Video Workflow

Last year when I started cycling a couple of family members suggested I get a GoPro. Partly to share with them but I think also because they were concerned with my safety and thought having a camera could be useful were I to have some trouble while out riding around. I eventually got one and have used it a good bit to record some of my rides. All for fun as I have no serious social media goals.

Of course I‘m working from the iPad and needed to figure out some sort of workflow. It‘s been messy! I‘m not sure if I‘m making it more complicated then it needs to be but I suspect that video workflows can indeed be a bit tricky. I expected to edit in LumaFusion. The question how and where to transfer files.

First, I started with the GoPro App and it‘s a terrible mess. It starts and seems inclined to work in portrait mode. Sometimes it can be coaxed into landscape but often goes back to portrait. Probably intended to be a phone thing. Only thing it‘s good for is letting it auto-create a few clips for a quick share. I made the mistake of getting in the habit of connecting to the camera wirelessly to transfer files to the app and then exporting. It took me far to long to figure out that it‘s a bad method as getting the raw clips out is overly complicated.

First, these clips should be accessible in the Files app but they are not. Second, any attempt to share a clip also seems to export the clip to the Photos app whether you want that or not. So I end up with the shared, exported clip but also a video in Photos. It‘s an extra file that I don‘t want backed up to iCloud photos so I have to delete it before that happens. So, if I come back after a bike ride with 10 video clips using the app to get those out for editing is more difficult than it needs to be if I‘m using the app. If I let the files accumulate in the app as I did then getting them backed up to an external device is really time consuming. I ended up saving them all to Photos then exporting to an SSD. Would have been great to open two Files windows and just drag and drop.

Okay, with that out of the way, my process going forward to skip the GoPro app altogether. I‘ll plug the GoPro into the iPad and import directly to Photos. Again, with I could mount the camera directly in Files as a storage device. At some point I might consider getting a new hub with built in flash reader which would allow for that. For now, I‘m importing to Photos and then saving to an SSD via the Files app. Now, just to point out, LumaFusion can access files directly from Photos so why not just work from there. Well, as mentioned above, I don‘t want all these files using up bandwidth and storage in iCloud.

Okay, so, GoPro camera to Photos to SSD. The last step with LumaFusion is to create a project and add media. For this I have to import media from the SSD to LumaFusion which, in turn, copies the files from the SSD to a local folder on the iPad. This works but, again, something to be aware of when thinking about iCloud back-ups and bandwidth so I‘ve excluded this folder from my iCloud back-ups. Problem solved! Mostly. My iPad is the 256GB version and really, now that I‘ve cleared out the accumulated media from the GoPro app I‘ve got plenty of space for any active LumaFusion projects, over 120GB of free space. It would be great if LumaFusion projects could link to external storage devices for media without copying over locally but to my knowledge this is not possible yet. But given my level of use I‘ll get by with no problems.

Still here!

So, it’s been awhile. Almost a full year since my last post here. But really, that’s just the way it goes. Interesting, looking at my last two posts from Late March and April 2020 explains why I’ve not posted here in a year which is to say that not much has changed that was really worth posting about. There are plenty of websites in the world sharing the details of Apple related news. Lots of sites discussing using Apple tech. This site is my journal of sorts where I’ve enjoyed sharing my work or my tech journey as it evolves and over the past year it has been steady-state. It’s been a fantastic year but with no new developments in how I’m using my iPad or other related Apple gear. Looking at the last two posts made me laugh because as I sit here writing I realized why I’d not posted: my set-up is exactly the same.

My iPad Pro, Smart Keyboard Portfolio and the Magic Trackpad 2 in a scene that is nearly identical to the second image in my March 31 post which was captioned:

“My current set-up changes all the time. Sometimes used with a keyboard, mouse and monitor on a desk, other times outside on the porch or under a tree. It changes based on the task.”

And in that context, it’s true, my set-up changes based on my location but it’s the same iPad, a keyboard and if at my desk the Magic Trackpad. I’m still doing the same work with mostly the same apps and it’s all been fantastic. If anything, I would just offer that I’ve had another successful year getting work done on my iPad though with Covid it was less work, it was enough to get by.

