Sponsor: Curbi iOS Parental Controls

This week, I’m pleased to welcome back, curbi as a MacSparky.com sponsor. While the Internet can be scary for most people, it is terrifying for parents. Letting our kids enjoy the good parts of the Internet while protecting them from the nefarious parts isn’t easy. Not only can kids get into trouble over your local WiFi network, they can also get into trouble through a cellular connection or at a friend’s house. curbi solves this problem, giving you amazing parental controls for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. You can easily block specific types of content or add a specific site list. curbi tracks (and can block) websites through Safari or any other iOS app that has a web browser. Perhaps even more importantly, the curbi blocks will work no matter how they access the Internet, even using their Pal's home WiFi on the other side of town.

curbi also lets you set boundaries. For example, you could block social networks from 3pm to 6pm and the entire Internet from 9pm to 8am. For just $6.99 a month, you can protect all of the iOS devices in your home. curbi is the only service I’ve ever seen that can protect your kids, no matter where they are. Learn more here.

30 Minutes with the New MacBook

In addition to spending 30 minutes with the Apple Watch yesterday, I also spent 30 minutes with the new MacBook. I’ve talked about the new design already on the Mac Power Users and written about it here. Now, after having spent some time behind one, I have a few additional thoughts.

  • This machine is one sexy computer. I never thought I’d see a computer that could make a MacBook Air look fat and yet the new MacBook does precisely that. It feels more like picking up an iPad than a Mac.
  • The ability to use an aluminum hinge may have engineering benefits but also looks damn nice.
  • The audio from the speakers sounds better than I expected out of a computer this small.
  • The retina screen looks like every other retina screen—beautiful and bright.
  • The additional colors of space gray and gold both look nice. The gold doesn’t look tacky but it is not for me. Space gray on the other hand…
  • The keyboard was the big question for me. Several people that I respect don’t like it, including Jason Snell. I typed about 500 words of text on it and it didn’t repel me, but it most certainly is different. The key travel is shorter and would take some getting used to. The lower amount of travel might be a deal breaker after using it for a few days but after just a half hour, it felt more strange than terrible.
  • Just one port. Since that port is both new and an industry standard, I expect we'll see an assortment of docks and other pluggy-in bits in short order but if you are buying this as your only computer right now, it will be rough sailing for awhile.

My questions about the new MacBook are not hypothetical. My current laptop is three years old and I’ve been thinking about replacing it while it still has some resell value. Since I turned my life upside down, I no longer spend every work day sitting at my laptop. I use my home iMac a lot more and my laptop a lot less. Put simply, my laptop has changed from being a a second primary computer to just a second computer. I don’t need it super powerful but do need it to write words, handle mail, outlines, mind maps, and the other tasks that I normally do on the road. Getting it down to just two pounds means I’d be able to carry it a lot easier and more often. Something this portable has a real benefit to me. I’m just not sure if I could get used to that keyboard. 

To answer that question I’ve ordered one. I’m going to use it for a week, but still keep the box and my MacBook Pro at the ready. After a week, I’ll either keep it and sell the MacBook Pro or send the MacBook back. Either way, I’ll be reporting in.

30 Minutes With the Apple Watch

This morning I had my appointment at the local Apple Store to go try on the Apple Watch. Unknown to me, the watches you try on are in demo mode and you can’t actually operate them. There are, however, watches in the store that you can operate, but not wear. So between spending 30 minutes trying watches on fiddling with the ones that I actually could operate, I came out of it with a few thoughts:

  • The rubber watch strap does not feel nearly as much like rubber as I thought it would. It’s actually kind of supple. Also, I was able to strap it on and off several times without help and did not find it nearly as difficult as some of the reviews are reporting.
  • The leather watch strap does not feel nearly as much like leather as I thought it would. It feels a lot like hard plastic and was disappointing.
  • The taptic feedback is just right. I love the idea of getting a tap on the wrist without anyone else in the room knowing.
  • Likewise, the resistance on the digital crown is also just right. I'm guessing there is a really great story on how they tested and eventually decided upon the amount of resistance for that dial.
  • The watches that I could operate only had the native applications on them. There’s probably a good reason for it but I was disappointed since some of the reviews have talked about how third party applications load slowly and I wanted to see this for myself.
  • Both the 38mm and 42mm watches are smaller than I expected. Maybe it is because of those big photos on the Apple website, but I just expected it them be bigger. I actually prefer their smaller size over the larger sizes that resided in my head. Both of them are smaller than my existing Pebble watch.
  • Both the aluminum and steel Apple Watches are of negligible weight. I know some people have been worried that the steel one will weigh too much. I don’t think that’s an issue. I could barely tell a difference. They are both very light and will not be a problem on your wrist all day.
  • The new San Francisco font looks great. It scales nicely on the watch and definitely adds to the experience.
  • Navigating the watch is a little different than a phone but not that different. I’ve read several people complain about the interface being confusing and I don't agree. After 10 minutes I had it down. Swipe down for notifications. Swipe up for glances. Press the crown for the home screen. Press the button for your friends.
  • That thing where you can draw on the screen felt pretty useless. That thing where you can tap on the screen makes a lot more sense. Occasionally when I would go to tap on the screen, the watch would detect some movement from my finger and attempt to turn it into a drawing. That made me sad.
  • Siri worked fine and displayed words while I was dictating them. Many of the features (like creating a new calendar appointment) were turned off on the demo watch so I couldn’t push Siri as hard as I would have liked.
  • Customizing the watch faces is easy enough. The initial collection of watch faces is nice but I sure hope they open that up at some point.
  • It was 10:30 AM on a Saturday and there were a lot of people in the store that wanted to look at the watches. Just observing the Apple Store customers, it looks to me like they’re going to sell a lot more of these than I expected.

