2016 Holiday Gift Recommendations

Happy Thanksgiving fellow nerds! If you're looking for a geek-related gift for yourself or others, I've got a few recommendations. Most of these were covered in this week's Mac Power Users episode but not everyone listens to the podcast so here you go …

Bose QuietComfort 35s

Everyone keeps telling me how putting on Bose noise-canceling headphones on an airplane is like putting a pillow over the face of everyone on the plane. With these headphones, that is delightfully true. I bought a pair of these while traveling and can't believe I waited so long. The 35s are the new Bluetooth version and they work better than expected.

eero Home WiFi

I bought a set of eeros earlier this year and then they sent me a few more when they sponsored the podcast. Sprinkle a few EERO devices around your house and it's like wrapping up in a warm blanket of WiFi. I used to have dead space problems in my house, particularly near my teenage daughters' rooms. They'd not notice (or not care) and end up on LTE, burning through our wireless allowance. With eero, no more.

Waterfield Bags

I bought a few more products from Waterfield this year. Whether you've got the smallest iPad or rocking the latest MacBook Pro, Waterfield has a bag/case/sleeve/backpack that will look great and last a long time.

Sonos

I'm officially a Sonos weirdo now with them sprinkled all over my house. That means that when I want music, I get it … everywhere. And loud. This year they added Apple Music integration which makes it even more awesome for Apple device owners. Start with just one piece and grow it slowly.

Anker Batteries

Anker expanded its line of external batteries this year so they have something at every size and price point. I've bought several of these over the last few years. I keep them in my bag and love knowing I've got a little extra juice ... justin case.

Apple Air Pods

I like Apple’s new Air Pods. They were supposed to be out by the end of October but got delayed. Some rumors say we'll have them available before Christmas. Hope springs eternal.

ARM Macs

The Internet is abuzz today in response to Jason Snell's Macworld article arguing that Apple probably will not convert the Mac to an ARM processor. ARM processors are currently being designed by Apple for use in the iPhone and iPad and their custom chips are one of the reasons they are so far ahead of the competition on mobile processors.

Lately, the Mac has been taking heat for the slow upgrade cycle, Part of the blame (but not all of it) falls on Apple's current Mac chip manufacturer, Intel, for missing deadlines. Jason makes the argument that Apple will, in all likelihood, stay with Intel because the Mac doesn't earn enough money for Apple to justify the substantial cost of time and money to make a transition to a new processor.

I can't help but think that Apple's tendency to want to control everything would probably be enough for them to commit resources to switching to ARM. If Apple designs their own silicon, they'll never rely on Intel again. Also, with the ever increasing race for better battery life, I'd expect Apple could make a MacBook that runs a very long time on an ARM-based chip. Jason Snell's a pretty smart guy and been around this racket much longer than I but I wouldn't be surprised if Apple does bring ARM to the Mac at some point, even if it is just the lower-powered, super-long battery MacBooks.

Mac Power Users 2016 Geek Gift Guide

We had some great picks on this week's 2016 Mac Power Users Geek Gift show. Listen now so you can put your requests in while your family members are in their post-turkey stupor on Thursday.

Sponsors inclue:

  • The Omni Group They're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad. 
  • Automatic The connected car company that improves your driving and integrates your car into yoru digital life. Enter code MACPOWER to get 20% off your purchase. 
  • Making Light Get (or give!) a candle subscription and make some new habits. Use offer code "MPU".

Task Management Pain Points – False Urgency

I've been working long hours the last few weeks and, despite my best efforts, I've been finishing my days with a nagging feeling that I'm not getting anything done. A big part of this is me biting off more than I can chew. As I've explained in the past, no task management system can make your day magically 30 hours long. You have to be realistic when planning your day.

