A Few Notes on iOS 8

There are a lot of comprehensive reviews of iOS 8 hitting the wire in the next 24 hours. I’m going to keep this to six things.

1. Look Under the Hood

Last year iOS 7 felt like they turned everything upside down. This year, when iOS 8 boots up for the first time, you’ll wonder if the update actually took. Things look very similar to iOS 7. 

iOS 8 is different in the ways that us nerds love the most. Under the hood automation and other geeky power tools. In some respects, this reminds me of the Snow Leopard update to the Mac OS. I liked that too.

2. The New Keyboard

Mysterious shift key aside, the keyboard got some serious love. The predictive text is spooky good and it has really upped my typing speed. Likewise Siri dictation is better and now renders text as you speak. This is huge if you want to enter text by speaking. No longer do we have to dictate multiple sentences all the while wondering if Siri dictation will do its job or thumb it nose at us and return nil.

Also, iOS now can now add third party keyboards. Huzzah. I posted earlier about the TextExpander keyboard. I expect there will be a lot more.

3. “Read All”

Messages also got better. Now you can tap a “Read All” button to mark all as read and you can selectively disconnect from group chats. The next time your family chat takes a disturbing turn toward uncle Sal’s Lumbago, punch eject.

4. Apple Mail Improvements

Third party Mail apps have done some real clever things with swipes. Apple Mail doesn’t go as deep as some of these apps but they are following to a certain extent. In addition to setting a specific action for full right and left swipes, a partial swipe from right to left gives you additional options. 

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Another Apple Mail feature is the ability to pull a message down to the bottom of the screen, exposing the inbox and giving you the ability to look through email messages. No longer do you need to save a message as a draft while you go and get a phone number from a previous email. You can also now set a thread (as opposed to a person) as a VIP. Nice. 

5. Spotlight Shines

Spotlight is significantly more useful. You can still search apps, mail and contacts but it now also searches Wikipedia, news, Yelp, the web, and iTunes without any extra work. I’ve been running the iOS 8 beta about a month and find myself using Spotlight more than ever.

6. A Lot More Things…

The most exciting feature of iOS 8 is the extensibility it is offering third party developers. This is going to change the way we use our phones and, in my opinion, make iOS 8 the most significant update since iOS 2 (that added the App Store). When I make that statement, I’m not forgetting about iOS 7. I just think this is a bigger deal. In the days, weeks, and months following release of iOS 8, us users are in for some real treats from the iOS development community.

A Few Caveats

  • Backup before install. Gabe Weatherhead covers this nicely.

  • If the final version of iOS 8 asks you to upgrade to iCloud drive, don’t. That one needs some more cooking (and Yosemite).

The New ScanSnap iX100

I’ve been a buying ScanSnap scanners for several years now. I’ve recommended them to friends, family, and professional colleagues and everyone of them has come back to say how much they like their ScanSnaps.

There are two bits of technology involved with scanning: the hardware device and the software interface. The thing that makes ScanSnap stand out is the way it delivers on both fronts. Fujitsu continues to push the envelope with its hardware and at the same time, continues to iterate its software to give Mac and iOS users plenty of options for their scanned documents.

This is most recently demonstrated with Fujitsu’s brand new ScanSnap iX100. The iX100 takes is an ultra-portable scanner, about the size of a three-hole punch. It is similar to the ScanSnap S1100 but adds several useful features.

The banner feature is wireless scanning. The iX100 will connect with your Mac. The device has its own processor that not only creates the PDF and JPEG files, but also creates the wireless bridge to your device. Pop it open, feed a page, push the blue button. No cables required. Wireless scanning with a portable scanner makes a lot of sense. 

The iX100 can also connect to iOS and Android devices using that same built-in processor. If you are not on a shared Wi-Fi network, you can connect directly to the ScanSnap with your devices Wi-Fi radio and you are good to go.

Another clever feature is automatic image stitching. If you pull two pages out of a magazine with an image stretched across the fold, the iX100 will automatically stitch them back together.

The iX100 comes with that great ScanSnap software as well. I’ve been carrying my test model around in my briefcase (it’s only 14 ounces) and it is holding up well. There is an integrated battery that requires an occasional recharge (via USB).

