Category Archives: iPad Journal

Stage Manager

Matthew Panzarino has an excellent write-up on Stage Manager over at Tech Crunch.

“As a user, you appreciate that you’re not constantly accumulating clutter, you’re not cleaning things up, you’re not managing where things are, you just do what you want to do. And it’s there. And it’s, it’s all managed for you,” says Federighi on their approach to Stage Manager’s design. “It’s clean and focused. Traditional windowing environments are the opposite. They are mess making by default, everything you open contributes to clutter. Everything involves you having to kind of manage where things are and how things might cover each other up and so forth. And then you’re responsible for sort of cleaning up after yourself the whole time.”

Screenshot of Stage Manager windows

Image courtesy of Apple

I won’t be using it until the first public beta but the more I look at images and videos the more I think this is going to work out very well for those of us that use iPad Multitasking. There’s a lot being said at the moment about the M1 system requirement as well as certain aspects of how it’s currently implemented. I’m not sure I have much of an opinion just yet.

June 14, 2022

Been a week since WWDC 2022 and I’ve still not put together a proper post. For now I’ll just say, while I’ve been very happy with iPadOS as it is, I’m also excited about Stage Manager and extended desktop support coming in iPadOS 16.

Universal Control

Universal ControlIt’s just one computer. That’s what I’m telling myself when I use Universal Control. The Mac, the iPad, functioning as one. It’s a computing experience with two screens. In the week or two since the release of the new feature there’s been a bit of debate about the usefulness of the new feature with some suggesting it’s a gimmick or just not that useful. And I suppose it’s possible that the usefulness might be a question depending on your workflow.

But in my case as I’ve been making more of an effort to use my Mac and sitting at a desk to do so, I’ve worked out a pretty comfortable flow between the two. There’s nothing here that’s set in concrete. It’s all about flexibility and flow and learning to move between the screens just as I might if my Mac were using two screens. But rather than the Mac driving both I’m using the extra compute power of the iPad as needed. The key here, and I believe Apple’s intent, is that the movement of cursor and keyboard between multiple screens be so fluid that we just do what we do without thinking too much. Initially there may be a tendency to over-think it.

An example of how it’s been useful to me. I often need to design newsletters, reports or brochures. For longer documents I’ll likely use Affinity Publisher which currently is not available on the iPad. In that case I’ll open my document full screen on the Mac and use the iPad for sourcing material sent by the client. I might have text saved to Apple Notes, or in a Word document or in an email or webpage. I can effortlessly move my cursor to the iPad, select, copy and then paste into my document. Or select and drag the text back to the Mac screen and drop it. Both work. If it’s an image I need I can do the same. The 13″ iPad Pro has a large enough screen that I can have two apps open from which to source content from, all the while my Publisher document remains focused and in full screen on the Mac.

Flipping it, while I’ve got the Mac set-up now to do website edits for clients that’s something I usually do in Textastic on the iPad. I don’t have a problem multitasking on the iPad but if I were at my desk already this would be an ideal time to use the Mac for the reference material sent by the client via email or Messages as I use Textastic to edit and upload the html files on the iPad Pro. Or, I could do the opposite.

The beauty of Universal Control, iCloud and having a similar set of tools on the Mac and iPad means that however I choose to work at any given moment, I’ve got two screens, two computers, but one fast, seamless point of control for both. As I said at the beginning of the post, it feels as though I’m working with one computer.

The last change I’ve just made to the set-up is a monitor arm for the 27″ display and two bookend speakers as the monitor has no built in speakers and the Mac Mini’s internal speaker is pretty useless. With this arrangement it occurred to me it might be better to place the iPad under the display rather than to the side as I’ve been using it. This makes room for the speakers on either side and the iPad fits perfectly below the display and just above the Keychron keyboard. Not only does Universal control work perfectly via this vertical arrangement it actually feels better and less error prone than it did when I had it off to the side.

All in all I think Universal Control will be the kind of feature, like the other Continuity features such as Handoff and Shared Clipboard, that will prove really useful in my workflow as I suspect it does for others that are using multiple devices.

M1 Mac Mini and iPad Pro Set-up

After a bit of consideration these past few months I finally bought an M1 Mac Mini. My 2012 Mini is still running but with inflation, war and the general state of world affairs, I thought I’d go ahead and get set-up with a Mac that should last the next 10 years. The new Mac will largely fill the same role as the old, essentially, a file server, internet sharing, and occasional projects that require Affinity Publisher which is not yet on the iPad.

All that said, as I posted a couple days ago, thinking about a battery powered Mac Mini and modular computing, it’s also on my mind to reconsider the value of the Mac. To that end, upon setting up the Mac Mini last week, I determined to spend as much time as possible using it over the course of the week. Largely that was to explore the new features of macOS Monterey but also just to get a feel for the new M1 hardware and finally to compare both to working on the iPad. There were even a couple days that I didn’t touch the iPad Pro.