I suppose I’m posting today just as a check-in. To re-affirm that I’m here and still actively, happily using my Apple tech. But generally speaking, I’m not inclined to post just for the sake of posting.

But there is Apple-related news on the horizon that might be worth commenting on. Well, there’s been some of that over the past year for sure, most notably the M1 Macs, the new and widely acclaimed Magic Keyboard for iPad (which I surprisingly did not purchase), and the usual fall operating system upgrades. All significant but none of which were enough to prompt a post here as I wasn’t using the new hardware released and the software changes were, as expected, incremental.

I’m a little antsy about the possibility of a new iPad Pro being announced and I still ponder the purchase of the Magic Keyboard for iPad but given how well my current set-up works I’m not sure I’ll buy anything. My 2nd Apple Smart Keyboard Portfolio is showing the same wrinkling and bubbling that the first one did before being replaced under warranty. Eventually I’ll need to replace it with something. And in the 2+ years of use I’m definitely seeing degradation in the iPad battery. I’m just not sure it warrants replacement yet because for the tasks I use it for it remains a very fast and capable computer. So, ¯(ツ)

What I‘m hoping to see is currently rumored USB C with Thunderbolt which might also come with an iOS update allowing for better external monitor support similar to what we saw last year with the big mid-cycle release of trackpad support. If I were able to have a second desktop on another display (not just the mirroring that we have now) that took full advantage of the full screen width without the black bars on either side, well, that would likely be enough for a purchase. Add to that the faster processors and 5G (in my area I‘m getting excellent 5G thanks to Sprint/T-Mobile) and that would be a very solid upgrade. Though I‘m still not sure what I‘ll do for a keyboard.

iPad and a Magic Trackpad 2

Last week marked the 10 year anniversary of the release of iPad and I shared a few thoughts. In it I mentioned the recently released iPadOS 13.4 update which added cursor support. At the time I posted I’d been trying it with a Bluetooth mouse and found it fairly helpful though lacking in a few things, namely the swiping gestures that are so integral to using an iPad as a tablet.

For the past day I’ve been using Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2 with the iPad and as many have pointed out, it’s pretty fantastic. Of course, interacting with text on a screen for editing is great but, more importantly, the Magic Trackpad 2 fully supports all the gestures that make the iPad a great tablet. For the first time ever it’s now possible to use the iPad in an elevated stand without reaching up. In the past I worked around this by using keyboard shortcuts which works pretty well. Apps like Pages and Numbers are greatly enhanced with the new cursor and trackpad. LumaFusion is another great app that’s working very well with the cursor-trackpad combination. I’m sure many other apps work great as is or will be enhancing what is possible.

About the keyboard, it is often still faster for some tasks than using the trackpad and cursor. For example, app switching via touch on the trackpad is nice but often is much faster via Command-Tab on the keyboard. An even better example, Spotlight, which I use constantly, is faster via keyboard because it works from anywhere. With the trackpad the two finger swipe down to activate Spotlight only works from the home screen.

All that said, having the new cursor is a great new option and it works perfectly with the trackpad. This configuration, a raised iPad or an iPad with an external monitor with a Bluetooth keyboard and Magic Trackpad, is going to be a really useful set-up.

A last thought about the upcoming Magic Keyboard for iPad. I’m going to pass for now. It’s the perfect device for the iPad and exactly what I’d love to have. But I’ve already got the Smart Keyboard and I’m just not sure about how much work I’ll have given the current Covid virus situation. I opted for the Magic Trackpad because it will give me the option to use the cursor in an efficient way for a lot less money and has the added bonus of working great when I’ve got the iPad in a stand.

iPad Journal: A Decade of iPad

My original iPad docked in Apple’s Keyboard Stand

Note: I began this post in December 2019 intending to have it finished in time for the Anniversary of the announcement of the iPad. Rather than leave it unpublished I thought I’d tweak it a bit and publish now given we’re at the anniversary of the actual release of the iPad. Still seems appropriate.

On April 19, 2010 I got an email from Apple:

Thank you for your recent order of the magical and revolutionary iPad 3G.

We would like to confirm that your order will be shipped in late April as communicated at the time you placed your order. You will receive a confirmation notice when your order has shipped.

