Mac Power Users 400 - 4 Things

It seems like we just recorded our first show of the Mac Power Users a few days ago yet this week we released episode 400. Crazy. This episode is all about four things. Katie and I picked four of our favorite things in multiple tech categories of hardware and software. There are some gems in there. Also, since we hit episode 400, we went back to our roots with the theme music and it sounds great.

Home Screens – Chuck Joiner

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Chuck Joiner’s with his Mac Voices podcast (website)(Twitter) is the James Lipton of our Mac community. He’s been delivering great content for years and today he agreed to share his home screen. Okay Chuck, show us your home screen.

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What are Some of Your Favorite Apps?

Downcast for sure. It takes care of keeping all my podcasts downloaded and synced between my iPads, iPhone and Macs so that I can listen or watch to any of them any time, without having to spend time managing what is where. The capability of having custom speeds for each show subscribed to is also important, since some can be consumed easily at 2.5x, while others may only be listenable at 1.5x. My perception is that the algorithm for accelerated listening has improved over time, and the addition of an Apple Watch app puts the audio controls on my wrist if the phone is in my pocket. 

Feedly also ranks high because I still use RSS feeds as a major part of my information flow. There are prettier feed-reading apps out there, but Feedly does what I want it to do in a no-nonsense format.

Camera+ is my go-to camera app because of its RAW shooting capabilities, and the best one-touch photo enhancement I’ve seen, though the new Photos in iOS 11 is making me re-think that. Lots of power in this one, but there is a bit of a learning curve to take advantage of all the features.

FiLMiC Pro is a favorite for its versatility and power as a video recording app. If you can’t capture the video you want with this app, then you can’t do it on an iPhone.

What app makes you most productive?

At this point, Apple’s Notes, because it lets my iPhone be an extension of my Mac in making and keeping information, project lists, and other items organized and in sync everywhere. Was using another solution before, but Notes makes it super easy.

What app do you know you're underutilizing?

Drafts. I know it can do so much, but I tend not to think of it until after the fact. That’s often half the battle with a new or under-used app - remembering what it can do for you and integrating it into your personal workflows.

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

iThe Phone is in use almost constantly. Even if I’m at the office, it is out and in sight for incoming messages, alerts, etc. It is also a great second (or third) dedicated screen, even if it is just monitoring Twitter or email. Some might say that’s a distraction, but I see it as keeping what I need or want to know in front of me.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

With iOS 11, I’m just starting to dig in to the productivity features, but really like what I see, especially for the iPad.

3D Touch on the iPhone is another of those features that you have to remember to use. Once you get in the habit, it is amazingly powerful.

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

I would set up a team to monitor the Mac media and help the product teams prioritize a list of items that need to be addressed - both bug features and feature requests or reinstatements. That would be a huge challenge since every single user thinks their way and their needs should come first. Still, there are often common issues that crop up that should make their way to the top of the list.

Thanks Chuck.

 

Ulysses Updates to Support Drag and Drop on iOS

Today Ulysses released its iOS 11-friendly update. With this update, the interface follows a lot of the iOS 11 user interface conventions, like big text at the tops of lists. My favorite part of the update, however, is Drag and Drop support. You can now pick up and move individual text buckets and move them around inside Ulysses. This is, for me, the most useful new feature. I am continually moving notes around inside Ulysses, and now it is much easier (and faster). I also feel that, inherently, the Drag and Drop paradigm makes a lot more sense when working on the iPad or iPhone. The Drag and Drop also extend to other applications, letting you drag text passages and images between Ulysses and other application. One more new feature that made it to both the Mac and iOS application is image preview. Now you can see previews of your imported images.

Getting the Most from the Siri Watch Face

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I have been using the Siri watch face with watchOS 4 as my primary watch face since iOS 11 shipped. Ordinarily, I am not a digital watch face guy. I grew up looking at analog watches and I’ve been primarily using those on the Apple Watch since it first arrived. Nevertheless, I like the idea of a smart watch face on the Apple Watch giving me more timely information, so I went in with the Siri watch face. Also, I spend a lot of time at the sharp end of the stick when it comes to Siri, so I had to give it a try.

