MPU 365 – Maps and More

It took us 365 episodes but Katie and I finally got to an indepth look at at the available mapping and navigation options for your Apple gear.

This episode 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.
  • Gazelle Sell your iPhone for cash at Gazelle! 
  • Marketcircle We help small business grow with great Mac, iPhone and iPad apps including Daylight and Billings Pro.
  • Sanebox Stop drowning in email

Sponsor - TableFlip

This week MacSparky has a new sponsor, TableFlip. No matter what app you’re working in, creating tables is a pain in the neck. TableFlip solves that problem with you letting you create tables using Markdown and getting a live preview right in the app. 

After you create your table you can update the underlying markdown file or the table preview and both the TableFlip and Markdown files update automatically. I like setting up the table in TableFlip to begin, and then going back to the Markdown file for quick changes.

If you don’t want to use Markdown, you can also use TableFlip independently to create a table and later use it in Markdown or CSV. (Additional formats are on their way.) 

You shouldn’t have to open Excel every time you need a table. Check out TableFlip

Even More iPad Musings

Last month I wrote about the iPad and how I felt, fundamentally, the problem is software. The iPad hardware is plenty powerful. However for people who want to get their work done with an iPad, quite often they run into software-based obstacles that push them back to a Mac or PC.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person thinking about it. I had a couple long drives the last few days and several of my favorite podcasters are also weighing in on the fate of the iPad. One of the most interesting points was by Myke Hurley who explained last year Apple sold 45 million iPads and 18 million Macs. So last year for every Macintosh Apple sold, almost 3 iPads went out the door. 

I think a significant number of those iPads were sold to people that wanted to get work done on them. I’ve talked to non-geek friends who bought iPads to do work on but, over time, gave up on being productive with their iPad for the reasons I explained in my earlier post. In those cases, the iPad did end up a largely content consumption device but that was not by design as much as it was software limitations.

I think Apple has a big opportunity. The iPad could be an important piece of the future of computing. As things stand, the iPad hardware is awesome and the iPad software is too constrained. The first time an iPad user realizes she has to save 20 email attachments to Dropbox one file at a time, she is going back to her Mac. This is a solvable problem.

The trouble is that the iPad's role diminishes the longer Apple takes to give the iPad the software power it needs. People will move on as Microsoft ups its own hardware game and the general perception of the iPad further solidifies as something to surf on, not work on. The irony of this is that for years, other lawyers used to make fun of my Macintosh computer as a “toy” computer. Apple already knows how difficult it is to break that particular stereotype.

A few years ago I spent a lot of time banging on about cloud services and how Apple needed to get its act together. Right now I feel the same way about iPad software. There’s so much power in there to unlock. Now’s the time.


WWDC in San Jose June 5-9

Today Apple announced that they are moving Worldwide Developer Conference back to San Jose. The move puts WWDC much closer to Apple's campus and makes it a lot easier on Apple engineers attending and participating. San Jose hotels are also a lot less expensive than San Francisco hotels and will save attendees significant amounts of money.

There are already questions in the community as to whether moving to San Jose will put a damper on the more social aspects of WWDC. Despite the fact that San Jose is a lot sleepier than San Francisco, I don't think there will be a problem. I tried a case in San Jose a few years ago and spent several weeks in the city. There are nice restaurants and things to do. Moreover, I've always felt that the energy at WWDC parties comes from the confluence of Apple nerds way more than anything particular to San Francisco. I hope to see you there.

Mac Power Users Chicago Meet Up on March 15

Are you going to be near Chicago on March 15, 2017? If so, you should join me and Katie Floyd along with 90 other Mac Power Users Listeners. We've opened up some additional space for a fun night.

MacPaw, makers of SetApp, is sponsoring so there will be plenty of grub and good times. Go sign up. If it's full, sign up for the waiting list. We're working on getting more folks in.

Apple's Portrait Mode Ads

Apple has a few new ads spots showing off iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode. Now that the shiny newness has worn off Portrait Mode, I'm curious how much it has stuck with users. I'm still using it, but deliberately. I need to plan taking a portrait shot, which is probably what Apple intended.

Another observation is that my non camera-fidly friends love Portrait Mode shots while my friends that own fancy cameras aren't so easily impressed. I consider the fact that I can get a shot like this with my phone an absolute win.

