The Right Question About iPad

Lately I’ve been thinking, podcasting, and writing about the iPad a lot. As a result I’ve received a lot of email and Twitter traffic asking if I think the iPad software and hardware has evolved to a point that it can replace a Mac. The answer to that question is, “it depends.” More importantly though, that’s the wrong question. I think it’s a mistake to get hung up on whether or not an iPad can replace a traditional computer. It's like asking if buying toaster means you can get rid of your oven.

Instead, consider whether or not an iPad in your life makes things better/easier/funner than things are without an iPad. This is not a zero sum game. It’s okay to have an iPad and a Mac. Nobody’s judging you here.

The iPad is so versatile that the reason for its place in your life varies with the individual user. With my iPad I'm better able to review and annotate legal contracts, read Thelonious Monk sheet music, present evidence in court, edit pictures, and answer email while sitting in the garden. These are all things I’ve done in the past without an iPad but are now easier and more convenient with one. I've got a different list of things that I prefer to do on a Mac. Using an iPad because it is better at some things but not all things is okay.

The right question to ask yourself is not whether you need an iPad to replace a Mac but instead whether or not the particular things an iPad does best for you are worth the cost to buy one.

More Shell Tricks from Brett Terpstra

Today my pal Brett Terpstra published a short tutorial on how to add line numbering in the Mac OS terminal. This is just one in a series of Shell Tricks posts from Brett. If you've always wanted to get better using the terminal, here's a great way to start.

Shopping Amazon

Speaking of geeks and gifts ... if you were thinking about doing some holiday shopping this week, I’ve got a few geek-friendly items on my Amazon page, which also, coincidentally serves as an excellent jumping off point to Amazon shopping trips in general.

Sponsor - Middle Davids Artisan Candles

This week I'm pleased to welcome back Middle Davids Artisan Candles as a MacSparky sponsor. Dan and his team at Middle Davids understand the use of rituals to help with productivity. Have you considered using the scent of a candle? It works.

I burn candles while I work and I always feel that the ritual of lighting the candle is a way to tell myself "it is on" and get to work. After I've worked a few hours, I blow out the candle and take a break. You'll be surprised how well this works. This month I'm burning through a Green Tea candle from Middle Davids. The vast majority of people who try a Middle Davids subscription stick with it. In a world full of technology, this provides a fantastic analog motivational tool. 

With the holidays approaching, you may not just want a candle subscription for yourself. You can gift a subscription so your friends or family get a reminder in the mail every month or two that you care. (They have gift options for one, two, three, four, six and twelve months so every budget is covered.)

Dan, the proprietor, is a candle geek and obsesses on candles like I do productivity apps. The candles are 100% botanical soy wax, not paraffin (which is a petrochemical) and the wicks are cotton woven (no metals).

Middle Davids has a subscription plan that gets you two candles a month with 40 hours of burn time. You also get a box of wooden matches, and a sample of the next month's scent. Give it a try. You'll surprise yourself. Use the code “Balsam” (which happens to be my favorite scent) for $5 off. Also, check out their video, below.

Home Screens: Lon Seidman

This week’s home screen features You-Tuber Lon Seidman (YouTube) (Twitter) (Facebook). Lon does video reviews of technology products and he loves his iPhone. So Lon, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

I spend most of my time using the Inbox app for managing my Gmail accounts, OmniFocus (of course!) for managing my life, the YouTube creator app for my channel’s analytics and engagement, Downcast for listening to Mac Power Users and many other podcasts, and a bunch of social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

These days it’s Pac-Man 256 - a Pac-Man endless runner that’s probably the best retro inspired game I’ve played in a long time. And I will admit I look at Facebook quite a bit too. But it’s smart enough to know I am only interested in seeing pictures of dogs and babies.

What app makes you most productive?

Google’s Inbox app. It’s similar in some ways to Mailbox from Dropbox, but it does some things better like bulk categorization of mail for easy sortation. So unlike the lousy Gmail tabs, the Inbox method is to display those bulk categories into inline groupings that expand within the inbox stream. Really slick and very easy to quickly review messages.

The app works great across all of the many platforms I use (including the web) and has really helped bring some sanity to how I go through my email box. The workflow is so efficient that I can pop in quickly and keep things neat and tidy throughout the day. It also lets me create custom groupings based on specific tags.

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

I am sure I am not alone in saying Workflow is tremendously underutilized on my iPhone. I am starting to find more and more uses for it which is great but I know it can do a lot more than what I’m currently tasking it with.

