AppleTV Discoverability

I’m a big fan of AppleTV & Apple Music. I use them both daily. Yesterday I discovered an artist while out on a walk while listening to one of Apple’s suggested playlists: “Zone In”. I played a couple tunes by the artist on the iPhone. Today I opened Music on the AppleTV and there, in recently listened songs were a couple by that artist. I played one then wanted to play more music by the artist. But as far as I can tell, there’s no way to jump to that artist. Searching via “Find more songs by this artist” does not work. There’s no button to push.

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No option to view the artist! The first song, when selected, showed the album cover art and the “… More” button. I looked there and no go. The options were Delete, Play Next, Play Later, Create Station”. Same thing for another of his albums. Hmmm.

While looking at that screen it occurred to me to try Siri on the remote. So, I pressed the Siri button and asked for more music by this artist. Nope, that function does not work in that way. Interesting because I can, from that screen in Music use the Siri button and, for example, get a list movies staring Clive Owen. TV queries also work. But ask for more music from the currently displayed artist does not. Grrrrrrrr.

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Ah, What’s this?

I eventually found it but I think this is one of those features that is not very easily discovered. Turns out I had added both of these to my library while using my iPhone. When I did eventually discover (see image above) a way to look at the artist by clicking the album art on the now playing screen then clicking the … then clicking “Go to Artist” I was able to access his other albums. I clicked one of those albums and the screen for that album was very different from the others.

Artist

This screen included a button for “Go to Artist” below the cover art. The difference was that I had not previously added this to my library. At least, this is one difference that I noticed. Maybe there are other variables such as, did I mark the song “Loved”? I’m not certain what the rules are that will change the options presented on different screens.

I tend to think of myself as someone pretty capable of navigating these sorts of things but this took me awhile. That said, I’ve not used Music as much on the TV as I have on the iPhone/iPad. Maybe it is a question of spending more time using this particular app but that’s the point. There is a certain level of discoverability expected. The more a user has to work at this sort of thing the more frustrating it becomes and sometimes they just give up.

Seems to me that there are some improvements to be made here.

September 20, 2017

A quick test, & I’m really digging the drag & drop from apps to Pages! Also, Pages’ use of the Files app is very well done 🤓 iOS 11 👍🏽

Importing images via drag and drop in iOS 11

After using the iOS 11 beta on my iPad Air 2 for a month I decided to go ahead and update my Pro with the release of the Gold Master released by Apple on the 12th. Wow. So nice on the big screen!

As I was browsing Apple News I came across this Verge article on the best of Cassini’s images. I wondered, could I drag an image from the article directly into the Photos app to import? I assumed not. Well, I was wrong. It seems like drag and drop is everywhere in this version of iOS. Nifty!

Machine Learning’s contribution to Siri’s voice

The Siri team has a great post about the evolution of Siri’s speech synthesis on the Apple Machine Learning Journal:

Siri is a personal assistant that communicates using speech synthesis. Starting in iOS 10 and continuing with new features in iOS 11, we base Siri voices on deep learning. The resulting voices are more natural, smoother, and allow Siri’s personality to shine through. This article presents more details about the deep learning based technology behind Siri’s voice.

Just scroll down to the bottom and listen to the progression between iOS 9, 10, and 11. It’s really impressive.

I’m surprised more beta users have not said more about this over the duration of the public betas. Until this post by Apple I’ve not seen it mentioned even once. Personally I will say that I consider it a fantastic improvement and thought it was one of the highlights of the WWDC Keynote. When I installed the public beta on my iPad the second first thing I did was invoke Siri so I could hear her new voice. So much better!

iPad Journal: Looking for a new writing & blogging sweetspot

A couple weeks ago the developers of Ulysses took the app to a subscription model. I don’t do subscriptions. So, I said my goodbye. Then I began my move back to Byword for writing and publishing to WordPress. It works pretty well. There are a few quirks. For example, while it is possible to publish a post with an image the image must first be uploaded to the web and a link inserted for this to work. Compared to Ulysses which took care of uploading the image during publishing. Not as convenient but still not worth a subscription.

