Winner: No=Pecan Pie
This week I am pleased to welcome Drafts as a sponsor of MacSparky.com. Drafts is one of the most innovative apps to show up on iOS. The idea is simple: make it dead simple for people to capture text on their iPhone or iPad and then make that text dance for them. Drafts executes on this, flawlessly. When you first open the application, there is a blank screen and a keyboard. There is no need to monkey with opening new files, Drafts does it for you. Indeed, you can set it so it does this happens every time you open the application.
Once you've put some text in Drafts, you can then send it somewhere else on your iOS device. There are simple built-in solutions like sending it to a new email message or an application, like OmniFocus but you can also customize it. For example, I've got a custom task that sends a text message to my wife and two daughters. The workflow is so simple. I open drafts, dictate a short message, and push a button and the message goes out to those three. Drafts' developer keeps adding new features like deep control over Dropbox, Evernote, and now coming iCloud. I reviewed Drafts awhile back. Learning to automate text with your mobile devices is a game changer and if you haven't tried Drafts yet, shame on you. Go check it out and let them know you heard about it here.
Got some downtime this weekend? MPU 223 is out. In it Mike Rohde joins us to talk about his new book, the Sketchnote Workbook. We also discuss my fancy new iMac, academic workflows, goal setting, security, and share listener tips and answer questions.
My congratulations go to Microsoft for embracing iOS this year with versions of Office for iPad and iPhone. If there is anyone you'd want to see review Microsoft Word on the iPhone, it'd be a lawyer and nobody is better at these stress tests than Jeff Richardson. Jeff's conclusion are two thumbs up. I have a feeling that in my day job, using Word on my phone is one of those things that will make me wish I kept the big phone.
Over the past few weeks I’ve had a post it in development concerning iCloud Drive and document syncing. Through the beta process for both Yosemite and iOS, I had varying degrees of success with synchronizing documents through the iCloud drive, by which I mean it rarely worked.
Apple made a lot of changes under the hood with these most recent releases and I understood that this was going to be difficult for awhile and I was going to face the host of evils that come with running beta software. However, I also expected that when these products shipped, everything would be sorted out.
I am under no illusions that Apple can magically become the masters of cloud sync overnight, especially when they’ve been behind competitors like Google for so long. I was prepared for a few rough patches as the software released but I was not prepared for the problems I faced when Yosemite finally hit the streets and iCloud Drive was a real thing and no longer a beta thing.
Originally, my ability to sync through iCloud Drive was crippled. My iPhone, iPad, and Mac all had different versions of documents on them despite numerous attempts to reset the system, including logging out of iCloud entirely, switching my .Mac identity to an “iCloud” identity, and even nuking my iPad entirely and starting again from scratch were all fruitless. The most frustrating part is that these failures were not only with third parties using iCloud drive, they were happening with Pages, Numbers, and Keynote as well. How are people at Apple not seeing these problems with their own apps?
For a few weeks, it just didn’t work for me. Sometimes I could get one device to sync with the other temporarily but then a few hours later it would stop. I spent way too much time trying to troubleshoot it and ultimately concluded the problem was probably something server-based or software-based and entirely out of my control. I was like a tribesmen trying to forestall a solar eclipse by looking at chicken bones. I knew at some level that all of my attempts to sort things out was pointless yet I couldn’t stop myself because I needed these documents to synchronize for my work. That whole thing I’ve always felt about my Apple products just working for me and letting me get on with my work went out the window and it drove me nuts.
The version of this post that I wrote a week ago, was a lot less generous than the one I am now posting. The reason for that is about a week ago things started to sort out for the iWork apps. At first, things would start syncing but just take a long time to do so. I’ve got a 20 MB numbers file. It took about 10 minutes to synchronize between my iPad and my Mac. They didn’t allow for simultaneous work but at least I knew I had the data available to me when I needed it. Since then the speed has increased even more. We’ve had a few updates to the iWork apps that have significantly improved iCloud synchronizing speeds as well. It still takes longer than it should to synchronize documents and I expect this is largely server-based. Also, it still is not perfect. I updated a Numbers spreadsheet last night on my Mac and then started working on it this morning on my iPad but realized, about 5 minutes in, that I didn’t have the changes synced from the Mac so I now had two inconsistent versions of the same document. Ugh.
