MPU Meetup in London – July 9

We're having a MPU meet up in London on July 9th, at 6PM London time at the Wetherspoons just outside of Victoria station 5. Weatherspoons is a basic pub where we can walk around and converse. There’s no dress code - MPU attire is optional! I'll be there, Rose Orchard will be there, and while Katie Floyd hasn't agreed to attend yet, I'm working on it.

Your nearest Apple Store will be Regent Street which has been refurbished to be a flagship store.

Also, if you come, make sure to ask me for some stickers!

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Apple Extends Repair Period for MacBook Keyboards

There are so many stories about keyboards going bad on MacBooks and MacBook Pros over the last few years. My 2015 12-inch MacBook is now on its third keyboard. Apple’s now announced they’ll continue to fix keyboards on several of these machines. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise but I’m glad Apple is doing the right thing. 

The curious part is where they go next. Are they going to abandon the new butterfly keys that are in the effected models? I don’t think so. With several years of data on the new switches, I suspect they probably are pretty close to having the problems licked. My guess is that they continue with the butterfly keys and brag at how they continue to improve while quietly continuing to repair the machines built during that learning curve. While that makes perfect sense for the minimalist MacBook, I’d prefer they abandon the butterfly keys and put something more robust in the MacBook Pros but that’s more a wish than a prediction. 

Smile Software Celebrating 15 Years – Sponsor

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This week MacSparky is sponsored by Smile Software, makers of TextExpander and PDFpen. This month Smile is celebrating 15 years of bringing its productivity software to the world. They've had several products over the years and there is an excellent series of blog posts over on Smile's website about how the company formed and their journey.

Of course, I have an affinity for companies passionate about making productivity software and Smile has been delivering the goods to me (and a lot of other users) for a long time.

Have you checked out Smile's current software lineup? If not, you should. 

TextExpander is a text replacement application, but so much more. As a result of Smile's hard work, TextExpander is exponentially more powerful than a normal text replacement application. Here are just a few examples of what I do with TextExpander.

PDFpen has been my only PDF app on the Mac for years. I use it every day to review and markup contracts and otherwise get work done.

Thanks Smile for an amazing 15 years. I can't wait to see what you do next.

Availability-Based Scheduling with When Works

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John Chaffee has been making calendar related apps for Apple hardware for a long time with is involvement with Now Up-To-Date several years ago and, more recently, BusyCal. So when John launches a new product, I'm always interested. His latest venture is WhenWorks, an availability based appointment-setting application. 

With this iOS app, you can set your availability and meeting type which ultimately results in a web page you can send out to invitees where they can select an available time. That selection then updates back into your calendar. Basically, it gets you out of the usual multiple-email calendar event setting game. The service integrates with iCloud calendar, Office 365, Google Calendar, and Outlook.

If you're interested there is a 14 day free trial and, after that you can schedule up to 5 events per month for free and unlock unlimited events for $5/month.

Mac Power Users 435: Catching Up with Don McAllister

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Don McAllister returns on this week's MPU+ episode to talk about building a business around ScreenCastsOnline, building his team, delegation, project management, and more. We also talk chat travel and electric cars.

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.
  • SaneBox: Stop drowning in email!
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.

Free Agents 49: Panting to the Finish Line

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Family members with employment issues remind Jason about just how far he has come. I grapple with letting go of control and working with an assistant. And Jason hands in his resignation and participates in an "exit interview" with me. Join us for the latest episode of Free Agents.

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.

Happy 15th, Smile Software

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Today is the 15th Anniversary of Smile software. Smile is a great little software company that makes apps I use every day. Smile's co-founder, Greg Scown, shared some of the Smile story with Stephen Hackett over on 512 pixels and it's worth reading. With the rise of mobile and the software monetization model getting re-written (multiple times), there aren't many software companies that survived the last 15 years. Having spent time with the Smile gang, I'd have to say their secret for success is an absolute belief in their products and their customers. 

Disclaimer: Smile sometimes sponsors the Mac Power Users and this site.

Guesting on the Lawyerist Podcast

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I joined Sam Glover at the Lawyerist podcast to talk about getting more from your iPhone. The Lawyerist is one of the few lawyer-focused websites that is not dreadful. Indeed it is quite the opposite. On this show, we talked about the iPhone Field Guide and how to be productive with that computer in your pocket.

 

Track Your Time on the Mac with Timing – Sponsor

This week MacSparky is sponsored by Timing for Mac. Once installed, Timing watches how you use your Mac and gives you colorful, detailed reports on how you’re spending your time. 

