Donating time to the Ozark Regional Library

We have an excellent rural library system but like many public services in rural areas funding is always hard to come by these days. A year ago I started volunteering shelving books and doing a bit of tech support for a few patrons that occasionally showed up when I was there. After a few months when shelving help was less needed I began helping out with graphic design and then a few months back when a new website design was needed I offered that as well. I thought I’d share a few of those projects here.

A few notes. As usual, all work was done using the iPad. For the design documents Affinity Photo or Affinity Designer was used. For the website, Textastic for coding.

Library-web

Regarding the new website, as is almost always the case I started with one of my templates based on the Skeleton framework. I forget now the CMS that was used on their original site but the page code was a nightmare to look at. Each page was 3 to 4 mb due to scripts and graphics. It was not a responsive design. Not surprisingly the pages took forever to load which is made worse by slow internet speeds in this rural area. The new site loads nearly instantly even on slower connections. Pages are more like 500kb. Web fonts are probably the main bottleneck now.

Flyers are typically printed at 8.5 x 11, occasionally larger and also posted on social media. Here are a few recent designs.

First up is the most recent advertising an upcoming presentation about growing up in Okinawa. I really enjoyed making this one.

Growing up in Okinawa

The reason for the next is pretty obvious! As is usually the case, I really enjoyed this one too.

FallSale

This was a quick job! A more simple design largely due to time constraints.

Yoga

I had a lot of fun making these little sushi characters.

Sushi.jpg

 

Apple’s Stock Apps

Something I’ve seen come up a bit on the internets is the suggestion that Apple’s stock apps are usually enough for most people and I have to say that I agree. My tendency over the past year is to refrain from purchase of apps that duplicate a built in Apple app. And in the same line of thought, in terms I’ve already purchased that duplicate stock app function, I’m finding I use them less.

The basis of my thinking here is financial and also just simplicity. I don’t want to buy every new app that comes along nor do I want to spend the time trying every app or cluttering up my iPad with them. I’ll explore a few examples.

A few days ago a poster over at the fantastic newish Mac Power Users forum started this thread about Yoink. My reply:

I’ve tried Yoink as well as Gladys and Copied and others. As is often the case what I’m finding in actual use is that Apple’s native apps are likely the best option for me. I can drag and drop into Files app for storing temporary images or other documents or, just as easily for text, images, pdfs, I can drag into and out of Notes. And of course both of those apps have action extensions. They both sync up very quickly to iCloud should I need to hop to another device.

And that pretty much covers that particular example. Yes, at first these shelf apps are a neat idea. But in my usage they very nearly copy Apple’s Notes app and the Files app. As a result, I just don’t find that I use any of them. It’s easier to just use Notes or Files. Bonus, pdfs added to Files can also have tags added to them. PDFs added to Notes are properly indexed and searchable in Notes. They’re also easy to annotate within Notes and easy to share back out if needed.

Another example is email. I’ve tried Airmail and Spark both of which are great email clients. But I always come back to Apple Mail and the other two sit unused. Apple Mail isn’t perfect but it’s pretty great and it works very well for me in how I use and process email.

Podcast apps are another area where I’ve found Apple’s stock app is all I need. I’ve tried several others but generally find them duplicates that don’t offer enough in additional features to bother with. This is in part because Apple’s app has the added benefit that it syncs with all devices from HomePod to AppleTV and all the others, remembers playback position on any of those devices, and is fully integrated with Siri. Third party apps can’t do all this.

When it comes to web browsing I use Safari for everything. It’s a great browser and again, all my data is synced between devices. I only ever use iCab for a few odd needs here and there. I have zero interest in trying another browser.

For most of my pdf viewing I now use the Files app or the built in preview within apps. I still have PDF Expert and occasionally use it for more advanced editing of pdfs but the Files app is great for viewing and basic markup.

And while they’re not quite “stock apps” the iWorks apps are my go-to. For word processing, spreadsheets and presentations I always choose Pages, Numbers or Keynote. I have the Microsoft and Google apps but almost never use them and only do so when I must. I’ve been using the iWork apps since they were first made available and I really love them.

Exceptions to this trend would include the Calendar app which I rarely use. Mostly I use Fantastical or TimePage for viewing. I use Siri or data detectors for creating new events. For those that may not know, a data detector is what underlines a date or time in a Message or email. Tap and you get a suggestion to create a new event.