Woot! According to Wikipedia the first iPad was released on April 3, 2010. Like many Apple nerds, I remember watching the keynote when Steve Jobs introduced the original iPad on January 26, 2010. I ordered it the day it became available for order. I was far more interested in the iPad than the iPhone which I didn’t purchase until 2012.

My iPad arrived a few days later and, like many (3 million were sold in the first 80 days), I loved it. But in my case I was immediately curious about the potential for using the device for work. One of my first app purchases was Gusto which was one of the first coding and ftp apps. For an early gen iPad app it was surprisingly capable and I used it fairly often. Here’s an excerpt of my mini-review of the iPad which makes pretty clear how quickly the iPad became a part of my workflow:

So, I finally have internet access at the cabin thanks to a new iPad…

For now I’m making an effort to actually do the work on the iPad which means adapting my normal Mac-based workflow. I’m using Gusto for html editing and ftp. It’s a pretty good app and allows me to get most of the work done. The exception is image editing and uploading of images. For editing my Blogspot blog I’m using BlogPress which works pretty well. For web browsing on the iPad I’m using iCab Mobile rather than Apple’s Safari because iCab has a much better tab system which does a better job of caching files and is much easier to switch between tabs. For rss reading I’m using Reeder which is by far the best rss reader I’ve found for the iPad. NetNewsWire didn’t cut it.

Depending on how well this goes I may end up jailbreaking which will allow for me to share the iPad internet connection to my MacBook Pro for working the old fashioned way. We’ll see.

Yes I think this is a fantastically cool device. I can now easily update my blog, check email and update my clients’ websites all from home. The AT&T network here is the slower Edge network but it’s better than nothing. I’m averaging 40-70k a second, which is basically dial-up speeds. Plenty to take care of the basics though I look forward to the day we get 3G!

Ha. I can’t believe how long I got by with 70K internet. And when 3G came it wasn’t much faster but I was happy to have it! I did jailbreak the iPad for the hotspot function but the iPad remained an important part of my workflow.

By the time the iPad 2 was announced in March 2011, 15 million original iPads had been sold. It was with the iPad 2 that I saw many in my family become daily computer users. My granny, mom, aunts and an uncle all became regular users of email and the web with their first iPads. The iPad became the primary computer for many, if not most of my extended family.

I often get frustrated when I hear tech nerd podcasters and writers discuss the iPad because they make it all about themselves. I think they forget or omit the important fact that many, probably most, iPad users were and probably still are users for which a simple iPad is better. The iPad, as introduced by Apple, was a computer for any person, not just advanced users that were already served by desktop and laptop computers.

In the years since the introduction we’ve seen that tension stretch and pull at Apple as it has attempted to reconcile the simplicity that serves beginner users, young or old, and the more complex needs of power users like myself that gradually moved to adopt the iPad as primary computers. Ten years on and it seems to me that the pro-class users that finds voice in the tech media are getting what they’ve been clamoring for, a more powerful iPadOS that matches up to the power of the hardware. Even so, anecdotally, the more basic users (such as my above mentioned family) are still happily using their iPads. I suspect that this reflects Apple’s gradual evolution of features with the basic features still on top while more advanced features remain optional for those that want them.

My current set-up changes all the time. Sometimes used with a keyboard, mouse and monitor on a desk, other times outside on the porch or under a tree. It changes based on the task.

In recent days Apple released iPadOS 13.4, a notable update with a surprise (and much requested) feature, cursor support with mice and trackpads. With a generic Bluetooth mouse I’ve found that the new feature works pretty well and much better than the accessibility features introduced with iPadOS 13. I’ve ordered a Magic Trackpad 2 for use with the iPad which I expect will be useful for some projects.

One of the often repeated questions is if the iPad is going to get all these features, why not just use a Mac? Or was Apple wrong with it’s approach as it seems to be moving the device closer to Microsoft’s approach with the Surface. I think the answer is pretty simple. The iPad is still a tablet first. That’s all that really needs to be said. On a fundamental level, any user can pick up the iPad and do everything they’ve been doing for the past 10 years using their fingers. It’s still a touch first device.

For those that want to do more we have more advanced features ranging from multitasking to multiple instances of the same app to added input options via the Pencil and now a mouse and trackpad. None of these features are required to use an iPad but they are now there for those of us that want them.

