Pages Fall 2018 Status Update

Because Pages is one of my most loved and used apps I pay very close attention to the feature set. In particular to the features as compared between platforms.

Five years ago, October 2013, Apple released Pages 5.0, a complete rewrite of Pages on the Mac and iOS to bring them into a unified format and more similar feature set. It freaked a lot of users out because it meant that the Mac version lost many features it previously had. I’m not going to go into comparing the current version of Pages on Mac to the previous version. In my recollection, we’ve gotten back almost everything that was lost. What I’m most interested in is the still missing features on Pages for iOS.

It’s been 5 years. How are things going?

Apple’s done a good job of bringing the iOS version into near parity with the Mac version but it’s still not there. I still have to make some tweaks on the Mac and that’s not something I should have to do 5 years in. So, 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 still not editable. On a Mac I can make any shape editable and then drag the points around in all sorts of useful ways create new shapes with curves. Very useful for brochures and that sort of thing.
  • 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.
  • I still can’t change a document type to “Page Layout”.
  • Formatting table borders is still lacking basic options such as color and line width.
  • 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.

I’m sure there are other missing features but these are the things that I’ve come across in recent weeks that have been problems.

But let’s give credit where due. What’s been added in recent versions to bring the iOS version of Pages up to par? Some of the most recent notable changes include:

  • Paragraph styles can be created and edited
  • Character styles can be created and edited
  • Custom document sizes in document setup
  • Facing Pages
  • Page masters
  • Switching from Portrait to Landscape
  • Drawings
  • Equations

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.

All in all I find Pages to be an incredible app and I use it several times a week. For what I do it is essential. I’m happy with the progress made thus far and it’s so close to being “finished”, as in, feature complete when compared to the Mac version.  Tomorrow is the 2nd big fall event in 2018, new iPads are coming. Would be a special treat of a substantial Pages update were also announced! Come on Apple!

The shared clipboard in a multiple iPad workflow

As we come up on Apple’s October 30, 2018 event and the almost certain announcement of new iPads I’ve debated whether I will sell my current iPad Pro or keep it. Over the past few months I’ve found a great use for a second iPad when working on certain projects. Something I’ve started doing for certain tasks is using my iPad Air 2 as my reference screen. I can usually do everything just on the Pro in split screen but on occasion I’ll have a project that requires two larger screens and at that point it’s like having a dual monitor Mac.

One such task involves my use of the Affinity Apps, Designer and Photo. Both of these apps are full screen only, no split screen. Which is actually fine with me as the work I do there really requires the most screen I can get. But sometimes I need to reference both text and files for a project. If I can only have a slide over I’m limited to one or the other. I just finished such a project, a promotional postcard for which the client sent images and text to be used as content.

My workflow in this case was made so much better with the second iPad which became my text provider. On the Pro I had my Affinity Photo document and the Files app as a slideover window. I placed the two iPads side by side and got to it. I could reference the iPad Air for my clients directions and needed text. I selected text on the Air and copied it. Then on the Pro I pasted the text into place. Then I used the Files app slideover to drag and drop the images into place. In some cases this drag and drop happens from Mail, Notes, or Safari as the images provider. It’s also possible to copy the images on the second iPad for pasting into the Pro. Anything that can be copied to the system clipboard can then be pasted into the second device.

While it’s not quite the same as working with one computer and two displays it comes close to feeling like that which is what matters. Other than reaching over to the second screen or keyboard I don’t notice a slowdown to my workflow.

Batch processing images with Shortcuts

Image.jpeg

Much of the work I do involves adding new content to client websites. It’s usually a mix of text and imagery and the images can come in many forms though they usually get posted as jpg files. One of the most time consuming tasks is processing images from email or Messages. Some images are already web-optimized and can be posted as is. But more often than not they are too large or can come in file formats I need to change. Everything from Apple’s new image format HEIC to pdfs to tiffs come to me. Sometimes the image will need cropping, color or light adjustments or other work in which case I’ll open it in Affinity Photo.

But quite often the images don’t need much work, they  just need to be optimized and converted to jpg. That’s when I use a Shortcut. This is especially useful when I’ve got multiple images that need to have the same thing done to them. Most recently a client sent 10 images in the HEIC format. These were originals taken with an iPhone. After selecting and dragging them all from mail into Files I selected them in files and then shared them to my Batch Process Images Shortcut. The Shortcut then ran through each image prompting me to select a size, image format and quality level, and finally, a save location.