You know that new feature Apple is adding to iOS 12 called Screen Time? Timing is like that, but for the Mac and way more detailed. 

Timing is a great tool to help you get your act together. It’s very difficult to keep track of how you’re spending your time. Throwing manual timers adds a lot of mental overhead and inevitably leads to bad data. Because Timing is automatic, you don’t have to think about it and the data is better. With Timing data, you can learn a lot about your work habits and where you can get better. Once you sort that out, Timing can help keep you honest.

Timing even scores your productivity based on what apps you spend time in. It’s a great app and using this link, you can get it at a discount. If you’re a SetApp subscriber, you can also get Timing as part of your subscription. Go download Timing today and see for yourself how much more productive you can be.

 

 

Mac Power Users 434: PDF Workflows

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On this week's MPU+ episode, Katie and I talk about the state of PDFs in 2018, how the PDF format has evolved, and best practices for creating, naming, managing, and working with PDFs.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • eero: Never think about WiFi again. Use code MPU for free overnight shipping.
  • 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. 
  • Fujitsu ScanSnap: ScanSnap helps you live a more productive, efficient, paperless life.

How Siri Shortcuts Can Revolutionize iOS Automation

One of the nice things about returning home from the excitement of WWDC is a chance to reflect on what Apple announced and begin thinking about how it will change things, if at all. At the top of my mind is Siri Shortcuts.

First, A Little History

I was invited to the Workflow app beta pretty early. From the first install, it was immediately apparent to me that Workflow was one of those unique apps that could change everything. As the beta went on and on (and on), my biggest worry was that Apple would not approve the app. Eventually, they did, however, and Workflow gave us tools that, at least in some ways, exceed our abilities to automate on the Mac platform. 

Over time, it only got better. One of the primary reasons I work at an iMac throughout the day with an iPad always in arm’s reach is for Workflow. I’ve automated so much of my work using Workflow that I can’t imagine losing it.

That’s why when, in March 2017, Apple purchased Workflow, I freaked out a bit. Last year at Sal Soghoian’s CMD-D Automation conference, I gave a session on Workflow. As I was about to start my presentation, one attendee introduced himself to me and explained he was super-excited because he had never used Workflow before and was looking forward to me helping him get started. Then as I stood up on stage, I looked in the back row of the room to see the Workflow developers sitting, smiling. So my last thought before starting my first slide was that I had a room ranging from absolute beginner to the actual app developer and 45 minutes to satisfy them both.

Either way, that day I had a chance to talk to some of the Workflow team, and they continually emphasized that I tell readers and listeners to keep using the app. In hindsight, I believe they wanted Apple to see the usage so they could have the runway they needed to build what became Siri Shortcuts. The good news is that we indeed kept using Workflow and last week Apple announced its successor, Siri Shortcuts and it looks to be something quite special.

Siri Shortcuts

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Siri Shortcuts are Workflow plus so much more. This includes deeper operating system integration, more tools, and a better user experience with multiple ways to discover and use these shortcuts.

Deeper Integration

To begin, Siri Shortcuts allow app developers, through two different programming methods, to add the ability of specific views in their apps to become actionable Shortcuts that can be triggered by voice, through the operating system suggestions, or as part of the new Shortcuts app. I'm over-simplifying, but one method can be implemented, in some instances, with a single line of additional code.

Apple further created more comprehensive tools letting developers go even deeper with this. Specific application functions can provide the user information, take action, or go deeper with the application. The whole point is to simplify the process of getting Siri to do tasks and report back information that usually takes a user many taps and much navigation.

Also, going to the Siri Settings screen, a user can see a customized list of these commands that Siri pieces together from prior usage. Looking at my screen, I’ve got suggestions to create Siri Shortcuts for things like playing my West Coast Jazz playlist, texting a friend, setting alarms, listening to podcasts, making calls, see tomorrow’s calendar, show my wife’s location, and getting a Lyft to the San Jose airport. This is all on beta one before developers have dug in on things.

These changes are the first significant improvement over Workflow. Workflow, for all of its glory, was an app that felt like it was put together with scotch tape and chewing gum. The Workflow team, and the development community at large squeezed more automation life out of the URL scheme than anyone ever thought possible. This new version, however, lets developers make application functions much easier to automate and gives the Siri Shortcuts tools way more power than Workflow ever could have achieved when it was on the outside. Going forward, an App’s integration with Siri Shortcuts is going to be a significant factor in which apps I use.

Moreover, with some of my more complex Workflows, the current app sends my screen into fits as it jumps between multiple apps. With Siri Shortcuts, that will now all happen in the background and in some cases, entirely through a few commands and responses to Siri.

