A Missed Opportunity with Text and Screen Effects in iOS

We have now had text and screen effects on iOS for eight months. Are you using them? Perhaps more importantly, does Apple remember they exist?

When iOS 10 was first released, I made the argument that to keep these relevant, Apple needed to constantly iterate and update them. If you've ever spent any time with Snapchat, you know what I'm talking about. Snapchat regularly releases new filters and effects that you can apply to your images. They often change seasonally and even for particular holidays. Watching my children and their friends, they all get a kick out of whatever the latest and greatest Snapchat filter is.

I think Apple had a similar opportunity with text and screen effects in iOS messaging. Why not render text with snowflakes during the winter? Why not have a screen effect with flowers blooming in the spring?

By changing things up, Apple could keep text and screen effects more relevant, and they’d get used more often. (When’s the last time you used either of these features?) If Apple brought a little regularly updated whimsy to the table, it would make the iPhone even more "sticky" for users and make them less likely to change platforms.

This seems like such a no-brainer that I'm surprised Apple hasn’t been more aggressive with text and screen effects. I'm guessing we’ll get a few updated animations with iOS 11 when they announce it next month, but I think they are missing out by not having much more frequent updates and animations.

Sort Your Mail Automatically with SaneBox (sponsor)

This week MacSparky is sponsored by SaneBox, the email service that allows you to be the boss of your email inbox.

SaneBox is an email service with a lot of features. This week I'd like to focus on SaneBox's ability to automatically sort your email for you. Every day we all get a lot of email. Some of it may come from family or coworkers and be super important. Other email may come from some online store that you bought a shirt from 10 years ago and be a lot less important. With all of your email going into your inbox, you’ve got to spend time every day sorting the wheat from the chaff.

SaneBox can do that for you. Specifically, SaneBox will look at your inbox and sort your less important email into other folders. For instance, SaneBox sorts all of my email from people that I buy things from into a specific folder. Likewise, SaneBox has a separate folder, called "Later" that holds email from senders I usually let sit for a few days. Once SaneBox is done sorting out my inbox for me, I only see the email that is most important to me. I can deal with those and then come back to the remaining sorted folders later when I have time.

The day after I signed up for SaneBox my morning inbox went from 150 emails to seven emails and I immediately knew I had a winner. I've been a paying customer for years and couldn't get by without it.

If you have been struggling with email, you should check out SaneBox. It's a great service that will save you a lot of time. Use this link to get a discount and let them know you heard about it here at MacSparky.

MPU 378 – More iOS Hidden Features

The latest episode of Mac Power Users is up and available for download. This week we are joined by Clayton Morris to talk about some of our favorite underused iOS features. This episode is actually a continuation of an episode recorded several months ago. The outline had so much content that we couldn't finish it in one show.

This is one of those shows full of little tips and tricks, and my goal is that everyone who listens to it can get a little bit better and a little bit faster using their iPhone and iPad. Check it out.

Sponsors include:

  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.
  • 1Password: Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. Save up to 20% using this link.
  • The Omni Group: We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad. 
  • Market circle: We help small business grow with great Mac, iPhone and iPad apps including Daylight and Billings Pro.

 

The CMD-D Mac Automation Conference

When we had Sal Saghoian on the Mac Power Users a few months ago, I observed that one of the best things about him leaving Apple is that he gets to share more with us automation-loving nerds. It looks like Sal is pretty serious about that because he is putting on a conference with Paul Kent (the former conference organizer for Macworld Expo). CMD-D is a one day conference in August in Santa Clara all about Mac and iOS automation.

If you're thinking about attending, I'd recommend it. I took a two-day AppleScript course from Sal several years ago and can attest that he's not only very knowledgeable on the subject of automation, he's also a great teacher. Learn more at the CMD-D website.

AirPods Sport Strap

I spend a lot of time on my bicycle riding around town. It's one of the advantages of being self-employed. I can work where I want, when I want.

One bit of forbidden fruit on my bicycle is my Apple AirPods. The idea of coming to a sudden stop and watching them fly out of my ears down onto the street or the drain, or simply somewhere else is enough for me to keep them in my pocket while pedaling around.

