iPad Pro Ships this Week

Today Apple announced the iPad Pro is available for pre-order on Wednesday and in stores "later this week". I'm most likely going to buy one. I still feel like tablet devices are a big part of the future of computing and I want to see what can be done with one that is bigger and more powerful. My guess is that anyone with a review unit will have their media blackout end at midnight on Tuesday night so we'll have early reviews on Wednesday. I'm definitely going to be reading those reviews closely as I make a final decision. This time, I'm also not going to blindly pre-order. I want to go in the store and see one before making a final decision.

The Incomparable Radio Theater

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Jason Snell has been doing something pretty special lately over at the Incomparable. He’s started the Incomparable Radio Theater podcast. It grows out of the old radio serials and mixes in references to modern pop culture. The shows are funny and just about 20 minutes each. If you get hooked, pay attention to the voice of Dr. Ecks in episode 1.7. You just may recognize those dulcet tones.

The Magic Trackpad 2 and Better Touch Tool

Getting the new Magic Trackpad 2 led me to consider Force Touch on the Mac. I’ve had it on my MacBook for months and now I’ve got it on my iMac yet I rarely use it. I think this has a lot to do with options. On the Mac, you’ve already got a primary click, a secondary click, and a double click. Add to that the three finger tap and the existing gesture library in OS X and you begin to wonder what you’re supposed to do with a Force Touch. (Jason Snell and Myke Hurley have been talking about this on recent episodes of Upgrade.) I think Apple has the same questions because most of the force touch features are actions already accomplished with some other type of tap. 

Then I got thinking about what I could do with Force Touch if I could set the Force Touch actions. This is possible on the Mac using BetterTouchTool. BetterTouchTool is an amazing Mac utility from Andreas Hagenberg. It is donationware–and if you use it you should donate–and it is awesome. BetterTouchTool lets you set custom gestures with your trackpad to perform actions on your Mac. (BetterTouchTool also works with the Magic Mouse, normal mice, keyboard, Apple Remote, Leap Motion, and the BetterTouchTool iPhone app.) BetterTouchTool is flexible. The application recognizes just about anything you could do with up to five digits and a trackpad. If you want a gesture where tap across the trackpad like drumming your fingers, BetterTouchTool can accommodate you. You can even add custom gestures that trigger when you draw a shape on the trackpad. 

Either way, once triggered, BetterTouchTool can execute a keyboard combination or perform a system action. For example, when I four finger tap, BetterTouchTool toggles the DragonDictate microphone on and off again.

So I’ve been experimenting with Force Touch and BetterTouchTool and come up with some pretty nice custom actions:

  • When I Force Touch on the lower-left or lower-right portion of the Magic Trackpad 2, My Mac optimizes the current active app for the left or right side of the screen.
  • Force Touching the upper left corner of the trackpad toggles fullscreen mode for the currently active application on and off.
  • A four finger Force Touch sleeps my screen and a five finger Force Touch sleeps my iMac.
  • A three finger Force Touch toggles the play/pause button, which comes in handy when the phone rings.

I guess my point is that while Force Touch on the Mac is clever, it really comes into its own when you combine it with BetterTouchTool. Try it for yourself and let me know what works for you. I’m going to do a follow up post with some user submitted BetterTouchTool recipes soon.

Nomad iPhone Charging Wallet

Somebody at Nomad had a pretty good idea. They've added a 2400 mAh battery to a men's wallet. So you can carry your cash, a few cards, and some juice for your phone. The device is supposed to give an iPhone a full charge. While I'm one of those minimalist-wallet freaks, I'm tempted to try one of these. You can get $20 off if you buy before November 15 with the above link.

Sponsor: SaneBox

This week MacSparky.com is sponsored by SaneBox. I’ve been using SaneBox for years and at this point I can’t imagine email without it. There are so many great benefits to Sanebox. It filters my mail so I don’t wake up to an inbox bursting with irrelevant email. It helps me defer email and it lets me set reminders for outgoing emails. Most recently, SaneBox has added a new feature: SaneNoReplies.


It’s easy to lose track of emails you’ve sent requiring replies and forget to follow up if there was no response. To help you out, SaneBox now has an optional SaneNoReplies folder, that contains all the emails you sent over the last four weeks that were not replied to. I’ve been using this feature through its beta and occasionally looking through this new folder, I’ve already found email threads that fell through the cracks. This is a great feature and requires no effort to maintain. You can learn more on the SaneBox blog.

