Monthly Archives: March 2017

iPad Journal: Workflow improvements!

A new and very helpful feature of Workflow: Convert PDF to Image

A new and very helpful feature of Workflow: Convert PDF to Image

Every Apple nerd knows by now that Apple purchased Workflow a few days ago. The app was updated and within hours an image was all over Twitter. While most people were jumping to the conclusion that Apple was up to no good I was trying to read what was under the bottom red line of the bottom box: "Added support for converting PDFs to images". Here's the image:

I'm not a power user of Workflow but there are a couple of things I'm doing with it. Most important for me is being able to resize an image for sharing on the web and then sending it via email or saving it do DropBox and my iPad file store for my Coda website projects. I wrote a few months ago about creating a nifty Workflow that does all of this and no doubt it saves me time.

Often times though I'm starting with Pages documents or PDF files using the Share Sheet to send to the Graphic app as a go between from PDF to my Workflow for images. Not a big deal but it is an extra step and a couple of extra touches to share from Graphic as an image to my Workflow. But now? Well, now I can send a pdf from an email straight to Workflow. I touch the screen a couple times to set the size and the save location. Done. What was already easy is even easier now. It took me a whopping two minutes to open Workflow and create the new workflow to convert a pdf to image with an option to crop. Thanks to recent additions to Workflow I can then just call up my "Resize and act on image" which is a workflow that calls up other workflows to continue the process offering to work from a file or clipboard then, resizing and then presenting options to email or send via Transmit and/or DropBox.

Lately I've been doing some volunteer work for our local rural library which has entailed a series of posters which I design in Pages and then send out as pdfs for printing and as images for the web. Here again, I can skip the step of sending the pdf to Graphic and just go straight to Workflow.

I don't know what Workflow does to convert from pdf to jpg or what it's doing in the resizing process but I can say that I end up with an image that is on par in quality and file size to what I would get with Photoshop via Save to web. The difference is that with iPad and Workflow I simply tap to guide the process. There is practically no time involved, very little mental effort.

By comparison, on the Mac I'm jumping from Apple Mail to Photoshop to Finder to Transmit or Coda. It's not difficult but it does require more mental effort and more clicking. It's not a huge difference but there is more friction on the Mac largely because the Finder and multiple apps and thus more windows are more complicated to navigate. In short, the "power user" features of the Mac are also what can get in the way.

I suspect that most people that are Mac-based would tell you that it would be easier to do this on a Mac, that using an iPad requires hoops and extra work, extra effort. I've written about this before, I think it's simply a matter of taking the time to become comfortable and familiar with iOS something most long-time Mac users never do.

But wait, am I cheating? I'm comparing one process which is automated in iPad to one which is manual on the Mac. Why not write a script on the Mac? I tried Automator back in the day. It never stuck. Maybe I didn't try hard enough. Maybe this is all very easy to do via Automator? No doubt if I worked through the process manually using the Share Sheet from Mail or Pages to send files to Graphic to then send to Transmit it would be a more comparable process and number of clicks and mental friction. Maybe. But I can say that because I've gotten comfortable with the iOS way of doing things I find the Share Sheet process incredibly easy and one which feels easier than the Mac.

I don't know what the future holds for Workflow but I do know that even if I never use it for anything but this one series of tasks it will have been worth it for me. Now that I have made good use of this one Workflow I'll be paying more attention to other possibilities based on the tasks I need to do.

iPad Journal: Weekly Links

Lots of interesting iPad related news this week. Well, actually, two very notable things.

  1. Apple purchased the Workflow app and the 3 developers of the app will be joining Apple. The app itself will (for now) remain in the App Store but is now free.
  2. Apple released new iPads. Not the updated iPads Pro everyone was expecting. Nope. Even better. They did something no one was expecting: they released a new budget priced iPad simply called iPad.

The news on the Workflow first came via Matthew Panzarino:

Apple has acquired Workflow, a powerful automation tool for iPad and iPhone

Of course, Federico had something to say about it (along with every other Apple nerd I follow on Twitter):

At this stage, it’s not clear what Apple’s plans for Workflow in the long term might be. I have a few theories, but this isn’t the time to speculate. I’ll say this, though: Workflow has been the driving force behind my decision to embrace the iPad as my primary computer. Workflow is a shining example of the power of automation combined with user creativity and its underlying mission has always been clear: to allow anyone to improve how iOS can get things done for them in a better, faster, more flexible way. Workflow is the modern bicycle for the mind. There’s nothing else like it.

