Make Email Easier with SaneBox

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. I’ve heard from so many readers over the years that finally figured out email when they signed up for SaneBox. Why not straighten out your email by getting a SaneBox account. If you sign up with this link, you even get a discount on your subscription. 

A Survey of Voice-to-Text Options on the Mac, iPad, and iPhone

A lot of folks have been asking me what I'm doing about voice-to-text dictation now that Nuance has officially pulled out of the Mac and appears to have relatively abandoned iOS. If this is news to you, Nuance, the makers of Dragon Professional Individual for Mac, speech-to-text software, announced back in October that they would no longer support the Mac. It was disappointing news. Nuance has always been the leader in voice-to-speech dictation, and I have been a customer of theirs for years on both the Windows PC and Mac platforms. 

If you already bought Dragon for Mac, you will find that it still works. I have no idea how long that will continue. If I had to bet a nickel, I would bet installation of macOS Catalina as the day that Dragon dies on my Mac. But at least for now, you still have working software.

Over on the iPad and iPhone, the story gets even weirder. Nuance says they are still supporting those platforms. Their product Dragon Anywhere is, in my opinion, the best dictation solution on the iPhone and iPad. For years I gladly paid $14.99 a month to have that service because it was so useful on the iPad. Specifically, I had a workflow where I would look at a PDF and then dictate comments about it at the same time using the Dragon Anywhere software. It worked great, particularly with split screen.

That all came to a screeching halt when Dragon Anywhere just stopped working on my iPad Pro. The software went from being the best in class to complete garbage. It would drop entire sentences and generally not work. I looked into this a bit further and discovered that the problem is with the iPad Pro, where I did all of my mobile dictation with Dragon Anywhere. (I find Siri dictation just fine for short emails and text messages. Dragon Anywhere is what I need for the big jobs, which all occur on the iPad.)

For whatever reason, however, Dragon Anywhere no longer works on the iPad Pro. This is a known issue and has been for months. Dragon Anywhere is getting destroyed in the reviews in the App Store because of this failure and has, at least to my knowledge, not made any public comment or commitment to getting its software working on iPad Pro. Dragon Anywhere does, however, work on the iPad mini and iPhone just fine. Like I said, weird.

If Nuance has abandoned the Mac and seems only very slightly interested in the iPad and iPhone, what are we to do? The answer is … complicated. 

Solving This Problem on the Macintosh

There is no clear successor to Dragon Professional Individual for Mac. Siri dictation has made great strides recently, but it still has a long ways to go. Two critical elements for any voice-to-text dictation system are the ability to keep an open mic and the ability to store custom dictionary values. If I have a client with a unique name, I should be able to teach that name to the software so I can dictate it without having to go back later and fix it. If the software doesn't support that, I have to use some silly name, like "Tiger”, and then go back later to do a search and replace on that unique name. That's more work. I don't like more work.

Siri dictation on the Mac ticks off only one of these boxes. It can indeed leave an open mic, but it has no custom dictionary. Moreover, it just isn't as good as Dragon for the Mac. It's close. Indeed, it is much closer than it used to be. But if you are used to Dragon, you will notice a difference. I demonstrate this in the attached video.

Another solution would be to install a local instance of Windows and then run the Dragon for Windows on your Mac. Don't laugh. I have heard from many listeners and readers who have done this. Frankly, I don't blame them. If you spend a lot of time dictating to your Mac to get your work done, you need the best possible tool, and, as the attached videos demonstrate, Siri dictation just isn't there yet.

You could also hire it out. There are a lot of good solutions now with web-based dictation. Some use robots, like Temi, and others use humans, like GoTranscript. The robot-based systems are not, in my experience, any better than Siri dictation and often worse. The human-based services are deadly accurate and can be quite expensive, but depending on how you charge your time, it may be the best solution for you.

The point is that I'm just not happy with any of the alternatives to Dragon Professional Individual for Mac. I have been whistling past the graveyard for the past several months as Dragon continues to work on my Mac. One day in the future, probably September with the release of Catalina, that will end. At that point, I may seriously consider doing a Windows install just to have the Nuance software on my desktop. Another alternative I will seriously consider at that time, assuming Nuance hasn't completely abandon Dragon Anywhere, is to dictate on the iPad and iPhone. I find Dragon Anywhere almost (but not quite) as good as Dragon for Mac.

Solving This Problem on the iPad and iPhone

Apple has made continued strides with Siri dictation on the iPhone and iPad. I find it very useful. The trick is to be precise when you speak to it and not mumble your words. You also have to understand the limitations of the application. There is a timer. After about four sentences, it's going to end. If it ends midsentence, you are going to have a grammar crash on your hands and have to spend time fixing things later. You always have to be aware when you hit that third sentence and stop the dictation, and then start again. The Drafts application gets around this, sort of, but even it sometimes stumbles when the dictation timer resets during a dictation session.

If you are voice-to-text curious, Siri dictation on your iPad and iPhone is a great place to start. You can use it anywhere that you are using the keyboard. Just tap the microphone button and start talking.

