iPad Journal: iPad Keyboards

Okay. I have to admit I have a problem. Keyboards. Possibly cases too. And stands. Just, in general, iPad configurations. The beauty of the iPad is that as a computer it is not hard wired to a keyboard. That, along with iPadOS, is what I love about this device. But, along with this freedom from the keyboard comes the possibility of seemingly endless configurations.

I’ve written recently about this obsession. And now I’m writing about it again. Here’s the thing, I move around a good bit when I’m using the iPad. I use it on my porch, on my futon, my bean bag, at a desk/shelf thing, at the library and when I’m visiting my folks. Much of the time I’m happy using it with Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio. But not always.

The benefit and shortcoming of that keyboard is that it is attached like a laptop. It’s very stable to use in the lap and fine for a table. Until it isn’t which is usually when I want to elevate it to a higher level, closer to my eyes. At that point there are stands I can use to raise it up. At that point though I need an external keyboard.

So, this is where my various and ongoing experiments come in. Different ways to raise it or position it and the various keyboards to then use with it. It’s a lot of fun and I quite enjoy the many possibilities.

The last time I wrote I was primarily experimenting with the iPad for working on podcast transcripts by flipping the Smart Keyboard Portfolio over into an A-Frame configuration and using the K811 Logitech keyboard with it. It’s a great set-up that I use for podcast transcripts or night-time work because the K811 has back-lighting as well as media control keys. Having the play/pause key on the keyboard is a great help over the course of transcribing 40+ pages of text.

But a few things I’ve tried since that post are different methods for elevating the iPad up to eye level and also adding in two other keyboards for different situations. First, the elevation. I’ve got two things I’m using for this, each to be used in different settings. One is a home-made but very functional stand. It’s made from plywood and is the exact maximum height I want when sitting outside at the table on my porch. I flip the iPad into the A-frame configuration and I’m good to go. Now with iPadOS I can also use a mouse to make it easier for screen taps/clicks rather than always raising my hand up 8 inches. Mostly I try to use the keyboard but still, the mouse might prove handy. In this case I generally use the K811.

However, I’ve got another Logitech keyboard, the K480 which has a slot for tablets or phones. I purchased this a couple years ago for use with the iPad Air 2 and used it quite a bit. I still use it with that iPad on occasions such as this. Two notes about this keyboard. First, it’s HEAVY. This is not a mobile keyboard. It’s great at a desk or even in a lap as the iPad is pretty stable in that slot. Super nice to be able to just grab it and use it in the hand with no need to disconnect. Second, it’s loud and creaky.

As you can see in the image, I’ve got both iPads in action here and it works great, similar to having a Mac with 2 screens. My workflow in this case is that the smaller iPad is my reference screen with a document sent by a client for a newsletter or brochure design. Then the iPad Pro above is where I’m doing the design work. I can copy text on the iPad below then, using the magic of Handoff, paste the text into the document that I’m designing on the iPad Pro. I could use split screen just on the iPad Pro but when I’m doing design or layout work it helps a lot to have the whole screen devoted to just that document. The K480 is also a multi device keyboard so I’ve got it paired with both iPads and can switch between them with a flick of a little dial. Very handy.

I’ve also got a new stand for use when I’m working from my bean bag or the desk/shelf inside the cabin by the window. This raises the iPad up anywhere from 4 to 6 inches. When I’m working from the bean bag I often have a lap desk and this stand is a bit more manageable on my lap than the home-made stand which is way too big and heavy for that. It’s not quite as tall but it’s enough.

Usually, in these situations, I’m using the K811 keyboard. That said, I recently remembered that I also have the Logitech Keys-to-Go keyboard. I bought it three years ago for on-the-go work with my iPad Air 2. It’s an excellent keyboard. Super light, very thin and small. It’s got a similar covering and feel to Apple’s Smart Keyboards but with the benefit that it is completely silent (if you prefer that in certain settings) and also it has the special row of function keys along the top row. It’s smaller and some might think slightly cramped but it’s still very useable and I love it. I type about as fast with it as I do any other keyboard. This is a great keyboard for the library where I sometimes work because it’s so quiet.

The only negative is that after a year of use the top layer of fabric that covers the keys began to bubble up from the keys forming air pockets. It still works pretty well but now the fabric covering feels loose above the keys and it’s a bit of a distraction. But getting it back out the other day I was reminded of how much I enjoyed using it before I got the first Apple Smart Keyboard. It’s $70 at the Logitech website, usually only $45 on Amazon.

