📱 How to make Notification Center your “inbox for apps”

Note: this is a sample article from my weekly Finer Things in Tech Newsletter. Subscribe to get quick tips, occasional longer walkthroughs like this, and links to good reads from others in the community.

I had an idea a while ago that helped me in dealing with push notification and email overload. In short: I realized there are a number of things I want to be aware of, but I don’t need to be alerted in real time. I decided I wanted a place that:

  • is not my email inbox. I’m trying to improve the signal vs. noise balance in there
  • did not alert me in real time as things are happening, because that’s distracting
  • is easy to triage and go on about my day, and doesn’t clutter things like search when I need to find important things later

After some testing with Notification Center on my iOS devices, I found a configuration that has helped me a lot, so maybe it can help you too. For each app and service that fits my description above, try this:

  • Turn off all available email notifications. You might be able to do this in-app, but you might have to tediously log into their website because the company still thinks it’s 2002
  • Opened Settings > Notifications > name of the app
  • Turn off the app badge
  • Turn off sounds
  • Turn off banners
  • Turn off the lock screen option
  • Keep “Show in Notification Center” enabled

This way, I avoid noisy emails cluttering my inbox and push notification banners popping up and distracting me. But—and here’s the important part—I can still get notifications about things that are important, and check them on my own time in Notification Center.

Any notifications I tap get cleared automatically. All others can be wiped out with a quick 3D Touch on the (X) button on iPhone, as that offers a “Clear All Notifications” option. On iPad, it’s only two taps to clear a day’s notifications.

This can work for everything from sports scores to updates from your favorite bloggers. For example, I follow a lot of people on Tumblr, including a few artists whose work I thoroughly appreciate. I turned on notifications for those artists, but I certainly don’t want to be alerted about their posts while I’m working.

Now, with this setup, I can catch up on stuff like this on my own time, without it getting lost in the stream of my day to day work and life.

iOS 11: An alternative to swiping notifications, and why Apple changed this behavior

In iOS 11’s Notification Center, Apple removed our ability to swipe left on a notification in order to reveal buttons for Clear and View. I found an alternative, I think I know why Apple changed this behavior, and I like it better now.

Solution: 3D Touch or tap-and-hold

Previously, swiping left on a notification felt slightly problematic. It was sometimes easy to swipe too far or not far enough, resulting in unintended behavior.

In iOS 11, you can either 3D Touch a notification or, for those on devices without 3D Touch, including iPads, tap-and-hold. This has two advantages.

First, the notification is now displayed with all available functionality. Instead of having to choose whether to clear or interact with the notification (say, to reply to a message or mark a task complete), you now get to see the notification’s full content, all available actions, and a convenient and easy to tap (X) in the upper right of the notification box.

The Why

I think the second advantage is easier navigation. Now, a swipe left anywhere in Notification Center results in launching the Camera app. A swipe right anywhere takes you to the Today widget page. From my testing, it seems impossible now to accidentally swipe a notification when you wanted the camera, and vice versa.

In short, navigating between Notification Center, Today, and Camera is now much simpler. As with any muscle memory change, this will probably take some adjustment. But after being deliberate about it the last couple days, I’m getting in the habit, and I definitely appreciate the easier navigation.

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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.

iOS 11 multitasking for iPad and the case for new muscle memory

Like Federico Viticci, Fraser Speirs, and others, I’m a big fan of my iPad and have worked over the last couple years to go iPad-only (or, in my case for now, -mostly). I’ve spent a good amount of time with the iOS 11 public beta on my 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and I’m really excited about the potential this OS has to bring more interest to the iPad as a platform, and rejuvenate the strong body of apps that’s there.

But the multitasking and drag-and-drop. Oh lordy, the multitasking and drag-and-drop.

