Sponsor: OmniFocus

This week MacSparky is sponsored by OmniFocus. We are all busy. We all have multiple commitments. In the modern world, it is very easy to wake up in the morning with a sense of dread and foreboding. You know you have a lot of tasks to do and a lot of commitments to keep. The problem is you don’t know where to start.

OmniFocus solves that problem. It’s a task management application for big boys and big girls. I hear from readers and listeners every day that use OmniFocus to make amazing things happen in their lives. As we are entering the new year, if you are having trouble keeping up with everything, now is the time. All I ask is that you give a half day to learning OmniFocus. Watch my video or watch some of the great materials on the Omni Group’s Inside OmniFocus website. Then download the free trial and spend some time familiarizing yourself with it. Once you understand how it all works, the magic starts.

One of the great things about OmniFocus is that the development team never sleeps. They’re constantly striving to make the application better in all of its iterations. This was evidenced most recently when Apple gave it a “Best of 2015” award for their Apple Watch OmniFocus app.

Learn more directly from the Omni Group. Thank you OmniFocus for sponsoring MacSparky and all the help you give me with my task lists every day.

Free App of the Week: Lifeline

Awhile ago, I bought this little iOS text based game called Lifeline. It tells the story of a stranded astronaut who has managed, somehow, to get in contact with you and only you. Think The Martian, but creepier. Anyway, your stranded astronaut is freaking out and highly suggestible. He explains his problems to you and asks for your guidance. Your job is easy. Don’t kill your astronaut with bad advice. When I found myself going on the web to research issues before giving him advice, I knew they had me.

It’s all text-based but strangely engaging. It also works with the Apple Watch, which is nice because if you play it properly and he says he needs to hike for 2 hours, it will be 2 hours before you hear from him again. (There is a setting to advance time but where is the fun in that?)

Anyway, the game is a fun little diversion and not terribly difficult. Best of all, this week it’s free. Have a nice weekend.


Significant 1Password Updates

The team at Agile Bits rang in the new year with some significant updates to 1Password for both iOS and the Mac.

1Password for iOS 6.2

The new iOS version lets you search from anywhere, including the Favorites and Organize tab. They’ve also brought the Watchtower feature to iOS. Watchtower keeps an eye on security vulnerabilities from around the web and lets you know if it thinks you may have a problem. For instance, if you have an online account with at FranksManureAndFineJewelry.com in your 1Password database and they get hacked, 1Password will alert you. I’ve loved that feature on the Mac and am really happy to see it on iOS. 

Finally, for iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, they’ve added 3D touch features including Peek and Pop, and a quick action menu on the home screen that lets you create a new item, view favorites, or search 1Password. 

1Password for Mac Version 6

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Version 6 for the Mac is also here with some notable new features. The new password generator on Mac is both better and easier. It will now also create a random word password, which makes key passwords easier to remember. If you haven’t tried 1Password vaults yet, you should. It lets you segregate your most important data so you can share only the data that needs sharing and segregate everything else. This new version makes managing and viewing your vault data easier with the All Vaults view. Thanks to Apple loosening a few rules, you can now also sync your data via iCloud even if you did not buy your version of 1Password from the Mac App Store.

The 1Password team clearly put a lot of work into these updates. The iOS update is free and the Mac update is free so long as you were already using version 4 or 5. You can learn more and buy 1Password for Mac from Agile Bits or the Mac App Store. You can find 1Password for iOS on the App Store.

Interact: Better iOS Contact Management

The native Contacts app on the iPhone and iPad has always left me a little bit wanting. I use and create contact groups all the time. For instance, if I go to a conference for a week, I will set up a custom group that has the contact information for the hotel, transportation, my co-presenters, and a reputable bail bondsman. After the trip is over, I’ll delete the group and move on.