Ben Brooks has a few interesting points regarding Wednesday’s acquisition: Apple’s New Workflow.

Like many, Ben speculates about the different ways Apple could go with the app. It’s an unknown at this point and for many like Federico who have made the iPad a primary device the app has become central to their working day. I don’t use the app much but would like to use it more. I have a couple of Workflows that I do use on a semi regular basis and in those cases I really appreciate the app. I’d like to use it more and I can see the potential. Time will tell.

Regarding that second bit of news, a new, cheaper iPad to take the place of the Air 2 in the line-up. I love that the rumors had it all wrong. Not that I doubt that eventually we’ll see updates to the Pro line. In fact, I’m really looking forward to that as I’m planning to add a 12.9″ Pro to my device roster. We’re too far into the cycle to purchase the current 12.9 so I’m waiting. But here’s the thing, I’m not in a hurry. Yes, I’m excited and will buy the first day they are available. But really, this iPad Air 2 is fantastic and is plenty fast for my daily work. I’m looking forward to a bigger screen for multi-tasking. That’s my main driver. But, back to the point of the new iPad. I think it’s fantastic.

I like the new, easier to understand, cleaner naming: iPad Mini, iPad, iPad Pro. And that lower price is an excellent move. It will entice people like my parents who have been holding onto their iPad 4. Just a week ago my mom was here on a visit and pointed out that she was out of storage and asked what she could do. I didn’t realize but her iPad 4 only has 16GB of storage. If it weren’t for that she could go on for another couple of years. She has no complaints about the performance. But now she can no longer save images and videos of her grandkids. Same goes for my dad. I told them last week they could get refurb iPad Air 2s or new ones but that they might want to wait a week. They waited and now they can get the new iPad, with a faster processor, for less. It’s a great upgrade for them. No doubt these iPads will be great for many who are still clinging to older iPads as well as for schools. Jason Snell, waiting for Macworld: Lower the price, expand the market:

But this isn’t a product Apple made to excite people on features. It’s made to compete on price, and Apple competed on price by building a new iPad on the base of the iPad Air, with its cheaper screen, cameras, and other components.

Recently there’s been a lot of talk about how Apple has stood by as Chromebooks have become incredibly successful in the education market. It’s hard not to see the new iPad as Apple’s direct reaction to those challenges. At $329 (actually less than that, due to education discounts), the iPad is at least in the ballpark with Chromebooks, especially nicer touchscreen models.

Over at ASYMCO, Horace has a great post on iPad Opitcs. It’s not about the cameras in the iPad, it’s about the visuals of graphs that seem to depict an iPad in decline which has, of course, been a topic of concern the past couple of years. He argues, as many have, that use of the iPad is not in decline at all but that purchasing reflects a durable product with reported high customer satisfaction and longer replacement cycles:

Taking into account that the iPad has a large, stable, engaged and loyal user base that continues to expand and find new uses the optically bad sales data needs an explanation. The simplest explanation is probably the best: iPads remain in use far longer than phones, and perhaps even longer than some computers.

Anecdotally we can see evidence for this. Few iPads are replaced every two years the way phones are. They are not tied to service contracts or subsidized. They are also less likely to be damaged during usage as phones are dropped and banged-up. iPads are more stationary or carried in protected containers. Phones are in pockets, iPads are in bags.

So iPads are longer-lived products and it’s perfectly reasonable that people who have them keep using them and more people are joining them but slowly. Note also that the decline in sales seems to be flattening out and perhaps might show stabilization.

I completely agree as I see this very thing happening in my own family as evidenced by parents using iPad 4s with 16GB of storage!

Unrelated to new iPads or Workflow, Federico continued his excellent IPad Diaries series this week with: Working with Zip Archives. It’s a very useful post if you’re someone that uses zip files. I don’t very often and when I do it’s usually at the end of an InDesign project when I’m at my Mac preparing to deliver a folder of files so it’s something I take care of via Mac. But it’s nice to know that if the need ever arises I can open a zip archive.

iPad Journal: Writing more with iPad

It was around this time last year that I began my shift toward an iPad centered and preferred workflow. I'd taken on a new gig transcribing podcasts and spent much of March, April and May fine tuning that workflow. It began with a Mac and iPhone using Pages and the Apple Podcast app. After a few weeks I realized I could work faster with just an iPad in split screen mode with Pages and Podcasts. Over the course of around 110 days I churned out 29 transcripts for a podcast that averages about 45 minutes. Of course transcribing is not writing but I was really enjoying the time with an iPad and bluetooth keyboard. Two things happened as a result.