I still use a dedicated RSS reader, specifically Reeder though I’m using Apple News more and more. I doubt it will replace Reeder anytime soon because I like to be able to group feeds into folders which Apple News does not yet do. Also, with Reeder I can share an article which sends out a standard url whereas sharing from Apple News sends an Apple News link which does not work for non-Apple users.

When it comes to books I’ve used Kindle a bit more than iBooks but going forward I’ll prioritize Apple Books. I like the app better so, assuming a book is available from Apple at the same price as Amazon I’ll purchase from Apple first.

I’ve never been one to spend lots of time on the App Store. Perhaps my app minimalism reflects my real-world life in that I tend not to keep a lot of stuff around. Why clutter up my environment if what I have works for me?

 

Interview on the iPad Pro Podcast

Hey, neat! It was a lot of fun talking with Tim of the iPad Pros Podcast about using the iPad as a primary computer. We covered lots of the workflow details for using an iPad for layout and graphic design as well as web design and website management. If you enjoy nerding out about iPads and iOS give it a listen!

 

Affinity Designer on the iPad!

We’ve known for awhile that Affinity was bringing it’s fantastic vector app Designer to the iPad. It began on the Mac 4+ years ago and I’ve enjoyed using it along with Affinity Photo (also on the Mac) but since moving to the iPad I’ve wished for it on the iPad.

In June of 2017 Affinity released Affinity Photo for iPad which has proven an amazing app and not surprisingly has garnered great reviews and an Apple Design Award. Having Photo on the iPad was actually better for me than Designer would have been because as a web designer I’m often in need of an app that allows me to work with images as a part of a graphic design followed by outputting a web-optimized image. But of course once I had a taste of Affinity Photo for iPad I was eager to get Designer as well.

An interesting thing though, about both of these apps, is that they reach pretty deeply into the abilities of the other. Which is to say Photo has amazing vector tools and Designer has excellent raster tools. Also, as on the Mac, I can create a new file in Photo and then open it in Designer or the other way around. So, say I start a project in Photo and then decide I need add some text on a path. It’s no problem to open the file in Designer and add my text on a path. I can finish there or send the file right back over to Photo. It’s a great workflow and easy with iPad drag and drop. That said, if you want to make adjustments to a photo you want to do it in Photo. And if you want to do a primarily vector project you’re better off doing in Designer. But you’ve got the freedom to jump back and forth if the app you’re working in falls short.

I’ve made great use of Affinity Photo over the past year designing everything from event posters to anniversary invitations to promotional real estate postcards to web graphics. It’s a powerful tool. Now with Designer on my iPad I’ll be able to cover the tasks that were missing. For example, the above mentioned text on a path. I don’t need that often but when I do I can now do it on the iPad rather than sending a file to my Mac.

Another fantastic feature of Designer that’s missing in Photo that I’d like to mention is vector brushes using the pencil tool or vector brush tool. A very handy way to quickly draw lines and non-standard shapes with a wide variety of brushes, solid strokes or dashed strokes.

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While I was downloading the new app from Affinity I received an email from them letting me know it was available. The first thing I did upon successful download was start-up a new document. Just for fun and using the graphic in their email as my inspiration I spent the next couple hours playing. At some point during this time I hit upon something I needed help with so hopped over to the Affinity website and checked out some of their video tutorials. I think I was looking for the different touch-based gestures which are, thankfully, covered very well in one of the tutorials. Then I got back to the exploration and pulled over a few files from Affinity Photo and opened them up. Then a few Designer files from my Mac. I spent the rest of the day giving it a run through and what fun! I don’t currently have a client project that calls for it but I’ll be playing with it as time permits. What I can say thus far is that it is almost completely on par with the desktop version of Designer.

Taking advantage of the touch interface is something every iPad app creator should have as a priority. This may be less important with text apps but with a graphics app such as Designer it’s important. Not surprisingly using Apple’s Pencil with Designer is a fantastic experience. Using the above mentioned vector tools with pressure sensitivity via the Pencil is very useful. I’m super happy with the number of touch gestures that have been implemented. 2 finger tap to undo, 3 finger tap to redo, 2 finger and hold while dragging an object to duplicate, dragging up or down on Stroke Studio icon to change the width of stroke or on the Navigator Studio icon to change the zoom are just a few of the many. Gesture support in Designer is comprehensive and very well thought out.

