2018 iPad Pro: The review scene and bigger picture context

As I write this we’re about two weeks in since the new iPads were delivered and there are reviews everywhere and most of them say the same thing which I can sum up as “fast and powerful but limited by iOS and the lack of professional apps”. I’d like to offer a counter to those reviews and the half-baked argument they make to cover-up their own lack of effort and knowledge. But first just a few words, not about iOS or the professional app ecosystem, but about the new iPads.

By way of introduction let me say that I don’t use an iPad as my primary computer because it is the most powerful computer I own (though it is). I use the iPad because it enables me to do the work I need to do (as does the Mac) and because I find it the most delightful computer I’ve ever used. I have said this about the iPad Air as well as my previous iPad Pro and I’ll say it again about this new iPad. This is the best computer I’ve ever owned. As tech goes, the 2018 iPad Pro is a stunner in every way. By itself or attached to the Keyboard Folio with the Pencil, this is a beautifully designed computer that is so much fun to use.

I’ll discuss in order of impact as to how it feels in my use. I’ll start with the Keyboard Folio because I use the iPad attached to a keyboard at least 60% of the time.

The new folio is a much more stable experience than the previous Smart Keyboard. With the Smart Keyboard there was always the feeling and the chance that it could tip or flop backward or, more likely, forward. Even so I used it all the time because I appreciated the proximity of my hands to the screen. Also, I really liked the feel if the keys.

The new Smart Folio Keyboard is so much better because while the keys are the same, the solid base and new magnetic back attachment means the iPad is now very stable even in the lap. I feel completely safe using it knowing that it will not flip or flop. In fact, it feels as stable as a traditional laptop. With this design the only thing I feel I’m missing is the back-light and top row of media control keys. And those are big misses to be sure, but even so the experience is still excellent. I really like the sound and feel of this keyboard, more than any other keyboard I can remember using. It’s a personal preference and some might dislike it.

Another aspect of the new keyboard is the much easier set-up and the new available angle. I can go from closed to typing with less effort. For the tablet experience I can remove the case all together with little effort or fold the keyboard all the way back. Both are very nice. With the keyboard folded back it has a nice grippy feel as the magnet is strong enough to hold it solidly in place but with a flick of my fingers I can easily drop it down for use in the keyboard position.

A last note about the keyboard is just how satisfying the feel of the magnets are. Closing it up results in a subtle but nice click which can be felt and heard. Seating the iPad in either of the two slots also has a satisfying feel and click which affirms the sturdiness of the new configuration.

Then there is the tablet itself. If I had to summarize the difference between the new design of the 2018 iPad Pro compared to the previous it is this: the 2018 feels solid and compact while at the same time lighter and thinner. As much as I enjoyed using the 2017 iPad Pro as a tablet, hand-held with no case, this one is even better in the hand. It feels very solid and yet impossibly thin given its other dimensions. Of course it’s very fast but so was the 2017 version. Even my iPad Air 2 is still fast with apps appearing nearly instantly.

Face Id is better on the iPad than the iPhone though it is excellent on both. The only failures I’ve had have been the result of covering the camera while holding it as a tablet. In those cases correction is quick and easy. When attached to the keyboard I simply tap the space bar twice and I’m good to go with no delay.

The Pencil is so much more convenient! The new combined inductive charging and magnetic storage method is vastly better than the previous. And, like the case, the magnetic connection provides a satisfying click as the Pencil is securely pulled into its place.

The last feature that is not at all new to the iPad but which I really rely on is LTE. My first two iPads had cellular but I then skipped it with the following two purchases. My reasoning was that between tethering and my home internet I would not need built in cellular. In practice my satellite internet is too slow. Tethering to the iPhone is faster but often fails the first few attempts to connect and too often my iPad would sleep and loose it’s connection or I might walk away with the phone and have to reconnect upon returning. In other words, it feels fiddly. Having the always on LTE is so much better. The iPad antennas provide a signal that is equal to or better than the phone and so my connection is always strong. Going forward any new iPad I purchase will have cellular because the experience is just too good to pass up.