Because SaneBox is a cloud-based service, it works in the email client of your choice, including Apple Mail. You can learn more at SaneBox.com. Note the links in this post will get you a discount when you subscribe.

The Magic Keyboard and Trackpad

I was recently speaking with my pal Katie Floyd about the new Apple Magic devices and explained I would “probably” buy the keyboard and trackpad. She snorted. That was a well earned snort because we both knew I’d end up buying them. I did. The good news is I’ve been using them both quite a bit for the last week and you get to benefit from my largesse. 

The Magic Keyboard

If you look at the design trend of Apple keyboards over the last several years, the demure size of the Magic Keyboard should not surprise you. The prior Bluetooth keyboard was as small as you could make such a keyboard while at the same time accommodating removable batteries. Get rid of the removable batteries and instead use batteries that can be formed into the case and you get the Magic Keyboard.

A lot has been written about Apple keyboards in the last year. First with the new MacBook design and now with the magic keyboard, Apple has reduced the amount of key travel in their keyboards. A lot of people are upset about this. If you like keyboards with a lot of travel, this is bad news for you.

For several years, I used the big clickety-clack keyboards that you could hear from the driveway. I studied mechanical switches like gamblers study racing forms. However, my clickety-clack keyboard went on the fritz one day and I used an Apple Bluetooth keyboard “temporarily” as I got it sorted out. The thing is, I found I liked that Apple Bluetooth keyboard more than my clickety-clack keyboard. I discovered that low-travel keyboards work for me. My fingers don’t get as sore and they are so much quieter when I’m on a microphone.

So exactly how low-travel is the new keyboard? I’d say somewhere between the new MacBook and the old MacBook. This new Magic Keyboard is made for people like me. If you instead prefer big mushy keys with lots of travel, move along … this is not the keyboard for you.

While it’s easy to make fun of the minimal profile of the new keyboard, it is an impressive bit of engineering. It looks great on my desk. Charging the built-in batteries via lightning port was smart. Just about everyone, myself included, already has a lightning cable hanging off their iMac or in their laptop bag so recharging will not be an issue. As an aside, after a week, I have 72% charge remaining in my battery so I’m on track for about a month of usage. I also think the inclusion of a physical button to turn the devices on and off is long overdue.

I’ve read some complaints that the new Magic Keyboard does not include illuminated keys. My guess is Apple had to make the decision between illuminating keys and the extra physical space and battery hit an illuminated keyboard would entail. I would ultimately agree with the decision to leave it out. However, if you rely upon illuminated keys, once again, this is not the keyboard for you.

So who is it for? If you want a keyboard that looks good and features low-key travel, you should take a look at the Magic Keyboard. For most people, getting a new keyboard for their iMac is not something they do until the next time they buy a new iMac. That is sensible. Even if you are a low-travel keyboard nerd such as myself and are currently using the existing Bluetooth Keyboard, I’m not certain you need to upgrade. I think it is nicer but it’s also not cheap. I think this keyboard falls in the category of a “want” more than a “need”. Nonetheless, I am happy with purchase as I tap away these words on it.

The Magic Trackpad

I’m a trackpad guy. I’ve tried to use mice a few times over the past several years and I find they just don’t work for me anymore. I like that a trackpad only takes an alloted amount of space on my desktop and I rock gestures on my trackpad in ways I’ve never been able to match with a mouse, regardless of how many buttons, switches, and dials it has.

The Magic Trackpad 2 is an improvement over its predecessor. Like the Force Touch trackpads in shipping MacBooks and MacBook Pros, it’s not hinged so clicking at the top is as easy as clicking on the bottom.

The new trackpad uses the Force Touch mechanism so everything is a bit mysterious. For fun, turn the trackpad off before a friend uses your computer and watch their faces as they try and click and nothing happens.

I’ve noted that the Force Touch trackpad does have some detractors. Some people don’t care for the artificial clicks and find using them awkward. If you haven’t tried one yet, you should get in an Apple store and try it out yourself. I use one every day in my laptop and I don’t even think about the fact that it’s not actually moving.

Once nice improvement is that the Magic Trackpad 2 is 29% larger. It’s not just bigger, it’s bigger in the right ways. The shape of the trackpad now more closely resembles the wide-screen iMac it is attached to, which makes a lot of sense. With the trackpad getting bigger and the keyboard getting smaller, it’s pretty funny setting them side-by-side. The trackpad is about 2/3 the size of the keyboard. I didn’t see that coming.

