Sponsor: Agenda Minder

This week MacSparky is sponsored by Agenda Minder (website)(App Store).

I’m not alone in hating meetings. So often I walk out of a meeting desperately wishing I had that hour back. Occasionally, however, I leave a meeting feeling like work actually got done and with newfound respect for some person that drove that meeting with the efficiency of the Swiss railway.

This week’s sponsor can make you that person. Agenda Minder is a Mac app that gives you meeting organization super-powers. Your team will know how organized and responsive you are when you simply copy email requests into Agenda Minder and cover the topic at your next meeting. They’ll be surprised when they get your beautiful Agenda Minder agenda out ahead of the meeting.

Agenda Minder stays out of your way with simple controls and a clean look. Quickly add meetings and agenda items capturing the objective and any preparation notes you need. Just doing this as a quick preparation can make your meetings better.

You can also quickly find the right meeting by sorting meeting name or date. Filter the meetings you have today, this week, or next.

My thanks to Agenda Minder for sponsoring MacSparky. Go check Agenda Minder out for yourself. A meeting is only as good as the agenda.

Home Screen – Michael Kummer

There are so many smart people generating interesting content on the Internet. One of those that I recently came across is Michael Kummer (Website) (Twitter). Michael writes about a variety of topics but I particularly enjoy his posts about technology and photography. So Michael, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

Some of my favorite apps include: 1Password, Mail, Messages, FaceTime, OmniFocus, Tweetbot, Workflow and Camera.

  • I have been using 1Password for years and it contains every password for every account I have (~850 entries). I have seen the consequences of weak or repeating passwords among friends and family and I can only encourage everyone to use a good password manager.
  • Apple’s native Mail app is still my favorite, even after having tried several alternatives on both iOS and macOS, including Outlook. In the past, I was missing swipe actions to quickly and efficiently process emails in my inbox. Apple added those in iOS 9 and in iOS 10 they have gotten even better by including a “swipe to move” action.
  • FaceTime and iMessages are important parts of my communications strategy, especially with our spread out family (who live in Austria and Costa Rica). I’m thrilled that Apple finally added per-conversation read receipts to Messages in iOS 10. They had announced that feature at WWDC a year ago but it never materialized until now.
  • I have to thank MacSparky for doing such as great job on the OmniFocus Field Guide because that triggered my interest in OmniFocus. Now I don’t know how I would live without it. It’s such a great productivity tool that makes it easy to get stuff done.
  • Tweetbot is my favorite Twitter client on both iOS and macOS. I especially like how it keeps my timeline in sync across multiple devices.
  • I open the Workflow app directly but use it often enough through Today View. I created several workflows that would allow me to quickly enter certain health data from devices that aren’t compatible with HealthKit. So every morning my weight and most evenings my blood pressure find its way into the Health app through a workflow I setup using the Workflow app.
  • I used to own several Nikon cameras and expensive lenses but retired them as the iPhone’s camera got better and better. You know the saying: “The best camera is the one you have on you" - and I didn’t have my Nikon on me nearly as often as I would liked have. The Camera app is the perfect companion to the iPhone’s excellent hardware. Rarely do I need to adjust exposure settings (aperture, ISO or shutter speed) manually but if I do, I rely on an app called Slow Shutter.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

I wanted to say Tweetbot but in reality it’s the WordPress app. I don’t use the WordPress app to write content for my blog but I regularly check how well my posts are doing in terms of visitor count. It never seizes to amaze me how certain posts keep engaging visitors for months in a row. My post on an “out of memory” issue in OS X Mavericks is still in the top 10 every day. That makes me wonder why so many people still run such an old version of OS X.

What app makes you most productive?

On the iPhone it’s definitely the Mail app, as processing emails is what I do most on my iPhone from a productivity standpoint. I guess you could say that I still feel most productive on a Mac and not on an iOS device.

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

Drafts, for sure. I put it on my home screen and moved Notes to the second screen for exactly that reason. I know it’s a great app with a ton of features but I have yet to use it to the fullest of its capabilities.

What is the app you are still missing?

