10 Years of MacBook Air

Stephen Hackett made a great little video celebrating ten years of the computer that Steve Jobs pulled out of an envelope. I was in the building that day at Macworld, but I couldn't get into the Keynote. In these days of thin MacBooks and iPads, it's easy to lose track of just how revolutionary the MacBook Air was. For early adopters, it was rough going with a very slow spinning disk (unless you paid a mint for the SSD) and a slow processor but even then it was clear Apple was rowing in the right direction. The original MacBook Air even had a hinged door for the USB port, making it feel more like a tiny spaceship than a computer.

The Sad State of the Apple Airport

Remember when the Apple Airport was the best home WiFi solution? I sure do. I had a series of terrible routers and finally spent the money on an Airport. The system tools were easy to use and the WiFi was substantially better in my house. But still not perfect.

Last year I started using the Eero Mesh networking routers (Disclosure: they're a. occasional MPU sponsor) and my home WiFi made one of those leaps in technology that makes all nerds so happy. Everything got much better and my family now has stopped pestering me about dodgy WiFi.

Meanwhile, the Airport lingers. We've even heard reports that the Airport team inside Apple has been disbanded. The latest penny to drop is the fact that Apple is now selling the Linksys mesh networking system (called "Velop") in Apple stores. I've never used the LInksys system but I'd bet that a mesh networking system from any reputable vendor is going to run circles around the Apple Airport. Nevertheless, the Airport still sits on the shelves of Apple Stores and unknowing customers are still buying the inferior system every day.

I'd argue that given the superiority of mesh networking, Apple either needs to improve the Airport line to also provide mesh networking or kill it altogether. I know this creates issues for the Time Capsule feature but I expect they could find a way around that. (Perhaps making it a network utility instead of a router.) Either way, home WiFi has made a significant jump over the last few years and unknowing Apple customers that expect the Airport to still be the best are missing out.

Home Screens – Jeff Perry

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This week’s home screen features Jeff Perry (Twitter), proprietor of TabletHabit.com where Jeff talk about how he uses his iPad as his exclusive computer. Jeff’s a busy guy, also producing his podcast, Getting Caught Up. So Jeff, show us your home screen.

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What are some of your favorite apps?

Ulysses is my primary app I use day-to-day as I write a blog and Ulysses is hands down the best writing app for bloggers in my opinion. 

I am also a big fan of Gladys as a shelf app on the iPad. It quickly turned into a utility app I use a lot when I have to save photos, links, and pretty much anything else from one app and I drag and drop them into Ulysses or into Wordpress itself. 

Calendars 5 is my main calendar and task management app of choice (it’s a long story and something I think I might write about). It has some quirks but it is a beautiful app with a high-functioning UI and works great.

Finally, I use Blink a lot to help get affiliate links for posts on my blog. I don’t have any sponsors or advertisements on my blog so the only source of revenue on there currently is affiliate links. I don’t make much but it helps keeps the lights on for the website. 

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Apollo. I joined reddit almost 10 years ago now and it has changed a lot in that time frame, mostly for the worst in my opinion. I still frequent Reddit but every time I do I feel like there could be something better with my time. Apollo as an app though is by far the best reddit app I have ever used, and the 10 years worth of apps I have used quite a few of them.

What app makes you most productive?

In terms of content creation it is Ulysses, in terms of managing my day-to-day tasks and keeping on track it would be Calendars 5.

Ulysses is a powerful text editing tool and by far the best writing app on iOS in my opinion. I write everything in Markdown and when I am writing to share something with other I use Ulysses 90% of the time. 

Calendars 5 is a new addition to my devices. I was a big user of Fantastical 2 on iOS but the agenda view wasn’t what I wanted when I looked at my calendar. I know a lot of people like it but for me I like to see my time in blocks and Calendars 5 offers the natural language addition with beautiful UI and Reminders integration. The only big difference is that it shows things in the traditional calendar format and I like that. 