I have, however, found a solution. The Sport Strap for AirPods is nothing more than two plastic clips that fit over your ear with a hole of exactly the right diameter to securely hold my AirPods and a rubber tether between them. I can put the AirPods in the clips, slide them over my ears, and everything is much more secure. I'm actually thinking about cutting off the rubber tether. When I ride my bike, I only keep one AirPod in so I can keep the other ear open for my surroundings. 

The Sport Strap includes a little zippered carry pouch, and everything tucks away nicely in my bag. If you’re concerned your AirPods may fall out, these $13 bits of plastic will help you out.

MPU 377 – Audio Media Management

This week we take a good look at dealing with audio on your Apple gear. Topics include traditional music management, the best streaming services and why I loves them, podcast management, and playing audio in your car and home.

Sponsors include:

  • TextExpander from Smile Type more with less effort! Expand short abbreviations into longer bits of text, even fill-ins, with TextExpander from Smile.
  • Pixelmator Powerful image editing that gives you everything you need to create, edit and enhance your images, now on iPad and Mac.
  • Sanebox Stop drowning in email!
  • Casper: Because everyone deserves a great night sleep. Get $50 off with the code ‘MPU’

30 Years of PopChar

I would like to congratulate Ergonis software, which is now celebrating 30 years of the Mac utility PopChar. Keeping a software application running for 30 years is quite an accomplishment. PopChar allows you to easily see all of the characters attached to your various fonts. There's a lot in there, and if you're looking for a specific symbol or emoji, they aren't always that easy to find. PopChar solves that problemand has been solving that problem for 30 years now.

If the character lists Apple provides you with when you hold down Control + Command + Space isn’t solving the problem for you, you should check out PopChar. Best of all, with the 30-year celebration, it's reduced by 45% until May 24 ($16.50 for an individual license.)  Follow this link to get the discount coupon code "PopChar30”. 

MacPaw's Ukrainian Apple Museum

Over the years of publishing MacSparky, I've got to know the team from MacPaw. MacPaw makes several Mac Apps that I use including CleanMyMac and, increasingly, their SetApp (Netflix for Mac Apps) service. I've been genuinely impressed with everyone I've met from MacPaw. They make great software but, even more, they get being part of the Apple community. 

Last year the long-running New York Apple repair shop, Tekserve, shut down and sold their Mac collection to, it turns out, MacPaw. Now MacPaw's set up their own Apple Museum in Ukraine. I love that. They even made a clever video.

 

 

Automating PDF Creation from Image Files on the Mac

Recently a client sent me a contract electronically by taking a series of photos of a document. This happens to me once in a while, and usually I open the individual images in Preview, combine them, and save them as PDF. I received another such series of photos this morning and finally decided to automate this process so I don’t have to do it manually anymore. Automator to the rescue.

Why I Love Automator Services

Automator has the ability to create Services. These are little programs that reside in the contextual menu on your Mac. Right-clicking on a file gives you an option to employ Services. The nice thing about Services is that they stay out of the way until you need them, and then they are there, just a right-click away. (All screenshots in this post will get bigger on your screen if you click them.)

So I decided to make my little automation routine for combining PDF files a Service. This happens after you open the Automator App and click New in the File menu. 

In order to get to the Services menu, you’ve already selected a file. This means the Services don’t need the typical file-selection nonsense. To run the Service, you’ll first select the images you want to combine and convert to PDF. Clever, right?

Because the Service we are creating is made specifically to turn images into PDFs, we don't want our Macs to try and use it against other types of files such as text files or music files. Therefore, we will limit the Service so that it only works when it receives image files.

Now Let’s Get Automating 

If you’ve never used Automator before, don't sweat it. It's easy. Automator has a series of tools on the left side that you drag into your workflow on the right side. You stack those together like LEGO bricks and at the end you've created a program. This Automator workflow has just two bricks. The first thing we’ll need to do is take the existing images and convert them into a single PDF.

Fortunately, Automator has a tool specifically for this job named, not surprisingly, "New PDF From Images". Go in the Search bar for Automator and type "new PDF”, and the search gets you there. 

Drag the tool into the workflow area and we’re halfway there.

The Quartz Filter

We could really stop with just the one step and convert the images to PDF, but there is still a problem. Photos converted to PDF still make lousy documents. They have lots of color and are hard to read. 