I’ve got two good uses for this scanner. The first is when I’m in trial or deposition and someone hands me a new document. That isn’t supposed to happen but often does. I need documents scanned as soon as possible so I can incorporate them into exhibits, presentations, and other digital bits. Having the iX100 I can now handle this anywhere.

When not carrying it around, I’ve been keeping it in a utility drawer in our kitchen. This way, I can take a quick scan to my Mac or iPad for things that come in the mail or the kid’s school packets. The iX100 has quickly found a place in my life. 

If you are looking for an ultra-portable, wireless scanning solution, check out the ScanSnap iX100, available now.

For an even more in-depth review, check out Brooks Duncan’s review at DocumentSnap. He’s got some excellent photos and videos to show off the iX100 in greater detail.

The Importance of an All Day Apple Watch Battery

One question that still looms over the Apple Watch is battery life. Apple has explained several times that you'll need to charge it every night. However, the question that hasn't been asked (or answered) is if I charge it overnight and strap it on at 7AM, will it still work at 9PM, or even 11pm? Is there some point during the day that my Apple Watch, starting with a full tank, runs out of gas?

This is a big deal. While poor battery life seems the way of things with most smart watches, the early adopters of those devices are a small group of nerds and understand the underlying physics. That isn't the case with the Apple Watch. There will be a lot of people buying the watch that never think about batteries and processors, and shiny screens. They just want their $500 Apple Watch to work and if it craps out at dinner time, there will be an uproar.

I don't think Apple can afford to get this wrong and I think they know it. I bet that this requirement for an all-day battery has been at the front of their mind throughout this product's development. There has been a lot of criticism that the Apple Watch is too thick. However, longer battery life requires a bigger battery and Apple is entirely willing to take the heat on the watch being too thick to keep the all-day battery. It's not just the watch's thickness though. I think nearly every component of that watch, from the processor clock speed to multi-tasking to the number of your heartbeats it records, are all set to preserve battery life. Apple nailed the Apple Watch in so many ways. Now they just need to make sure it will stay alive on our wrists all day.

MPU 213: Principal Mike and Listener Feedback

MPU 213 is up and available for download. This month's feedback show includes a short workflow interview with K-8 principal Mike Rogers from TechEdvance. Mike shares some really cool Drafts workflows for classroom evaluations that could be adapted to a lot of uses. We also had plenty of feedback on task management and other topics from the the last month. These live shows are a lot of fun and information dense. We're getting lots of positive feedback about them. Check it out.

Sad News at Macworld

Just this morning I was admiring the depth of coverage Macworld put up in relation to yesterday's announcement. Some of the smartest tech writers in the business worked at Macworld. I say worked because today, the day after their outstanding work yesterday, most of my friends at Macworld were laid off. The magazine will cease publication. The website will continue. I'm sure this was a difficult decision for whoever had to make it. Today I'm just sad for some talented friends that find themselves out of work. 

Selling Your Old Phone

Speaking of that new iPhone, if you decide to sell your old one through Gazelle (which is what I do every year), use this link to make KatieFloyd™ and I look like rock stars. This year, I'm selling the iPhone 4S that drops out the bottom of the annual Sparks Phone shuffle.


 

6 or 6 Plus?

Yesterday's Apple announcements were pretty spectacular. The Apple Watch looks like a really promising product and I'm sure I'll end up getting one.The more pressing question however is for those of us upgrading to the new iPhone. You can now choose between the 6 and 6 Plus models. I am planning on pre-ordering so I've been spending way too much time thinking about which device makes more sense.

The differences are quantifiable:

iPhone 6

Awesome with a 4.7 inch screen.

iPhone 6 Plus

All the iPhone 6 awesome plus a 5.5 inch screen, better camera (optical image stabilization), longer battery life, and $100 more.