On third party apps, things are still a mess. There was apparently a problem with 8.1 that makes iCloud Drive document sync cause apps using the service to hang up and, generally, break. Several of my favorite third party apps that use iCloud Drive are practically unusable at this point. I’m told the impending 8.1.1 update fixes this but I have to wonder how it got this far.
I don’t know what to think about Apple and the cloud at this point. I think this is really important to Apple’s success (and my ability to get the most out of their products). Nevertheless, they keep stumbling. I know what they are doing at this massive scale is hard. However, Apple’s secretive nature combined with these obvious problems makes it appear they just don’t care, which I don’t think is true but nonetheless frustrating when it interrupts my flow. I suspect the truth is that the iCloud team is pedaling like mad and don’t want to publicly acknowledge these problems but instead just fix them. I sure hope they do. I’ll be reporting back on iCloud Drive and hope things get better. For now, you can hold on to your Dropbox account.
I’ve been doing some speaking over the past few months. They’ve been small corporate-type gigs about technology and productivity. Two events in particular, both at large law firms, are worthy of note.
1. The Vanishing Function Key
As you might guess, I’m pretty thorough in preparing for a presentation. I even have a TextExpander snippet that requests, among other things, a picture of the projector inputs. So I usually have everything sorted out before I arrive but in this one case, I could not get my Mac to output to the projector. Everything was plugged in. All systems were go. It just wouldn’t display and I was running out of time.
So my host calls in the IT guy. He walked in, looked at my set up and said it:
“Oh. You’re Mac”
Those were his exact words. He delivered them dripping with judgment. He didn’t say I was using a Mac. He said I was Mac.
This irritated me and it probably showed. I didn’t need attitude. I had a room filling up with people and I needed my brilliant slides behind me. I explained how things weren’t working and he then shares another pearl of wisdom:
“You need to press Fn-F2. That always fixes it.”
I then explained that my Mac doesn’t have a Function + F2 key. My computer automatically detects when it is plugged into a projector and doesn’t require some silly keyboard incantation. Then he said it again:
It was interesting because this time his inflection implied my situation was hopeless. It was like a Microsoft-approved version of “I am Groot.” One phrase. Infinite inflections. Clearly, he’d had a lot of practice at saying it.
While this conversation was ongoing I kept watching more people come in and sit down. I was seconds away from shutting down and going without slides. However, since this presentation was how to make better legal briefs with PDFs, I really had no clue how I would pull that off. Then I asked him for the projector remote. He got defensive.
“The projector’s fine. You’re Mac.”
Then I channelled my mother. I stuck my hand out and looked at the ceiling. I was surprised to feel the plastic slap into my palm. (My mom was smart!) I started futzing with the projector inputs and found one had been turned off. It happened to be the one connected to the cable sticking out of the wall that I was told to plug into. As soon as I flipped the switch, the screen lit up and I was off to the races.
He saw me connect and then said it again:
2. The Great Cable Caper
Less than a week later I was giving another talk in another big law firm and couldn’t connect. Again the IT guy showed up and again he said the exact thing.
“Oh. You’re Mac”
I blinked. I couldn’t believe I was taking the same guff less than a week after the last guy. Is this phrase now in the manual? This guy told me very patiently how Macs don’t work on “his” projector. They’ve never been able to get one to connect and it is because Apple uses “non-standard technologies.” This time I snorted and he declined to elaborate exactly what “non-standard technologies” he was referring to. Nevertheless, he said it with so much authority that several people in the room nodded their heads in agreement.
Again I was contemplating dumping my slides but now I was convinced the problem was his projector and I wanted to prove a point. On a hunch, I pulled my own RGB cable out of my bag. (If you want to know how much gear I carry to presentations, there is a good book you should read.) When I swapped my cable for theirs … you guessed it … the screen lit up. The IT guy looks at the screen, then my Mac, then the screen again. Then he made his declaration:
“Must be a proprietary Mac cable, right?”