Lastly, let’s talk about iOS and the app ecosystem. With iOS 9 I began the shift to iPad as my preferred computer. This was solidified further with the release of the multitasking features in iOS 11 and improved with iOS 12. Much has been made in recent weeks about the missing features of iOS. I won’t argue against facts. It’s true that iOS does not support mice or trackpads or accessing files stored on attached hard drives. It’s true that it’s missing certain Apple pro apps such as Logic or Final Cut Pro. As of this writing these things are true.

That said, the echo chamber of tech reviewers is stale and, even worse, misleading. It seems to me that many of these reviewers have not used iPads enough to know what is possible with iOS or the app ecosystem. Or, if they do, they are deliberately leaving out important information which counters their preferred narrative.

For example, yes, it’s true that I cannot plug in a usb drive and access files unless they are media files recognized by the Photos app, namely videos and images. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most reviewers mentioning the lack of file access on hard drives also consider themselves power users. That’s certainly what they imply or state. In this picture of professionals working in an office setting, it’s to be expected that they have access to a network and nearby computers. Using an app such as FileBrowser or Documents they can easily access their files in such an office setting. I myself have a MacMini that I use as a media/file server and it’s not uncommon for me to need access to older project files. In just a few seconds and a couple taps I have access to all of the files on my Mac or any hard drives attached to the Mac. I can open files from the Mac, copy them to my iPad’s local storage or save/export any of my local files back to the Mac.

If tech reviewers are going to position themselves as advanced power users, shouldn’t they be more aware of the many apps available which allow for access to any local file attached to a nearby networked computer? A part of being a professional user is being aware of the available tools, in this case, apps. But many “professional” reviewers seem to be largely unaware of what’s available on the App Store. That’s their shortcoming not the iPad’s. Take for example the many reviewers who mentioned the lack of Final Cut Pro. Are they unaware of LumaFusion? Apparently so. It’s #2 in the Photo & Video category with almost 5,000 ratings and an average of 4.8 stars.

Apple cannot and will not provide all of the needed software for their devices. That’s why third party app developers exist. From the well known giants such as Microsoft or Adobe to fantastic (though sometimes less known) developers such as Serif (the makers of the Affinity suite of apps, one of which is #1 in the Photo & Video category), Readdle, Omni, just to name a few. If reviewers are going to ding the platform because it is missing essential professional apps or app types then they should know that those apps are indeed missing. It is my contention that they would rather have something to complain about because that’s the in-thing to do with Apple these days. It get’s clicks. Meanwhile, the people who are actually using iPads know about these apps and use them every day.

I’ll round this out with what might seem an odd comparison. In recent years Apple has become quite large as a company (both in financial resources and employee base) and as they have increased in size so too have expectations that they are all powerful. At the same time many of their products are offered at higher prices. iPhones at $1,500!? iPads for $1,800?!? Outrageous. And so now there is the narrative of the “Apple premium”. One result is that reviewers feel they can and should hold Apple to a higher standard. I get that. But at the same time the reviewers themselves should be held to a higher standard. Critique is fine but it should be fully informed and thoughtful. Mostly I see cheap repetition in reviews.

Apple does charge a premium. But you know what else Apple does that is not mentioned in the reviews? Apple has gone to extraordinary lengths to become an excellent environmental citizen. To my knowledge no other company has come even close to what Apple has achieved. This is worth something and it has to be paid for by everyone including consumers. Along the same lines, few reviewers mention the fact that Apple devices get new OS updates for many years, far longer than those in competing systems. So yes, if one purchases a top of the line device they can expect that it it will continue to receive updates and function well for 4 to 5 years or more. These are not throw away devices to be tossed aside after two years.