Overall, after just 30 minutes, I’m looking forward to incorporating the Apple Watch into my life. It’s a great bit of technology to make using my iPhone easier. It doesn’t feel like life-changing technology the way the original iPhone or even the iPad did. However, it does feel like a big enhancement to the existing experience.

Also, having tried on the steel and the aluminum watches, I’m happy with my decision to purchase the aluminum one (I bought the space gray with black band). The stainless steel looked better to my eye but the difference wasn’t worth the extra money to me.

If you’re anywhere near an Apple Store, you should go in and check it out for yourself. Even if you can’t get an appointment, the hands-on watches, where you can fiddle with the operating system, are worth the trip.

MPU 250 Live: We're Just Getting Started …

It was fitting that our 250th episode took place with a live audience. You'd think that after this long Katie and I are running out of things to say. We're not and there is lots of great content planned for the coming months. 

In this episode we're joined by Brett Bruney to discuss scanning on the go, we follow-up on LaTex, RSS and cord-cutting. We also address listener questions about splitting iTunes accounts, merging contacts, scheduling time to complete tasks and share listener tips about automating a home webcam, using Keyboard maestro, and automated RSS feeds.

Initial Apple Watch Reviews and a Few Thoughts

Today a bevy of Apple Watch reviews showed up on the Internet. They are all mostly positive. If you would like to burn a couple hours, head over to this Mashable linkwhere they have got a summary of the key reviews and links. 

There seems to be a few common threads throughout the reviews. Some early reviewers complaint that it took them awhile to figure out the new interface. For so many years now, Apple has been training us to use iOS and the “escape anything” home button. That isn’t going to work on the watch and it looks like this new paradigm is going to take some getting used to for some people.

Another common theme is the frequency of notifications. Watching the video reviews, it appears you can have a lot of control over what gets your watch but out-of-the-box, it drives them all at you. I already have most of my notifications turned off but those who like to leave the fire hose turned on should expect a lot of taps and dings from their wrist.

For me, the biggest news from these reviews was that there were no complaints about battery life. As big of an Apple geek as I am, the Apple Watch would be a non-starter if it runs out of gas at dinnertime. I was happy to see that the reviewers, who were presumably playing with these watches a lot more while writing their reviews than a normal user would, were all able to make it through a day without trouble. 

I’m still wavering between the sport and stainless steel models but having looked through the reviews, I’m definitely planning on ordering an Apple Watch of one sort or another.

The iPhone Extension Trick

Have you got any contacts that have extensions in their phone numbers? If you do, you'll know that adding extension information to your contacts can give your iPhone fits when placing calls. There is, however a trick.

When creating a contact, instead of this:

866-5309 x1982

Do this:


The semicolon is secret code to your iPhone to wait once the call connects and gives you the option to dial the extension when you tap it at the bottom of the screen.

I use this for telephone extensions and also for my conference call dial-ins—that seem to always have ridiculously long conference ID numbers.

Alternatively you can use commas to have the phone delay slightly and enter a digit for you. For instance, if you frequently have to call your cable company to reset your cable box and you know the tone sequence to make that happen, you could have a phone number like this.

Cable Box Reset

Assuming you got the numbers in the right order, that sequence would actually penetrate the bureaucracy and reset your cable box.

You can set the commas and semicolons in the Contacts app on your Mac, which is obvious. Not so obvious is the fact that you can add commas and semicolons on your phone too. To do so, press the symbol button on the dialer and then "pause" for a comma or "wait" for a semicolon.