First, I was finally using and understanding the benefit of the split screen feature. Second, I'd started using more keyboard shortcuts. I'd always used the most obvious shortcuts on the Mac: Copy, Paste, Save, Find, and a few others. What I'd not used, surprisingly, were the shortcuts for navigating around a page of text and along with that the selection of text via keyboard. The combination of iPad and external keyboard lends itself to this because there's no trackpad or mouse next to my keyboard. While I wouldn't say that my arms tire when reaching up to the iPad, but it is simply faster to use the keyboard for selecting text. It would be faster than a trackpad on a laptop too but because the trackpad was easy enough I never bothered to learn. Using the option or command keys with the arrow keys (along with shift for selecting) are great time savers. If you're not using the keyboard to navigate text in a document do yourself a favor and give it a try.

In early May as I was working through the transcripts I realized I'd not posted on this blog in seven months. So on May 15 I wrote a short post and set a goal of more frequent posting. Up to that point I'd only posted 22 times in the roughly two years1 that the blog had existed. Not great. In the 10 months since that May 15 post? 55 posts not including this one. That's a nice increase. I also still write semi-regularly on my other blog, Beardy Star Stuff. I've posted there 39 times in the past 14 months. That's a blog I've had going in one form or another since April 2003 with a total of 796 posts. Wowza. That's just shy of 57 posts per year on that blog. That's not too shabby. As I recall I'd actually been keeping a blog starting in 2001 but I forget the name of the system I used2 and I didn't bring those posts with me when I transferred my blog to TypePad.

So, that's 14+ years of blogging most of which was done using Mac laptops from my first iBook to the PowerBook to the MacBook Pro to MacBook Air, using web interfaces or apps such as MarsEdit. Good times.

Now I find myself using the iPad and Ulysses and this feels like the best workflow I've ever had. While the Mac in conjunction with an app or web-based environment always worked well enough I don't think I've ever enjoyed the process as much as I do now. But I have to say just how important Ulysses is in this equation. I'd previously tried several apps for blogging on the iPad and was never satisfied. I'd been hosting on WordPress and Blogger and there were a couple apps that could publish to both, the best of those was Byword but it seemed a bit flakey and was too minimal. The web interface for Blogger was terrible on the iPad but the WordPress app was okay and even the WordPress web interface was tolerable so I moved Beardy Star Stuff from Blogger to WordPress. Having both of my blogs on one platform was much better and for a while I made do with the web interface and WordPress app. It was better. By this time my writing on the Mac had dropped to near zero and I was using it only for graphic design.

It was around this time that many folks were praising the recent release of Ulysses for iOS but I already had too many writing apps and had determined I wouldn't buy anymore unless I had very good reason to. Ulysses looked great but what I really wanted was a better way to publish to WordPress. When Ulysses added WordPress publishing I jumped and it's been fantastic. Ulysses and the iPad are the perfect combination for blogging and for the first time since owning an iPad, it is easy to say that this is the best blogging experience I've ever had.

I don't really consider myself a writer so much as a person that likes to share and the sharing often takes the form of writing just as it often takes the form of photos, videos, and lately, even "paintings". What I'm noticing now is that because there is no friction in this Ulysses/iPad combination I am far more likely to actually write and publish. Not only is there no friction, but I actually enjoy the process. Of course I seek it out when I have ideas brewing but, more interesting, I sometimes find that I've opened Ulysses before I have any particular idea. Rather, I have an urge to write, to start with a blank white page. It is a more basic desire to create for the sake of creating rather than a practical, utilitarian expression of an idea that I've had that I want to share.

This is all to say that over the past few months I've really been enjoying writing and that I'm looking forward to doing more of it in the coming year.