What app do you know you're underutilizing?

Ulysses. I know there’s so much more I can do with this thing but for me it is just a very well performing markdown machine that integrates with WordPress for publishing articles. 

I’m sure there’s something I’m missing when it comes to what I can do to make my writing more efficient and I hope to learn more about the app soon. I purchased Shawn Blanc’s Ulysses Course but I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but it’s on my list of things to do in the new year. 

What is the app you are still missing?

I’m currently not using any dedicated task manager. I have tried everything under the sun and haven’t found anything that works the way I want it to. In a perfect world I would take the natural language Todoist has, the features OmniFocus has, and the design of Things 3 and have them fuse together to make the perfect app for me. Because of this, I have actually moved my big picture plans and goals into a bullet journal and my daily tasks into Calendars 5 with their Reminders Integration. 

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

I use my iPad as my main computer so whenever I need to do work I use that, my iPhone is there mainly as a way to send Bluetooth media to my AirPods and check Twitter in my downtime. But when I’m in a pinch I will write my thoughts and outlines into my iPhone to get it out of my head and then deal with it later. 

I usually am on my iPad working on Tablet Habit or my Podcast Getting Caught Up from when I get up at 10 am (I work my day job until midnight so I don’t get to bed until 2 am or so) until I leave for work at 2:30 pm. From there I bring my iPad with me to work for downtime during lunch to continue working on stuff. 

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

Workflow – One of the biggest things I want to start doing in 2018 is to track my time more and I found some modified workflows from Federico Viticci’s post that work quite well for me. So I signed up for Toggl and set up the workflows and so far it is working quite well. Instead of having these workflows as an icon on my home screen or take up space in my dock I have it as a widget to quickly start and stop timers for the work I am doing. 

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this but iOS 11 adding Drag and Drop to the iPad (and iPhone to some extent) has been an absolute dream. Especially with shelf apps like Gladys and Yoink coming into the picture. Those two things have killed several workflows I had previously because it is just a delight to use this feature and these apps with synergy that wasn’t on iOS before. 

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

I would have a bigger team in the Podcast department. From what I understand there is a very small team handling the entire podcast library and with Apple still having a huge stake in the game for podcasts I think a bigger team is necessary. There are a ton of companies and 3rd part hosting services trying to bridge the gap between host and platform but I think Podcasting needs to have more from Apple. It seems like this is something that is taking place currently with the beta of podcasting stats from Apple being implemented recently, so if they can keep that momentum I think we will see more from them in the coming years.

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

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My Apple Watch face is the modular face. I know a lot of people aren’t big fans of it but I use my watch to keep track of what I have going on and the modular watch face allows me to have my “terminal” on my wrist. 

I have the date and time on the top, because it is a watch after all. 

Reminders takes the bulk of my screen because I am using Reminders within Calendars 5 as my day-to-day task manager

The bottom three icons are messages, which is to check when family and my fiancé get a hold of me, Battery life (mainly because I have a Series 1 and it isn’t great on battery life. Finally I have a timer. I find myself setting timers for pretty much everything from work time-blocking, laundry, my lunch hour at my day job, everything and being able to quickly set a timer on my wrist is more convenient than my phone. 

What's your wallpaper and why?

iPhone - Cortex because it is my favorite background I have found that grids out each app without being intrusive. 

Anything else you'd like to share?

I have began to take on a minimalists perspective when it comes to a lot of aspects in my life, one being what I keep on my iPad and iPhone. Every single app I have on my devices is deliberate and with purpose. There are no games on it (I have a PS4 for that), and I purge unused apps regularly to keep a tight ship. 

I also just want to let anyone reading that I write about this stuff and how you can use an iPad as a main computer on my blog at TabletHabit.com and on a podcast called Getting Caught Up. I am active on Twitter and you follow me at @iamJeffPerry.

Finally I just want to thank you, David, for being an inspiration for me to start doing Tablet Habit!