There are various ways of doing this that would save even more time. I‘ve also created a Shortcut with a preset image size, format and quality level which is set to save in a processed images folder. If I choose this Shortcut all the images will be processed and saved with no intervention from me. Each image takes less than a second and so 20 images can be processed in just a couple of seconds. It’s a fantastic timesaver. The only thing that will be left for me to do is re-name images which is not something I want to automate and then move them into place in the appropriate project folder.

Download Batch Resize with options.
Download Batch Resize with presets.

A big thanks to Jeff Perry of Tablet Habit who helped me create the Shortcut! I’d tried a couple of times and failed. Turns out I was missing 2 important steps. He added “Repeat with each” to the beginning of the workflow and ended it with “End repeat” and that’s what I was missing.

Apple stock app favorites: Files and Notes

I wrote recently about using Apple’s Stock Apps rather than third party apps. It was a response to a thread over at the Mac Power Users forum. I’ve since seen quite a few threads pop up there regarding third party utilities designed to store text, images, pdfs, etc. Some are semi-permanent, longer term storage such as Evernote and others are temporary shelf type apps such as Yoink and Gladys. Like many productivity and to-do apps these seem to be a constant magnet for nerds that want to experiment. Funny that as I write this I’ve come upon David Sparks’ most recent post as he experiments and considers a move from Apple Notes to Bear. I’ve tried many of these myself. But when it comes to notes and similar utilities, I’ve always come back to using Apple Notes and Files.

Recently version 2.0 of Yoink was released with one of the new features being iCloud syncing. I read the review over at MacStories and thought, hmmm, yeah, that’s nice but I reached the same conclusion I’d previously come to: I can just as easily use Files and Notes instead of Yoink. With the Apple apps I’ve had iCloud syncing for awhile and they sync to the Mac too. With this latest update Yoink on iOS will now sync but won’t sync on the Mac yet. So in that regard it’s still not on par with Apple’s apps.

With the introduction of system-wide drag and drop in iOS 11 Apple made it extremely easy to transfer content from practically anywhere via dragging and dropping. I’m really interested in the benefits of using Files and Notes as the end (or middle) point of this content collection in place of third party apps. Also, once in Files or Notes, how easy is it to use content in other apps?

What’s the difference in third party apps and the Apple apps? Well, for starters, the third party apps are often more specialized. Apps like Evernote are for long-term storage and indexing of content for retrieval later. I think of them as digital scrapbooks. The shelf apps are usually for temporary storage while working on a project. Drag text, images, pdfs to a shelf app and then use it a short time later and then likely delete it from the shelf. With third party apps the user is likely making a decision between longer term storage and short term storage.

With the combination of Files and Notes I’m not necessarily thinking that way about my content. Neither of those apps is really designed for short or long-term content. These apps are a bit more general purpose, a little less specialized. If I’m working on a project today, tomorrow, or next week, I can drag images, pdfs, or text right into my Documents folder in Files or into a project specific folder if I have one. The Files app works just as well (in most ways) as a dedicated shelf app and in fact I use it as a shelf app everyday. And in so many ways it is better than the dedicated apps.

Here are a couple of recent examples in which the Files app served as a “shelf”. I recently made a forum post and wanted to illustrate with screenshots. I took the screenshots and saved them into my Documents folder using a Shortcut that also converts them to jpg, shrinks the size and dimensions. Note, you generally can’t save files to a shelf app, they are for dropping files. Then I opened the Files app next to Safari and started my post. I was able to drag and drop the jpgs into my compose field with no problem. Another example, a client sent images I needed to use on a website. In this case the images were sent via both email and Messages. I opened Mail and Messages into splitview and then opened up files as a third slideover window on top. I navigated to my project folder in Files then it was a quick drag and drop from Mail and Messages. Done. There was no need in this case for a shelf as they were going straight to where they needed to go.

I should also point out that the Files app has several important features that the shelf apps generally seem to be missing. These are pretty basic for a file browser but are often essential to getting work done efficiently when using files.

  • Sorting based on date, name, size, tags
  • Quick view via “Recents”
  • Labels/Tags
  • Quicklook or preview files (this sometimes works on shelf apps but often does not)

Of course Files has its limits. The most notable (in my use) of the app is its handling of text clippings. It accepts text via drag and drop but often turns it into RFTD files which can then be difficult to open without extra effort. The shelf apps are pretty good at handling this sort of thing and this is where I’ll tend to use Notes as it handles text very well. Notes is my go-to if I’m not quite ready to work with the text or if I’m gathering bits of text from different sources. In that case Notes becomes my shelf app. In some cases where I have an immediate use I‘ll skip Notes and just bring up the app I’ll be using to process the text. If it’s a document for design purposes I’ll drag the text right into Pages or copy/paste it into one of the Affinity apps (the Affinity apps do not accept text via drag and drop. If its for a web page I’ll copy/paste it right into Textastic (Textastic also does not support drag and drop of text!).

