This week I'm pleased to welcome a new sponsor to MacSparky, HoudahSpot. Imagine if there were a group of engineers at Apple that wanted to turn up the Spotlight search a notch or two and had nobody in management to tell them "no". That's what you get with HoudahSpot.
HoudahSpot lets you search your Mac like a boss. It improves upon Spotlight to let you find files by multiple criteria, like name, text, content kind, author, recipient, and pixel count just to name a few. You can combine these search criteria to drill in quickly and choose which locations HoudahSpot looks in and which locations it ignores. You can even set up templates for repeat searches.
I've used HoudahSpot for years and if you haven't tried it yet, you should. Here's a quick war story. In a recent trial I had things go a little bit wonky with some PDFs I wanted to use as exhibits. I suddenly found myself with a "needle in the haystack" scenario with 10 minutes to find the documents. I knew they were there …somewhere… and I cooked up a quick HoudahSpot query that found them with time to spare.
Disney has a new keyboard for iOS loaded with GIFs from the Disney, Pixar, ABC, and Star Wars franchises. If you've got kids or a significant other that enjoys any of the those franchises, check it out.
As you can probably tell from all the recent travel-related posts, I'm on the road a lot as of late. One of the nicest surprises for me with the Apple Watch in my travels is walking directions on the Apple Watch.
I've always felt like walking around with my phone out for directions was like painting a sign over my head that says "I'm a lost tourist. Please come mug me." This was particularly true in San Francisco as I walked around at all hours of the day.
The Apple Watch removes that. Once you set a destination on your phone (or on your Watch via Siri), you can put your phone in your pocket and not look so obvious. Your directions will then begin showing up on your wrist.
The screen shows your estimated time of arrival and distance to your next turn. It's really quite nice. It gets better though.
As you are walking down the street, Apple Watch talks to you in secret code. If you are coming up on a right turn, you get a steady stream of 12 taps on your wrist. If you need to turn left you get three series of two taps to turn left. If you aren't sure, just look at your watch like you are checking the time when, in reality, you are getting directions like a secret agent in cold-war Berlin.
Once you arrive at your destination the watch vibrates again. Force tap your screen to stop the directions. Having done this now for several weeks, I can't imagine going back to getting walking direction on my phone.
John Weatherford sleuthed out these Swift training materials published by Apple. (I found the link through MacStories.) I think Apple is going to push hard to make Swift a "beginning" programming language. Why not get people started on their platform? I'm pretty excited about this as a hobbyist. I've been working my way through the Lynda.com programming fundamentals and beginning Swift materials the past several months in my free time. I'm only a hobbyist but I still get a kick out of making things happen on my screens with a little bit of code.
I've been on the road a lot the last few weeks and, as happens when you travel, spent a lot of time around tempting, yet unknown, public WiFi. . So I decided to get more serious about VPN.
The biggest reason (to me) to use a VPN service is security. VPN gets you a private Internet connection anywhere there is WiFi. I don't care when I'm at home but in Starbucks I don't want anyone to get into Internet connection. It happens. There are other advantages to VPN including the ability to spoof your country of origin, so if you want to watch a video that is available in Europe but not in the U.S., a VPN can trick it into thinking you are in Europe, or Canada, or just about anywhere else. VPNs can also cut out web trackers and other creepy advertising nonsense but like said earlier, I was primarily looking for secure browsing and Internet access while on the road.
I looked at several options and ended up signing up for Tunnel Bear. Tunnel Bear provides a reliable VPN connection with all of the above advantages and a simple interface. It's either on or it's off and that's about it.
If you want to spoof your country, that is easy as well. I wrote this post from Ireland via Hawai'i. I love living in the future.
The Tunnel Bear pricing is also reasonable. You get 500MB per month for free (that can go up with promotions) or you can get unlimited data for $4.99 per month. If you find yourself connecting to strange WiFi, check it out.
