Tag Archives: Apps

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.

iPad Journal: Looking for a new writing & blogging sweetspot

A couple weeks ago the developers of Ulysses took the app to a subscription model. I don’t do subscriptions. So, I said my goodbye. Then I began my move back to Byword for writing and publishing to WordPress. It works pretty well. There are a few quirks. For example, while it is possible to publish a post with an image the image must first be uploaded to the web and a link inserted for this to work. Compared to Ulysses which took care of uploading the image during publishing. Not as convenient but still not worth a subscription.

Another, when working on something of several pages, Byword lacks the ability to quickly jump to the beginning or end of the document with a keyboard shortcut. I often do podcast transcripts of many pages so this is important and a bit of a hassle when it’s lacking.And, on the note of trying to navigate through many pages with keys, I easily loose track of the cursor and have to tap the screen. Not the end of the world but just one of those little oddities. Byword still has not added the overlay for displaying keyboard shortcuts. As far as I know,there is no shortcut in Byword to easily add a link. Not the end of the world but just another little annoyance.

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Enter, iA Writer
So, with reluctance I’ve purchased yet another writing/publishing app: iA Writer. Reviews are good and, like Ulysses and Byword, it offers publishing to WordPress. At $3.99 it’s certainly worth a try. The way I see it, it’s still far less expensive than locking into a Ulysses subscription.

My initial impression is that it is certainly a solid app, pleasant enough to work with. Whether little annoyances such as those I mentioned about Byword begin to show, well, more time using the app will bring those to light. I’m not sure what I think about the font choice for writing but it’s not changeable. Something lacking that I was hoping for is an option to share text/urls from Safari. Currently, I can send such things to Drafts or Notes as a go between. Or, just as likely, I’ll use Clips. With iOS 11 around the corner it may be that I’ll be getting in the habit of dragging and dropping text and urls.

What I like:

  • The blue cursor and highlight are nice and easier to see than the dark gold used by Byword.
  • Set-up for publishing was very easy. It publishes as a draft and then opens up the page via web which is perfect. From there I can set the post type and add keywords and categories.
  • I can select text then use the Command-k shortcut to turn the text into a link with the URL currently in the keyboard. It’s a little thing but one I really like.

What I don’t like:

  • I’ve tried uploading an image with this post and I get an error that the request timed out. So, that’s a bummer.

Time will tell.

So long Ulysses

Well. Darn it. Count me among those that enjoy Ulysses but will not subscribe. I’ve used it for a year and it’s a great app. The best feature, in my scenario, is posting to WordPress. I’m happy to pay well for apps like Ulysses and pay for updates as needed. But I’m not willing to pay for a subscription. I can’t afford to subscribe to every app I use. If it is essential for what I do, maybe. But even then I’m not happy about it. But for a text editor? No. There are too many other options. The one feature of easier blog posting is not enough to keep me around.

I may continue to use the current version till it no longer works but I’ll likely look into other options and probably begin the transition to something else. I suspect it will feel strange to invest further documents into an app that no longer has a long-term future on my devices. In fact, it only took me the time to write those two sentences to decide that I would begin phasing out my use of Ulysses this very moment. The problem is that every document in Ulysses is held in a monolithic database. Compare that to an app like Byword or Editorial, both of which store documents as individual text documents in their app folder on iCloud or Dropbox, respectively. 

So, as of this moment, I’m giving up the benefits I found in using Ulysses and switching. I’ll revisit both Byword and Editorial for now. Also, there have been quite a few updates to the official WordPress app. I’ll give that another look for the actual mechanics of blog posting. 

A final brief but blunt note about app subscriptions: NO. Your app is not a magazine or a music or video service. It’s an app.  It is a thing that I want to own, not a service I want to rent. There’s a time and a place for subscriptions but apps is not one of them. At least, not for me. Let me pay a fair price for an app. Offer paid updates as needed. But I want to own it. I don’t want to be locked into paying for it again and again. Not for a dollar or $2 or $5. 

Sigh.

