MPU 216: iOS 8 Developer Roundtable

In this week's Mac Power Users episode we interview Ken Case (Omni Group), Greg Scown (Smile), and Dave Teare (1Password) about the wild ride they've been on since WWDC and the big changes they've been able to make in their applications with iOS 8. This is the first time we've done a developer roundtable and it came out great. We'll be doing more of these in the future.


Jazz Friday: Joshua Redman, Never Let Me Go

While I'll admit I have a particular affection for jazz artists from the bebop and cool jazz movements, there are also some contemporary artists I really enjoy. This week is the first time I'm featuring someone (slightly) younger than me. Joshua Redman (Wikipedia) is one of the best contemporary jazz saxophonists playing today. He is smart (Harvard educated!) and plays the sax with a technical expertise that makes my head spin. However, what makes him Jazz Friday-worthy is his artistry. Joshua puts himself out there when he plays and I find it almost impossible to play his music in the background because I always fall into it. There are several great albums. Two of my favorites are his Timeless Tales (for Changing Times) album, which features his take on several jazz standards and the more recent Trios Live album. The live recording shows off his talent. If you are going to just pick one track, I'd recommend Never Let Me Go from the Trios Live album.

Home Screen: Stephen Hackett

This week’s home screen features my pal Stephen Hackett (website)(podcast)(Twitter). Did you know that this month Stephen is dedicating his site to raising money for St. Jude? Did you know that as I post this, he has already raised over $11,400!? I contributed and ask you to consider doing so as well. 

What are Some of Your Favorite Apps?

Overcast and Tweetbot are my most-used apps by far. In addition to helping make some great shows, podcasts are my favorite form of entertainment. I listen to very little music in my car or while working around the house, and Overcast is just great to use.

Tweetbot is the best Twitter client on the iPhone. While the iPad version needs some love, I still use it for all the filtering and power-user options. 

Next in line usage-wise is probably Slack, which I use to communicate with my team at work and The Sweet Setup.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Currently, it’s a Risk-like game called Blood and Honor. My brother and some friends of ours are playing against each other online a few too many times a week currently. 

What does your “Today” screen look like? What widgets are helping you out?

I’ve taken it slow when adding widgets. Currently, I’ve only enabled OmniFocus’ and Evernote’s. Notification Center now shows me tasks due today and gives me a quick way to create a note, image or more in Evernote.

Any favorite iOS 8 extensions?

love the Day One extension. I can send a photo or URL right to a new diary post without ever entering the app. However, photo metadata isn’t passed in, so I’m having to add location data later, which is a bummer. 

What is the app you are still missing?

A couple of years ago, my needs outgrew what I could do with plain text files, but I only use about 25% of what Evernote can do. I’d love a light-weight cross-platform app that could do text notes with the ability to attach images and files to them easily. 

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

Many days, my iPhone is my primary computer. My iPad is basically used for reading in the evenings and watching videos. It’s pure luxury at this point. 

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

The camera on my iPhone, while not the best shooter I own, is the most used. With the iPhone 6, it’s better than ever, and iOS 8 offers a lot of power when it comes to capturing and editing images. 

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

While my request from 2011 is still unanswered, I think Apple really needs to clarify what it’s cloud services can actually do. iCloud is pretty great most of the time, but it’s really hard to explain. 

What’s your wallpaper and why?

I’m using the iOS 8 moon photo because space is awesome. 

Thanks Stephen.

The iPhone Summit and Questions about the 6 Plus

Burgers and iPhones Summit

Today my iPhone 6 Plus arrives. You’d think I’m the most excited person in the Sparks house about this but I’m not. My kids are even more eager. I’ve talked about this on the podcast but one of the privileges of paying for four phones in our household is that we always have an upgrade available. 

Every year I get the new phone and then my 1 year old phone goes down to my 17 year old and her 2 year old phone goes to my 12 year old. (The 12 year-old’s phone goes to Gazelle and my wife abstains from the entire process.) As a result, my kids are more eager for me to get the new phone than I am. A side effect of this process is that my 17 year old is very interested in which new phone that I pick, knowing it will be hers soon enough. (Last year she successfully lobbied me to buy a white one.)

Making this switch isn’t difficult. You could probably pull it off with switching the SIM cards yourself but over the years (when the iPhone was using different sized cards in different devices) we got in the habit of going out for burgers and a visit to the cellular store when it all happens. When doing this, make sure you have the cellular rep only handle one transfer at a time and confirm the right number is working on the right device before you leave. When I told my kids the phone would arrive today, they immediately put in their demand for the annual Burgers and iPhones Summit.

6 vs. 6 Plus

I spent some time a few days ago with the new iPhones and it was fun getting my first hands-on impressions of the new devices. I even took notes.

iPhone 6 Plus

Ginormous. Everyone knows its big. Using an iPad Air every day, I figured it wouldn’t feel that big. I was wrong. This is definitely a two-hander. You will not be flipping through apps while holding a drink in your other hand. I think there are two elements to consider with its size. First, you’ve got to carry it around. Will it fit in your pants? Second you’ve got to use it. It doesn’t fit in your hand like prior iPhones and will require new habits.

