More IFTTT iOS Applets

Cloud-based automation tool, IFTTT has been taking the approach on iPhone and iPad of adding "applets", small apps that plug into pieces of their service. Today IFTTT announced a few more of these. 

The new Calendar Applet lets you plug into your calendar to both grab and add events though IFTTT's pipes. One thing I like about this is that it lets me get events into IFTTT even though I don't use Google Calendar. There's also a new applet for the App Store that I don't see as much use for but it does give you an idea how deep IFTTT is going on iPhone and iPad.

We're planning a future MPU episode around cloud-based automation tools and I've been doing a lot of testing. I'm increasingly a fan of IFTTT and Zapier for getting more work out of iOS.

The Slippery Slope of Internet Privacy

The U.S. Senate has now voted to remove prior regulations prohibiting Internet Service Providers (ISPs)–the folks you pay for your home Internet pipe–from selling your browsing and Internet data to others for fun and profit. This is pretty terrible news if you care at all about your Internet privacy. For a long time now ISP's have been storing and saving your Internet history data. They know where you go and how long you spend there. This new regulation, assuming it also passes the house and gets signed into law (it will) lets them sell your data.

I hate this.

One of the big arguments in favor of this change by ISPs is that because Google and Facebook are making money from our data, they should get in on the action too. That argument, however, fails. Google and Facebook are services that consumers can use or avoid. Consumers can, in effect, opt out of the madness. That isn't true with your home Internet connection. Every website you visit and every web service you use are now information available on the open market.

You may be thinking how you don't do anything particularly nefarious so it doesn't matter. I think that is short-sighted. Somebody with a few bucks should not be able to find that I spend time at certain banking websites or researching certain medical issues or even websites about one political belief over another. Future employers, or insurers, or anybody else with a check book should not be able to snoop through my browsing records.

This seems to me the kind of thing that you'd want to protect no matter where you stand on the political spectrum. Even though the vote on this is down party lines, I have multiple conservative friends that are up in arms over it.

So what can you do?

1. Complain

I'd encourage you to complain to your congressperson. The House of Representatives hasn't voted yet and is a great place to start.

2. Get a VPN

Virtual Private Network services allow you to get on the Internet without the ISP seeing where you are actually going. The VPN company will know but, assuming you use a reputable one, they won't sell your data. I've been using VPNs for years. They're particularly helpful if you spend a lot of time on the road using WiFi that you don't control. Recently I purchased a one-year subscription from Cloak and right now I'm feeling pretty good about that. I could turn that on at home any time (or selectively) to hold on to my privacy.

3. Go Elsewhere for your Internet Pipe

For a lot of communities, the options are very limited but if you have other options for your Internet service, investigate them. Maybe some of them will make your privacy their selling point.

Before you email me to say I'm being alarmist or to remind me that most of our Internet privacy was already fictional, I understand what you are saying. Nevertheless, I can't help but feel in the slippery slope of Internet privacy, we're about to take a pretty long slide.

The New APFS File System

Today's iOS 10.3 update to the iPhone adds the brand-new Apple File System (APFS) to your iOS devices.

The APFS system was announced last year WWDC. It replaces the now 30-year-old hierarchical filing system (HFS, later updated to HFS+) that, until today, was on your iPhone and iPad, and still remains on your Mac. APFS is a much needed modernization, more secure and designed around SSD storage, which didn't even exist when HFS first showed up. In addition to being more secure, the new system should be faster and more efficient, allowing you to save some space.

When Apple first announced this new system, I expected it would be years before we saw it on iPhones. The iPhone is the lifeblood of Apple and changing file systems can sometimes cause problems. Now here we are less than 12 months after announcement and Apple’s installing APFS across all iPhones and iPads. I spoke to a few friends that are more knowledgeable about these things than me and they explained that implementing APFS was easier on iOS because of the way the operating systems is already so locked down.

