Free Agents 45: Like Going Back to High School

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My home workspace gets invaded by teenagers, Jason reprises his old commute and learns to appreciate the ability to work from anyplace, and a listener reminds us of a classic technique: making promises that your future self has to keep. Join us for the latest episode of Free Agents.

This episode of Free Agents is sponsored by:

  • Timing: The automatic time tracking app for macOS. Use this link to save 10% on your purchase.
  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.

Big Update for Drafts 

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Drafts, one of my favorite utilities for the iPhone just got a big update to version 5. For some of you, that’s all you need to hear. Download the new version and subscribe. For the rest of you, let me explain a bit further.

Drafts is an iOS app that does two things remarkably well:

  1. It lets you capture text.
  2. It lets you process that text.

Capturing Fast

Unlike any other text app, Drafts doesn’t require you to open a new file, create a new email, or do any other process before you start writing. Instead, when you open the app, you get a blinking cursor and a blank screen. Just start writing. That makes Drafts the starting place for just about any text I write on iPhone or iPad, including these very words.

Drafts doesn’t just let you type, it also lets you dictate, and through some smart programming, it gets around the usual 45 second Siri Dictation timer. With Drafts, you can dictate as long as you want to Siri Dictation and it just keeps going.

One of the nice things about Drafts is that because you go straight into writing, you don’t even have to have a clear decision about where the text will end up when you start writing. Maybe these words will end up an email, or an OmniFocus task, or a Ulysses project, or something else entirely. It doesn’t matter; I just need to write.

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Processing Text

Once you’ve finished writing your precious words in Drafts, then you get to decide what to do with them. There’s a lot of options. If it’s possible to add an integration for words to Drafts, the Drafts developer has added it. (Not many people realize it but Draft’s developer, Greg Pierce, was instrumental in the original development of URL scheme-based automation on the iPhone.)

You can do simple things with your text, like send it along to another text editor, send it as a message or email. You can also go deep down the rabbit hole.

One thing I love about Drafts is using it to send an email. This way, I don’t have to go into my email application and get tempted away by the siren song of the inbox. Instead, I write and send the relevant email and then get back to work.

One of my favorite productivity hacks is to go into Drafts on the iPad and just dictate through 5-10 writing tasks on my plate every day. It lets me eliminate all the process steps while I'm doing the hard work of getting words out of my head and on the page. Then later I process all those words using Drafts’ automation tools. I get more work done this way, faster.

Drafts also has one of the best implementations of an Apple Watch app. I keep it on my Siri watch face, and if I'm walking down the street, I just press the button and dictate into my watch to capture the draft for later processing. (Here’s a Drafts power tip: enable the app badge to show for any unprocessed tasks.) Also, it uses iCloud to sync your text to all your iOS devices.

For me, Drafts was a game changer. It’s one of the few apps I vividly recall loading for the first time, realizing how useful it is, and audibly saying “yes!”. It’s the poster child for apps that uniquely grew out of the App Store for a touch-based interface. 

Drafts is in my dock.

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About Drafts 5

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With Drafts 5, Greg rewrote most of the code to make it faster, more efficient. He also added a bunch of features. Most of the features I discussed this far come with the free version of the app. If you want to go deeper, there is a pro version for $2 month or $20 a year that includes additional features including:

  • The ability to create an unlimited number of customizable actions. These are helpful. For instance, I have one called “Sparks Prime” that lets me send a text message to key members of my family very quickly. In my mind, that is there in case we ever have a significant earthquake an I want to get a message out before the networks get flooded and go down. These days, however, I just use it to send pictures of cute puppies.
  • Themes and Icons. There are a bunch of themes, and now you can set the icon color if that’s your thing.
  • You can add saved workspaces
  • Get even more powerful workstations.

These are all great features but for me, the best reason to pay Greg $20 a year is to ensure Drafts continues to exist and flourish. I use this app every day, and I don’t want to lose it.

If you’ve never used Drafts before, I encourage you to download the free version and try it out. If it grabs you the way it grabbed me, I'd further encourage you to subscribe.