If you want more serious dictation tools, like dictation without a timer and a custom dictionary, Dragon Anywhere is probably still best, provided that you are only using it on an iPhone or a non-iPad Pro. But it is hard for me to recommend this product at this point because it seems like the developer isn't entirely convinced it wants to continue to support it. Just like on the Mac, it is still working for me (sort of) and I'm still using it.

Also, just like the Mac, there are third-party services that can transcribe your voice via robot or human for a fee with varying degrees of success, but as I explained earlier, quality can get expensive.

A Murky Ending

The reason I have delayed publishing this article is that I kept thinking I would find the magic solution and, frankly, it doesn't exist. Everything I have discussed in this article requires some sort of compromise, whether it be money, quality, convenience (like installing Windows on your Mac), or all of the above.

Ultimately, the solution to this problem needs to come from Apple. Specifically, Siri dictation needs to be just as good as Dragon Professional Individual for Mac. It needs to support a custom dictionary, and it needs to be as reliable with its dictation engine. I understand this doesn't happen overnight. I also suspect Apple is spending quite a bit of money to try and bridge that gap.

Meanwhile, however, there is a gap. Switching to Siri dictation is not going to work as well as Dragon for Mac or Dragon Anywhere. So for the foreseeable future, the battle carries on.

I have made a video to go along with this article comparing Dragon Anywhere and Dragon for Mac with Siri dictation on both platforms. Watch the video to get a better idea and hear some more of my thoughts on the state of voice-to-text dictation.

Mac Power Users 488: How We Communicate

Our digital devices make communicating with others easier than ever, but with that flexibility comes complexity. On this week’s episode of Mac Power Users, Stephen and I discuss what solutions we use for certain types of communication. We also talk about Notifications and Do Not Disturb, which can help curb incoming messages when things get too hectic.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.

  • 1Password: Have you ever forgotten a password? You don't have to worry about that anymore.

  • 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.

Automators 26: Getting Started with HomeKit

Check out the latest episode of Automators to learn more about how to get started with HomeKit, from building your system to real automations that actually make your life easier! And you don’t want to miss out on Rose versus the Leaf: Chapter Two.

This episode of Automators is sponsored by:

  • Timing: The automatic time-tracking app for macOS. Use this link to save 10% on your purchase.

  • Creative Next: The new podcast future-proofing creatives.

Manage PDFs with PDFpen (Sponsor)

This week, MacSparky is sponsored by PDFpen for Mac. Preview does a good job at very basic PDF edits but if you need more powerful tools for PDFs, look no further than PDFpen and PDFpen Pro. I use PDFpen Pro nearly daily to manage and create digital documents for my day job. I like PDFpen because it brings so much to the table. PDFpen version 11 released last month with a lot of new features:

  • Split-view mode for editing

  • New Font Bar for expressive font control

  • Import scans from Continuity Camera

  • Customize page-number locations

  • Add multiple items to the Library at once

  • Option to turn off guides

  • Medical/Legal dictionaries for OCR (English language)

  • Automatic deskew independent of OCR

  • Option to specify default zoom

  • Specify Facing Pages settings for individual documents

  • Improved Sidebar

  • Edit Form Elements Properties for multiple form fields simultaneously (PDFpenPro)

PDFpen can even take a PDF document and turn it into a workable Microsoft Word file. In that sense it is also a PDF deconstruction tool and so very handy. PDFpen does all of this, and so much more. Smile also offers PDFpen for iPad and iPhone for editing PDFs for when you are on the go.

Head over to the PDFpen website for a full list of features. Also, make sure to let them know you heard about it here at MacSparky. 

Cardhop Updates

Cardhop, the popular address book replacement app from Flexibits for iPhone and iPad and for Mac got a nice update today. There are several new features including multiple business cards, customizable contact templates, smart groups (my personal favorite new feature), and more. You can learn more at the Flexibits Blog and download the apps with the above links. I also made them a few short videos on the update. Below is the iOS video.

Mac Power Users 487: Josh Centers: Beta Spelunker

Josh Centers is the managing editor at TidBITS, which has been covering the world of Apple for nearly 30 years, and is a writer for the Take Control of series of books. He sits down with Stephen and me on this week’s episode Mac Power Users to talk about his writing, the tools he uses, and why running Apple betas can be a real adventure. 

Guest Starring: Josh Centers

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • eero: Never think about WiFi again. Get $100 off.

  • MOO: Custom business printing and design. Use promo code PRINTMOO for 15% off when you spend $50 or more.

  • 1Password: Have you ever forgotten a password? You don't have to worry about that anymore. 

  • The Omni Group: We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

PDFpen 11

Recently, Smile Software released the most recent version of PDFpen (now 11) for Mac. PDFpen has been a long time sponsor of the Mac Power Users so you can take this how you will, but I also use PDFpen every day in my law practice. I love how it can take a basic PDF document and apply optical character recognition and, even in a pinch, convert it to a workable Word document. It’s a tool I use almost daily. With the new version we got some nice new features:

- Split-view mode for editing

- New Font Bar for expressive font control

- Import scans from Continuity Camera

- Customize page-number locations

- Add multiple items to the Library at once

- Adds option to turn off guides

- Adds Medical/Legal dictionaries for OCR (English language)

You can learn more over at Smile Software.