Thanks, Jeff.

 

Free Agents 38 – Knit Your Parachute on the Way Down, with Thom Zahler

Speaking of Jason Snell, this week on the Free Agents we talk to artist and writer Thom Zahler, an independent creator for 15 years in indie comics (Love and Capes, Warning Label), licensed comics (My Little Pony), and animated television (Spider Man: Web Warriors, Knights of the Zodiac), about his journey from art school student to freelancer to full-on free agent, and how his business has grown and changed over the years.

Jason Snell on the New T2

I enjoyed Jason Snell's explanation of the new T2 chip in the iMac Pro. The T2 increases security and takes over for a lot of tasks traditionally covered by a suite of separate controllers. I agree with Jason that we should fully expect the T2 (or T3) to start showing up in future Macs. It solves too many problems not to go across the line. I also look at this as further evidence that Apple isn't done with the Mac.

MPU 412 – Stephen Hacket Returns

This week on the Mac Power Users, Stephen Hackett returns to talk about his transition into video production, Internet automation, his home studio, audio and video gear, a new iMac and more.

Sponsors Include:

  • PDFpen from Smile With powerful PDF editing tools, available for Mac, iPad, and iPhone, PDFpen from Smile makes you a Mac Power User.
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  • Timing: The automatic time tracking app for macOS. Use code mpu to save 10% on your purchase.

The Demise of Transmit and the Future of Pro Level iOS Apps

A few days ago Panic announced their decision to stop development of their popular file sharing app for iOS, Transmit. This news is not surprising.

For a few years now Panic has made public statements about how little income they’re making off their pro-level iOS apps, and I really can’t blame them for pulling Transmit if it is losing them money.

What is even more upsetting is that an app of the calibre of Transmit for iOS is a financial failure and none of us are much surprised. There are so many iPads and iPhones out in the world. Granted not everyone will need a world-class file sharing app, but enough should need it that an app like Transmit for iOS can flourish.

If this were a simple problem, it would already be solved, but I think it is a combination of factors: hardware, operating system, software, and App Store climate.

Concerning those first two items, we’ve made a lot of progress. iPad and iPhone hardware is solid … and fast! The operating system made a lot of headway in 2017, and we’re all waiting for June to see if Apple is keeping the pedal down on making iOS more productive on an annual basis.

The problem right now is software and App Store economics. Put simply, there isn’t enough pro-level software for iOS. I'm sure there a lot of reasons for this but a big one is the race-to-the-bottom App Store economy. 

I use Transmit both on my Mac and iOS devices. I don’t recall what I originally paid for Transmit, but I believe it was in the neighborhood of $50. Since then I’ve upgraded twice so let’s say I’ve now given Panic $100 for the privilege of having their app on my Mac. 

When I bought Transmit for my iOS devices, I paid $10. That is it. I’ve been using the app for years and all the money Panic ever got out of me was $10, less than I'm going to spend today on lunch.

If iOS is going to continue to evolve, it will need more apps like Transmit, not less. It seems that Apple has taken some recent steps, including a change in management, to help make the App Store more developer friendly. I hope that bears fruit because, in my mind, software is the weak link right now on the iPad and iPhone and Apple should be doing everything it can to encourage the development of professional level apps.

Bad Chips and the Future of Mac Silicon

Yesterday we received news of a flaw with Intel chips that is, overall, terrible news. Early estimates are that repairing the vulnerability will require fixes in software and could slow down chip performance.

For years now, people have been talking about Apple moving its ARM-based chips to the Mac. At first, the idea seemed ridiculous, but as the ARM chips have improved and Intel has missed several ship deadlines, the idea is at least worth thinking about.

It seems to me there are at least a few conflicting priorities at Apple around this decision. On the one hand, designing its own chip and getting rid of reliance on Intel is right up Apple's alley. They love controlling the whole widget and making their own silicon for their mobile devices worked out brilliantly.