There is, however, a related trap – false urgency. Specifically, in looking at my tasks, I've had this bloat of due dates and flagged items that are not merited. Part of this problem is a result of me going a little nuts with my project templates. As I showed in the latest version of the OmniFocus Video Field Guide, it's now super-easy to add flags and due dates to your auto-generated projects. However, just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

I can't blame it all on the robot though. I've also been manually adding more flags and due dates than normal. This is a result of me feeling like I'm not getting enough done and then creating artificial deadlines to try and give myself a kick in the pants. While that may work for a day or two, in the long run it just made me feel further behind and desperate which, in turn, led to even more flags and due dates.

So over the past few days I've been looking really close at flagged and "due" items. Most of them did not need this artificial urgency and I've removed many of them. My task list once again only has a few truly time sensitive and flagged items and I'm getting my daily list back to something manageable.

Note that all of this is happening in my head. I've not technically increased the number of tasks I'm performing. Instead I've just made adjustments so I look at the list in a healthier fashion. I've been down this road before and can tell you that the net result will be an actual increase in productivity and a significant reduction in stress. 

If you feel like you are drowning right now, take a look at the false urgencies you are carrying around and see what you can do about setting them down.

Home Screens – Joshua Holt

This week’s home screen features reader and listener Joshua Holt (Website). Joshua is a lawyer working at a big shiny office in New York. In his spare time, he blogs about personal finance topics while trying to build a community of lawyers to help each other avoid doing dumb things with their money. So Joshua, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

Drafts, Overcast, 1Password and Hangouts are my favorite home screen apps right now. My iPhone is mainly a device for capturing ideas, communicating and the occasional consumption of video.

I’m a total convert to Drafts. It’s my digital notepad on both my iPhone and iPad and my number one resource for capturing ideas, tasks, or anything that needs to be written down. It’s one of the few apps that is allowed to have badges turned on, which lets me know that I need to process through my notes (which is a snap thanks to the robust action platform that lets me send text to the right app).

Overcast is a must for my subway commute. It’s how I keep up with MacPowerUsers and thanks to a neat trick from Katie Floyd, it’s also a way to get Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits, which are required in the legal profession.

A lot of people make a fuss about the security aspect of using strong passwords, but without 1Password I have no idea how people keep track of their various logins. It seems crazy to me. I have over 425 accounts according to 1Password. Without one program to manage them, I’d explode in frustration every time I had to login to a website.

Hangouts is a new home page app for me, but I am experimenting with dropping my voice plan since I rarely make voice calls. Hangouts allows you to make free calls to regular phone numbers over both wifi and data. So far, so good. I think the day isn’t too far away when voice plans will go the way of the dinosaurs. I already prefer to use FaceTime Audio thanks to the superior call quality and my work phone runs over the Internet, so why shouldn’t my mobile phone?

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Chess. A few months ago, I discovered that you could play three minute games against anyone in the world. I’m hooked. I find it relaxing to get lost in a few quick chess matches in between tasks. I probably play more than I should, but I figure it’s a better habit than using Facebook.

What app makes you most productive?

I’m surprised to say this, but I’m most productive in the Mail app. I enjoy processing email on my iPhone more than on Outlook on my work PC. As a lawyer, we spend way too much time writing email and I appreciate the limitations on email responses that comes from replying with an iPhone. Also, the predictive “move” command in iOS 10 has really helped me keep my inbox clean which means I try to triage email as much as possible on my iPhone rather than diving into Outlook.

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

ToDoist. It’s my favorite task management app, particularly because it is cross-platform and has a lightweight UI, but I’ve just never been great at running a task management system. There’s something about sitting down to handle tasks assigned by former me that I find really distasteful. Like, “who is that guy to be telling me what to do?” That said, I use Todoist as a running list of things I’d like to accomplish and open it up from time to time to pick things I feel like working on in a given moment.

What is the app you are still missing?

Hazel for the iPhone would be pretty amazing. I’d love to see an app that could automate certain functions and be triggered by things like time, files, or other inputs.