Split View and Picture in Picture were great additions in iOS 9, but they were clearly intended to get our feet wet with these ideas. We were generally limited to two apps on screen, with an optional third if you watch a video in Picture in Picture. The second app defaulted to a column on the right—not left—and could only be expanded to take up half the display. No drag and drop meant a number of tedious taps if you wanted to simply bring an image from Safari on one side into a note on the other.

iOS 11 will blow the roof off this, build you a new roof to make amends, and then blow that roof off just to drive the point home. For a practical example, check out a GIF of my current, fairly simple workflow below. I’m:

  • Writing in Ulysses on the left
  • Occasionally distracting myself with Tweetbot on the right
  • Using Safari in a Slide Over to check details and grab links
  • Sometimes I have a video app in the upper right playing Venture Bros or Cyeye videos of Vainglory

iOS 11 Split View example

I don’t always work with this much stuff going on (you can breathe now, Shawn Blanc), but this kind of setup is great for all kinds of traditional workflows. Plus, I haven’t even gotten to using drag-and-drop that much yet, mostly because this is still a beta and store apps simply can’t update to support it yet.

I like iOS, Split View, and 11’s roof-bursting improvements because they hit the reset button on the tediousness of doing this on a Mac.

I’ve always found resizing and moving windows to feel like cumbersome busywork. A larger problem is that, to me, most Mac apps have never felt like they were designed to work alongside each other. It seems like there’s always been this cognitive dissonance between the potential of the Mac’s big, beautiful screen space and multitasking.

Apps are often designed by people with big 21-30-inch displays, or at least 15-inch MacBook Pros. Rarely have I felt a strong sense that they were tested at any size smaller than “most of that big-ass display.” But when I’ve wanted to, say, collect photos from Safari into a note in Evernote, or simply a Finder folder, manually resizing those two windows for side-by-side cooperation always felt fairly janky, at best. Sidebars get scrunched to sizes they clearly weren’t tested for, or file and folder names get cut off.

I’m not pitching that iOS has found some ultimate solution or that 11 will be The One For Everyone. But I like that Apple had the #hashtag courage to go back to the drawing board on the foundations of so many workflows to explore better, or at least other, ways for a broader audience. Apple has been iterating, and iOS 11 is a massive leap towards realizing the benefits of all that work.

If you’ve read this far, chances are you’re a fan of working on the iPad or at least open to becoming one. I don’t recommend trying the 11 beta. But once it ships this fall, I definitely recommend bringing your workflows and an open mind to what might be an enlightening experience. Multitasking works very differently in iOS 11. Spend some time to learn some new habits and muscle memory. It’ll be worth it.

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.

How to add tasks to Things 3 with Siri and Reminders

Things 3 iPhone Siri RemindersThings 3 can automatically import tasks from Reminders, which includes those added by Siri. You can use the default Reminders list or tell Things to watch a specific list for new tasks. Once Things notices them, it will bring those tasks into your Inbox and delete them from Reminders.

It’s worth noting that, once iOS 11 ships this fall, Things 3 will integrate directly with Siri and no longer require Reminders as a proxy. It was demoed on-stage at WWDC 2017, and Cultured Code confirmed this on its blog. If you want to keep Reminders as a proxy for other workflows or integrations, though, they’ll keep this feature around.

But if you want Things 3 + Siri today, here’s how to enable it:

  • Open Things 3 on an iPhone or iPad
  • At the bottom of the sidebar, tap the Settings gear
  • Tap Siri
  • Tap Show Reminders switch to turn it on
  • A “List” option appears at the bottom
  • Choose whether you want Things to watch your default Reminders list (where Siri puts everything unless otherwise specified) or a specific list you created

Things 3 can only watch one Reminders list, so you’ll have to decide how you want your setup to work. Personally, I use the default Reminders list; I manage all tasks in Things 3 now, and almost never open Reminders.

But, if you choose to use one of your other Reminders lists, adding tasks with Siri is still pretty easy. Say you created a Reminders list called “Things” specifically for this purpose. Just say to Siri “add Finish the blog post to my Things list,” and your task will make its way to your Things 3 inbox.

I really like Things 3 for iPad, iPhone, and Mac so far, and I’ve switched all my personal task management to it. That includes planning Finer Things in Tech articles and the newsletter (to which you should totally subscribe!), as well as all of my Bit & Pen client tasks that don’t need the collaboration of something like Trello.

The iOS apps don’t have any sort of trial. But you can grab a Mac demo from Cultured Code.

Reminder: I use affiliate links like App Store/iTunes and Amazon. If you tap through and buy something, you’ll help support Finer Things in Tech and my app habit.

Thoughts on switching from a 12.9-inch iPad Pro to the new 10.5-inch

TL;DR—It’s taking some adjustment, but I’m going to stick with the 10.5-inch iPad. Here’s how it’s gone so far.