That's right. The Magic Trackpad 2 is bigger than the Millennium Falcon.


Like the Magic Keyboard, the new rechargeable battery situation is much better than before and I’m tracking for about a month of usage on a single charge.

One of the big selling points from Apple is the ability to add Force Touch to my iMac. I’m not so excited about that. I already have Force Touch on my laptop and almost never use it. Hopefully some enterprising developers will find a way to make it essential to me but that hasn’t happened yet. Although I do note that BetterTouch Tool already has an alpha version supporting the Magic Trackpad 2 and that just may be the key for me. I don’t think Force Touch is going away anytime soon and it seems a natural for it to come to the Magic Trackpad.

I think the case for a Magic Trackpad 2 upgrade is stronger than it is the Magic Keyboard. The bigger size and easier click at the top are compelling and while Force Touch isn’t all that just yet, I suspect it eventually will be.

Customizing OmniFocus in Version 2.3

When the Omni group released OmniFocus version 2, the most frequent complaint I heard was concerning the data layout. With the prior version all test data was on a single line which allowed you to see more on the screen at once. Version 2 added a different layout that takes a bit more vertical space but, in my opinion, was better.

With the recent release of OmniFocus version 2.3, that has all changed. You can now officially have your cake and eat it too. By default, OmniFocus still displays tasks with the version 2 “Fluid” view. There is, however, a new preferences window that lets you change that layout to display columns. You can set it globally or just with respect to certain perspectives. While I still generally prefer the flow view, custom perspectives (and denser data) makes more sense for my clear perspective, so I’ve set it up in that perspective only. You can learn more on the Omni Blog.

$51 Billion

So last quarter Apple had income of over $51 Billion. In 2010, just 5 years ago, Steve Jobs bragged about the fact that Apple had $50 Billion in revenue over an entire year. (Watch this video at the 3:40 mark.) Now Apple is pulling that number in a non-holiday quarter. Sheesh. As a user, I hope Tim and gang are further investing some of that money in research, cloud services, and better, bigger software teams.

Either way, congratulations Apple.

Dr. Who Flashcast

I'm a Dr. Who fan. That is largely as a result of Jason Snell and the gang over at the Incomparable. It took me a few years, but I managed to watch all episodes since the 2005 reboot and I'm now keeping current with the new shows. So when Jason was out of town for a few days and needed a guest on this week's Dr. Who Flashcast after last night's episode, I said, "Me me. me!".

MPU 284: Optimize Your Mac

The most recent episode of Mac Power users is all about optimizing your Mac from tweaking system settings to third party utilities. We dive deep on enhancing your experience and making your Mac your own.

Find Friends from Any Computer

Although it doesn't get much press, one of my favorite features of iOS and OS X is Find Friends. As a dad, I love the ability to keep tabs on where my kids and my wife are. As I write these words, I recognize that sounds creepy but I'm willing to take that label this time. 

I've mentioned in the past how I equate Find Friends to Mrs. Weasley's clock and the analogy stands.  All the members of my family are frequently dispersed throughout Southern California and, as the dad and husband, I get a certain degree of comfort knowing where they are at. From all of my Mac and iOS devices I can very quickly confirm that nobody is in jail or any other sort of trouble. I like that.
Starting a few days ago, I can also now access the data from any computer. The iCloud.com site has its own Find Friends tool that shows me the same data.  While it probably won't be often that I would need to access this data from a third-party computer, the fact that I can is appreciated.

Cameras and Cars

One of my friends recently bought a new camera. This guy is passionate about photography and one of those types that meticulously researches a purchase like this. So when he told me decided on his next big camera purchase I assumed it would be Canon, Nikon, or maybe even Leica. What I didn't expect was his answer–Fuji.

He explained that when it comes to mirrorless cameras, there is a lot of stiff competition from companies that weren't even in the ring a few years ago. That got me thinking about cars.

The mechanism that is an SLR camera–the mirror, the shutter, and the rest–is a bit old and creaky. Removing it in mirrorless cameras made competition from outsiders easier. I'd argue the same is true for the internal combustion engine. Existing car makers have so much specialized knowledge about how to make the best and most reliable internal combustion engines and, for many years, the acquisition of this specialized knowledge was the barrier to entry for anyone that wanted to make cars. However, that is changing. Electric cars are much simpler. There is an electric motor that is attached to a chassis with some sort of braking and steering mechanism. Carburetors, pistons, engine blocks, smog absorbers, oil pans, and all that other junk that are required to make an internal combustion engine all get thrown out the window with an electric car.