Home Screens – Robert Black

This week's home screen post features Robert Black (Website)(Twitter). Robert is a strategic cartoonist (bringing a bit of humor to corporate communications). Robert is also a geek and loves his iPhone. So Robert, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

When I originally studied engineering, we all had the classic engineer’s calculator, the HP15C, which used something called Reverse Polish Notation. RPN is kind of like the calculator equivalent of a Dvorak keyboard on a computer - much more efficient for difficult calculations, but as mind-bending to learn and use as it’s name suggests.

So although these days I don’t need a calculator nearly so much, and actually have the official HP15C emulator app stowed away in a folder on my phone for nostalgia, Soulver is the calculator that makes me grin from ear to ear every time I need to work out something simple or complex. I love it — it’s a brilliant rethink of how to make a calculator easy and useful!

On occasions when I have to make emergency changes or tweaks to my website from my iPhone, the combination of Textastic (code/html editing), Working Copy (a full, elegant Git client on a phone that integrates with Textastic!) and Prompt (the SSH client from Panic) is magic. It’s one of those moments when I have to pinch myself, that I’m actually doing what I’m doing from my phone.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Not Facebook! It would be Reeder. I’m an information omnivore, and I love gathering interesting articles from around the web by following the RSS feeds of clever people who’s instincts I trust.

What app makes you most productive?

I’m not sure I’d describe my time on the phone as productive. I don’t spend a lot of time on it, but if I have to pick something, I guess I’ll be boring and say Mail — it’s boring, but true.

Hey Siri on my Apple Watch has taken over an important function that I used to use the iPhone for — capturing task thoughts to my inbox as they occur to me, GTD style. But I do still use Drafts for capturing a cartoon idea if one pops into my head half-formed — I love the way Drafts greases the path to capturing first, and working out what to do with that text afterwards, which in my case is an action that appends the string to a text file of captured ideas that’s kept in Dropbox.

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

I don’t use a 100th of the power of the text editor Editorial — it’s my iOS tool of choice for the text, Markdown and Taskpaper files that live in nvALT on my Macs. (I also have Ulysses and Scrivener, but the problem I have is that I just don’t write enough to make use of these fine tools. I spend my days drawing rather than crafting words. Well… strings of words longer than a cartoon caption, which does take some crafting!)

And FileMaker Go – I mean, I practically live in FileMaker Pro Advanced on my Macs, and it’s a literal miracle that you can design a custom app for your iPhone in FileMaker Pro and download it to FileMaker Go and have a fully-functional iPhone “app” that you put together yourself without writing a line of code, and yet, I personally haven’t found really compelling uses for FM Go on my phone’s small screen. But it boggles my mind that the whole FileMaker suite of products for small business are mentioned so seldom — they’re game-changing, and most people have never heard of them. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What is the app you are still missing?

The full Adobe Illustratoron a phone? I mean, I know there’s Adobe Draw for iOS, but it’s not the same thing. Hey, a guy’s gotta dream!

How many times a day do you use your iPhone?

That’s a good question. I suspect the only way to know for sure would be to film me surreptitiously, but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say somewhere between 10 and 20 times.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

Fantastical - well duh! Time Zones, because I publish stuff in multiple time-zones every week and stay up half the night to see what the reaction on the other side of the world is. And Weatherline, because I prefer its presentation of data.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone?

The camera! I’m taking snaps of sketches or things for reference ALL. THE. TIME. Closely followed by Touch ID (magic!) and Air Drop (grumble not 100% reliable grumble)

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

Phew! That’s a tricky one. The first thing that comes to mind is a renewed focus on coding quality around edge-cases, but I’m prepared to give them a pass on that for now… I suspect that the massive new Apple Campus 2 has been consuming a lot of their time to get perfect, because that’s going to pay and repay dividends to the future of Apple if they achieve the lofty goals they’ve set for it.

So instead I’ll say DON’T DROP THE BALL with APPLESCRIPT on the Mac!!! The scriptability of applications on the Mac is probably my most cherished platform feature, so the recent ructions with the sudden departure of Sal Soghoian worry me greatly for the future of the platform I depend on!

I mean it Apple (finger wagging wildly)

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

I have a Series 1 Apple Watch. On the face I use the Modular face, mainly to get the best use of complications. Front and center I have Fantastical’s complication, followed by Streaks in the lower left (hmmm, must up my effort to instill good habits today!).