Panic and the price of “pro” apps for iOS

Panic posted it’s The 2016 Panic Report and offered this very glaring and blunt statement about developing and selling iOS apps:

  • iOS continues to haunt us. If you remember, 2016 was the year we killed Status Board, our very nice data visualization app. Now, a lot of it was our fault. But it was another blow to our heavy investment in pro-level iOS apps a couple years ago, a decision we’re still feeling the ramifications of today as we revert back to a deep focus on macOS. Trying to do macOS quality work on iOS cost us a lot of time for sadly not much payoff. We love iOS, we love our iPhones, and we love our iPads. But we remain convinced that it’s not — yet? — possible to make a living selling pro software on those platforms. Which is a real bummer!

Yikes. Very disappointing. But I have to admit that I have very mixed feelings about Panic. I’ve used Coda and Transmit on the Mac for years. Now I use them on my iPad and they are two of my most used apps. They’re great apps. But here’s the thing, as much as I enjoy and use Panic apps there is this other thing that kind of bothers me. Take the statement above. Who the hell was using Status Board? My (admittedly vague) understanding is they started that app for themselves and used it in house. I may be mis-remembering that. But regardless, I looked at it and while neat I had absolutely no use for it. I don’t see how Status Board was a pro level app. Or, if it was, I don’t see why the failure of that one app should impact 3 other iOS apps that are most definitely “pro” apps and which I suspect have a much larger, more committed user base.

Panic’s public face often seems silly to me. A year or so ago a big deal was made about their clever sign. They seem kind of squirrely in that they seem to get distracted by fun and otherwise cute projects. On a certain level, that’s great. Fun is good, whimsy too. But it just seems odd that they put that much time and effort into a sign with an iPhone app that people can use to change the colors of the sign and yet, a year later they are complaining about the time and energy investment in iOS apps not paying off. It seems odd.

Meanwhile, Coda, introduced on the Mac in 2007, currently sits at version 2 which was released in 2012. That’s 5 years per version. Which seems a little long but not too bad. But based on Panic’s 2016 review and 2017 projection we should not expect Coda 3 anytime soon. I’m fine with that as I’m not using the Mac version much at all. But in the comments to their post was a link to a twitter thread involving a bug/missing feature in Transmit 4 (the current version). It was brought to their attention in late 2014 and while Panic replied steadily as time progressed the issue has yet to be addressed even though Panic first suggested they had a fix as far back as early 2015 and yet, two years later, that thread is still going and that issue is unresolved. That is poor form. And I’m sure it’s not the only example.

Panic is one of those companies that has a sterling reputation in the Apple Nerd Herd and I’m conflicted as to whether it is deserved. It’s important to be realistic in our expectation. I often think folks are not very realistic in their expectations of Apple. Perhaps I’m being too harsh in my assessment of Panic. They’ve got a nice chart demonstrating how active they were in updating their apps over the course of 2016 and they were. A few new features but mostly lots of bug fixes. Looking at the release notes it was lots of bug fixes. That’s not to trivialize the updates because removing bugs is important (hence my comment in the previous paragraph).

To reiterate, these are fantastic apps and they seem to be solidly supported. I suppose I just don’t understand their complaint about selling apps for iOS. It is they who set the prices. As of now it looks like Coda sells for $24.99 and Transmit is $9.99. In 2015 Coda was only $9.99 and was a free upgrade to those that had purchased the first version. That seems far too low to me and is certainly lower than the Mac versions. Why not bump up the price? I paid a good bit more for the Mac version of Coda and would happily pay more for the iOS version if it was asked and if it meant that Panic would be more committed to development on the iOS side of things.

I’m not an app developer. I’ve not done a comprehensive review of the costs of iOS apps that are being built for and sold to professionals. I do think that the developers of professional grade apps such as Coda and Transmit should sell their apps at a price they think is fair for the product. If it’s the same price as that being asked for the Mac version then so be it. I know that a version of Affinty Designer is in being worked on and if it sells for the same price as the Mac version I’ll pay it. Again, I’ll pay it enthusiastically because it’s an app I want and need to make my iPad more valuable as a tool for my graphic design projects.

This post seems a bit unfocused to me. It was Panic’s recent statement about selling “pro” iOS apps that set me off. Panic goes out of it’s way to share the many ways in which it is whimsical and it’s apps delightful to use. It’s evident in the design and presentation of the blog, the website, the apps. Whimsy is everywhere and it’s wonderful. But when it comes to pricing their apps, valuable tools that do indeed help professionals get real work done, maybe Panic needs to take itself and it’s user base more seriously.