On the flip side, I don't think Apple wants to spend the resources necessary to switch the Mac off of the Intel chips. Like it or not, the Mac does not have the priority at Apple that it used to. I'm sure there are a lot of people that don't want to put effort into changing the underlying Mac processor. 

All that said, if Intel indeed did drop the ball here, it is precisely problems like this that would result in an eventual ARM Mac. This will be a fun story to follow going forward.

Photo Sorting and Pruning on iPhone

I’ve been taking a lot of pictures lately, and if you looked at my iPhone, you’d see a lot of photo bloat. You know what I mean, right? You take five pictures of people in one pose when you just need one. There is nothing wrong with that. Often it turns out to be picture number 2, 3, 4, or 5 that is the real keeper. The challenge is quickly getting rid of the non-keepers.

Flic Screenshot – Why so blurry? (Click to enlarge)

For a while now I’ve been using Flic for this. Flic is a straightforward iPhone app that displays photos from your photo library and lets you quickly keep or discard them. Swipe right to keep, swipe left to trash. The app is a great idea and an easy way to separate the wheat from the chaff as your sort through photos. On vacation, I would go through this app every evening and have a more-or-less pruned photo library on days where I took a lot of pictures. However, lately I’ve been unhappy with Flic. My problem is that its picture preview mode renders images a little blurry. In my haste to get through photos, I tend to forget this and more than once I found myself trashing good photos. 

So I started looking for a replacement and landed on an optimistically named app, Best Photos. This app isn’t quite as simple as Flic. With Best Photos, you can flick up and down between photos and tap a trash can or heart icon to either trash or favorite image. You can also compare two photos on the screen at once. Best Photos is more powerful than Flic but still generally allows you to sort through images quickly. Most importantly, its photo renders are much better than those in Flic so I can do a better job in assessing keepers, which was entirely the point.

Because Best Photos already has you using gestures to move between images, it would be nice if they added a gesture to Trash or Favorite photos, rather than tapping an icon. Nevertheless, Best Photos is a better experience overall for me particularly because of the way it renders the images. 

Best Photos Screenshot (Click to enlarge)

This problem could be solved in the Apple Photos app with a setting that turns off deletion confirmation, but I have to admit I'm not entirely certain I'd want deletion to be that easy.

Get Better at Managing your Time in 2018 with the Timing App (Sponsor)

Welcome to 2018! Want to get things better this year? A great way to start would be by discovering where you’re spending your time on your Mac.

This week’s sponsor, Timing, is a tool to help you get rolling. I realized several months ago I was increasingly under water with my own productivity. So I started drilling in on Timing, and it’s beautiful reports showing me where I was spending time. Timing is a timer app that doesn’t require you to manually start an stop timers. Instead, it pays super-close attention to everything you do on your Mac and then reports back to you.

Timings reports are always enlightening and sometimes brutally honest. Reading my own reports, I found that I was sinking a lot of time into some work-related tasks that could easily be off-loaded to someone else. So I did that and got back to work. After a few weeks, I had newer-fresher Timing data that helped me further get rid of unwanted work and identify my own personal time sucks. 

The folks at Timing are serious about productivity. They even write about it on their blog with this post with some solid advice for New Year's productivity and habits.

Timing doesn’t put your data in the cloud. Timing has been crucial for me, and I expect it can help you too. Don’t believe me? Download their free trial software and see for yourself. 

Try the free 14-day trial and get 10% off until for a limited time using this link. Let Timing help you get 2018 started right.

MPU 411 – A Pretty Good Year

In the latest episode of Mac Power Users, as we wrap up 2017 we take a look back at the workflows that worked for us in 2017 including paperless practice, writing workflows, cloud storage, hiring help and more. We also discuss the practices we intend to change in 2018, and gaze into the crystal ball and look at what we may expect from Apple in the year to come.