  1. The first was December 31, 2013.
  2. It was some sort of manual, text-based deal.

iPad Journal: Painting astronomical objects with iPad and Procreate

Just to be clear from the start, aside from grade school, I've never painted anything other than room walls and home exteriors. I'm not a "painter" and only occasionally had a passing interest in trying it out. I've sketched a few times but there too, very minimal. A few months back the iPad app Procreate popped up on my RSS or twitter feed. I had recently bought some supplies to begin an attempt at sketching astronomical objects while observing at the telescope. Those supplies have gone unopened and sit in their original bag. I'd not really figured out how to go about setting up to sketch in the near dark but it was on my mind as something I wanted to try. Suddenly a lightbulb went off and I had the thought that perhaps I could use Procreate and the iPad to sketch? That approach might be easier because I always have the iPad out with me anyway. So, no extra supplies, no set-up of lighting and supplies. I'd give it a go.

My first effort was Mars which was a pretty basic object to paint/sketch. A circle with a few faint strokes to denote a few of the larger features viewable through the telescope. The next was the Lagoon Nebula. A little more too that but still not a whole lot. Then it occurred to me that it might be fun (and good practice) to try my hand at painting an object from a photograph. Actually, it was not quite like that. It was more like a moment of boredom as I was looking at the a beautiful image of the Eagle Nebula on the cover of a book sitting on my coffee table. It occurred to me to give it a try. To be honest I didn't expect it would go as far as it did. I'm often good at starting little projects but often don't finish. For some reason in this case I found myself drawn in.

I started playing with the brushes. There are many, many brush options in Procreate. I had absolutely no idea where to begin. I tinkered with a couple of brushes and settled in on the airbrush as it seemed the best candidate for painting something like a nebula. I focused on just a portion of one of the "Pillars of Creation" and after a couple hours I decided to try a larger portion. Over the course of a few days I came back to it. It was surprised how quickly time seemed to move as I focused on the "brush". I would look up and two hours would have passed. After about 15 hours I had this:

As it turns out the process is very enjoyable. I worked mostly with the airbrush on the first project. I worked i layers in a way mimicking what I imagine the dimensionality of an actual nebula to be. I created a background of black and on top of this a layer of background nebulosity. On top of that another layer of nebulosity. And then another. And another. Stars had their own layer on the very top though in reality, of course, the stars in intermingled dimensionally.

A few weeks later I decided to paint a much larger portion of the Eagle Nebula though not the whole thing. I started with my existing painting of the pillars and then painted them in. I used the same brushes and techniques. I finished that in about a week.

The next project was the Orion Nebula and then the Lagoon Nebula. The most recent was an infra-red image of the Horsehead nebula which shows the detail of the nebula not seen in the visual spectrum. My current project is a wide field view of the nebula that surrounds the Horsehead, IC 434 and the Flame Nebula NGC 2024. Really, it's just a complex of various nebulae of which the Horsehead is just one, tiny component.

Clockwise from top left: In process IC 434 (tiny dark spot near the middle is the thick gas and dust of the Horsehead Nebula), Orion Nebula, Lagoon Nebula, close-up Horsehead Nebula in infrared

Clockwise from top left: In process IC 434 (tiny dark spot near the middle is the thick gas and dust of the Horsehead Nebula), Orion Nebula, Lagoon Nebula, close-up Horsehead Nebula in infrared

As I've worked through these various projects I've been trying out some of the different brushes available. There's so much to learn. I have no idea how this compares to painting on a canvas though I expect some of it would carry over to that process. I do feel as though I'm making some progress. Learning how to see details I would have likely missed in the past. Learning how to use the different brushes and their interaction with one another. Learning how to layer and blend color. Painting with Procreate and the iPad has allowed for a whole new experience, a new form of expression that I would not have had otherwise. It's something I thoroughly enjoy and intend to continue with for a long time to come.

Setting up HomeKit for the first time

I've been wanting to try out a HomeKit device for quite awhile now. A friend that uses Alexa first set up a couple of lights well over a year ago and ever since his first demonstration I've been eager to try it out in my tiny house. But I'm stubborn and so I was waiting for a light or plug to drop down to a price I was willing to pay. A few months ago I'd taken note of the Koogeek plugs at Amazon. At about $35 per plug they were about the least expensive HomeKit plug but still I decided to hold out for a sale. Last week I noticed an Amazon deal via 9to5Mac that, with a code, dropped the price down to just under $24 per plug so I bought two of them.