Focused 75: Intentional Constraints

Mike and I are continuing the conversation on moving the needle by talking about intentional constraints on the latest episode of Focused. Mike embarks on a task management spirit quest, I share my bullet journal advice, and we consider the balance of process and results.

This episode of Focused is sponsored by:

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code FOCUSED at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.

  • Hover: Get 10% off any domain name — extensions for anything you’re passionate about.

  • Timing: The automatic time-tracking app for macOS. Use this link to save 10% on your purchase.

Mac Power Users 486: Essential iOS Apps

Join us for this week’s episode of Mac Power Users as Stephen and I scroll through our iPhones and iPads to share some of our most used iOS apps. 

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • 1Password: Have you ever forgotten a password? You don't have to worry about that anymore.

  • 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.

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.

  • Direct Mail: Create and send great looking email newsletters with Direct Mail, an easy-to-use email marketing app designed exclusively for the Mac.

Automators 25: WWDC 2019 Automation Update

On the latest episode of Automators, Rose and I are on the ground at WWDC in San Jose to bring you up to speed on the new automation heading to iOS and iPadOS. We also recap WWDC, the Automator's meetup, and Rose describes how she lost a fight with a leaf.

This episode of Automators is sponsored by:

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

  • PDFpen 11, from Smile: Your ultimate PDF viewing and editing app for the Mac.

Apple’s Renewed Interest in iPad and Mac

One thing that is clear here in San Jose is Apple’s renewed focus on the Mac and iPad. The argument that Apple has turned exclusively into the “iPhone company” no longer holds water. Maybe that is a result of the fact that Apple has literally saturated the entire planet with iPhone sales or just because Apple is catching up in terms of its own internal growth and more able to walk and chew gum but suddenly the Mac and iPad are getting lots of love from Apple.

The Mac

We had a great episode of Mac Power Users this week where we interviewed Doug Brooks, the new Mac Pro’s product manager. One thing that came out of talking to Doug was the incredible amount of effort that went into the new Mac Pro hardware. They were even dragging it on and off trucks to see how it could handle a video production environment. I can only imagine the R&D costs of this new computer that will, in all likelihood, have a very small (but dedicated) audience.

Apple has now got a Mac all along the price/performance spectrum for just about everyone. I don’t thing we are at the end of this Mac hardware renaissance either. There are rumors of new MacBooks, presumably with a new keyboard, and ARM-based Macs, which would have insane battery lives.

The iPad

Over the last few years, Apple has nailed down the iPad hardware again with options ranging along the price and performance curves. In my opinion, the new iPad Pros are unquestionably the best iPads ever made. I’m typing these very words on one.

For some time now, the problem with the iPad has been the software. People who genuinely want to use the iPad more, get turned off by silly friction points. My white whale on iOS 12  was how difficult the iPad made it to create a new folder while saving an email attachment to iCloud storage (something I do multiple times a day) and poor tag management. It looks like one of those two problems is solved by iOS 13. Indeed, iOS 13 looks to knock off quite a few of the rough edges for people looking to get work done on their iPad. I’ll report more on this once the iOS 13 betas get more stable and I can spend more time with it.

Moreover, with the announcement of iPadOS as a new operating system, Apple has publicly elevated the iPad operating system as something separate and distinct from the iPhone. In years past at WWDC, Apple has sometimes made iPad improvements a point of focus and other times ignored it entirely. By making iPadOS, its own thing, Apple appears to now be holding itself accountable for iPad improvements every year. I hope that means there are folks inside Apple now assigned to doing nothing but making the iPad better every day. 

Regardless, I’m pleased with this renewed focus on Mac and iPad. I love the iPhone, but I get most of my work done on Macs and iPads and on both of those platforms there remains plenty of work to be done.  

Mac Power Users 485: WWDC and Interview with the Mac Pro Product Manager

Stephen and I have boots on the ground in San Jose for WWDC 2019. In the latest episode of Mac Power Users, we interview Doug Brooks, the Apple product manager for the new Mac Pro. Afterward, we share initial thoughts on updates to macOS and the brand new iPadOS. I have some tough questions for Stephen about his future and the new Mac Pro, and we get to share the good news about the brand new "Sparky Button." Finally, we give you the lowdown on our WWDC experiences.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • 1Password: Have you ever forgotten a password? You don't have to worry about that anymore. 

  • The Omni Group: We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. 

  • Bombas: The most comfortable socks in the history of feet. Use this link for 20% off.

  • Hover: Get 10% off any domain name — extensions for anything you’re passionate about.

Add Features to Apple Mail with SaneBox (Sponsor)

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Recently, I was talking to a nerd-friend about email, and he explained how he likes email but just wished it had a few additional features, like deferred mail. What he didn’t realize is that he could have all of that immediately, in Apple Mail, with this week’s sponsor, SaneBox. SaneBox is the solution to so many 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. For instance, 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.