Notes is also a good option if a client has sent me a mix of text, pdfs, and images that I need to use for a website update. In that case I drag and drop it all into a note then I switch from Mail to Textastic and work off of the note to process everything. Text is copy pasted while the images or pdfs are sent to from Notes to Shortcuts for resizing or converting if needed then saved into the appropriate project folders. I’m taking the same steps I would take if I had saved it all to Yoink or another Shelf app.

I mentioned above that David Sparks, like many, is trying out the notes app Bear. It’s a nice app with a few features that Notes doesn’t have, namely themes, tagging and Markdown support. Regarding Markdown support though, I don’t really need that in my Notes. I already have Drafts and iA Writer which is where I usually write blog posts, not sure I need a third app for that. Themes are very nice but not something I really need. Tags though, I’d really like to have tags in Notes. But are tags worth the subscription cost of Bear? Nope. I will say though that the cost of Bear, as a subscription, seems pretty reasonable at $1.49/month or $14.99/year.

Notes has an incredibly rich feature set some of which is not available on Bear. For example, Notes can be locked for relatively secure keeping and they can be shared with other iCloud users as collaborative documents. PDFs and practically any media can be easily embedded in Notes. Any app that can save or print to pdf can also send that PDF to Notes and bonus, the content of PDFS is intexed. Bear supports some but not nearly as much embedded media.

Like most other text apps it’s also possible to share Notes content with the sharesheet. The sharesheet is incredibly flexible at letting me share in a variety of ways: pdfs, Messages, Slack, email, or even as a WordPress post with images. It reminds me a bit of Drafts in that it’s a great place to just begin with some text. But while Drafts has greater flexibility through automation, Notes has the added benefit of being able to add various media from images to gifs to movies to audio. And while I personally don’t do much note taking with the pencil it’s an option other folks might like. For those that record meeting notes or lectures I can see how having notes open with Voice Memos in the background for recording would be useful. After the event the audio recording could be saved right into the note. Playback happens in a bar at the top of the note which allows for editing of the note while playing and pausing. Most of these are features that neither Bear nor Drafts have.

Notes also has an excellent scanning feature via the device camera, sketching, and mark-up of pdfs and images. Of course Notes also has excellent text formatting with the usual and expected things such as bold, italics but also Title, Headings, Body, Lists, indented text and tables. Much of this formatting is intact when shared with apps such as Mail allowing for more formatting in those apps should you need it. While sharing via the sharesheet strangely lacks Pages as an option, copy/pasting into a Pages document carries over the formatting perfectly. Very nice should you decide a note needs the more advanced layout features in Pages.

For example, you start a note for a class assignment which ends up including formatted text, a couple images, an audio file and a sketch. You spend a few days writing and gathering content for the assignment but then need to package it in a nicely designed document. Just select all, copy and paste into a new Pages document. You’re ready to do some layout.

Given the deep feature set of Notes and the integration of Notes and Files with iCloud, they form a solid foundation for getting things done on iOS devices. Not only are they adequate but they are a pleasure to use and they come with the operating system so no subscription or extra payments are necessary. Of course I like to see third party development but I don’t have limitless budget and cost is a factor for me especially when subscriptions are involved. For now and the foreseeable future I’ll be sticking to Apple’s Notes and Files in these categories of apps.

Test post from Apple Notes

So, I’m working on a post about the benefits of Apple Notes and it occurred to me that I might be able to post to WordPress with an image. I already knew I could post text but how would it handle a note with an image? Well, apparently it works just fine! I’ll get back to that now but will just leave this here because… why not?

 

WatchOS 5: Closing my green rings is easier!

We’ve had WatchOS 5 for just over a week now and I’m really happy with the changes in the calculations of exercise activity. I recently wrote that I felt the threshold for earning green ring minutes was too high. Apple states that a brisk walk is what is needed to close the green rings but I was finding that I usually needed to jog. A brisk walk was usually not enough and that’s a problem for people that might have joint problems. I have a bum knee so jogging is something I have to be careful of. For the past few days I’ve been earning my green rings with a brisk walk again. Whatever calculations are being performed to determine exercise minutes seems to have been changed to a lower level. Previously it seemed I needed to keep my heart rate at 110-120bpm or higher and now it would seem that 100bpm is enough. In my case this is perfect as my bpm during a brisk walk is usually in the range of 90 to 110.