I’ve ordered another one and expect it will mostly get used when I go out to public places where a quiet keyboard is of benefit. Though, to be honest, I like it enough that it might get used a fair bit even at home. The great thing about the iPad is getting to choose what way I want to work and what tools I want to work with on any given day! I’ll also be watching it for signs of the above mentioned defect. Logitech offers a 1 year warranty and I’ll take them up on that if I have issues.

Which brings me to yet another keyboard related point that almost requires it’s own post but I’ll try to fit it in here. Namely the question of durability of these fabric covered keyboards. I love both Apple’s new folio and this Keys-to-Go. While they’re both missing back lighting and Apple’s offering is also missing the top row of special function keys, I’ve really come to enjoy the feeling of the fabric covering as well as the weather/moisture/dirt resistance they offer. That said, I think a keyboard should last more than a year. My previous Apple Smart Keyboard needed to be replaced after about 8 months. I suspect the current folio version will also need to be replaced before a year of use. As stated, the Keys-to-Go, while it still works, should not have the issue it has. It was only in use for about a year when I put it on the shelf.

Perhaps it’s just not possible to design a keyboard of these kinds of materials and have it stand up to 5+ hours of daily use for more than a year. I don’t know how widespread the issues are but I know that I’ve seen several references online to exactly the same issues I’m having so they’re likely not rare. I hope that Apple, Logitech and others can sort out the problems because I think these kinds of keyboards are a natural fit for the tablet form factor. Fabric covered keyboards offer dirt and weather resistance, can be very light weight and a pleasure to type on but if their expected lifespan is less than a year that would seem to be a problem. The lifespan of most of my keyboards, be they Apple or third party, laptop or Bluetooth, has ranged from 5 years on up. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect this new style of keyboard to last a minimum of 3 years.

iPadOs

Wowza. It’s been well over a month since WWDC and all of the fun summer Apple news! I obviously feel no pressure to offer my opinion on these things. There are more than enough hot takes out there. I’m not sure if it’s my getting older or what exactly but I’m happy to just sit back and take it in. I mostly regard my opinion as I regard all the others out there: not that important. I’m happy with the iPad and iOS 12 and as expected, I’ll be happier with the iPad running iPadOS 13.

It’s not that I don’t care or that I’m lacking enthusiasm. On the contrary, I’m super excited for what’s coming and have been happily playing with the iPadOS public beta since it’s release. I initially installed on my iPad Air 2 and after a month I also took the plunge and with the release of the third public beta installed on my iPad Pro. I normally would not do that on my work iPad but I have everything backed up and verified that my essential work apps are working fairly well on the beta.

Even in it’s rough around the edges beta form it’s great and an improvement over iOS 12. But I’m not all that interested in rehashing what everyone already now knows (assuming they have an interest in the topic) and what’s available to read on Apple’s iPadOS website.

What I will say is simply that iPadOS makes a lot of sense as the next step for this device. I think Apple’s done a great job of adding features for power users while maintaining a surface level simplicity for the users that are fine with the basic iPad feature set. Users like my parents can happily go on using the iPad as they have in the past and will probably not notice much of a difference. To them it will be the same iPad they are comfortable with. Before the iPad my elderly aunt and uncle did not use a computer and had never used email or the web. Now they, like my mom and grandmother, are daily computer users. They’re happy and comfortable sending email, messages, photos, and so on. All thanks to the iPad.

For those of us looking for “power user” features, well, now we have more of those. My three favorites: Widgets on the home screen, improved Safari, and the more fully featured Files app. I’ve tried the mouse support and suspect that will come in very handy too for those of us that would like to put our iPads up to eye level or hook up to mirror our iPads to a second display.

The iPad was released in 2010, intended to be a friendly, easy to approach and use device. In 2019, we can look back and see a slow but very steady evolution of the hardware, iOS, and the available apps. I think in retrospect, this has been about as much as anyone could ask for. In 2010 I was a happy Mac user and the iPad entered my home as a fun, pleasant to use browsing device. Today, nine years later, the iPad has become my favorite Apple device and is now my daily computer.