The idea behind the Siri watch face is to contextually give users the information most relevant to them at the time. The face itself is the time with a few complications and a scrolling list of information boxes below that you can move throughout using the Digital Crown. Tapping on any of these boxes brings you into the source application. Tap on an event, for instance, and you go to the calendar app.

There are a lot of Apple applications acting as a data sources for the Siri watch face. Using the Apple Watch face you can get information as to when the sun will rise, the weather forecast, and upcoming appointments. It runs much deeper than that, however. Data sources can also include reminders, alarms, timers, the stopwatch, your wallet, workouts, meditation/breathing reminders, HomeKit notifications, what’s now playing on your media device, photos, and even news.

For the two complications, I use the one on the right to display the current date and the left one for OmniFocus.

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There are a lot of applications feeding data into the Siri watch face. One of the first things I did was customize that. If you go into the Apple Watch settings application on your iPhone and tap on your Siri watch face, you get a screen that gives you several options to turn these data sources on or off. I left most of them on but turned off photos, because pictures on that tiny screen don’t make sense to me, and news, which I found to be too much of a distraction.

I have had a few pleasant surprises using the Siri watch face. I like the way it displays upcoming appointments. They are easy-to-read, and they disappear automatically as the day goes on. Rotating the Digital Crown up gives you future Siri chosen events and spinning the opposite direction brings up prior entries and if you’ve played audio recently, the last playing audio. This gives you an easy way to restart podcast or music from your wrist.

I’ve often been tempted to add the timer and alarm complications to my analog faces, but that complication space is so valuable. With the Siri face timers, stopwatch, and alarms only appear when in use so I get them when I need them and only that. Finally, the now playing entries are great for getting back into whatever audio you played last.

Overall, the convenience of the Siri watch face is enough to get me to stick with it despite my preference for analog faces. I'm going to keep using it for the foreseeable future. If you are going to use it, take the time to go into the settings application and customize the data sources to your preference. 

My biggest wish for the Siri watch face is to see third-party applications get on that data source list. For instance, why can't I get upcoming OmniFocus deadlines or Carrot Weather reports? Hopefully, that comes with future iterations.

Cardhop – The New Contact Management App from Flexibits

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Today Flexibits released its new contact management application for the Mac, Cardhop. Cardhop follows in the tradition of Flexibits' other Mac app, Fantastical in that it sits in your menubar and is completely awesome. 

With Cardhop, you can tap any quick keyboard combination to access the application from your menubar and then add new contacts, edit existing contacts, perform actions on contacts (like dialing a phone number or sending an email) and more. You can even perform functions with data that is not in your address book. For instance, if you type in "Dial 1-800-GOFEDEX", it translates the letters into the appropriate numbers and dials the phone for you.

For me, the ultimate test was when I received a new contact card, and I wanted to add that person to a specific group. All that I had to do was activate Cardhop, type in the person's first name, and then type "#F". Cardhop figured out I was putting that contact into my "friends" group and with just those few keystrokes, I had accomplished what used to take me many clicks and navigations in the Apple Contacts application.

Cardhop is for contacts what Fantastical is for calendar entries. You can get it today for your Mac. If you spend any time managing contacts on your Mac, this is worth checking out.

If you want to learn more, I made a series of videos for Flexibits.

Solo

Today Ron Howard announced the name of the previously untitled Han Solo Star Wars Movie. 

Solo.

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I like it. He finishes the video saying "I'll see you next year." The question is … when next year? Previously Lucas announced Solo would be released in Summer of 2018 but since they've now pushed Episode IX to December of 2019, I wouldn't be surprised if Solo gets pushed back to December 2018.

iPhone X Supply Constraints

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Last week we heard even more rumors about supply constraints for the iPhone X. Yet today the rumors say things may be a little better than we first thought. I think this is going to be the most difficult to find Apple product in a long time. If you want one, plan on being awake at midnight on October 27 and hope that you’ll get one before 2018.

