The Future of the iPod touch

Today we got updates to the iPod touch after a three-year hiatus. The updated devices are better than I expected. The entry-level device has 16 GB of storage—yes, Apple is still releasing devices with 16 GB of memory—and an A8 processor, 1 GB of RAM, and a good-looking screen for just $200. The price scales up for additional storage capping at 128 GB of storage for $399.

Expect for the next week or two lots of posts about whether or not the iPod touch still make sense in 2015. Let me save you a lot of trouble. It does. While I would agree with Apple that the device does not need a yearly update, it does need to stay relatively current.

When the iPad mini first released, I thought that it would be the death knell for the iPod touch. Specifically, so many parents buy these devices for their kids to give them an iOS device without a data plan. The iPad mini is in the same price range and has a bigger screen. However, my market survey (consisting of various kids in my life) demonstrate that their young eyes are quite sharp and they are happy with a smaller device with smaller text and smaller plants and zombies, so long as they—like their parents—can put it in their pocket and have it with them anywhere. Indeed after several years, none of the kids in my friends and family circles have said they’d be willing to trade their iPod touch for an iPad mini.

If anything is going to kill off the iPod touch, it will be competition in the cellular providers to get data plans so cheap that an increasing number of people just get phones instead of an iPod touch. While we’ve seen some progress on that over the last few years, I don’t think we’re anywhere near that time yet.

Stretching this hypothetical exercise even further into the future, it is entirely possible that we will get to a point where we don’t use cellular providers but Wi-Fi is just everywhere. In that case, the iPhone could become a lot more like the iPod touch than a iPod touch like the iPhone. 

Either way, I’m glad to see that the iPod touch finally got its update and I will not hold my breath for any further updates for at least two or three years from now. If you are in the market, now’s a good time to buy. One more thing you can count on: Long after the product is retired, people will still refer to it as the "iTouch".

Somewhat related … wouldn’t it be cool if the iPhone update in a few months got some of those new colors

Lifeline

Over the past week I've been getting messages from a college student trapped on a distant moon. He's scared and not quite sure what to do. He tells me what's going on and I've been giving him advice on how to stay alive. Sometimes he disappears for awhile when he's sleeping or working but eventually he comes back with some new problem. 

I'm talking about a new game for iPhone called Lifeline and it is quite a bit of fun with several unexpected twists and turns. The game isn't quite as free ranging as text adventures like Zork but it is a lot of fun and the real time elements give it something special. Since the gameplay is reading text and responding, the Apple Watch app is makes it even more fun. It's just $2 and I'd pay it again. I discovered the game from my pal Stephen Hackett.


 

Jazz Friday - Wayne Shorter’s Witch Hunt

Wayne Shorter is one of the few bridges that exist between the 50’s and 60’s bebop movement and the present. Wayne is currently 81 years old and still releasing excellent albums. Wayne is a saxophonist that got his big breaks in the Art Blakey and Miles Davis bands in the 50s and 60s.

In addition to some remarkable sax chops, Wayne Shorter is also a distinguished composer, writing many of the tunes Miles Davis recorded.

Wayne’s playing has evolved over the years and I had a hard time picking a single song to feature but in the end, I picked Witch Hunt from the 1966 album, Speak No Evil. The album featured Herbie Hancock on Piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet. All of these gents have had solo careers of their own.

After spending some time recording modal jazz albums, Witch Hunt was Wayne’s return to more traditional chord-change based jazz. Witch Hunt in particular pushes my music nerd buttons because the song is built nearly entirely around perfect fourths. I also dig the smart intro.

It is worth noting that Wayne Shor

ter also later played the saxaphone for one of the pioneering fusion jazz bands, Weather Report.

If you’d like to hear some more from Wayne Shorter I’d recommend JuJu for some of his more modal jazz and Without a Net for some of his more recent stuff.

For Apple Music subscribers, here’s my own Wayne Shorter Playlist. Enjoy.

iTunes Family Sharing - Just 5 Macs

I'm currently working on a bigger post about switching my family to the iTunes Family Sharing plan for the second time. Things are going much more smoothly this time than the first attempt but there are still some interesting points to discuss. In the meantime, I wanted to share this one bit of information that took some sleuthing to figure out.

With iTunes Family Sharing, every member of the family is his or her own island, but not entirely. Specifically, the five computer limit in iTunes is spread across all of the accounts attached to your Family Sharing plan. Each person doesn't have the option of connecting five Macs. Instead you have five Macs to be distributed among the whole group. If you've got more than five computers and are running into authorization errors, that is probably the reason.