I don’t think either of these gents was actively trying to prevent me from connecting. I just think they have such deep seated prejudice against Apple that it would never occur to them that these problems were on their end, not mine.
Writing a post about how Mac users are persecuted in 2014 feels like it is about 15 years too late. Nevertheless, there is a slice of the Enterprise, particularly in industries resistant to change (like legal) where you still are looked at funny when you walk in with a Mac.
Many (but hardly all) of the IT professionals serving these industries have been far too busy earning Microsoft certifications to pay any attention to Apple and they are not only unhelpful, they can actively lob hand grenades at your attempts to get any work done with your Mac.
If you are using a Mac in this environment, it’s up to you to know your stuff because you really can’t rely on any help from “the man”.
I am Mac.
I often get emails asking how I do my screencasts. There are a lot of apps I've tried and discarded but over the years, the one application I absolutely rely upon is ScreenFlow. I've written about it before. Today Telestream released version 5 and its on sale for just $35 for one day only. (I paid $99 for the last version.) I'll be writing about my experiences with the new features soon but for now, if you have any desire to ever make a screencast, today's your day. Go get it now.
Gabe Weatherhead is, without a doubt, one of my favorite nerds in Internetland. He blogs. He podcasts. And now he develops Apps. Gabe has told me in the past how he combines his geeky superpowers with his love of good beer and now he, along with some other smart people like Jeff Hunsberger, has created an App, TapCellar, to make drinking beer even more fun. I love how they brought design elements that only serious beer drinkers could think of, like the requirement that it work great offline (because so many bars have reception) and that it be something you can use one handed ... well ... because ... beer. Gabe explains it all at MacDrifter.
If you occasionally partake in some foamy recreation, go get TapCellar. Also, if Gabe is reading this I'd just like to publicly say that another version of this app could be pretty special for tea drinkers. That is all.
I'm behind on posting this but my pal Brett Terpstra recently collaborated with the folks behind Ulysses to create a new rich text file format called Textbundle. I, along with the rest of the Internet, have been yammering about the benefits of text files for some time. Put simply, text is timeless and so should be your words. Writing your most important words and proprietary file formats sets a fuse to your words.
The problem with the text format is that it does not allow for formatting. The idea behind text bundle is to create a format that retains the simple text files but also carries with it formatting details. In essence, text bundle file is a folder including one file that has your words in plaintext and some other files that allow participating applications do things with that text like, for instance, tracking changes. Even if Textbundle goes the way of the Dodo, you will always be able to take that embedded text file and read it.
I think it's a great idea and I wish him the best of luck. I hope many third-party app developers pick it up. I'm definitely going to be watching this and keeping an eye out for an application to take advantage of this file format.
I particularly like the "simulated" photo of him using it on the toilet.
People have asked me whether I miss my iPhone 6 Plus. I do. Especially when trying to read or write long documents. I don't find I miss it for web browsing. The 6 is big enough for that. I also don't miss it when using it one-handed, which I can more or less do with the 6. Does this mean I'm settled on the 4.7" size when next year rolls around? Nope. I've got no clue how big my next phone will be.
Mike Rohde is a pretty special guy on the Internet. Mike came up with the idea of Sketchnoting and has been teaching his techniques for years. I use some of these techniques in preparation for court appearances. Mike explained Sketchnoting in MPU episode 120. (Mike also prepared all the illustrations in my Email Field Guide.)
Mike recently released the Sketchnote Workbook which gives further Sketechnote instruction and includes examples from Sketchnoters of various skills (your truly included) demonstrating how they use Sketchnoting in their daily lives.
This week MacSparky is sponsored by inShort (website) (Mac App Store) (iOS App Store). inShort is is an iPhone/iPad/Mac application that lets you plan projects and processes graphically. This brings a new paradigm to process and project planning and is absolutely worth checking out. One of the more clever features is the way it allows you to embed processes and drill down to the level of detail you need at the moment.
inShort was updated for iOS 8, adding, among other things, a widget to the Today view and adapted graphics for the new iPhone 6 screens. Want to learn more, read the developer's PDF.
