PDF Troubles

I am receiving a lot of email lately from readers encountering PDF problems on the Mac. If that’s you, you’re not alone. Apparently with the release of macOS Sierra, Apple rewrote many of the PDFKit frameworks used in Preview and several other third party PDF applications. (This is why the Fujitsu ScanSnap took longer to become Sierra-friendly.) 

The underlying problem is that Apple wants to use the same foundational PDF code for both macOS and iOS. Sierra is where they started implementing this. Unfortunately, in doing so, they broke much of the code PDF apps rely upon. It was a good idea hatched too early. Adam Engst did his usual bang-up job talking to developers about this over at TidBITS.

I spend most of my time working with PDFs in PDFpen, which largely does not rely on Apple’s frameworks and works fine. After getting all this email, however, I decided to use Preview for a few days to see how bad it is. It’s a mess. Preview cannot not display (or properly save) some of my form PDFs and seems to be wiping the OCR text layer out of previously OCR’d PDFs.

I fully expect this will get fixed but in the meantime, I'm sticking with PDFpen and I recommend you do the same.

Chris Lattner on Accidental Tech Podcast

This week Chris Lattner, the recently departed Apple employee that pioneered the Swift programming language, guested on the Accidental Tech Podcast. The interview, overall, is very comforting for people worried about the future of Swift and other things Apple. The ATP gang handled the interview with aplomb. Listening to Chris made me want to jump deeper into learning Swift. If only I had a time turner.

I also like the fact that this interview took place on a podcast. 

Apple News - Worth a Second Look

Without thinking too much about it, I’ve switched over to Apple News as nearly my exclusive source for news over the past six months. The iOS 10 Apple News re-design works for me. As a frequent user of the iPad and iPhone I like the way Apple News fits into my workflow. It gives me notifications, but not nearly as many as other news sources. Likewise, when I'm in the lock screen, the Apple News widget gives me just what I need and no more.

Apple News does a good job of finding news interesting to me. However, at the same time I still get important news from other sources. Apple News doesn't isolate me in my own little self-created bubble. I like that.

One of my favorite things about Apple News is that it is self contained. I can spend 20 minutes in the app and get a pretty good idea what’s going on in the world without falling into the news rabbit-hole, spending 3 hours reading and getting nothing else done.

Talking to some friends, it appears I'm not alone in coming around to Apple News. If you haven’t tried Apple News lately, you should.

MPU 360: Workflows with Charles Perry

This week Charles Perry, one of the organizers of the Release Notes conference, joins us to talk about turning his passion into a business, then a podcast, then a successful conference and the tools and logistics behind all of it.

Sponsors include:

  • Ministry of Supply: Dress smarter. Work smarter. Get a free pair of Smarter Dress Socks with your first purchase.
  • 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. 
  • Marketcircle We help small business grow with great Mac, iPhone and iPad apps including Daylight and Billings Pro.

Terminology 4.0 - A Word Tool

I spend a lot of time working with words so I am always looking for apps that can help me out. Terminology (Website) (App Store) is one of those apps. Terminology's been in active development since 2010 and this week Agile Tortoise, the developer, released Terminology version 4.0. Features include:

Dictionary

There’s a full off-line root word dictionary and semantic reference with concise definitions for common words and phrases. 

Thesaurus

I use this feature often. It shows word relations, including synonyms and antonyms and it runs deeper than most of the other apps I’ve tried. This also works through an extension so you can look for new words from anywhere on iOS.

Reference Tool

You can use the application as a jumping off point for Google searches, Wikipedia, and other web resources. With the Pro version you can even make custom URL-based actions. Terminology is very automation friendly. This shouldn’t surprise you. It’s developed by the same guy that makes Drafts.

Terminology 4 is universal for iPhone and iPad and they have a new model with a free download and a $1.99 Pro unlock to remove ads and enable custom actions and dark mode. Below is a video showing off some of the features.

Sponsor: CardioBot Heart Rate and Activity Monitor

Something you may not realize if you are wearing an Apple Watch is that it is checking your heart rate every 4 minutes during the day. (It’s much more frequent when you are working out.) Your heart rate data is really useful to understanding your overall health. Heart rate data helps assess periods of fat burning and high intensity during workouts and even helps you understand your sleep quality.