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Zoinks! It's the ComicBooksFonts Sale

While I've never written a comic book, I've used a lot of the ComicBookFonts fonts for things like presentations, diagrams, and even legal presentations. Every year they have a massive sale on January 1 where pretty much everything is a penny per year, making everything this year $20.18. This is a significant savings with some of the fonts costing in the hundreds. If you're looking for something to get started, I'd recommend Hedge Backwards or ComicCrazy

My iPhone Photographer Camera Kit

I'm currently on a family trip and as I was packing I stumbled across my camera bin. It’s a pretty big plastic bin in which I’ve kept spare lenses, caps, tripod mounting points, cleaning kits, and the rest of the flotsam and jetsam from my various cameras over the years. There was a lot of stuff in there that I'd forgot I owned. The last few years, I’ve been doing my photography exclusively with iPhone. Although I didn’t need anything from the box, I do still have a small camera kit for when I want to get fancy shoot pictures with my iPhone and I thought I'd share it here.

Click to enlarge all pictures in this post.

The Bag

This is a small sized packing cube that I bought with this set. I keep it in a handy place and it’s always ready to go with me, loaded with iPhone photo accessories.

Mounting Gear

The Glif

This is the latest iteration of the Glif tripod mounting point for the iPhone and by far, in my opinion, the best. With the new, easy ratchet feature I can attach any iPhone, regardless of whether any case is attached. 

The Glif Handle

There is also a combo kit that includes a Glif and this turned piece of wood with a mounting screw on the top. I use it most often for shooting video. Combining this big handle with the iPhone’s software motion smoothing gets some really clean video.

The Joby Micro Tripod

This is the smallest tripod I’ve ever seen. It folds up to easily fits in the coin pocket of a pair of jeans. Indeed, it’s so small that I’ve misplaced one somewhere in my house and now I’ve got a second one. I like using this tripod for taking family pictures or even, in a jam, getting a long exposure of something interesting. I can’t tell you the number of pictures I’ve taken with the micro tripod holding my Glif-equipped iPhone while sitting on a table or even trash can.

The Joby Magnetic Tripod

This tripod is the most recent addition to my gear. It uses those Joby interlocking points to give it flexible, trappable legs and it also has magnets at the bottom of each foot giving you one more way to lock your camera down. I haven’t had the guts to hang it upside down for a photo using the magnets yet, but I'm tempted. I’m looking forward to trying this new tripod out on the trip.

Lenses

DxO One

The DxO One is a 20MB sensor that attaches to your iPhone via the Lightning port. It’s a replacement camera lens and sensor for your iPhone with a much bigger sensor than the one in your iPhone and capable of taking some nice pictures. I’ve had this several years now and while the battery is starting to show its age, I still find this lens useful. At this point, I only use the DxO for still images. In my opinion, the iPhone X takes better video than the DxO. It will be interesting to see how many more years before iPhone computational photography can advance to a point that I stop carrying the DxO, but we’re not there yet.

Moment Lenses

While I’ve always liked the idea of bolt-on lenses for iPhone, the mounting systems always make me weary. We’ve been talking about this on Mac Power Users and Moment sent me a few of their lenses to try out on my trip. Moment lenses use a proprietary case that is the best solution I’ve seen yet. The case looks nice and has mounting points over the built-in iPhone lenses that let you screw the lenses onto the case. If you get a new iPhone with a different design, all you have to do is buy the new appropriate case and the lenses will work with it. This makes a solid, secure connection that you can remove in seconds. I can’t wait to take pictures with these lenses and report back. Pictured is their Fisheye and Wide lenses.

Lume Cube

I bought this a few years ago. It’s an LED-based external flash that can either sync to a specific iPhone app or just blast a backlight. I often use this to put a light behind or to the side of a subject for shots in the dark. LumeCube Kick-Started a new version that’s even smaller last year and I backed it. I can’t wait to have a second for even better non-flash lighting.