MacOS has quartz filters built in that can change the way a PDF looks. There’s also an Automator tool to apply a quartz filter right in your workflow. So go ahead and search for “quartz”.

Drag the “Apply Quartz Filter to PDF Documents” tool into the workflow. When you do that, however, you’ll get the following dialog.

This dialogue is Automator being extra careful that you don’t override something you want to keep. For this workflow, I clicked “Don’t Add”.

After that, you’ll see the workflow with both steps.

You’ll note in the above screenshot that the quartz filter isn't doing anything yet. Time to change that. Click on the arrow next to the filter and select "Black & White". This converts the color image to a black-and-white image and makes the document much easier to read and edit.

That’s it. Save the script, select some images, right-click on them, and try it out from your Services menu.

Sponsor: OmniFocus and the Review Feature

This week the blog is sponsored by my friends over at the Omni Group and their best-in-breed task manager application, OmniFocus. There is so much to love about OmniFocus. It's a powerful task application that works with you to not only check off your boxes but make sure you're on track with your own priorities and goals.

OmniFocus represents a lot of rethinking about what a task management application should be and as a result, there are several unique features. One of my favorite unique features is its ability to review projects over time.

OmniFocus allows you to set a review period for all of your projects. It is user customizable on a per project basis and that is part of the reason it's so powerful. By tapping the Review button a few times a week, you can take a look at all of your projects that are due for an independent review. For a corporate client that I don't do much work for, that review time may be every six months. For an active project where, perhaps, the client is acquiring a competitor, I may make that review period every four days.

Because I've taken the time to set up these review frequencies appropriately, when I tap the Review button I just see those projects that truly require my attention. I've made this a regular practice and it has paid great dividends. Using the OmniFocus Review feature I have:

  1. Found projects that fell off the wagon, allowing me to get them back on track and not look like a fool.
  2. Discovered additional work that needs to be done for clients because I took a moment to sip some tea and think about their project in the abstract.

Best of all, a regular review routine gives me peace of mind. Knowing that I'm keeping track of projects lets me know that I'm doing my job and allows me to sleep easy at night. Whenever I feel a little frazzled, it is because I'm behind on project reviews.

Review is just one more reason why I love and use OmniFocus. To learn more head over to the Omni Group and check out OmniFocus.

 

Timing 2 for Mac

Today Daniel Alm released Timing 2 for Mac, version 2.0 of his popular Mac productivity app. Over the last several months, I have definitely climbed on the timers’ bandwagon. I'm in the process of hiring people to help me out, and the first thing I needed to do was figure out where I was spending my time. Timing 2 for Mac does that. The best thing about this app is that it does the work for you. Timing provides automatic time tracking. As you jump around different applications, website URLs, emails, and even conversation partners in Messages, Timing quietly keeps track in the background. It then gives you an interactive timeline that shows you exactly when you did what. There’s even a rule system to take you even further down the road. There is a lot of data in this app that will shed new light on how you work.

If you’re concerned about privacy, timing runs locally on your Mac and nowhere else. It does not upload your data to the cloud and does not share with anyone.

I’ve been running the beta for a few months, and I like it. The killer feature with this application is how granular it can get with automatic time tracking. To the extent I use other timers that require manual logging (switching the timer as I switch between tasks), it is really easy to forget and interrupt your flow when you remember. With Timing, I've been able to easily and accurately track all of my tasks while sitting on my Mac.

The biggest downside is that it works so well while at my Mac, I want something just as good when I'm working on my iPad or riding my bike. Either way, while I'm sitting at a Mac, I’ve got time tracking figured out with this app.

With this version, the developer has left the Mac App Store. You can download and purchase Timing 2 for Mac directly from the developer. My congratulations to Daniel on his hard work over the last year to get this new version out the door.

Hacking the iPad Smart Keyboard Viewing Angle with an Apple Pencil

I'm generally pretty happy with the iPad Smart Keyboard cover. It takes little space and the keyboard is good enough to get work done when I need to type on the road. My biggest gripe is the viewing angle. It's engineered to be angled up when the iPad is in your lap (or down near lap level). When I sit at a higher table, however, the viewing angle is tilted a little too far back and there is no way to adjust it.

