Monthly Archives: April 2018

Using Affinity Photo on iPad: File Management

To say that I am an enthusiastic user of Affinity Photo would be an under statement. It is the most used app on my iPad and always a pleasure to use. I’ve been using it for client projects literally since the day it was released in June 2017. With the first update of 2018, version 1.6.7 the developers added the ability to open and save files in place. This is great because while the app has a decent built-in interface for managing files and folders that interface does have limitations. I’ve mostly been ignoring those limitations until today. By chance I was poking around the iPad Settings app and took a look at my iPad’s storage and saw that Affinity Photo was using up 22GB! I’ve got quite a few projects but expected it to be half of that. But using the apps built in method for file interaction provides no indication of file sizes so really, it’s all just guessing. Another limitation is that if I want to back-up a bunch of files, copy or move them I have to do it one at a time via the “Save as” option. Very tedious.

 

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Using the Affinity Photo file browser to browse a folder containing 4 files

Now, I’ve got plenty of storage on my iPad but I don’t like the feeling that if I want to move or copy my files I have to do it one file at a time. There’s no way to tag or search files either. That’s not a problem if I’ve just got 10 files. But if I’ve got 150 files in 12 folders you can see how cumbersome this can be. File management is the only part of the app that I found average. So, I decided it was time to have a serious look at how Affinity Photo uses the Files app. I’d previously tinkered with it but it seemed a bit confusing.

By default files are stored within the Affinity Photo built in storage system on the iPad. A sort of hidden storage area which only shows up in the documents browser within Affinity Photo. It’s not possible to see file sizes from this location. How do I move these over to the Files app and what are the options? There are two options for storage in the Settings, general tab: iCloud or “On my iPad”. If I had better internet I would have gone with iCloud. But given the bandwidth Iimits I have (rural satellite) I chose “On my iPad”.

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To save my Affinity Project files to this Files accessible storage area I access the corner widget of the document icon in the built-in document browser and chose “Save”. The file is then saved into “On my iPad” in the “Photo” folder on iPad. After that I can open it up from the Files app using the “On my iPad” location in the side bar. From the Files app I can now see the file size and easily share the file via the share sheet or via drag and drop from the Files app to any location or to email as an attachment or Messages or whatever.

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The Affinity Photo folder is very easy to spot thanks to the icon.

So, going forward, I’ll be moving my current Affinity Photo files over to this local iPad storage and will save all new files there. I’ll save in folders by project and/or client and also begin using some of the tags that I have set-up for the Files app. After a file has been saved to Files I will delete the original that remains within the Affinity Photo app storage system so as to not have duplicates. Interestingly, the way to delete a file from the application storage is simply to select the same corner widget where the Save function is, but choose Close. They really should call it Delete not Close. Now, if I then open the newer copy of the file from within the Files app and make changes I can choose the option (again, the widget is in the bottom of the file icon) to Save and then Close. In this latter case it is closed from the application but remains in the Files app as one would expect. It’s a bit confusing and I hope the folks at Affinity change the way it is labeled. Files stored internally should have the option to Delete. Files stored in the Files app should have the option to close.

As long as the files are in the “Photo” folder on “On my iPad” they can easily be opened “in place” from Files by a simple tap to it’s icon. I can save at any time and any changes I make get saved back to the file just as I would expect. Note, again, saving is done while looking at the document icon from within the Affinity Photo file browser and choosing save from the widget from the lower right corner. Files can also be nested in other folders within that Photo folder in the Files app.

What happens if I copy these folders or files to another location, for example, to the a Documents folder in my iCloud Drive? In that case tapping it does not open into the app but rather opens a preview of it in the Files app. I can then use the “Copy to Photo” option in the share sheet to send it to Photo. As long as I leave don’t use the above mentioned “Close” option I can repeatedly open it for editing. I can save changes and those changes will take place on that file. If I close it I have to reopen again via the same “Copy to Photo” option in the share sheet. So, it’s still open in place with changes saved back, but it’s opening process is slightly different.

Affinity Photo is an app I’ll be using for many years and many client projects. It is a “Pro” app. Given that, I’m hoping that the developers add an option to use the Files app as the default method for managing files. Maybe even making that the default rather than the current storage within the app’s hidden away storage. The current options that I’ve discussed above are in the app’s help pages but some of the specifics are missing. For now it would helpful if they could emphasize the option for saving out to files stored in the Files app.

New-to-me iPad and iOS Sites and Podcasts

Thought I’d do a quick round-up of a few iPad and iOS sites I’ve recently come across.

In no particular order…

The iPad Guild is written by Chris Wilson who is using the iPad as his primary computing device. A very nice site illustrating how he uses the iPad, various tips and tricks and the problems he’s encountered.