Like the high end camera market, cars are also easier to design and build now thanks to these advances in technology. This is why companies like Google and Apple seem to be ramping up to get in the car business. They don't need the expertise that was mandatory a few years ago and new types of expertise, like batterie and software, will soon rule the day with respect to making cars. Those new subjects just happen to be right in Apple and Google's wheelhouse. Like my friend's new Fuji camera (that he loves), you may be surprised who people are buying cars from in a few years.

Automating Invoice Processing on My Mac

When I first opened my solo law practice, one of the unanswered questions in my mind was how I would go about billing clients. This is supposed to be hard. Some law firms spends days every month on getting bills out the door. Others pay outside vendors. I decided to nerd the s%*t out of this problem and do it myself.

I use an online practice management solution, Clio, to track my time. At the end of the month, the service creates PDFs of my invoices that go into my Mac's Downloads folder. Rather than show an actual client invoice, I'll use this dummy invoice for my side landscaping business.

One of the tricks of this workflow is that when I push a button in Clio, the PDF is created and opens automatically on my Mac in the Preview application. The first tool to help me automate the process is Hazel. I've talked a lot about Hazel at this site and on the podcast over the years. One of Hazel's many talents, is the ability to identify, name, and move files. So I've got Hazel constantly looking at my Downloads folder. If it sees a PDF file that has the text "Lawn Care Products and Livestock", "PO number", and "Gunther's Gardening", it will start acting on that file. My logic is that there will be no PDFs in my Downloads folder that have all of those words in that order that are not an invoice. Here's the Hazel Rule.

Once Hazel finds a match, usually within seconds of the file downloading, Hazel renames the file with the current date, client name, and a further description of the invoice. Because the PDFs open on my desktop at the time of the download, it's fun to watch the name change as I'm reading the invoice over. Next Hazel moves the invoice to a folder I've designated in the client's Admin/Invoices folder.

So within seconds of downloading the invoice, my Mac has named and moved the invoice to its appropriate folder.

Next I click on the sharing button in the Preview App (which is diplaying the invoice). From there I click on the Mail icon and this creates a new blank email with the invoice already attached.

My next big tool is TextExpander. I manually type in the client's name as an email recipient. Then I tab down to the s ubject line and fire off a TextExander snippet. The snippet phrase is "newbill". The snippet first fills in the subject line with the terms "Sparks Law %B Invoice" which TextExpander fills in as "Sparks Law October Invoice". Next month the snippet will automatically change "October" to "November". (TextExpander recognizes the wildcard %B as the current month.)

Next, the snippet asks me to fill in the client name and let's me choose from several frequent options. Three common issues in these cover emails are questions about whether the client wants to pay online via credit card, wants a snail mail copy of the invoice, and if there is someone else at the company that needs to get the invoice. I use TextExpander Optional Selection phrases for this. I can check or uncheck the appropriate phrases for the particular invoice.

Finally,  I have a multi-line field at the bottom where I can write or dictate in a further description of services or plans for the coming month.

Here is the finalized email from the above snippet screen.

Here is a screenshot of the snippet form TextExpander.

Here is the full text of the snippet if you want to adapt it for use use it in your copy of TextExpander at home.

Sparks Law %B Invoice
%key:tab%Hi %filltext:name=field 1%,

Attached is this month’s invoice. %fillpart:name=online pay:default=yes%I also sent you a separate email with online payment instructions if you’d prefer to pay that way via credit card.%fillpartend% %fillpart:name=optional part 3:default=yes%Also, please let me know if you’d like hard copies of these invoices in the mail.%fillpartend% %fillpart:name=someone else:default=yes%Finally, if you’d like me to direct these to someone else at the company, let me know.%fillpartend%

%fillarea:name=Message:default=Thank you for your business.%

Kind regards,

David Sparks
Sparks Law

So this detailed explanation probably sounds like a lot but in action, the whole process is wicked fast. It takes just moments for me to approve and download a PDF invoice, at which point my Mac names and files the invoice, and I send it off to the client with a customized email. I love being a nerd.

As an aside, I have had very few clients take me up on the offer to get snail mail invoices. Almost everyone wants things in just PDF form. I have brilliant clients.