Generally when making these types of purchases, you are better off using the Apple Store app on your iPhone or iPad. They seem to get through the buying process more reliably than the web store when there’s a heavy load. Also, make sure to have your Apple Pay credentials all up to date and "favorite" your iPhone X of choice ahead of time. Seconds will count.

The New Amazing Stories

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As one of its first big television content deals, Apple has announced it’s going to be working with Steven Spielberg to produce a new series of Amazing Stories. I was all in the first time Spielberg made the Amazing Stories television series. That was some great TV. (If you’re looking for a good episode to get started, check out season 1, episode 5, “The Mission”.) As a child of the 70s and 80s, I personally can’t wait to see the new Amazing Stories, and I’m glad that Apple is spending some of its truckloads of money on content other than Carpool Karaoke.

Timing Makes Time-Tracking Easy (Sponsor)

This week MacSparky is sponsored by Timing, my tool for tracking time on my Mac. Knowing how you spend your time is one of the most useful bits of knowledge you can have when deciding on new (and old) commitments. I've gone deep down the rabbit hole of time tracking as I try to figure things out for my own sanity and this week's sponsor, Timing, has been an essential tool for me.

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Time tracking is hard. Having to throw a switch somewhere every time you change tasks or projects never works and is super-distracting. As a result, you end up with bad data. 

Timing fixes that. Timing automatically tracks which apps, documents, and websites you use — without start/stop timers.

  • See how you spend your time, eliminate distracting activities, and improve your client billing.
  • Timing lets you stop worrying about time and focus on doing your best work instead!
  • Timing also understands that your time tracking data is super sensitive, so Timing keeps it safe on your Mac.

In short, with Timing you get detailed information about how you spend your time on your Mac with zero work on your behalf. Try it yourself with the free 14-day trial and get 10% off if you buy in the next two weeks.

Unrelated but cool – The developers of Timing have also recently released Faviconographer, a free utility that adds Favicons to your Safari tabs. If you ever found yourself wanting those icons on your tabs for easier navigation, check it out!

App Camp 2020

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App Camp is an outstanding program working to fix the gender imbalance in technology and giving the campers (and volunteers) a lifetime of memories. My wife and I helped out with the recent App Camp in Orange County, and we’re thrilled to see them expanding. They have a big fundraiser going on right now, and every little bit helps. It doesn’t take long to make a contribution. They even take Apple Pay.

BBEdit 12

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Today marks the release of BBEdit 12.0. There is a long list of new and improved features. There are plenty of minimal text editors out there but only one BBEdit power tool. Using BBEdit, you can do nearly anything to a text file. This app is so powerful that I know web developers that have switched to the Mac for the sole purpose of using BBEdit.

I use BBEdit when I need its power. For example I used it recently on a complicated search and replace to a big pile of text using regular expressions. That simply wan’t possible with every other text editor in my arsenal but it was laughably easy for BBEdit. Jason Snell writes in BBEdit every day. His comments on the new version are excellent. 

Home Screens - Peter Lewis

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This week’s home screen feature Peter Lewis, maker of Keyboard Maestro, which recently got a nice update, one of my favorite productivity apps on the Mac. Peter not only shared his home screen but also some of his favorite apps on both iOS and Mac. So Peter, show us your home screen.

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What are some of your favorite apps?

BBEdit (forever!), PCalc and NetNewsWire 3 are always running, and Acorn and Interarchy are also mainstays. Mail and Xcode are always running too, but I wouldn't call either if them "favorites".

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Really Bad Chess on the iPad. That and chesstempo.com.

What app makes you most productive? 

Keyboard Maestro. Self-serving comment, sure, but other than Xcode, nothing is more important to my productivity.

What app do you know you're underutilizing?

Script Debugger. I'm not a particularly competent AppleScripter. I'm hopeful that Script Debugger will help improve that, but so far I've failed to get the most out of it.

What is the app you are still missing?

Not so much an app, but the whole home automation space seems almost entirely untapped in terms of potential. That said, I really don't understand people putting Internet connected microphones and cameras in their living rooms (or heaven forbid, their bedrooms!). But I'd definitely like to see some massive improvements in this space, and an iPad's size is probably a perfect fit for the controller.