After several days sitting at the desk I did a quick stand-up desk modification and now have everything setup as I used to 5 years ago, in terms of a standing desk set-up. I’ve got plenty of room for the iPad too. One consideration, knowing that Universal Control is coming next week, was to have a set-up that would allow me to easily move back and forth between the Mac and iPad. And of course, it’s also still very easy for me to plug the iPad in to one usb C cable and be using the external screen that’s shared with the two Mac Minis, each with their own input. The downside of the Universal Control set-up is that the Mac would be driving the larger 27″ display and the iPad Pro would be restricted to its smaller display. We’ll have to see how that goes. For now it’s acceptable as the Mac takes full advantage of the screen whereas the iPad looses a bit on each side. But letting the iPad take over the screen is as simple as using the screen sleep hot corner on the mac.

Okay, so, to compare the experience of coming back the Mac after several years of my regular, daily use of the iPad. What I’ve noticed in the past week is that while this new M1 Mac hardware is fast it still feels slower than the iPad in my normal, day-to-day usage and I think that’s largely due to multitasking.

iPad Multitasking versus Mission Control on the Mac
I’ve gotten used to the iPad way of using apps either in full screen or split screen. And so, upon returning to the Mac I’ve set-up several virtual desktops in Mission Control and have various apps assigned to them. It’s similar to the iPad multitasking experience with the most noticeable downside being that the thumbnails for screens are all at the top and small. I can’t tell what I’m looking at because the label for each is “Desktop 1”, “Desktop 2” and so on.

There is an option to run them in actual split screen (referred to as tiled), 2 apps to a shared screen which puts a label at the bottom with the app names. The downside to that is that the window becomes unavailable to other app windows. It feel locked. Compare that to an iPad where I can have my side by side apps and easily pull in an app as a slide over or a Quick Note. It’s a small thing but important in how it feels in use. Tiled apps on the Mac won’t even allow for a Quick Note and there is no such thing as slide over so it feels really restricted.

For many long-time Mac users the iPad is described as restrictive and as an environment where getting things done is more difficult due to what’s described as inferior multi-tasking. I’m finding the opposite to be true but I’ve also gotten out of the habit of using my Mac and having lots of windows open on a single screen. For many Mac users I think this is the key thing, just lots of windows from different apps on top of one another. I guess I did that as well in the days before the multi desktops brought by Mission Control. And to some degree, even after that. I think I often used overlapping windows but it now seems cluttered to me. Nevertheless, I’m going to continue for another week or two in an effort to give macOS a nice visit. My hope with this experiment is to discover how I can best use the Mac and the iPad together, as complimentary computers and screens. I’ve got two very powerful computers, if I can use both side-by-side I will.

And on the topic of multitasking and windows, I’ve decided to download and use an app called Raycast primarily for window management. There are paid apps to do this but Raycast seems to do what I want. It does a lot more than window management but that’s what I’ll start with. I changed the Command-Space shortcut to open Raycast and Spotlight is now Option-Command-Space. Raycast has the added benefit of doing window management. So I can activate it and start typing “right” and it has learned that I probably want to tile the current window to the right using half the screen. Then I can tap over to any other window and type “left” and it will prompt me to move the window to the left half. Or I can type “center” or a variation such as “center third” to place the window. Lots of options. All in all, it will make keeping windows organized easier when I feel that need, which I expect to be most of the time. I found it odd that I had to download a third party app to do this kind of keyboard shortcut window management.

App Launch Times
Surprisingly, the M1 Mac Mini is not as fast as I expected. Coming from the contrast of a 2012 Intel Mac and the iPad Pro, I expected apps to launch faster than they do. Many do launch with one bounce though the Affinity apps take longer to launch than they do on the iPad, about double the time. The same can be said for Pages and Numbers. If they’ve been open recently then they open with one or two dock bounces. Otherwise it’s 4 bounces or more. This compares the iPad where they appear to open instantly. This is part of the experience is very much related to memory management so I’ll dive into that a bit next.

Memory Management
This is an interesting one that is surprising me a bit. I knew going in that a budget Mac Mini running 8GB would be a bare minimum. It was the right choice for me though. Still, it’s worth mentioning a comparison to the iPad Pro with the same 8GB memory and M1 processor. Given how I’ve been using the iPad Pro, it seems noticeably better at managing memory for multitasking and yes, this goes against the common narrative that Macs are better for multitasking. I bring it up because yesterday as I worked on an Affinity Publisher project on the Mac I needed to open Affinity Photo to optimize a few images. Most edits can be done within Affinity Publisher’s very cool Studio Link feature that just opens a sort of Photos Mode. But I actually wanted to open an overly large png file externally and export it to a smaller png. Upon clicking the Photos app in the dock I found myself waiting for quite awhile for the app to open. Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce. It seemed to go on forever. I wish I’d counted. I expected maybe 4 bounces but guessing it was over 10. Now, to be fair, I had several other apps open and both of these Affinity Apps are resource intensive. But here’s the thing, on the iPad often bounce between Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer and then over to Safari, Mail, Obsidian then back to Photo to Designer then to Messages to News Explorer. As I type this in Obsidian I did the above to test. The sort of thing I do often on the iPad but I wanted to try it again to confirm my memory. It wasn’t till I got to News Explorer that I saw an app reload and that’s not surprising because I hadn’t used News Explorer since sometime yesterday afternoon. And the reload time was a mere half second.