While I don’t use it often I still have a 2012 MacMini that stays on 24/7 as a file and media server. I occasionally use it for InDesign projects as well. It still has plenty of power and runs the latest macOS. I will be able to use my iPhone X for at least another 3-4 years if I choose to do so. The 2018 iPad should serve me well for at least 3 to 5 years. I’m still using an iPad Air 2 introduced in 2014. It’s 4 years old and I expect I’ll get another two years, possibly more from it. While I greatly prefer the larger screen of the iPad Pro the Air 2 could be my only iPad because it still functions very well. Apps open up nearly instantly and rarely do I see a slow-down when I’m using it.

Rarely do reviewers mention the longevity of Apple devices and this is an oversight. Their reviews are incomplete without this bigger picture.

One last bit. In reviewing Apple products and the bigger picture, I’d suggest that reviewers should at least mention the value added by Today at Apple. This isn’t just a sales gimmick being offered up by Apple. It’s a real offering that requires real resources and it’s offered to Apple customers for free. If I lived near an Apple Store I know I’d take advantage of the program. Aside from this excellent post at MacStories I’ve barely seen mention of the program in any of the Apple Press and that’s a disservice to their readers.

The 2018 iPad Pro

Well, as expected Apple announced The 2018 iPad Pro and what a doozy. I don’t have much to say other than this computer is going to fly. Heck, the current iPad Pro from 2017 flies! Add in the new Pencil and Keyboard Folio and yeah, it’s quite a package. Will be a nice upgrade. I ordered one and am expecting it tomorrow.

Most if the reviews that have come in say a similar thing: the hardware is exceptional and incredibly fast but is being held back by iOS. The specific things being mentioned the most: lack of access to files on attached drives, lack of mouse/trackpad/cursor,  lack of a desktop class browser, and lack of Apple’s own professional apps such as Final Cut Pro.

My take? These features will all come in the next year or two. At that time the reviewers complaining that the iPad is not up to snuff will find something else to complain about. I’m not trying to suggest that these are not real limitations, they are. But the blanket pronouncements by these reviewers that a small handful of missing features is stopping the iPad Pro (or just iPads) from being useful for many pro users is absurd. As one of these users I do not need to attach a drive as I do all of my file work via iCloud. No doubt some users need this missing feature, but not I and not all. The real point I’d make is that many reviewers do a great job reviewing from what they want for themselves but don’t seem to be able to write about the bigger picture. Why not also say in such a review that the iPad Pro might be excellent for many people, just not those that need feature “a” or feature “b”.

A last word about the hardware. The numbers indicate that the 2018 iPad Pro is about as fast as the top of the line Mac Book Pros. Damn.

The iPad has grown up from a mobile device to a mobile computer

My Color Classic and iPad Pro as imaged by an iPhone 7+.

The beginning of Apple’s iPad story
In 2010 Apple initially positioned the iPad as a middle device between the iPhone and a laptop. The message was that it was a friendly, easy to use device for email, web browsing, Facebook, games, videos. As Steve Jobs demonstrated on stage, it was a casual device meant to be used by anyone lounging about their home. Sure, Apple offered up the Keyboard Dock and Pages so it could also be used for word processing but that was secondary.

I can tell you that for many in my family it became their beloved (sometimes first and only) computer. But for them, mostly non-techies, it was, literally, just a bigger than iPhone screen. They knew it was a computer and yet it was not intimidating. It was a computer without seeming too much like a computer and given those characteristics it’s not surprising that it was especially popular with the very young and with elderly. At least, that was the case in my family. They’re all still happily using iPads though most have since updated at least once or twice.

This was Apple’s opening story for the iPad and it was a simple one: An easy to use computer that didn’t seem too computery that would be a great second purchase for its iPhone customers. It was obvious to everyone that the iPad was, in many ways, a larger iPhone and it ran a mobile operating system.

From Apple’s perspective this was all well and good. For awhile.