So, what’s lacking? It can’t be all good can it? The only miss that I’ve discovered thus far is an easy way to discover keyboard shortcuts. It has them, but it does not have the usual informational overlay display brought up by holding the command key. This has become common and I’m used to it working with most apps and it’s very handy. With Designer (and Photo) you have to jump out of your document and go to the app help and search for it. I’ve also noticed a few moments when attempting to move around a document or moving objects, where things get a bit jumpy. That said, for the most part, things are very smooth, very fast. The experience is just as good as what I have on my Mac. Well, no, actually, it’s better because it’s on the iPad and I prefer the iPad!

As with Photo, Designer is exactly the kind of app that works fantastically with a touch screen and with the Pencil. Such a treat to work directly on the screen with this kind of app. These are exactly the kind of apps the iPad needs to be taken more seriously as a computer for getting real work done. Whether related to the release of Designer or not, the day after its release Adobe announced that it would be releasing a full version of Photoshop for iPad at some point in the next year or so. And at some point in the future Illustrator. Personally, I’m all in on Affinity and have no interest in Adobe’s subscription model. Affinity has a great user base that is growing well and I’m really happy to see that. Competition in the iOS ecosystem is great and having such a solid non-Adobe option from a smaller company offering a range of excellent cross-platform products is wonderful for users.

The simple reason I prefer the iPad

A few days ago Affinity released it’s fantastic app Designer for the iPad. I’ll be posting about that soon. A day or two later Adobe announced it would be bringing the full version of it’s Photoshop app to the iPad and sometime in the future probably Illustrator as well. Well, let’s just say that for many people who now use the iPad for doing work with images and graphics these two things were big news. On twitter I came across an exchange by a fairly well known former Adobe employee and former project manager of Photoshop and chimed in. The context of the conversation was Photoshop for mobile:

@jnack: @stroughtonsmith I forgot I said all that aloud. 😌 It remains unclear that anyone wants full Photoshop or similar on iPad, and I’d expect more of a Lightroom CC/Rush play (stripped down, rethought). We’ll see.

@dennyhenke: @stroughtonsmith @jnack Well, I for one use my iPad everyday for client work. I’m fully invested in Affinity apps at this point and would have paid them triple what they asked. At this point I only use Adobe for InDesign projects. I can’t tell you the last time I opened Photoshop or Illustrator.

@jnack: @dennyhenke @stroughtonsmith What advantages do you find in the iPad relative to, say, a MacBook Air (similar weight)? Battery life, touch screen, other?

@dennyhenke: @jnack @stroughtonsmith Form factor is key. With a laptop I must always have a keyboard attached and there’s no touch screen. With iPad I can and do use it often without a keyboard. Also, the Pencil is a joy to use with apps such as those made by Affinity. Last, I greatly prefer iOS/touch.

Of course I’ve written many times about why I now prefer the iPad as my primary computer but thought I’d share again here as a riff off of the above exchange. It really can be summed up as simply having an ultraportable, flexible form factor that can be used with a keyboard or without, with a finger or with the Pencil. A computer based on incredibly powerful hardware that never gets hot in my lap, runs in complete silence and which now has a mature OS that is a delight to use and which has an increasingly powerful app ecosystem that helps me get my work done.

While a Mac has a great operating system and a pretty great app ecosystem, I am always stuck with the keyboard. I used Mac laptops ever since the first iBook and never thought I’d be without one but with the iPad I have something better and after 2+ years I see no reason to go back.

A fix for AirPods low volume

I’ve had my AirPods since the first shipment, December 2016 and have noticed that the volume seems quite a bit lower. I clean them fairly regularly. At half volume I can barely detect the audio. In other words, half volume seems to be low. High volume is what I would think of as half volume. I’ve compared output between iPad, iPhone, Watch and Mac and all seem to be about the same. If there is a difference it would be that the iPhone and Mac are slightly lower. Watch and iPad seem slightly higher but at half volume the audio was barely detectable.

I did yet another search to see if I could turn-up any tricks for resetting the volume of AirPods. I again tried the usual suggestions of turning off bluetooth, disconnecting, unpairing, repairing, etc. Nothing worked. I came to the conclusion that it had to be a build up of wax under the grill. Perhaps in cleaning it from the surface some of it get’s pushed through rather than scraped off. That seems the likely culprit.