This week, I've got some inShort licenses to give away for both the Mac and iOS versions. To enter, send me an email with "inShort Contest" in the subject line. I'll send out licenses to the winners Friday.
I've recently received my shiny new Retina iMac and chose the event to clean up my home desk. I know it is kind of a thing for people to take these "posed" pictures of their workspace. Nevertheless, here is my desk-porn. In my defense, most days my desk is this clean. I wrote a book on how to live paperless, remember?
I've written and talked about travel gear several times over the years. There is a new gadget on the market that is worthy of consideration for road warriors. It is the HooToo TripMate Elite (Amazon). This device is about the size of an older AirPort Express (the kind that would plug directly into the wall) but made of black plastic instead of white. Moreover, it is a combination of several devices useful on the road.
There is a 6000mAh Battery Charger with two USB sockets so you can charge two things at once. When you get to your hotel (or find a spare socket at the airport) you can plug it in for charging later.
The HooToo also has a built in Wireless N Travel Router. If you show up to a hotel room that just has ethernet Internet, you can plug this in and create your own little wireless network in your room. You can also plug a USB flash drive into the device and broadcast the data on it to your iOS devices using a proprietary application. While all these functions are available on devices already on the market, I have not seen someone put all of them and one device before. This is pretty nice being able to carry a travel router, battery charger, and media streamer all with one device. I haven't ordered one yet but I probably will before my next big trip.
For a long time merchants have been paying a lot of fees to credit card companies and they don't like it. So they started their own payment initiative, called CurrentC, that gives them the ability to cut credit cards out of the loop and provide them more data about their customers. Then Apple unleashed Apple Pay on the world, creating something much more secure and easier than anything CurrentC could do but which still leaves merchants paying credit card companies. Rich Mogull does a good job of explaining the details at TidBITS.
The stage is set. Hijinks shall ensue. I bet the CurrentC backers had no idea how much nerd-attention they were going to get when all of this started.
To me, the most interesting element of this looming dispute between mega-corporations is how clear the battle lines are. Apple Pay uses existing credit cards but adds a lot of security (with one-time transaction numbers) and a bit of convenience. CurrentC is more clunky (QR codes!) and cuts out the credit card companies and, to a lesser extent, Apple. CurrentC collects helps build a customer profile which is great for merchants and creepy for consumers. In terms of security, CurrentC doesn't use one-time number but instead stores your existing ATM card number or relies upon you charging up your account with merchants. So the three biggest pieces affecting consumer experience are security, data collection, and convenience. Apple Pay wins all three. (However I could see Apple incorporating loyalty program numbers and customer tracking numbers into Apple Pay at some point.)
CurrentC feels like something that solves the merchants' problems at the expense of their customers' convenience and security. I understand CurrentC's point that if merchants could stop paying credit card fees, they could lower prices but that is not enough for me to have to deal with QR codes and continued security problems. I also have to wonder if they actually would lower prices or then explain that they need the money they used to pay credit card companies to now maintain CurrentC.
Wearing my consumer hat, I can tell you the deciding factor for me is security. Merchants like Target and Home Depot have proven they are not capable of protecting my credit card information. I have one credit card. I'm now on my fourth number for that account this year. Apple Pay solves that entire problem. When choosing where to shop, merchants that will accept my secure Apple Pay one-time number will go to the top of the line.
Tim Cook wrote an excellent essay for Business Week about being gay and the impact it has had on his life.
Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.
I really like the tone of this essay. Tim goes out of the way to explain how he is not trying to be heroic but instead do his part. Over the past few years, a close friend of my family is a young gay man that I've watched face down prejudice and rejection with a dignity and honor that you wouldn't expect of someone his age. People like Tim Cook writing things like this are making a difference.
I finally got some time to play with Pixelmator for iPad this evening. I know some of the people at Pixelmator and I know they've been working on this application for a long time. I knew it was going to be something special but not this special. For five dollars, you'll get a full features photo editor that just a few years ago would have required a Mac Pro and thousands of dollars in software. Moreover, the touch interface makes the photo editing more intuitive. I'm going to write more on this as I dig in deeper but for now, if you've got a recent iPad, just go buy this. Learn more at the website.