If you can handle those two things, you are going to have a pretty amazing screen to work with. Things like mind mapping and other more creative endeavors will be much easier with this phone. Also, I think it will be great when displaying maps in the car. The big question is whether or not the size can work for you.

iPhone 6

After spending 30 minutes with the 6 Plus, I picked up an iPhone 6. It immediately felt better in my hand. It is a marked improvement and much easier to manage one-handed. The screen is just as good, but there isn’t as much of it.

The whole process left me wondering which device is right for me. I’ve got the 6 Plus coming today. I’m going to use it for some time but also be mindful of the 14 day return policy. The jury is out for me.

Full Access Keyboards

There is, understandably, a lot of concern about that full access warning dialog in iOS 8 when you enable a new keyboard. The biggest fear is that apps will log your keystrokes in hopes of delivering better service but at the same time collecting every word you type. Add a database of all your keystrokes to a company searching to be acquired and suddenly things get really uncomfortable. Getting full disclosure from app developers of how much data they collect and what they do with it is going to be essential for me in determining which third party keyboards make the cut. 

I published a screencast last week of the TextExpander keyboard. Smile, its developer, has already explained how they use data and it is, thankfully, very responsible. No keystroke data is transmitted to any servers. They keep a small cache of keystrokes only long enough to determine if you've triggered a snippet and then they dump it. You can learn more from Smile's blogpost on the subject. I hope other keyboard developers follow Smile's example.

MPU 215: iOS 8

In the latest installment of the Mac Power Users, Katie and I cover our favorite features in the latest version of iOS. There is a lot to cover here and I think we did a pretty good job of it. As an aside, I've got several posts going up this week about iOS 8. I'm really digging it and it is already changing my game.


Rocket Matter iPad App

Sometimes sponsor of the site, Rocket Matter, just released an iPad app for their cloud-based law practice management solution. A few years ago there was a raging debate as to whether cloud-based services needed to be browser-based or app-based. Rocket Matter has taken the position that its service should be both in the browser and in an app. I think they nailed it and other cloud-based service providers could take a lesson.


Home Screens: Bradley Chambers

This week’s home screen features Bradley Chambers (Twitter)(Website). In addition to his guest appearances on the Mac Power Users, Bradley also co-hosts the Out of School podcast with Fraser Speirs (Home screen). Bradley is a wicked smart geek. Bradley is also the first person (of many) to share a six row iPhone 6 home screen. So Bradley, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

My favorite app is probably Evernote. It’s my external brain. I struggled for years on what to use Evernote for, but Fraser Speirs finally showed me the light. A perfect example of something I store in Evernote are photos of crafts that my oldest son makes at school. I don’t really want to store the hard copy of everything that he makes forever, but I would like to have a record of it. 

Omnifocus is really well done on the iPhone. I tried to move away from the ecosystem last year (for simplicity), but when Omnifocus 2 was released on the Mac, I came back. Where Evernote is my “hard drive”, Omnifocus is my “RAM”. It allows me to only focus on what I need to focus on at any given time. If it’s not in Omnifocus, it won’t get done.

1Password is also one of those apps that I couldn’t live without. Everything from password logins, secure notes, and credit card information is stored in it. With iOS 8 extensions, 1Password on iOS will become much more powerful.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

It’s definitely Overcast. I’ve been a podcast fan since the first Revenge of the Screen Savers episode was released. I’ve used just about every podcast app on the market, and Overcast is fantastic. I also really like Castro, but the audio smart speed and voice boost features keep me using Overcast. 

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

It’s the camera. The very fact that I can capture almost anything that happens with a device that fits in my pocket is just incredible. I’ll be able to go back and look at so many more memories of my kids lives than any other generation before.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’m really looking forward to seeing how developers take advantage of extensions to give me less of a reason to use my Mac. I’m a big “iOS first” proponent and want to continue to see the platform develop into a first class productivity machine.

Thanks Bradley.

OmniFocus for iPad 2

In addition to the release of iOS 8 today (and a LOT of app updates), the Omni Group has released OmniFocus for iPad, version 2. I've been using the beta for awhile and have some thoughts about the update.

Look and Feel

OmniFocus 2 for the iPad is very similar to that of OmniFocus 2 on the iPhone. It has that sparse iOS 7 look sprinkled with the Omni Group’s own particular aesthetic. It is not just a coat of paint though. Controls have been moved and working in the application is more fluid than with version 1. The Omni Group has years of experience with the iPad now and it shows. As an example, I can now look at my forecast for three days from now with one tap. This tap efficiency appears everywhere in the new application. Another example is the project review view. OmniFocus on the iPad has always excelled as for project review but the new version has a ground-up redesign that lets me review projects faster than before.