I think this is the real strength of the iPad is this flexibility of form factor. For my aunt it is still just a big iPhone, a bigger slab of glass that she can use by tapping with her fingers. It’s still easy for her to send an email, browse the web, send a message, save a photo or play a game. She does these things everyday and has for 10 years. When she ordered the very first iPad she also got the keyboard Apple made for it but she never used it. She wanted the big iPhone, a tablet that was easy to use.

On the other hand I bought and used that keyboard. And many Bluetooth keyboards in various shapes and sizes since. I still use the iPad as a tablet and appreciate that I can do so. But I also use it with a keyboard and sometimes attach it to an external monitor and now I’m also using a mouse with it. Not all the time, but some of the time. When the Magic Trackpad arrives this week I’m sure I’ll use it most days that I use my iPad for certain tasks. Other times it will sit on a desk.

The first 10 years of the iPad has been a hardware and software evolution as will it’s next 10 years. I suspect that going forward it will retain the surface-level simplicity as it’s depth of power-user features increase. I’m looking forward to where Apple takes the iPad and have little doubt that it will continue to serve a wide variety of users in the future. On a personal note, I’ll happily continue to use the iPad everyday whether I’m holding it in my hands, using it in a stand with an external keyboard and trackpad or attached to the Smart Keyboard Portfolio. The iPad is still the personal computer I prefer to use for work and fun.

Busy on two wheels!

Way back in December I wrote a nice (and predictable) 10 year of iPad thing. Never quite got it finished. From this point on this post is not in the least bit about the iPad or Apple or computer tech.

You see, dear reader, back in December I also purchased an e-bike. My first bike in 20 years! I was expecting to use it to ride a couple miles a day to visit with my folks who live nearby. Instead I found that my 20 year old knee injury (my reason for being off bicycles which is are one of my favorite things in the world) had, seemingly, healed over time.

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My first day of riding I took it out on a county road and peddled a bit. My knee felt good. I kept peddling until I rode the 6 miles to town. I had a coffee and happily returned home. I did it again the next day. And the next. Since December 22, 2019 I’ve ridden about 1,200 miles, in daily 20 to 35 mile rides. I’ve peddled all over my county and into a couple of nearby counties exploring the countryside via back-country roads.

So, you see, aside from work related computing I’ve spent most of my free time on a bike or walking my dogs! The time I have spent on the iPad that was not work related was spent reading about bikes or writing about them for my other blog! Of course I’m not abandoning this blog it’s just that my current obsession involves another kind of tech that has enabled me to return to something I’ve long loved and missed! I’ll be around again soon.

A Siri Anecdote

A couple days ago I posted an update to what appears to be a long running, though not necessarily intentional, thread on Siri.

Yesterday, while driving to the store, I got a text reminder from my dentist about an appointment next week. When I parked I read the text and called them to reschedule. I ended the call and asked Siri via AirPods to “cancel next week’s dentist appointment”. She confirmed the date and appointment to cancel and then deleted. I probably could have asked to reschedule rather than delete. Afterwards I asked Siri to create a new appoint for the dentist in January. I gave her the date and time and of course the appointment was created.

It really does feel like living in the future.

iPad Journal: Zugu Case Review

As I mentioned in my recent post about my evolving iPad workflow and workspace, I’m currently trying out the iPad Pro in a Zugu Muse case with an external keyboard. This is a change from recent months using the iPad with no case and having it in a stand when typing or hand-held for browsing. Previous to that I usually had it in the Smart Keyboard Portfolio.

Briefly, the move to the Zugu case is not so much about protecting the iPad (though the case is designed to be very protective and in that regard it’s much better than Apple’s Portfolio) but more about having a variety of angles possible as well as ease of use in my lap or on the futon beside me.

The Zugu Muse is the specific case I have and the first selling point listed on the website is exactly why I’m giving it a go. It’s designed to allow for 8 angles which are securely set but easily changed with magnet-based slots. The many reviews echo the product demo video in saying that the case is very sturdy and stable when the iPad is in use. The metal stand I’ve been using is very stable and sturdy but only useable on a shelf, desk or other hard surface. Also, unfortunately, the angle on that stand is not easily adjustable.