The fact that this same device can serve a user such as myself and at the same time be used so easily by non-technical users says a lot about what Apple has accomplished.

iPad Journal: Pages Summer 2019 Status Update

It seems I’ve gotten in the habit of writing about my use of Pages once or twice a year and it would seem now is time to update. Past posts:

I’ve been using Pages since it was first released way back in 2005. In that time it’s been one of my favorite apps and one of my most used both on Mac and now on iPad. I know the app pretty well and as time goes on I only grow fonder of it. I’ve used it to create countless flyers, brochures, reports, newsletters and even used it to help a friend publish her first book. It seems inevitable that logging that many hours with an application is likely to lead to strong feelings and I’m happy that in this case they are positive feelings. I wouldn’t want to be in a position to have to spend a lot of time with an application (or operating system) that I didn’t enjoy using.

As I write this Apple’s current website for the Pages App has as it’s second section headline: “A canvas for creativity.” I think that’s an apt description for the app. I’ll go further and say that one aspect of what Apple has accomplished with Pages is gradually build an app that not only works the same (mostly) across all devices, but one which will empower a broad group of users in creative endeavors. Of course, like any deeply featured app, the more you learn the more you can do, but Apple has done a great job of making this app one which is easy to approach for novice users. I’d say the interface is very well designed to appear simple at a glance. But with a few taps or clicks the powerful features are easily revealed.

I might go so far as to say that, to some degree, the design philosophy of Pages parallels that of the iPad. And by that I simply mean that on a surface level it is simple and friendly. It is approachable. Apple has done the same with the iPad. With iPadOS 13 we have something that will continue to be easy for novice users or users that just want easy, basic computing. Most of my family will never use the advanced features of the iPad (or, for that matter, Pages). But those features are there for those of us that take the deep dive, those of us that want the advanced features, have them there waiting for us.

My last update was October 29, 2018 and there have been updates! The march towards feature parity with the Mac continues though we’re not there yet!

What’s still missing?

  • Line spacing is still limited to pre-set increments. I can have 1 or .75 or .5 but not .9 or .8 and sometimes I need .9 or .8. This seems like something they should be able to fix.
  • Spacing between characters.
  • More keyboard shortcuts.
  • Shapes are now partially editable but not fully. It’s possible to combine shapes using different modes but it’s still not possible to make the various individual shape “nodes” editable as is possible on a Mac.
  • Multipart lines are still not possible. With the Mac I can create a line with the pen tool that has many different points which can then be curves or straight and the positions moved around. With the iOS version I can create a line with just one adjustable point.
  • Advanced gradient fills are not possible. Included in this would be a gradient with transparency.
  • It’s not possible to edit the color, angle, distance or spread of drop shadows.
  • When exporting to pdf it would be nice to have the ability to choose the quality of the images.

What’s fixed or new?

  • Yay!! We can now change a document type to “Page Layout”.
  • Formatting table borders is fixed! We can adjust style, color and width!
  • A new and welcome feature: new styling features for text! Namely, it’s now possible to have text with a gradient fill and with new stroke options. Also possible is using a texture or image for text fill. This will come in handy!

Something I wrote last time which still stands:

“One last bit. Apple has positioned the iPad Pro as a pro device. Not only should they finally fill in the above mentioned gaps between the Mac and iOS versions, but it might be nice to see a few advanced features added that would bring it more on par with apps like InDesign. For example, drop caps! Sure, I can create those with text boxes but I shouldn’t have to work around this. One feature that might be considered more advanced would be the option to have an art board around documents. A place off the document that allows for storing bits of text, shapes, images, etc. I don’t expect it but it sure would be helpful. More advanced PDF export would also be nice.”

And, just to be clear, in the past 10 months other features HAVE been added that I’ve not covered here as I don’t use them. Most recently new Pencil features such as animating a drawing which might be very useful for some. New and powerful ebook creation features which again, are probably great for those that have a use for them. I have not, as of yet, had need.

Big day today for Apple Nerds.

WWDC 2019. Looking forward to it. As happy as I am using the iPad everyday I’m sure I’ll find it more enjoyable with iOS 13 installed in the fall. We’re one hour before keynote so lots of surprises to come.

Using the iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard Portfolio in non-standard configurations

It’s been over six months since I posted my thoughts about the 2018 iPad Pro and the new design of the Smart Keyboard Portfolio and my thoughts on the keyboard remain the same. I continue to love it. The design and typing experience are excellent and it is far more stable than the previous version. I regularly use it in my lap with no issues.