There isn’t an app I’m missing but rather infrastructure that I wished Apple had provided a long time ago. iCloud sharing à la Dropbox for example. Apple is finally moving in the right direction with Notes sharing in iOS 10 and macOS 10.12, I just hope they add the same capabilities to iCloud Drive, iCloud Photo Library etc soon as well.

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

Before I got an Apple Watch, I used to unlock my iPhone countless times a day. Don’t get me wrong, I still use my iOS devices plenty of times but the Apple Watch definitely reduced the amount of time I’m on my iPhone/iPad. Also, while I’m in front of my Mac, I don’t really need my iPhone either. I can make and receive calls thanks to Wi-Fi Calling (which is still buggy), get notifications and do pretty much everything else I could do on my iPhone. The situation changes dramatically of course when I’m on the go and out of the house or office.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

I use Today View a lot and typically do so to either get a glimpse of important information (Calendar, pending tasks…) or to perform quick tasks through Workflow.

My current Today View contains the following widgets:

  • Up Next: The next appointment in my calendar
  • Omnifocus: Tasks due or pending
  • Drafts: Yet another incentive to use it more often
  • Workflow: Workflows to enter my weight and blood pressure without having to fire up the app
  • Apple News
  • Personal Capital (Holdings): To see how my investments are doing
  • Dark Sky: Weather forecast for the next hour
  • Siri App Suggestions: I don’t use that very often but Siri gets it right enough to warrant its spot in the widget list
  • Maps Destinations: I’ll probably get rid of this because the information it shows is already presented in the “Up Next” widget. Plus, when I get into the car I get a notification with traffic information, that if clicked, opens Maps.
  • Stocks: Details on how my investments are doing
  • Find Friends: I use this a lot to see where family members are before calling them. That way, I reduce the chance of interrupting in whatever they may be doing, such as working.
  • Personal Capital (Recent Transactions)
  • Amazon: To see upcoming deliveries

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

The iPhone’s camera and TouchID on both the iPhone and iPad.

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

I would try to stop releasing half-baked features. The sharing features in Numbers, Pages and Keynotes, when launched, were years behind what other companies were offering at the time. Collaboration in Notes (in iOS 10 and macOS 10.12) is great but why release it standalone instead of adding it to the rest of the infrastructure first. I’d say that the need to share files/folders and collaborate on them is far greater than the need to share individual notes. I also would try to fix certain bugs a lot faster than Apple has done in the past. Prime examples include: ever returning keyboard shortcuts or bandwidth management for iCloud services, specifically iCloud Photo Library. Last but not least, I would introduce a better feedback mechanism for developers and public beta testers. It’s still very hard to get an idea if a submitted bug got any attention from Apple or when it will be fixed.

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

I have an Apple Watch Sport and switch back and forth between two watch faces. The Modular watch face is what I use during the week and the Activity watch face is what I use on weekends. The Modular watch face shows me important information such as date and time, upcoming appointments, temperature, open tasks in OmniFocus and it gives me a shortcut to enable sleep mode using Sleep++.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

I use a non-distracting wallpaper so I can find apps quickly. I used to have photos of family members but found that they easily distract my eyes when looking for apps - as funny and bad as it may sound :)

Anything else you’d like to share?

My home screen doesn’t change often but it does change. I regularly revisit what apps deserve this prime spot and I intentionally put apps on my home screen that I would like to use more often. Besides my home screen, I generally revisit all apps I have installed every so often and delete what I don’t use.

Thanks Michael.

iPhone 7 Rumors and Pre-Announcemnt Thoughts

Next week, on September 7, Apple is having its fall event where it announces, among other things, the new iPhone. That makes it silly season right now in the Apple-rumor business. If you want to impress your friends with your “inside” knowledge, I’d recommend MacRumors iPhone 7 rumor round-up.

As a result of the sheer volume of phones Apple has to build every year, I suspect there will be very few hardware related surprises next week. I’ve got a few pre-announcement thoughts on some of the new features.

Farewell 16GB?

According to the rumor mill, this year will see the long-overdue death of the 16 GB iPhone in favor of 32GB for the entry model. I sure hope that’s true.