Setting up the lights

They arrived today and I had them set-up in just a few minutes thanks to a very simple process. I installed the Koogeek app and was prompted to set-up an account which I did. Next I was prompted to use the iPad's camera to scan a unique number code that comes with each plug. Upon detection the plug went through an auto set-up and then I was prompted to name it. Done. Each plug took less that a minute. I opened Control Center and sure enough I now had a third panel to the far right where each plug now resided as a button I could select. I touched one and the light popped on. I'm pretty sure I giggled. I touched the other and it lit up. I felt like a wizard. But when I tried to use Siri on my phone it didn't work as it found no devices. Doh. My fault. I was not on my wifi network. I rarely put the iPhone on the wifi as I have limited satellite bandwidth. How to use Siri via my LTE connection? A second later I remembered that I also needed to set-up my AppleTV to serve as a HomeKit Hub. This would allow me to access the plugs via the internet from home or anywhere else. The next question: how to set-up the AppleTV? This was a little less obvious.

Setting up the AppleTV as a hub

I opened the Home app on the iPad and saw no indicator of how to do this. I hopped over to the AppleTV and poked around settings. Didn't see any mention of using the AppleTV as a Home Hub. Did I need an app? Hmm. I asked Siri knowing she'd likely send me to a web search which she did. Two clicks later and I had my answer. I needed to sign into my primary iCloud account on the AppleTV in the accounts section of the Settings app. Duh. Of course it would all go through iCloud. I did that and that was it. Finished. I called to Siri from across the room and requested that one of the lights be turned off. Poof. Neat. I can now control the plugs from anywhere I have internet assuming my cabin internet is connected which it usually is. Sometimes I really do feel like I'm living in an episode of Star Trek.

iPad Journal: Weekly iPad Links

I'll start this week with one of my new favorites, Jonathan Wylie. He covers a topic that recently came up for me with one of my local clients who uses his iPad while on the road as a long haul trucker. My client needed to produce a pdf from a non-pdf source so I walked him through the print-to-pdf process using the Share Sheet to Print preview process. I've never written that up and just yesterday the client called me back because he'd forgotten how to do it. He was out on the road (though not driving at the time of our phone call!) so I walked him through it over the phone. Then today I find Jonathan's blog post which is perfect timing as I was going to write this up myself: How To Quickly Create a PDF on iPhone & iPad.

PDFs are an incredibly useful file format because they work on all devices and can be read with free or built-in software that you probably already have. In short, if you want to be sure that someone can read your content, send them a PDF. Easy, right? Well, it’s easy if you know how to create a PDF. Luckily, this is very simple to do on iPads and iPhones, but not everyone knows how to do it. So, here’s a little known trick that shows you how to create a PDF of a web page (and other content) on an iOS device.

I've only just discovered his website but I suspect it will prove to be invaluable. He's an educator and technology consultant and seems to put a lot of emphasis on the iPad. While he's using Apple tech he doesn't seem to be a part of that group of people I associate with the Apple nerd herd. I've been longing for writers and podcasters that actually work in fields outside of the Apple-focused commentary sphere. Real people doing other work but talking about how they are using Apple tech in that context. Great stuff.

And another post from Jonathan: How (and why) to Use the Markup Tools in the iOS Photos App

The tools that I need are actually built-in to iOS, and they cover almost all of my image annotation needs. I’m talking specifically about the Photos app. It has some great options for marking up images and screenshots, but not everyone knows where those tools are. So, here’s what you need to know.

And of course, Federico would post this week on Apple Notes! Just a couple days ago I posted my own thoughts on using Notes but by comparison to Viticci's iPad Diaries: Optimizing Apple Notes, well, my take is just bare bones. Of course, that's what Federico does. He takes the apps that he uses and he pushes them as far as is possible. He is the epitome of a "power user". As usual it's a long post and well worth the read:

I've been using Apple Notes every day since its relaunch with iOS 9 in 2015. Apple's refreshed note-taking app landed with impeccable timing: it supported the then-new iPad Split View in the first beta of the OS released in June, and Apple deftly positioned Notes as a nimble, multi-purpose tool that many saw as a much-needed escape from Evernote's bloated confusion. I almost couldn't believe that I was switching to Apple Notes – for years, it had been derided as the epitome of démodé skeuomorphism – but the app felt refreshing and capable.