I find that with the iPad I don’t “close apps” or manage them in the same way I do on the Mac. On the Mac when I see an app in the dock that indicates it is an open app I’m more likely to close it if I’m not using it or planning to use it. Perhaps that’s unnecessary and something I need to let go of as a habit from previous years’ habits. As a test I’m going to try to leave apps open longer and see how well the system manages it. I noticed the other day in the System Preferences app that there is an option to turn off the dock indicator for open apps, I’ve just turned that on so I’ll no longer know which apps are open. This brings me closer to the iPad experience and might also change how I think about managing app usage.

Finder on the Mac, Files on the iPad
This is one that’s brought up often as a subpar experience on the iPad. For the most part I disagree. Comparing the two, they seem to be very close to the same in experience. The one primary advantage that the Mac does have is that Finder has a customizable toolbar and the ability to view more columns of data about files in list view. It’s also got better file searching in that the contents of pdfs, text documents, etc are all indexed and searched. There’s no doubt that there’s room for some of these features to be added to Files and they should be. Sure, Apple probably needs to keep the default simple but certainly settings could be added for those that want more. All that said, using the Finder this past week has not led to any sense that I’ve been missing out anything essential on the iPad. In day-to-day, probably the most notable feature would be adding extra columns in list view then having the ability to click those column headers for quick sorting.

Built in Mac apps have all been as expected. I notice slight changes coming from macOS Catalina but mostly small refinements. Speed wise, it all seems to be about the same, perhaps just a bit faster in daily tasks. I guess that says something, too, about how optimized macOS is at this point. Made for iPad apps seem to run pretty well on the Mac.

Working together
Overall, I like and appreciate the refinements of macOS. Also, that while it still looks like macOS, visually, it’s getting closer to iPadOS. They’re coming together in a way that it’s easy to fluidly move back and forth without it being a jarring experience. And really, that brings my to my final point and something I was already thinking about even with Catalina, and something I touched on with my last post, that the Apple ecosystem, particularly the Mac and iPad, function so similarly that I could just as easily be on the same device. I think that’s counter to much of the narrative online which is focused so often towards which of the two is better, always framed as a competition and the differences. I’d much rather enjoy them both and use as needed.

A final edit to add after initial publishing, Apple released the OS updates hours after I posted this that include Universal Control. It seems amazing. I’m planning to return in a week with more about this experiment of using my Mac and iPad together and if it’s been impacted by Universal Control.

Modular Computing and the Mac I Want

Just a few days ago I wrote, not for the first time, about having mostly quit the Mac. I t was a response to a forum post over at Mac Power Users though it was also a post that had already been brewing in my head as a general frustration that I’ve had with managing my Mac. I’ve been a Mac user since around 1993 when I purchased my first, a Mac Color Classic. Still have it. Since then many Macs and I’ve loved using them. It’s only been the past couple of years that I started finding macOS frustrating largely because the simplicity of the iPad has sort of spoiled me, especially in terms of background maintenance type tasks. Also, window management. Bit’s of friction that just kind of crept in with the Mac. But really that might move me from the real topic of this post so I’ll save that bit for another day.

But more relevant to this post is that over time the iPad, as the simplest possible computer grew to feel like a comfortable extension of me. First and foremost a slab of glass. I’ve never gotten over that simple fact that this simple tablet was the computer. It not only set a new standard of simplicity but also of personal, direct interaction. And also the beginning (for me at least) of a new way of thinking about modular and portable computing.

Of course the laptop is that to a degree. Certainly portable and a complete package. I sold my last laptop in 2016 because I’d mostly stopped using it. I was either using my Mac Mini or my iPad. I no longer wanted a mobile device that was permanently attached to a keyboard. At that point the iPad OS was more limited so I often still used my Mac Mini at a desk for many computing tasks.

The past few weeks I’ve been getting closer to purchasing a replacement for the 10 year old Mac Mini. It’s still working pretty well but with inflation, supply chain disruption etc, I thought I’d go ahead and get the replacement, a 2021 M1 Mac Mini. I’ll keep the current Intel as a backup, maybe a server (which is already it’s primary function) or gift it to a family member. In any case, before purchasing I carefully considered a MacBook Air.

Why I skipped the laptop and went with the Mini is the subject of this post as it speaks to the modular, portable Mac I really want but which does not exist. I’ll say first that I went with the Mini because I have a 27″ 4K display which is what I’ll be using anytime I use the Mac. Why pay extra for the 13″ screen, keyboard and trackpad I don’t want or need? The reason I almost spent the extra was that the laptop also comes with it’s own battery, essentially, a back-up power supply and can be charged via USB C from AC or DC power supplies. If I’ve got a power outage my iPads, mobile hotspot, iPhone, etc can all be charged via a solar powered battery indefinitely. As would a MacBook Air. Sure, I can use the standard AC wall plug such as the one that the Mac Mini comes with and run it for many hours from that back-up. But not indefinitely. That’s okay and not a problem because when it comes down to it I’ll be using the iPad for most tasks anyway. But thinking about it did send me down a rabbit hole.