The Return of AppBox Pro

Years ago one of my favorite applications on my iPhone was AppBox Pro (Website)(App Store). This application combines a bunch of little utilities under one roof. If you want something to help you calculate a tip, figure out the difference between two dates, and get the exact details of your iPhone’s battery life, AppBox Pro would deliver.

While it wasn’t particularly spectacular at any task, it really didn’t need to be and I liked that I could do it all from one icon instead of 12. However, development lingered and when iOS 7 showed up, the world moved on but AppBox Pro did not. For months I would open up in hopes that it received the much-needed update and it never did.

I still held a glimmer of hope. Earlier today I was cleaning through folders of applications on my phone and found AppBox Pro buried deeply. Apparently I never got around to deleting it. However, the icon had changed. My eyebrows raised. Could this be the day? Indeed, it was. AppBox Pro has a nice new update that looks great and after using the application for 15 minutes, it seems to do just like before, deliver many little utilities competently.

The features include a date counter, budget tracker, menstrual cycle calendar, currency converter, solar and lunar calendars, unit converters, holiday counter, loan calculator, tip calculator, battery status and device information, magnifier with brightness, and (of course) a random number generator for those dungeon masters out there.

You get all this for two bucks. I’m happy to have it back on my iPhone and iPad.

Deferred Email

I’ve talked and written before about deferring email. If you’ve never heard of it before, deferring email is the process of making your email disappear for a certain amount of time (usually days) or until a certain date in the future. Some applications do this by putting it in a hidden or obscure folder. SaneBox does it at the server level so it works in any application. Either way, on the designated day or after the set defer period, the email comes back to you.

I made fun of deferring email when I first heard of it. It seemed dishonest and gimmicky. However when I tried it out, I quickly became a believer. There’s a lot of email that can stand be putting off for a little bit of time but isn’t worth the extra work and baggage that come with adding it to your OmniFocus or other task manager database. In that case, deferring email really works.

When you’ve got a good email deferment system in place, you get used to seeing an empty inbox so when something shows up, you take it seriously. Simply leaving emails in your inbox (or for that matter any other email box box) results in you getting used to having a bunch of unanswered email and, in my case, malaise and despair. I’m much happier putting an email off for two days and getting it out of my sight than having to see it there every time I open my mail client. Maybe this is just psychology, but it works.

I wrote a little bit about deferred email in this week’s ad spot for SaneBox. Several people have written in asking me exactly how I set up my SaneBox defer folders. Here they are:


There is no rocket science involved here. Since going out on my own, Saturdays and Mondays are no longer as significant as they once were. I’m always working. As a result, I set up the defer folders not on specific days of the week but instead length of delay.

3 Hours

I use this one for something that comes in that I need to look at today but can’t look at right now. I use this more than you’d think.

1 Day

This one is my pressure valve. When I can’t get to it today but it is something I’ll need to deal with soon, it goes here.

2 Days

This one comes in handy when I’m waiting for something to happen. Quite often someone will ask me a question in an email and its not quite yet time for me to respond. I’m either waiting for another piece of information from someone else or haven’t had time to do whatever is needed to respond. Two days seems like the sweet spot to defer those emails. When it shows back up in a few days I usually have the answer or light a fire to get the answer.

5 Days

This is the one I use the least. In order for an email to fall into this box it needs to be both of low importance and low urgency. Things that I’m putting off five days usually get their own OmniFocus task but once in a while something falls into that area where it’s not worth an OmniFocus task and I still want to keep it in play. 

Like I said earlier, there are apps that can accommodate these deferred emails or you can use a service like SaneBox. If the volume of email is giving you trouble, I’d recommend giving deferred email a try. I use it on my legal, MacSparky, and personal accounts and, at this point, can’t imagine going back. Also, if you'd like to learn more about email, I know of a pretty good book.

Sponsor: Sanebox

I'm pleased to welcome back SaneBox as this week's sponsor. I've been using Sanebox for years and it still saves my bacon every day. There are so many great benefits to Sanebox. First and foremost is filtering. Sanebox looks at all of my incoming email and filters it for me to appropriate mailboxes. That way, the first thing in the morning I see are only those emails that are most important.

However, Sanebox can do so much more. I used to make fun of email deferment until I started using it with Sanebox. Now I use it all the time. When an email comes in that I don’t need to deal with for a couple days, rather than giving myself the extra work of scheduling a response in OmniFocus, I just defer the email two days. It disappears and then shows up again in my inbox in two days and I can deal with it then. Sanebox is highly customizable so you can set defer periods in hours, days, and weeks.