The Dual Lens Camera

I am really looking forward to seeing how well the dual lens camera system works. There’s a lot of ways to implement a dual lens camera system and while the hardware manufacturing business is leaky, Apple’s software team is not. At this point, I don’t think anyone outside Apple has any idea what they’re going do with those two lenses and I can’t wait to find out. While I'll most likely be a fan of the dual lens camara, I don't like the bulging metal around the lip of the camera lenses in the leaked photos. Unfortunately, even Apple must obey the laws of physics.

Sans Headphone Port

The other big news will be the removal of the headphone jack. Apple is going to take a ton of heat over this. The fact that the headphone jack is being removed is well known enough at this point that everyone who wants to write go after Apple on this has been sharpening their knives for weeks.

As for me, I think the removal of the headphone port is a bad idea unless they can demonstrate a really good reason for doing so. Just last night I walked into my daughter’s room and saw her listening to her iPhone with the headphones plugged in while the lightning port was being used to charge the phone. I know I sound like a grumpy old man but it seems like everyone in my life under the age of 20 prefers to keep their phone constantly at 15% charge. For those people, the ability to simultaneously charge and listen to music through headphones is something they do every day and removal of the headphone port makes that harder.

Also, my wife uses the auxiliary port in her car to plug into her iPhone, which means we’ll probably have to buy several of the inevitably required Lightning-to-headphone adapters. Like I said, I hope they’ve got a good reason. (Water resistance is my guess.)

All that said, I got on the Bluetooth bandwagon a few years ago and rarely plug headphones into my iPhone so other than helping my family cope, it won’t bother me with respect to my own phone.

Part of me is just curious on an intellectual level as to how Apple will go about justifying the removal of the headphone port and how their public relations department will handle the inevitable backlash. Strap in, gang.

We’ll be recording a Mac Power Users episode immediately following the September 7 event so expect more on this topic.

Monster Loss

There’s something in me that can’t resist poking fun at Monster Cable every time the opportunity presents itself. I’ll grant you that “Monster” is a great name if you’re starting a cable business but I don’t feel like it’s enough to justify their cost or filing lawsuits. 

Monster had a piece of Beats before Apple bought them. They sold their interest and now probably regret it. So they brought a lawsuit that Billboard reports was dismissed on summary judgment.

Apparently, Monster litigates a lot. According to Wikipedia, by 2009, Monster made 190 US Patent and Trademark Office filings and filed 30 lawsuits. Examples include disputes with Discovery Channel for making a show called Monster Garage and a claim against Disney for making a movie called Monsters, Inc.

By far, however, my favorite was the Monster dispute with Blue Jeans Cable. Blue Jeans Cable is an outstanding small supplier of cables. (I’ve purchased several of their HDMI cables over the years.) In 2008, Monster sent a patent infringement letter to Blue Jeans and the CEO (a former litigation attorney) wrote back with the best response to a cease and desist letter I’ve seen in my 23 years of practicing law. I know I’ve linked this before but given today’s news, how could I resist?

You should really read the whole thing but here’s just a taste:

I am “uncompromising” in the most literal sense of the word. If Monster Cable proceeds with litigation against me I will pursue the same merits-driven approach; I do not compromise with bullies and I would rather spend fifty thousand dollars on defense than give you a dollar of unmerited settlement funds. As for signing a licensing agreement for intellectual property which I have not infringed: that will not happen, under any circumstances, whether it makes economic sense or not.
— Kurt Denke for Blue Jeans Cable

Apple and Machine Learning

Last week Stephen Levy published an extended article on Backchannel about what’s going on at Apple with machine learning. A lot of us, myself included, have been wondering openly how Apple can compete with companies like Google at making our devices smarter when Apple’s privacy stand prevents them from reading user data. I wrote about this just a few weeks ago and I questioned whether Apple’s respect for user privacy and making the best possible consumer products can coexist.

The Levy article strikes me as Apple's response to these questions. Apple’s position is that it can deliver excellent services and privacy by processing data on our devices rather than in the cloud. If that’s true, it would be spectacular. It would be like having a private assistant with no memory of actually working for you.