The modular Mac I want most would be a Mac Mini with a battery and the option to charge/power via USB C. But why? Why not just a laptop? Because as I get older I want a bigger screen for larger text. And because I want to be able to have that screen at various heights as needed. And because I’m happy to use an external keyboard and mouse or external trackpad. So, in part, it’s very much a hardware positioning issue. Again, the iPad has spoiled me. I’m used to being able to arrange work spaces in all sorts of ways between the iPad, keyboard and trackpad.

But it’s also an expression of the Apple hardware and software ecosystem. Between my iPhone, 2 iPads and Mac, everything is connected. While not perfect it mostly works most of the time – generally speaking, it feels like like being in a very functional, useful and often magical modular computing ecosystem. I expect I’ll notice and enjoy this even more with an M1 Mac running the latest OS and features like Universal Control.

But about this Mac Mini with a battery, well, I suspect that the current Mac Mini could be much smaller with the lower energy Apple Silicon. I’m imagining a device about half the size and weight. Unlike a laptop, the dimensions of this device would not be constrained by the dimensions of the built in screen, keyboard and trackpad. Maybe a fan, maybe not. But with a built in battery it could be an always on device, easy to transport from home to office or even to different locations within a home. With one of the new portable screens, a keyboard and trackpad, the overall package wouldn’t have to be much more than a laptop. But has the option of a larger screen set at an optimally ergonomic height with different arrangements between the keyboard, mouse and screen rather than for optimal ergonomics.

I can imagine a scenario where I’m at the home office working at the 27″ display attached to this portable Mac Mini and/or iPad and the usual peripherals. But a quick unplug of the display and I’m off to the library or a coffee shop or office. Maybe I’m headed to an office where I’ve already got another display, keyboard, etc waiting so I just take this tiny Mac Mini and my iPad. Or maybe I’m going to another space and I can take a portable 15″ display, keyboard and mouse. Certainly that’s more heft and bulk than a laptop but it’s still very portable and, the key point, at the home office it has advantages over the laptop.

One last thing I’d want in this kind of set-up would be a new macOS and iPadOS feature, an extension of Hand-off, Continuity, Sidecar and Universal Control that would allow me to initiate control of the Mac from the iPad without a third party app and without the Mac or iPad initially being on the same network. In this setting the iPad would see the nearby Mac, recognize it as mine and that it was running without a display, and prompt a connection, turning the iPad into a wireless display for the Mac, no dongles or third party software needed. Currently I can control the Mac via an app like Screens but that requires that both be on the same wireless network. Or I could use a third party wireless dongle or a wired connection via an app like Duet (see below story).

I can imagine that carrying a portable, battery powered Mac Mini and an iPad that could seamlessly initiate screen sharing/control would be a very cool feature in certain circumstances.

I’ll end with this story that popped up in my RSS feed as I neared the end of this post: Dave Mark at the Loop posts about this project to DIY a portable Mac Mini! Similar to what I’ve been thinking here though I would stress the value of a screen that is NOT attached.

Why I quit the Mac (Mostly)

I had a chuckle late yesterday afternoon when I opened up the forum and found this thread: iOS and iPadOS are endlessly frustrating to me.

The reason for my amusement was that earlier in the day was one of the rare occasions I found myself at the keyboard of my Mac Mini and I found myself frustrated with the experience for most of the time. I had a few things I needed to do in the Contacts app that aren’t up to snuff on that app on the iPad. Also not great on the Mac but a little better. Side note, Apple needs to give the Contacts app on all platforms some attention. It’s been awhile since spent any time managing contacts and it’s not a great experience. (Cardhop on the iPad is fantastic, a much better experience and I could have used that but hadn’t checked on the Mac in a couple weeks so figured I’d check for software updates, etc).

So, as I was working on that I had a tech question texted to me from a relative that resulted, after a series of exchanges between us, in my checking my Time Machine back-up. Huh, no back-ups since January 11th. No notifications that it had stopped. Upon investigating I found an error “A disk you are backing up is case-sensitive, but the backup disk is not. Select a different backup disk or exclude the case-sensitive disk from backups.” One of those fun Mac power user exercises! I do some searching and no resolution. Fine, I’ll come back to that later. I’ve had issues with Time Machine for years. For some it seems to work very well, for me, well, this is just the latest in a long, long list of failures.

I get back to my task. A client is having issues with his Contacts app throwing up the spinning beach ball which is why I’m tooling around looking at options for possibly moving some of his workflow to Numbers spreadsheets for contacts relating mailings, class sign-ups, invoicing and various other bits of data tracking that he’s never gotten around to doing.

