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. 

The thing about iCloud storage

Last night I listened to yet another podcast in which complaints were being made about the cost of iCloud. This has been going on for years now.

But here’s the thing, and this is anecdotal. When my granny needed to upgrade her iCloud storage to back-up her iPad I suggested the 99 cent tier. She shrugged and said sure. When my parents started getting the message I suggested the same tier. They shrugged and said sure. Everyone in my family is paying for it and I’ve never heard one of them complain. Even the $9.99 plan, for 2 TB which can be shared within a family is a good deal if 4 to 5 people are using it. For them it’s just a cost of using/maintaining the devices.

I’ve been using the $2.99 plan for the past year. I dropped my $10/month DropBox and am saving money. Funny thing, I never hear people complain about the cost of DropBox. Many of the nerds that complain the loudest about the lack of more free iCloud storage are the same people yelling from the rooftops that everyone should happily support app subscriptions. Now, I get that there is a difference between a small app developer and Apple. But a service is a service. Once we start down the road of demanding that a company give us this or that because we purchased their product, well, that’s a slippery slope. Heck, I’d like to demand free music every month too. They owe it to me. And let’s have them throw in a free movie every month too. They can afford it.

Enough. If I can afford a $400 or $600 or $1,000 iOS device that also requires fees for monthly internet and apps to be useful, I can also afford a monthly .99 or 2.99 a month for added iCloud.

When we buy our wash machines we know that we also have to buy laundry soap and we don’t expect a certain amount of that to come with it. When we buy cars we know that we’ll need to get oil changes and buy gas. Even a bicycles require new tubes and the occasional tune-up. Years ago I worked at a bike shop and we provided a free 30 day tune-up to tighten the chain and check everything out on new bike purchases. But if someone came in a year later for a tune-up they paid for it. As I recall a basic tune-up was in the $60 range. If they needed a new tube they paid for it to be installed. They didn’t get to demand that service for free.

Do I need to go on with the examples?

I don’t know why we now have this trend in which people feel the need to incessantly complain. Am I the only one that finds it tedious? I’m not suggesting Apple or any company is above criticism. It just seems to have become the constant hum. It’s not even a background hum. The snark is front and center with most Apple oriented podcasts and blogs. Seems to me we have issues far greater in our world than whether or not Apple is charging my granny .99 a month to back-up her iPad.

Using Affinity Photo on iPad: File Management

To say that I am an enthusiastic user of Affinity Photo would be an under statement. It is the most used app on my iPad and always a pleasure to use. I’ve been using it for client projects literally since the day it was released in June 2017. With the first update of 2018, version 1.6.7 the developers added the ability to open and save files in place. This is great because while the app has a decent built-in interface for managing files and folders that interface does have limitations. I’ve mostly been ignoring those limitations until today. By chance I was poking around the iPad Settings app and took a look at my iPad’s storage and saw that Affinity Photo was using up 22GB! I’ve got quite a few projects but expected it to be half of that. But using the apps built in method for file interaction provides no indication of file sizes so really, it’s all just guessing. Another limitation is that if I want to back-up a bunch of files, copy or move them I have to do it one at a time via the “Save as” option. Very tedious.

 

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Using the Affinity Photo file browser to browse a folder containing 4 files

Now, I’ve got plenty of storage on my iPad but I don’t like the feeling that if I want to move or copy my files I have to do it one file at a time. There’s no way to tag or search files either. That’s not a problem if I’ve just got 10 files. But if I’ve got 150 files in 12 folders you can see how cumbersome this can be. File management is the only part of the app that I found average. So, I decided it was time to have a serious look at how Affinity Photo uses the Files app. I’d previously tinkered with it but it seemed a bit confusing.

By default files are stored within the Affinity Photo built in storage system on the iPad. A sort of hidden storage area which only shows up in the documents browser within Affinity Photo. It’s not possible to see file sizes from this location. How do I move these over to the Files app and what are the options? There are two options for storage in the Settings, general tab: iCloud or “On my iPad”. If I had better internet I would have gone with iCloud. But given the bandwidth Iimits I have (rural satellite) I chose “On my iPad”.

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To save my Affinity Project files to this Files accessible storage area I access the corner widget of the document icon in the built-in document browser and chose “Save”. The file is then saved into “On my iPad” in the “Photo” folder on iPad. After that I can open it up from the Files app using the “On my iPad” location in the side bar. From the Files app I can now see the file size and easily share the file via the share sheet or via drag and drop from the Files app to any location or to email as an attachment or Messages or whatever.

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The Affinity Photo folder is very easy to spot thanks to the icon.