Tablet Habit is an excellent site written by Jeff Perry who is the co-host of the Slab of Glass podcast. The podcast is cohosted by Christopher Lawley who also publishes the website
The Untitled Site. You’ll find a blog there as well as his videos which are published via YouTube.

Last, I recently came across a podcast about using iOS, In Touch with iOS which I’m really enjoying.

Trying Drafts Again

(Note: I started this post back in February but never published. It’s now April and Drafts 5 has just recently been released!)

First, I’ll say that I make it a point to not clutter up my devices with apps I don’t use. There’s a balance to be found finding apps that work and sticking to them but also remaining open to discovering new apps. Early on with iPad then iPhone I tried lots of apps that I didn’t use for long and then I gradually settled to a fairly small subset that fill most of my needs. But being a nerd there is a constant pushback. Reading and listening to Federico Viticci makes this even more difficult. He’s constantly experimenting. So much so that I don’t know how he get’s any sleep given what he produces. He had a recent write-up on new automation in Things 3.4 which I sorta use and in it he also touched on the up-coming Drafts 5.

Drafts. This is one of those apps I bought but that I never use. It fits into the territory of Notes and Evernote. A few years back I tried Evernote for a few months but gave up on it. Why? Notes. I’ve always gravitated back to Apple Notes. And it’s even better now with scanning, searchable pdfs, images, etc. That said Drafts has a few advantages for just working with text, particularly Markdown. But then it crosses over into territory that is also occupied by iA Writer which is what I use for blogging and podcast transcription. So, it becomes a case of is there really a place for it or is it just clutter?

The key in determining if it will be useful for me will be the actions it is capable of. The primary purpose behind Drafts is that it is meant to be a place for quickly capturing text which can be built on or sent on to another app. Certainly, the quick capture is true. When I tried it in the past I looked at the automations and thought yes, they would be useful but most seemed to be basic feeds to other apps. Which is the point and which also had me questioning the usefulness. Why not just start and finish the email in Mail? Start and finish the post in Micro.Blog? The tweet in Twitterrific. The event in Fantastical. The to-do in Things. Again, that is the whole point of Drafts. It is for people who want to go to one place to start every action. Hence the name. You start a draft which you then send on to its final destination. Finally, the light goes off in my head. It took too long and it’s pretty dim. But there it is.

Okay, okay. So, now that I finally get this simple point and purpose, will I fit it in? I admit I’m curious. Over the past couple days I’ve made it a point to try. I added a couple of items to Things via Drafts. I added a couple of items to my calendar via the Drafts to Fantastical action. I even created a blog post which I saved to my iA Writer directory on iCloud. I hopped over to iA Writer and opened it and posted to WordPress. I’m going to make an effort for the next week or so to start with Drafts. That should be enough time to make it a part of the routine and better get to know the app and what it is like to use and whether it reduces friction or increases it. Some of these actions are the sort of things I increasingly accomplish with Siri. When I added the events to my calendar using Drafts I had to deliberately stop myself from using Siri. Fine for the purposes of evaluation but day-to-day I’d likely just use Siri.

April 19th update. Well, I wrote the above but never published it. Did I use Drafts much in the 50 days since writing the above post? Some but not much. The final version was just released yesterday so of course it’s all over my RSS and Twitter as the nerds go nuts for the latest text app. I spent some time reading the review by Tim Nahumck over at MacStories. I’ve read a few other things and watched a couple videos. I decided that to give it a fair shake I needed to move it into the Dock where it now sits by iA Writer which would be the app it would potentially replace.

Comparing iA Writer and Drafts Both apps have very pleasant writing environments. Both have features the other does not so there will be trade offs as is always the case when choosing between apps of any kind.

I use iA Writer to write and publish to my two WordPress blogs and for podcast transcripts which get exported to pdf and html. It works very well for those tasks. How does Drafts do? With Drafts I can print to pdf and export to html (both are actions downloaded from the action directory). There is no built in blog publishing other than sharing via the share sheet to the WordPress which is very limited. That said, there is an action to copy as rich text. From there it is a simple step to switch to Safari or the WordPress app, create a post and paste. When I use iA Writer I’m taken to Safari anyway for a final check before I post from within Safari. So, either way, it’s essentially the same.

Document storage is another consideration. Here I give the edge to iA Writer which autosaves and stores all of it’s files as text files in iCloud which is a huge plus. Also, iA Writer documents in the app can be stored in folders and those folders also exist in the Files app on iCloud. By comparison, Drafts keeps its documents in its own synched database and does not offer folders other than the default four which are Inbox, Flagged, Archive and Trash. Organization in Drafts can be accomplished via tags though and that’s potentially very useful and potentially even more powerful than folder-based organization. If I need to I can save my documents as txt to any location which is an added step by comparison to the native text files used by iA Writer but it’s a pretty simple step.