Siri Shortcuts

I’ve been using the public betas of iOS 12 since July and right off something I noticed about the suggested Shortcuts were that the specificity made them mostly useless. Why would I want to resend a message to my sister which I sent 30 minutes ago? No thanks. No, I’ve already viewed that website, I don’t need it suggested again for a voice controlled command. Another pitfall is the repeated suggestion that I can call my brother or another recently called contact. I can already do that with Siri simply by saying “Hey Siri, call my brother.” Why would I bother creating a Shortcut? During the beta period I failed to find a single suggested Shortcut that would be useful. They were all duplicates of something Siri already handles or they were far too specific to a previously done action to be useful. But I had hope that with the release of the updated Shortcut app and new apps designed to take advantage of the new system we would get some useful voice commands.

We’re only a couple days in so it’s too hard to say. There’s a lot of excitement in the Apple nerd community but I will say that I think this is going to take some time. Of the apps currently offering recordable Shortcuts, my favorite is Carrot Weather which offers several very easy to set-up voice commands. This Shortcut makes sense to me as it allows me to get my weather via voice. I can listen and be done. What makes less sense to me are the recorded shortcuts for apps that I’m likely to be interacting with on-screen. Two examples are Drafts and Things which also offer Shortcuts.

Mixing up the inputs: Visual and Audio
What we have with Shortcuts in iOS 12 is a merging of visual and audio computing. We’ve had a taste of the audio for the past few years with Siri. This is Apple’s attempt to mix it up a bit and it will be interesting to see how it pans out. Frankly, in these early days I find it a bit confusing as do my devices.

When I’m at a screen, usually the iPad, sometimes the iPhone, I will use the occasional Shortcut created by the Shortcut app. For example I’ve got one that I’ve used consistently to convert pdfs into jpgs with cropping and resizing as steps. Very handy for turning pdf flyers into jpgs for posting to client websites. I’ve also got Shortcuts for opening or creating file archives which can be handy and nice to be able to do this without third party apps. Various shortcuts for blogging such as one which takes the url and rich text from web pages and copies the combination for pasting into Drafts or iA Writer.

Another, this one used from iPhone, is a mileage calculator that I use to append text to a plain text file stored in iCloud. I get gas then run shortcut which appends the date, gallons, miles and mpg to the text file. Just a tad easier than tapping the text into Notes which is what I used to do.

Speaking of Notes, I’m surprised and disappointed that Apple has done nothing to connect Notes and Shortcuts. If they expect third party developers to take advantage of Shortcuts they should do the same. As of this moment the only Shortcut step for Notes is to create a new note. Why not let me do more? I don’t use the Bear notes app but those that do have access to at least six built in Shortcut functions. I’d love to be able to use a Shortcut to append to a note, for example,the above mentioned gas and mileage log. I’d rather keep it in Notes.

Another log that I keep is for heating and cooling my sister’s vacation cabin. We share a utility line so in the hot and cold months I keep track of the heating and cooling so that I can better estimate our shared utility bill. I’ve set-up a Shortcut that lets me simply say “AC Log On” or “AC Log Off” whenever I’ve turned her A/C on or off. At the end of the month I have a much better idea of how much her bill is. That will also come in handy during the winter when I run her heater. This also goes to a text file when it could be stored in Notes. This difference between this and the mileage log is this is one I trigger just using my voice. I wanted something super convenient because I do this action often and it is indeed very easy to do! I can use this via iPhone, iPad or HomePod. I should also be able to activate via the AppleWatch but currently get an error.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be exploring Shortcuts a bit more. Will they live up to the hopes and dreams of the Apple Nerdery? Will they prove useful for average users? Also, how do they fit into personal and work life? I’m looking forward to finding out.

September 19, 2018

Spent the day, the whole day, at least 8 hours, trying to learn more about how to save time with iOS Shortcuts. Not sure I’ll ever come close to getting this 8 hours back. As with all time saving automations, learning takes time.

Shortcuts User Guide

At the moment I’ve just about finished up a post about Shortcuts. Nothing too extensive, just a few thoughts about using it. I’ll be giving Apple’s Shortcuts User Guide a thorough read-through soon.

Shortcuts in iOS 12 let you get things done with your apps, with just a tap or by asking Siri. In addition to running shortcuts available on your iOS device, you can use the Shortcuts app to create custom shortcuts, simplifying everyday tasks by combining steps across multiple apps.