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

iPad at night to play games. I use my iPhone sporadically but not for much, just for boring "Smart Phone" stuff like phone calls, Messages, and Maps.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

I use Workflow, but only for a few trivial tasks, mostly just emailing myself notes. None of my iPhone widgets really get much use — since I work from home on my Mac, I generally have access to my Mac whenever I want to do something, and so I don't need to try to shoehorn myself into a 4" screen.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

My favorite new feature is the "remember where I parked", although I'm looking forward to speed limits and lane guidance when it eventually comes to Australia.

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

A massive increase on the primacy of software quality. There are just too many bugs shipping currently. I'd also like to see a re-focus on the Mac and accept the duality, and free up the iPad/iPhone to be what they are good at instead of making them so complicated that they lose the simplicity advantage they had.

Thanks Peter.

iCloud Text Replacement

There has been a lot of press the last few weeks over iCloud’s lackluster text replacement feature. Brian Stucki wrote an excellent post documenting just how bad the service is.

I have to admit that I forgot iCloud even provided text replacement services. For years I would eagerly test out iCloud text replacement when there was a new version of iOS, but after a while I gave up. I could never get it to work reliably. Indeed, I wasted so much time trying to get it to work that I ultimately gave up and stopped trying.

I left my old job a few years ago, and iCloud text replacement still tries to occasionally drop in that old phone number even though I've fixed that entry repeatedly.

I think that is one of the challenges of iCloud. It covers so many different services that it's easy to lose one or two in the mix, especially when it's one that doesn't work reliably. That has certainly been the case with the text replacement feature.

The good news is that Apple is now moving text replacement onto the CloudKit API, which is much more reliable and should, hopefully, solve the problem once and for all. Indeed, Apple representatives told John Gruber that this rollout would happen "in the next month or so". I sure hope so.

10 Years of MacSparky

This year I'm celebrating 10 years of MacSparky.com.

It's hard to believe that a decade has gone by with me writing to the internet. In some ways, it feels like much less time. In other ways, I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing for this site.

When I was in college, I spent a significant amount of time studying the founding fathers. It seemed everyone had their own newspaper back then. Every kooky political belief had its own platform. In the 1980s, when I was in college, there were, realistically, three big media companies running the whole show. I was jealous of a time where anyone with an interesting idea could easily publish that to the public.

With that in mind, you can see why I gravitated toward the internet. But instead of writing about politics, I wanted to write about my love of getting work done and using Apple products to do so.

Starting this blog was one of the smartest things I've done in my lifetime. It's led to many wonderful friendships, a separate career in the publishing business, and ultimately my escape from a law firm into a lifestyle that works a lot better for me. In short, it saved me.

Thank you all for reading. As long as you keep showing up, I'll keep writing.

64 and 256

I recently spent some time in the Apple Store looking at the iPhone 8. There's a lot to like about the new iPhone. It's substantially better than its predecessor, and the glass back makes more of a difference than I thought it would. It's silly but one the thing that pleased me is the memory configurations of the new iPhone. By making just two options at 64GB and 256GB, Apple is correcting what I think has been a problem for years. No longer does someone buying an entry-level iPhone get a handicapped device. For so long, Apple was selling the entry-level iPhone at 16GB, which was not enough. Apple raised the entry-level iPhone to 32GB last year, but this new dual option policy where a user can get either 64GB (which is just fine for most people) or 256GB (which is just fine for the power users) makes a lot more sense.

No longer do I have to watch somebody buying a brand new 16GB iPhone in the Apple Store and restrain myself from telling a complete stranger they're making a mistake. I'm glad Apple has made this right.

The End of the Line for Windows Phone

Microsoft’s head of mobile business, Joe Belviore recently tweeted that Windows Phone will get no new features.

Ack.

I actually liked Windows Phone as a different take from the iPhone. It seems to me they were just too late to the market to ever get a foothold.