For the first two to three years the iPad sold very, very well. And then it didn’t. Sales fell off and the media and Wall Street needed an answer Apple couldn’t provide. It was a mystery. And so many stories were told about why the iPad was no longer selling as well. From my own anecdotal experience I can simply say that iPads are solid, long-lived devices that perform well for causal use. If the primary consumers of iPads were non-tech iPhone users it would make sense that they would hold onto them for awhile. Non-techies do not purchase new computers every year. They hold on to them for 3 or 4 or even 5 years if they are still working.

Searching and finding a new iPad identity
The problem with a device intended for a general audience is that they buy the device then settle down with it. They want familiar and easy. They don’t read tech blogs and obsess over the latest and greatest hardware or os features. It’s just a device for them. So, while Apple was certainly still selling a lot of iPads they had passed the peak. Apple itself seemed to struggle with the purpose and identity of the iPad for awhile and only recently seemed to have gotten their footing.

It would seem that as Apple grew the power of the tech inside the iPad, namely the A-series of processors, they needed to begin expanding the intended user-base to include those that would benefit from the investment in faster processors, specifically, technically proficient computer users. The identity of the casual non-computer based on a simplified mobile operating system needed to shift. The iPad needed to become a computer. But Apple needed to strike a balance between it’s current, non-techie base and this new group of users. Too much complexity would be a problem for the established base, too few power features would be a problem for techies.

And so, in a constant tug of tension, Apple has been slowly iterating, layering new features into iOS that will enable power users to use the iPad as a computer while not overwhelming those that are used to its simplicity. And this is where we begin to see the emergence of the oft repeated variation of “you can’t do work with an iPad, they’re only good for browsing the web and watching YouTube.” Regardless of the constant repetition of the “can’t do real work on the iPad“ meme, the identity of iPad as a computer was beginning to emerge and this was not lost on users such as myself that wanted to believe.

In 2010, as today, I made my living as a freelance web and graphic designer. For me the iPad really was just a simple and casual browsing device. I bought the very first and loved it for the tasks as Apple had in mind. Though this was a device more for my parents and grandparents than myself, I nevertheless persisted in searching for apps that would let me edit the html and css of my websites or post to my blog. Surprisingly I found a few and they sorta did the job but for the first few years there was no chance the iPad could be my working computer. But I still loved the form factor and made use of it almost daily.

Slowly but surely Apple pushed forward the power of the hardware and the feature set up the os and in the fall of 2015 they released the first iPad Pros alongside of iOS 9. This was an important milestone for both hardware and software. It moved the device forward as Apple began telling the story of the iPad as a computer. With iOS 9 Apple introduced split screen apps and slowly a group of computer users began to take notice. It was easy to see an increase in podcasts and posts about people trying to switch. I think such stories go back to the beginning of iPad but there seems to have been a very noticeable up-tick in just the past three or four years.

And while the following year was a slow one with very few iPad features released in iOS 10 there was a noticeable hum of anticipation coming from a growing community of users that made the iPad their work computer. 2016 saw the release of a 9.7” iPad followed in 2017 by new 12.9” and 10.5” iPads Pro. More importantly, we saw the release of iOS 11 with many new iPad “pro” features and a renewed focus on new creative apps such as Affinity Photo.

It’s worth noting too that as Apple pushed forward with iOS and it’s own apps such as the iWork apps, iMovie and Garage Band, important third party apps were released as well. From well known productivity suites such as Microsoft Office to creative apps such as Procreate, Pixelmator and Graphic. The ecosystem of useful, computery apps was slowly but steadily growing. Of course there’s still more to do, especially with iOS, but Apple hasn’t left much room for doubt. We may not know the details of iOS 13 or any point releases before but we can be certain that new features, computery features, will continue to come.

In recent months there’s been a lot of anticipation and excitement around the rumored announcement of new iPads Pro. I think it says something that most of this excitement emanated from what is now an arguably larger community of users that consider the iPad their primary computer. On October 30 Apple held an event in which it did announce newest iteration of the iPad Pro and it seems now that there is finally a critical mass of acknowledgement that iOS and the iPad have indeed crossed a threshold. We humans like to argue and so I have no doubt that there will continue to be debate but the iPad as a computer is no longer a question.