While I’m at the Mac this same client messages me with a few requested changes to his website. I instinctively reach over to the iPad attached to the Magic Keyboard and open Textastic in split screen with Messages to reference the text and images he’s sending. He also sends a hyperlink to gather additional images and text from a website so I tap over to Safari. I select some text with the Magic Keyboard trackpad and copy. Then I use my finger to tap and hold an image in Safari, then use another other finger to drag up the dock and open Files to navigate to my client’s website folder. I drop the image in. As my hands are already near the screen I use my thumb to drag the dock up and tap over to Textastic. I finger tap the images folder, then tap and hold the new image to rename from the contextual menu then rename it using the keyboard. The client wants another image that I have in my Photos library so I Command-Space and type “flowers” and from those Spotlight results I open Photos app which opens a search for my flower images. I tap the “moments” section of the photos search results which has groupings based on date and within a few seconds I’ve got the image. I tap the share icon to send the image to a shortcut that resizes and compresses the photo which I save straight to the website images folder.

Over the course of this 5 minutes of activity my fingers and hands have danced back and forth from screen, to keyboard to trackpad. I can’t say that I know exactly how I’ll do any particular task, whether it will be the trackpad or touching the screen, I just do it. If my fingers are already on the keyboard I’ll likely use the trackpad. But because they’re always close to the screen tapping is easy and often I find that I can go quite a bit faster because I can interact more directly with the screen via touch and with two hands – with the trackpad I am limited to one cursor. This kind of interaction isn’t possible on the Mac and I feel slower because of it. The Mac limits me to one cursor, one point of on-screen interaction with a mouse or trackpad. I have to drag that cursor, and aim it. Not so with the touch screen where I can much more quickly move a finger right to the place I want to interact.

Another place where the Mac slows me down is in the processing of mail. The iPad and a touch screen feels far superior when processing mail. When it comes time to delete and move mail around the two hand, multi finger process is excellent. My left hand goes up towards the left side of the screen and I use my thumb and/or other fingers to multi select multiple emails to drag and drop. Or I can slide delete or tap delete using a second finger on the delete key if I’m doing this with the keyboard attached. Lots of options and I tend to use all of them.

Same thing for files. I feel slower on the Mac with a trackpad or mouse. On the iPad, whether I’m in split screen with two Files windows open or just one, multi-touch file selection is fantastic. Two finger drag to select multiples is great. Almost everything feels faster.

Another area that I’ll mention is multi-tasking. It’s often said that multitasking on the iPad is cumbersome, difficult and still not finished. It is true that on a Mac I can have as many windows of as many apps as I want, all on one screen, placed free form wherever I want and overlapping as I see fit, and yes, sometimes that is useful. Sometimes, it’s just a complicated mess of windows.

After several years working on the iPad I prefer the iPad multitasking model of interaction, especially given the improvements of the past few years. Having a single app window open is generally fine and when it’s not it takes me no time to bring up a split screen and/or a slide over as needed. Dragging up from the bottom of the screen to get multitasking or using any of the new keyboard shortcuts, again, all of these work very well for me. I don’t need third party window managers to help me organize or keep my windows tidy. I just use the iPad as it is intended and find that it’s fluid and fast and fun to use.

To compare, I just hopped back to my Mac to see where I left things yesterday. A Finder window open and 7 minimized windows in the dock. I can run the cursor over those tiny minimized windows in the dock to get a label to identify them but it feels slow compared to multitasking on the iPad. On the iPad I can more quickly activate the multitasking view which gives me a view that’s much quicker and easier to navigate with less eye strain and cognitive load. Not only that, but I can more quickly get back to an app or task from further back in time right where I left off. This is especially true of the newer M1 iPad Pro with increased memory. I can often, with just a couple of swipes pull an app from multitasking right where I left off at some point earlier in the day or a previous day.

A few more ways that I find the Mac to be too restrictive are tied to the hardware limitations. I don’t know how folks can deal with a permanently attached keyboard. A MacBook Air is more flexible than a desktop Mac in terms of location but it’s still stuck to landscape mode and a keyboard/trackpad. Sure, I use my iPad with a keyboard/trackpad much of the day. But as needed I give the iPad a gentle tug and it’s free to continue using in landscape or rotated to portrait without the extra baggage. I can keep using my fingers to touch the screen directly or I have the additional option of using the Pencil. There’s a fluidity of form, handling and function that come with the iPad that I can’t get with a Mac that’s locked to a keyboard, trackpad and/or mouse.

I’m not sure at what point I began viewing the Mac as more of a hinderance and something I had to over-manage. I’m not certain if it’s the complexity of the OS, troubleshooting things like file permissions, window clutter or just the form factor that requires a cursor. But at some point around 2018 I’d spent enough time with the iPad as my computer that going back to the Mac was more trouble than it was worth. When I was younger I enjoyed the Mac more in part I think because I didn’t mind maintenance, it was a part of the fun. The iPad came along and matured at a rate that matched my own needs and inclinations I suppose. 12 years on and it’s not as simple (or limited) as it was in those first few years. But nor is it overly complex.