Lower middle is Workflow’s widget, which currently has 5 workflows that can turn on and off our big TV, various living room lights and our Big Ass Fans Haiku. These Workflow workflows call urls from my watch, triggering Keyboard Maestro macros hosted on a Mac Mini sitting under the TV (also acting as our PVR), which make AppleScript calls to wither EyeTV or iRed 2, which in turn controls an IRTrans USB infrared transceiver to control the TV, fan, and lights.

Just for fun :-)

Normally all the home automation stuff is triggered via an older Logitech Harmony Companion Universal RF remote control, which channels everything via Remote Buddy to Keyboard Maestro, which acts as the nerve-center for scripting all these moving parts.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

Stars - no particular reason.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’ve probably said enough already!

Thanks Robert.

Sponsor: SaneBox with Sane Attachments

This week MacSparky is sponsored by SaneBox, the email service that adds power features to any email system. With SaneBox at your back, you add a powerful set of email tools that can work in just about any email client. SaneBox will automatically sort your email for you, defer your email to a more convenient time, set reminders and automatically forward email. 

The list of SaneBox features just keeps growing. One feature a lot of people overlook is SaneBox’s ability to automatically save email attachments to the cloud. Attachments are hard to find and take up lots of storage space in your email. Sane Attachments scans emails in your Inbox for attachments, puts them on Dropbox, and replaces them with a link. Not only does this save space in your email, it also lets you use Hazel on your Mac to perform automation on your email attachments (which appear in a Dropbox folder) as they arrive. Super useful.

These are just a few of the features that you get with SaneBox. Go check it out and use this link to get a discount off your subscription.

Still Using It – Trip Mode

A few years ago I wrote about a then-new application, Trip Mode, that allows you to turn off the Internet pipes for particular apps on your MacBook. It's a great idea, particularly if you tether your MacBook to your iPhone or iPad. Using Trip Mode, you can turn off data hogs, like Dropbox and iCloud, so you don't unknowingly burn through all your mobile data the next time you tether to check email. It's been a few years since I first covered Trip Mode and thought I'd take a moment to say this app really sticks. I'm still using it … often. I've also started using Trip Mode on my iMac when podcasting to keep apps like Backblaze from using up bandwidth while I'm on mic. (I learned that trick from my podcast partner Jason Snell.) Anyway, if you ever tether your Mac, get Trip Mode.

The OmniFocus Video Field Guide Gets Streaming and Closed Captions

When I first started distributing the video field guides, I wanted to make it as simple as possible. Customers pay and then download a video. It worked great originally but lately I've been getting emails from customers that just work on iPad and iPhone. For them, getting a 2GB video file onto their device is not trivial. 

For those customers, streaming the videos makes more sense than downloading. So I've been looking for a way to distribute the videos that lets customers stream, download, or both. Vimeo gives me that so new customers will now get the OmniFocus Video Field Guide through Vimeo where they can stream or download.

I'm pretty happy with this new distribution method. It gives customers more flexibility and allows me to update small portions without requiring everyone to download the entire video all over again.

Also, with the move I've also added closed captions to all of the chapters. So if you have trouble hearing or english is a second language, check the closed caption box while watching and you're all set. If you've already purchased the OmniFocus Video Field Guide and want a closed captioned copy, please drop me a note.

More on the iPad and Software

The biggest problem for the iPad is Apple’s unwillingness to let it become its own thing. Development of iOS is driven by the iPhone, which probably shouldn’t have the tools of a regular computer. But the iPad needs at least some of those tools if it’s to fulfill Apple’s promise to be a laptop replacement. Being yoked to the iPhone is holding it back.
— Dr. Drang

This is an excellent point and I should have made it in my iPad post last week. iOS 9 was the first time Apple gave features to the iPad that didn't also go to iPhone. When they made this announcement, I assumed it was only a jumping off point but now it's been over 18 months with no new iPad power tools. I'm crossing my fingers for better iPad tools at WWDC 2017 in June.

Sleuthing the MacBook Pro Battery Issues

Gordan Mah Ung at Macworld recently spent some time researching battery issues with the new MacBook Pros. He did comparative tests with different tasks and came to the conclusion that the problem is the MacBook Pro getting stuck on the discreet graphics card, which chews through battery much faster than the integrated graphics. Some of these issues were improved with the most recent macOS update but still your mileage may vary. I'm getting, fairly reliably, seven hours on my new 15" MacBook Pro, which is less than Apple's advertised 10.