I’ve made a few screencasts for Drafts 5. Enjoy.

OmniGraffle, Graphics Software for Mortals – Sponsor

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This week MacSparky is sponsored by OmniGraffle, by the Omni Group. OmniGraffle is the diagramming and graphics tool made for people that don’t have the time to get a degree in diagramming and graphics. It’s a powerful application that is also easy to use. In other words, it’s an application made by the Omni Group.

I initially bought OmniGraffle to make simple diagram-style graphics for use in presentations during trials, but once I realized how easy the application is to use, I found all sorts of uses for it. I often use the iPad version to diagram relationships as clients describe them to me during meetings. I'm a visual thinker so seeing things in diagram form help me understand better (and clients are always impressed).

I use OmniGraffle to make our family holiday card. I use Omni Graffle to design stickers for the rubber storage bins we put in the attic. I'm getting a new office later this year, and I'm currently designing that in OmniGraffle. I even use OmniGraffle to design the covers of my books. The iPhone Field Guide cover was made in OmniGraffle.

If you believe you don’t have a single graphic artist bone in your body, you should download the OmniGraffle free trial and check it out for yourself. What you’ll find is that the application does most of the hard work for you. They even have extensive online-based stencil libraries, making many projects as easy as drag and drop. They’ve got versions for Mac, iPad, and iPhone so no matter which Apple platform you prefer, you can make beautiful diagrams and graphics with OmniGraffle

My latest OmniGraffle project. Click to enlarge.

Mac Power Users 426: Workflows with Andy Ihnatko

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Writer, photographer, geek, and all-around nice guy Andy Ihnatko joins us this week, while Katie attempts to avoid electrocution.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • Ulysses: The ultimate writing app for Mac, iPad, and iPhone. Get 3 months free.
  • Eero: Never think about WiFi again. Use code MPU for free overnight shipping.
  • Gazelle: Sell your iPhone for cash at Gazelle! 
  • TextExpander from Smile: Get 20% off with this link and type more with less effort! Expand short abbreviations into longer bits of text, even fill-ins, with TextExpander from Smile.

CarPlay's Unsurprising Success

Strategy Analytics released a report explaining how happy car owners are with Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto in their vehicles. This is hardly shocking. 

Several months ago I put an after-market CarPlay device in my Ford and it is better than Ford’s previous built-in system in literally every way. When it comes to placing the air conditioner knob on the dashboard, car manufacturers are aces. However, they have never been good at operating systems and user interface design. Apple and Google both have people that are far better at that issue than anyone working for a car company and it shows.

With CarPlay the voice commands actually work and my iPhone operates as the brains for my dashboard giving me better maps, better audio, and the ability to listen to text messages without me taking my eyes off the road. Since installing CarPlay, I now keep my iPhone inside the center console, plugged into a lightning cable and powering the CarPlay from a place where I can’t even access the phone, making things safer to boot.

 With all of this success, Apple still has a ways to go and I hope they continue to put resources into making the best possible CarPlay they can. I believe number one on their priority list should be the ability to use third-party navigation apps. Ford is working with Waze on that now but I think it’s in Apple’s best interest to make that as easy as possible for everyone, including Google. Maps.

Announcing the iPhone Field Guide

Today I'm pleased to announce my latest MacSparky Field Guide is available for purchase from the iBooks Store, The iPhone Field Guide.

I've been working on this book for a long time and I'm really happy with how it turned out. 

With the iPhone Field Guide, you'll learn to get the most from your iPhone with  this media-rich book that is sometimes user guide, sometimes opinionated app recommendations, and sometimes iPhone sensei. This book was built entirely in iBooks Author and includes all of the multimedia goodness including screenshots, photo galleries, and video screencasts all engineered to make you an iPhone power user. There are over 50 screencasts adding up to over two hours of video instruction, 450 pages, 44 chapters, and over 65,000 words to help you learn how to squeeze every bit of awesomeness from your iPhone.