Ultimately we’ll all chose the tools we’re most comfortable with for various tasks, environments and at different times of our lives. I’m grateful that the iPad has been iterated in such a way that my mom can still have her easy to use iPad, mostly unaware of all of the new features that have been added. The same is true for my father and quite a few others in my family. For them the iPad is still that simple computer that they don’t have to worry about or spend time maintaining. But for me Apple has provided another version of this same device, one that is far more capable and yet, still, not cumbersome or overly burdened with troubleshooting or maintenance.

The Mac served me well for 25 years and while it will still have it’s place I’m happy to have moved on to the iPad.

I had to recharge so here’s the iPad in desktop mode.

Using Apple Notes and iCloud as a Facebook Alternative

This past spring I returned to a topic I’ve often thought about in regards to Apple, iCloud and Facebook. With the rumors that Messages was getting lots of attention I started hoping that we might see a push towards a platform that might replace Facebook. I left Facebook 8 or so years ago and as time has gone on I’m convinced that was one of the best decisions of my life. That said, most in my family and friend circles are still there so I often wonder what an alternative might look like. In particular, what might Apple do with an expansion of Messages and perhaps some new iCloud service or app?

With 2021’s updates to macOS, iOS and iPadOS we’ve now got even more cross pollination between the iCloud ecosystem via the “Shared with You” feature that connects Messages, Photos, Notes, Safari, Apple News, Podcasts and Music. Messages seems to form the basis of most if not all of the sharing. The one missing feature, when compared to social media, particularly Facebook, is any kind of persistent timeline. Often times it seems a messy substitute for a timeline is the group chat. I know for a long time we’ve had a large group family chat and several smaller such chats with subsets of people. Pinning chats helps but it can still be hard to keep track of.

Creating a timeline with Apple Notes?
I’m currently experimenting with Apple Notes as a kind of group timeline. I’ve set up a shared folder that I’ve just called “Family Stories”. I’ve invited much of the extended family to that, in particular, those that I’m closest to. I’ve written a kind of “Introduction/FAQ” note to explain the purpose of the folder of notes which is, in short, a place for any family member to post a note which might be a personal experience, story, thought or photo. The sorts of things that might be posted on social media but more personal. And while technically it’s not possible to add the kinds of comments one would find on a blog it is of course possible that thoughts, questions and comments can be added free-form at the bottom of any note. That will have the added benefit of re-surfacing older notes when or if comments or questions are added to any particular note.

While Apple Notes is not likely an app that comes to mind when we think of fun social sharing, I think the updated functionality and ease of use will lend itself to this kind of group activity and that it might serve as a kind of timeline for sharing. In particular, the new Activity sidebar will make it easier than a scrolling Messages thread to notice recent activity. The question that remains is whether or not it will prove to be sticky enough that it will become a new sharing habit that will bring folks back. My impression is that it’s a fairly popular default app – perhaps that popularity will increase the likelihood of it being used in this way?

Two months with iPadOS 15

I’ve been using the beta on my iPad Pro since the first day of the public beta and thought I’d write a bit about what stands out to me as noteworthy. This is just a tiny fraction of what’s coming and again, it’s what I’ve found noteworthy. The most comprehensive coverage that I’ve found thus far is this fantastic mini-site over at MacRumors.

My impressions…

First and perhaps unexpected, I’m enjoying and using the new widgets far more than I expected.

With iPadOS 14 and earlier I generally kept my Home Screen clear except for the sidebar of widgets. All my apps were in a single folder in the dock. With iPadOS 15 I’ve moved all my apps to the App Library and now have a full Home Screen of widgets which functions as a fantastic dashboard. I’m finding the 2nd largest widget sizes the most useful with just one small section for 4 of the small widgets. So, a view of my Home Screen gives me the current weather, easy access to my most recently listened to music, my most recent email, a selection of frequently used Shortcuts, my most recently accessed folders and files, calendar, current daily calories, battery status and upcoming reminders. Edit to note that I’ve since changed this by moving the 4 small widgets back to the sidebar which stays hidden. I’ve since added the large-sized Contacts widget which does a great job of providing an overview of my latest interactions with my closest contacts.

With earlier versions of, the public beta some of widgets were l a bit buggy, especially the Files widget though it seems to have settled down as of this date. Also, the mail widget does not always update recent new mail in the background as I would expect though that may be an expected limitation. Obviously having to switch to mail to see updates isn’t helpful.

I’ll mention Spotlight next because it’s somewhat integrated with the above mentioned Contacts widget. In short, Spotlight has a few new additional results added to searches. Most important for me is the improvements in it’s surfacing of my contacts related information such as photos, shared notes, messages, etc. Also, Spotlight now does more with web searches of public figures and built in web search generally. Rather than go to Safari it’s possible to just start with a Spotlight search of a topic. Web results starting with Wikipedia, images, top web results are all neatly organized in the Spotlight results. For some searches the results can be quite extensive ranging from your content, shared with you content, articles from Apple News, TV shows or movies and on. By default the extensive content categories are hidden behind a “Show more results” button.