It’s true that the form is, essentially, the same as the iPad of 2010. It is simply a touchscreen glass front side with an aluminum back and all the usual things that make a computer a computer on the inside: processor, graphics card, storage media, RAM, etc. Were you to see the original iPad and the newest iPad Pro sitting next to each other from across a room you might easily assume they were the same device were it not for the size difference. This is the fundamental beauty of the iPad, that it has emerged, after eight years, with it’s form intact but with its mission expanded.

Apple’s iPad Pro webpage

While the original iPad had more in common with an iPhone than a laptop, it’s now true that the iPad, especially the iPad Pro, is revealed as a computer that is what it’s user needs it to be. Imagine these scenarios with an iPad, sometimes hand held with a Pencil other times attached to a keyboard: a student sketching the differences between Monarch and Viceroy butterflies; a grandparent watching a slideshow of anniversary images; a business owner creating an annual report; a non-profit communications staffer editing a video; an author writing a novel. The iPad, in form and function, empowers it’s user to do what needs to be done. It’s simplicity allows it to be more. But do not doubt that it is a computer.

Pages Fall 2018 Status Update

Because Pages is one of my most loved and used apps I pay very close attention to the feature set. In particular to the features as compared between platforms.

Five years ago, October 2013, Apple released Pages 5.0, a complete rewrite of Pages on the Mac and iOS to bring them into a unified format and more similar feature set. It freaked a lot of users out because it meant that the Mac version lost many features it previously had. I’m not going to go into comparing the current version of Pages on Mac to the previous version. In my recollection, we’ve gotten back almost everything that was lost. What I’m most interested in is the still missing features on Pages for iOS.

It’s been 5 years. How are things going?

Apple’s done a good job of bringing the iOS version into near parity with the Mac version but it’s still not there. I still have to make some tweaks on the Mac and that’s not something I should have to do 5 years in. So, what’s still missing?

  • Line spacing is still limited to pre-set increments. I can have 1 or .75 or .5 but not .9 or .8 and sometimes I need .9 or .8. This seems like something they should be able to fix.
  • Spacing between characters.
  • More keyboard shortcuts.
  • Shapes are still not editable. On a Mac I can make any shape editable and then drag the points around in all sorts of useful ways create new shapes with curves. Very useful for brochures and that sort of thing.
  • Multipart lines are still not possible. With the Mac I can create a line with the pen tool that has many different points which can then be curves or straight and the positions moved around. With the iOS version I can create a line with just one adjustable point.
  • Advanced gradient fills are not possible. Included in this would be a gradient with transparency.
  • I still can’t change a document type to “Page Layout”.
  • Formatting table borders is still lacking basic options such as color and line width.
  • It’s not possible to edit the color, angle, distance or spread of drop shadows.
  • When exporting to pdf it would be nice to have the ability to choose the quality of the images.

I’m sure there are other missing features but these are the things that I’ve come across in recent weeks that have been problems.

But let’s give credit where due. What’s been added in recent versions to bring the iOS version of Pages up to par? Some of the most recent notable changes include:

  • Paragraph styles can be created and edited
  • Character styles can be created and edited
  • Custom document sizes in document setup
  • Facing Pages
  • Page masters
  • Switching from Portrait to Landscape
  • Drawings
  • Equations

One last bit. Apple has positioned the iPad Pro as a pro device. Not only should they finally fill in the above mentioned gaps between the Mac and iOS versions, but it might be nice to see a few advanced features added that would bring it more on par with apps like InDesign. For example, drop caps! Sure, I can create those with text boxes but I shouldn’t have to work around this. One feature that might be considered more advanced would be the option to have an art board around documents. A place off the document that allows for storing bits of text, shapes, images, etc. I don’t expect it but it sure would be helpful. More advanced PDF export would also be nice.