So, going forward, I’ll be moving my current Affinity Photo files over to this local iPad storage and will save all new files there. I’ll save in folders by project and/or client and also begin using some of the tags that I have set-up for the Files app. After a file has been saved to Files I will delete the original that remains within the Affinity Photo app storage system so as to not have duplicates. Interestingly, the way to delete a file from the application storage is simply to select the same corner widget where the Save function is, but choose Close. They really should call it Delete not Close. Now, if I then open the newer copy of the file from within the Files app and make changes I can choose the option (again, the widget is in the bottom of the file icon) to Save and then Close. In this latter case it is closed from the application but remains in the Files app as one would expect. It’s a bit confusing and I hope the folks at Affinity change the way it is labeled. Files stored internally should have the option to Delete. Files stored in the Files app should have the option to close.

As long as the files are in the “Photo” folder on “On my iPad” they can easily be opened “in place” from Files by a simple tap to it’s icon. I can save at any time and any changes I make get saved back to the file just as I would expect. Note, again, saving is done while looking at the document icon from within the Affinity Photo file browser and choosing save from the widget from the lower right corner. Files can also be nested in other folders within that Photo folder in the Files app.

What happens if I copy these folders or files to another location, for example, to the a Documents folder in my iCloud Drive? In that case tapping it does not open into the app but rather opens a preview of it in the Files app. I can then use the “Copy to Photo” option in the share sheet to send it to Photo. As long as I leave don’t use the above mentioned “Close” option I can repeatedly open it for editing. I can save changes and those changes will take place on that file. If I close it I have to reopen again via the same “Copy to Photo” option in the share sheet. So, it’s still open in place with changes saved back, but it’s opening process is slightly different.

Affinity Photo is an app I’ll be using for many years and many client projects. It is a “Pro” app. Given that, I’m hoping that the developers add an option to use the Files app as the default method for managing files. Maybe even making that the default rather than the current storage within the app’s hidden away storage. The current options that I’ve discussed above are in the app’s help pages but some of the specifics are missing. For now it would helpful if they could emphasize the option for saving out to files stored in the Files app.

New-to-me iPad and iOS Sites and Podcasts

Thought I’d do a quick round-up of a few iPad and iOS sites I’ve recently come across.

In no particular order…

The iPad Guild is written by Chris Wilson who is using the iPad as his primary computing device. A very nice site illustrating how he uses the iPad, various tips and tricks and the problems he’s encountered.

Tablet Habit is an excellent site written by Jeff Perry who is the co-host of the Slab of Glass podcast. The podcast is cohosted by Christopher Lawley who also publishes the website
The Untitled Site. You’ll find a blog there as well as his videos which are published via YouTube.

Last, I recently came across a podcast about using iOS, In Touch with iOS which I’m really enjoying.

Trying Drafts Again

(Note: I started this post back in February but never published. It’s now April and Drafts 5 has just recently been released!)

First, I’ll say that I make it a point to not clutter up my devices with apps I don’t use. There’s a balance to be found finding apps that work and sticking to them but also remaining open to discovering new apps. Early on with iPad then iPhone I tried lots of apps that I didn’t use for long and then I gradually settled to a fairly small subset that fill most of my needs. But being a nerd there is a constant pushback. Reading and listening to Federico Viticci makes this even more difficult. He’s constantly experimenting. So much so that I don’t know how he get’s any sleep given what he produces. He had a recent write-up on new automation in Things 3.4 which I sorta use and in it he also touched on the up-coming Drafts 5.

Drafts. This is one of those apps I bought but that I never use. It fits into the territory of Notes and Evernote. A few years back I tried Evernote for a few months but gave up on it. Why? Notes. I’ve always gravitated back to Apple Notes. And it’s even better now with scanning, searchable pdfs, images, etc. That said Drafts has a few advantages for just working with text, particularly Markdown. But then it crosses over into territory that is also occupied by iA Writer which is what I use for blogging and podcast transcription. So, it becomes a case of is there really a place for it or is it just clutter?

The key in determining if it will be useful for me will be the actions it is capable of. The primary purpose behind Drafts is that it is meant to be a place for quickly capturing text which can be built on or sent on to another app. Certainly, the quick capture is true. When I tried it in the past I looked at the automations and thought yes, they would be useful but most seemed to be basic feeds to other apps. Which is the point and which also had me questioning the usefulness. Why not just start and finish the email in Mail? Start and finish the post in Micro.Blog? The tweet in Twitterrific. The event in Fantastical. The to-do in Things. Again, that is the whole point of Drafts. It is for people who want to go to one place to start every action. Hence the name. You start a draft which you then send on to its final destination. Finally, the light goes off in my head. It took too long and it’s pretty dim. But there it is.

Okay, okay. So, now that I finally get this simple point and purpose, will I fit it in? I admit I’m curious. Over the past couple days I’ve made it a point to try. I added a couple of items to Things via Drafts. I added a couple of items to my calendar via the Drafts to Fantastical action. I even created a blog post which I saved to my iA Writer directory on iCloud. I hopped over to iA Writer and opened it and posted to WordPress. I’m going to make an effort for the next week or so to start with Drafts. That should be enough time to make it a part of the routine and better get to know the app and what it is like to use and whether it reduces friction or increases it. Some of these actions are the sort of things I increasingly accomplish with Siri. When I added the events to my calendar using Drafts I had to deliberately stop myself from using Siri. Fine for the purposes of evaluation but day-to-day I’d likely just use Siri.