What is the app you are still missing?

That’s a good question. I wish I was smart enough to think of the app that I’m missing so I can invent it and have a very profitable exit!

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

My iPhone constantly - especially because I can “tend the garden” of my three email accounts very quickly and efficiently while waiting on a line, etc. The funny thing is that since I bought my iPhone 6 I am using the iPad less. The larger screen on the 6 vs. the 5s it replaced was just enough to take some tasks away from the iPad.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

I have never been much of a widget guy so my today view isn’t something I look at often. I do find the Plugshare app’s view of nearby electric car charging stations really useful. That’s primarily what I use the today screen for if I’m traveling and looking for some free juice for my ride.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

The first thing that came to mind with this question was Touch ID. It has probably saved me hours over the course of the year by not having to type in my passcode over and over again. Every time I test phones and tablets on competing platforms it’s the first thing I miss having.

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

I would be less restrictive with the things users can do on the platform. A great example is comparing something like the Android-based Nvidia Shield TV to the Apple TV. Google is much more flexible in allowing apps like game and computer emulators, and other apps that do things to help third party apps work better together or with the underlying OS.

It would be nice for Apple to treat iOS like the Mac and give users the option to install apps from sources other than the app-store eco system. I know they are mindful of security but there are a lot of fun things I can do on Android that I can’t do on Apple without jailbreaking.

Do you have an Apple Watch?

I do! It’s funny I didn’t think I was going to use the Apple Watch much but now it’s part of my routine. I like the small conveniences it provides as well as the fitness tracking. Apple Pay on the watch is amazing and I use it all the time.

I recently switched to a traditional watch face after using the modular one for awhile. My daughter always requests the butterfly version so that’s in rotation too.

I should have opted for the sapphire face vs. the glass as I already have a gash in mine :-(.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

My wallpaper is a picture of my daughter I took the day she was born. It’s the best photo I’ve ever taken which also happens to be of my favorite subject :).

Anything else you’d like to share?

I am continually in awe of my 2012 Macbook Pro Retina. It is in use helping me work probably 12–16 hours a day. It’s my primary desktop computer for my day job (plugged into a Thunderbolt dock) and is what I use for editing all of my YouTube videos. I have never owned a computer that’s been this useful for so long since my Apple II from the 80’s. I will likely replace it when the Skylake version comes out as I am starting to do more with 4k video.


There is a lot of talk lately about the contrasting positions taken by Apple and Microsoft over operating system convergence. Microsoft, which was early to mobile operating systems but then apparently slept while everything evolved, now makes the argument through its OS and hardware that there should be one operating system to rule them all. Initially, this was pretty ugly but Microsoft continues work on this, most recently with the Surface Book, which I actually find pretty interesting if you prefer Windows.

Apple is taking the opposite approach, arguing Macs and iOS devises are so fundamentally different that they require separate operating systems. Mice and touch interfaces are too far apart and putting both interfaces in one operating system leads to software that is a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.

This entire debate could be summarized that Microsoft believes convergence gives users the best of both worlds while Apple believes it gives users the worst. Two contrary technology paradigms are getting bashed against each other by two massive technology companies. Good times.

I can't help but think that some of the reason for these contrary positions is software. The tables have turned and Apple has millions of apps on iOS and Microsoft is struggling far behind. Microsoft finds itself pushing a mobile operating system with little software while at the same time maintaining a desktop operating system with an abundance of software. Through convergence, Microsoft gets to leverage that desktop software on to its struggling mobile platform. It's a bit of bootstrapping and doesn't really work unless App developers also address the touch interface but from Microsoft's position it makes sense. Apple on the other hand has the software advantage and no motivation to Frankenstien Mac OS onto iOS.

To me, the interesting bit of all of this is the long game. What happens when we imagine the state of these positions in five or ten years. In the case of Windows, I think it will get better. All of those legacy Windows developers are eventually going to have to evolve their software for the touch interface or go the way of the Dodo bird. As that happens, the desktop legacy stuff will matter less, as will Windows. The interesting question is what all that will mean for Microsoft, where Windows is such an important part of the bottom line. 