Voice Triggers

One of the easiest ways to trigger a Siri Shortcut is, not surprisingly, with your voice. The good news here is that Apple has not defined a specific voice control syntax. Instead, it lets the user record their own Siri Shortcut phase for any Siri Shortcut or chain of Siri Shortcuts.

Because the user defines the Siri phrase, it doesn’t have to be some crazy app-related syntax. A user can say, “Hey Siri, I'm heading home”, and this could trigger a string of Siri shortcuts to send a text message to a loved one, turn on the heater, play your favorite playlist, and display navigation directions home. Another person that happens to be a Star Trek fan could pull off the same tasks with the command, “Hey Siri, Go home, Engage!”

So in addition to operating system integration and power, this new system provides users is a simple method to create their own voice phrases to trigger automation. For a lot of people, this could just be a few, like ordering their favorite latte or controlling their HomeKit devices. For others, like me, this will turn into a library of user-defined phrases to trigger automation magic. For example, I plan to make one called “new client” that with just those two words will trigger two OmniFocus template projects, create an engagement agreement, and send off an email to my assistant about billing details.

It’s Not Just Your Voice

However, another bit of insight that comes out of watching last week’s Keynote and the WWDC Siri Shortcuts sessions is that this is not just intended to be something you choose to engage with your voice. The system can also plug into Siri’s predictive analysis of the user as she goes through the day.

In both the home screen pull down and the widget screen, Siri Shortcuts are looking at your local data and trying to help. If you routinely order the same drink every day, it’s going to offer to do that for you. If you have a meeting with location data and you’re not at that location, Siri Shortcuts are going to write a text message to the other meeting participant explaining you’re late and ask you if you want to send it. This could be the easiest way to pull in novice users if it works as advertised.

Regardless, you’ll get integration throughout the operating system that we could never have dreamed of with Workflow was an independent application.

Workflow is Also Still in There

Looking at some of the screenshots of the new Siri Shortcuts app, it becomes clear that this is the successor to the Workflow application. It appears to work exactly the same, with stackable actions, a library of existing workflows, and even the ability to look up and pass data between steps as the automation proceeds. 

The Shortcuts app is not in the current beta, but hopefully, it arrives soon. It’s not clear just yet that this app will have all of the functions of Workflow, but looking at the screenshots from the Keynote, it appears entirely possible that will be the case.

When you stop to think about the feelings we all had on the day that Apple announced the purchase of the Workflow app, it’s hard to believe a better outcome than what we got. Apple fully supported Workflow after the acquisition, and while building the new thing, Siri Shortcuts is clearly the successor using ideas from the original Workflow app and adding so much more with deep operating system integration, and this new version has voice-controlled and operating system triggers that would have never been possible before.

We’ve Got a Man on the Inside

I’ve always felt that the iPhone and iPad could be capable of so much more with deeper automation. For so long Apple showed no interest in automation, and I'd convinced myself that they were afraid to get that geeky all over their new mobile operating system. I’m not alone in this. However, with the Workflow acquisition, it feels like we have now embedded, inside Apple, a group of our brother and sister automation nerds and they are running wild all over the iOS operating system. I couldn’t be happier. I hope that when iOS 12 ships, Siri Shortcuts delivers the goods we’ve seen so far. I also hope Apple management never wises up to the automation revolution that may result.

Below is a slew of annotated screenshots from the Keynote. Take a look and you'll get the idea why I'm so excited about Siri Shortcuts. Click to enlarge individual images and hover over them for annotations.

Get Your Life Back with SaneBox - Sponsor

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This week MacSparky is sponsored by SaneBox, the email service I use every day to manage my email. SaneBox acts as your own personal email assistant, sorting your inbox for you so you only see the most important emails with less important email getting relegated to other mailboxes for later.

I'm not the only one that relies on SaneBox. It’s also used by companies like eBay, Coca-Cola, Adidas, and LinkedIn to help their employees stay on top of the most important email.

SaneBox has many additional features, like the ability track and notify you if people don’t respond to your email and defer incoming email until later. It really serves as a set of power tools to make every aspect of using email easier and it works with just about any email platform: including iCloud, IMAP, Google, and Exchange. If you’d like to become the boss of your email, go sign up for free SaneBox trial today and use the links in this post to get a significant discount when you sign up.

 

A Few Thoughts on WWDC 2018

What a week!

Having taken in the keynote and spent the last few days slumming it with developer friends, Apple engineers, and other folks plugged into Apple, I thought it time to share some reflections on WWDC 2018.