The material is accessible to beginners and power users alike with a thoughtful, fun, and systematic approach to iPhone mastery. Moreover, this book is beautifully designed and a joy to read. This is the seventh book in the MacSparky Field Guide series.

The book looks great on the Mac and iPad but, because it is about the iPhone, there is a separate scrolling mode for the book making it fully consumable on your iPhone. The video screencasts are even formatted to display on your iPhone.

I'm offering the book at an introductory price of $20 but that is going to go up later so if you are interested, check it out now. I'm really proud of this book and I hope you dig it.

The (Red) iPhone

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The new Product (Red) iPhone looks pretty nice. I like the black bezel much better than last year’s version with the white bezel. Still, a few thoughts occur to me.

1. Why is this only on iPhone 8? It seems it would have been easy to make a red glass panel for the iPhone X, right?

2. Why in April after all the true believers bought their new phones months ago? I wish they would have released this back with the initial iPhone 8/X launch.

Someday I'd like to hear the story why Apple doesn’t do more iPhone colors in general. They used to regularly sale iPods with a lot more color options than they sell the iPhone and I always thought the iPhone would eventually get there, but after ten years, I'm assuming the lack of color options is a deliberate choice.

PDFpen Version 10

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PDFpen for Mac continues to improve. Today Smile released version 10 with several new features:

  • Adds watermarks
  • Insert Headers & Footers
  • OCR multiple documents in batch (PDFpenPro only)
  • New Precision Edit tool selects, moves, resizes and deletes line art and text
  • Improves move & resize of images
  • Enhances page number styling
  • Adds larger Library item view
  • Prettier drawing colors
  • Adds context menu options
  • Various improvements and fixes

My favorite new feature is the watermark function. I am kind of particular about the typography in my watermarks (surprised, right?) and now I can import and create my Futura based all-caps watermarks to my heart's content. 

The app also got attractive new icons. Learn more about PDFpen 10 from Smile.

Finally, there's a screencast from yours truly.

The New iPad

Over the weekend I took a trip to the Apple Store to check out the new 9.7 inch $329 iPad. There is a lot to like about the new iPad, starting with price. It’s roughly half the cost of the 10.5 inch iPad Pro. For that price, you get an iPad that supports Apple Pencil, looks great,and is plenty fast. I tried to get it to drop frame rates, and it felt just as fast as my 10.5 inch iPad Pro. (I know that it is not but it still felt plenty fast.) I think, for most iPad users, the new 9.7 inch iPad is fine. 

9to5 Mac has a postdetailing the differences and there are quite a few but having used one in person I can tell you for most people those differences won’t matter. Going forward, when friends and family ask me for a recommendation for an iPad, I'm going to point them at the new $329 iPad unless they’ve got a good reason to move to the pro. When you consider the rich assortment of software available for iPad plus the fact you can get a Bluetooth keyboard in the $30 range, the new iPad is a heck of a deal.

For those of you that are interested in the iPad Pro, I think we’ve officially entered the “don’t buy unless you must” zone. I expect a new iPad Pro shortly, probably with Face ID and more bells and whistles to distance it from the impressive new $329 iPad.

Clean up Your Mac with CleanMyMac 3 - Sponsor

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I’m pleased to welcome as a new sponsor to MacSparky this week an app I’ve been using for years, CleanMyMac. It’s easy to let cruft build up on your Mac, and with the limited space available on SSDs, that can be a pain to manage and slow down your Mac’s performance. 

With CleanMyMac, you’ll scan your whole system and remove all the clutter from your Mac, including system junk, old caches, app leftovers, hidden files and much more with just a few clicks. 

It’s easy to use and safe (I’ve been running it for years). If you’re looking warily at the remaining space on your SSD or just want to make sure your drive is in ship-shape, go check out CleanMyMac 3. You can get it stand alone or as part of a Setapp subscription.