This week's Mac Power Users episode goes off the reservation a bit. I get tons of email from listeners asking for help with task management. Their problems quite often are not about what app to use or what OmniFocus perspective they need. The problems often run deeper. As a result I asked nerd and psychiatrist Kourosh Dini to come on the show and talk about why Task Management is so hard. I think the show came out great.
I've been traveling a lot lately and, as a result, spending a lot of time tethering my Mac to my iPad and iPhone. Trip Mode is a Mac App that can turn off selected applications' access to the Internet. For example, I share multiple Dropbox folders with multiple people. If one of those people starts dropping some large files in Dropbox while I'm tethered, the Dropbox app will chew through my mobile data cap pretty quickly. Trip Mode lets me turn off Dropbox and any other applications I don't want accessing the Internet while tethered. The idea is simple, the execution is outstanding. When I return to WiFi, Trip Mode turns itself off and I can go back getting all my applications on the Internet.
This week I'm pleased to welcome a new sponsor to MacSparky, Automatic. Automatic is a device that plugs into your car's OBD-II port. (Just about every car made since 1996 has one.) The Automatic then has access to your vehicle's data and connects via BlueTooth to your iPhone. It gives you tons of data and new and geeky ways to interact with your car. Just a few of the things you can do with Automatic are:
- Get extremely accurate data about fuel efficiency, trip distance, gas used, and other performance metrics.
- Get notifications when your car's fuel level is getting low.
- Get explanations of any alarms or other events your car reports. No longer do you need to visit a mechanic when you get a cryptic light on your dashboard.
- Detect when the vehicle has been in a significant accident and call you, your loved ones, and emergency support.
- Get driving feedback when you are accelerating too fast, braking too hard, and otherwise doing silly things behind the wheel.
Automatic truly lets you geek out your ride. One of my frequent uses is to keep track of mileage for my work. When I finish any trip in my car, Automatic gives me a notification to mark the trip as work-related. (The notification even displays on my Apple Watch.) If I tap the button, Automatic flags the trip and I can view it through the free Automatic App or on the web. I liked it so much that I bought two more for my wife and daughter's cars so if they are in an accident, I know about it immediately.
There is no subscription fee. Once you buy your Automatic, you're good to go. Moreover, they are giving 20% off to MacSparky readers. Use this link and the usual price of $100 drops to $80. I use my Automatic every time I step in my car. I bet you would too.
This week’s home screen features Joe Darnell (Twitter) (Blog). Joe produces the TechTonic podcast where he and Josua Peiffer talk about technology. Joe also harnesses all of his geeky superpowers to talk about coffee at Top Brew. You may know of Joe from his creation of the popular “Focus” wallpapers, that I still use. So Joe, show us your home screen.
What are some of your favorite apps?
Well, my home screen is a great representation of all my favorites. I start the day with Unread, use Overcast throughout, and after dark I’ll be deep within my Instapaper queue. At some point, all the other home screen apps are utilized for their intended purposes almost every day.
Everyone I know likes to talk about their favorite Twitter or photo apps. They are important, for sure, but I’d rather highlight others that don’t get the attention that they deserve. Of note…
My favorite music genre is movie soundtracks. They’re far more entertaining than classical music, and they’re easy to listen to while you’re at work — rarely are there lyrics that demand my attention.
It’s not the most popular genre, let me tell you, so music services don’t especially serve my tastes. As I write this, I’m listening to the Tron: Legacy original motion picture soundtrack by Daft Punk. Then I’ll probably segway into The Bourne Supremacy’s by John Powell. In general, I’ve found that Rdio meets my interests: a readable interface and a wide range of albums.
Rdio’s is the most visually attractive of popular music services, in my opinion. Their design was reminiscent of OS X Yosemite’s and iOS 7’s flat design before they were introduced in 2013. Rdio seamlessly works the way I want my music, even though it’s missing a few albums I would love, like the Cloud Atlas soundtrack.
I was turned on to Rdio by this video by Sandwich Video.
This is another app that I discovered thanks to a great video. Thunderspace features immersive thunderstorm and rain sounds that improve the quality of momentary relaxation and meditation. If I have a few minutes to spare on my schedule and it’s been a stressful day, I’ll find a dimly lit room, kick back, and listen to a thunderstorm for ten minutes. Very quickly I’ll unwind and clear my head.