That said I still have two gripes: the lack of media control keys and the lack of backlighting. If these two features existed this would be the perfect keyboard for me (and I suspect many others). As we are fresh in the month of May we’ve now seen the release of three different takes on iPad Pro keyboard cases. Actually, I’m sure there are others but these are from three of the better known manufacturers: Zagg, Brydge, and Logitech.

These all look excellent and have those two features I want: backlit keyboards and media keys. I’ve looked at them all and thought about getting one. But there’s one common drawback to all three that keeps me saying no: They are heavier and more importantly, they confine the iPad in ways I don’t like, the Zagg and Logitech require the iPad be held in a shell-type case that’s hard to get in and out of. The Brydge has clips that are very tight and while it’s possible to pull the iPad in and out it’s still quite a bit more effort that releasing it from Apple’s offering. Also, the Brydge design makes flipping the dock up for multitasking more difficult. Also, all three are an added expense of more than $100.

One of the features of the above mentioned Zagg keyboard folio is that the iPad shell which has a kickstand detaches from the keyboard allowing it to free stand so for watching video and/or just using in a different arrangement with the keyboard. I like his and have often done this in the past with various stands and my beloved Logitech K811 keyboard which has backlit keys and the media keys I want for use with the iPad.

I began to wonder, not for the first time in 5 months, how I might make better use of this keyboard. Could it be better used in conjunction with the Apple Folio?

I’ve known of the trick of flipping the Folio backwards and upside down for creating a drafting table sort of angle for use with the Pencil. While it looks a bit odd it works great and it was that sort of thinking I was after. How might the case be flipped or otherwise used in a non-standard configuration with an external keyboard?

The first and an embarrassingly obvious thing to do (and I can’t believe I’ve not tried it till now): I just sat it on top of the keyboard of the Smart Keyboard Folio and started using it instead. I think I’d assumed that there would be issues with the keys of the Folio keyboard registering taps but they don’t. (Well, in my lap they don’t. I noticed that on a hard surface the keyboard does sometimes actually register key presses on the spacebar and the keys on the bottom left and right). But there were also two additional problems. For some reason, if the iPad is docked in typing mode on the Folio the Command-Tab and Command-Spacebar shortcuts for app-switching and Spotlight stop working. Well, that’s no good! I use them far too often and won’t do without. But now I was somewhat hopeful that I might find another configuration.

What if the iPad is used in a sort of A-Frame position? Would it be stable? Yes, this has some real potential.

In my lap while sitting in my favorite work spot, a big bean-bag chair and my legs up on my table. Actually very stable and now I can adjust the angle. Been working this way all morning. I often use a little homemade lap-desk, just a bit of shelf wood that is 12” deep and 20” or so in length. Perfect for having a cup of coffee on my lap next to the iPad. This A-frame configuration also works great on that little desk.

Out on the porch you can see the variety of angels possible. Also, conveniently the Apple Pencil still has a place to sit though it obviously won’t charge. Note, on some smooth surfaces the iPad would probably slide a bit but in my lap and on this table it stays put.

So, now I’ve got a set-up that cost nothing extra, allows me to make more use of a keyboard I already had and which has the added benefit of more viewing angles.

Mind Mapping Experiment

A year or so ago a friend on Twitter asked me if I used or had ever tried any mind mapping apps. I had not. He was pretty excited and suggested a couple. I took a look at a couple and thought they might be useful for particular projects. I downloaded iThoughts and gave it a spin. Then I almost never used it. Why not? The short answer is that I think this is the sort of app that is useful for larger, more complicated projects and those happen to be the kind of projects I don’t take on very often.

Most of my work is of a repetitive nature, small one off projects finished in one to three days and most of them come in one at a time so I’m rarely balancing two or three projects at a time. Most of my work is website updates and document designs and layouts. I have no need for mind maps for these things.

In my initial test I came away thinking that mind maps would be great for long writing projects and larger projects that require more steps and ingredients than I usually handle. As it happens I’ve got a potential project coming up that would probably benefit from actually diving in with this kind of app. It’s only a potential project at the moment. It is a volunteer project involving the local library which may involved several people, organizations, and an ongoing and complicated process (compared to my usual).

