My Talk at CMD-D 2017

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Speaking of Automation and Sal Soghoian, Sal recently posted a video of my presentation at his CMD-D conference last year along with several of the other speakers. My talk was about the Workflow application. This was one of my favorite (and most challenging) talks because the audience ranged from people that had never used Workflow to the actual application developers. Yikes. This was before we learned about Siri Shortcuts but there is still some good stuff. Finally, Sal is going to do the CMD-D conference again this year, and it is a three day AppleScript intensive.

Automators 3 with Sal Soghoian

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Between moving into the new home office and dealing with the wildfire last week (that ended up a lot closer to my house than I would have liked), I neglected to post about the latest episode of the Automators.

Episode 3 is our first episode featuring a guest, and there is no one better as a first Automators guest than Sal Soghoian. Formerly at Apple, Sal has been an advocate of Automation with Apple gear for years. In this episode, Sal walks us through how to create an AppleScript. Sal created a website for this episode so you can learn along with him while sitting at your Mac. Rose did a complete write-up of the show over at her website. This is a pretty remarkable experience for an audio podcast, and I'm proud to have been a small part of it.

Get Ahead with OmniFocus 3 - Sponsor

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This week MacSparky is sponsored by the Omni Group and their latest version of OmniFocus for the iPhone and iPad, OmniFocus 3. The latest version adds several new features while still keeping it a beautiful (and usable) app. What features you may ask? Why don’t you try these on for size:

  • Tags! Make them for people, energy level, priority, location, or whatever floats your boat. 
  • The Forecast view now shows your tasks and calendar events in order, so you can better see what’s coming up in your day and adjust if needed. 
  • Enhanced repeating tasks are easier than ever to set up and they work with real-world examples, such as the first weekday of the month. 
  • Batch editing has been brought over from the Mac, and it lets you set due dates, tags, and other data for multiple tasks all at once. 
  • Flexible inspectors now allow you to show only the features you use and reorder them, so your favorites are where you want them. 

There is a bunch more. Just try it for yourself. Also, did you know that the Omni Group has world-class support? If you need help, they even have an 800 number. 

Conquer your task list today with OmniFocus 3.

The Next iPad

Jason Snell wrote up a nice summary of the current rumors and his opinions on the upcoming iPad at Macworld. It seems a near certainty that we'll get at least one new iPad next month with Face ID since the current iOS 12 betas on iPad have gone out of their way to move all information to the top right and left of the screen, thus making room for a notch. That bit of evidence also makes me think the iPad Pro will have an edge-to-edge screen since the current iPad Pro design has plenty of room in the forehead to accommodate the Face ID sensors without adding a notch.

Another interesting point is that with an edge-to-edge screen, what will happen with finger detection on the edges? When the iPad was first released, Apple made a pretty big deal out of the fact that it needed borders so you could hold it without touching the capacitive screen on the device. I know they've been working around that on the iPhone but I expect that problem to be harder to solve on the iPad where everyone will nearly always have at least one finger holding (and touching) the front of an edge-to-edge screen.

Mac Power Users 443: Revisiting Music Management

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Join Katie and I on this week's episode of Mac Power Users as we revisit music management and discuss the state of the two major streaming services, how things have changed iTunes Match, managing our music, and audio at home and in the car.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • 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. 
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.
  • Marketcircle: We help small business grow with great Mac, iPhone and iPad apps including Daylight and Billings Pro.

Get Automated with TextExpander – Sponsor

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This week’s MacSparky sponsor, TextExpander, is one of my favorite tools to recommend to folks interested in working smarter, not harder. TextExpander is a text expansion tool that changes your game. Text expansion tools have always been useful. Type “ccell" and the app automatically fills in your cell phone number, correctly formatted. 

What makes TextExpander so much better, however, is all the icing on the cake. And when it comes to TextExpander, there is a lot of icing. 

Need rich text and a picture in your snippet? Yup.

Want to add an AppleScript to your snippet? TextExpander does that.

Want to share snippets? You can do that. (I did that.)

Want to use it on Windows, Mac, and iOS. TextExpander does that too.

You can even get team accounts, so everyone in your company is giving out precisely the right message.

I use TextExpander every day, and the application saves me a ton of time. If you’d like to make your computer do the work, so you don’t have to, look no further. Check out TextExpander, and let them know you heard about it here for a discount.