Mac Voices Interview

Today I appeared on the Mac Voices podcast with Chuck Joiner. I say appeared because I did it on video, which was a new thing for me. Chuck and I talked about the OmniFocus and Workflow Video Field Guides. 


Sponsor: OmniFocus 2.1 for iOS. Now Universal!

This week MacSparky.com is sponsored by OmniFocus. The Omni Group has been hard at work since last year taking all of the their iPad applications universal, so they work on both the iPad and iPhone. Version 2.1 of OmniFocus for the iPad is now officially universal and works on the iPhone.

This new version looks fantastic on the larger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus screens. The new version works in landscape mode with a Sidebar on the iPhone 6 Plus, lets you use the Review perspective on your phone, create perspectives (with the Pro version) and view perspectives with project hierarchy (again with the Pro version). This single development has me thinking I may have to get the bigger iPhone the next time I upgrade. 

There are also some really nice new features for both the iPad and iPhone including:

  • Home screen customization. You can now tile your favorite perspectives within easy reach.
  • Display a custom perspective in the Today extension. I’ve got it currently showing my hotlist of items nearly due or flagged items and it’s super-useful. (Pro version only.)

If you’ve already bought the iPad version, go ahead and install it on your phone. If you’ve already bought it on your iPhone, the Omni Group has a plan for you too. Go learn more from the Omni Group and thank you OmniFocus for supporting MacSparky.com


Apple Watch Guided Tours

When the original iPhone was getting released, it was a big investment and I wasn't sure whether I'd get one or not. Then just a few days before launch Apple released this video and I was hooked. Showing us exactly how the revolutionary phone worked was brilliant and, in my case at least, sold one more iPhone. Apple is going back to the same playbook with a series of guided tours on the Apple Watch. So far there are only three videos available but there are at least seven more that will unlock between now and launch.

My favorite so far is the second video, on faces. Another observation is that in the third video, on digital touch, it looks like a 42mm watch on a slender wrist and it looks pretty big.

Home Screens: Mike Williams

This week’s home screen features Mike Williams (Twitter). Mike is the President and CEO of the David Allen Company and a geek just like the rest of us. Okay Mike, show us your home screen.

Notes about my home screen

My home screen is intentionally very simple. I do this to minimize distractions. The distractions are all tucked several screen swipes away. It is a simple reminder to me to keep things simple. The act of intentionally finding an app helps me become conscious to what I am doing and why. I also turn off 98% of all the alerts. I have a very quite iPhone. 

What are some of your favorite apps?

Fantastical (thanks to Mac Power Users!) - Love the ease of calendar entry. The UI is beautiful and whimsical. 

Omnifocus - This is the part of my GTD trusted system for all things that are Actionable = Yes (Projects, Next Actions, Waiting For). 

Evernote and Dropbox - This is the part of my GTD trusted system for a majority of the things that are Actionable = No (Reference, Checklists, Lists) 

Focus@Will - My Bose over the ears headsets (which I’ve had since 2006) and Focus@Will put my brain in a wonderful state for work. 

Timer+ - I like working in sprints. A timer helps keep me honest and I love the sense of completion. I’ve had way to many situations when productive time has become unproductive time simply because I drifted off. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy drifting off time too. There is nothing like a good day dream. I create some space for that to happen too (e.g. Walking time, Coffee shop time). 

Podcasts - I rarely listen to radio any more. I enjoy a wide range of podcasts. This is my go to app for commuting and walking. 

FlightAware - This is my go to travel app for getting information to help me understand the status of my flight, the status of my specific plane and more. 

Which apps are your guilty pleasures?

USAToday - It is news candy. Business Insider - Ditto. Medium - For the coffee shop or airport reading… a little deeper and longer form reading. 

What app makes you most productive?

It is actually three apps in tandem: Calendar + Omnifocus + Timer. The calendar helps me see my calendared actions and reference information (e.g. appointments, meetings, day specific actions, day specific reminders). When I have “white space” or open time on my calendar I shift to work sprint mode. Omnifocus serves up the list of possibilities for me to choose from based on my context, time available and my energy level. I use the timer and time blocking to identify the number and types of sprints I am going to do within a given amount of time (e.g. process emails for X minutes, brainstorm on a topic for X minutes, clean up ___ area for X minutes, and many more). 

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

I am working to discover the power of Workflow. I love the ETA (estimated time of arrival) workflow. I use this to help my wife know when I will be home. There is a heck of a lot of territory to explore here. This is another app that Mac Power Users brought into my life - thank you! 

What is the app you are still missing?

An app that, with minimal clicks and super fast speed, can capture an audio idea, turn it into text and send it to my Omnifocus Inbox. 