Regardless, I can’t help but think of the funeral Microsoft threw for the iPhone a few years ago. They had a hearse, pallbearers, and even bagpipes. Bagpipes! Looks like they were wrong about that.

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Pixelmator 3.7 Mount Whitney

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Pixelmator got its High Sierra update late last week. The new version lets you now launch Pixelmator directly from the Photos App and save edits back to your original image. It’s nice to have this feature back on the Mac. Pixelmator also now supports the new Apple HEIF image format. 

There are a bunch more small updates and fixes including fixing an Automator script bug. That little fix is one of the big reasons I am a Pixelmator user. They focus on Apple software and cover their bases on even the most obscure Mac-only features, even Automator.

Version 3.7 is a free update. Learn more directly from Pixelmator.

Mac Power Users 399: Workflows with Merlin Mann

This week, our original workflow guest, Merlin Mann, returns to the show to share how he’s getting so much work done on the iPad these days and the other bits of technology that make him happy.

Sponsored by: 

  • Fracture Bring your photos to life.
  • The Omni Group We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad. 
  • SaneBox Stop drowning in email!
  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore.

Sonos and Apple Music

Sonos is a great speaker system. After much badgering from Mac Power Users listeners, I started investing in them several years ago, and now I have a collection of them throughout my house. However, where Sonos failed to keep up was voice control. As Amazon, Google, and now Apple all start releasing their speaker-in-a-can products with voice assistants built-in, consumers are finding it easier to use their voice to play their music rather than fiddle with an application on the phone.

I have several friends who swear by playing music through their Amazon Echo devices because it's so easy. That has never been me. I love the sound of my Sonos system, and I can't imagine playing Miles Davis through the crappy little speaker of my Amazon Echo. Actually, I did try it once while I was making waffles. It was terrible, so I washed my hands and played it properly through the Sonos system. I’m picky about these things. I’m not even sure the Apple HomePod is going to be Miles-worthy.

Nevertheless, the rest of the world is moving forward with voice-based audio systems, and Sonos is behind in the game. This past week they attempted to solve that problem in a few ways.

First, they partnered with Amazon to build the Amazon Echo into the new Sonos One speaker. This gives you the convenience of the Amazon Echo combined with the quality of the Sonos speakers. Moreover, just having one of these in your Sonos system should let you drive everything using your voice.

I have received a lot of emails asking if I'm going to buy one of these. I'm not. While I have an Amazon Echo in my house, I'm increasingly pushing toward Siri with HomeKit devices, and I would ideally like to have just one ecosystem.

The real sticking point for me is that I'm a happy Apple Music subscriber. My entire family, including the non-geeks, has a complete understanding of how to find and play music on Apple Music and they love it. I’ve got some killer playlists, and I like the integration with Siri. Since I am all in with Apple gear, using their music streaming service makes a lot of sense.

Whether the issue is Apple or Amazon (or both), I don't know, but for whatever reason, Apple Music does not play through the Amazon Echo. To have a streaming service on your Amazon Echo, you need either Spotify or Amazon’s music streaming service. So even though Alexa can now talk to my Sonos, Alexa doesn’t have my Apple Music library, which in hindsight is one of the primary reasons I’m not so keen on adding more Echoes to my home.

That is, however, not the end of the story for Apple Music subscribers. Sonos also announced they're going to be incorporating AirPlay 2 next year. This is a new technology announced by Apple back in June at WWDC. This next iteration of AirPlay should allow you to easily drive your audio to any compatible speaker system. It is, however, a lot more than that. It also allows you to cache music and control sending the music via Siri. Dave Hamilton wrote an extensive piece on the uses of AirPlay 2 over at the Mac Observer.

It is my sincere hope that when all of this gets sorted out, I will be able to control my Sonos system with my voice through Siri, playing my Apple Music playlists. In theory, this wouldn't require me to buy any new speakers either. However, at this point, it is not an actual feature but instead a promise of a future feature. I hope Apple and Sonos can make that happen. In the meantime, if I want I want to play some music on my Sonos system, I have to take my phone out of my pocket and tap a few buttons, like an animal.