Another, when working on something of several pages, Byword lacks the ability to quickly jump to the beginning or end of the document with a keyboard shortcut. I often do podcast transcripts of many pages so this is important and a bit of a hassle when it’s lacking.And, on the note of trying to navigate through many pages with keys, I easily loose track of the cursor and have to tap the screen. Not the end of the world but just one of those little oddities. Byword still has not added the overlay for displaying keyboard shortcuts. As far as I know,there is no shortcut in Byword to easily add a link. Not the end of the world but just another little annoyance.

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Enter, iA Writer
So, with reluctance I’ve purchased yet another writing/publishing app: iA Writer. Reviews are good and, like Ulysses and Byword, it offers publishing to WordPress. At $3.99 it’s certainly worth a try. The way I see it, it’s still far less expensive than locking into a Ulysses subscription.

My initial impression is that it is certainly a solid app, pleasant enough to work with. Whether little annoyances such as those I mentioned about Byword begin to show, well, more time using the app will bring those to light. I’m not sure what I think about the font choice for writing but it’s not changeable. Something lacking that I was hoping for is an option to share text/urls from Safari. Currently, I can send such things to Drafts or Notes as a go between. Or, just as likely, I’ll use Clips. With iOS 11 around the corner it may be that I’ll be getting in the habit of dragging and dropping text and urls.

What I like:

  • The blue cursor and highlight are nice and easier to see than the dark gold used by Byword.
  • Set-up for publishing was very easy. It publishes as a draft and then opens up the page via web which is perfect. From there I can set the post type and add keywords and categories.
  • I can select text then use the Command-k shortcut to turn the text into a link with the URL currently in the keyboard. It’s a little thing but one I really like.

What I don’t like:

  • I’ve tried uploading an image with this post and I get an error that the request timed out. So, that’s a bummer.

Time will tell.

How-to iPad with iOS 11

Last week Apple released a series of six iPad and iOS 11 How-To videos. I’ve also discovered, what may or may not be a new section of their website, How to do even more with iPad Pro and iOS 11 which not only has the new videos but also four sections for learning about the iPad:

I don’t spend a lot of time browsing Apple’s website unless I explicitly need information. Browsing around just now, via the above links, I’m impressed. This would be a great place for any iPad user to explore and bookmark. I’m particularly impressed with the iPad Apple Support page.

It’s good to see Apple promoting the device and the new features of iOS 11. I’ve thought for awhile now that Apple was doing too little to promote the features of the iPad and anecdotally this bears out in my observations of usage by the people around me. Very few of them are aware of what iOS and the iPad are capable of. While they get a lot of use out of their iPads it’s mostly a casual use. As has been repeated over and over, the iPad as a casual consumption device. For many that I have observed (my extended family all have them) that is indeed true. That said, it is also true that it is their main computing device. But it’s mostly for messaging, browsing the web, Facebook, email and games. Most of these folks are retired though so it makes sense.

There are plenty of kids in my family that are now in Junior High, High School and college. Most of them in fact. Will they be using iPads as their primary computing devices? With iOS 10 and now 11, they certainly could be. The hardware of the iPad is more than capable. And now with iOS 11, even more so. I’ve been out of the college world for 24 years but I know much of it remains the same. From what I’ve seen the iPad is not only well suited to that job it may well be the perfect device for it. The same goes for many other areas.

After browsing the above pages I doubled back to the Main Apple page and then visited the iPad main section. I wasn’t all that surprised that while the content is, of course, about selling iPads it is heavily weighted towards educating the reader about what the iPad can do. I’ve long thought that Apple needed to do more to demonstrate to the public what the strengths of iOS and the iPad form factor are but I’m beginning to realize that the website does this very well. The stores and staff also do this very well. In-store programs such as Apple Today are exactly what’s needed.

