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A flaw and solution for iMessage group conversations

Group iMessage conversations can get pretty notification-y, what with all the GIFs and LOLs and thumbs ups. It may be tempting to shut off notifications altogether, but then you might miss actually important messages, including those meant for you.

I think a strong solution to this problem is part technical, part cultural.

The technical part

Apple has a partial feature solution in place. But it isn’t applied evenly across macOS and iOS, and I would argue it isn’t very discoverable.

In short: Messages on macOS has a feature in Preferences > General awkwardly called Notify me when my name is mentioned. This means that, if you’re in a busy group conversation, you can click Details in the upper right, then turn on Do Not Disturb and ask people to include your first name in any messages you really need to see.

It’s like @ mentions in Slack or Discord, except you don’t need the @ in Messages. In the screenshots with this post, my brother’s message triggered the alert.

The ‘uneven’ problem comes in with iOS. While you can enable Do Not Disturb on your iPhone and iPad (although it’s strangely called ‘Hide Alerts,’ which is a separate problem), there is no “Notify me when my name is mentioned” feature. All messages, even those including your name, will arrive silently on iOS.

To me, the obvious technical solution is for Apple to bring feature parity to iOS and, ideally, pick one name.

The cultural part

I’m making an assumption, but I don’t think there is a strong culture in group messaging of “mention my name to alert me for something important.” In most apps I’ve used (Messages, Telegram, Wire, Line, Skype, etc.), you either get alerts for every message, or you don’t.

But if Apple could bring feature parity, and/or if you work mostly on a Mac, it might be worth trying to bring this idea to the table with your regular chatting friends. Group conversations could become more flexible, and we may not have to draw such a hard line between joining, staying in, or Do Not Disturb-ing them.

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📱 Play with app mockup ideas with ProtoSketch for iPad and iPhone

[Note: This tip was originally published in my newsletter]

If you’ve ever wanted to tinker with that Great App Idea with something more than doodling tools, check out ProtoSketch for iPad and iPhone. It’s a design app for everything from sketching to logos, but it also has templates with typical interface tools. It’s pretty easy to build a few example screens to visualize your idea and share it with others. There is also a free Lite version, with a max of five documents and other restrictions.

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📱 Apple Maps: Use 3D Touch on recent search results to call, open homepage, share

Apple Maps keeps a running list of your recent searches and locations below the search box. If you swipe to expand that list, you can 3D Touch on locations for a shortcut menu that includes options to call, open homepage, share, and get directions.

For the recent non-specific markers you’ve dropped (with a red pin icon), you can get directions, share, and delete them.

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⌚️ Apple Watch is a great remote trigger, viewfinder for your iPhone’s camera

[Note: This tip was originally published in my newsletter]

Your Apple Watch can be a remote shutter and viewfinder for your iPhone’s camera. Simply open the default camera app on your iPhone, then open the Camera app on your Watch (it has a similar, gray icon). After a second, a live feed of your iPhone’s camera will appear on your Watch, and you can tap to take the shot. This pairs great if you put your iPhone on a stand like the Benro Handheld Tripod and Selfie Stick or Gorillapod Magnetic (I own and like both).

Bonus Tip: If you tap your Watch’s camera app first, it’ll tell your iPhone to launch its Camera app and start the process. This way, you can just set your phone up on a stand, get your subjects in place, then start the process from your Watch.

Bonus Tip 2: Tap the (3) button in the lower right on your Watch to take a shot with a three-second timer.

Bonus Tip 3: 3D Touch on your Watch’s camera to adjust settings like HDR, flash, and whether Live Photos is active.

Thanks to The Mac Mommy for reminding me about this one

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📱 Anti-reminders can help build healthy habits, stick to your values

For a little while now, I’ve been focusing on building healthier habits. I’ve used a combination of creating a morning routine and the habit-tracker Streaks to regularly remind me of things I want to do. More recently, though, I’ve started tinkering with what I call ‘anti-reminders.’

The idea is to create a task or reminder in whatever app to nudge you to not do something. Don’t have your regular morning coffee before that doctor appointment. Don’t have more than two drinks at next month’s family gathering. Don’t play games next Wednesday when you really want to work on that side project. Set the reminder to ping you shortly before or during an event, and it could help keep you on track.

It isn’t about being negative. I think of it as the other side of the habit coin–there are good habits to build, and bad habits to break. Or sometimes there are just healthy or neutral routines to… sigh, ‘disrupt’ when it matters.

Siri + Reminders are my vehicles for anti-reminders right now. “Hey Siri, remind me to not have coffee next Thursday at 7:30am.” I also want to tinker with a Streaks feature called ‘Negative Tasks’–don’t smoke, don’t bite nails, don’t eat bad food, and you can make your own. These actually start each day as complete, and you only mark them if you miss your target and partake in the thing you want to avoid.

