Posts

The daily App Store

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

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

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

Anyway, hats off to the App Store team.

You can scroll the Files app menu on iPad

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

Doesn’t work on iPhone though.

My favorite behind-the-scenes iOS utilities

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

GIFWrapped

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

Terminology

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

Annotable

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

Zinc

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

Opener

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

Copied

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

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

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

Launch Center Pro

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

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

Drafts

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

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

Blink

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

That’s enough for now

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

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.

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.

[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.

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.

If you like my writing, subscribe to my weekly newsletter. It’s bite-sized tips for getting more out of your iPhone, iPad, and Mac, as well as occasional links to good reads about tech culture, self-reflection and improvement, art, and more.

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.