A few days ago I saw the new version of MindNode was released so I downloaded it for the free 2 week trial. I spent an hour with each app and came away with the impression that iThoughts is a more powerful app in almost every way.

MindNode is better in the area of visual style with a couple of added features. It’s also got newly announced support for second, external USB C monitors which might be nice for some.

But iThoughts seems to be the more capable app. It’s got support for markdown in the notes for nodes, the ability to import a greater variety of objects, and far more export/sharing options. After an hour of using them I felt like I’d gotten a solid handle on how they each work (very similar) but also had the sense that I’d reached the limit of MindNode’s feature set.

With iThoughts there is more to learn and more that I could do. An example, the project I’m mapping, is a collaborative local history project which includes several small non-profits, various resources being digitized, a podcast and a website where the materials will be catalogued. iThoughts has the ability to work with special categories of notes such as tasks with due-dates, resources (people in orgs), cost calculating nodes, and project progress (for nodes that have tasks). Also, I can drag and drop contacts which will add clickable email links for the contact. I can also drag and drop websites and many kinds of files. Some files, such as Pages files, cannot be drag and dropped but can be added via the attach context menu. MindNode does not seem to support any of these features and really, they are the kinds of features I think I’d want to have available for the kind of project I’m likely to use a mind mapping app for.

Back to my case test, as I developed my mind map I wanted to add people to the workflow and add email addresses to those people. Ideally it would give me the option to add a link to the contact vCard but the email is what it attaches and in most cases that’s what I’d want. I’ll also be wanting to add project resources such as forms and documents and as already stated, this is no problem. Also in my case test I added a node for possible project costs. This is a potentially very handy tool! As new child nodes are added a designated parent node calculates the costs listed in each of those children. So, in my case, web hosting has already been added. Any new possible costs can be added as nodes and the parent will keep it tallied.

I’m liking the way this is going and I can see this being a tool I use for future projects of this kind. As this particular project continues, IF this particular project continues, I look forward to continuing with iThoughts.

A few thoughts on Apple News and RSS apps

I’ve been using RSS apps since the early(ish) days of it’s existence. I think it was 2002 or 2003 that it became a habit for me. I’ve had at least one RSS app on my Mac and then iPad ever since. For years that app was NetNewsWire. I’d occasionally try others but that was the gold standard. As I recall there was a time when it became a bit stagnate and then was sold. During that time other apps popped up, namely Reeder which became my RSS app of choice. Then along came the iPad and a flurry of RSS apps along with it. I tried several but when Reeder became available for iPad I settled on that. For many Reeder took the place of NetNewsWire as the new standard.

Reeder 4 on the iPad. There’s a lot of wasted space there.

What’s the point of RSS? Well, it makes subscribing and skimming a large number of publications easy. Scrolling through headlines with article summaries becomes very easy. Rather than load an entire site I can refresh 30 or 40 and then skim through them all at once. I can do this by topic area or with all of them mixed up. In my case I’ve got groups (folders) by categories such as news, Apple, tech, environment, etc. On slower internet in rural areas it’s a fantastic help.

This is the Apple News page in all it’s glory. Nice images, headlines and pleasant to browse

A couple years ago Apple released their iPad and iPhone take on a news reader called Apple News. They’d dabbled for many years with RSS built into Safari and even the mail app at one point had RSS built in. But with Apple News they built a dedicated app they really worked pretty well. While RSS and Reeder remained my primary tool I found myself gradually using Apple’s app more and more. I really enjoyed the design of the app which presented the news as a full page of news thumbnails each with an image (usually) and the headline broken up into sections and source publications that I could follow or unfollow with the ability to like or dislike stories as well as save them for future reading. Apple throws in sections and stories from other sources to provide variety and the reader has the option to dislike stories or block sources as needed. In theory this is training which is supposed to improve what Apple provides.

That’s a lot of wasted space for what is, essentially, an ad for Apple’s News+ service. I can’t hide it.

What I find most enjoyable with Apple News is the full screen layout of stories, the mix of stories and the reading experience of a story. But there’s a downside (there’s always a downside) and it is three things.