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

Thanks to the app Moment, I can tell you that I picked my iPhone exactly 46 times yesterday. I don’t know how it’s working under the hood to provide that data, but I think it’s handy to get a sense for how much screen time I’m spending with my iPhone.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

Workflow is hands down my favorite Today widget. I’m getting used to swiping right (rather than down) to bring up my helpful workflows. I work with a personal trainer and send him an email each day with photographs of what I ate. Using Workflow, in two taps, I take a picture, crop it and upload it to a Dropbox folder. From there, Hazel takes over and renames the photo using a timestamp. At the end of each day, Hazel drafts and sends an email automatically attaching my food photos of the day. It’s still magical to me.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

I’ve always been blown away that we have more computing power in our pockets than Neil Armstrong had when he landed on the moon. If you had asked the astronauts in the 1960s whether by 2016 we would have traveled to Mars or invented a device that carried around the entirety of humanity’s knowledge, I think we know which they would have said is more likely.

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

First, I would fix the search functionality in Mail on the iPhone/iPad. It’s not usable. Perhaps this isn’t their fault given that my work email is stored on an Exchange server, but I find it surprising that I can’t easily pinpoint an email in iOS that would take me a few seconds to do on my work PC.

Next, I would fix the problem with iMessage being tied to the phone number of the SIM card. Because iMessage automatically assumes your SIM card number is your primary number, iMessage “breaks” if you travel abroad and replace your SIM with a local SIM. If someone sends you a message at your primary number, you will not receive it. The way around this is to send iMessages to email addresses but not many people know that you can send iMessages to email addresses. The simple fix would be for Apple to allow you to associate any phone number with iMessage if you could prove ownership of the phone message (likely be receiving a SMS code similar to two-factor authentication). This is a big flaw in foreign countries where many people switch SIMs quite regularly and communicate via apps like WhatsApp (which doesn’t have this limitation).

What’s your wallpaper and why?

I can’t remember where I found my lock screen wallpaper, but it’s some type of zen Japanese artwork that I love. I’ve had the same wallpaper since my iPhone 5, so going on four years now.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I think JustSend is a great app. The developer bills it as “Zero Inbox” because it’s email without the inbox. When you open the app you’re presented with the Mail drafting pane and your only options are to send the email. The app makes it really easy to compose and send an email without getting sucked into the inbox.

Dolphin is a great web browser that I use when I’m not on wifi. It has a feature that allows you to turn off photos and videos. Pages load super fast and I don’t worry about using excess data.

Thanks Joshua.

Test Drive Touch Bar with Touché

If you’ve been wondering about the Touch Bar in the new MacBook Pros, check out Daniel Jalkut’s Touché. It’s a Mac app that simulates the Touch Bar on your Mac’s screen. I’ve been running it all afternoon and while putting the Touch Bar on the screen isn’t nearly as convenient as stretching it across the top of the keyboard, it does really give you a feel of how the Touch Bar works. The below image, which magnifies on click, shows the Photos Touch Bar on my screen.

In order for Touché to work, you’ll need to download the latest build of macOS. Daniel has a link on his website. While you’re there, check out some of Daniel’s other apps from his company, Red Sweater Software.

Din Tai Phun dumplings. There is no substitute.

Sponsor – OmniOutliner 5 Public Beta

This week MacSparky is sponsored by OmniOutliner. For many years OmniOutliner has been my go-to outlining application. The Omni Group has been hard at work on OmniOutliner and they just announced version 5, which will be shipping soon. In the meantime, you can try out the public beta. You should. I'm already hooked. There are some great features including:

Outline Filtering

You can now filter your OmniOutline based on column values, status, note content, and more. You can save each filter to reference later.

Keyboard Shortcut Sets

You can customize nearly everything with custom keyboard shortcuts.

Distraction-Free Writing

The new full screen mode hides the toolbar and sidebars. I like this better than I thought I would.

Built-In Themes & Templates

There are new themes and templates. Your outlines will look better than ever.