I took an extreme measure. I’m not suggesting anyone do this because it might ruin your AirPods. Nowhere on their website does Apple suggest this. But for myself, I figured that as low as the volume was, it couldn’t get much worse. My AirPods were nearly unusable so I put 1 drop of ear wax removal liquid onto the mesh of each AirPod. I was very careful to just do ONE drop. I let it sit for a minute or two. I tapped them a few times to assist in getting the fluid through. I assumed that because the fluid did not just go right through that there must indeed be wax under/inside the grill. I waited. I tapped again a few times. Some of it very slowly disappeared through the mesh. I turned them over to drain. I used a small bit of tissue to wipe the mesh. I gently blew into the three other holes of the air pod tapped the airpods against a table mesh side down. I can’t really say that I saw anything come back out, liquid or wax.

At that point in the process I was hoping that while the wax might not make its way back out through the mesh it would at least be dislodged enough that it might clear the way for more sound to get through. The result: slight improvement. I tried it all again with another drop to each AirPod. I let it sit then wiped and blew. Then I did a third drop. The whole process took maybe an hour of just letting them sit then wiping then blowing and testing between each drop. When I decided to stop I’d noticed about a 30% improvement. Still not as loud as I remember them being new or as loud as the wired EarPods are (they never get used), but now much more useable. At full volume now they are almost too loud again. I might actually need to bump the volume down a wee bit.

So, for me, this has helped. It might ruin your AirPods as it is a deliberate attempt to get a drop of liquid inside. I’ve read accounts of people running them through the wash and still working after so I took the chance. I’ll likely do it again when I notice another degradation. But this is not something that Apple recommends.

Update: A few weeks later and the sound is still improved. Actually, it seemed to me that after a few days the sound had actually improved further. As though whatever was inside had further dissolved or had moved further out of the way. I’d say at this point that they sound at about 50% improved and while not as loud as new they are much more usable. I’m not struggling to hear them and have actually turned the volume down from the highest setting. When I notice the volume decreasing again I will definitely repeat the above process.

Apple News and the 2018 US Elections

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I’m really happy to see Apple upping their efforts with Apple News. The latest special coverage for the US elections shows great promise. I’m a longtime user of RSS and continue to use that but I’ve been supplementing using Apple News since it’s release. I recently wrote about Apple News and compared it to the new Google News. Apple News will get even better with the upcoming changes in iOS 12, namely the addition of the sidebar on the iPad. I really prefer having a sidebar for easy navigation of sources and I suspect my use of the app will likely grow as a result of the change.

But in terms of substance, today’s introduction of the midterms elections coverage section is an important step towards increasing the quality of information. I’m hoping that the level of human curation will continue to grow in Apple News and that the result will be more a more dependable feed.

Today’s introduction features an editorial by Lauren Kern, Editor-in-Chief of Apple News: Decision 2018: Make It an Informed One – Midterm Elections

Elections aren’t just contests, they’re conversations — about who we are as a country and who we want to become. When the loudest, most extreme voices dominate that conversation, we can’t hear each other. At Apple News, we want to help fix that.

This election season, our editors will highlight the most important, rigorously reported news to help you understand key races and your fellow voters. Rather than focus on party politics, we’ll cover issues as they’re lived on the ground, in the districts and states where these races will be decided, vote by vote. We’ll publish exclusive analysis, thought-provoking opinion pieces, and inspiring stories of citizens getting involved and changing the world. We won’t shy away from controversial topics, but our goal is to illuminate, not enrage. And we’ll always steer clear of rumor and propaganda.

Obligatory 2018 WWDC Post

 

It’s been a couple weeks and I’ve been reading to posts and listening to podcasts from the nerd herd. A few thoughts on the announcements by Apple as well as some of the reactions in the community. It was widely rumored that this year would see a focus on optimization rather than new features. It seems we’re getting both but perhaps more emphasis on optimization. This was expected and many folks thought it best. There have been a lot of complaints about some of the changes introduced with iOS 11. I’ve largely been happy with those changes but some were not. But it seems that with iOS 12, this year, more than any in recent memory, people are actually satisfied. At least for now. The complaints will come once the honeymoon is over.