Podcast Apps: Overcast vs Apple Podcasts

I've been a podcast listener since 2005. I forget when Apple released its Podcast app but when they did I started using it. It was nothing fancy but it was functional. When Marco Arment released his Overcast app the Apple nerdery raved about it so I gave it a shot. It seemed to work pretty well and I used it a bit but eventually switched back to the Apple app because at the time I was also using iTunes on the Mac to listen to podcasts and I liked the fact that all my devices remained in sync. I could start a podcast on the iPhone and finish it on the iPad or Mac.

When Overcast 2 was released I updated and gave it another go. But after a month or two I ended up back with Apple's offering. I just didn't find the features of Overcast worth switching. Largely for the same reason as the first time. I still used iTunes on the Mac for some of my podcast listening.

With the recent release of Overcast 3 I thought I should give it another go. I don't listen to podcasts on my Mac anymore so I figured this time it might stick but this time around I found another reason to stay with Apple's app: Siri. When I'm listening to a podcast I'm usually walking or driving and when I get to an ad I tap an AirPod and ask Siri to skip forward 3 minutes (sorry there's only so many times I will repeatedly listen to an ad for a product or service I'm never going to use). Also, my mind occasionally wanders and it's nice to be able to request that Siri rewind a minute or two. Overcast doesn't seem to work with Siri in this way. Well, it does, but requires a second tap to be instructed to begin playing again. Also, I like to ask Siri to play the most recent episode of a podcast and this works pretty well with Apple's app but not with Overcast.

This fits in well as another example of my recent efforts to simplify my use of iOS. While I'll give an app a try if there's a chance it's better than my current choice, I'm not going to switch unless there are real benefits for doing so and in this case there aren't.

Mini-Review: iDraw for iPad

My main work machine is the 2012 Mac Mini. I’ve written before about my transition to a standing desk for health purposes. That said, I do want to be able to use the iPad as a tool to get work done. Having a flexible workflow is good and it would seem a waste, with the increased power of the iPad Air 2, to not utilize it when the need arises. My initial thought was that it would come in handy for editing the html of client websites and yes, that is a breeze with Diet Coda and Transmit. But why stop there? Those were tasks I could also accomplish with the 3rd gen iPad.

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In recent days I have also begun wondering if I might not also be able to get a bit of graphic design work done with the iPad. Adobe does not yet sell an iPad version of Illustrator or Photoshop but there are other options available. Pixelmator is the most recent crossover from the Mac. It has some pretty fantastic photo filters and the handy ability to be passed back and forth to the Mac version. It can also export to psd for crossing over to Photoshop when I’m back to my Mac. That said in the little bit of dabbling I’ve done with it I’m finding some frustrating limitations which I’ll likely explore in more detail soon. Suffice it to say for the purposes of this post that those limitations led me to try out iDraw and that has proven to be a great decision.

iDraw has been available for the iPad since the first iPad release in 2010 and there is a Mac version too though I’ve not tried it. Last week I downloaded the iPad version and have been giving it a spin. Fantastic. This is an app I can use to get real design work done. I’ve not yet used it for a client project though that will come soon enough. I’ve done enough with it in a few hours to know what it is capable of. Not surprisingly, it’s not as fully featured as Illustrator or Photoshop but it does have the most important tools and they perform very well. In fact, the iPad handles everything I’ve tried to with iDraw with ease.

I created the example image in my first spin with the app. Shape building, styling with gradients, adding text to a path are all very straight forward. I started with the rectangle tool and then used the pen tool to begin adding new points and then used the path tool to make my pen handle and tip. Apply stroke and gradient and then tweek. As with Illustrator, all the objects are put on one layer but layers are supported and easy enough to create. I used the same process for creating the inkwell. Styles include drop shadow, inner shadow, inner and outer glow. Multiple instances of these effects as well as multiple fills can be applied to each object. Very handy to be able to apply multiple gradients to single objects.

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The brush tool is very easy to use with width and smoothing options though I only found the one style brush tip. Will need to investigate. Adding text to a brush stroke is easy enough as is styling that text after adding it to the path. Adjusting the path or moving the text to different points along the path are also very easy. As you might expect, there are plenty of object options such as alignment, path combinations and more.

When you’ve finished you have quite a few options for using and sharing images. Before sending to any of the iOS 8 app extensions for sharing (Transmit, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) you have the option to choose the file size, resolution, and format: pdf, svg, psd, png or jpg.

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