  1. Ads
  2. Apple+ is Apple’s new News and magazine service and the stories are mixed into my feed. Sometimes a new magazine will take up nearly half a page. If I were a subscriber I’d be okay with that but I’m not and I have no option to turn it off.
  3. When sharing Apple News articles the link is a proprietary Apple News format. Fine for sharing to Apple users but I often share to a Slack group that has several folks who don’t use Apple. I’ve got a fix in the form of a Shortcut that converts but I should not have had to do that.
  4. The training is not all that great. I often see stories I do not want to see and it seems no amount of training with dislikes helps. Even worse, when I block a source it often persists for a day or two rather than disappearing immediately. No, no, no, I don’t want to see stories about the British royal family, not interested in sports either!
  5. Last, some stories in Apple News have ads and some stories, if viewed on a web site would have comments I’m interested in seeing. So, while the reading experience is often great, it can also be a bit cluttered and often requires that I load the story in Safari.

But all in RSS land is not perfect. Reeder, was recently updated to support the new iPads and added a few new features. Nothing game changing but still a solid app. Funny though, I had switched to another RSS app, Newsify, which had added support for the new iPads and have come to like it’s interface as much as Reeder’s. It’s not perfect but it works. I spent the past couple days bouncing back and forth between them and found that each had features that I wished the other had. Neither felt complete.

Newsify is properly using the space of my iPad to display a variety of articles with images

After some experimentation I’ve found a solution that, I think, brings the best of all three. My main annoyance with Reeder was its huge waste of space when browsing stories. It only takes advantage of a small column on the left for browsing through articles. The primary part of the app is empty. After months with Apple News this was bothering me immediately. In the time I’d been using Newsify I came to enjoy the fact that while the number of articles displayed was about the same they stretched across the screen and more information was provided about each. Still not as nice as Apple News but at least the screen was being used! But there’s a fix that I discovered yesterday while poking around settings in Newsify: It can be displayed using “Newspaper View”. Perfect. Now I had something that looked nearly identical to Apple News!

Apple News on the left, Newsify on the right. To my eyes both are very pleasing to browse.

So, now I’ve got the article browsing I want without Apple’s ads and no Apple News+ articles I can’t read. What about the reading experience? Close. Unfortunately you’ll note that in Newsify this article does not display the full text but has a “more…” link to click through.

Viewing an article. Almost there but Newsify does not display the full article. Notice the “more…” link

Of course that takes me to the full page on the website which is chock-full of ads. But Newsify has a setting which will load the page in the built in Safari View and switch it over to “Reader mode” which is, of course, the perfect uncluttered display comparable to Apple News. I just tap the article title and I’m ready to read in a few seconds. Side benefit, if it’s an article I want to view comments for I can turn off the Reader mode and they’re already to go.

Apple News on the left, Newsify on the right in “Reader mode”. Perfect.

Newsify does have a premium subscription which includes a full text display for these kinds of articles but either way I have to tap just once to get a result with is nearly identical.

So, with Newsify and a few tweaks to a few settings I’m getting as close to an ideal (for me) RSS reading experience on the iPad.

Appreciating the Mac

It’s been on my mind to get my MacMini which was running Sierra backed up to a bootable SSD so that I could finally update to Mojave. I’m running an older version of InDesign and didn’t want to take the chance of screwing it up. Previous attempts using SuperDuper had produced back-ups that would not boot. Not due to any problem with SuperDuper but a hardware incompatibility in the chipset of my back-up drive. I found an external Samsung SSD which would reportedly boot and after backing up found that yes, it does indeed serve well as a bootable drive. So, with back-up made I made the jump to Mojave.

I don’t recall now what the changes were from Sierra to High Sierra but the jump from Sierra to Mojave has been nice. Nothing too crazy but nice enhancements and, as a bonus, my older version InDesign still works. I really don’t use the Mac for much more than iTunes, general file serving and the occasional InDesign project but having spent more than the usual amount of time with it the past few days I still really appreciate it this OS. If it were not for iOS I’d still happily use my Mac everyday.

Optimizing rural internet: Using a Mac’s Internet Sharing with satellite and cellular for a more unified experience

Like most rural residents I don’t have many internet choices but I’m lucky to have more than just satellite. I’m also in an area covered by various 4G/LTE options. I’ve just made a change to how I’ve got things set-up and I think it might be useful to others in similar situations.