Following my usual “fire, ready, aim” philosophy about these things, I already updated all of my iOS devices and while the update took a while (converting a file system is never a fast process), everything went just fine and devices are all working just like before. Indeed, I'm writing this post on my updated iPad Pro.

Hopefully this success is a sign that we will see the APFS deployed on the Mac in the next year.

MPU 370 - Sal Soghoian Talks Automation

This week we're joined by long time Automation evangelist and former Apple Automation head, Sal Soghoian. This is a very special episode of the Mac Power Users where we discuss the current state of automation technologies on the Mac and iOS and where we'd like to see them go in the future.

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 They're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad. 
  • Fujitsu ScanSnap ScanSnap helps you live a more productive, efficient, paperless life. 
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.

Time for an iCloud Security Tuneup

Depending on who you believe, hackers have either compromised 600 million iCloud accounts or they have just a few and are trying shake Apple down for $150,000. Sometimes, humans are the worst. 

Either way, either today (or this weekend) would be a great time to:

  1. Reset your iCloud password. You can do that at
  2. Turn on Apple’s two-factor authentication. 
  3. Have a cookie. You’ve earned it.

All of this will take you 10 minutes and make you a lot less vulnerable to terrible people.

The Case For and Against Apple's Purchase of Workflow

There was a bit of surprising news today out of TechCrunch from Matthew Panzarino. It looks like Apple bought Workflow, which is–in my opinion–the single most useful utility application on the iPhone or iPad. I love Workflow so much that I made a MacSparky Video Field Guide about it.

Workflow is an application that allows you to glue together other applications on iOS and create automated tasks. For instance, I use a Workflow recipe to automatically date and file PDF documents on my iPad. Once I figured it out, the process is actually faster on my iPad then it is on my Mac.

I once made a joke on Mac Power Users that the only reason Workflow got approved was because someone must have naked pictures of somebody important at Apple. The application seemed just so contrary to Apple's general position of iOS simplicity. (Not that I'm complaining.) Over the years, the Workflow team has continued to innovate with this application, adding new features often and allowing us to automate work on the iPad and iPhone that we only dreamed about just a few years ago.

Frankly, I'm mixed about the idea of Apple purchasing Workflow:

The Case against It

There was another innovative application on the iPhone years ago that Apple purchased called Siri. Once they bought it, the pace of innovation slowed down and while it’s great that the Siri got incorporated into the operating system, there's a lot of us that still miss the old version that had some crazy new innovative feature with each update. I think there's a legitimate concern that Apple will do the same with Workflow. They could simplify it and incorporate Workflow into the operating system so everybody has a bit more automation but nobody has the vast library of options Workflow currently offers. We certainly aren't going to get the frequent updates once Apple takes the reins.

The Case for It

In a lot of ways, it feels to me like Workflow is held together by chewing gum and rubber bands. The Workflow developers have (brilliantly) taken advantage of every little toe hold in iOS that allows them to move data between applications. They do things with URL callbacks that make your head spin. All that being said, there are inherent limitations as to how far Workflow can go as an external application outside of Apple.

If, however, Apple absorbs Workflow into the operating system with the intention of bringing real power user tools to iPhone and iPad users, I believe they could go even further than the current third-party version of Workflow. Imagine if Apple created APIs that allowed any app to tap into Workflow's automation tools. Imagine if we could string together automation steps that allow users to press one button and have five different applications lend a hand to getting work done. Once (if?) Workflow gets inside the iOS security sandbox and becomes an integrated Apple product, Workflow could become much more powerful. These are exactly the kinds of power tools for iOS I've been yammering about lately on this blog.

One promising note is that it appears the members of the Workflow team are taking jobs at Apple where they will continue to press for iOS automation from inside the mothership. I wish them much success.

Holding Our Breath

For now all we can do is wait and see. If you haven't tried Workflow yet, shame on you. The application is now free so you have no excuse not to go download it and give it a shot. Spend a few minutes in Workflow and you will find ways to save time on your iPhone and iPad.