So that’s it. A small collection of gear put together over the years that help me take better pictures with my iPhone. One of the nice things about iPhone photography is that most times you don’t need a bag. I’ll normally pick and choose from this kit based on what I intend to shoot that day and usually, everything fits in my pockets.

 

The State of Cloud Syncing and Collaboration

Last week Gabe Weatherhead wrote a post explaining how, for him, cloud syncing has become a non-issue. We discussed this recently on the Mac Power Users. It is remarkable how far we've come in the last five years concerning syncing data between multiple devices. At this point, I'm using two Macs, two iPads, and an iPhone and I spend very little time thinking about how or why my data is always in sync. As I am heading out the door, I will make my decision between an iPad and a Mac on a whim and no matter what I device I leave with I've got access to all the data I need provided there is an Internet connection.

It didn't use to be that way. Just a few years ago, it required a lot of forethought before leaving and maybe running an application or two to manually sync data across devices. While Dropbox is the usual reason why this stuff works out so well, I've been using iCloud since the IOS 11 beta and had mostly the same results.

If there are any rough edges around syncing between multiple devices the days, it is application based. For example, I do a lot of work in iBooks Author, which is an application designed with little thought for synchronizing between multiple devices. While I store the iBooks Author file on iCloud storage, opening it up in two different instances on two different devices can lead to shenanigans. While users need to be aware of these edge cases, in large part the hardware and Internet backbone synchronization is all in place.

To me the obvious next step for technology companies after mastering synchronization is collaboration. Google is the front-runner in this space. Google documents and Google sheets synchronize flawlessly. Several elements of my MacSparky business are based on collaborative Google documents and Google Sheets, and it's a service that I rely on every day. Apple is trying to up their collaboration game with iWork and Microsoft is doing the same with Office, but nobody has nailed this down as well as Google.

So one of the questions in my mind is whether or not collaboration is also something that will in the not so distant future become a solved problem. The necessary first step for all that is a reliable backbone synchronization engine. We have that. The next step is for software developers to take this problem seriously and give it the appropriate attention to make synchronization something that we can do without relying on the web-based applications. We've seen some steps in that direction, but I feel like we still have a long way to go.

 

Merry Christmas! Now Download Some Jazz

Merry Christmas everybody. I hope you and your family are enjoying a great holiday. This year I shared my Yule jazz playlist, and its got lots of subscribers. I've heard from listeners that are using it for everything from cooking Christmas dinner to playing in the background while they perform surgery (that's true!).

Anyway, if you'd like to listen to my favorite jazz Christmas music, check it out for Apple Music. Also, thanks to listener Alex for converting the list to Spotify and posting it on the Mac Power Users Facebook group.

Great Mac Software Deals at WinterFest (Sponsor)

The new year is just around the corner, and maybe you’re thinking about a big project or two you want to get off the ground. That may take some quality Mac software and this week’s sponsor, the Winter Festival of Artisanal Software will get you sorted out.

WinterFest is a collection of some of the premier Mac developers all putting their software on sale at a significant discount. Get 25% off Tinderbox, Nisus Writer Pro, DEVONthink, Panorama X, TaskPaper, Scapple, PDFpen, HoudahSpot, and more. It’s like a greatest hits list from Mac Power Users, and they’re all on sale. There isn’t a single app on this list that I wouldn’t recommend.

So go check out WinterFest and get the tools you need to go on the attack in 2018.

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MPU 409 – Holiday Tech

"Deck the Halls with Ones and Zeroes." 

In this episode, we break down all the ways to use your technology for the holidays including smart decorations, streaming audio (and David's Yule playlist), managing parties with tech, recommended family-friendly Apple TV games, David's holiday card production workflow and Katie's envelope hacks, tracking gift giving, and setting up your network for visiting relatives and friends.

Sponsored include:

  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. 
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.
  • Jamf Now: Manage your Apple devices from anywhere. Get your first three devices free!
  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.