Looking to the future with Apple, I don't think they are looking at this as convergence so much as consumption. iOS and iOS hardware is going to get increasingly powerful. (I'm typing this article right now on an iPad.) There's still plenty of work to be done but iOS will grow up a lot in the next years and replacing a Mac with an iOS device will get easier. I think Apple sees the Mac's relevance as substantially less in 10 years than it is today and iOS as substantially more. I don't think that means there is a whiteboard in Cupertino with the day of the Mac's death written on it. If I had to bet, I'd say the Mac is around for many years to come. However, I think its overall importance will dwindle and iOS will grow into something else that combines additional power and flexibility with its existing ease of use. That is why I don't think Apple is interested in convergence.

iPhone JD Turns 7

This week the popular iPhone JD blog turns seven and Jeff Richardson, its proprietor, has a great post to mark the occasion. Despite its name, the site isn’t just for lawyers but instead anyone trying to get productive with the iPhone and iPad. To me, during this past seven years Jeff’s writing has transformed from “just another guy on the Internet" to a trusted voice. Congratulations Jeff and iPhone JD.

MPU 288 and 289: MPU Live and Apple TV

A few episodes of MPU have gone live over the last few says while I’ve been galavanting around the State of Florida.

MPU 289 - The New Apple TV

Katie and I both bought the new Apple TV and then used them a week before recording the show. We talk about what works and what doesn’t along with some of our favorite Apple TV Apps.

MPU 288 - Traveling to the Land of Crocodiles and Alligators

This live shows includes follow-up on keyboard launchers, note applications, listener tips, our new gear, and a live interview from a virtual assistant.

Sponsor: Hoban Cards and Hoban Press

For several years now Hoban Cards has sponsored MacSparky. I love Hoban as a sponsor because I’ve always wanted to make this site about discriminating content and products and Hoban fits the bill perfectly.


They’ve proven it once again with the third iteration of the Hoban Cards website. As always Hoban Cards give you a way to minimize the cost of letterpress printing while still getting something beautiful. The website is better than ever and there are some new templates to choose from. (I like “The Requisite Card”, pictured above.) They’ve also got some gorgeous Stationery, again reasonably priced.

If you want to do something even more unique, head over to Hoban Press and Evan will help you make something beautiful. Regardless of which route you take, use the discount code “MacSparky” for $10 off. Thanks again Hoban for sponsoring MacSparky.

Improved App Store Search

This week TechCrunch broke the story about Apple’s improvements to App Store search.

This new change is focused more on how apps are returned when users type in keywords to find an app – something that’s becoming a more common way to find apps in a crowded app store featuring over a million mobile applications. According to studies, at least half of iOS apps are found through search.
— TechCrunch

I’ve often thought App Store search was pretty embarrassing for Apple. My own particular canary-in-a-coal-mine on this issue is Tweetbot. When I needed to rebuild my new iPhone a few months ago. I searched “Tweetbot” in the App Store and the results came up empty. This is one of the most popular Twitter clients in the App Store and yet searching its explicit name did not find it.  Searching “Twitter”, gave me a long list of Twitter-related applications but despite scrolling for a long time, Tweetbot did not show up. I finally gave up and left the App Store. Ultimately, I found the application by going to the developer website and clicking the app store link from there. Crazy.

As a test, this morning I went into the App Store and again searched “Tweetbot”. The application immediately showed up. Even better, the more generic search term, “twitter” returns Tweetbot as the fourth entry, right above Twitterrific, another popular third-party Twitter client. These are good signs for the new App Store search.

iPad Pro Reviews

Happy iPad Pro day. I haven't got one back yet, but based on early reviews, I most likely will. My two favorite reviews thus far are by Federico Viticci and John Gruber. I'm really pleased that Apple gave Federico a review unit. As an iPad power user, I was looking forward to seeing his opinions and glad we got it on day one.

Just Days Left for Mac Power Users T-Shirts

For the first time ever, there are Mac Power Users shirts for sale. The shirts are gorgeous and not only will they make you look smart, they'll also make you more attractive. I can't think of a better way to tell those around you how much you love them than giving a few of these shirts. Who doesn't want to publicly declare they are a Mac Power User? There are five different styles to choose from but just a few days left before the sale closes. Head over and get yours now.

Apple TV Remote Tricks

Following up on yesterday's post about Siri commands, here's another full of Apple Remote tricks:

Home Button

That button in the upper right corner is a home button. Once you accept that, things get easier.

App Switcher

Double clicking the home button opens the App Switcher. This works just like on iOS. Swipe between them to switch apps without hitting the home screen. Swipe up to force quit an app.

Sleep Apple TV

Hold down the home button for a few seconds.

Return to Music App

If you are playing music in the background and want to return to the Apple Music app, hold down the play/pause button.