The greatest benefit to using Drafts would be the more customizable interface and the extensibility of actions. The whole point of the app (originally) was a place to start text so that it could then be used in a variety of ways via sharing. I’ll add that getting text into Drafts is much easier via other apps’ share sheets. I often want to share text from Safari for a blog post. With Drafts I can select text and the share sheet gives me that selection as well as the markdown link at the top. Very handy. With iA Writer this is not possible. I find it hard to believe that the developers of iA Writer have not enabled receiving text from other apps via share sheets! I can copy/paste or drag and drop but it’s extra work. A big plus for Drafts on this.

Of course, there is far more to both of these apps, I’m only touching on the most obvious features in regards to my typical usage. I really like the feel of both of them. Very pleasant to write in and easy to use. They both stay out of the way but provide enough interface to make formatting markdown easy.

Subscriptions Done Right

Pricing on Drafts 5 has definitely gone up regardless of the subscription. Version 4 has been on sale for 3 to 4 years at $5. Cost now is $20 a year which is still more affordable than Ulysses but 4 times the cost of the previous version. Given that it is per year, it would be $60 for 3 years compared to $15 at the previous rate (assuming $5/per year). I think a part of the negative reaction to subscriptions is that they seem to be price increases at the same time. Every user will have their own line based on usefulness and budget. For my I purposes of blogging and transcripts I could just as easily rely on Pages or Notes. This kind of app is optional for me and I wouldn’t want to pay more than $10/year. The previous price of $5 was too little especially given it was a one time purchase. I think this time he’s jumped just a little too far the other direction. But that’s my judgment from my perspective.

All that said, while Drafts 5 is a subscription I actually like the way it’s being done. I can use the nearly full functionality of the app without a subscription. All the essential stuff works and some of the “extras” too. The pro subscription is for the advanced feature set that I may never use. For those that use those pro features the subscription is a great way to support continued development. If I find myself using the app, even just the basic functionality, I’ll likely subscribe for at least a few months to contribute to the development. I like that I have the option to drop out of the subscription and continue creating with the app. With Ulysses’ subs I felt locked in, restricted to viewing and exporting only, and so I stopped using it the day they switched to subscriptions. Yes, I know I could have continued using the version I had till it stopped working with a future iOS update. But I didn’t see the point of it given my eventual departure. Why lock-in all my writing when the end result would be the same thing: moving to a different app.

A Good Problem to Have

It’s great that there are so many fantastic apps being developed for iOS. I’d much rather have too many to choose from than not enough. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Drafts. I’m curious to see if it becomes a habit. I’m used to going to apps and I suspect I’ll continue to do so. That said, I see the merit of having one place to start all text which then get’s pushed out to other apps. Time will tell.

Apple’s Education Commitment

The March 27 Apple education event has come and gone and I’ve taken a couple weeks to digest others’ responses which have been generally positive. My own response, at the time of the event was very positive and after a couple of weeks I continue to be so. There’s a lot to unpack so I’ve taken my time mulling it over. Also, I should say, I’m not a teacher in any school. But education is dear to me and I’ve spent many, many hours of my life encouraging life long learning in every community I have lived in. I’ve helped homeschool kids and volunteered at an adult literacy program, led group workshops for all ages and tutored one-on-one. Education is something I’ve done because I deeply value personal growth. I want the humans around me to strive towards the fullest expression of their potential and if I can be a part of that process I consider myself very fortunate.

Okay, enough of that. Let’s get back to Apple’s announcements.

**Everyone Can Create curriculum **
Apple has added a new curriculum along side of their previously introduced Everyone Can Code. This new branch is exactly what we would expect as the follow-up: Everyone Can Create. They created a video to tell this story and it’s a lot of fun:

Apple has this to say about the importance of creativity in the learning process:

After 40 years working alongside educators, we’ve seen — and research has shown — that creative thinking leads to deeper student engagement. And when students are more engaged, they take more ownership of their learning. Creative skills help students become better problem solvers, communicators, and collaborators. They explore more and experiment more. They tell richer stories and find their own unique voices. They stretch their imaginations and make connections they might not otherwise make — and carry all these skills through everything they’ll do in school. And beyond.

They’ve gone to great lengths to highlight the iPad as the best computer for students to have in their endeavors. From form factor to app ecosystem, and I think it’s true. While Chromebooks have gained market share due to the cheap price, ease of management, and the covering of conventional academic needs such as the writing of papers. Stuck in the laptop form factor Chromebooks are good for sitting on desks and doing inside, at a desk tasks. Apple continues to position the iPad as the tool that goes beyond the desk, beyond boundaries. It’s the tool that kids can take outside to record video or sketch or paint or photograph or record audio. It’s the tool that can be used to assemble those videos, sketches, paintings, photographs and audio recordings into a variety of academic presentations or reports or even books.