All in all I find Pages to be an incredible app and I use it several times a week. For what I do it is essential. I’m happy with the progress made thus far and it’s so close to being “finished”, as in, feature complete when compared to the Mac version.  Tomorrow is the 2nd big fall event in 2018, new iPads are coming. Would be a special treat of a substantial Pages update were also announced! Come on Apple!

The shared clipboard in a multiple iPad workflow

As we come up on Apple’s October 30, 2018 event and the almost certain announcement of new iPads I’ve debated whether I will sell my current iPad Pro or keep it. Over the past few months I’ve found a great use for a second iPad when working on certain projects. Something I’ve started doing for certain tasks is using my iPad Air 2 as my reference screen. I can usually do everything just on the Pro in split screen but on occasion I’ll have a project that requires two larger screens and at that point it’s like having a dual monitor Mac.

One such task involves my use of the Affinity Apps, Designer and Photo. Both of these apps are full screen only, no split screen. Which is actually fine with me as the work I do there really requires the most screen I can get. But sometimes I need to reference both text and files for a project. If I can only have a slide over I’m limited to one or the other. I just finished such a project, a promotional postcard for which the client sent images and text to be used as content.

My workflow in this case was made so much better with the second iPad which became my text provider. On the Pro I had my Affinity Photo document and the Files app as a slideover window. I placed the two iPads side by side and got to it. I could reference the iPad Air for my clients directions and needed text. I selected text on the Air and copied it. Then on the Pro I pasted the text into place. Then I used the Files app slideover to drag and drop the images into place. In some cases this drag and drop happens from Mail, Notes, or Safari as the images provider. It’s also possible to copy the images on the second iPad for pasting into the Pro. Anything that can be copied to the system clipboard can then be pasted into the second device.

While it’s not quite the same as working with one computer and two displays it comes close to feeling like that which is what matters. Other than reaching over to the second screen or keyboard I don’t notice a slowdown to my workflow.

Batch processing images with Shortcuts

Image.jpeg

Much of the work I do involves adding new content to client websites. It’s usually a mix of text and imagery and the images can come in many forms though they usually get posted as jpg files. One of the most time consuming tasks is processing images from email or Messages. Some images are already web-optimized and can be posted as is. But more often than not they are too large or can come in file formats I need to change. Everything from Apple’s new image format HEIC to pdfs to tiffs come to me. Sometimes the image will need cropping, color or light adjustments or other work in which case I’ll open it in Affinity Photo.

But quite often the images don’t need much work, they  just need to be optimized and converted to jpg. That’s when I use a Shortcut. This is especially useful when I’ve got multiple images that need to have the same thing done to them. Most recently a client sent 10 images in the HEIC format. These were originals taken with an iPhone. After selecting and dragging them all from mail into Files I selected them in files and then shared them to my Batch Process Images Shortcut. The Shortcut then ran through each image prompting me to select a size, image format and quality level, and finally, a save location.

There are various ways of doing this that would save even more time. I‘ve also created a Shortcut with a preset image size, format and quality level which is set to save in a processed images folder. If I choose this Shortcut all the images will be processed and saved with no intervention from me. Each image takes less than a second and so 20 images can be processed in just a couple of seconds. It’s a fantastic timesaver. The only thing that will be left for me to do is re-name images which is not something I want to automate and then move them into place in the appropriate project folder.

Download Batch Resize with options.
Download Batch Resize with presets.

A big thanks to Jeff Perry of Tablet Habit who helped me create the Shortcut! I’d tried a couple of times and failed. Turns out I was missing 2 important steps. He added “Repeat with each” to the beginning of the workflow and ended it with “End repeat” and that’s what I was missing.

Apple stock app favorites: Files and Notes

I wrote recently about using Apple’s Stock Apps rather than third party apps. It was a response to a thread over at the Mac Power Users forum. I’ve since seen quite a few threads pop up there regarding third party utilities designed to store text, images, pdfs, etc. Some are semi-permanent, longer term storage such as Evernote and others are temporary shelf type apps such as Yoink and Gladys. Like many productivity and to-do apps these seem to be a constant magnet for nerds that want to experiment. Funny that as I write this I’ve come upon David Sparks’ most recent post as he experiments and considers a move from Apple Notes to Bear. I’ve tried many of these myself. But when it comes to notes and similar utilities, I’ve always come back to using Apple Notes and Files.