Thunderspace isn’t essential to how I use my iPhone, but I have to say it has been one of the more effective apps. The sounds are rich, the interface demonstrates the developers’ thoughtful creativity, and I’m very happy to pay for each of the audio tracks — some of the best in-app purchases I’ve ever made.
This app is well known, but it’s impact shouldn’t be overlooked. I purchased my first iPhone with Instapaper in mind. Before Instapaper, I wasn’t convinced that I would get enough value from an iPhone. But for many years, I’ve juggled articles ‘saved for later’. On average, I read ten articles and watch three videos a day with Instapaper’s help.
With my Apple Watch, I’m using Instapaper and Overcast similarly. While exercising or doing the dishes, I’ll listen to Instapaper articles read aloud by Siri and control playback via the Watch. There’s a world of difference between how I mentally process articles I’ve heard versus articles I’ve read. When I’m listening to more sophisticated articles, I’m convinced I retain information better.
What app is your guilty pleasure?
At present, I’m subscribed to 47 podcasts using Overcast, so that has to be my guilty pleasure. But it’s more like my guiltless pleasure since my shoulder angel seems to like podcasts almost as much as I do.
Most of the time, I listen to all of my subscriptions’ new episodes from week to week. Just occasionally, I’ll skim some of the lengthier episodes. Overcast works exceptionally well for this, thanks to Smart Speed and regular playback Speed controls that maintain the quality of audio while accelerating the overall content. This way, podcasts don’t sound rushed even when they technically are. Since I downloaded Overcast in July 2014, I’ve saved ‘an extra 97 hours beyond speed adjustments alone’.
What app makes you most productive?
But it wasn’t always this way. It took me a long time to warm up to Fantastical. I thought it was good on the Mac, but just okay on the iPhone. Once I had customized the app to my liking — hidden Reminders items, etc. — Fantastical made good sense. I plan each day using Calendar, OmniFocus, and Fantastical, then keep up with my schedule with Fantastical.
What app do you know you’re underutilizing?
That’s got to be iBooks (and the Kindle) app. I love reading and believe that books are rich resources. I keep iBooks or the Kindle on my home screen while I’m reading through a book that’s downloaded in the respective e-reader.
Even so, I don’t read half as much as I would like. I’m a slow reader and it takes me forever to complete a book. Many people are concerned that they cannot focus on a good read with their smartphone, but I haven’t found this to be my problem. Once I’m reading, I’m likely to stay in a book for as long as I like. Making the time to read in the first place is the real challenge.
Whether I successfully read or not, I prefer to read books using my iPhone and iPad. You know how Apple used to boast of the iPod’s “1,000 songs in your pocket.” I like the idea of 1,000 books in my pocket, too.
What is the app you’re still missing?
I’d like a professional level digital audio recording solution. The built-in mic and Voice Memos app don’t cut it. They work in a pinch for temporary files, but considering the level of quality I’ve come to expect from other features and apps, I want the iPhone to be a handy audio recorder that I would use for podcasts and presentations.
How many times a day do you use your iPhone, iPad, and by extension your Watch?
My ballpark figure would is forty times a day. Now that I use an Apple Watch, It’s not as often as it used to be. My iPad eats away at my time on my Mac, the iPhone eats away at my time on the iPad, and the Watch eats away at my time on my iPhone. And if I had to pick just one of them for all uses and I couldn’t have the others, I would pick the iPhone. Then I would use it about a thousand times a day. It’s incredibly versatile.
What Today View widgets are helping you out?
Originally, I thought that the Today View would be empowering, but it’s overshadowed by the usefulness of the Apple Watch’s Glances. I use several of those in the place of iPhone Widgets. In my Watch’s Glances, I use Settings, Now Playing, Overcast, Dark Sky, Fantastical, OmniFocus, Pedometer++, Activity, and Heartbeat.