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Mac Power Users 425: Web Browsers

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Join us this week as we dive into the topic of browsers: the browsers we use on Mac and iOS, reasons to look at third-party browsers versus staying with Safari, tweaking your settings, our favorite add-ons and companions services, and more.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • Clean My Mac 3: A simple and powerful application to make your Mac as good as new. Get 20% off.
  • Audible: Helping you be a better you. Start your free trial today.
  • 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.

Home Screens - Dr. Barrett Mosbacker

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Some of my favorite home screens come from MacSparky readers. Dr. Barrett Mosbacker is one of those. So Barrett, show us your home screen.

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What are some of your favorite apps?

For managing my personal and professional life my favorite apps are Spark, Fantastical, Things 3, GoodNotes, and DEVONthink. Spark and Fantastical are powerful but easy to use applications for managing my email and events. After being a long time OmniFocus Pro user I recently made the switch to Things 3. Both are exemplary apps for managing projects but I ultimately moved to Things 3 because I found myself spending less time fiddling with the application and more time getting work done. Things 3 is also an exquisitely designed app that is a pleasure to use.

I have been looking for the Holy Grail of applications for managing and integrating project and meeting notes, documents, and research. I finally found them in GoodNotes and DEVONthink. GoodNotes gives me the ability to use my iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil to take meeting notes in an unobtrusive manner. Because GoodNotes has accurate handwriting recognition (even for my horrible penmanship) I can export my meeting notes to DEVONthink. Later when I need to find these notes I can search for them in DEVONthink. I switched to DEVONthink after being a long time Evernote Business user. Although DEVONthink takes time to learn, its powerful features and integrated mobile app make it the ideal repository for all of my personal and professional notes, documents, and research.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

I’m feeling a little guilty for saying so, but I don’t have one. Virtually all of my iPhone and iPad applications are for getting things done. The closest I come to a guilty pleasure is the Kindle app for my professional and pleasure reading. I may need to get a life! :-)

What app makes you most productive?

Things 3. I manage a large number of complex projects involving my Senior Leadership Team as well as mundane personal tasks like reminding me to take the trash to the curb. For my purposes, Things 3 has the right balance of power, flexibility, and elegant GUI.

What app do you know you're underutilizing?

I am probably underutilizing MindNode. I do a lot of writing and speaking. Scrivener is my go to application for all writing—from short blog articles to essays and book projects. I also use it for drafting my speaking notes. I find myself vacillating between using MindNode and OmniOutliner when drafting my thoughts and outlines for writing or speaking projects. I would default more often to MindNode if it had true Apple Pencil support.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?

I use my iPhone approximately once an hour through out the day beginning at 4:30am when its alarm goes off. I use the iPad all day throughout the day. I have Things 3 open on the iPad, which sits next to my MacBook Pro. This keeps my to-do list constantly in front of me so that I focus on what is most important. I grab the iPad and Apple Pencil whenever I have a meeting. I take my handwritten notes in GoodNotes and then export them to DEVONthink for future reference. Any to-do items arising from the meeting go into Things 3.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

I use the Fantastical, Things 3, AccuWeather, The Calculator, and Deliveries widgets.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

It is difficult to identify favorite features but I suppose on the iPhone it would be the dictation application. I cannot type quickly and accurately using the on screen keyboard on the iPhone X so I rely heavily on dictation. Apple Pencil support is my favorite feature of the iPad Pro. I use it for taking notes, annotating PDFs, and jotting down ideas.

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

I would enhance iCloud to have the feature sets of both DropBox and Google Docs and I would substantially increase the total free space available to iCloud, or at least substantially increase the space available at each price tier. I would like to make iCloud my default application for storing and sharing documents and collaboration. The way things stand now, I use iCloud to sync across my devices, DropBox for sharing documents with others, and Google Docs when I need robust collaboration. I would also substantially enhance the capability of Siri. Apple lead in this space but has since fallen behind Google and Amazon.

Do you have an Apple Watch? Show us your watch face tell us about it.

I have a Series 2 Apple watch. I use the Siri watch face as my default but I also use the Activity Face for my morning workout and for tracking my physical activity throughout the day.