Interact Scratchpad for Mac

Today Agile Tortoise released a new Mac App, Interact Scratchpad (website)(Mac App store). One of the best features on the Interact for iOS app is the scratchpad, where you can paste any address-related clump of text and the application sorts it out for you. It’s way faster than manually adding a contact and now that same scratchpad is available in the menu bar on on your Mac. 

In addition to helping me sort out somebody else’s poorly formatted address information, the Interact Scratchpad is also an easy way to capture address information on your Mac as someone gives it to you over the telephone. You don’t have to fiddle with clicking on fields. Just type in the text and let the app do the rest. 

When you’re done, you can share the contact data into your contact database. You can even pick which Contacts Group, the new contact goes in. 

Not surprisingly, Agile Tortoise, did a great job with this app. I bought it as soon as it went on sale. Check out the developer’s video below.

Random Thoughts on the New Apple Products

Today Apple announced several new products...

The New 9.7 Inch iPad

Just last week I wrote about the need for an "ePad". The new lower priced iPad makes a lot of sense for schools and other buyers on a budget. It is $70 less, a little thicker, and probably a little more sturdy. Companies are already announcing rugged cases for the new iPad that would work great in an education setting.

We did not get updates to the iPad Pro. I still think we'll get those this year. The current 12.9 inch iPad is now over a year and a half old and the 9.7 inch iPad Pro is a year old. I'd be surprised if we don't get at least processor updates on them and Apple brings the hardware features into parity with fast charging and True Tone display. As to the rumored 10.5 inch iPad, your guess is as good as mine.

The Product Red iPhone

For years I felt like there should be a Product Red iPhone. The only thing that's puzzling to me is that they waited so long into the iPhone 7 product cycle before releasing it. If things go according to the usual schedule, we are less than six months away from the next iPhone. Also, how about a Product Red iPad?

Clips App

I'm curious why they announced this when it's not ready to ship. My favorite commentary on the new Clips app came from my children, "It's like Snapchat, but for parents." Ouch.

The Spring Apple Watch Bands

Very "springy". If I was in charge, I would've also announced some spring-themed animations for the Messages App.

Sponsor: OmniFocus

This week MacSparky is sponsored by OmniFocus from the Omni Group. Last week I just spent several days at the American Bar Association conference where I talked to a lot of lawyers using OmniFocus to hold things together. That shouldn't surprise you though. OmniFocus is a powerful tool and people that have a lot of tasks to manage love OmniFocus. 

One of the things I love about OmniFocus in particular (and the Omni Group in general) is the way they obsess over small details to make things easier on their users. You can see this in the OmniFocus check circles. In most task management applications the check box is just that … a check box. Not true with OmniFocus.

The OmniFocus check circle shows the status of the attached task. This clever system allows you to immediately understand the status of your task and makes working with OmniFocus that much easier. If the Omni Group spent this much time thinking about how the check-circle works, how much do you think they thought about the rest of the application?
If you would like to up your productivity game, check out OmniFocus.

Intelligent Assistant Competition on iPhone

There have been a few interesting moves in the intellegent assitant space on the iPhone as of late.

Microsoft’s Cortana App got a significant update. I like the new design a lot better. It’s simpler and feels more native to iPhone than it’s prior iteration … so long as you like the color purple. (So much purple.) The feature set is similar to many of Siri’s. You can get the weather, check your calendar and set yourself reminders. The app can also give you proactive notifications, like telling you when to leave for you next appointment based on traffic.

I’ve been in Chicago for a few days speaking at a conference and tried using Cortana as a Siri replacement. It performed admirably. I didn’t experience any transcription failures and it was even able to get me directions (using Apple Maps).

Also, Amazon announced it is going to put Alexa on the iPhone. Interestingly, they’re not putting Alexa in the Alexa app but instead the Amazon app, which makes a lot of sense if you’re in the business of selling products from Alexa in the Amazon app is not, however, limited to just buying stuff. You can also ask it about the weather or the time in Tokyo and it will give you an answer. Although Amazon’s announcement states Alexa in the Amazon app can work with third party skills, I had mixed results. The Angry Bard gave me Shakespearian insults but the Automatic skill couldn’t tell me anything about my car.