I’ve been working towards an iPad-only lifestyle since around the original iPad Air. I thoroughly enjoy the iPad as a device and its advantages over classic computers. I also generally appreciate iOS, and I’ve been thankful to watch it evolve and gain many of the tools and workflows it needs to serve more customers.

When the 12.9-inch iPad Pro debuted in fall 2015, I eagerly switched from an iPad Air 2. I was curious about the potential of a larger iOS device and a nearly full-sized touchscreen keyboard. It’s mostly been my main machine, as I usually only need my Mac these days for apps or services that are dragging their feet in transitioning to mobile.

I really liked my 12-inch iPad Pro. The extra screen real estate was a joy to use for every task, especially typing. But over time, I ran into too many little situations where its size got in the way. I generally couldn’t fit it on train and airplane trays, and when paired with most iPad keyboards (assuming you could find one for the 12-inch), its weight could hit or exceed three pounds. That’s 13-inch MacBook Pro territory, which negated some of the mobile advantages that attract me to the iPad in the first place.

When Apple announced the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, my interest piqued. I thought maybe it could be a good compromise between power and size, with potentially better accessory options considering what I expect will be popularity.

My 10.5-inch iPad Pro (512GB, Space Gray, Verizon) arrived on June 13. As tempted as I am to try the iOS 11 beta, I rely on my iPad for my content and consulting business and some of my hobbies, like reading and photography. I’ll stick with iOS 10 at least until the initial public beta ships, but possibly even until it officially ships in the fall and I’m comfortable that most of my apps have updated.

Holding, carrying it around

When it comes to carrying the iPad like a book, or sharing something interesting with a friend by handing it over, the 12.9-inch iPad never stopped feeling just a little too unwieldy and awkward. It’s a little thing, but the iPad’s portability and ‘naturalness’ makes a difference to me.

I appreciate the 10.5’s slightly greater screen size in use. But that natural feeling when carrying or sharing the device is back for me, unmistakable from the 9.7.

The on-screen keyboard

This one’s going to take some adjustment, as I really got use to the 12.9’s comfortable, MacBook-sized on-screen keyboard. I had my off days, but I could type upwards of 80-95 WPM on that thing—a little slower than a hardware keyboard, but certainly acceptable by my standards.

Even with its larger screen compared to the 9.7, the 10.5 iPad Pro doesn’t get any sort of unique touchscreen keyboard. It’s the standard 9.7 keyboard, just a little larger.

It’s a drawback for me, but not a dealbreaker; I’ll get over it. Plus, since accessories are more popular for this size, I can augment with a hardware keyboard.

Little Split View changes

Split View on the 12.9 is a dream. That big screen had ample room to run, say, Ulysses on the left, Twitter or Messages in a right column, and a PiP window of The Venture Bros in one corner or another. But some days, I’d run two apps side-by-side, each getting half the screen. In that mode, both apps would behave like a full-sized iPad apps. I’d get the full view, all tabs, or whatever interface I’d typically see if the iPad was in portrait.

Not so on the 10.5. For example: on the 12.9, Safari would continue to display a tab bar at the top even in Split View at 50 percent space. At that size on the 10.5, it falls back to an iPhone interface, with a toolbar and tab button at the bottom.

While I find this a bummer, it isn’t a deal breaker either. Looking back, I didn’t run apps at 50/50 very often, so I see that perk as more of a luxury anyway. I’ll live.

More accessory options is nice

This deserves its own mention, because I find it bittersweet. The 12.9 is a great machine, but by itself, it’s already at 1.5 pounds. Add something like a Smart Cover, a detachable keyboard, or a full-on folio or case, and you can easily push past 2.5 and 3 pounds.

Exacerbating the problem, the 12-inch iPad is about as wide as a 13-inch MacBook Air (wider than my 12-inch MacBook!). That pushed it out of the realm of most compact day bags that I previously preferred for my iPad, and into standard backpacks and messenger bags. Again, it was a portability killer.

For a while, I just dealt with the bag thing. But it slowly great into a deal breaker of the 12-inch, since it greatly diminished the iPad’s portability for me. Being a commuter in Chicago, I like to bring a small day bag with me almost every time I leave the house. This meant that, in the past, I could bring my iPad almost everywhere with me. The 12-inch broke that.

