In 2015, I switched from a 13-inch MacBook Pro to a first-gen, 12-inch MacBook. In my enthusiasm for iPad and all things thin and light, I figured I could get by with the tiniest retina MacBook yet, running what was basically a netbook CPU.
For a couple years, I did get by. But it can’t keep up anymore, especially since a growing amount of my client work requires more intensive tasks. Thanks to AppleInsider, I found a killer deal on a 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (Space Gray), on which I typed this post.
This thing is amazing. I know the first gen redesign in 2016 had some keyboard problems, but I hear the 2017 model much improved on that issue. Overall, I really like what Apple did here. The 13-inch Pro body dropped at least a full pound with this form factor, which makes it nearly the same weight as a 13-inch Air.
I think I’ll need time to understand the Touch Bar. Coming from an iPad, I’m certainly interested in the potential of a section of my keyboard that can adapt to the task at hand. Already, in a couple apps, I found shortcuts in the Touch Bar for which I didn’t know the keyboard shortcut; that was quite useful.
But then, just now, I wanted to use one of my favorite shortcuts—Command + Mission Control—to shove all windows aside and get something on the desktop. But the Mission Control button wasn’t there, it was a typing suggestion bar. Yes, I can tap the keyboard control on the right side to unfurl that ‘section’ of the Touch Bar to get the Mission Control button and trigger my shortcut. And yes, it’s still faster than manually minimizing or moving everything. But it is a bit of new friction that wasn’t previously there for this somewhat infrequently used shortcut.
Update: Toph Allen on Twitter pointed out that a 4-finger pinch outward can also invoke this command. After a little practice, I’m getting that down pretty well. This might be a good solution for me.
We’ll see how this plays out. I know there are a few ways to customize the Touch Bar’s behavior, so I’ll have to explore those in the coming weeks.
I’m a day into using this, but so far I’m really happy. This new MacBook has the screen space and horsepower I need to work, and I didn’t have to sacrifice too much in size or weight to get it.
👍🏻 👍🏻 for the 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar so far.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Filter my newsreader – Feedly 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.
- 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)
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.
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.
Parts of the Apple community have been upset lately about the Mac mini left in update limbo for nearly three years. I get that the mini has a following. But at the end of the day, I don’t blame Apple for spending so much of its attention elsewhere. It’s a business, after all, and businesses have to spend time on things that are either important now or show strong signs of being important soon.
Here are a few things that might bring context to the situation.
Tim Cook recently answered a customer email about the Mac mini. Without offering any details of a forthcoming update, he stated that the Mac mini is “an important part” of the Mac’s future.
Some dismissed it as empty promises, claiming that Cook simply said what any CEO would about a current product. But here’s the rub: it’s a great bet that Tim Cook’s (public) address gets a ton of email. He—or more accurately, Apple’s marketing department—could simply have sent that email to the circular filing bin with so many others. They knew responding to that email would spark media coverage and expectations.
As for why Apple hasn’t updated the Mac since December 2014, let’s do some fuzzy math on its sales over the last few years. Starting from a bird’s eye view, Apple sells around one Mac for every 6-10 iOS devices, at least in the low or normal quarters. By itself, the iPhone is a majority of Apple’s revenue.
Among those Mac sales, the various flavors of MacBook take a whopping 85 percent. That means desktops—iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro—are just 15 percent of Mac sales. Apple does not get more granular than notebooks vs desktops, so the mini’s portion of that 15 percent is anyone’s guess. My guess is the iMac takes the lion’s share of that 15 percent, followed distantly by the Mac mini and Pro.
In its most recent quarter (non-holiday, mind you), Apple sold 46.7 million iPhones, 10. Million iPads, and 5.4 million Macs. That means Apple sold, at most, around 810,000 desktops last quarter. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mac mini sold in the very low six figures, or less.
Businesses spend time on things that are either important or show strong signs of being important in the future. Retail employees spend time on assigned tasks. Actors focus (mostly) on projects that further their careers. Small business owners like myself spend most or all of their time on things that will help the business and support themselves and/or their families.
When we look at the numbers, and take a guess at what Apple knows about how and how often the Mac mini is used, I don’t fault the company at all for spending its attention elsewhere. Even if we get more speculative and try to look at products which experience big upgrade cycles, I have a hard time believing the Mac mini ranks anywhere significant. It sure seems to me like people swap out their smartphones, notebooks, and even tablets more often than Mac minis.
Looking at Apple’s numbers, perceived priorities, and statement of intent, I do buy that the company still cares about the Mac mini and plans to update it. If I were a gambling person, I’d bet it would be within the next year, give or take. A mention at WWDC 2018 would be convenient, but so would an addendum to either the iMac Pro event later this year or Mac Pro event early next year.
I’ve been running this site for a few years now, and back in March I launched a weekly newsletter that’s received wonderful feedback. I want to take both of these things to the next level, and I need your help to do it. That’s why I’m introducing the Finer Things in Tech Patreon.
A while ago, I removed all advertising from the site. The newsletter hasn’t had any ads either, and I want to keep it that way. I also want to bring you:
- More web writing – I want to publish more tips and articles on the site, including reviews, explorations of tech, app recommendations, and more. I also want to expand beyond blog posts and into a resource.