April 19th update. Well, I wrote the above but never published it. Did I use Drafts much in the 50 days since writing the above post? Some but not much. The final version was just released yesterday so of course it’s all over my RSS and Twitter as the nerds go nuts for the latest text app. I spent some time reading the review by Tim Nahumck over at MacStories. I’ve read a few other things and watched a couple videos. I decided that to give it a fair shake I needed to move it into the Dock where it now sits by iA Writer which would be the app it would potentially replace.

Comparing iA Writer and Drafts Both apps have very pleasant writing environments. Both have features the other does not so there will be trade offs as is always the case when choosing between apps of any kind.

I use iA Writer to write and publish to my two WordPress blogs and for podcast transcripts which get exported to pdf and html. It works very well for those tasks. How does Drafts do? With Drafts I can print to pdf and export to html (both are actions downloaded from the action directory). There is no built in blog publishing other than sharing via the share sheet to the WordPress which is very limited. That said, there is an action to copy as rich text. From there it is a simple step to switch to Safari or the WordPress app, create a post and paste. When I use iA Writer I’m taken to Safari anyway for a final check before I post from within Safari. So, either way, it’s essentially the same.

Document storage is another consideration. Here I give the edge to iA Writer which autosaves and stores all of it’s files as text files in iCloud which is a huge plus. Also, iA Writer documents in the app can be stored in folders and those folders also exist in the Files app on iCloud. By comparison, Drafts keeps its documents in its own synched database and does not offer folders other than the default four which are Inbox, Flagged, Archive and Trash. Organization in Drafts can be accomplished via tags though and that’s potentially very useful and potentially even more powerful than folder-based organization. If I need to I can save my documents as txt to any location which is an added step by comparison to the native text files used by iA Writer but it’s a pretty simple step.

The greatest benefit to using Drafts would be the more customizable interface and the extensibility of actions. The whole point of the app (originally) was a place to start text so that it could then be used in a variety of ways via sharing. I’ll add that getting text into Drafts is much easier via other apps’ share sheets. I often want to share text from Safari for a blog post. With Drafts I can select text and the share sheet gives me that selection as well as the markdown link at the top. Very handy. With iA Writer this is not possible. I find it hard to believe that the developers of iA Writer have not enabled receiving text from other apps via share sheets! I can copy/paste or drag and drop but it’s extra work. A big plus for Drafts on this.

Of course, there is far more to both of these apps, I’m only touching on the most obvious features in regards to my typical usage. I really like the feel of both of them. Very pleasant to write in and easy to use. They both stay out of the way but provide enough interface to make formatting markdown easy.

Subscriptions Done Right

Pricing on Drafts 5 has definitely gone up regardless of the subscription. Version 4 has been on sale for 3 to 4 years at $5. Cost now is $20 a year which is still more affordable than Ulysses but 4 times the cost of the previous version. Given that it is per year, it would be $60 for 3 years compared to $15 at the previous rate (assuming $5/per year). I think a part of the negative reaction to subscriptions is that they seem to be price increases at the same time. Every user will have their own line based on usefulness and budget. For my I purposes of blogging and transcripts I could just as easily rely on Pages or Notes. This kind of app is optional for me and I wouldn’t want to pay more than $10/year. The previous price of $5 was too little especially given it was a one time purchase. I think this time he’s jumped just a little too far the other direction. But that’s my judgment from my perspective.

All that said, while Drafts 5 is a subscription I actually like the way it’s being done. I can use the nearly full functionality of the app without a subscription. All the essential stuff works and some of the “extras” too. The pro subscription is for the advanced feature set that I may never use. For those that use those pro features the subscription is a great way to support continued development. If I find myself using the app, even just the basic functionality, I’ll likely subscribe for at least a few months to contribute to the development. I like that I have the option to drop out of the subscription and continue creating with the app. With Ulysses’ subs I felt locked in, restricted to viewing and exporting only, and so I stopped using it the day they switched to subscriptions. Yes, I know I could have continued using the version I had till it stopped working with a future iOS update. But I didn’t see the point of it given my eventual departure. Why lock-in all my writing when the end result would be the same thing: moving to a different app.

A Good Problem to Have

It’s great that there are so many fantastic apps being developed for iOS. I’d much rather have too many to choose from than not enough. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Drafts. I’m curious to see if it becomes a habit. I’m used to going to apps and I suspect I’ll continue to do so. That said, I see the merit of having one place to start all text which then get’s pushed out to other apps. Time will tell.