Okay, first, here are my sources of internet:
1. Hughes Net, 10GB plan with 50GB from 2am-8am
2. Sprint LTE on iPhone, unlimited with 50GB of tethering
3. Sprint LTE on iPad, unlimited with 10GB of tethering

Generally, due to device synching, iCloud back-ups, background processes, my 10GB of Hughes Net is gone within just 3 to 4 days. Their 4th and 5th gen plans basically run at about 20 to 30mb download which isn’t bad but there’s always a bit of latency so it rarely seems fast in day-to-day use. Best use is app updates/file downloads. But streaming Apple Music is usually decent. Streaming movies is hit or miss even with plenty of available data. One the allotment is gone then they say they throttle you down to 2-3mbit and that seems about right. I can still sometimes stream music okay and even sometimes video but with degradation of quality and buffering. In short, it works but it’s never great.

Day to day, I have a Mac Mini, 2 HomePods, AppleTV, various HomeKit devices. Everything accesses the internet through an AirPort Extreme via the Satellite modem. The HomeKit devices work very well regardless of my data status. Apple TV works great with my local iTunes library. And as stated above, streaming is dodgy but often sorta works. In this set-up my iPhone and iPad are off on their own and very fast with the Sprint LTE. No latency and 15-20mbit make for a very nice experience. But, because they are on their own connections, AirPlay to the AppleTV has limitations such as no great audio pumped to the HomePods while watching anything via AirPlay. Also, if I’m streaming music or a podcast via device I can’t send its audio to HomePods. Sometimes I can start it on the LTE device then switch it to the wireless network and it will play fine to HomePods. Eventually the audio might start to cut-out though. Depends on which way the wind is blowing and if I’ve said the magic words correctly.

So, for $130/month I’ve got two services that mostly sorta work but sort of in their own separate silo based on the different source.

Yesterday a friend mentioned that his parents had dropped satellite and switched to an unlimited hot-spot device with Sprint and that it was working pretty well. My Hughes Net commitment is up at the end of this month so I could switch. Currently they no longer appear to offer the unlimited standalone hotspot but they do offer a 100GB plan for the same as what I pay Hughes Net so that got me thinking about a switch. But they have a 10 device limit (with my HomeKit devices I have more than this) on the hotspot so that got me thinking about how well it work if at all via a share through an AirPort, Express or Extreme. After a bit of reading and experimenting this is what I’ve come up with and I’m pretty excited.

  1. I may not need the standalone hotspot device at all.
  2. I’ve rearranged my network such that the Mac is now sharing internet from wireless to Ethernet which goes to the AirPort Extreme which then shares via it’s own network.
  3. In day to day stuff I can just let the Mac access the wireless Hughes Net modem and this shares out the slower but relatively stable connection. The Mac will always connect to this network by default if no other is available.
  4. If I want to stream NetFlix or Apple Music, or anything else that requires the reliable higher speed I simply switch the Mac over to the iPhone’s hotspot with just a couple clicks in the menu bar. With no extra work it is now sharing LTE over the AirPort network and I can connect to that network with my iPad or stream video as desired from any app installed on the AppleTV or from iPad to AppleTV or whatever. It’s seamless and allows for using the HomePods for audio when watching video. When I leave on errands with the phone the Mac automatically defaults to Hughes Net so HomeKit stuff still works while I’m gone and I can access devices as needed while away.

To summarize, with this new arrangement with the Mac as the internet sharing hub, I feel as though I have the best of both worlds and a more unified internet experience. I’ll finally start using and enjoying the 50GB of Sprint LTE tethering on the phone which I was not using before. (Sidenote: I’d tried tethering the AppleTV to the iPhone for Netflix and Prime Video but the downside was that I could not stream audio to HomePods as they were on the other network and also tethering meant manually logging in to the iPhone hotspot each time which was a pain in the rear and often failed at least once).

Improved Blog Posting from the Notes App with Shortcuts

This past October I posted about blogging from the Notes app
In that example I was just sending my post straight to the WordPress Share Sheet which works fine too.

I generally use iA Writer for blogging but it’s also nice to be able to post from Notes. That said, I’d also like to have a copy of all my posts as text files. Enter Shortcuts! I’ve made a shortcut that will post to WordPress but also makes a text file that I can save into the appropriate blog folder in my iA Writer documents.

With the shortcut I’ve also added a step for making rich text from markdown which allows for me to write in markdown.

Only four steps!