I’ve had the Zugu for a couple weeks and can report that it is very sturdy and stable as promised. This is true for all 8 angles. At the moment I’m sitting/reclining on my beanbag chair and my legs stretched out straight in front of me. The iPad is fairly stable in the Zugu just above my knees and my keyboard is sitting in front of the iPad.

I can move my legs around a bit, stretch and so on with no fear that the case will flip. If I want or need to reposition my legs I can adjust the angle of the iPad/Zugu accordingly to get what I need. It’s not as easy as a laptop but it’s close enough.

I have only three critiques at this point.

First, when, changing the angle I do have to be careful to get both of the slots set. The magnets are very strong once the folding flaps are in place though.

Second, there is room for one more slot closest to the iPad/hinge that would result in an even more vertical position and still retain the stability of the other positions.

Third, I’m still not quite sure what the best way is to pick this up when I’m moving a short distance, say from my futon to the desk 10 feet away. It just seems a bit clumsy to move around. In that regard, the Smart Keyboard Portfolio seemed a bit more stable and sturdy when picked up in it’s typing position and moved. With the Zugu sometimes I’m not sure where to put my hands when picking up and as a result I’ve knocked the folding brace from the magnet slots a few times causing a moment of panic as the cover/bottom flops loose. Perhaps more practice?

So, to compare the set-up to Apple’s solution, the Smart Keyboard Portfolio. For the 12” iPad Pro the SKP is $200. I love the typing experience of the SKP and find it very stable in the lap. It does not flop around or seem unstable at all. The downsides: lack of backlit keyboard, no special function/media keys and only two angles to choose from.

Another downside with the SKP, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve already had to replace it once. From my experience with the current and previous version I expect that these cases won’t last for much more than a year given the amount of daily use they get. Now, I’ve got a replacement under warranty that should last another year. But, $200 for a keyboard that only lasts a year, so two keyboards in two years at $200. That’s not acceptable. These should be more durable. I expect to use this iPad for at least 2 if not 3 more years. A $200 case should last 3 to 4 years.

The Zugu with an external keyboard, usually my beloved Logitech K811, is still fairly mobile. The Zugu and Smart Keyboard Portfolio weigh about the same and are about the same thinness. But, of course, with the Zugu there is the added weight of a separate keyboard though it is a more functional keyboard. I’ve also got the very thin and light Logitech Keys-to-Go that I can take instead though it is less functional and not as nice to type on.

As mentioned above, the iPad in the Zugu is very stable and a pleasure to use at all 8 angles, on the desk or shelf or on my lap or on my chest when laying down. It does not easily tip. The separate keyboard can be a hassle at times but is a great benefit at other times.

Another difference between the two is that with Apple’s portfolio it’s possible to easily pop the iPad off entirely. With the Zugu it’s held in the case pretty snuggly, not something I’ll be taking off very often. So, it’s semi-permanent. But, it’s super easy to fold back the cover/bottom piece behind the iPad just as one might do with Apple’s portfolio. And, again, it weighs about the same so hand holding, should I want to do that, is comparable to the experience with Apple’s portfolio folded back.

My tentative conclusion in comparing the two is this. If Apple sold a more durable Smart Keyboard Folio with backlighting and the special function media keys that would be my choice. I’d be willing to forgo the 8 viewing angles. But, given what that product is today, I would go with the Zugu and an external keyboard. The 8 slots are very useful and having a backlit keyboard with media keys is something I really do like to have. And considering the cost, the Zugu and an external keyboard also make sense. The K811 and Zugu is less that $170 and other keyboards are even less. I don’t yet know how durable the Zugu will be but it is made very well so I’m hoping it will last at least 2 to 3 years.

A final note (for now) and a consideration. Apple’s product is 1 piece, the Zugu and an external keyboard, 2 pieces. There are times when a 1 piece, laptop like experience is better. There are times when separate is better. In my scenario I think I’d choose the 2 piece because of where I usually sit to work.

Siri, I Trust You. Mostly.

Just as I keep track of the status of Pages on the iPad (as compared to the Mac) I also like to check in on the experience of using Siri. I recently browsed through a short thread on the Mac Power Users Forum and was reminded that I’d not written about the Siri experience in awhile. That thread was quite negative about Siri and in fact, most of what I seem to come across on the internet in regards to Siri is usually negative. Siri is like Lucy holding that football for Charlie Brown. In the early years many people learned that trusting Siri was just a set-up for failure and frustration.