The Vibe
This year people seem a lot more relaxed than in the last few years. The announcements are good but don’t feel overwhelming. It feels as if Apple was more careful this year, only announcing features that they are confident they can (hopefully) nail.

Siri Shortcuts
This was, by far, the highlight for me. For a long time, we have been complaining that Siri lags behind its competition. A year ago, Apple acquired the Workflow app and this week we discovered what they have been up to. With Siri Shortcuts, Siri can suggest shortcuts as they are needed and makes it easy for anyone to create single or chains of shortcuts to automate iOS. You can then kick them off with your voice using Siri or the Shortcuts application, which appears to be an updated version of Workflow. I had a lot of questions about this new service and got a few of them answered during WWDC. We need to get our hands on this new automation before we know for sure but I am looking forward to this.

Because this new system is integrated into the operating system, it can be much more powerful than Workflow. Shortcuts can use location and time of day to make suggestions on automation routines. With Siri Shortcuts, we are going to get to automate iOS in ways we could have only dreamed of before. 

I ran a scenario by friends at both Apple and OmniFocus that I’d theoretically like to create a Siri shortcut that triggers when I say “Hey Siri, Get it done”, at which point my lights would go dark, OmniFocus would open up to my flagged list of tasks, and Mission Impossible would start playing over my HomePod. Everyone seems to agree things like this are possible. With automation this powerful, even more people would use it, and even more developers would support it. This could end up being a big deal.

Augmented Reality
For the second straight year, Apple emphasized AR. I have to admit I was more excited about this last year than I am this year. The reason is that after a year, I find that I don’t have much use for AR. Maybe we’re just waiting for that amazing app to show us the way but so far it’s not here, and I have to wonder if this isn’t just Apple getting things started while they work toward some new AR hardware in the future. I’m running the iOS 12 beta, and Apple’s new measuring tool is more accurate than any third party tool I tried in the past, but that’s not enough. Either way, Apple gave developers a bunch of new toys, so maybe this will be the year that we get the killer AR app.

The Mac App Store
For too long the Mac App Store has not served the Mac as well as it could, and this year Apple’s put a lot of effort into making it better, following up on similar changes it made to the iOS App Store last year. Most interesting is that Apple announced big companies, like Microsoft and Adobe, are coming to the Mac App Store along with some of the most prestigious small developers, like Panic and Bare Bones. There is a story to this about what has happened with sandboxing to bring back Panic and Bare Bones, but I never got to the bottom of it. I think there is more to learn on this.

 My screaming MeMoji.

My screaming MeMoji.

MeMoji
The MeMoji thing is for real. They are fun to make, and I can see how these are going to be super popular. I am particularly impressed at how customizable they are and how much you can make them look like you and your friends. I hope Apple presses forward with this, making regular updates, adding additional features, and generally making this a thing. This feature will sell a lot of iPhones.

However, as great as MeMoji’s are, when you attach one to a normal human body, They are super creepy.


The Apple Team
I always spend more time talking to Apple Engineers and employees the week of WWDC than I do any other time of the year. This year I ended up spending more time with Apple folks than usual, and they all were very receptive to issues and ideas concerning their products and software. When I raised issues, they were inevitably already aware of it and working on it. Their most significant questions to me were, as always, “how can we make it better”. It is reassuring. I sometimes wish the people riding the “Apple doesn’t care” bandwagon had an opportunity to spend a few minutes with these engineers.

Friends and Ideas
For me by far best part of attending WWDC is the opportunity to connect with old friends and make new ones. WWDC always exposes me to so many smart, passionate people in the Apple community that are just as obsessive as I am about all of this stuff and it’s glorious.

I am leaving this year's conference feeling more energized than ever with a ton of great ideas for podcast content and future projects.

I’ve loaded iOS 12 beta on my iPhone and iPad because despite being old enough to know better, I still can’t help myself. Doing so this early is nuts for me but perhaps of benefit to you as I learn a bit. Expect more on iOS 12 and macOS 10.14 Mojave in the coming weeks.

Mac Power Users 433: WWDC 2018

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Katie and I are at the WWDC and this week on MPU+, we share our thoughts on WWDC 2018, including thoughts on iOS 12, macOS 10.14, tvOS, and watchOS 5.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • Timing: The automatic time-tracking app for macOS. Use this link to save 10% on your purchase.
  • StoryWorth: A new way to bring the family together.
  • Marketcircle: We help small business grow with great Mac, iPhone, and iPad apps including Daylight and Billings Pro.
  • TextExpander from Smile: Type more with less effort! Expand short abbreviations into longer bits of text, even fill-ins, with TextExpander from Smile.