Recently version 2.0 of Yoink was released with one of the new features being iCloud syncing. I read the review over at MacStories and thought, hmmm, yeah, that’s nice but I reached the same conclusion I’d previously come to: I can just as easily use Files and Notes instead of Yoink. With the Apple apps I’ve had iCloud syncing for awhile and they sync to the Mac too. With this latest update Yoink on iOS will now sync but won’t sync on the Mac yet. So in that regard it’s still not on par with Apple’s apps.

With the introduction of system-wide drag and drop in iOS 11 Apple made it extremely easy to transfer content from practically anywhere via dragging and dropping. I’m really interested in the benefits of using Files and Notes as the end (or middle) point of this content collection in place of third party apps. Also, once in Files or Notes, how easy is it to use content in other apps?

What’s the difference in third party apps and the Apple apps? Well, for starters, the third party apps are often more specialized. Apps like Evernote are for long-term storage and indexing of content for retrieval later. I think of them as digital scrapbooks. The shelf apps are usually for temporary storage while working on a project. Drag text, images, pdfs to a shelf app and then use it a short time later and then likely delete it from the shelf. With third party apps the user is likely making a decision between longer term storage and short term storage.

With the combination of Files and Notes I’m not necessarily thinking that way about my content. Neither of those apps is really designed for short or long-term content. These apps are a bit more general purpose, a little less specialized. If I’m working on a project today, tomorrow, or next week, I can drag images, pdfs, or text right into my Documents folder in Files or into a project specific folder if I have one. The Files app works just as well (in most ways) as a dedicated shelf app and in fact I use it as a shelf app everyday. And in so many ways it is better than the dedicated apps.

Here are a couple of recent examples in which the Files app served as a “shelf”. I recently made a forum post and wanted to illustrate with screenshots. I took the screenshots and saved them into my Documents folder using a Shortcut that also converts them to jpg, shrinks the size and dimensions. Note, you generally can’t save files to a shelf app, they are for dropping files. Then I opened the Files app next to Safari and started my post. I was able to drag and drop the jpgs into my compose field with no problem. Another example, a client sent images I needed to use on a website. In this case the images were sent via both email and Messages. I opened Mail and Messages into splitview and then opened up files as a third slideover window on top. I navigated to my project folder in Files then it was a quick drag and drop from Mail and Messages. Done. There was no need in this case for a shelf as they were going straight to where they needed to go.

I should also point out that the Files app has several important features that the shelf apps generally seem to be missing. These are pretty basic for a file browser but are often essential to getting work done efficiently when using files.

  • Sorting based on date, name, size, tags
  • Quick view via “Recents”
  • Labels/Tags
  • Quicklook or preview files (this sometimes works on shelf apps but often does not)

Of course Files has its limits. The most notable (in my use) of the app is its handling of text clippings. It accepts text via drag and drop but often turns it into RFTD files which can then be difficult to open without extra effort. The shelf apps are pretty good at handling this sort of thing and this is where I’ll tend to use Notes as it handles text very well. Notes is my go-to if I’m not quite ready to work with the text or if I’m gathering bits of text from different sources. In that case Notes becomes my shelf app. In some cases where I have an immediate use I‘ll skip Notes and just bring up the app I’ll be using to process the text. If it’s a document for design purposes I’ll drag the text right into Pages or copy/paste it into one of the Affinity apps (the Affinity apps do not accept text via drag and drop. If its for a web page I’ll copy/paste it right into Textastic (Textastic also does not support drag and drop of text!).