The only area that might still need improvement is television spots. The current ads are great in that they offer up an easy to grasp lesson. I’d like to see more of them in this style. A lot more. Just a simple lesson in using one part of the iPad. Currently the spots just end with large text, “iPad Pro” and I know this is very un-Apple like but I wish they’d include something along the lines of “Learn more at apple.com/ipad/howto”. They’ve developed a very helpful, educational website, why not do more to direct users to it? I don’t have access to broadcast television so I have no idea how often Apple airs ads. It would be great if they’d buy a lot of time each fall to educate users about the new features of iOS.

August 16, 2017

Ben LoveJoy over at 9to5Mac has written a very good summary of the app subscription hooha that has popped up over the past week, largely as a result of the subscription model being adopted by the folks that make Ulysses. Here’s his conclusion which I agree with.

I can’t help feeling that the whole subscription model is at some point going to implode. Some people will simply refuse to get on board at all – like those who say they are done with Ulysses – while others will eventually reach breaking point. One or two low-cost subscription apps, well, ok, maybe. But what happens when it’s ten? Twenty? At some point, people are going to say enough is enough.

iPad Journal Video Editing

Back around 2002 I spent a bit of time editing video using a couple of G4 Macs with Final Cut Pro. A series of experimental shorts as well as a full length documentary. Previous to that I’d also used iMovie and since then I’ve mostly used iMovie on Macs and then in the iPad and even the iPhone.

First, the experience of editing on a G4 Mac with iMovie was magical. I’d never done such a thing before. But it was also a process that involved external hard drives and various cables. My Mac’s internal drive did not have the capacity to handle larger projects so those had to be offloaded to external drives in the range of 40 to 80GB. Importing meant attaching a digital camcorder with FireWire and importing the data as the camcorder played the footage. Which meant a lot of time working with a camcorder attached to the computer. Once footage was imported then it was a matter of working with the clips. Arranging them on the timeline, splitting, trimming, etc.

Then there was the rendering. Oh, yes that. Adding transitions, adding captions or titles, could require a few seconds to a few minutes depending on the Mac and the work being done. Then at the end of the project there was the rendering out to a final product. It might be digital or it might be back out to tape. This often took hours for larger projects. Even our top of the line G4 Power Mac could take hours. When I worked on my G4 PowerBook it took even longer. It was the sort of thing you didn’t have to do often but when you did it was best left to do overnight. Come back in the morning and hope there were no errors. Also, as I recall, we didn’t use them much while rendering. All the memory and processor power was consumed by the task at hand. For some context, these Macs. As I recall it had something like a 867 MHZ processor and 512 MB of RAM. I’m pretty sure we upgraded to a gig of RAM. The internal hard drive was, I think, 60 GB hence the need to use externals. That set-up was $2500 not counting the external drives that were roughly $200 as I recall. Plus the cost of FCP.

So, in 2002, that was our “Pro” machine that we used to get our work done. Video editing with Final Cut, effects with Adobe After Affects, Photoshop for photos, etc. Out of a small office our little digital arts co-op with 3 desktop Macs and several laptops produced several films that were shown at several film festivals. At least a couple of those filmmakers are still at it today. I was mostly in it for the fun and for the learning. Filmmaking has never been a passion so much as just something I like to tinker with.

Jump forward to 2017. Over the past couple of years I’ve edited several for-fun projects in iMovie on the Mac, iPad Air 2, iPhones, and and now the most recent iPad Pro. Of course the Mac handles it all very well, but I want to focus on iOS devices. The iPhone 6s and iPad also have no problems running iMovie though with the 64 GB storage I had to be careful with stored video. But in terms of processor and memory, iMovie ran very well. Importing is instant if you’re using video recorded on the device. AirDropping clips from an iPhone takes seconds to minutes depending on the size of the clips. Then just import from the Photos library, so, again, it’s instant. Of course, there is no rendering of transitions or captions anymore. Just place them in the timeline and it is instant. Same thing for color filter affects. It’s instant. Editing timeline is a matter of splitting clips, changing length of clips, etc. It’s all pretty basic but it is the essentials and is all instant. Multiple layers of video are not possible. In summary, it’s simple but incredibly fast and smooth. The only time I’ve ever had to wait is in the export process which applies to both Mac and iOS devices. But this isn’t something that takes long and while I’m doing it I can open up apps in slideover (iMovie doesn’t do split screen) and carry on with no lag at all.