If only Apple would liberate third party apps a little more, I think that Widgets would become very compelling. Presently they’re handicapped, so I will usually opt to use the app itself rather than its Widget.
What is your favorite feature of the iPhone?
The iPod within. Honestly, playing podcasts is the feature I use the iPhone for all day long, so I don’t know what I’d do without it. Apple said it’s an iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. I still see it as the best iPod I’ve ever owned, more so than I’ve ever regarded it as a phone for phone’s sake.
Can we see your Apple Watch face?
Sure! I’m still growing accustom to this smartwatch idea, but there’s no greater accessory in my life. I’ve always been a watch wearer. I recommend other watch wearers use a smartwatch if for no other reason than they handle much more than the time and date.
Analog versus digital? Because I’m a designer that enjoys the charm of classic interfaces. The purple accent color? Because purple is my favorite, though red and orange on the watch face look great, too. 3, 6, 9 and 12? Because I can’t tell the time quickly without them.
The Watch Complications aren’t completely satisfying, yet they’re still useful. The temperature of my current location is in the top left. My not-so active Activity complication is in the top right. At the bottom is the current event in my iCloud calendar.
What’s your wallpaper and why?
Here’s where it gets really nerdy, so I wouldn’t blame you if you stop reading at this point. Consider the rest of this article in podcasting lingo the ‘after dark’.
I think that not enough thought goes into background pictures. They can be artistic, and most people think the background is there to be art for art’s sake. I strongly disagree, because the home screen is your tool box. Think of the background as the base of the toolbox. It can be visually interesting, but it shouldn’t ever be noisy and call attention away from your apps (the tools in the box).
Some backgrounds that come with iOS 8 are attention-getting in a mediocre way. They do well for marketing promotional shots of iPhones on bill boards, but they’re not user friendly on a person’s actual home screen. I prefer for my iPhone’s background to stay in the background yet look very pleasing.
I design my own background wallpapers. I created the Focus Collection: a series of simple wallpapers that are gradiated, out of focus, inspired by Yosemite’s design characteristics, and draw attention away from themselves. Presently, I’m using Mountains 1 in Focus Collection II.
Anything else you would like to share?
Well, since you asked, I’m one of those people that thinks about color groups, related services, categorical order, and an overall aesthetically readable app icon layout. my home screen organization is forever a work in progress, because a new app will be released, like say, Spark or Activity, and I have to move everything to give the newcomers a sensible placement. App layout is part art and part law-abiding science, so the two are never completely satisfied. It can be frustrating to waste time reordering icons to find the right mix of ideals, but once I’ve found what I want, I enjoy visiting my home screen that much more. And I can find stuff without using Spotlight as an app launcher.…
9to5 Mac reports DuckDuckGo has grown 600 percent. It doesn’t surprise me that DuckDuckGo is growing. The word is getting out and its search gets continually better. I’ve been using it as my primary web search engine and I haven’t missed Google enough to want to go back. I’m not saying DuckDuckGo is as good as Google, but it’s close enough and the way in which DuckDuckGo respects my privacy more than makes up the difference.
John Gruber writes pondering what would happen if Apple made DuckDuckGo the default search engine on iOS. I can’t tell if he knows something and is being coy or just speculating. (I suspect it’s the latter.) Regardless, DuckDuckGo is a lot more in line with Apple’s stance on privacy and the idea that Apple would switch the default engine to DuckDuckGo makes some sense.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation rates tech companies annually on how they handle their customer's data. The 2015 report is out and, not surprisingly, Apple did well. The EFF explained:
This emerging theme from Apple about protecting user data is only going to get bigger. Apple doesn't make its money serving ads and it has no economic interest in collecting user data. Moreover, I spoke with several Apple engineers last week at WWDC and, universally, they were all personally offended by the idea of government and other third parties getting access to user data. This is more than a marketing thing. Apple, as a whole, appears disgusted with the way our personal data privacy rights are getting trampled. I think we are going to see Apple turning up the dial on this issue in hopes of getting the word out to consumers. To me this is a big deal. The question in my mind, however, is whether I'm an oddball or this will resonate with the public at large.