Because Sanebox is a cloud based service, it works in the email client of your choice, including Apple Mail. There is also an ingenious reminder system where you can blind copy an email to 1week@sanebox.com and the service will remind you if you don't get a response to the email within one week.

There is a lot more to SaneBox. If you get a lot of email, the service can really help. You can learn more at SaneBox.com. Note the links in this post will get you a discount when you subscribe. 

Home Screens: Joe Buhlig

Recently I stumbled into Joe Buhlig’s Blog and got lost for an hour. Joe (Twitter) likes to write about appropriate uses of technology and I think he’s great. So Joe, show us your home screen.

Notes about my home screen

I keep it simple. My home screen is designed around the apps that make me productive. Apps that don’t (like analytics apps or social media) are buried in folders. I try to keep everything on one page - the outcome is a slim home screen and iPhone.

What are some of your favorite apps?

Drafts

I’m using Drafts more and more. Every ad-hoc idea or task gets captured here. I carry note cards around but the power of Drafts has me entering my note card data into it. It can do so much auto-parsing that it’s easier to put it here as opposed to entering the metadata in other apps.

Workflow

David and Katie have had a number of conversations about this app on MPU and I’m always finding new uses for it. Our youngest daughter was born a few months ago and I used Workflow to send out the announcement texts. 

Group text messages for announcements always drive me crazy. Your puppy is cute, but I really don’t need your great uncle Hank’s phone number. In an effort to be nice to my friends and relatives, I created a workflow to send the same text to every person individually. 

I added blanks to a text message for the expected details - time, height, weight, and length. When our daughter was born, I filled in the details of the message and ran the workflow. It took that base text (and picture), looped through a group of assigned people, and sent the same text message to each person separately. No group message and uncle Hank’s phone number is safe.

Launch Center Pro

At first glance, you could say that Launch Center Pro and Workflow are similar apps, but I would say that’s a miss. LCP is extremely fast at starting a task and Workflow is great at creating new functionality. I like to add my workflows as actions in LCP in order to get new functionality started extremely fast.

TheBrain

I don’t see TheBrain talked about much, but it helps me make interesting connections. Think of it as mind-mapping that allows you to have a different mindmap for each node you create. And you can pull nodes from other places in your Brain to create deep links within the map. 

For example, I have a map inside TheBrain for people that I’ve met. I also have a map of places in the world in the same Brain (it’s nice that computers now allow us to have more than one brain). I can connect each person to a location. But I can also connect them to mindsets that we have in common or favorite drinks. The next time I go to New York, TheBrain helps me remember that John is out there. I dig deeper and see that he prefers a macchiato at Starbucks. So I set up a side meeting with John for coffee and talk about his recent trip to Utah.

1Password

You know it’s a great app when you use it constantly and yet forget about it. 1Password is that way for me. I use it on all of my devices every day. I’m lost if I have to type in a password somewhere. Even copy/pasting a password is weird anymore. If a new app doesn’t allow me to log in with 1Password, I’m prone to dropping it and finding one that does.

TextExpander

Once you use TextExpander you’ll wonder why you didn’t pick it up sooner. From typing my email address to writing long-form email responses to lipsums, it’s integral to my use of Apple devices.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Editorial is one of the more recent additions to my home screen. Just like Workflow and Launch Center Pro, Editorial can be a time suck. There are so many ways to alter text from my phone now. Editorial has single-handedly led me to consider a keyboard case for my iPad. 

What app makes you most productive?

Drafts. It helps me stay on task by making it easy to get things out of my head. Naturally, OmniFocus would be a close second, but keeping me on task is a lot harder than deciding which task.

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

Drafts, Workflow, and Launch Center Pro. I use them all the time, but I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what they can do. If I would spend more time with these apps instead of goofing on Twitter I might create something unique with them.

What is the app you are still missing?

I would like to know how much time I spend in each app. Maybe iOS 9 will open the door to this, but I’d like to have some way for it to alert me after a designated amount of time in a given app. Something that helps me control my iPhone habit. 

How many times a day do you use your iPhone?

Too many. I catch myself checking it any time I have a few seconds.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone?

Touch ID. It’s so easy to keep your phone (and many apps) locked and yet really easy to get into. This feature makes apps like 1Password magical. 

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

I’d like to see Apple spend some time perfecting the interplay mechanisms. AirPlay, AirDrop, and Handoff are great concepts. I just don’t find myself using them very often because they’re unreliable.