It depends on what your definition of “Pro” is

For well over a year now the Apple nerdery have been rending their garments and gnashing their teeth over the lack of an updated Mac Pro. They blog it and podcast it till their fingers are numb and their listeners’ ears bleed. The story is that Apple no longer cares about Apple “Pro” users because they’re too busy with watches and iPhones and iPads. It hasn’t been updated since 2013! How are these pros to get anything done? Being forced to work on such old machines is practically like being forced to use a horse drawn carriage or a Mac Color Classic.

Pros need faster machines they repeat over and over and over. No, really. But then today I came across this image in a tweet by Federico Viticci about a new series of interviews being done for Club Mac Stories. Their first guest is developer Steve Troughton-Smith:

And something caught my eye. Steve Troughton-Smith, supposedly a professional who runs Xcode to develop apps is still using a 2012 iMac as his primary machine. 2012. iMac. Obviously somebody needs to talk to Steve. He is either a poser or terribly uninformed about the computer he should be using.

Now, I myself am not real professional either. I’m not a programmer or developer. I’ve not used Final Cut Pro since 2004. I don’t edit audio and didn’t do special effects in the last Star Wars film. My primary machine from 2011 to 2014 was a MacBook Air! Since then I’ve been using a 2012 Mac Mini. How do I get anything done without a Mac Pro updated within the past year? Funny thing, somehow I’ve been able to run everything from Adobe Illustrator to Indesign to Panic’s Coda to Affinity’s new Designer and Photos apps. I’ve done the layout for two community newspapers, ads, billboards, brochures, websites, signs, and product labels with those two non-pro machines.

Okay. Okay. Seriously though. I realize there are plenty of people that can use the power provided by monster machines with 65 GB of ram and the latest, greatest graphics cards. I get that the current Mac Pro IS long in the tooth. It is due for replacement. But folks, really, first world problems.

I’d bet my left testicle that there are many professional users, power users even, of Apple computers of mid-range power be they current or older iMacs, MacBook Airs, or Mac Minis. Get a grip on yourselves Apple nerds. Please.

iPad Journal: Speedy production of posters and social media graphics

I've been doing a bit of volunteer work for our local library lately and we're currently moving towards an April vote on a tax increase to help cover the operating costs of our little network of rural libraries. I was asked to put together a collection of simple posters that would highlight the value of library services to patrons via print and social media. I did most of the work in Pages on the iPad with two exceptions that required a quick edit on the Mac. On the iOS version of Pages,1 rotating elements is not possible and second, the ability to create a shape with a transparency gradient is also missing. Not a big problem, I just saved in iCloud and stepped over to the Mac to rotate the logo on the side of the page and create a white box with a transparency gradient. By the time I was back at the iPad the file was updated with the two changes. This would be my "template" so I made several duplicates and altered each to a specific value that the library wanted to highlight.

I'd used portrait mode on the iPhone camera to capture a series of images that I AirDropped to the iPad. After quick edits to text and the color of the bottom box element they were each given a different image and I was done. I wanted to send each poster version in its own email with two attachments, a jpg for social media sharing and pdf for printing. Easy enough. From Pages I would share as pdf via the Share Sheet to one of my most used apps, Graphic which I used to export as jpg to my camera roll. I'd jump back to Pages and share as pdf again but this time to Mail. Once I had the Mail draft with pdf attached I'd add my image attachment and send. The whole process took about 90 seconds for each email with two attachments.

Smooth sailing.

  1. I've noticed that many of these missing features are available in other iOS apps. There's no reason Apple couldn't add them and bring Pages on iOS closer to Pages on the Mac.

Podcast Apps: Overcast vs Apple Podcasts

I've been a podcast listener since 2005. I forget when Apple released its Podcast app but when they did I started using it. It was nothing fancy but it was functional. When Marco Arment released his Overcast app the Apple nerdery raved about it so I gave it a shot. It seemed to work pretty well and I used it a bit but eventually switched back to the Apple app because at the time I was also using iTunes on the Mac to listen to podcasts and I liked the fact that all my devices remained in sync. I could start a podcast on the iPhone and finish it on the iPad or Mac.

When Overcast 2 was released I updated and gave it another go. But after a month or two I ended up back with Apple's offering. I just didn't find the features of Overcast worth switching. Largely for the same reason as the first time. I still used iTunes on the Mac for some of my podcast listening.