Scrubbing Video

Swipe right or left on the trackpad. You can also move forward or backward in 10 second increments by clicking on the right or left side of the trackpad. Hold down on the right or left side of the trackpad to scrub forward.

If you accidentally scrub (which happens often with he trackpad), click the "Menu" button to return to your original location.

Video Settings

Swipe down while watching a video for audio and closed captioning options.

Move and Delete Apps

Click and hold in the home screen to move an application with the trackpad. Click and hold even longer to delete an app.

Siri Commands on Apple TV

We are about to release a new episode of Mac Power Users all about the new Apple TV. One thing I've noticed in my first week of usage is that I rarely use Siri. I'm just not used to talking to my TV. In order to fix this, I spent a few hours with the TV sorting out all the Siri commands. Here's what I found:

To start out, remember to press and hold the Siri button when adding commands. If you just tap it, Siri isn't listening.

Basic TV Commands

These are the ones everybody should know. After my experimentation, it is absolutely clear to me that you will get a movie started fast this way than drilling for it with the remote.

  • “Find Henry Thomas Movies.”

  • “Find a movie starring Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore”

  • “Play ET”

  • “Find the series finale for the Newhart Show.”

  • “Play the Episode of the New Girl with Prince”

  • “Play Alto’s Adventure”


Siri Search

If you're in the mood for something, Siri can help you out.

  • “Show me Spy movies”
    After it shows you spy movies you can further narrow the list:
  • "Only Comedies”, "Only Dramas", "Only from this year".

You can also get more specific:

  • “Show me James Bond movies”
  • "Show me James Bond movies with Daniel Craig"


 Siri Scrubbing

  • “Move back two minutes" / "Jump back two minutes”

  • “Play from beginning”

  • “Fast Forward three minutes" / "Jump forward ten minutes"

  • “What did he say?”
    This one is much talked about and magical. It rewinds 15 seconds and turns on closed captioning for just that section and then turns it off.


Siri Movie Information

  • “Who Directed this?”

  • “Who Stars in this?”

  • “What is this movie Rated?”

  • “When was this movie released?” / “When did this movie come out?”

I tried a few more that didn't work like "Who is that?" while a single actor was on the screen and "Who wrote the soundtrack for this?". I'd love to see this expanded.


Siri Data

  • “What’s the weather?”

  • “Is it going to rain tomorrow?”

  • “What’s the weather in Orlando?”

  • “What’s the weather this week in Orlando?”

  • “What time is sunrise tomorrow?

  • “How’s Apple Stock doing?

I'd like to see data returns expanded. When I asked  “How many days until Christmas?”, it returned "one month", which is sort of right. When I asked "How many days until January 7", I got the same answer. It also doesn't give me contact data. When I asked "What is Katie Floyd’s Phone Number?”, it displayed a movie called "Phone Booth". It also doesn't do math, "What's 17 plus 32?". It also doesn't access my calendar. Siri couldn't answer when I asked “What are my appointments tomorrow?". That seems like a no-brainer.


Siri Utilities

  • “Turn on Closed Captioning.”

  • “Turn on subtitles” / “Turn off subtitles

  • “Reduce Loud Sounds”

  • “Go to Movies.”

  • “Go to Earthlapse"

  • “Open Settings”


Siri Sports

  • “Did the Saints win?

  • “Who do the lakers play tomorrow?”

  • “Who is the kicker for the Seahawks?”

My big take away is that using Siri with my TV is nearly always faster than using the remote. Put these to use. You won't regret it.

Sponsor: OmniOutliner

This week MacSparky is sponsored by OmniOutliner. Just last week I was outlining a contract for a new client in OmniOutliner. I used one of the OmniOutliner templates and the outline came out really pretty. I saved it as PDF and sent it to the client and when she first called me back, the first words out of her mouth were, "Your outline is very impressive." I'd like to think it is because my content was particularly brilliant but I know a lot of the reason for that statement and first impression on a new client is because of all the spit and polish the Omni Group puts into OmniOutliner.

No matter how you pay for your shoes, you are going to get information thrown at you in a jumbled mess. When that happens, there simply is no better tool than OmniOutliner for bringing order to chaos. You can organize data and include links, images, sound files, and movies. The app even has the ability to record audio while you outline. This is so useful for students.

Thanks to OmniPresence, you can sync your outlines seamlessly between your Mac, iPad, and iPhone. A good outliner can make your work product better and this is the best outliner available on the Mac and iOS. Go check it out.