The trouble is that a lot of the artificial intelligence smarts you see from services like Google comes from having the ability to compare all of the users data. I’ve been testing the artificial intelligence and iOS 10’s Photos app and it’s pretty impressive. You can search for faces and objects in photos and the app does the hard work of finding them for you. However, it only learns to the extent Apple allows it to. Apple has pre-populated the application with a series of search terms including things like “mountains”, “dog”, and “baseball”. This has been working since the early betas and I’ll write more about this when iOS 10 releases.

The trouble is it will only search terms that Apple has deemed worthy of a search term. As an example while I can find mountains by searching my Photos library, I cannot find “stormtroopers” or “Yoda”.

Google Images, on the other hand can search both terms. My guess is that Google was keeping track of the searches done on its cloud-based photo storage site and doing some back-end magic to add popular terms and find the appropriate photos. (As an aside, Google thinks the search term “Yoda” should turn up pictures of the Star Wars character and Buddha statues. Maybe they know something.)

In theory, Apple could update its own list of search terms as it perfects the use of Differential Privacy that would anonymize the data as it goes into the Apple servers but I can’t help but feel Apple will never update as aggressively as Google’s server farms will.

I’m not sure exactly how this all plays out. Part of me feels like Apple is getting ready to enter the ring with one hand tied behind its back. Nevertheless, I would prefer slightly less robust machine learning if it allowed me to continue to protect my privacy rights. The real question becomes what consumers do if there’s a significant difference between server-based services with little privacy and device-based services with better privacy. 

Either way, the Stephen Levy article demonstrates that Apple is fully engaged with this question and taking what they believe to be the best course of action. I recommend reading the whole thing if this topic is at all interesting to you. Apple is clearly (and publicly) taking a different path with respect to machine learning and privacy. I’m fascinated to see how this all plays out.

MPU 337 - Workflows with Father Gabriel

This week Catholic priest and geek, Gabriel Mosher, joins us to explain how he uses technology to get his work done. Topics include time and attention, research and writing, presentations, and project management.

Sponsors include:

  • Hover: Simplified domain management. Use code BEYOND to get 10% off your first purchase.
  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. 
  • The Omni Group We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
  • Fracture Bring your photos to life.

MPU 336 – iPhone Productivity

This week on Mac Power Users, Katie and I cover the workflows and apps we use to get work done on our iPhones. There’s some great little tips in this one.

Sponsors are:

  • Casper: Because everyone deserves a great night sleep. Get $50 off with the code ‘MPU’
  • Eero: Blanket your home in fast, reliable WiFi. Get free overnight shipping with this link.
  • The Omni Group They're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad. 
  • Automatic The connected car company that improves your driving and integrates your car into your digital life. Enter code MACPOWER to get 20% off your purchase.

Vesper as the Canary in a Coal Mine

A few years ago John Gruber, Brent Simmons, and Dave Wiskus joined forces to create a notes app called Vesper. If I was setting up a developer shop, these three guys would be on my dream team. They made a great app with a lot of taste and it never really took off. John wrote a post explaining why Vesper is shutting down.

What went wrong was very simple. We never made enough money.

If the dream team couldn’t make it work, who can? John goes on to speculate about other ways they could have rolled the app out in order to make it more profitable including developing for the Mac first, where productivity apps still sell for more than the price of a cup of coffee. In the case of Vesper, the lack of a Mac app certainly kept me from fully adopting it. The resurrection of Apple Notes didn’t help either.

I think John’s post should be required reading for anyone thinking about getting into the productivity app business. For years now I’ve been talking to app developer friends and they are nearly universally wondering how long they will be able to survive in a business where consumers expect to pay less than $5 for an app and expect that app to be maintained for years at a time with no further revenue to the developer.

This problem is holding back productivity software on the iPhone and–even more dramatically–on iPad. The iPad Pro hardware is, performance-wise, competitive with a laptop. The difference, however, is that people are simply not willing to pay the same for iPad productivity software as they are willing to pay for Mac productivity software. Developers understand this and, as a result, are not putting the time and effort in on iPad and iPhone. I realize I'm stating the obvious but if developers could earn more from quality iOS development, we’d have a lot more quality iOS productivity software. 

Towards the end of his post John gets to the subject of subscription pricing.