With the recent release of Overcast 3 I thought I should give it another go. I don't listen to podcasts on my Mac anymore so I figured this time it might stick but this time around I found another reason to stay with Apple's app: Siri. When I'm listening to a podcast I'm usually walking or driving and when I get to an ad I tap an AirPod and ask Siri to skip forward 3 minutes (sorry there's only so many times I will repeatedly listen to an ad for a product or service I'm never going to use). Also, my mind occasionally wanders and it's nice to be able to request that Siri rewind a minute or two. Overcast doesn't seem to work with Siri in this way. Well, it does, but requires a second tap to be instructed to begin playing again. Also, I like to ask Siri to play the most recent episode of a podcast and this works pretty well with Apple's app but not with Overcast.

This fits in well as another example of my recent efforts to simplify my use of iOS. While I'll give an app a try if there's a chance it's better than my current choice, I'm not going to switch unless there are real benefits for doing so and in this case there aren't.

iPad Journal: Getting the most out of Apple Notes

I'm on a new quest in how I use the iPad and it can be best expressed with one word: Simplicity. I've always considered myself a "power" user of Apple tech. Of course this is a relative term but I'll just describe it, in this context, as this: I've always used my Macs with a goal as doing as much as possible with them. I used a seemingly limitless variety of apps and utilities. I tinkered. I installed betas. It was practically a goal to break things so that I could fix them. I enjoyed troubleshooting. But I was also concerned with getting things done.

My early use of the iPad was similar. I jailbroke my first two iPads primarily so I could share the cellular connection to my Mac. I immediately installed any app that might allow me to do my "work" on the iPad. From finance tracking to website updating to blogging to graphic creation to database apps. Of course I'm still curious about the possible solutions apps can provide for the tasks I need to do but I've recently realized that I often have the most success with a more straightforward approach. Just as Spotlight gradually replaced Quicksilver and LaunchBar on my Macs, I'm finding that Apple stock apps such as Notes are often be my best option.

I've used Notes quite a bit over the past few years and no doubt, it began as a fairly simple app. But Apple has nurtured it into an app that is, in its current iteration, really very capable. Interestingly, during the same period, I also tried using Evernote more than a couple times but I never quite settled into it. I could understand why so many people used it given its extensive feature list but it never quite clicked for me. My typical use with Apple Notes was saving text notes and the occasional link. I generally did not need to add attachments (on a Mac I preferred to just put any files such as pdfs or images in the Finder) and didn't need to share or collaborate with anyone. I bumped into it's limitations on occasion but it was never enough to stop me from using it.

The best way I can describe my use of Notes is that it is my catch-all for text and links, often as a sort of shared clipboard between devices with an easy way to share out via Messages, Mail or any number of other apps. One unfortunate limitation, links saved in a note seem to export with any method. Any effort to copy/paste or to use a share sheet to send a saved link and any text in a note, removes the link and only results in the plain text of the article title. Not very helpful and a bummer because this could be useful in a lot of different ways. Almost every other attachment can be shared out along with any text I've added to a note. One limitation of attaching documents such as pdfs, Pages or any other document that might have editable text is that they are not indexed. Not a deal breaker but it would be nice. In my personal use I don't tend to accumulate lots of notes with attachments because I tend to use them for projects rather than long-term storage.

More often than not when I create a new note it is a text capture via a share sheet from another app. Quite a few notes are for projects or clients and they might be something that I just scribble in and delete a couple days later or they might be longer term. In the past I've tried different apps for tracking time on client projects but several months ago I realized I wasn't all that happy with the apps I'd been using for such tracking. I decided it might be easier and simpler to do this tracking with a note and I was right. It's worked out great. I have a "Timecards" note and every project gets tracked there. Each project gets a section and anytime I work I log it with a simple line item: Date Time Description in that section. Simple and efficient. Eventually those line items get entered into an a FileMaker Pro invoice.

I've only had a need to share notes via the collaboration feature on a couple of occasions but it has worked well in those instances. It's a nice feature to have when I need it.

A lot of Apple nerds have been raving lately about Bear. I gave it a try and it is a nice app but it's not for me. Between Apple Notes and Ulysses much of what I do with text is covered. In the past I've also tinkered with Drafts and for awhile I used Byword and Editorial as a part of my gathering and writing process but not lately. While I've not yet deleted those three apps I likely will. I've not used any of them in quite some time and doubt I'll have any need of them in the future. They are superfluous. As I whittle down my folders of apps I am enjoying a certain confidence in the fewer tools that I choose to keep.