I think with this trend toward hyper-tuning the hardware and software towards battery life, estimates are no longer as reliable as they used to be. For optimal battery life these days, you need to satisfy certain conditions (like not using the discreet graphics card) and a lot of users, like me, stray out of those perfect conditions often.

A Few Thoughts about iPad

Apple recently announced their quarterly earnings and it turns out the fruit company is doing well. The iPhone sales return to growth, the Mac is doing well, revenue from services is up. The outlier was the iPad. 

The iPad's sales are down for the 2016 holidays compared to the 2015 holidays. Not surprisingly, the iPad is now the whipping boy (again) for Apple pundits.

A lot of folks are arguing that the reason iPad isn't selling that well is because it's built too well. People keep their iPads a long time and don't feel any burning desire to upgrade. I've seen anecdotal evidence of this in my life. I was talking to a physician friend of mine that uses her iPad every day. She's carrying the first generation iPad Air (which is now nearly four years old) and she still loves it. I asked her why she didn't upgrade to the iPad Pro and she looked at me like I was crazy. "Why should I? This one works great!"

I don't view this as a problem. The fact that Apple makes devices of sufficient quality that people can use them for years is a reason why people come to Apple in the first place.

In my mind, the issue is that users are not pushing the iPad harder to do more work for them, which would naturally end up in users wanting to buy newer, faster, and better iPads. Put simply, I think the issue is software.

While iOS 9 made some productivity strides to the iPad operating system, iOS 10 did not. I was hoping we would see an update to iOS 10 sometime after launch that improves productivity on the iPad but now we're in iOS 10.3 beta, and there are no signs of anything like that coming. June isn't that far away and I think the next opportunity is iOS 11.

I know this is one of my pet issues and every time I write about it, I get emails explaining that making the iPad more complex would cause more problems than it would solve. I disagree. Consumers have been using the iOS operating system now for 10 years. People generally understand how it works. I believe the smart people at Apple could make the iOS operating system for the iPad more powerful (and a bit more complex) without substantially interfering with consumers that want to keep it simple. Moreover, giving it some more powerful tools (even something as simple as making it easier to select and manipulate multiple objects and files at once) would substantially increase the ability for users to get productive work done with their iPads.

At last year's iPad Pro event Apple made a big deal about how the iPad is powerful enough to replace a PC laptop. I believe for a lot of people that could be true. But it's not quite there yet because of the software limitations.

In my informal observations at coffee shops and courthouses, I'm seeing increasing numbers of Microsoft Surface laptop computers. I believe people do want an ultralight computer to help get their work done. I am certain some percentage of those Microsoft customers considered an iPad but for whatever reason chose not use one. I'd even argue that for a lot of those people the iPad was perfectly up to the task of whatever it is they're doing on that Microsoft computer.

If Apple wants to see an increase in iPad sales, I think the answer is making them more useful and getting the word out. Apple should get serious about adding features to iOS that allows users to be more productive in getting their work done. On top of that, Apple should start demonstrating to the public with some its clever advertising how lots of normal people are getting work done on the iPad. I'm not talking about videos of people taking the iPad deep-sea diving but instead how people use it to make spreadsheets, write documents, and all the other work that most of us do to pay for our shoes.

Fantastical for iOS 2.8

Fantastical for iPad and iPhone updated today to version 2.8. The new update includes rich notifications and and haptic feedback on iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Now in Fantastical on the iPhone 7, when you scroll dates or times, you feel a nice little click under your finger. I like the way developers are doing haptic feedback in their apps. It's subtle, but useful. I hope other developers follow suit.

The new version also adds a sticker pack with a calendar-themed stickers. They're animated and useful for doing things, like inviting a friend to lunch. Learn more here.

World's Greatest Apple Watch Stand

Despite being an Apple Watch fan, I'd never purchased a dock for it. Laying it on its side always seemed good enough for me. That was until I saw this little beauty, which I immediately bought from Amazon for $15. This may be a generational thing but it sure is nice having a classic Mac on my desk again, even if it is a lot smaller than the last one. (I particularly love how they got the little hole for a paper clip to force eject a floppy disk.)

You may be asking why I charge the watch on my desk as opposed to the nightstand. That's because I've been wearing the watch to bed as of late. The second edition watch is pretty great on battery life and charging it in this adorable stand while I work for an hour or two each day is plenty enough charge to get me through the day (and night).