What's your wallpaper and why?

I use a solid black wallpaper on my iPhone because it makes the app icons stand out without distraction. On my iPad I use a beautiful fall picture of the Saint Louis Gateway Arch National Park.

Thanks Barrett.

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Free Agents 44: Maybe You'll Get a Real Job, with David Wain

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You might not realize it, but creative professionals in the entertainment industry are also free agents. In this episode, we talk to writer/actor/director David Wain of Wet Hot American Summer and The State about his life as a free agent, from hitting MTV right out of college to the lean times that followed. Turns out that juggling a busy schedule, learning to say no, and not being able to plan vacations far in advance are all features of his line of work.

Guest Starring: David Wain

This episode of Free Agents is sponsored by:

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code FREEAGENTS at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.
  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.

Apple is Staffing Up Siri

There’s a lot of news lately about Apple staffing up Siri. First we heard that they are adding something like 100 additional engineers to the product. Now the New Your Times is reporting Apple hired Google’s former artificial intelligence chief, John Gannandrea to oversee Apple’s machine learning and artificial intelligence efforts. Reportedly, Gannandrea will report directly to Tim Cook.

Speaking at John Gruber’s Daring Fireball party a few years ago, Apple’s Craig Federighi and Phil Schiller both explained that Apple can still make Siri smart without looking at all of its user's data the way Google does. I don’t remember the exact example, but they said something like they don’t need to look at your pictures of mountains to teach a computer what a mountain looks like. Nevertheless, Siri does lag behind competing virtual assistants. I found their confidence uplifting because I want both to protect my privacy and for Siri to get smarter.

It looks like Apple is going to try and make Siri better by increasing engineering while maintaining its position on user privacy. I hope this makes a difference because Google and Amazon certainly aren’t standing still. 

Regardless, don’t expect results immediately. I think Siri improvements will be a gradual thing, over time. I think it’s similar to the way Apple has improved its cloud services. They’ve come a long way with iCloud over the past few years, but that would be easy to miss if you weren’t paying attention.

Repairability vs. Sturdiness

Over the years, Apple Products have become increasingly less repairable. The latest teardown of the new iPad evidences this fact with photos of densely packed electronic components and copious amounts of glue. This led iFixit to give the new iPad a low repairability score.

I get that, but also don’t see it as big of a strike against the iPad as most people make it out to be. For years now, repairing these devices, even without the glue, has been no walk in the park. To make these devices small, they have to be dense, and things are locked together inside, so the contents don’t move around. This also leads to that sense of sturdiness you feel with an iPad in your hand.

I can’t help but feel to make it more repairable you’d lose some of that. I'd also argue that for the vast majority of us, we’re not going to take a screwdriver to our iPad at any time, no matter how repairable it is. As a result, for most of us using less glue, adding more space inside, making the device less sturdy for the sake of repairability is a cost without a benefit.

I don’t envy Apple in having to make that decision between repairability and sturdiness. I understand there is a screwdriver-wielding crowd out there that won’t be happy as Apple increasingly locks these devices down. However, I think they generally make the right decisions when you consider the abundance of Apple Stores and certified repair centers where we can get a professional to fix our devices and the fact that we buy these devices to use them every day, not take them apart.

Daisy Disk 4.5

DaisyDisk is a smart little utility to help you manage your Mac’s drive space. I’ve been DaisyDisk on my Macs for a long time. Recently they updated to version 4.5

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The initial reason I liked DaisyDisk so much is the user interface. It uses a series of colorful concentric circles representing your drive space which is both pleasing to look at and easy to understand. 

Over the years, the application got more and more powerful, making it even more of a natural recommendation. With the most recent update to version 4.5, they’ve gone entirely in with Apple’s new APFS file system. I’ve been using the latest version, and I like it. The DaisyDisk team also put together an interesting article about the top five challenges with APFS and how they solve them. 

If you’ve never heard of DaisyDisk, this is a Mac app worth checking out.