Well, it’s been a few years now. Can we trust Siri?

I’ve been using Siri fairly consistently over the past three years and continue to use Siri many times a day from a variety of devices and generally find the experience to be helpful, usually successful and increasingly pleasant as the voice of Siri is improved to be less robotic. But it’s been a process getting here.

How I use Siri

I make Siri requests from the full ecosystem of devices ranging from an iPhone X to 3 iPads to the Apple Watch and HomePods. Also, occasionally to the AppleTV via remote.

At home most of the requests are handled by the HomePod as it generally takes precedence over other devices in the room. When I’m out it’s the iPhone via AirPods. On occasion I’ll also use a button push on an iPad I’m using to ensure that my interaction is with that iPad though that’s not all that common. I think I’d likely use Siri directly on the iPad if there were a dedicated Siri key or keyboard shortcut.

The Apple Watch and Apple TV are probably the least used Siri devices I have. One feature that may not be immediately obvious to some is that when using HomePods as the audio for AppleTV, it’s possible to control playback via voice, no remote needed. Just issue commands such as pause, play, rewind 20 seconds and the HomePod will control the video. Very nice!

As for the Watch, I’ve tried a few times and it does not work nearly as well as the HomePod or AirPods. More often than not I just get a long delay followed by “I’ll tap you when I’m ready”. Mostly, I’ve stopped trying but it’s no real loss because I’m always within earshot of the HomePod and if I’m not I’ve probably got the AirPods in my ears.

My common uses range the full range of what is possible with Siri. Early on I got in the habit of occasionally reading through the possible actions and check every so often to see what’s been added. As a result of being aware I’ve been able to take better advantage. From timers to adding calendar events to tasks to audio video playback to smart home devices such as heaters and lights. Before I list out more I’ll contrast this with a recent poll I conducted via a persistent group iMessage with my extended family. Here’s what I asked them:

  1. Do you currently use Siri regularly? If yes, how many times per day.
  2. If you do not, have you ever tried it in the past? If yes, why did you stop using it?
  3. If you do use Siri regularly what device(s) do you use to do so?
  4. What are your most common uses/requests?
  5. If you are a regular user, are you generally happy with the experience?
  6. If you are not a user do you think you might at some point try it again? Why or why not?

The results varied. An elderly uncle reported that he uses Siri two times a day from his phone and is happy with it. My aunt reports using it 4 times a day on her phone and she likes it. My dad uses it 10 to 15 times a day on his phone. He uses it to open apps, play music, make phone calls, ask sports questions and set reminders. He thinks it’s great.

My mid-20’s nephew doesn’t use Siri much, only once a day or so. He stopped because she often “can’t immediately answer some of my questions and sends me to Safari.” When he does use it it’s to activate maps and directions or to call people on the phone. My brother uses it in his car to play music. He also reports being turned off by the fact that he’s often sent to Safari after a query.

The last response I got was from my niece, also in her 20s who reports using Siri 10 or so times a day via her phone. She uses it to play music and control playback. She uses it to make calls, ask about sports information, send texts, set timers and check the weather and the time. She uses it while driving for hands free. She concludes by saying that for the most part Siri works well for her and notes improvement in that it picks up her voice better, possibly do to a newer phone.

So, a mix of negative and positive. The negative seems to center on being kicked out to Safari results after a Siri request. What isn’t clear from the responses is what questions are asked that lead to that result. I took note that the two most positive responses, my dad and niece, both specifically indicated a broader range of Siri requests and I think that touches on something important in regards to voice-based computer usage, in this case Siri. Both of these users have made it a point to use voice requests over a broader range of activity. Put another way, it seems that they are being more deliberate and, as a result, are getting better results. My guess is that an interest in using Siri results in more persistence and more practice and, not surprisingly, better results over time.

Of course, it’s just a tiny pool responses from one family but it seems an accurate reflection of much that I’ve read on the internet.