Next, while I’m still training myself to use it the new globe keyboard shortcut is great. I forget too often to use it but suspect that as that habit takes hold it will become a really nice feature. Specifically the Siri shortcut Globe-S as I’ve always wanted such a shortcut on the keyboard. I enjoy using Siri and know I’ll use it more with that shortcut. Also, the globe shortcuts for multi-tasking are very useful. Again, one I need to practice more to more fully integrate and take advantage of. It’s not that it’s difficult so much as remembering it’s there and making it a new habit.

On the subject of multitasking, using the keyboard to navigate through app windows In the multitasking view is really nice. I normally use the trackpad but the arrow key navigation works great too.

Also in the category of multitasking, the active window indicator is still too subtle when using split screens. It’s better than before but Apple insists on making the indicator subtle enough that I have too look longer and with more attention than I should.  Actually, in a nod to macOS I wish they’d offer an option to have the same red-yellow-green color scheme. Not likely and probably not that useful. But at the very least, more contrast would actually be useful.

Keyboard shortcuts are improved in presentation when using an external keyboard and the new organization of keyboard shortcuts to resemble the Mac’s categories of File, Edit, etc are nice improvements. This whole area is more compact and useful.

The Safari redesign. This one has been talked about a lot as it should be. I agree in general that it’s nice to see an effort but it made Safari worse and seemed to be an attempt to solve problems that most people don’t really have. Glad to see the dedicated tab bar back as the default now they need to take the next step of putting it where it was and also removing the extra padding that the new rounded rectangles have. It’s wasted space that hides the description of the tab. Also, the active tab indicator is far too subtle.

But there’s some good stuff with the updated Safari too. Tab groups!! This falls under the “I didn’t know I needed this until I had it” category. I’m using it a lot to create topic areas. I’ve got a climate change group and a tech group. A week ago I was searching for a new chair and had a group of tabs for that. I’ve got a group now for a new WordPress site I’m working on for a client. I expect some of these will be persistent as they are topics I always read about. Others will come and go as needed. The key is that a tab group is easy to create from any window with tabs, easy to re-open via the sidebar and easy to delete when you’re finished. It’s also easy to add a tab from any other Safari window to an existing tab group.

I’m glad to have the updated Notes and Reminders apps. The ability to tag will be useful in both of these. Also, Quicknotes in Notes is very nice though I’m not using it as much as I think I will. Notes really is an excellent app. The indexing of Notes text, attached pdfs and now text recognition in images is fantastic. It’s all very fast and shows up nicely in Spotlight. If I hadn’t recently integrated Obsidian into my daily workflow Notes would likely shine brighter. As it is though it will still have a place. It’s a great place do do photo and document scanning and as I’m currently scanning in a bunch of old family photos I’m enjoying it for that.

The updates in the Photos app are really proving useful. I love the improved metadata, editable location and machine learning that now identifies plants and other objects. Some of that was identification was already there but it’s much, much better now with more accurate results and far more specificity in the identifications. Where before Photos could show me my dog pictures it now also suggests the specific breed and has an integrated Wikipedia link. This is especially useful for all of the photos I get out on the trail for identification of plants and flowers. It’s not yet offering specific insect ID but it does recognize more general animal categories such as insect, butterfly, bird, horse. I suspect that over time range of objects for which specific IDs are offered will grow.

Live Text in photos is absolutely fantastic and useful. Not only does it improve search but if you’re someone that deals with a lot of text and images it comes in handy often. I often need the text that’s in an image for a document or a website. Lazy clients will just send a photo or screenshot with a bit of text rather than retype it for me. This is the sort of feature that once you start using it and realize how often it can be useful, well, you’ll wonder how you did without it.

Messages has some nice improvements, namely “shared with you” which integrates into all the other system apps. Nothing earth shattering but nice. I’ve not had a chance to use FaceTime with any other beta testers and am not a big FaceTime user generally but the announced changes look very helpful for those that use video calls.

A couple more tid-bits. System-wide “shared with you” is a nice new feature. Continuous dictation is great for those that like to dictate text rather than type. Especially useful on the iPhone where I’d much rather dictate than type a long message.

That’s it for the moment. There’s far more of course but they’re features I’m not going into as this isn’t really a review so much as my notes on what I’m interested in and finding most useful. The above linked mini-site over at MacRumors has all the details! Also worth noting, at the bottom of the page is a list of helpful how-to articles for iOS 15.

I started this post in July and am just now, having used the beta for almost two months, finishing off my notes. The final release will likely be coming in the next couple of weeks and with it a load of very detailed reviews.

Obsidian Mobile

Finally!! Been waiting for this one for months. Obsidian Mobile released! I set this up on my Mac several months back but have been doing all my iPad writing in Taio or 1Writer because the mobile Obsidian app was not available. That’s worked out pretty well and frankly, I really enjoy working in both of the above mentioned apps. But I’m curious now to see how Obsidian works. After setting it up on the Mac I hardly touched it because I don’t really use the Mac much unless I have to.

So, I’ve now got a Vault set-up in iCloud for Obsidian. Will give it a whirl and add to the post when I’ve had a chance to spend some time with it.