On the flip side of that coin, though, it was just plain difficult to find accessories at all for the 12-inch. It was pitched as a pro iPad during a time when Apple has struggled to convince some portions of the pro market to try the iPad at all. I wager many companies simply didn’t want to take the risk.

I expect the 10.5 iPad to be pretty popular, and thus score a myriad of accessory sizes and styles. When it comes to bags, its actual footprint isn’t much larger than the 9.7, so most bags should be fine there.

Happy so far

I’m glad to be back at a more hand-able, share-able, portable size with the 10.5-inch iPad Pro (I’ll put my 12-inch on eBay tomorrow, but reach out if you’re interested in buying it). This thing is stupid powerful, too. I notice it most when photo editing in Enlight or Pixelmator, then opening another app in Split View, or playing Vainglory and putting Discord in Slide Over to check on things while I wait for a match.

I hope this piece helped if you’re on the decision about these two iPad sizes, but I’m always happy to answer more questions. Hit me up on Tumblr or Twitter, and I’ll do my best.

You can quickly select multiple items in Photos with a swipe [GIF]

Photos select multiple itemsWhen managing your media in Photos, you can quickly select multiple items simply by dragging your finger across them.

To start, tap the Select button in the upper right. Then drag your finger across two or more items. You can lift to stop the selection, scroll your library, and drag again to select more. This works on both iPhone and iPad.

 

The case for editing tweets

Twitter is a publishing platform. Run and used by human beings.

Most publishing platforms allows us to make things and then post those things to the internet.

Tumblr. WordPress. Instagram. Blogger. Facebook. Drupal. Medium. LinkedIn. Your company’s custom CMS. Hell, even Path. Pinterest. Twitter. Publishing platforms. Run and used by human beings.

Virtually every publishing platform recognizes that we’re human beings. That’s why they allow us to edit the things we publish. Tumblr. WordPress. Instagram. Blogger. Facebook. Drupal. Medium. LinkedIn. Your company’s custom CMS. Hell, even Path. Pinterest. Publishing platforms. Run, used, and editable by human beings.

Per the human condition, sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we need to update people on a topic or event they’re following. Sometimes we need to add more information for clarity. Sometimes we say something very, very stupid and need to make amends. There are zillions more reasons like this. Because we’re human beings.

Twitter is not unique among its peers.

The way people use Twitter to publish things they say or create is not unique among its peers.

The ways and reasons people quote or otherwise use Twitter content outside of Twitter are not unique among its peers.

Virtually every other publishing platform recognizes that we’re human beings, and that we have zillions of reasons to need and want to edit the things we publish.

The only thing unique about Twitter is that its decision makers don’t get it.

Addendum

Know something that is unique about one of the many platforms that recognizes we need to edit the things we publish? As far as I can tell, Facebook is the only that offers any kind of ‘paper trail.’

When someone edits a Facebook post or comment, an “Edited” link appears on it somewhere, usually near the timestamp. Tap it, and you’ll see a list of not just the current and original versions, but any and all iterations in between.

That’s frigging smart. All publishing platforms should do that. Especially Twitter.

Use Siri, multiple Reminders lists to add items to AnyList for iPhone and iPad

AnyList for iPhone and iPad is my preferred, shared grocery and shopping list app. It builds a library of the items you add, so re-adding them the next time you need them is a simple tap. It can also optionally be location-aware, share lists with others, handle quantities, and much more.

One of my favorite AnyList features is its Siri and Reminders integration that goes a step beyond what I’ve seen in most other apps. If you switch it on, AnyList duplicates your lists in Reminders. Where most other apps allow you to pull in items from a single Reminders list, AnyList can watch for new items in all of your Reminders lists that have a doppelgänger, then add them to the corresponding list in AnyList.

Check out my screenshots in this post. I can say things to Siri like “add spinach to my Groceries list.” Siri adds it to that specific list, and AnyList gobbles it into my Groceries list. But I can also say “add Cliff bars to my Costco list,” and Cliff bars finds its way to that corresponding list in AnyList.

Bonus points: when AnyList imports items like this, it deletes them from Reminders; you’re not stuck with Yet Another Inbox to constantly clear.

Bonus bonus points: this all works great with Siri on Apple Watch.