An interesting bit about Alexa in the Amazon app is that it doesn’t give you any screens. Just like the Echo on your kitchen counter, the interface is entirely voice based.

Neither of these services feel like Siri replacements at this time. Siri’s tight integration with the operating system make it my default. But I did learn in this experiment that having an icon in my dock to activate an intelligent assistant was not terribly inconvenient. If Apple doesn’t keep pushing forward with Siri and somebody else makes something better, I could easily switch.

Jonathan Zdziarski at Apple

Jonathan Zdziarski is a well respected security and privacy expert. Now he works for Apple. Jonathan's explanation of why he took the gig pushes all my buttons.

This decision marks the conclusion of what I feel has been a matter of conscience for me over time. Privacy is sacred; our digital lives can reveal so much about us – our interests, our deepest thoughts, and even who we love. I am thrilled to be working with such an exceptional group of people who share a passion to protect that.
— Jonathan Zdziarski

I think Apple is serious when they talk about protecting user privacy and hiring people like Jonathan. I don't know if this priority gives Apple much market advantage in the world today where most consumers are pretty cavalier about their privacy but it sure makes me happy to be using Apple products.

Latest Apple Park Video

I remember the first time I visited Infinite Loop, where I expected to see something like the Wonka Chocolate Factory but instead got a series of business offices, not so unlike my own. "This is it?" I thought. 

Well that was a long time ago and now it looks as if The Apple Chocolate Factory is getting ready to open for business after all. (And it will be just secretive as its fictional equivalent.)

iPhone 8 Speculation

Later this year we're going to get the next iPhone. There's been a lot of rumors about this new one with talk of an edge-to-edge (possibly OLED) screen, embedded touch IT, and even maybe wireless charging. Chance Miller at 9to5 Mac did a nice job pulling together the current rumors. Personally, I'd be surprised if the next iPhone has all of the rumored features. The iPhone is nearly the whole story when it comes to Apple revenue and for every new iPhone they have to build millions of the things reliably and quickly. Too many big changes in one generation increases the possibility of delays for specific parts or, worse yet, defects in the phone. If I had to pick just one feature I'd like in a new iPhone, it would be that edge-to-edge screen. It looks pretty great in 9to5 Mac's mock up photos in the above linked article.

Home Screens – Bill Wilkins

I love meeting new and interesting geeks. One such person is my friend Bill Willkins. Bill Started out a “farm boy” in from Durham North Carolina but eventually found his way to England and now Switzerland. Bill’s now 75 but still works as a European Outdoor Industry Consultant. I can only hope I'm as much a geek at 75 as Bill is.

So Bill, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

I still find Apple’s native contacts app as the most useful. No other contacts app comes close. I have Fantastical on every device and MacBook. Excellent.

While I'm using 1Password, I'm also testing out other password managers. Apple Notes & Reminders are run as a team on the home screen of my iPhone & iPad.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

My iPhone is my app resource. I have at least 200 apps archived on my iPhone. I review them monthly. I have to start deleting some. I emphasize I don’t use them all but review them monthly.

What app makes you most productive? 

OmniFocus without doubt.

What app do you know you're underutilizing?

Most likely, OmniFocus.

What is the app you are still missing?

I am not missing anything. The problem is the reverse. Too many.

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

It is the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.

My iPhone is my most used Apple device. I can see the day coming when I move to a large iPad. This is mainly due to the ease of updates.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

I can use them everywhere. I also like the ease of updates and the relative economy and/or price of apps. (The other side is I buy too many.)

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

I would not take the job even if it were offered.

There was a famous saying. You can please some of the people part of the people some of the time and a few of the people all of the time but you cannot please all of the people all of the time. 

What's your wallpaper and why?

My wall paper is a plain black background. I do not want any distractions.

Thanks Bill!