The trouble is, I have to create those groups on my Mac. While the iPad and iPhone can access the groups after I form them (provided they are not smart groups), I can't actually make the groups on my device. With respect to the lack of this feature, I've traversed the various stages of grief and am now firmly at "acceptance".

That is why I was so pleased to discover that Greg Pierce, the genius behind Agile Tortoise and Drafts, decided to take on contact management on the iPhone and iPad. The result is the new application that just released called Interact (Website) (iOS App Store).

Interact has the clean design that we see with most modern IOS applications but manages at the same time to present your contact information more densely than the standard Contacts application. For example, the default method of displaying contacts on the iPad Pro with Interact is three columns which can put a lot of contacts on the screen at one time.

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Contact groups slide out from the left side of the screen and have a convenient tally with the number of contacts in each group right next to the name. Even better, there is an "Edit" button that lets you manage groups for the first time on the iPhone and the iPad but I will explain that further later.

For a 1.0 version application, Interact has a lot of nice touches. Scrolling up and down with your finger on the right edge and searching are both wicked-fast. On the surface, Interact is a fast, clean contacts manager. 

On the surface. 

There are some additional power features that really make this app shine.

Managing Groups

As I explained earlier, I'd pretty much given up on managing Contact groups on iOS. Interact fixes that. I am now able to add, edit, and delete groups on my iPad and and iPhone and (even better) then see them appear nicely organized when I returned to my Mac. Note that this only works in the default system account and it must be using the vCard protocol. (iCloud and Google both work but if you have more than one account, it will only work in your primary account.) Since I manage all contacts in one iCloud account, I had no problem but this could be a limitation if you use more than one service. 

In addition to adding, removing, and editing groups, you can also add and remove group members. Just select a group and then tap on the Add Contacts to Group button and you are off to the races. It was all very intuitive and, as a Beta testor, I was witness to the hard work the developer went through to make it as easy as possible for users. For instance, to remove a member from the group, just tap on the "X" button next to their name.

A nice touch is the ability to see all of the groups a specific contact belongs to. From that view, you can use checkboxes to add and remove that member from specific groups in the same screen. This is another feature I would like to see on the Mac.

Somewhat related is are Interact Operations. Using groups of selected contacts, you can perform actions on them like deletion, group creation,  adding to existing groups, and even sharing groups of contacts’ vCard information.

The Scratchpad

Don't forget that Interact is made by the same guy that brought us Drafts. You can see this lineage with the Scratchpad feature. Using the Scratchpad, you can copy text including address and contact information into the application and it will automatically parse that out into contact data that can be added to an existing contact or create a new one. There is even an extension so you can select text in some other app, like your email client, and automatically send it to Interact to perform its magic. This is a great feature, which the developer screencasted right here to explain. In all of my years of using iOS, I’ve never seen a faster way to grab unformatted contact information and add it to my contact database. Because Interact works with the same database as the native Contacts application, any data you add in Interact populates across your device and back to your Mac.

The whole experience of using the Scratchpad reminds me a lot of the first time I started using Fantastical to add calendar appointments. No longer am I forced to constrain myself to the requirements of the computer. Instead I just give the computer data and it does the work for me. I love this feature and now I wish I had it on my Mac too.

Using Context

Interact also has a clever sharing feature called Context. This is a way to access your contacts from other applications. If, for instance you have a bit of text you want to send off to multiple family members as email or a text message, you can access the Interact Context feature through the iOS share sheet. Tap on the Interact icon and it gives you a list of your groups. With the above example, you could select your family group and then individually select the specific members to receive the message. Then you can tap on the mail or the message icon and Interact opens up the appropriate application with the text copied in and the selected contacts already in the addressee line. In short, it lets you take bits of text and easily send them off to people from your contact list. I did mention this application was from the same guy who made Drafts, right?

I think the earlier analogy to Fantastical sticks. Interact brings a lot of utility and power to contact managers that I simply haven't seen before. You can learn more on the website or in the App Store.