I wrote earlier about the dilemma for people that want a small phone but the best features and that situation now exists, at least a little bit. I've been leaning toward the larger phone because I'm really curious about how a bigger screen would change my relationship to my iPhone. I really like my iPad and if I had some of those features in my pocket at all times, I may really like that. I'm so curious that I've made a mock-up with this template from Ars Technica. I printed the page, folded it around the 6 Plus size, and taped a stack of index cards to the back to give it the approximate thickness of the actual phone. I've carried it so far in my fancy work pants and my jeans. It fits fine in my pocket. I've set it in my car mount and it seems like the larger screen will not be a problem for me to carry around and a benefit when viewing. In addition to giving me some idea of whether or not the 6 Plus will work, walking around with a paper phone in my pocket has provided my family a seemingly infinite amount of amusement.

I'm probably going to just order the big one. It's not a tattoo. It's a phone. If the big one doesn't work, I suspect next year Apple will have another phone that I'll be similarly lusting after.


The Stay-At-Home Guide to the Apple iPhone Event

Tomorrow is a big day for Apple. They are taking the stage at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino and going to take the wraps off of the iPhone 6. Moreover, there are also rumors of an iWatch, secure payment, and other bits and bobs. There is even a secret building. For Apple geeks, it is the Super Bowl, Oscars, and Christmas morning all wrapped up into one. Even with the larger venue, there are a lot of us that won't be able to attend so I thought it would be fun to have my own stay-at-home guide for those of us that didn't get a golden ticket.

1. Watch the Live Stream

Apple is going to be broadcasting live. Apple is increasingly providing a live stream for these events, which provides the stay-homer with a much better experience. Where we used to have to sit and hammer at the refresh button on our browsers as we waited for our favorite websites to upload blurry photos or crash or both, now we get the whole enchilada, live.

2. Plug in for the Commentary Track

Because the event is live streaming, you don't need a website that is going to be cranking photos at your browser. Instead, you can now pick someone for their knowledge of Apple and Apple events. There are several good potential sources. I will be watching the comment stream from Macworld. It's usually Jason Snell and Dan Moren. I think Jason is one of the most rational and knowledgeable guys out there when it comes to Apple and I always find his thoughts insightful.

3. Get Social

If you are reading this article, you are already following the right sorts of people on Twitter. Plug in tomorrow at 10AM PST and watch the banter fly. I've come to enjoy the social part of these events perhaps even more that the announcements themselves. I think Twitter is ground zero for this sort of thing.

4. Have Some Fun with It

There are several ways to increase the fun. I know people that insist on watching these events in the same room with fellow geeks. Some people play bingo. Others play various drinking games revolving around Johnny Ive appearing in a white room or saying the word All-U-Min-EE-Um. It is a great day to let your geek flag fly (and check your credit card balance). Go crazy.

5. Don't Take It Too Serious

Apple is one of the world's largest companies run by some very smart people. When the show is over and the Internet explodes with commentary about how the company is going in the toilet and the iPhone/iWatch/iWhatever is a bust, don't take it too seriously. Sadly, making money on the Internet often has a lot more to do with incensing readers than enlightening them. 

On the flip side, the reality distortion field still exists with big Apple announcements and it is easy to get carried away thinking they just cured cancer when, in fact, they just made it a lot easier to buy a pizza. I usually give the whole thing a few days to percolate before deciding how I think Apple's latest bit of wizardry fits into the big scheme.

Sponsor: Rocket Matter and Free Remote Working Ebook

This week MacSparky.com is sponsored by Rocket Matter, the premier cloud-based law practice management solution. The folks at Rocket Matter get how to run your business in the Internet age and Rocket Matter is the place to go when you've finally had it with the expense and pain of trying to do it yourself. The service now even integrates with Microsoft Outlook.

This week Rocket Matter is giving away a free ebook, The Telecommuters Guide to the Galaxy. This book is full of tips and advice on how to work remotely. If you are going on vacation or just sick of spending all your time in the office, go download the book. You won't regret it.


 

Multiple Variables

One of the great things about last year’s iPad release was the device parity Apple brought to both devices. They both had retina screens. They both and the same camera. They both had the same processor. They both had the same memory. All of this resulted in much easier consumer decisions when choosing between them. Do you want the big screen or the little one?

If the rumor sites are to be believed, this won’t be the case with the two different sized iPhones we are expected to see next week. Not only will screen size be different but we may also have differences in camera quality. I would speculate that differences in display quality, battery life, and storage could also easily be in play. Assuming that the bigger phone does get some of the better components, what do the people who want a smaller screen with the better components do? They have to make tough choices. I suspect much digital ink will be sacrificed in relation to this question in the coming weeks.