Ultimately, what we should have done once we had versions of the app for both Mac and iOS is switch to a subscription model. Make the apps free downloads on all platforms, and charge somewhere around $15/year for sync accounts. That’s where the industry is going.

Subscription pricing feels like a third rail to me. Every time I write anything remotely positive about it, I get tweets and emails telling me how terrible an idea it is. Nonetheless, I'm not sure how we continue to get quality productivity software without it.

About that Leaked Blue iPhone

A few days ago, iFeng leaked some images of a blue iPhone. The images look real but these days who really knows. I'd argue that this year, more than any before, it makes sense for the iPhone to get some more interesting colors. This will be the third year with the iPhone at basically the same design. People who buy the new phone will want bragging rights about having the latest and greatest. If you can’t show it’s new by the new design, then it needs to be a different color. I know people that bought a rose gold iPhone last year simply because it was a new color. If Apple doesn't provide any way to distinguish the new iPhone, there are some people who simply won’t buy it. I fully expect Apple to have at least one new iPhone color this year.

Dragon for Mac Version 6 Coming Soon

This week Nuance announced the imminent release of Dragon for Mac, Version 6. I spoke with Nuance and this new version takes advantage of several improved dictation technologies.

Deep Learning

Nuance has always been able to server-based algorithms to improve dictation accuracy but this new version will be the first time they can embed learning on a user's computer, allowing them to improve their own language and acoustic model. This, and other improvements, adds up to less required training and a reported 24% improvement in accuracy. (I'm looking forward to putting that to the test.)

Improved Transcription

The demonstration I saw showed significant improvement in transcription of existing audio. Not only is the transcription better, it's also much easier to train and operate. I particularly like the new batch mode, that lets you transcribe batches of audio files in one go.

Improved Text Control

Mixing typing and transcription has always been rough going on the Mac. With Dragon 6 for Mac, you'll be able to dictate in supporting apps and type at the same time without the wheels falling off. They are still working on the list of supporting apps for launch but Scrivener is already one of them.

The new version ships (digitally) on September 1 and there will be physical product shipments by mid-September.

Competing Interests

I enjoyed reading the Washington Post Tim Cook interview. The interview was wide in scope and really gives you a window into the mind of Apple's CEO. I recommend it. One section that raised my eyebrows was the discussion of security and privacy. This issue is a fascinating one to me because Apple has taken such a leading role in advocating privacy rights for consumers. As Tim explaned in the interview, "Customers should have an expectation that they shouldn’t need a PhD in computer science to protect themselves."

Elsewhere in the interview, Tim talks about Apple's mission.

The DNA of the company is really what I was talking about there. The North Star has always been the same, which for us, is about making insanely great products that really change the world in some way — enrich people’s lives. And so our reason for being hasn’t changed.

I absolutely believe the folks at Apple get out of bed in the morning to make great products. However, it really isn't that simple. If you don't believe me, perhaps I could interest you in a 16GB iPhone. Making insanely great products has always required compromises. Apple has to make a profit if they want to stay in business and every Apple product (just like any other company's product) that comes to market requires thousands of small compromises. That's always come with the territory but until recently, I've never really thought of Apple having a competing North Star. Now I wonder.

Privacy is a big deal to Apple. Tim explained:

Privacy, in my point of view, is a civil liberty that our Founding Fathers thought of a long time ago and concluded it was an essential part of what it was to be an American. Sort of on the level, if you will, with freedom of speech, freedom of the press.

I think this is more than CEO puffing. I think Tim, and the rest of Apple leadership, feels this in their bones and they are absolutely willing to go to bat for consumers on the issue of privacy. They took a drubbing over the San Bernardino case and I suspect they'd do it all over again. The question, however, becomes what happens when protecting consumer privacy gets in the way of making insanely great products? If Apple's unstoppable force hits its own immovable object, who wins?

There are plenty of consumers already getting off the Apple services bandwagon in favor of Google precisely because the way Google does everything on its servers results in some insanely great user experiences. Apple is responding by trying to get those types of services on-device as opposed to the less private cloud storage as Google does. We're early days on this but it seems, at least for the immediate future, that the cloud service solution is better, faster, and more adaptable than on-device.