Typography for Lawyers, Second Edition

There is a strange dichotomy with lawyers and documents. We spend much of our time generating documents and slaving over every word and comma. Yet the documents themselves often look like a blob of Times New Roman mush. Matthew Butterick started his own personal crusade years ago to get lawyers thinking about typography. 

Recently Matthew released the second edition of his book and it's really great. The new version is full of stylistic and technical advice. I wish every lawyer and judge would buy a copy and think about implementing Matthew's ideas. If you are in the legal industry, you really should read this book.

Sponsor: Billings Pro

This week MacSparky is sponsored by Billings Pro from Marketcircle. Billings Pro offers native application billing solutions for the Mac and iOS with the benefit of a back-end cloud-based synchronization. Billings Pro lets you create estimates, easily track your time, and send out professional looking invoicing.

The software is powerful yet still gets out of your way to let you do your work. One of my favorite features is the easy way you can capture time. Whether you are sitting at your Mac or looking at your Apple Watch (or anything between the two), Billings Pro makes capturing time a snap and that results in better billings and more income for you. Learn more at the Billings Pro website where you can sign up for a free trial.

Episode 300 today at 2pm PST

Today Katie and I are celebrating a milestone with the Mac Power Users when we record episode 300 at 2pm PST. You can tune in for the live feed right here. For the first time, we are turning the show over to someone else. Myke and Stephen will be questioning us with listener questions. (Just tweet them out with #mpu300 attached.) It should be fun and we'd love to have you in the live audience.

MPU 299: Plex

This week we gave a full show to the Plex service with guest Plex expert, Todd Olthoff. If you've got an Apple TV, you'll really want to listen to this one.

About Removing the iPhone Headphone Connector …

There is a growing list of alleged leaks that the iPhone 7 is going to drop the headphone connector. Here's the most recent from Fast Company. We're still probably nine months out from seeing the iPhone 7 so I'm not going to put much stock in these rumors … yet. Speaking hypothetically if the new iPhone does remove the headphone jack, I expect the Internet will shortly after need clean underwear. People went crazy when Apple replaced the 10-year-old 30-pin connector with the Lightning connector a few years back. The current headphone jack is older. Much older. Nevertheless, the outcry in response to removing the headphone jack will be exponentially louder than it was for replacing the 30-pin connector. People are going to go nuts.

I can sympathize. People who are serious about audio most likely have a fancy-pants set of headphones that they paid hundreds (or thousands) for and finding out that investment will no longer plug into their phone will not please them. I often use my earbuds at the same time my phone is charging and if removing the headphone jack means I can do only one at a time, it will be a problem. I’ve heard rumors of inductive charging but I’ll need to be convinced. I know that inductive technology has improved but I wonder if it has improved enough. Also, how would that work for someone that wants to charge her phone in her car and plug it into her car stereo at the same time? Is there going to be a mobile inductive charger or some wonky, expensive cable?

I am generally pretty willing to roll with Apple’s new products upsetting the status quo. If history is any judge where Apple goes, its competitors soon follow. However, if this were to come true and Apple were going to remove the headphone jack, they’d have to convince me of two things:

1. It’s Worth It

Specifically, what are the benefits to removing the headphone jack that justify the effort and expense that will go into adjusting to this change. For me at least, it would have to be more than making the phone slightly thinner. I'm told the internals of those headphone jacks take quite a bit of room. If I could get 2 hours of extra battery life, it’d probably be worth it.

2. They Are Helping with the Transition

I'd need to feel that this isn’t a money grab. The new phones should be bundled with Lightning adapter headphones. Also, Lightning to traditional headphone jack adapters should be sold at non-ridiculous prices. 

Don’t get me wrong about this though. Even if Apple were to convincingly make the above two points, the Internet is still going to blow up with claims of “greedy” Apple. We may have an interesting Fall this year.