There's a lot more. Go check it out.

Sal Soghoian Leaves Apple

Today the news broke that Sal Soghoian has left Apple. For those of you that may not know Sal, he was the longtime Product Manager of Automation Technologies at Apple, but in my mind his unofficial title has always been “Automation Tsar”. If it involved AppleScript, Automator, or any other technique to make your Mac do work for you, Sal was your man. For the last 20 years, Sal had a hand in all those little built-in automation services that improved your Mac experience. Every time Apple releases an update to macOS, one of my questions is, “What has Sal given us this year?” He's been like Santa for automation nerds.

I learned all that I know about AppleScript a few years ago when I took a two day course from Sal at Macworld. That man can make a Mac dance.

Sal explains at his website that, “I was informed that my position as Product Manager of Automation Technologies was eliminated for business reasons." Sal was incredible asset for Apple and I'm baffled by the fact that they would let him go. This does not bode well for the future of automation on Apple platforms. 

I wish Sal all the best and I'm certain that we will hear more from him … perhaps even more than we heard when he was inside Apple. I recommend following his website at macosxautomation.com.

Pixelmator Now Touch Bar Friendly

Of course Pixelmator was one of the first to release a Touch Bar update for its Mac image editor. Indeed I think apps like Pixelmator are perfect for the Touch Bar. It gives users quick access to its more powerful features and speeds things up. It makes me wish there was a Touch Bar-based external keyboard for my iMac. This latest update (dubbed 3.6 Cordillera) also includes tabs (a Sierra feature), Smart Refine (which makes selections faster and easier), and Deep Images support.

If you don’t have an image editor at your disposal, I'd recommend checking out Pixelmator. It’s a one-time purchase, as opposed to the subscription-based model, and, as evidenced here, the Pixelmator team is always on top of things. You can learn more at the Pixelmator blog and there’s a cool Touch Bar video below.

MPU 350: Accessibility Workflows with Shelly Brisbin

This week the Mac Power Users hit a small milestone (350 episodes) and we celebrated by inviting Shelly Brisbin to bring us up to date on accessibility for Mac and iOS. Shelly is super-informed on this subject and this is worth listening to even if you don't necessarily need any accessibility features.

Sponsors include:

  • Eero: Blanket your home in fast, reliable WiFi. Use code MPU for free overnight shipping.
  • TextExpander from Smile Type more with less effort! Expand short abbreviations into longer bits of text, even fill-ins, with TextExpander from Smile.
  • Marketcircle We help small business grow with great Mac, iPhone and iPad apps including Daylight and Billings Pro.

Six Colors MacBook with Touch Bar Review

Jason Snell just published his review of the new MacBook with Touch Bar. The review focuses on the Touch Bar. Overall, he's a fan. 

When you think about that top row of function keys, they really were a peculiar remnant of a past age. Rather than ditch them entirely, Apple has transformed that space into something more interesting, with contextual content that brings app features to the foreground in a way that traditional app interfaces don’t. Even if all the Touch Bar did was replace inscrutable function keys with keys with proper, explanatory labels it would be helpful, but it does a lot more than that.
— Jason Snell

I'm not in the market for a MacBook Pro, but if I was, I'd definitely get one with the Touch Bar. 

The New MacBook Pro Keyboard

I spent some time typing on the new MacBook Pro keyboard. This keyboard may turn out to be the most controversial decision in this new MacBook Pro design. Apple explains the new keyboard is the “second generation” of the butterfly mechanism that first appeared on the 12” Retina MacBook. These new keys have significantly less travel than the traditional MacBook keyboards. A lot of people hate it. For others it is not a problem. (Interestingly, I’ve never heard of anyone loving the butterfly keyboards.) I’m not very picky about keyboards and I was fine with the MacBook butterfly keyboard.