Free Agents 53: The Value of Your Time

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Mike and I talk about protecting your most valuable resource and how to figure out what you shouldn’t be doing anymore on this week's episode of Free Agents. Mike gets inspired during his personal retreat and learns how to say “no.” I learn the hard way from my recent travels, but I have a plan for what to do differently next time.

This episode of Free Agents is sponsored by:

  • Hover: Show the world what you’re passionate about with 10% off your first purchase.
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code FREEAGENTS at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.
  • FreshBooks: Online invoicing made easy.

Mac Power Users 442: Workflows with Joe Buhlig

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Joe Buhlig joins Katie and me on this week's episode to talk about his iPadless life, analog tools for productivity, live streaming, managing a business, Discourse, and more.

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

Save Email Attachments to the Cloud with SaneBox

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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.

Apple Killing the Mac and iOS App Affiliate Programs

Today sent an email out to affiliate program members (myself included) explaining they will no longer be paying affiliate fees for Mac and iOS applications. There are a lot of podcasters and bloggers, myself included, that receive small bits of income through affiliate linking apps. For those of us in that category, it will sting a bit, but not be a business-ending event.

On the other hand, this is terrible news for some of the aggregator sites that do a good job of finding good apps to recommend to their readers, like TouchArcade, and pay their bills nearly entirely based on affiliate income. These sites have served an important role to the community over the years, particularly when the App Stores were particularly abysmal, and I honestly don't know how any of them can stay open with the loss of affiliate income. Imagine how many great websites, like Wirecutter, would get shut down if Amazon stopped making affiliate payments.

It's easy to think of Apple as an old friend and forget that they are a for-profit corporation. I think refusing to pay affiliate fees is silly in light of the fact that third parties are driving lots of sales in the Mac and iOS app stores every day. Frankly, one of the reasons I'm moving away from the iBooks platform is becasue I don't want to get caught up if they decide it isn't worth the effort in a few years.

One last thought is why they are only cancelling affiliate payments for apps? Music, video, and book affiliate links will presumably still work. Are those next or are there industry pressures keeping Apple from shutting them down.

 

Mac Power Users 441: MPU+: The Grass Is Always Greener

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Join us for this week's episode to hear Katie and I talk about how it's easier now than ever before to cut the cable, Katie's moves away from Evernote, my experimentation with iOS Mail clients, getting burned when selling online, choosing an email provider, the iOS 12 Beta, and answer listener questions.  

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. Ever.
  • 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. 
  • Gazelle: Sell your iPhone for cash at Gazelle!

Free Agents 52: You Can't Be What You Can't See with Ann Shen

Ann Shen started her career as a grant writer and realized that the ladder she was climbing was leaning against the wrong wall. She then took the courageous step of going to art school and starting over again. Since then, with a combination of skill, grit, and newfound faith in herself, she's gone a long way as a free agent. Click here to listen to Ann's story on this week's episode of Free Agents.

This episode of Free Agents is sponsored by:

  • Hover: Show the world what you’re passionate about with 10% off your first purchase.
  • FreshBooks: Online invoicing made easy.

Plan Your Day with OmniFocus - Sponsor

This week, MacSparky is sponsored by the Omni Group and their new release OmniFocus 3 for iOS. I love the new version of OmniFocus for my iPad and iPhone. 

One of my favorite new features is the improved Forecast view. With the new version, OmniFocus mixes your due tasks in between your events, in order. Then, in Forecast view, you can see exactly how your day will (ideally) go. Click to enlarge the sample below.

So much of staying productive hinges on setting yourself up for success without overdoing it. Laying your calendar on top of your tasks in order has really helped me be more realistic in planning my days.

That is just one feature of the new OmniFocus 3 for iPad and iPhone. The Omni Group is a brilliant group of programmers, designers, and generally nice people. Head over to the OmniFocus website to learn more.

Mac Power Users 440: Workflows with Thom Zahler

Artist, illustrator, and cartooner Thom Zahler talks about his life as a comic book artist and writer and the digital and analog tools he uses on this week's MPU episode. He shares how he makes a living and his experience on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • 1Password: Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. Save up to 20% using this link.
  • Pixelmator Pro: The world’s most innovative image editing app.
  • SaneBox: Stop drowning in email!
  • Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. Ever.

Automators Ep. 2 – Email Automation

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The latest episode of the Automators is up. This episode focusses on automating email. Should all of your emails be special snowflakes? No. You should automate that email so you can spend your time making things you love instead of answering email. So what are the tools?