Home Screen: Mike Schmitz

A few weeks ago I linked to a TextExpander tutorial Mike Schmitz (Twitter) did over at Asian Efficiency. Since then, Mike and I have been corresponding via email and I’ve determined he’s a swell guy. So Mike, show us your home screen.

What are some of favorite apps?

OmniFocus - my digital brain.

I tried just about every task management app out there before settling on OmniFocus, and now it would take a lot to get me out of it because I am seriously invested. OmniFocus 2 for iPhone is so great for quick capturing, and I love the ability to add things via Siri.

Dispatch - my email client of choice

(and I’ve tried almost all of them). 

I really like the TextExpander support and the ability to send emails to OmniFocus, kind of like an iOS version of the Clip-o-Tron (I like this better than the mail drop, but I know that works too). It would be hard for me to go back to an email app that didn’t have that integration with my task management system now.

Drafts

I got hooked on Drafts after hearing about it on Mac Power Users. It took awhile for me to get into it, but now I can’t imagine not having it on my phone. Unless I’m adding tasks via Siri to OmniFocus, I tend to use this as my central inbox and then process from here and incorporating via some custom export actions (i.e. sending to nvALT via Dropbox sync). I use it to record things I want to remember from podcasts and audiobooks, lunch orders, phone numbers, etc. It took awhile to train myself to use it this way, but it really is an integral part of my workflow now.

1Password

This app really needs no introduction. I use this more than Safari because I need passwords for a lot of the websites I frequent, and 1Password makes the login process so easy. I really wish I could make this my default browser. Alas, maybe in iOS 9…

Scanbot

I love Scanbot! I used to use Scan+ for scanning receipts for my paperless workflow, but Scanbot is just much easier for me to use. I also like the auto-upload to Evernote feature (which is where I store everything). The fact that Scanbot didn’t have OCR until recently wasn’t a big deal to me because Evernote does an amazing job OCRing whatever I upload.

Overcast

Like task managers, I’ve also tried just about every podcast app and I really like Overcast because of the Smart Speed feature. Basically it analyzes the podcast track and eliminates the silences, effectively shortening the podcast file without varying the playback speed. Pretty crazy stuff, but it works well. Because I tend to listen to podcasts only on my iPhone, the fact that there’s no Mac or iPad app doesn’t really bother me.

Launch Center Pro

This took me a while to get into also, but this is seriously a phenomenal application. It’s so much more than just a quick launcher. You can actually use URL schemes to do specific actions, and even x-callback URLs to link actions together and bring you back to your original app. As an example of what you can do with Launch Center Pro, check out this personal reflection action I created (it launches a series of questions via LCP and then pastes the answers into a Markdown table in a DayOne entry). This is just the tip of the iceberg though, and if you’re interested there’s a great guide for getting started with Launch Center Pro over at MacStories.

Mextures

A friend of mine tipped me off to this app when it was in beta. It’s basically a photo editing app that allows you to add textures, light leaks, etc. to your photos. You can do some really cool stuff with this app as you add different layers of effects. Think of it kind of like Instagram filters, but actually good.

iReal Pro

iReal Pro is kind of like the old “Band-in-a-Box” app. You can select a progression (or create your own), set a tempo, choose your lead and rhythm instruments, and start jamming! Because it uses the Nashville numbering system, you can actually even change the key on the fly. This is a phenomenal practice tool, and you can even use it with Audiobus to record via something like AmpKit.

Capo

This is a great little app that just got a refresh. Basically you load up your iTunes track, and Capo will analyze it for you and return information on the song like tempo, key, etc. and even determine what chords are used throughout the song. It’s not perfect, but surprisingly accurate and allows you to change pitch/tempo of songs which makes them much easier to learn (i.e. slowing down a guitar solo so you can play along with it).

Hum

I write songs on occasion, and Hum is a tool I started using to capture inspiration instead of voice memos because of the ability to include lyrics, key information, etc.

