Category Archives: iPad Journal

Using an iPad to maintain websites – my workflow

A couple weeks ago I wrote about my website managment workflow changing up a bit due to Panic’s recent announcement that they were discontinuing Transmit. To summarize, yes, Transmit will continue to work for the time being and Panic has stated that it will continue developing Coda for iOS. But they’ve been slow to adopt new iOS features such as drag one drop while plenty of others are already offering that support. So, I’ve been checking out my options.

After two weeks with the new workflow on the iPad I can say this was a great decision and I no longer consider it tentative or experimental. This is going to stick and I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve moved Coda off my dock and into a folder. In it’s place are Textastic and FileBrowser. Not only is this going to work, it’s going to be much better than I expected. Here’s why.

iCloud Storage, FTP, Two Pane View
Textastic allows for my “local” file storage to be in iCloud. So, unlike Coda, my files are now synced between all devices. Next, Textastic’s built in ftp is excellent. And I get the two pane file browser I’ve gotten used to with Transmit and Coda. Local files on the left, server files on the right. The html editor is excellent and is, for the most part, more responsive than Coda. Also, and this is really nice as it saves me from extra tapping, uploading right from a standard share button within the edit window. Coda requires switching out of the edit window to upload changes.

Drag and Drop
Unlike Transmit and Coda, the developers of FileBrowser have implemented excellent drag and drop support. I’ve set-up ftp servers in FileBrowser and now it’s a simple action to select multiple files from practically anywhere and drag them right into my server. Or, just as easily, because I’ve got all of my website projects stored in iCloud I can drag and drop from anywhere right into the appropriate project folder in the Files app then use the ftp server in Textastic to upload. Either way works great. Coda/Transmit do not support drag and drop between apps and are a closed silo. The new workflow is now much more open and with less friction.

Image Display and Editing
One benefit of FileBrowser is the display of images. In the file view thumbnails on the remote server are nicely displayed. If I need to browse through a folder of images at a much larger view I can do that too as it has a full screen image display that allows for swiping through. Fantastic and not something offered by Transmit or Coda. Also, from a list view of either Files or FileBrowser, local or remote, I can easily drag and drop an image to import into Affinity Photo for editing. Or, from the list view, I can select the photo to share/copy to Affinity Photo (or any image editor).

Textastic and Files
This was another pleasant surprise. While I’ll often get into editing mode and just work from an app, in this case Textastic, every so often I might come at the task from another app. Say, for example, I’ve gotten a new images emailed from a client as happened today. I opened Files into split view with Mail. In two taps I had the project folder open in Files. A simple drag and drop and my images were in the folder they needed to go to. The client also had text in the body of the email for an update to one of his pages. I copied it then tapped the html file in Files which opened the file right up in Textastic. I made the change. Then uploaded the images and html files right from Textastic.

Problems?
Thus far I’ve encountered only one oddity with this new workflow and it has to do with this last point of editing Textastic files by selecting them from within the Files app. As far as I can tell, this is not creating a new copy or anything, it is editing the file in place within Textastic. But for any file I’ve accessed via Files it shows a slight variation in the recents file list within Textastic. Same file, but the app seems to be treating it as a different file and it shows up twice in the recent files list. Weird. It is just one file though and my changes are intact regardless of how I’m opening it. As a user it seems like a bug but it may just be “the way it works”.

Panic, Transmit and Keeping My Options Open

I’ve been coding websites for the web since 1999 and doing it for clients since 2002. I started using Coda for Mac when the first version came out and when Transmit and Coda became available for iOS I purchased both. When I transitioned to the iPad as my primary computer in 2016 those two apps became the most important on my iPad. But no more.

A couple weeks ago Panic announced that they would no longer be developing Transmit for iOS. They’d hinted in a blog post a year or two ago that iOS development was shaky for them. They say though that Coda for iOS will continue. But I’m going to start trying alternative workflows. In fact, I’ve already put one in place and will be using it for the foreseeable future. Why do this if Coda still works and has stated support for the future?