Anti-reminders have been helpful for me so far. If the idea sounds interesting, give them a try and let me know what you think here or on Tumblr or Twitter.

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Enlight has great video tutorials for turning your photos into art

Enlight for iPhone and iPad is one of my go-to photo editing apps. It has a strong set of tools for both basic edits and getting more creative with double exposures, collages, unique effects, adding objects, manipulating text, and more.

Enlight gives us couple great ways to learn these tools and techniques. The first is in-app video tutorials and step-by-step tutorials, both of which are under the Enlight menu at the top of the app.

The second option is Enlight’s YouTube channel. Many video tutorials are there, as are archives of the Photofox Live events the company does on Facebook—useful to those of us who don’t (or no longer) have Facebook accounts.

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New habits and hobbies for 2018

I’m not generally one for new year’s resolutions. But I do pay attention to those times one has to draw a line in the sand to start something new. I’m going through a few of those times right now, so I’d like to share some thoughts and tools that might help you with your goals.

More journaling for me

I highly recommend journaling. Learning to catalog more of my life for me, not social media, has been great for posterity, being honest with myself, and when I need help remembering how far I’ve come or grown. I occasionally feel stuck, personally or professionally, and I find that my journal entries increasingly help me get unstuck.

Speaking of getting unstuck, I need to get in a better habit. I’ll admit to sometimes thinking I don’t have time, or punking out because I thought I need a cohesive thesis or “have it all thought out.” Maybe it’s ok to have a stream of consciousness entry or even just notes about an event. I can always clean it up later. Or not.

Toward this goal, I put Day One in my Dock on both iPhone and iPad. I’ll also tinker with a couple reminders to help me get in the habit.

Another tool I added to my first home screen is One Second Every Day. It’s a clever app that collects video clips and even Live Photos. It can then build a video overview of a week, a month, or the past year of your life. Neat idea.

Temper news in and out for my health

The United States, indeed the world, are a mess right now. I don’t want to unplug and shut it out. But for the sake of my emotional health and sheer productivity, I can’t stay plugged in all the time either.

I deleted my Facebook account last year (more on that in a minute). I’m also going to try four things over the coming weeks and, likely, months:

  1. Unfollow a few news-heavy accounts on Twitter – Some people and publications use their Twitter accounts as a 24-hour play-by-play of the nightmare unfolding in the U.S., and that’s fine; I still like Twitter for some news. I also feel there’s a time and place for everything, but “always” and “Twitter” for news and politics aren’t quite my thing right now.
  2. Stop posting so much of this nightmare – People know how to find news when they need it, and I’m not Rachael Maddow. I don’t need to contribute to the nightmare, but from time to time, maybe I can contribute to spreading positive help.
  3. Filter my newsreaderFeedly is my reader of choice, and Pro accounts have the option to filter all feeds for keywords and phrases. I’m going to start using them. One catch: filters can only be set in the web app, hopefully just for now.
  4. Find a healthy way to stay informed – I don’t know if that will be some kind of periodic roundup service or what. But some balance is in order.

More conversations with people

Social media can be fun (can), even useful. But I’ll cop to letting it nudge out some of my personal, direct conversations with friends and peers. I want to reverse that this year. More real conversations. More face-to-face time, or at least FaceTime.

To that end, I have a tip I’ve started to use and want to share. I like sharing things directly with multiple people, but not always in a group chat. I use iMessage for most conversations, and there is finally an iOS app that makes it easy to send the same individual message to multiple people.

Interact Contacts for iPhone and iPad is a contact management and messaging app from Agile Tortoise. It has a number of great tricks, including actual contact group management! A handy one is its app extension, which can send just about anything you select to multiple, individual conversations. Yeah, it’s pretty great.

  • Use the Activities/Share Sheet on something, pick Interact
  • Select a few friends, use the search option if necessary
  • Tap the multi-message button at the bottom (the icon of multiple chat bubbles, not the individual icon)

Write more

Like this post. I’m going to write more on personal and professional levels. I want to help more people with tech, explore how all this stuff is affecting us, and try to share a little more about some personal struggles.

For a while now I’ve written nearly every word in Ulysses for iPad (and iPhone). It’s great for writing, organizing, and publishing directly to WordPress and Medium. Like this post.

Create art, even if it’s just for me

IPhoneography. I really enjoy mobile photography. It’s a great way to explore Chicago, I love that I can do it anywhere, and it’s a little cathartic.

These days I post more to EyeEm and my personal blog. I also just picked up a Moment Photo Case and wide lens for my iPhone X, which should make things interesting.

Tinkering with pixel art has also been surprisingly fun, and this year I want to spend more effort and maybe even create a few things worth sharing. I use Pixaki for iPad with an Apple Pencil.

I hope that helps

Even if you don’t have much more than a loose idea for something to start in 2018, I hope this can help move you one step forward.