But Apple isn’t just putting the device out there. They’ve taken the added step of providing lessons to help the process along. The Teacher Guide preview for the Everyone Can Create curriculum looks pretty fantastic.

Designed with the help of educators and creative professionals, Everyone Can Create introduces the fundamental skills and techniques of video, photography, music, and drawing. Students will use free apps available on any iPad, like Clips and GarageBand, taking advantage of the built-in camera, microphone, speakers, Multi-Touch display, and support for Apple Pencil. The curriculum also offers materials to help teachers infuse these skills into the subjects they teach every day. So students can use musical rhythm to make a math equation more memorable, produce a video to re-create a turning point in history, or use drawing to illustrate a city’s changes in architecture over time.

I’ve been reading through it and to this layman’s eyes it looks like a really engaging creative process to enhance the learning of material that might otherwise be learned in more traditional ways, namely the taking of notes from lectures and books which lead to essays and papers. This curriculum is Apple’s recipe for using the creative arts to build a new process

There’s a lot more on the Apple More for Teacher’s resource page.

Cost
One persistent criticism of iPad-centered curriculum is the price. Quite a few have commented that it’s too much, especially for an education system that is cash-strapped. Oh, I’ve got some thoughts on this. Boy do I. Our lack of funding for education is nothing more than a political problem that is immediately fixable. The fact that the U.S. has, for decades, chosen to grossly outspend every other nation on the planet in it’s spending on its military is THE direct cause for our under-funded education system. This is not Apple’s fault and not Apple’s problem. Period.

My proposal is an immediate cut to military funding by 40%. Yes, 40%. Then 50% and then 60% and then 70%. Let’s put that money into education, healthcare, and other humanitarian programs. There’s no reason, none at all, that our education system should be anything but fully funded and such a system could afford iPads for ever student and far more than that.

Until such a time as we make better, more ethical choices about our national priorities schools will continue to go underfunded. In that environment many schools will not be able to go all in on iPads. For many of the poorest schools even the cheapest Chromebooks might be out of reach.

Creativity with iPad

I’ve used the iPad for a variety of creative endeavors over the years. From video editing to design projects to paintings of nebulae in deep space. It’s a fantastic creative tool and with the latest iPad, the Pencil is now available for the base model. Serenity Caldwell’s review of the 2018 iPad and the Apple Pencil released at Apple’s Education event is an excellent example of what is possible with this new device. Written, edited and completely produced using the new iPad. I’m a big fan of iMore in general and Serenity in particular. She’s always thorough and offers a balance of positivity and critique that I’ve come to appreciate. She really digs into what can be done with these devices and steps outside of the usual written review. Actually, she often writes a review too but she does’t stop with the written word. From her illustrated review of the Apple Pencil to this most recent review, she really explores the creative potential using the device being reviewed. With her current video review she also offers a detailed description of the process that she used. Very helpful for anyone wanting to learn more about how to create with their iPad.

Serenity also put together round-up of tips, techniques, apps and website resources for those that want to learn how to draw using an iPad and Pencil. I’m going to do a post soon about my recent exploration of lettering using the Pencil and iPad. I’ve long avoided handwriting in favor of the keyboard. My handwriting, never good, has only gotten worse. Via a tweet by Matt Gemmell I recently discovered a free video tutorial for brush lettering using the iPad and it’s been fun.

It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway, of all the Apple computing devices I’ve owned the iPad is, by far, my favorite. Just a few years ago I never would have thought my favorite would be anything other than a Mac. 

Apple’s Renewable Energy

Apple’s attention to the details of its environmental impacts has become one of the best things about the company. They are in a position to have a substantial impact and they are pushing forward constantly. The latest news is that the Apple now globally powered by 100 percent renewable energy. But even better, they are getting their suppliers into clean energy and as of today nine more of its suppliers have committed to 100% clean energy production.

“We’re committed to leaving the world better than we found it. After years of hard work we’re proud to have reached this significant milestone,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We’re going to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible with the materials in our products, the way we recycle them, our facilities and our work with suppliers to establish new creative and forward-looking sources of renewable energy because we know the future depends on it.”

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Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino is powered by 100 percent renewable energy, in part from a 17-megawatt onsite rooftop solar installation.

Apple and its partners are building new renewable energy projects around the world, improving the energy options for local communities, states and even entire countries. Apple creates or develops, with utilities, new regional renewable energy projects that would not otherwise exist. These projects represent a diverse range of energy sources, including solar arrays and wind farms as well as emerging technologies like biogas fuel cells, micro-hydro generation systems and energy storage technologies.

It goes without saying that all companies should follow Apple’s lead.