Automating Email on the Mac

TextExpander

TextExpander is one of the best ways to get started with automation, and it is particularly suited to email. While there are plenty of text expansion apps, TextExpander is the only one that allows you to code in keyboard control and scripting

For example, using TextExpander, I can make a snippet that I activate in the subject line of an email that will create the subject line, press the tab key (jumping the cursor to the body of the email), type in the recipient's name, and finally write the body of the email. This goes way beyond basic text expansion and is a great way to handle repetitive emails quickly.

For bonus points, when I'm sending out emails for customer support, I will often have the snippet grab the contents of my clipboard which may contain a customer name or a discount code.

I know this is basic automation, but it’s something that everybody should know how to do. You can download the TextExpander snippet for your own use.

Adding a bit of AppleScript, you can also automate insertion of the recipient's name. Here's the snippet group and below is the video.

 

Automator

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Automator is another vector toward automating email on your Mac. Automator includes a specific action to create and send an email. Unfortunately, you cannot insert variables for the recipient and other email fields. Instead, you either pre-populate in the script or you have it ask you when it runs. While this can be helpful, the way Workflow (and Siri shortcuts) let you populate these fields with automation generated text and contacts is the way to go. The below screenshot demonstrates the Automator actions available for email.

Click to enlarge.

Keyboard Maestro

Keyboard Maestro excels at email assembly and sending. Our best example of this is a Keyboard Maestro script that looks for the existence of a particular file. When Keyboard Maestro determines the file exists, Keyboard Maestro generates an email and attaches the file and then, if you're brave, sends the email for you.

Auto Sorting Email on the Mac

There are so many tools to sort your email. Apple Mail's built-in mail sorting rules are powerful. If you use Gmail, they have a lot of cloud-based rules to sort email for you.

If you use Apple Mail, check out Mail Act-On which lets you automatically file email.

AppleScript

AppleScript still has its use in email. I have an Apple Script I use (demonstrated above) that grabs the name of the email recipient from the email field and inserts it in the email. 

Automating Email on iOS

Often, automation for email on iOS comes down to the app you use. Rose uses Airmail and automates it often, as demonstrated by the below custom action screencast.

Dispatch is another good option for automating email. It automatically fills in the recipient name, it creates universal email links, and supports TextExpander. Drafts is another option for creating email. It’s a great app and allows you to write email without getting trapped in your inbox.

Workflow and Email

Workflow is one of the best tools for automating email on iOS. With Workflow you can truly create an iOS-based mail merge. Rose demonstrates this in a screencast. You can also download the Workflow and the Drafts action group.

Rose also mentioned a Workflow to automatically mail the most recent picture. Here it is.

Web-Based Automation

Google is the post child for powerful web-based email automation. There is almost no limit, so long as you are in the Google sandbox. Google's not the only option though. Microsoft also has web-based email automation. MPU sponsor SaneBox also supports the rest of us.

About the Automators

As you can see, our mission statement at Automators is that anybody can automate. I'm looking at you. If you like Mac Power Users, consider this show the other bookend. Listen to the show, download the samples, become a badass. Also please subscribe to the show, give it a review, and check out the Automators forum.

iOS Customer Preferences

9to5 Mac linked to this Creative Strategies report concerning App Store user preferences. There are a few points of note.

Many Users Rely on Google to Find Apps

Only 16% of the surveyed iOS users exclusively rely on the App Store to find new apps. I view this as an indictment of the App Store. For years it was terrible. I remember when I would search for "Tweetbot" by name and the app would return five twitter apps, none of which were Tweetbot.

I think Apple improved the App Store (a lot) last year with the new iOS App Store (and they look to do the same this year on the Mac). Nevertheless, the die has been cast. It's going to take a while for users to start trusting the App Store again. If you've given up on the iOS App Store, I recommend you give it a closer look. It's a lot better than it used to be.

Users Still Don't Like Subscriptions

54% of iOS users surveyed said they prefer a one-time payment over subscriptions. Frankly, I expected that number to be higher. While nobody is particularly happy about it, I do think users are coming to understand that there are instances where the subscription model makes sense. I'm also encouraged how some companies can avoid the subscription model and even achieve a sort-of upgrade pricing. The Omni group comes to mind. With the most recent version of OmniFocus, they did not require a subscription but instead, through some clever programming, give owners of the prior version a 50% discount. This is the closest thing I've seen to upgrade pricing on iOS, and I hope other developers consider it.