Logos

One of the many hats I wear is Bible College teacher, and the Logos application is invaluable for the type of in-depth study I need to do. Using this app, I can actually prep for a class completely on my iOS device. I also use this app for my own personal daily Bible reading.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

There are a couple of iOS games that I would call guilty pleasures just because I tend to spend too time in them. The first one is a game you recommended awhile back called Hoplite. It’s incredibly fun and insanely frustrating at the same time, as one wrong move in the later levels and you’re done. I also really enjoy Threes, and the iOS version of Carcassonne is amazing. It’s expensive, but if you like the board game it’s worth every penny.

What is the app you are still missing?

I can’t think of an app I’m missing, but having 1Password and TextExpander touch on my iPhone and not being able to use them system-wide still just feels wrong. I’m really excited to see what happens with extensions in iOS 8, as a TextExpander keyboard would be really cool and I’ve seen some awesome stuff coming from AgileBits incorporating the TouchID sensor, so fingers crossed.

Also, I have a tendency to follow things that are shiny, so I’m sure I’ll find an app soon that will fill a need I didn’t even know I had.

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

I listen to podcasts (via Overcast) and audiobooks (via Audible) whenever I’m traveling in the car, out for a run or at the gym. I also use the iPhone as my primary digital camera, and do my journaling in Day One. So while I use my iPhone quite a bit, I have developed boundaries for myself (i.e. no fiddling when I’m home and the kids are up), and I definitely try to respect those and limit my use when at home.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

The camera on the 5S is by far my favorite feature. It’s amazing, and as they say “the best camera is the one you always have with you”. I’m not really a great photographer, but I love capturing the funny stuff my kids do and the 5S is great for that. My kids also really get a kick out of the slow-mo video option - lots of fun has been had with that.

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

I would fix Apple Maps (I still can’t trust it in my area) and now that Apple owns Beats I’d make Beats Music part of the annual iTunes Match fee, even if the price goes up considerably. Adding a streaming music service to the mix really would allow me to centralize iTunes as my media hub, and Beats Music is already pretty solid. I would also figure out an Apple-like solution for photo management, as right now photo management can really be a pain (although looks like they are well on their way in iOS 8 and Yosemite).

What’s your wallpaper and why?

I usually leave the stock wallpaper, but my lock screen I change all the time with different family pictures I take with my 5S. This is my current favorite. It’s great because every time I pull out my phone I’m reminded of what’s really important to me, and it’s not the Twitter update I was going to post or the email from the office. I don’t want my kids to remember me as the guy who was always playing with his phone.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I really think we’re on the verge of something huge with iOS. I’m really excited to see what developers do with app extensions in iOS 8, and I think we’re going to get some really innovative connections that will revolutionize the way we use our iOS devices. It’s already amazing to think of what you can do with an iPhone, but I think we’re about to see it go to a whole new level. It’s an exciting time to be an Apple Fanboi.

Also, thanks for having me! Love Mac Power Users, love the Field Guides - keep up the great work!

Thanks Mike.

Notability for Mac

I have been a longtime fan of Notability on my iPad. It’s a fantastic note taking application that allows me to annotate with a stylus or the onscreen keyboard while at the same time recording. 

The application then indexes the recording to the notes. For example, if I am in a meeting with KatieFloyd and at some point she starts talking about dilithium crystals, and I simultaneously write that in my notes, the recording will later jump to that portion of the discussion when I tap on that line. The application does quite a bit more but it is this audio indexing that I use most.

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In my day job I use this often with client meetings, discovery planning, and even office strategy meetings. Is a great way to capture highly detailed notes without spending your time writing things down. I think it would also be a great tool for students.

One problem I’ve always had with the application is that it’s not on the Mac and while I can sync certain data over, that usefulness of being able to tap on the word and hear here the recording from that portion of the discussion simply did not exist on the Mac.

Not anymore. 

The developers recently released a brand-new Mac version of Notability. I’ve been playing with it for a few days and the application delivers. I’m able to easily sync my notes between the iPad and the Mac (there’s also a version for iPhone that I rarely use) and the ability to later easily access the stuff on the Mac only means I’m going to be using Notability that much more. You can download the application from the Mac App Store for $10.