If Tim Cook were sitting here right now, I suspect he'd argue that the 2016 version of an insanely great product is one that (in addition to many other features) protects user privacy and going back to the issue of compromises, it's probably better that you not let somebody else index all of your photos, even if that would make it easier to search out pictures of canteloupes. I agree with that particular compromise but as we move into the next few years, I think the goals of great products and protecting user privacy aren't always going to align.

Twitter's New Filters

Twitter took some positive steps today to help get the jackasses out of your Twitter feed. The Twitter for iOS app now has a some new filters and notification settings.

Limited Notifications

You can now tell Twitter to only show you notifications from people you follow. The problem with this is that it treats everyone you don't follow as a jackass. That's no fun.

Quality Filter

I've heard about this rumored quality filter for some time. This is promissing. The idea is that Twitter can look at their own data and sort the good from the bad and then only show you the good stuff. (It doesn't filter content from people you follow or have recently interacted with.) Now anyone can turn this filter on. This could be awesome or a mess, depending on how the filter is tuned. I sure hope it's good.

Why I'm in Favor of Verified Accounts

I personally believe that this problem gets a lot more solvable with verified accounts. Anonymity brings out the worst in some people. If users could press a button that mutes people not willing to verify their identity with Twitter, things would get better. However, Twitter is, for the time being, treated verified accounts as precious. I tried to verify my Twitter account (that I started in 2007 and has ~18,000 followers) and was turned down. (Of course, writing this at the same time I applied probably wasn't my smartest move.) 

Intel to Build ARM-Based Chips

For years now, Apple nerds have pined away at the idea of Intel building ARM chips for Apple. Intel has always been at the front end of technology in terms of die shrinks and chip manufacturing. Unfortunately Intel has also always insisted on only building its own designs. That makes sense. I suspect being a chip designer/manufacturer is much more lucrative than being just a chip manufacturer.

Yesterday we received news that Intel has changed its mind and is now planning on building chips based on the ARM design. This seems like good news for Apple. It allows Apple to distance itself from Samsung (that same company that Apple sued for design theft) currently produces a lot of the chips found in iPhones and iPads. I'd also speculate that an Intel manufactured Apple ARM chip is smaller and more power efficient.

Without any inside knowledge, I’m guessing that Intel did not want to get into the chip-manufacturing-for-others business. Nonetheless, here we are. Let’s hope the iPhone and iPad can benefit.

Sponsor: HoudahGeo with Discount Code

This week MacSparky is sponsored by HoudahGeo. HoudahGeo is a Mac app that makes attaching locations to your photos ridiculously simple. The case for adding geo-location data to your photos is easy. Looking at your photos on a map gives you all sorts of options for sorting, viewing, and sharing your pictures. Want to see all the pictures from that beach trip? With HoudahGeo it's a snap. Because of the way our human brains work, years in the future we may not remember when we took a certain trip but we will remember where we went and with HoudahGeo on your side that's all you need.

The trouble is that a lot of cameras have no ability to geocode your photos for you. That's where HoudahGeo comes in. HoudahGeo actually geocodes photos. It writes industry standard EXIF/XMP tags to the original image files, which makes the geocode information permanent. (Not all geocode apps do that.)

HoudahGeo also works with multiple geocode workflows. You can automatically geocode photos form a GPS track log. You can also manually geocode photos using the map in HoudahGeo. It's easier than you think. You can even drag-and-drop geocoding data. HoudahGeo also allows for viewing (and showing) photos in Google Earth.

If your camera doesn't save geo-location data to your photos, you can solve that problem today with HoudahGeo. For a limited time, get 20% off with discount code “MACSPARKY”.

MPU 335: Workflows with John Voorhees

This week app developer, writer, and attorney John Voorhees joins us to share some of his geekiest workflows. 

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • PDFpen from Smile With powerful PDF editing tools, available for Mac, iPad, and iPhone, PDFpen from Smile makes you a Mac Power User.
  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore.
  • Fujitsu ScanSnap ScanSnap Helps You Live a More Productive, Efficient, Paperless Life. 
  • Squarespace: Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.