industry is racing to see who can treat us with the least respect. The latest challenger is Sonos with its new “give us your data or your stuff stops working” privacy threat policy.

I don’t always want to stick with Apple stuff just because it’s Apple. I may like Apple, and most of my career is based in Apple’s ecosystem. But we also have a couple Sonos speakers, I generally like them, and there are all sorts of great companies and products out there not made by Apple. My problem is that this trend of treating us like data batteries from The Matrix deeply disturbs me. It increasingly gives me pause about trusting many new companies and products.

For example, now I’m thinking about selling our Sonos for an alternative. To be fair, the thought crossed my mind a little while ago because I don’t like being limited to apps and services Sonos directly supports. The announcement mostly compels me to consider it more seriously. Maybe I could go with a HomePod or something else AirPlay compatible. I don’t know, but now I have to spend real time on researching a new product I can (hopefully) trust instead of… just about everything else I’d rather spend time on.

I don’t like companies that believe they have some kind of right to every single little thing I do. They don’t. They especially don’t when they sell premium products, then suddenly decide to further cash in by violating my privacy and selling my data to an already woefully corrupt data brokerage industry.

[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.