In my own experience I’ve found that over the past 3 to 5 years my usage has certainly increased both as Siri improved and as I learned more about getting better results with the service. This seems obvious if we view Siri as a tool, as a form of interaction that can be improved upon by users over time, but I think because of it’s personal nature of the technology and the sense of possible embarrassment or frustration with failure, we don’t quite view it the same as we view the development of other skills.

By design, Siri and other voice assistants are presented as just that, assistants. They take on a kind of personal role, a sense of relationship. Apple and others have made it a point to make voice assistance sound increasingly human and natural in their interactions and I think one result is possible frustration and embarrassment when we encounter failure. It reminds me of Charlie Brown trusting Lucy to hold that football. Of course, she pulls it away at the last second and he flies through the air. When we trust Siri and she fails us there’s an element of frustration that we went out on a limb to trust that she could help. I think there’s also an almost “out of body” observation we make of ourselves. Oh, how silly, there’s me talking to my phone again and there she is making me look even sillier with her failed response. I may be getting too far out in the weeds here but there may be something to it.

I’ll wrap up with a list of my most useful Siri interactions. And to reiterate, I think this list is getting longer all the time and that the success rate is, in my use, almost always improving.

  • Reminders: I constantly add items to various lists. Both via HomePod and AirPods. This is 100%.
  • Calendar events: This is also 100%. Almost everything I add to my calendar is via Siri.
  • Timers: All the time and it works perfectly.
  • Weather: All the time and again, it works perfectly.
  • Phone calls: I don’t use my phone as a phone much but when I do make a call it’s via AirPods to phone and it’s 100%
  • Sending and replying to texts. This one has gotten much better and I use it all the time when walking, again via AirPods to phone.
  • Audio playback via AirPods when walking is excellent. Pause, play, skip, fast forward, initiating playback of an artist, playlist or album. The hardest part here is my ability to remember the names of things. Great with podcasts too.
  • Control of Homekit devices. All day everyday. About 95% success here. One of my favorite things relates to the fact that I live in a rural area and have an outside well-house that has to stay heated in the winter. In the past I’d go out and visually check on things to confirm proper heating in the cold weeks of late December thru February. Now I can simply ask Siri: “What’s the temperature in the well-house?” It’s the perfect compliment to the Home App.

My Siri Wish List

Right now, at the time of this writing, I’ve got just two big things that I’d love to see and they both are iPad related:

  1. On the new iPads Pro with FaceID, there is no Home Button which is a pretty convenient way to access Siri on older iPads. Even better, when using an external keyboard with older iPads a long press of the keyboard home button activates Siri. Very conducive to using Siri on those devices. For some reason this does not work on the new iPads Pro and so I find I don’t use Siri as much on device as I used to.
  2. When activating Siri on iPads, is there a reason that Siri should take control of the whole screen. Might it be better to do something similar to the Mac and have a smaller Siri window pop-up? Maybe the size of a slide-over window? Or, at most, a half-screen split-view.

I’m sure there’s more to be done to improve Siri but those are the two I’m hoping to see.

iPad Journal: Shortcuts Update

Many in the iOS user community really, really love Shortcuts. This is especially true of the iPad power users. There are some that have made Shortcuts a key component to most of their workflows.

Apparently I am not one of these users. Way back when it was Workflow I built out a few and downloaded a few. I usually ended up just using 2-3 of 20 that I had. And that’s fine. Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to prove useful and it doesn’t hurt to try. The app is now Shortcuts and is more deeply integrated and more powerful. I’m using it more than before but nothing like what some do.

A few thoughts. When I see what power users like Federico Viticci, Mathew Cassinelli and David Sparks do with Shortcuts I’m often not sure whether I should be impressed or if I should laugh. I’ll explain.

There’s no doubt Shortcuts is a powerful way to assemble workflows. But often what I see happening is the creation of Shortcuts that don’t seem to do much more than what an app can do on it’s own. Or, it may just be that the examples provided are un-relatable to my needs as they are often very specific to the workflow of the user. And for that user it seems they are very useful.

Something else I’ve noticed, and I’m sort of restating the above, but many shortcuts seem to just be solutions in search of a problem. Again, solving something that already is solved in the app. I can illustrate with an example that popped up on Twitter as I’ve been writing this post. Federico has tweeted that in this week’s Club Mac Stories he is introducing a new series on using Shortcuts with the Apple Music API. His tweet states that:

The first shortcut I’ll share lets you search the entire Apple Music catalog in 2 taps.