This brings me to LumaFusion. Every couple of years I do a little family oriented documentary. In the recent past they have usually been focused on older family members such as grandparents. I wanted to record some of their stories so we would could enjoy them into the future and pass them on to great grandkids. As my parents get older I thought it was about time to get started on their videos and also I have aunts and uncles that I would like to do videos for. So, I decided to splurge on LumaFusion and I’m really glad I did.

I’ve got two active projects going at the moment. About two hours worth of editing time. Enough to begin to form an opinion which is this: LumaFusion is a fantastic tool for anyone that wants or needs to do video editing on an iPad. It’s far more powerful than iMovie. I’ve not used Final Cut Pro since around 2005 so I can’t say how similar it is compared to the current version but I can say that it reminds me of what it was like to use FCP and I’ve heard others say the same. Essentially, it is the closest thing we currently have to FCP on an iPad. It offers up to three layers/tracks of audio and video which was the most obvious feature I considered. Of course, it is far more powerful than iMovie and there are many other features that could be discussed but that’s all on the website. I won’t repeat it here. I will just say that the app is exactly what i was hoping for and works as advertised. 9To5Mac had a great review.

Until Apple offers up FCP for iOS this is the app to use for more advanced video editing. The two projects I’ll be working on over the next couple of months are likely to each be in the 60 to 90 minute range so I expect to have a much better idea of the strengths and limitations of LumaFusion when I’ve gotten to the other side. Based on the time I’ve already spent with it I do feel comfortable in my expectation that this app, combined with the iPad Pro, will serve as a very powerful video editing combination. By comparison to the “pro” Power Mac, my current iPad cost less than half and is portable in a way that that desktop could never be. Furthermore, my iPad actually contains a video camera that is far better than the one I used back then. Or, if preferred, I can use the slightly better camera found in my iPhone 7Plus. My point is that what we call “pro” is always relative. What “professionals” might use at different times for different tasks will vary.

I’m really looking forward to giving this a whirl and will, no doubt, report back on the experience!

Back to Byword

Getting Byword set-up again for blogging. Haven’t used this app in over a year and I think I’ll settle back in just fine. As comfortable as I was with Ulysses, the interface between the two is not all that different.

So long Ulysses

Well. Darn it. Count me among those that enjoy Ulysses but will not subscribe. I’ve used it for a year and it’s a great app. The best feature, in my scenario, is posting to WordPress. I’m happy to pay well for apps like Ulysses and pay for updates as needed. But I’m not willing to pay for a subscription. I can’t afford to subscribe to every app I use. If it is essential for what I do, maybe. But even then I’m not happy about it. But for a text editor? No. There are too many other options. The one feature of easier blog posting is not enough to keep me around.

I may continue to use the current version till it no longer works but I’ll likely look into other options and probably begin the transition to something else. I suspect it will feel strange to invest further documents into an app that no longer has a long-term future on my devices. In fact, it only took me the time to write those two sentences to decide that I would begin phasing out my use of Ulysses this very moment. The problem is that every document in Ulysses is held in a monolithic database. Compare that to an app like Byword or Editorial, both of which store documents as individual text documents in their app folder on iCloud or Dropbox, respectively. 

So, as of this moment, I’m giving up the benefits I found in using Ulysses and switching. I’ll revisit both Byword and Editorial for now. Also, there have been quite a few updates to the official WordPress app. I’ll give that another look for the actual mechanics of blog posting. 

A final brief but blunt note about app subscriptions: NO. Your app is not a magazine or a music or video service. It’s an app.  It is a thing that I want to own, not a service I want to rent. There’s a time and a place for subscriptions but apps is not one of them. At least, not for me. Let me pay a fair price for an app. Offer paid updates as needed. But I want to own it. I don’t want to be locked into paying for it again and again. Not for a dollar or $2 or $5. 

Sigh.