Category Archives: iOS

Adobe’s Baggage

In a recent post on his blog, John Nack asked; Affinity Photo on iPad: Will anyone care?

I and a few others posted comments. My response:

I know I do. Over the past year I’ve shifted most of my work over to iPad. I manage 15+ client websites using Coda. On the Mac I’d been shifting most of my non-InDesign work over to Affinity Designer and Photo. I almost never open Photoshop or Illustrator anymore. Affinity Photo is the real deal which is to say, it has most of the features found on the Mac version and can be interchanged from iPad to Mac and back. I bought it immediately and have already used it for several client projects with great delight.

So, yes, some of us do. And really, having a look at iOS 11 it seems pretty clear that Apple’s intent is to keep going with the iPad. They’re deepening their investment and I suspect that as the months roll by many more users will begin delving deeper into it’s capabilities. When Affinity Designer is released I’ll buy it immediately. I’d pay them double what they will likely be asking for it. I’ll use it on this big, beautiful iPad to earn my living.

As much as I’ve enjoyed using my Macs for the past 24 years I now use this new kind of “Mac” that Apple calls the iPad. No going back.

He was kind enough to respond:

Thanks for the perspective. I don’t doubt that you & other professionals would pay double without hesitation, but for a company like Adobe, even that (in this case $26, which is what they’d gross from a $40 sale after Apple takes its cut) just isn’t interesting. Making eight figures with Photoshop Touch wasn’t interesting. They’re going to need that amount or more from you every month in order to justify developing a suite of apps. Now, maybe folks like Affinity can be a lot more nimble and lean, and maybe that’ll be enough. As I say, we shall continue to see.

Really? Really? I guess this confirms my thoughts about Adobe: baggage that is best left behind. They’ve built a monolithic business with a lot of weight and apparently they can’t be bothered. I’ll happily support the fine folks at Serif and encourage you do give Affinity Photo a try.

Panic and the price of “pro” apps for iOS

Panic posted it’s The 2016 Panic Report and offered this very glaring and blunt statement about developing and selling iOS apps:

  • iOS continues to haunt us. If you remember, 2016 was the year we killed Status Board, our very nice data visualization app. Now, a lot of it was our fault. But it was another blow to our heavy investment in pro-level iOS apps a couple years ago, a decision we’re still feeling the ramifications of today as we revert back to a deep focus on macOS. Trying to do macOS quality work on iOS cost us a lot of time for sadly not much payoff. We love iOS, we love our iPhones, and we love our iPads. But we remain convinced that it’s not — yet? — possible to make a living selling pro software on those platforms. Which is a real bummer!

Yikes. Very disappointing. But I have to admit that I have very mixed feelings about Panic. I’ve used Coda and Transmit on the Mac for years. Now I use them on my iPad and they are two of my most used apps. They’re great apps. But here’s the thing, as much as I enjoy and use Panic apps there is this other thing that kind of bothers me. Take the statement above. Who the hell was using Status Board? My (admittedly vague) understanding is they started that app for themselves and used it in house. I may be mis-remembering that. But regardless, I looked at it and while neat I had absolutely no use for it. I don’t see how Status Board was a pro level app. Or, if it was, I don’t see why the failure of that one app should impact 3 other iOS apps that are most definitely “pro” apps and which I suspect have a much larger, more committed user base.

Panic’s public face often seems silly to me. A year or so ago a big deal was made about their clever sign. They seem kind of squirrely in that they seem to get distracted by fun and otherwise cute projects. On a certain level, that’s great. Fun is good, whimsy too. But it just seems odd that they put that much time and effort into a sign with an iPhone app that people can use to change the colors of the sign and yet, a year later they are complaining about the time and energy investment in iOS apps not paying off. It seems odd.

Meanwhile, Coda, introduced on the Mac in 2007, currently sits at version 2 which was released in 2012. That’s 5 years per version. Which seems a little long but not too bad. But based on Panic’s 2016 review and 2017 projection we should not expect Coda 3 anytime soon. I’m fine with that as I’m not using the Mac version much at all. But in the comments to their post was a link to a twitter thread involving a bug/missing feature in Transmit 4 (the current version). It was brought to their attention in late 2014 and while Panic replied steadily as time progressed the issue has yet to be addressed even though Panic first suggested they had a fix as far back as early 2015 and yet, two years later, that thread is still going and that issue is unresolved. That is poor form. And I’m sure it’s not the only example.