Mac

Though I use my Mac less and less, I’m happy to see Apple affirm that it is committed to the Mac. Not that I had any doubts but I’m weary of hearing the complaint of the past 2 years that Apple does not care about it’s Mac users and even that it might not be committed to the long term future of the Mac. It’s just silly. For the moment, at least, the Mac oriented crowd seem mostly satisfied.

iOS 12

iOS 12 Preview – Features – Apple

As predicted by many, a focus on optimization which is, of course, always welcomed. But, also, some new features as we might also expect. Nothing like last year’s amazing addition of iPad features but some nice additions. Early reports by beta users confirm that the optimization, especially on older devices is significant and that the speed increase is very noticeable. This is great news not just for users on older devices (many in my family still user older iPads and iPhones) but also a show by Apple that while they do want to sell new devices they also understand the value of maximizing the time that devices can continue to be useful. This is not only good for users but for the environment.

One thing I think nerds often forget is that the “norms” aren’t so obsessed with operating systems and new hardware. They just want devices that they understand how to use and which they can depend on. Based on my observations, the new and flashy is often just added financial cost and mental energy they have to expend figuring out why their devices are behaving differently. This seems especially true with older folks or at least the older folks I interact with. It seems just as people are getting comfortable with new features and changes the os changes again and trips them up.

Siri

I’ve written before about my hope for a proactive Siri. In short, I was hoping for the ability to configure “Siri Scenes” which might be integrated with a more powerful Home app. With Shortcuts we might be getting that or parts of it.

Shortcuts App and App Shortcuts

Everyone seems happy and excited about the transformation of Workflow into Shortcuts app. In addition to the new app, App developers will now be able to offer simple shortcuts to users, increasing discoverability and at the same time allowing the user to customize the Siri-based activation with their own phrase. This will be big. Not sure how many “normal” users will use it but it appears Apple has done a great job in making it easy to take the first step. I suppose App Shortcuts with the ability to assign a custom phrase is the Apple equivalent to Alexa’s skills with a key difference being that these are based on the device rather than the cloud. And Apple’s solution seems to easier for average users. It also gives them the added opportunity to take the next step to begin using the Shortcuts app to begin assembling even more powerful actions.

The Shortcuts app is Workflow with deeper system integration, namely Siri and Homekit. It appears that older Workflows will, for the most part, continue to work. That’s great news for those that have invested a lot of time into development of of these kinds of systems. One such person is Federico Viticci who has, of course, already written quite a bit about the new Shortcuts.

Based on what I’ve read it appears I’ll get at least part of what I was hoping for when I wrote about the above mentioned “Siri scenes” in that I’ll be able to set-up a workflow that includes Home scenes. My ideal morning routine would be an automation beginning at a predetermined time. A light would come on at 10% brightness. Then a little bit later that light goes to 40%. Then my HomePod chimes with an alarm as my coffee maker kicks on with yet another light. Then Siri would read me the weather and any calendar events. Last, she would ask if I wanted some music or a podcast. Or, perhaps just play music or a podcast.

Some of this is already possible with Home scenes set to a schedule. But while the new Shortcuts app can call on the Home app the Home app cannot, in reverse, be scheduled to open a Shortcut which is what I was hoping for. This kind of scheduled Shortcut would give the appearance of a proactive Siri at normal or specified bedtime and wake-up times. If I’m correct that the new Shortcuts cannot be scheduled for a time I’ll settle for a mix of automated and voice initiated actions which previously would be limited to scenes in Home. It’s still a step forward.

Oh, the horror of having to actually do something myself. Will I be able to muster the strength and courage to croak out a few words to Siri?

Suggestions

This has been a part of Siri for awhile though I’ve not found it all that useful. Maybe it will be improved enough that I’ll make use of it. Every morning I walk the dogs and do an “outdoor walk” workout on the Apple Watch. I start that using Siri then I pick music or a podcast to listen to. Everyday. I’d guess that Siri will suggest music or a podcast as well as starting an outdoor walk. That’s fine but I don’t think it will help much. I’m hoping to be surprised.

Knowledge

Certain things mentioned regarding updates to Siri’s knowledge are things I’ve already noticed are present. They don’t seem like new features. That’s not a problem and I guess it’s possible that Apple has just added some new things under the hood. Regardless, I’ve found Siri’s knowledge base to often be very helpful and from what I’ve read, it seems that Siri already does far more than most people realize. I suspect, many haven’t used it that much and this is Apple’s chance to draw attention to it.