This week MacSparky.com is sponsored by inShort, an iPhone/iPad/Mac application that lets you plan projects and processes graphically across all of your Apple devices. InShort for Mac just got a significant updated adding several new features including:
• Data synchronization using iCloud (The iOS version also now synchronizes data via iCloud)
• The ability to queue tasks and organize the work with active tasks in accordance with the elements of the GTD methodology
• Control lists for diagrams — giving you the ability to monitor the sequence of actions with the diagram step by step.
You can now order tasks in relation to specific projects and priorities. Once you complete a task, it disappears from the list. There are different ways to display the tasks including organization by active tasks, tasks under way, deferred tasks, and tasks waiting for other tasks to begin or finish or waiting for resources.
Last week at WWDC, I went to John Gruber’s live taping of The Talk Show. I expected to see some entertaining talk from folks like Merlin Mann and Adam Lisagor. What I didn’t expect was Apple's Senior Vice President of Marketing Phil Schiller to take the stage.
Nevertheless, John delivered and Phil showed up for one of the most candid interviews I’ve heard of an Apple executive since Steve came back. Topics ranged from design principles to why the entry level iPhone still just has 16GB of memory (at 51:45). The entire interview is fascinating and John Gruber did an amazing job of asking probing questions yet still keeping the interview light and enjoyable. It was one of the highlights of WWDC for me.
One part of the interview that stood out for me started at 57:22. I was pretty close to the stage at this point and Phil explained, “I’m in my job for one reason. Because I’m a customer like you.” Reading these words, I’m sure you are thinking that this is just a marketing guy being the “marketing guy”. However, you would be wrong. Go listen to the recording. I was watching him as he stated these words and they were completely genuine.
Perhaps because he’s always been the “marketing guy”, I never saw Phil Schiller as one of us. I was wrong. All of Apple’s senior management team are already millionaires. Any one of them could retire tomorrow and spend the rest of their days living like royalty anywhere in the world. I’m sure they all have their own reasons for staying but in Phil’s case, looking in his eyes and hearing him say those words, it occurred to me he is a nerd just like the rest of us and he’s staying because he wants to be part of what Apple makes. Phil, I get you.
There were several MPU episodes recently released worth checking out:
This episode summarizes the changes coming to the Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch along with our thoughts and comments. I included several observations from my time at WWDC in this episode.
In this live episode, Jeff Richardson joins us to talk about Apple Watch. We also follow up on Dropbox, Photos.app and photo workflows, meal planning, DevonThink, storing items locally without sacrificing drive space, and travel tips.
Jean MacDonald, founder of App Camp For Girls joined us to talk about her experiences creating a nonprofit. Jean discusses the genesis of App Camp, generating community support, and the logistics of running, funding, and marketing.
After spending a few days roaming the streets nearby WWDC and drinking interesting beverages with developer friends, I’ve got a few thoughts on iOS 9. I’m not going to summarize the new features since Apple does a dandy job of explaining it right here. I’ve not loaded iOS 9 yet, and probably wont for at least a few weeks but lack of experience never stopped me in the past.
About a More Proactive iOS
- Apple is clearly moving toward iOS predicting and giving you data and information in a more contextual way. Based on existing data and history, your iPhone can now remind you to call your mom and when you need to leave for your next appointment.
- This has traditionally been Google’s strong suit (and still is). Nevertheless, I’m happy to see Apple moving that direction too.
- Apple clearly has a narrative about the difference between Google and them in this space: Apple performs the services locally and preserves your security. Google does this work on its servers and relies on the data to feed their ad business.
- I think Google will continue to be better at this. Having outside servers scrub through this data sucks for personal privacy but is more efficient than having the user’s devices do the work.
- I’m not sure how much Apple’s message concerning privacy will resonate. In my experience a lot of people don’t care about privacy in this context enough to make it a deciding factor.
- Search my email to attach a name to an unknown phone number: brilliant.