Notes is also a good option if a client has sent me a mix of text, pdfs, and images that I need to use for a website update. In that case I drag and drop it all into a note then I switch from Mail to Textastic and work off of the note to process everything. Text is copy pasted while the images or pdfs are sent to from Notes to Shortcuts for resizing or converting if needed then saved into the appropriate project folders. I’m taking the same steps I would take if I had saved it all to Yoink or another Shelf app.

I mentioned above that David Sparks, like many, is trying out the notes app Bear. It’s a nice app with a few features that Notes doesn’t have, namely themes, tagging and Markdown support. Regarding Markdown support though, I don’t really need that in my Notes. I already have Drafts and iA Writer which is where I usually write blog posts, not sure I need a third app for that. Themes are very nice but not something I really need. Tags though, I’d really like to have tags in Notes. But are tags worth the subscription cost of Bear? Nope. I will say though that the cost of Bear, as a subscription, seems pretty reasonable at $1.49/month or $14.99/year.

Notes has an incredibly rich feature set some of which is not available on Bear. For example, Notes can be locked for relatively secure keeping and they can be shared with other iCloud users as collaborative documents. PDFs and practically any media can be easily embedded in Notes. Any app that can save or print to pdf can also send that PDF to Notes and bonus, the content of PDFS is intexed. Bear supports some but not nearly as much embedded media.

Like most other text apps it’s also possible to share Notes content with the sharesheet. The sharesheet is incredibly flexible at letting me share in a variety of ways: pdfs, Messages, Slack, email, or even as a WordPress post with images. It reminds me a bit of Drafts in that it’s a great place to just begin with some text. But while Drafts has greater flexibility through automation, Notes has the added benefit of being able to add various media from images to gifs to movies to audio. And while I personally don’t do much note taking with the pencil it’s an option other folks might like. For those that record meeting notes or lectures I can see how having notes open with Voice Memos in the background for recording would be useful. After the event the audio recording could be saved right into the note. Playback happens in a bar at the top of the note which allows for editing of the note while playing and pausing. Most of these are features that neither Bear nor Drafts have.

Notes also has an excellent scanning feature via the device camera, sketching, and mark-up of pdfs and images. Of course Notes also has excellent text formatting with the usual and expected things such as bold, italics but also Title, Headings, Body, Lists, indented text and tables. Much of this formatting is intact when shared with apps such as Mail allowing for more formatting in those apps should you need it. While sharing via the sharesheet strangely lacks Pages as an option, copy/pasting into a Pages document carries over the formatting perfectly. Very nice should you decide a note needs the more advanced layout features in Pages.

For example, you start a note for a class assignment which ends up including formatted text, a couple images, an audio file and a sketch. You spend a few days writing and gathering content for the assignment but then need to package it in a nicely designed document. Just select all, copy and paste into a new Pages document. You’re ready to do some layout.

Given the deep feature set of Notes and the integration of Notes and Files with iCloud, they form a solid foundation for getting things done on iOS devices. Not only are they adequate but they are a pleasure to use and they come with the operating system so no subscription or extra payments are necessary. Of course I like to see third party development but I don’t have limitless budget and cost is a factor for me especially when subscriptions are involved. For now and the foreseeable future I’ll be sticking to Apple’s Notes and Files in these categories of apps.

WatchOS 5: Closing my green rings is easier!

We’ve had WatchOS 5 for just over a week now and I’m really happy with the changes in the calculations of exercise activity. I recently wrote that I felt the threshold for earning green ring minutes was too high. Apple states that a brisk walk is what is needed to close the green rings but I was finding that I usually needed to jog. A brisk walk was usually not enough and that’s a problem for people that might have joint problems. I have a bum knee so jogging is something I have to be careful of. For the past few days I’ve been earning my green rings with a brisk walk again. Whatever calculations are being performed to determine exercise minutes seems to have been changed to a lower level. Previously it seemed I needed to keep my heart rate at 110-120bpm or higher and now it would seem that 100bpm is enough. In my case this is perfect as my bpm during a brisk walk is usually in the range of 90 to 110.