Tame Your Email with SaneBox – Sponsor

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This week’s sponsor, SaneBox is the solution to so many of my email problems. SaneBox is the email service that adds a pile of productivity features to your email, regardless of what email client you use. For a lot of folks, email is a constant pain point, and it doesn’t need to be. With SaneBox at your back, you can:

  • Wake up every day to find the SaneBox robots have automatically sorted your incoming email for you so you can address the important and ignore the irrelevant. 
  • Defer email for hours, days, or weeks, so it is out of your life until a more appropriate time. They’ve even added a new feature that can optionally auto-reply to snoozed email with something like, “I’m sorry, but I'm underwater right now. I’ll get back to you in a few days.”
  • Set secret reminders so if someone doesn’t reply to an important email SaneBox gives you a nudge to follow up.
  • Automatically save attachments to the cloud (like Dropbox).
  • Use their SaneForward service to automatically send appropriate emails to services like Evernote, Expensify, and Kayak.
  • Move unwanted email to the SaneBlackHole and never see anything from that person again.

The list goes on, and MacSparky readers love this service.

The SaneBox team has been hard at work lately improving the SaneBox interface and releasing even more new tools. For instance, now you can have SaneBox send an auto-reply when you defer an email. Why not straighten out your email by getting a SaneBox account today. If you sign up with this link, you even get a discount on your subscription. 

Mac Power Users 424: Workflows with Mike Schmitz

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Writer, podcaster, screencaster, and avid bookworm Mike Schmitz joins us to talk about his quest to "push past average", become more productive, sleep better, read more, and live a well-balanced life.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • TextExpander from Smile: Type more with less effort! Expand short abbreviations into longer bits of text, even fill-ins, with TextExpander from Smile.
  • 1Password: Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. Save up to 20% using this link.
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.
  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.

1Password for Mac Version 7 Beta

I’ve been running the beta of the new 1Password app for Mac for a while now, and I'd recommend it for any 1Password subscribers.

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It’s hard to believe 1Password is up to version 7, but they are, and the new version adds a lot of new features. There's a better sidebar, and there is now drag-and-drop so you can easily move items between vaults (or even share an item from the sidebar).

Tags also get better with the new ability to nest tags. I’ve started tagging passwords as we worth the family vault and it’s helping. Occasionally you may need to see a 1Password item entry while doing something on your Mac and discover the data gets covered up by other windows. They've fixed that now with the ability to pop out a window containing the password field, so it's always on top.

1Password version 7 also makes changes to the typography. They've created their own font and added the ability to use rich text in the application’s text fields. There's a whole lot more including a lot of under the hood work to make the application faster and more efficient. 

I'm usually leery to install the first beta of key software, but I've been running this beta now for a week and had no problems. One password has a post that describes all of the new changes and you can download the beta right there if you are feeling brave.

The Missing iCloud Storage Bump

In my post yesterday following Apple’s education event, I mentioned that I felt the increase of free iCloud storage for students from 5GB to 200GB was a good idea, and I hoped Apple would be giving us all more storage at WWDC.

Dan Moren feels the same, but more passionately. I think the single best reason for giving us increased storage is Apple Photos. They’ve built a platform that lets us take, save, and share photos, but it requires nearly all of us to make regular monthly payments so we have enough storage. This is annoying. Our Apple devices are expensive, and Apple is hardly cash-strapped. Moreover, a lot of people (perhaps most people?) refuse to pay for extra storage. I hear from readers and listeners all the time that have a problem with it. I expect the refusal to pay is even more common with non-geeks. They don’t pay. Their photos don’t get backed up.

So let’s take the capitalist approach. Taken to its logical conclusion, paltry free storage results in people losing their photos and being understandably pissed at Apple. Google is well aware of this because nearly every advertisement I’ve seen from them that has any relation to photos always points out they have free storage. These disgruntled consumers see that and move platforms.

I'm not even arguing Apple needs to make it free across the board. Just raise the free tier to something rational. 200GB seems about right.