That’s pretty cool. But here’s the thing, I can do that right in Apple Music. If I long press the Apple Music app icon I can jump right into a search in Music. Or, I can Command-Space to open Music then tap the search icon at the bottom. His shortcut allows for first typing a search term then presents a list of choices: song, album, artist, and playlist then presents the result. I’m just not sure that’s any faster.

Much of what I see being presented by Shortcuts enthusiasts falls within this category of tasks that apps already do without a shortcut. That said, I think Shortcuts can be very useful. In my case I get the most benefit when I use it to do specific utility type functions that iOS itself does not do. Or, it provides a noticeably faster way to do something.

Here are examples of my current favorites and they are fairly simple and usually saved as widgets for quick access:

  • Unit price calculations. I use this one on the phone when I’m shopping to do quick comparisons of items. The shortcut asks for unit quantity and the cost then gives me the cost per unit. Very fast.
  • File converters. These only get used on the iPad, usually when I’m doing work on a website. I often need to convert a png or pdf to jpg and while I can use an app like Affinity Photo this shortcut is much quicker.
  • Switching audio playback. Apple Music, Podcasts, Overcast and any other app has an Airplay icon to send audio to a HomePod or AirPods. It’s easy to use. But it often takes a few seconds and if I’m on LTE I may also have to first tap once or twice to turn on and connect to my WiFi if, for example, I’m coming back from walk and want to switch from AirPods to HomePods. With a shortcut on my home screen or a widget I can tap once and my iPhone connects to my WiFi network and then changes audio playback to the HomePod. It’s not a huge difference but it is noticeably faster and it’s something I do often.
  • Reliability and consistency have been issues for me. Shortcuts sometimes just seem to fail. Or they work for a period of time and then stop working. Sometimes it would seem something should be possible and I’ll spend time trying to build an automation only to find out that it’s not possible. A recent and very frustrating example. I often want to use a screenshot on a website but the native png screenshot files are huge. I can save to Files then share the png to a Shortcut to convert to a jpg, set quality and size. But I cannot do this directly from the screen shot interface to Shortcuts. I have to take the extra step of saving the file then opening it up. Why?

Another example. With iOS 13.2 a new feature is handoff from iPhone to HomePod or HomePod to iPhone. Sounds nice but in practice that’s been very slow or unreliable for me. Instead, I’ve got a Shortcut which has the added benefit of also working with iPads. If I’m playing a podcast or music on iPhone or iPad I can tap a widget or icon on my home screen to very quickly send the audio to the HomePod. It’s quicker and easier than using the Airplay picker which sometimes seems to have a long delay. BUT, I have to tap. I should be able to use Siri. It would be very cool to step inside after a walk and just say “Hey Siri, HomePod” to have my audio hop over to the HomePod. But there’s an error and it fails. While I mostly want to do this from the Phone I’ve also tested with iPad and it fails there too. Again, why?

Oh, and a note about using shortcuts that have been saved to the home screen, this experience feels weird because it actually opens the app when it runs the shortcut. Why not just do it with a progress indicator in the icon similar to what we see when an app is updating? Having the whole app open up seems janky.

I love the idea of Shortcuts but in practice it’s still bumpy and still very much for the tech crowd. I’ve asked my extended family and of 16 or so using iPads and iPhones, ranging from young students to older, retired folks, not a one is using Shortcuts. Most of them don’t even know that the app exists let alone what it does. And really, I think that’s for the best. I consider myself a fairly advance iOS user and if I’m struggling with Shortcuts they would very likely have an even more frustrating experience.

All that said, with iOS 13 Shortcuts have taken a big step in the right direction. I hope Apple keeps pushing it forward. I’m not sure it will ever be an app for most people but there’s great potential there for power users if reliability and consistency can be improved.

Frictionless Posting

I’m in search of a better posting process for my two Word Press blogs. Really, it’s not that difficult. I usually post from iA Writer, sometimes the Micro.blog app, sometimes from Apple Notes and lastly, sometimes via the built in Share Sheet in iOS. Again, not really difficult. Just more taps than I’d like.

Apparently I am extremely lazy.