Blurring Photos for iOS Wallpaper

I'm not a fan of busy wallpaper on my iPhone and iPad home screen. It’s fine on the lock screen but when you’ve got a screen full of icons, a noisy background image gets in the way. So while I may have something fun in the lock screen, I generally keep things simple behind the home screen. Then I found this image of BB8 from Brazilian artist Jonathan Silva.

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I started out with a cropped version for my lock screen but I wanted it to carry over into my home screen. For awhile I used a plain orange background cropped from the same image but that wasn’t BB8-ish enough for me. Then I tried using the actual image but had the exact problem described above. Specifically, I couldn’t find icons in it. So I decided to blur the image and it worked splendidly.

The idea occurred to me while I was holding my iPhone so I used Pixelmator as my weapon of choice. I already had the image in my photos library so I loaded it from there and selected the blur tool. The gallery at the bottom of this post walks you through the steps and the image below shows the final product. Now you may not be as enamored with a certain astromech droid as I am, but you may have child or a dog or even a bit of art worthy of the same treatment.

iPhone to iPod

Deron Bos wrote a nice little guide about how to turn your old iPhone into an iPod for your kids. It's well written and includes instructional videos. If you'd like to repurpose an old iPhone for someone else this way, check it out.

The Steve Jobs Mythos

Since Steve Jobs' death, he's been the subject of books, documentaries, and two motion pictures. It seems to me he is increasingly being painted in one dimension. People are eager to give him credit for everything that came out of Apple while at the same time boiling his personality down to nothing more than his worst traits. I never met Steve Jobs but I've known several people that did and the story I get from his friends and co-workers is that everything about Steve was the exact opposite of one-dimensional. 

I think part of the problem is that Apple is so secretive that much about Steve at Apple won't really see the light of day for years to come and outside of Apple, he was very private. Either way, I do hope that at some point we'll all back away from the caricature that has emerged over the years since his death.

Sponsor: Curbi Parental Controls

The holidays are over and you may know of some little ones with shiny new iOS and Android devices. That's great. Kids should be using technology. However, they should also be subject to rational limitations. That, however, is easier said than done. Enter curbi

Curbi lets kids enjoy the Internet while at the same time protecting them from the nefarious parts. One of the great things about Curbi is that it protects kids not only your local WiFi network, but also 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.

The Apple Watch Nightstand

9to5 Mac recently had a nice post with some Apple Watch tips. For me, the winner is nightstand mode. It's not as well known as it should be but if you put your Apple Watch on its side on your night stand and connect the charging cable, the watch turns into a handy night stand. I've never liked bed stand clocks that light up the room at night and the Apple Watch kindly turns itself off. If you need to check the time, just touch the screen and it lights up for you long enough to tell the time and then goes dark again so you can go back to sleep. I also prefer the alarm sounds of the Apple Watch over the iPhone.

 

The Year that Phone Contracts Died

One of the significant developments of 2015 in the United States was the general implosion of some very traditional phone purchasing models. For years, we’ve been signing contracts and counting days until those contracts are over so we could get a new phone and sign up for yet another contract to start the process all over again.

Not anymore.

I was genuinely surprised how quickly that all fell apart this year. Recently AT&T announced that starting early next year they are killing contracts entirely. Verizon hasn’t made any such announcement but they are pushing non-contract plans and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them punt on contracts too.

It’s still unclear whether this will truly be better for us consumers over time but it is clear we at least now have more options about where we buy our phones. This year I bought a phone on a payment plan from Apple. It didn’t involve giving blood to AT&T and that felt pretty great.

Also still up in the air is the question of what impact these changes will have on consumers’ upgrade plans. Removing the arbitrary contract date may mean some people get off the 2-year upgrade cycle. Apple’s own payment plan makes yearly upgrades pretty convenient and I wouldn’t be surprised if this results in Apple selling more phones, not less.

Either way, we can remember 2015 as the year that cellular phone carrier contracts were put down. 

Now only if I could write a similar post next year about cable companies …