When I find myself in that position, I set my Apple Pencil behind the iPad between it and the the Smart Keyboard iPad rest wedge, pictured below. It adds about a quarter of an inch and makes the screen easier to view. If that's not enough, you can angle the screen even further with an AirPod case.

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Sparky's iPad screen angle hack. 

Mac Power Users 376 - Notifications with Myke Hurley

The latest episode of Mac Power Users is live. This show is all about Notifications. Most people hate notifications because they are annoying. I like them but I’ve figured them out. I like this show because all three of us have found peace with notifications in different ways. Maybe it’ll help you out.

Sponsors include:

  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. Save up to 20% using this link.
  • The Omni Group We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad. 
  • Gazelle Sell your iPhone for cash at Gazelle! 
  • MindNode MindNode makes mind mapping easy.

Free Agents #20 – Jason’s Origin Story

The latest Free Agents episode is up. In it, Jason shares his origin story telling us where he came from, the background of his career, and what the circumstances were that led him to become an independent worker. Jason’s got some great feedback on his two-plus years’ experience.

 

Sponsors Include:

  • Casper: Because everyone deserves a great night sleep. Get $50 off with the code ‘FREEAGENTS’
  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.

Apple Watch Success and Jim Hanks

Yesterday Strategy Analytics announced that it believes Apple shipped 3.5 million Apple Watches in Q1 2017, making it the global leader in wearables and displacing Fitbit. If true (Apple doesn’t publish its numbers for Apple Watch), it’s pretty remarkable.

The Apple Watch is at a significantly higher price point than a lot of its competitors (including Fitbit), which makes them selling the most units even more impressive. The Strategy Analytics report doesn’t cover profit but I'd speculate that Apple is leading on making money in wearables even more they are in unit sales. 

I have to say, however, that I'm not surprised. If you own an iPhone, the Apple Watch is an extremely useful (and expensive) accessory. Getting notifications on my wrist means my gigantic iPhone stays in my pocket a lot more often. There's also several other nice little delights for Apple Watch owners. Turn by turn directions (particularly when you are walking) are awesome. Being able to ask your wife if she needs more bananas while you're walking through the grocery store by just talking to your wrist is also pretty great. Overall, Apple has made a lot of progress with the Apple Watch with recent hardware and software updates and I've spoken with very few people who bought one and didn't end up using it every day. 

It always strikes me how people talk about Apple Watch success as if they are surprised. In some ways, the Apple Watch reminds me of Tom Hanks’ brother, Jim. He's a great guy. He does voiceover for Woody. But also, he's Tom Hanks’ brother and everybody always wants talks about Tom Hanks, not Jim.

 

Happy May the 4th

I know these days that it seems like every day is a holiday of one sort of another but how could I let May the 4th go by without acknowledging it. Why do I love Star Wars? One reason is because of the fans. They are completely insane ... like me. Last year, Adam Driver did a funny skit on Saturday Night Live where his Star Wars character, Kylo Ren, went on Undercover Boss as "Matt, radar technician".

As I was walking through the Star Wars celebration, I stumbled into a group of people that dressed up as "Matt". That's right, they even cosplay the spoofs. Star Wars has some of the greatest fans in the world. May the force be with you.

Sponsor: SaneBox - They Respect Your Privacy

This week MacSparky is sponsored by SaneBox, the email service that brings sanity back to email. There are so many great SaneBox features. It lets you easily defer email to the future. It follows up with you if you don’t get replies to important emails. It automatically sorts your email for you so you can deal with the urgent and save the rest for later. Best of all, this magic works with just about any email application and on any computing platform.

One feature I’ve never mentioned about SaneBox before is that it costs money. You pay for the service. In this day and age, the fact that they have a business model that doesn’t require them to sell your data to someone else is, in fact, a feature. Indeed, SaneBox is very respectful of your data. To pull off their magic tricks, they only look at the email header information (primarily they need to know who sent the email and the subject line). They don’t look at your email body and they don’t sell your data to anyone. SaneBox explains their … well … sane belief in protecting your privacy right here.

So don’t only give your email super-powers, do it with a company that respects your privacy. I’ve been a SaneBox subscriber for years and don’t know how I'd get by without it. Go check it out and use this link to get a discount off your subscription.