Anyway, having typed on the new MacBook Pro keyboard I can report that if you are on a scale of one to five with one being the MacBook butterfly keyboard and five being the old MacBook keyboard, I'd put the second generation butterfly keyboard in the new MacBook Pro at a two. It definitely feels like a bit more travel than the MacBook keyboard but if you hated the MacBook keyboard, I suspect you won’t be very excited about this one either.

Jazz Friday – Joey Alexander, Countdown

I wrote up Joey Alexander, the 13-year-old Indonesian jazz prodigy pianist earlier this year. Joey just released a new album, Countdown (Apple Music)(iTunes), The last time I wrote about Joey, I explained that he is more than just technically proficient. He also plays with his heart. You can hear that even more in the new album. This album is full of John Coltrane music (another Jazz Friday alum) and it's delicious from beginning to end. 

My favorite track is Countdown (Apple Music)(iTunes). I wouldn't however listen to that track while driving. I could see myself accelerating to 100mph during the piano solo.

The Retina Tax

Jason Snell wrote an interesting piece about Mac pricing and retina screens. He posits that the increased cost of retina Macs may be partly due to Apple creating an artificial divide between retina and non-retina Macs. This allows them to charge a premium price. There may be something to his hypothesis but I also think the additional costs of retina screens and the processors and graphics engines to drive them are a factor. (Jason concludes its probably a bit of both of these factors.) Apple is rarely the first to drop prices on hardware but I do think that eventually Apple will have retina Macs for under $1,000. Other vendors are already pulling this off.

Whether the reason for the increased cost of retina machines is actual costs or Apple padding its profit margin (or probably both), the next time you buy a Mac, I strongly suggest getting the reatina screen. Even if it requires saving your pennies a little bit longer, you'll love that retina screen every time you use your Mac.

Clockwise 162

Speaking of podcasating, I also guested today on the Clockwise podcast where we covered the future of laptop keyboards, whether VR can be good at anything beyond entertainment, the growing importance of encryption, and a watchOS 3 check-in.


 

MPU 349: MPU+, A Corn-u-copia of Nerdiness

This month's MPU Feedback show includes more on the iCloud vs. Dropbox debate, macOS Sierra, more on the new MacBook Pro, and Katie is super-excited about her VESA mount.

Sponsored include:

  • Casper: Because everyone deserves a great night sleep. Get $50 off with the code ‘MPU’
  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. 
  • The Omni Group We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad. 
  • Sanebox Stop drowning in email!

TextExpander Public Groups

TextExpander has a new feature called Public Groups. With it, anyone can offer to share a TextExpander group publicly. There are already several interesting public groups. I have shared my "foreign thanks" group that automatically expands to say thank you in the language of choice. For instance typing "klingonthanks" renders "QA TLHO'" (of course in all caps).

Because the public groups are served up from the TextExpander.com site, when the original author makes alterations to the list, it automatically pushes the change out to subscribers. So if you look at my foreign thanks list and find a language I left out, let me know and I will update it for everyone. I plan on publishing several more of my more useful TextExpander groups through the TextExpander Public Groups in the next month. Keep your eyes out.

If you're a TextExpander subscriber, I recommend checking out the public groups. You can even subscribe from iPad and iPhone and you'll find quite a few that are even more useful than my "foreign thanks" group.

Touch Bar on an External Keyboard

Daniel Jalkut recently wrote this piece about the Touch Bar coming to an Apple external keyboard. That would allow for the Touch Bar to be used with desktop Macs and MacBooks used in clamshell mode. Daniel thinks they’ll eventually get there. 

I find it impossible to believe that Apple would go to all this work, both on the Touch Bar itself, and across the entire range of its own apps and OS features, unless it had a grand vision for the Touch Bar that extends way beyond the internal keyboard of its premium notebook computers.
— Daniel Jalkut

I agree. I'm certain it would need more charging (and perhaps a bigger battery) than the current external keyboard and I’m guessing it will be pretty pricey but I fully expect a Touch Bar enabled external keyboard to eventually show up from Apple.