- Voices from others – I want to commission a truly diverse array of writers, developers, and others in tech about their journey, how to improve the industry, and other topics requested by you, my readers.
- Newsletter exclusives – My articles, good reads from elsewhere, commissioned pieces from others, and some surprises if we reach my goals.
- Even more – I have a few more ideas, but I also want to hear yours. Get in touch and tell me why you supported my Patreon or what it would take to get you there. Would you prefer to support the site another way? Want a higher tier with unique rewards, or to see different topics or resources? I want to hear it all.
I’m open to adding other ways for you to support the site and/or newsletter, including Memberful and others. Let’s see what readers prefer.
The weekly newsletter is going supporter-only
One big change is that the weekly newsletter of tips and my recommended good reads from around the web is going supporter-only. All current subscribers will still receive it; I’m not dropping anyone. But if you are a current subscriber, please consider joining my Patreon newsletter tier to support my work.
Thanks for reading
I want to bring you even more writing, articles from great, diverse voices in the community, and some future surprises I’m working on. To make it happen, please support this site and the newsletter on Patreon, or let me know what would bring you on board.
As always, thank you for reading.
Back in the day, Google Drive was early to market with a halfway decent, browser-based collaborative document editor. Relatively bare-bones and free, it caught on quickly with a portion of the market.
These days, Google Drive is far from the only game in town. Subjectively, it also isn’t very good anymore, and bugs often stick around for months or years. Remember the “randomly indent parts of paragraphs for nearly two years, even in Chrome” bug? The iOS apps have also steadily deteriorated.
Thankfully, there is a strong selection of alternatives for different audiences. Whether you need a full-featured professional suite or just a scratchpad to jot notes with others, give these a look.
Quip is perhaps the closest to Google Drive in terms of browser-based simplicity and mobile apps. It has a unique, minimal interface for basic editing. But for simple, collaborative documents, adding notes, and discussion about the document (instead of getting lost in email), Quip is a great choice.Bonus: Quip has partial support for Markdown. If you paste it in, Quip leaves it alone. But if you use Markdown syntax while you write, Quip will turn it into rich text. If you’d rather keep it as markdown, just press Delete once after the auto-conversion.
You heard me. Microsoft Office has improved significantly over the past few years, especially on iOS and macOS. I can’t speak to the depth of its feature set, but it feels more organized, approachable, and usable than ever.
The native apps and web apps also have collaboration now. It doesn’t have a free version like Google, but Microsoft also isn’t mining your documents for advertisers. Paid Office 365 plans start at $5, which include the web apps and hosted domain Exchange email. Compared to Google Drive, the entry level Office plan gives you far better web apps, broader industry file compatibility, collaboration, and more standard, app-friendly domain email for the same price.
Jessi and I share a family Office subscription, which gives both of us access to the native apps on iPad and Mac. I’ve use the email for Chartier.land and my business Bit & Pen domains for about a year now, and I’m happy.
Considering this crowd, I probably don’t have to say much about iWork. It’s a solid suite for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, and Apple recently added collaboration on both the web and native apps. I think it’s also free when you buy a new Apple device now, so financially it’s a win.
If you just need a simple place to share things that are more note-like than full-on documents, and everyone you want to share with is on an iPad, iPhone, or Mac, Apple Notes is a good choice.
It does basic formatting like headings, lists, bold, and italics. It handles photos and you can add rich media links from Safari. I’ve heard from people who use Apple notes to share family todo lists, idea scratch pads, and even collaborate on blog posts. It’s pretty flexible.
Dropbox recently launched its own basic document collaboration tool. I can’t speak to it much since most of my work is in Quip, Google Drive for some clients, or Ulysses, but I‘ em heard from people who are happy with it.
Zoho has its own growing collection of web apps and services that I would put somewhere between Google Apps and Salesforce. At the core, though, are apps for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, sites, wikis, and much more.
You can sign up and use some of the apps for free, and pricing varies based on the collection of apps you want.
Honorable Mention – Texpad
Texpad is another online collaborative document system with native apps. It’s built around LaTeX, a “document preparation” system popular in academia, hence the honorable mention. Its audience is niche, but enough people responded to my original question on Twitter that I wanted to include it.
Much of the work I do for my business is helping app developers with their content—blogs, social media, documentation, occasional in-app UX, etc. One of my current clients is Bear, an excellent app for storing notes, files, code snippets, and more.
Apple recently approached the Bear folks about adding their app to Apple Store demo devices. Of course we said yes, and I was tasked with creating the demo content that would be loaded into the app.
For one of the demo notes, the fine folks at Bear gave me the green light to include a photo of Oscar and Maddy, the cattle dogs Jessi and I have raised since they were each eight weeks old. If you are so inclined, you can see more of them on my personal blog. Maddy (the one on the left) passed away suddenly and unexpectedly a year ago this month. At just a hair under 10, she went too soon.
I want to thank the Bear folks for letting me do this. Jessi and I love our amazing dogs, and this was a great, subtle way for us to offer a small tribute to her.
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 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 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 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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.