The problem is finding a way to access and comprehend that data. That’s where CardioBot comes in. CardioBot takes your heart rate data and displays it for you in easy to understand charts and graphs. It tracks your minimum, maximum, and average heart rate during the day. Here’s my data for January 14.

 

Moreover, when you workout there are additional charts showing the highest intensity, fat burning periods. In this workout I started with weights and later got on the treadmill, which really got my ticker going.

CardioBot doesn’t add to your battery drain. It simply takes your heart data and puts it in simple (and attractive!) charts that you can easily understand. 

CardioBot can also help you improve your sleep using detailed sleep analysis. I really like the design of this app and for just $3 it sure is nice to have easy access to my heart rate data. I'm looking forward to dropping this on my doctor at my next checkup. If you’ve got an Apple Watch, this one is absolutely worth it. You can find it today on the App Store.

 

Discounted Productivity Apps and Services

SaneBox has partnered up with several productivity apps and services to offer some nice discounts. There’s no purchase required. It’s just a group of services offering a discount. For example, you can get six months of free 1Password or 30% off TextExpander and Rescue Time. There’s a lot of services on this list to which I already subscribe and a few I'm thinking about trying out.

iOS Automation and Evolution

Sal Soghoian leaving Apple was bad news for those of us interested in automation. If that cloud has a silver lining, however, it’s that we get to hear more of Sal’s thoughts about automation on Apple platforms. Recently, Sal published this piece on MacStories which makes the case that extensions are simply not enough for true automation on iOS. I agree.

It seems that Apple truly believes the future of computing is all about iPad and iPhone, not the Mac. They are probably right. If you look at the way the hardware has advanced on iPad over the last few years, you can clearly see that this is enough computer for most people to get work done.

The hangup at this point is the software. The iOS operating system is not robust enough to get a lot of work done. Before you start emailing me, I understand there are a lot of people getting by with iPad alone. However that involves a lot of workarounds and accommodations that, frankly, we shouldn’t have to make.

If the iPad and iPhone are to take that next step, Apple’s going to have to ease up a bit on its emphasis of simplicity for iOS and add some more advanced features. A logical way for applications to communicate with each other is one way they could do this.

The question is whether or not Apple is committed to doing so. If the final decision out of Cupertino is that the iOS operating system should not get more complex and powerful, I don’t see how it evolves to further replace traditional computers.

MPU 359: Big Questions

The Mac Power Users has a pretty big audience. As a result, Katie and I get a lot of email asking questions. We thought it’d be fun to do a show answering some of the most common questions. So we did. This episode covers backing up photos, task overload, Apple IDs, cold storage backup, moving your iTunes library, the differences between tasks and calendar items, and more.

Sponsors include:

  • Gazelle Sell your iPhone for cash at Gazelle! 
  • MindNode Delightful mind mapping for your Mac, iPad, and iPhone.
  • Pixelmator Powerful image editing that gives you everything you need to create, edit and enhance your images, now on iPad and Mac.
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.

Sponsor – Agenda Minder

This week MacSparky is sponsored by Agenda Minder. We all spend time complaining about meetings but not enough of us do anything to make them better. Agenda Minder is a Mac app that lets you pull meetings in from your calendar and organize them. You can quickly find the right meeting by sorting meeting name or date. You can also filter your meetings based on when they occur. Once you add or import meetings, Agenda Minder lets you easily add agenda items along with data about objectives, notes, task owners, and time. Agenda Minder helps you plan and execute your meetings regardless of whether your other team members adopt it.

Agenda Minder’s developer keeps adding polish and features. Indeed there are so many new features and polish that the price is going to go up soon so if you’re interested, now’s the time to check out Agenda Minder.

Where’s iPod?

Do you remember when the iPod was the most important Apple product? Not anymore.