Panic is one of those companies that has a sterling reputation in the Apple Nerd Herd and I’m conflicted as to whether it is deserved. It’s important to be realistic in our expectation. I often think folks are not very realistic in their expectations of Apple. Perhaps I’m being too harsh in my assessment of Panic. They’ve got a nice chart demonstrating how active they were in updating their apps over the course of 2016 and they were. A few new features but mostly lots of bug fixes. Looking at the release notes it was lots of bug fixes. That’s not to trivialize the updates because removing bugs is important (hence my comment in the previous paragraph).

To reiterate, these are fantastic apps and they seem to be solidly supported. I suppose I just don’t understand their complaint about selling apps for iOS. It is they who set the prices. As of now it looks like Coda sells for $24.99 and Transmit is $9.99. In 2015 Coda was only $9.99 and was a free upgrade to those that had purchased the first version. That seems far too low to me and is certainly lower than the Mac versions. Why not bump up the price? I paid a good bit more for the Mac version of Coda and would happily pay more for the iOS version if it was asked and if it meant that Panic would be more committed to development on the iOS side of things.

I’m not an app developer. I’ve not done a comprehensive review of the costs of iOS apps that are being built for and sold to professionals. I do think that the developers of professional grade apps such as Coda and Transmit should sell their apps at a price they think is fair for the product. If it’s the same price as that being asked for the Mac version then so be it. I know that a version of Affinty Designer is in being worked on and if it sells for the same price as the Mac version I’ll pay it. Again, I’ll pay it enthusiastically because it’s an app I want and need to make my iPad more valuable as a tool for my graphic design projects.

This post seems a bit unfocused to me. It was Panic’s recent statement about selling “pro” iOS apps that set me off. Panic goes out of it’s way to share the many ways in which it is whimsical and it’s apps delightful to use. It’s evident in the design and presentation of the blog, the website, the apps. Whimsy is everywhere and it’s wonderful. But when it comes to pricing their apps, valuable tools that do indeed help professionals get real work done, maybe Panic needs to take itself and it’s user base more seriously.

Settling into iOS

Over the past six months I've been writing a good bit more here and much of it has been about various aspects of using iOS. Back in May, after a seven month blogging hiatus, I wrote about my shifting computer usage. At the time I'd noticed that I'd almost accidentally shifted towards iOS. But then the accidental shift became purposeful as I also realized that not only was I getting more done with iOS but I was also enjoying it more than I had in previous years. This was in part because I had learned to use it better which meant using it with less mental friction. Along with that were features such as extensions and split screen that made it more powerful. In short I could do more and that doing more was happening without me having to think about how to do it. iOS had begun to click for me in the same way that the Mac had so many years ago.

One of many arrangements possible with my iPad!

One of many arrangements possible with my iPad!

The Mac. I've been using a Mac for 24 years. Since 1998 I've rarely gone a day without using one. Most days I've logged several hours at a Mac keyboard. With each operating system I happily learned all the new features. After so many years the Mac seemed so natural to use. It was an extension of me. I knew the operating system and my usual apps so well that I never had to pause to consider how to accomplish any task unless I was learning a new app or skill. The toolset provided by the OS and apps were there to help me get my work done with less effort.

When iOS entered the scene not only did it present a radical departure in form factor but the OS itself seemed far too limited. And it was. If it was an extension of me it was an extension bound in an awkward and uncomfortable cast. I wanted to love it and I did use it on several versions of iPad. Sometimes I even enjoyed it. But it never quite clicked. I always felt I was working harder jumping through hoops and taking extra steps. All of general use apps for reading the web or books, email, calendaring, and to-dos worked well enough. But any sort of specialty app ended up being a disappointment. I think some of that was, no doubt, the limitation of the OS. But it was also just my lack of comfort. (Update: Just as I was nearing completion of this I came across a twitter conversation between Matt Gemmell and Ben Brooks and I think it fits perfectly in this post).