I’m not an app developer. I’m also not an insider at Panic. But as a user, I find it frustrating that we are over three full months since the release of iOS 11 and seven months since WWDC and Panic’s apps still do not support drag and drop in iOS 11. Plenty of other apps that I use do. I find myself a bit irritated that Panic occupies this pedestal in the Apple nerd community. It’s true that their apps are visually appealing. Great. I agree. But how’s about we add support for important functionality? I really love Coda and Transmit but I just don’t feel the same about Panic as a company. Sometimes it seems like they’ve got plenty of time and resources for whimsy (see their blog for posts about their sign and fake photo company) and that’s great I guess. I guess as a user that depends on their apps I’d rather they focus on the apps. I’m on the outside looking in and it’s their company to do as they please. But as a user I’ll have an opinion based on the information I have. And though they’ve said Coda for iOS will continue, it’s time to test other options.

I’ve been using FileBrowser for three years just as a way to access local files on my MacMini. I’d not thought much about how it might be used as my FTP client for website management in conjunction with Apple’s new Files app. Thanks to Federico’s recent article on FTP clients I was reminded that FileBrowser is actually a very capable ftp app. So, I set-up a couple of my ftp accounts. With this set-up I can easily access my servers on one side of my split screen via FileBrowser and my “local” iCloud site folders in Files on the other side. I really like the feel of it. The Files app is pretty fantastic and being able to rely on that in this set-up is a big plus. It feels more open which brings me to the next essential element in this process: editing html files.

One of my frustrations with Coda and Transmit was that my “local” files were stuck in a shared Coda/Transmit silo. Nice that they were interchangeable between the two but I could not locate them in DropBox or iCloud. With this new set-up I needed a text editor that could work from iCloud as a local file storage. I’ve got two options that I’m starting with, both have built in ftp as well as iCloud as a file storage option. Textastic is my current favorite. Another is GoCoEdit. Both have built in preview or the option to use Safari as a live preview. So, as of now, I open my coding/preview space and use a split between Textastic and Safari. I haven’t used Textastic enough to have a real opinion about how it feels as an editor when compared to Coda’s editor. But thus far it feels pretty good. My initial impression is that navigation within documents is a bit snappier and jumping between documents using the sidebar is as fast as Coda’s top tabs.

So, essentially, this workflow is relying on four apps in split screen mode in two spaces. One space is for file transfer, the other is for coding/previewing. Command Tab gets me quickly back and forth between them. I often get instructions for changes via email or Messages. Same for files such as pdfs and images. In those cases it is easy enough to open Mail or Messages as a third slide over app that I can refer to as I edit or for drag and drop into Files/FileBrowser.

It’s only been a few days with this new 4 app workflow but in the time I’ve used it I like it a lot. I get drag and drop and synched iCloud files (which also means back-up files thanks to the Mac and Time Machine).

Brydge Keyboard Update

It’s been almost two months of using the Brydge keyboard. It seems to be holding up very well in that short time. The only defect I’ve discovered is the right most edge of the space bar does not work. My thumb has to be at least a half inch over to activate a press. Not a deal breaker but it is something I’ve had to adjust.

Also, something positive that I’ve discovered. The Brydge hinges rotate all the way to a parallel position with the keyboard. In other words, the iPad rotates all the way to no angle at all, it just sort of opens all the way, level with the keyboard. I initially thought this would be useless. Why would I ever want to do this?

As it turns out, it does indeed come in very handy. When I’m lounging on the futon to read I can put the iPad in this position and let the keyboard, resting in my lap or on a pillow next to me, serve as a stand to elevate the iPad to eye level. I don’t have to look down towards my lap as one does with a standard laptop. Instead, the iPad seemingly floats in front of my face. It’s actually kind of fantastic and a very comfortable position for reading. And interestingly, it balances perfectly. I barely have to hold the iPad or the keyboard. It’s kinda weird actually. I just lightly grasp the pair right above the keyboard and use my thumb to scroll. I can also easily shift my right hand down to the arrow keys to scroll via keyboard while browsing or reading. If I need to do some real typing the motion to fold the two into a normal laptop position is fluid and natural, taking less than a second. No doubt this has been a very nice surprise feature.

The iPad Laptop

I’ve always used the iPad with an external keyboard and with the Pro I’ve been using Apple’s Smart Keyboard. I love the feel and sound of the keys though have been wishing for media keys and the other special function keys such as brightness, volume etc. Oh, and a back light which may not be possible with a fabric covered keyboard. The beauty of the iPad and one of my reasons for switching to it as a primary machine is that it can be a tablet when I want or a laptop when I want.