I spent a little time at the Apple Store recently and just for giggles started looking for the iPods. It turns out the entire iPod line gets one-half of one shelf. Looking around the rest of the store, the iPod gets the same amount of shelf space as 1/20 of the space afforded headphones. Times sure have changed for Apple in the last 10 years.

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Finding a Missing AirPod

A listener sent me a link to a new iPhone application, Finder for AirPods. It’s an interesting idea. It measures the signal strength to the AirPod as a sort of homing beacon to help you find a lost AirPod.

I decided to take one for the team and I spent four bucks to give the app a try. It wasn’t worth it. While technically the application works and I have no complaints with the overall design, the W1 and Bluetooth combination in the AirPods works too well for the meter in this application to be effective.

As an example, here is the meter when I am on the opposite side of the house and a different floor from my “missing” AirPod.

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Now here’s the meter when I’m standing right next to my missing AirPod. You'll see there's not much difference.

Unfortunately, this app is a victim of the remarkably good reception I get with the AirPods throughout my house. Using this App I could confirm the missing AirPod is in my house, but not much more than that.

In effort to avoid the problem of missing AirPods entirely, I’ve been very disciplined about how I use them. Just like my iPhone always goes in my left pocket, AirPods always go in my right pocket. (If I am wearing jeans, they always go into the little coin pocket on the right side.) When I take one or both out of my ear, unless it is going back in my ear in the immediate future, I fish the case out of my pocket and put it away properly. Maybe I’m nuts, but I’m not that worried about losing these. I’m capable of being careful.

Thinking About Touch Screen Macs

I've been thinking more lately about touch screen Macs. There's lots of talk in the community about how Microsoft has added touch screen to Windows and it's now time for Apple to follow suit. Just a few days ago, I was sent a link for the Air Bar, which is a bolt-on sort of thingy that sort of adds a touch screen to a 13 inch MacBook Air. 

I have no inside knowledge but I think you're dreaming if you expect Apple to add a touch screen monitor to the Mac. Microsoft added touch to Windows because they were unable to successfully launch a separate touch interface. Even with that, Windows touch implementation still has a very long way to go before it is as intuitive or easy to use as iOS. Making a single interface that can satisfy both touch and keyboard/mouse users is no easy task and I'm not convinced Microsoft (or even Apple) can pull it off.

Apple will expand upon touch computing through iOS, not the Mac. The hold up right now is that iOS needs more power but that will come along with bigger and better iPads. You won't get your touch screen Mac. Instead, you'll get a gigantic iPad (or whatever Apple ends up calling it). For the Mac, the Touch Bar is probably all we'll ever get in terms of touch. If they do go further with touch on the Mac, however, I'd expect it to be a full touch screen keyboard, not a touch screen monitor.

Apple TV Party Game Pick: Fibbage

I spent New Years Eve with a pile of family members and we decided to spend some of that time lying to one another with Fibbage on the Apple TV. Fibbage is an Apple TV gameshow-type app. Participants play along using their iPhones or iPads not through a dedicated app but instead a webpage. (It requires your device be on the same WiFi network as the Apple TV.)

Once everyone is logged in, Fibbage gets started by asking a question, like this.

Then each participant types in an answer on their iPhone. You can either try and come up with an answer that your friends will think correct (which gets you points) or something that is just funny (which gets you likes). Once all answers are entered, Fibbage puts all the user answers along with the correct answer on the screen and everyone picks. You get points for picking the right answer. You also get points for your friends picking your wrong answer. In reality, the points matter very little. It’s just fun, particularly with a big group.

We had family members of all ages playing and kept it relatively G-rated but that is really up to the players. We had so much fun playing Fibbage that we almost missed the clocks hitting midnight on New Years Eve.

In addition to Apple TV, they’ve also got versions for Xbox, Playstation, and Amazon Fire TV. 

iOS 10.3 Rumors

The rumor sites are starting to show evidence of an increasing iOS 10.3 beta size inside Apple. The only feature we’ve had any whisper of so far is “Theatre Mode” which is maybe a dark mode? There were a lot of rumors of a dark mode last year. Either way, I'm really crossing my fingers that 10.3 (or 10.4) deliver significant productivity improvements to the iPad. It’s time.