Photos

Photos is getting smarter with more Siri-powered searching and when combined with Messages, we will have an enhanced, smarter flow for sharing via event and face recognition. A welcome addition. Also, the improved import process looks very nice!

FaceTime

Some really nice improvements here. Group calls now supported with up to a ridiculous 32 participants! Audio FaceTime calls can now be made with HomePod or AppleWatch. It’s now integrated with Messages. New effects too, most notably: Animoji, filters, text effects, shapes, sticker packs. Basically, it looks as though they’ve spiced it up with a bit of flavoring from their Clips app.

Messages

Speaking of Messages and Animoji, well, of course there is Memoji and new Animoji, longer Animoji and more effect and filters. Also, as mentioned above, tighter integration with the Photos app.

Screentime, Notifications and Do Not Disturb

I’m not going to say much other than I’m glad they’re adding these features. I’m sure most of us will be horrified at how much time we spend looking at screens. Do Not Disturb is getting some useful refinement. That said I leave Do Not Disturb on 24/7 due to the number of spam calls I get. I wish Apple offered a general option to only accept calls from contacts. Then I could use Do Not Disturb for other things. As it is, I have to use it to filter all my calls all the time.

Apps

Nice that various apps are making their way from being iPhone only to the iPad. I use Apple News a lot and am looking forward to the new sidebar.

New iPad Gestures

Shrug. Glad that this will match up with the iPhone X. Not happy about the control panel being by itself and accessed via a pull down from the top right. I’d rather it stay where it is in the Multitasking view.

There’s more but I’ve just hit on a few of the things that stood out the most. The page at the top links to Apple’s more complete list.

Apple News, Google News, RSS

I’ve used RSS since the early days. I forget the exact year but I think I started using around 2002 which was also around the time that I started blogging. Been awhile. Anyway, I’ve had an RSS reader on every computer I’ve owned for at least the previous 15 years. On iPad (and previously on my Mac) that’s mostly been Reeder. I’ve tried several others but Reeder remains my favorite.

But I’m also open to trying new things. When Apple introduced Apple News I tried it. Not the best experience but I kept at it. It was no replacement for Reeder and RSS but I used it as a supplement. No doubt, it’s gotten better and I’ve used it more and more but RSS still remains the foundation for all my internet reading. With the release of Google News I thought I’d try it though I’m not big on using Google. I have gmail which is now relegated to my junk account and iCloud is my primary, preferred account. Google is not my default or usual search engine. My plan with Google News is just to use it to compare to Apple News and after a few days use I can confirm I’ll be sticking to Apple News. Google News is okay but it’s not great.

What I like about it is the quickness with which content reflects my likes or dislike. I can tap the widget at the bottom right of any story summary on the main page and give it a thumbs up or down. If I thumbs down it it goes away instantly. Of course this is long term training and I’ve only used it a few days so can’t comment on that. But I like that it goes away. Compare this to Apple News. This weekend, like everyone else, I was inundated with royal wedding news. Not the least bit interested. On Google News I could thumbs down it and it was gone. With Apple News I could dislike it but it remained in place. Even worse, after disliking 40+ such royal wedding stories they continued to reappear with my little dislike icon highlighted. So, not only do they not go away but they remain over the course of a couple days. Ugh. That’s a terrible user experience.

I also noticed Google News is heavily weighted towards entertainment news which isn’t something I’m interested in. I’d rather see a an emphasis given to science. By default the headlines section offered almost no science. Will see if it can be trained though I don’t plan on keeping it around. I’m just curious. My assumption is that because I don’t use Google for search the app doesn’t know what I like. I’ve followed a few topics and will see how that affects what’s presented to me.

Another contrast worth noting is visual design. In the first section, “For You” I prefer Apple News to Google News. Of course it’s been around and has had some time to evolve and change so it seems more refined. Google News has a nice, simple design but the main feed is so bare as to seem unfinished. Apple has achieved a balance of well presented information that is well organized without being too cluttered.

A downside to Apple News is refresh time. When I load Google News it is fairly quick to refresh. Apple News seems to take quite a bit longer. I’m in a rural area on satellite internet. I often run out of data half way through a month which drops me down to about 2 Mbps for normal usage. That’s not too bad but I really notice it with Apple News. I’ve also noticed with Apple News a repeat of stories days old. Why show me a story that was in my feed 2 or 3 or 4 days ago?