Edit, two weeks later…

Okay, I’m back after a two week shake down. I can’t really say that I’ve explored the app as deeply as I expect to over coming months. But, I’ve given it a light shakedown and I like it! Many have commented that, as an electron app it does not have a native feel to the Mac, iPad or iPhone. I disagree. It certainly lacks the native UI elements a developer has access to but with the Minimal theme it feels close enough and looks quite nice.

The app is very stable and I’m having no problems with the switch from 1Writer and Taio. I’ve got both of those apps set-up to be able to access the Obsidian library should I feel the need to jump into one of those apps to edit. More importantly, I’d created a nice workflow for publishing to my blogs using Taio and that continues to work perfectly. When I’ve got a post written in Obsidian I can jump over to Taio and export to html then I load a new post in WordPress on Safari. It works pretty well.

And coming back again to add to this. I’ve now seen several different writers post on their Obsidian set-ups and have been following threads over at the MacPower Users forum. But today’s post by Federico at MacStories is certainly worth mentioning. It’s the first in a series on his Obsidian setup and covers Sync, Core Plugins, Workspaces and other settings. While I often find his posts interesting and sometimes helpful, he tends to go into a depth of detail that covers his very particular workflows that they don’t often translate well to how I use an app. So, I’ll at least skim his posts but unless I can easily see how it is relevant to my workflow I may not finish it. But his post above is very relevant in that it points a finger to the importance of Obsidian the plugins, various options and shortcuts.

After reading his post, the threads at Mac Power Users and a few others, the depth of features in Obsidian really do set it apart from most other apps. It’s easy to get started with the basics and then spend weeks or months just slowly poking around those depths to get to the many possibilities. That said, I’m glad it is based on Markdown files that other apps can access because even as feature rich as it is it does lack the export options that most other apps seem to have.

Using an iPhone and Apple Notes to Scan and Export Old Family Photos

I’ve started a project scanning in old family photos. It’s something I started years ago with a flatbed scanner which I no longer have. This time around I plan to just use my iPhone and Apple Notes. There are a couple things I’ve learned since getting started that might be helpful to others doing a similar project.

Before you get started scanning you’ll want to go to the Settings app and then go to the section for the Notes app. There you’ll see an option under the “Media” section to “Save to Photos”. Turn this on and every scan will be an image in Photos! Doing this eliminates the need to export from notes which the second portion of this post covers.

When you open a new note and choose the camera icon to open the camera you’ll choose “Scan Documents” which will open the camera and if auto is selected your iPhone will automatically capture a scan as soon as it detects a photo or document (In the image below I have mine set to manual). To stop the auto scan just put your finger over the lens or put the iPhone down on the table. It’s important to to note that the default scan assumes a color document, not an image. If you’re scanning an image, color or black and white, you need to be sure you select “Photo” as the media type being scanned. You can select this option before each scan or after.  To do so tap the  icon of 3 overlapping circles (for this post I’ll refer to that as the media type icon).

Select Photo option on the right side

Alternatively, just start scanning your photos and once the group is scanned you can go back and select “Photo” from the media type icon seen below.

If you scanned a group of images selecting Photo and then tapping Save will then save the whole group to the Photos app. So, to summarize, you can select Photo from media type before scanning or after, then you save the images after that by tapping the Save button.

A final note, it’s possible to save groups of photos as described above. You can also just scan one at a time marking each as a photo and saving it individually.

When finished you can confirm that all the photos have been autosaved into the Photos app. You may want to keep or delete the note once you’re finished scanning.

What to do if you’ve scanned images before setting them to save in the Photos app?

If you started scanning before discovering the setting I mentioned at the top of the post that  saves your scans to photos automatically, you’ll have notes full of pdf scans that seem stuck as pdfs. There’s no built in way to export those pdfs to Photos. But, there’s an easy two step process to get the scans to photos.

Before you jump into the export process an optional but important step is to confirm that your scans were done as Photos. Tap a scanned image in a note to open it. Then look in the toolbar for the three overlapping circles icon for selecting media type. Tap that and then select “Photo” as the media type. If you have a group of photos saved in a group you’ll need to go to each photo in the group and do this step. Once you’ve done this for all the scans in the note you can move on to the export.

First, you have to save the pdf scans from Notes to Files. Just long press a note with scans in the list view of your notes. In the context menu chose “Send a Copy”. From the list of options choose Save to Files. Choose the location to save your pdfs and save. Then open the Files app to that location. You’ll see a pdf or multiple pdfs from that note. If you scanned images in groups you’ll have multi-page pdfs consisting of each image.

For the second step, you’ll need this simple Shortcut which will save the pdf as an image or images to the Photos app. Install the above Shortcut into your Shortcuts app. It’s a simple 3 step Shortcut. Once installed you can select your scanned pdf file then tap share, then select the Shortcut “Convert and save to photos”. The Shortcut will run and when finished your image or images will be in the Photos app! It’s also possible to choose multiple pdfs at once and share to the shortcut as described above and all the pdfs will be processed at once into the Photos app.

That’s it, you’re done!