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

For me, when I am optimally productive, very little. 

When I am less productive, a lot. 

For me, when I am most present, very little. When I am most distracted, a lot. 

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

The whole iOS ecosystem and how it works together. Siri is great for getting information very easily. 

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

Time Machine and all iOS devices backup to iCloud automatically.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

Picture of a latte from Blue Bottle Cafe in San Francisco. Why? I love the serenity of a coffee shop and a journal. It is a reminder of the power of cool funky places. I love the vibe. It is a reminder to build in some unstructured mind wandering time into my day which helps me be more engaged, creative and productive. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Yes, I really enjoy Mac Power Users. Many thanks to you and Katie for all the work you do there! If anybody would like to learn more about me, David Allen or Getting Things Done® (a.k.a. GTD®) you can find information at www.gettingthingsdone.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at @GTDmw. Cheers to all! Keep rockin’ the Mac and iOS world!

The New Trackpad

Last week I went into the local Apple store to check out the Force Touch trackpad in the new MacBook Pro 13 inch. It was a strange experience. I walked up to the Apple-specified table and looked at the laptop and confirmed it was the new machine.

Then I began clicking on the new trackpad and moving the mouse on the screen. I was disappointed to find it was not the new machine. It was clicking just like my three-year-old MacBook Pro at home. About this time, one of my Apple Store employee friends came up to me to look over my shoulder.

Apple guy: "So what you think?"

Me: "This is the old Mac. I want to see the new Mac with that fancy new trackpad."

Apple guy: "What you mean? That is the new Mac."

Me (somewhat condescendingly): "No. This one is clicking I want to try the new one that doesn't have the physical clicker."

Apple guy: "That's it. Push harder and you'll get a second click. That didn't happen with the old Mac."

Me: Click-Click. Blush.

That's right. The new Force Touch trackpad stumped me. It turned me into that old guy that doesn't believe something is new. We then turned off the MacBook and I clicked it. Sure enough, nothing happened. The fancy magnets and unicorn tears they put inside the new trackpad absolutely makes it feel like you're clicking.

I remember when automatic windshields were becoming a thing in new cars and my dad told me he preferred the old crank style because those never broke. That could be the case here. Something that was a physical hinge is now something much more. However, my initial impression is that I like the new trackpad a lot better. You can click anywhere on the trackpad, including at the top where it was quite difficult to do so with the previous hinged trackpad.

Moreover, because it's pressure sensitive, it opens up a whole new interface paradigm for application developers. I'm certain that in the near future, as these things become more prevalent, you'll be able to force click applications to make cool things happen and get your work done faster. 

If you're anywhere near an Apple Store, go in and check out the new trackpad and, while you're at it, shut the machine down to realize exactly how much the new trackpad is screwing with your head.

Using Pocket to Create OmniFocus Tasks

On a recent episode of Mac Power Users, I talked about my workflow that uses IFTTT to send articles from Pocket to OmniFocus based on tags. A lot of people have asked me to explain further. Here is how you do it.

The Idea

I wanted a way to tag an article in Pocket and have something specific happen in OmniFocus. The below example takes any article tagged "post" and creates an OmniFocus task titled, "Write Post about" and inserts the URL name. I use this all the time.


As seen with the below screenshot, this recipe grabs Pocket articles tagged "post" and then processes them through my Gmail account. Gmail is required here because you'll need to customize the message in a way that only Google can in IFTTT. For this step you'll need a Pocket and Gmail account and have their channels connected to your IFTTT account.

Trigger: "post"

This step looks for a specific tag in Pocket. Because you can use multiple tags in Pocket, you could duplicate this recipe and have it perform different actions on different tags.

Action: Send an Email

The Omni Group has this great feature call OmniFocus Mail Drop. You can send an email to a secret link and it adds the email to your OmniFocus inbox. You do have use the OmniSync service but the ability to create tasks via email is really handy. 

This step is just sending an email to that super-secret mail drop location. You'd have to substitute your own mail drop email address.

Name the Task

Next I set a custom subject line, "Write post about " *Title*. This inserts the article title so, as sent, it may say, "Write post about hemp Apple Watch bands." OmniFocus will take that subject line and make it the task name. This is why I use the Gmail account for this recipe.

Flesh Out the Note

Next I have IFTTT send through further details to the email body. This gets added to the note in the task. This recipe isn't particularly difficult to create or earth shattering. In some ways, it may be outdated by iOS 8 and Pocket's ability to add tasks to OmniFocus right inside the app. That lets you avoid pushing items through the Internet pipes. However, I'd argue that there is no way faster for me to create these tasks than simply tagging an article "post" and moving on.