Deeper connectivity between apps. It sounds like we’re getting some of this with the Universal Links in iOS 9, but allowing developers deeper access to the system could open things up. It could allow Workflow and Launch Center Pro to gain power, make my app tracker possible, and start to make “iOS only” people more common.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

It’s one of the stock Apple wallpapers. I like using a dark background on any app I can. It keeps my phone from being a light bulb and makes it easier on my eyes.

Anything else you’d like to share?

As I was writing this, I realized that my iPhone is all about getting work done. That’s not necessarily bad, but breaks are important. My home screen proves I’m not the best at slowing down. Maybe I need an app for that.

Thanks Joe.

Apple Music, iTunes Match, and DRM

I've been neck deep in Apple Music this week as we prepare for a Mac Power Users episode devoted to the topic. One issue, that is worth sharing right now are the evolving questions about digital rights management (DRM). DRM has been largely missing from iTunes tracks for several years now. With Apple Music (a subscription service), it's back. That makes sense. The music industry doesn't expect you to be able to download and keep the entire iTunes music library for a single month's subscription. When you stop paying the subscription fee, you lose the rights.

The problem arises when you first set up iCloud Music Library and it overlaps with your prior iTunes Match tracks (that you presumably purchased and should be DRM free). Early tests, including this one from Kirk McElhearn, are indicating some of your iTunes Match tracks are getting DRM applied to them when they shouldn't.

The point of this post is that I want you to download and save copies of all your music on a spare drive before diving in with Apple Music. This may get all sorted out but I think having your own DRM-free copy of the music you've purchased is a good idea on most days (and an outstanding idea today).

MacSparky Fields Guides Now Available on iPhone

With the release of iOS 8.4, iBooks on the iPhone can now display iBooks Author rich media books like the MacSparky Field Guides. Hooray!

Often I receive emails from readers asking to read my books on the iPhone. Now you can. The books look great on the iPhone. Paperless, Email, Markdown, and 60 Tips all display in the alternative format (pictured). This allows you to also change the type size. Presentations displays in its original format, which looks great but doesn't allow you to change type size.

Either way, I'm thrilled to have millions of potential new customers. If you've already purchased the books, they'll load just fine on your iPhone today. If you've been waiting for them to become iPhone compatible, today is your lucky day. I'm already making changes to the next MacSparky Field Guide to make it even more iPhone friendly.

Sponsor: HoudahSpot

This week I'm pleased to welcome a new sponsor to MacSparky, HoudahSpot. Imagine if there were a group of engineers at Apple that wanted to turn up the Spotlight search a notch or two and had nobody in management to tell them "no". That's what you get with HoudahSpot. 

HoudahSpot lets you search your Mac like a boss. It improves upon Spotlight to let you find files by multiple criteria, like name, text, content kind, author, recipient, and pixel count just to name a few. You can combine these search criteria to drill in quickly and choose which locations HoudahSpot looks in and which locations it ignores. You can even set up templates for repeat searches.

I've used HoudahSpot for years and if you haven't tried it yet, you should. Here's a quick war story. In a recent trial I had things go a little bit wonky with some PDFs I wanted to use as exhibits. I suddenly found myself with a "needle in the haystack" scenario with 10 minutes to find the documents. I knew they were there …somewhere… and I cooked up a quick HoudahSpot query that found them with time to spare.

Anyway, don't take my word for it, go try out the app. If you like it you can get 20% off with the coupon code MACSPARKY or purchase through this link. There's no better way to search your Mac.

Directions On My Wrist

As you can probably tell from all the recent travel-related posts, I'm on the road a lot as of late. One of the nicest surprises for me with the Apple Watch in my travels is walking directions on the Apple Watch. 

I've always felt like walking around with my phone out for directions was like painting a sign over my head that says "I'm a lost tourist. Please come mug me." This was particularly true in San Francisco as I walked around at all hours of the day.

The Apple Watch removes that. Once you set a destination on your phone (or on your Watch via Siri), you can put your phone in your pocket and not look so obvious. Your directions will then begin showing up on your wrist. 

The screen shows your estimated time of arrival and distance to your next turn. It's really quite nice. It gets better though.

As you are walking down the street, Apple Watch talks to you in secret code. If you are coming up on a right turn, you get a steady stream of 12 taps on your wrist. If you need to turn left you get three series of two taps to turn left. If you aren't sure, just look at your watch like you are checking the time when, in reality, you are getting directions like a secret agent in cold-war Berlin.

Once you arrive at your destination the watch vibrates again. Force tap your screen to stop the directions. Having done this now for several weeks, I can't imagine going back to getting walking direction on my phone.