Overall, the feel that I get with Apple News is that it is generic. I can customize in that I can choose topics and sources but the For You section really feels like it has no intelligent foundation. As mentioned above, the stories I’ve disliked continue to show up. Stories similar to stories I’ve disliked continue to show up. The Spotlight section often seems useless as it presents topics I’m not interested in. If Apple is going to emphasize Apple News and if it has human curators, might not the Spotlight section present more intelligently? For those that like sports, they get more sports in Spotlight. For those that prefer science, more science. I rarely use it now because every time I look it’s presenting me with stories I’m not the least bit interested in. In short Apple News doesn’t really know my interests even though I’ve spent time liking/disliking stories, topics and channels.

Search is much better on Google News as one might expect. It’s at the top of the screen of every section of the app and it works great to present recent news on the various searches I’ve tried. For example, a search for Gaia Telescope presents a series of recent stories from diverse sources. It’s excellent. The same search in Apple News? Nothing. Literally, nothing. I realize Google has the upper hand here given the nature of it’s business but if Apple News is going to be useful it must be better and getting me useful search results.

Lastly, sharing. Again, Google News is better. If I choose to share a story I simply get a proper web link to the original story on the original site. If I try to share from Apple News I get an Apple News link. When I’ve shared from there in the past non-Apple users get errors. So, I have to take the extra step of first sharing the article to Safari then sharing from Safari. That’s lame.

When I started this post my feeling was that Apple News is my preferred app. I want it to be my preferred app. I’m all in on Apple in part because I appreciate the focus on privacy. I want Apple’s machine learning to improve for the whole Apple platform. As I’ve written the post I keep asking myself why not use Google News? In almost every way aside from visual design it is better. If I use Google then I just have the feeling that not only am I leaking my data to Google but I am not informing Apple. I want Apple to know more about what I need and want when I use my iPhone and iPad. But after years of using Apple News I don’t get the sense that it knows my interests any better. It presents me with the same generic content everyone else gets and it’s search results are so weak as to be useless.

For now I’ll continue to test Google News along side of Apple News. A few days ago I would not have considered switching but I’m at least open to that idea now.

iPad Journal: Pages Update

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about using Pages. Last time I wrote this:

Pages is no substitute for something like Adobe’s InDesign but it works very well for brochures, small newsletters, posters and more. At the moment one of the features I miss most is the lack of linked text boxes which are often necessary for larger documents such as newsletters and annual reports. There are other limitations such as no text on path and no stroke for text, features I sometimes need for event posters and flyers. On the Mac version of Pages a pen tool is available but it is, sadly, missing on the iPad. The iPad does offer a line tool but it only allows for one curve. It would be great to see the pen tool added to the iPad.

It’s been just over a year since I wrote that and Pages has seen a few updates. Most importantly, for the work I do, Apple added back the ability to have linked text boxes. For anyone that does multi-page layout, linked text boxes is a very important feature and it has allowed me to return to larger, more complex projects such as newsletters and annual reports. With the previous version of Pages on iPad these kinds of projects were sometimes possible but also more difficult. This is the feature that allows me to leave Adobe InDesign unopened for longer periods of time. I still need it but not as often. If a client specifies that they would like InDesign used or if a print job requires it then I’ll use it. Otherwise I use Pages on the iPad.

As before, the Mac version still holds onto a few features not yet brought over to the iPad but in the past year there are fewer of them. If I had to single out one missing feature that is most likely to require me to go back to the Mac to make changes it would be the inability to specify exact line height. Why this is still missing I do not know. I can change it using the -/+ widget but that is limited to Apple defined increments: .5, .75, 1… Sometimes a line height of 1 is too much but .75 is too little. I might need .9 or 1.1.

On the plus side, Apple finally added the ability to edit paragraph styles on the iPad. This one was another significant omission from the previous version and often forced me to open documents on the Mac. Additionally, Apple has added the option to display two pages side by side which is a great benefit for quickly scanning through multi-page documents. Lastly, the ability to create a master page. I’ve got a starting template that I use for newsletters and annual reports which has border guides built in. Very handy given that Pages does not have a way of showing such things.

What I have not yet had occasion to use more than a bit of playing is the ability to draw using the Pencil. This is a feature introduced with the Apple education event in March 2018. I’ve played with it a bit and can see how it might be useful but as of now have not used it for any client projects. I look forward to the kind of project that will let me have a go with it.