I don' think it's about being scared so much as it is the comfort of long practice as well as very real constraints of apps and OS. In May I turned a corner and I suddenly found iOS was just as easy to use as the Mac1. Not only that, but many tasks were actually quite a bit easier or seemed so. Some of this was iOS. Some of it the improved quality of apps. Some of it was just me having settled in to this new home. Even better, as the mental friction slipped away I came to more fully appreciate and enjoy the iPad form factor. This may seem silly but at some point in the spring I decided to start using the iPad without the smart cover except for the times I needed to prop it up for typing with an external keyboard or going out with the iPad. I've always used a case or cover but there's something very nice about using an iPad bare. With just the metal and glass in my hands the iPad is at it's lightest and thinnest, it just feels better.

I'm not iPad only and won't be anytime soon. The Mac still has some uses for me that I cannot duplicate on an iPad. The biggest of these is layout on InDesign. It's something I need to do for clients once or twice a month. Much of my graphic design is also on the Mac but I can see this moving over to the iPad and I'm actively working on that. But I'm still surprised at how little I'm using the Mac these days. I suspect I'll keep one around for a long time. No doubt it's still a great operating system and I'd never want to use any other desktop OS but it just doesn't feel like home anymore.

  1. I can imagine a scenario in which a young person of today, having grown up using an iPad, eventually finds themselves at the keyboard of a Mac. They'd likely endure a period of adjustment and discomfort.

Trying Workflow Again

As I've transitioned to the iPad for more of my work, specifically client website updates, my process has been a bit in flux. It's an ongoing experiment. I won't dig into those details here but just wanted to mention it because as a process in flux I find that I'm actively looking for ways to streamline the process.

One particular area is adding new images to a site. For example, every month or so I get images for flyers for Marquand, Mo. More often than not it's a mix of jpgs and pdfs. If I were working from my Mac I'd open the file up from Apple Mail into Affinity Photo (or Photoshop though that is increasingly rare these days). From there I would save it for the web into the appropriate folder for the site on my central store of files on DropBox. Then I open Coda, the site and the file. Update the html and upload the new version along with the image.

How I do it on the iPad: from AirMail (or Apple Mail) if the file is a pdf I open the attachment in Graphic and crop (if necessary). Then I share to a very simple Workflow which prompts me to resize it with desired dimensions. The Workflow then opens up a save to Dropbox dialog in which I navigate to the appropriate folder. Once saved the Workflow then prompts me to save it to my local shared Transmit/Coda file store (on the iPad). Again, I navigate to the appropriate website folder and save. Then I open Coda and the site. I update the html and upload the new version along with the image to the server. The process is nearly identical as the process when using the Mac. If the file is already a jpg I can skip the step of opening the file in Graphic and just open it straight to Workflow where the image is resized and saved. In that case it's actually a couple steps shorter than the Mac process.

When I first set this Workflow up I just had the image files being saved in Dropbox. Then I would open them in the Dropbox app and send them to the local Transmit/Coda file store. This was at least a couple of extra steps. After a few weeks of this longer process it occurred to me to check Workflow to see if I could automate that step and sure enough, it worked. I simply had not thought it through the first time around. I know that I've still not really explored the many possibilities of using Workflow but this has really drawn my attention to the potential of the automation process!

The thing about Workflow is that it really requires imagination as well as an awareness of one's work processes. It's a very powerful toolset but a toolset that really requires the user to make an investment of time and mental focus. To realize the potential it requires one to first analyze the steps taken during our workday as well as a willingness to imagine how those steps might be accomplished by the app which means spending time to understand the features of the app. Then it requires a willingness to experiment in the Workflow building process. It's not that hard but I've noticed in reading others' comments online that there is a blockage for many people. The power of the app is obvious, but the steps and ways that the app can actually be put to use is not.

Much of what I've seen written online about the app offers examples of the Workflows in the gallery. The problem with those, though many might be helpful, is that they often seem trivial on the surface. They seem too simple, too much like tasks that can just be accomplished by going directly to an app or making a request of Siri. Opposite of this are the the far more detailed examples of complicated, custom Workflows don't seem useful as they are designed for very specific tasks. I guess what I'm getting at is that this is the kind of tool that many will download but never use because they are not prepared for that initial time and mental investment. They won't get it because it will seem too simple or too complicated or both.

Favorite iOS 10 feature thus far?

iOS 10 was released about a month ago and my current favorite feature in just a little thing: when using a bluetooth keyboard with my iPad I can use the command-tab combo to bring up the application switcher while I'm in an app. There is no visual jump to having the switcher over the home screen first. Just a second of time and less jarring visually. Still, nice!