That said, as much as I’ve enjoyed using the Smart Keyboard I’ve got to admit I’ve been longing for Apple to make a keyboard like the Brydge. Others have written about the Brydge which is often described as very similar to an Apple laptop keyboard. Most recently Jason Snell wrote an excellent piece on Why Apple’s next laptop should run iOS. He’d previously written a review of the Brydge and mentions it again:

The problem with the iPad Pro is that it’s literally not a laptop: You can’t comfortably set it in your lap and get work done. (Yes, you can kind of balance the Smart Keyboard on your lap, but it’s not the same as using a laptop—in terms of stability or adjustability.) This year I’ve been using my iPad Pro with the Brydge keyboard, a Bluetooth keyboard with two clamps that turn the iPad Pro into something that looks an awful lot like a laptop—albeit one with no trackpad.

Seeing his mention of it and the accompanying photo sent me off to have another look. The only reason I’d previously held off were the many reports of hit and miss quality. Lots of folks report getting units that had to be replaced, often more than once. Yikes. By chance I happened to look around Thanksgiving and they were running a Black Friday sale so I finally bought it and have been using it for about a week.

The Brydge arrived in perfect condition. It is, as reported by many, very similar to typing on the keyboard of a current generation MacBook Air or the previous generation of MacBook Pro. Which is to say, it’s excellent. It is very nearly the perfect iPad keyboard. I can slide the iPad into the hinge connectors easily but not too easily. They grip it well so it feels secure. I really only have two complaints.

The top, outer edge of this keyboard is very sharp. It almost feels like a knife blade. Second, the iPad rests deep enough in the hinges that the bottom edge of the screen is just level with the back of the keyboard which means using my fingers to pull-up to activate the dock and multitasking of iOS 11 is very difficult and often results in misses. Very frustrating. If I put the iPad into the hinge brackets but don’t push it all the way down it still sits above the back of the unit and activating the dock is easy. If it just sat 1-2 millimeters higher, access to the dock and multitasking would be much better.

I added a tiny bit of rubber with sticky backing into the bottom of each hinge to lift the iPad up just a wee bit. Not only does it make activating the dock/multitasking much easier it has the additional benefit that when closed the iPad sticks out just that little bit over the keyboard front of the keyboard. By design it is flush with the keyboard and while that looks great aesthetically when closed it makes lifting the iPad up difficult. If the iPad overhangs just a millimeter or two it is easier to lift and open for use.

If the design were tweaked these are issues that could be fixed without too much difficulty and they really should be.

Back to Jason Snell who posted a follow-up article on the idea of an iOS laptop, this time addressing the critiques of his initial article. In the follow-up, The case against building an iOS laptop—and why it might happen anyway, he writes:

I use my iPad with external keyboards all the time. Sometimes it’s clipped into a keyboard case, so it’s shaped exactly like a laptop. Sometimes it’s on a table with a Smart Keyboard attached. Other times, it’s in a stand on a table with a USB keyboard attached via Apple’s USB 3-Lightning adapter…

If I were doing something that didn’t require typing, something that involved intense tapping and swiping on my iPad, the Zombie Arms experience would start to come to the fore. On the iPad, that’s when I would disconnect the keyboard and hold the tablet more naturally. (That’s why I think an iOS laptop would ideally be a convertible laptop, so you could fold back the keyboard entirely when it isn’t needed.)

I’ve been using mine like this too. My only disagreement is that I think the current iPad is the iPad Jason is describing. I don’t think Apple needs to do much aside from build a proper keyboard. Just tweak the current Brydge a bit and give it the usual Apple fit and finish. Perhaps fix the orientation of the Apple logo on the back of the iPad to reflect a primary horizontal orientation. If Apple could create a hinge with the Smart Connector and a magnetic lock-in we would have the tablet/laptop combination.

As is I think the Brydge does this right now though it is bluetooth based whereas an Apple solution would use the Smart Connector. I’ve only had a week with the Brydge but this combination feels nearly perfect. It’s a laptop when I want a laptop, a tablet when I want a tablet. The effort required to switch form factors is simply to lift the iPad from the hinges or to place in back in them.

What’s a computer

In one of Apple’s latest iPad ads we see a student exploring the city and making great use of an iPad in various locations. It’s a fantastic example of the many ways an iPad can be used. I think this is my favorite iPad ad to date. It’s a tool for exploring and creating. Good stuff.

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!

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.

IMG_0140

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.

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.