In both portrait and landscape mode, the left pane displays buttons to access perspectives and the forecasts. (With the pro version, explained below, you can add your custom perspectives and also re-arrange their display order. In portrait view, when you select a perspective, the left pane slides out of you and dedicates the entire screen to the selected view.

Pulling down on this perspective sidebar, exposes the synchronization and settings buttons. Synchronize button forces the synchronization with your syncing mechanism of choice, which can include a private server or OmniFocus`s own OmniPresence service.

The Settings include options for due dates, notifications, and the synchronization methodology. There’s also the ability to enable TextExpander snippets which can be really handy when creating new tasks and OmniFocus.

Heavy Lifting Now an Option

One problem I’ve always had with the iPad and iPhone versions of OmniFocus is the ability to easily move the defer date of a project. The way I organize my task projects, sometimes I will hit one that has multiple associated tasks on a day when I have no time to deal with it. Indeed, I may conclude that I don’t have any time to deal with it until a week from next Tuesday. With the prior version I then had to go drill down in the Projects perspective and adjust the project defer date there or tediously move the start date on every associated task. Neither of these options was very palatable and quite often I ended up doing this on the Mac instead.

With the new OmniFocus 2 for iPad, I can now adjust a project defer date right in the standard view. When viewing a project in a perspective that will display the project name (this is entirely up to the user and customizable), you can tap on the project and the task list and make adjustments to its defer date right there.

If on Monday morning you wake up to find you have a 20 item project that you simply are not going to get to, you can move it to some future date with just a few taps on the iPad. This simplified interface makes those large review sessions possible on the iPad now where they were not before.


The Omni Group didn’t waste any time getting in on iOS 8 extensions. The Today View widget display tasks with upcoming due dates. You can check the task off right in the Today view without even opening OmniFocus.

They also have an extension that lets me save a webpage right to the OmniFocus inbox. You can also add project and context information at the time of capture. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve emailed web pages off in the past for purpose of capturing into OmniFocus. This is much more efficient.

Better Search

Search out tasks was alway a bit of a mystery in OmniFocus. With the new version, it is much easier with a tap-able button to search the current perspective, remaining tasks, or the whole enchilada.

The Big Sync

One feature that doesn’t get much attention is the synchronization engine. My database has a lot of projects and tasks in it and I’m jumping between devices all day long. OmniFocus has got so adept at synchronizing this data that I find myself taking it for granted. Nevertheless, I know the OmniGroup is always working on finding ways to speed it up, including building their own data storage and synchronization mechanism with OmniPresence

The new version of OmniFocus for the iPad adds background syncing, which allows the application to update its data in the background. This is all subject to the magic sauce of iOS to determine which applications are worthy of getting these background processes. With the amount of time I spent in OmniFocus, I find that it does a pretty good job of keeping my task list up-to-date in The background and allowing me to spend even less time pushing the synchronize button when I want to be getting my tasks done.

Standard and Pro

The application is priced with an entry-level price of $29.99 and an in-app purchase of $19.99 for the pro version. If you have the prior version of OmniFocus for iPad installed on your iPad, the new version will sense that and give you the pro upgrade for free. This is about as close to upgrade pricing as I’ve ever seen on iOS. I hope Apple allows this to continue and other application developers follow suit.

The pro version unlocks several new features not seen and prior versions of OmniFocus on the iPad. Chief among those is the ability to edit perspectives. One of the most common questions I received about OmniFocus is from users that don’t have a portable Mac and want the ability to get by with OmniFocus just on the iPad and iPhone. I’ve always written back that the big stumbling block is perspectives. Perspectives give OmniFocus the power to become whatever you need it to become. User-defined perspectives (like mine) allow you to make this task system work for you, no matter how your brain is wired. Previously, you can only set of those custom perspectives on a Mac. (They would previously synchronize to an iPad but you could not edit them on an iPad.)

With the upgraded pro version you can now edit perspectives on your iPad to your heart’s content. As seen in the attached screenshot, you have a lot of parameters you can set in his custom perspectives ranging from a custom icon to searching for particular text. Perspectives you create on the iPad will sync over to your Mac and iPhone without difficulty. In a sense, this new feature liberates OmniFocus from the Mac and I think people who want to try and get by with just an iOS installation, have a real fighting chance now where they simply did not before.

Aggressive Evolution

The first version of OmniFocus for the iPad was truly revolutionary. It gave me the power to manage my tasks on my iPad in a way that I didn’t think was possible. Building on the shoulders of its predecessor, this version doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel, but instead make the wheel spin a lot faster and more efficiently. In that regard, OmniFocus 2 for the iPad absolutely delivers. Working through my admittedly complicated life with this application happens faster now and, frankly, the redesign makes the process more delightful. I have personal knowledge of exactly how hard the team at The Omni Group worked on this new version and I’m loving it. I bought the app as soon as it appeared in the App Store earlier today. You can learn more at the OmniGroup website and from their OmniFocus 2 for iPad iBook.