- Ultimately, I think as the hardware gets better and faster, both Apple and Google will only make these predictive assistance services better.
- Part of me is fascinated with this new feature. Part of me wonders if this is something only the nerds care about. I’m really curious to see what my less technically-savvy friends think of this.
About Siri and Search Improvements …
- Bring them on. If you are not using Siri, you really should be.
- I’m not sure what I think about the new (old) paradigm of swiping to the far left for search and other improved Spotlight-ish features. This is one I’ll have to try out first.
- I think suggested Apps is a great idea. Here is something that I’d love to see get smart, like showing me OmniFocus in the morning and Netflix in the evening based on my past usage.
About Apple Wallet …
- Renaming Passbook seems obvious, and planned, in hindsight.
- Adding loyalty cards looks like a great idea though it is not clear whether vendors need to specifically opt in or not. Hopefully not.
About Those New iPad Features …
- One of the reason people don’t buy new iPads is because the older ones are still working just fine. Split View requires an iPad Air 2 or whatever other new and shiny thing Apple releases later this year. This is the first time I’m aware of since Siri that you’ll need to update an iPad to get a feature. Moreover, split view is a really handy feature. I expect this will result in many existing iPad users updating hardware.
- Slide-Over feels overdue but I really like the implementation. The way you can switch between slide-over apps moving up and down strikes me as one of those interactions that appears obvious but was probably a ton of work to sort out while in development.
- There was a lot of time spent talking about the keyboard/trackpad feature, which is great. Placing a cursor in iOS with your finger is so much slower than a trackpad. So long as this works, it’s a huge win.
- The Keynote didn’t particularly emphasize it but I think the additional support for a hardware keyboard is a big deal too. The application switcher just seems like a natural. Do note that using a hardware keyboard you’ll still need to lift your fingers to place the cursor. In this way, the built-in keyboard will actually be faster.
- I have a hard time thinking about using picture-in-picture with a 7 or even 10 inch iPad. However, with an even larger iPad it seems quite useful. File that one away for a few months.
About the New Apple Notes …
- I thought the Notes App was relegated to the same amount of priority that the Stocks and Weather Apps have. I was wrong there. It’s pretty nice seeing Apple try to improve on this app, which I’d given up on long ago.
- I’d really like to know if Notes is still syncing via IMAP (which is slow and clunky). I’ve asked around to Apple and Developer friends and still not got a straight answer.
- It’s hard for me to believe in an application that started out with Marker Felt as the default font but Notes has come a long way.
- The application user interface elements seem spooky-similar to Vesper. Maybe I’m reading too much into this but I’m looking forward to comparing them when I get the beta loaded.
- The interface for sketching notes would be even slicker if the Apple iOS hardware had force touch features (especially iPad). File this one away until the updated hardware announcements in the fall and I suspect the other penny will drop.
- The notes space is so full on iOS. I think that is partly because Apple never really took a leadership role on Notes apps from the beginning on iOS. Nevertheless, this seems interesting and a potential competitor to other players. It could be really compelling if the integration with the rest of iOS is as slick as Apple claims. Color me interested.
About That News App…
- I have more questions than answers about this.
- There is still very little details about advertising. Big media companies are not going to turn their content over without a monetization strategy.
- I love that they featured Daring Fireball, a blog, in the same vein as other traditional publishers in the Keynote.
- This effort feels like a fresh start after the initial failed experiment with Newsstand. This is one I think we’ll all need to see roll out before we know if News is any more successful than its predecessor.
About Performance Improvements …
- I’m not the first person to note this but the idea that software tweaks can add an hour of battery life is golden.
- They’ve added the Metal graphics acceleration so the entire user interface moves faster with animation, scrolling, and the works. Nice.
- There isn’t a lot of information about performance upgrades but I suspect there is a lot more than they care to talk about. With all of the big new features, I’m certain they are tightening down a lot of pieces this year and using a lot of bug spray.
- I don’t think the new round of iOS changes is particularly surprising. It’s not as drastic as iOS 8 and with good reason.
- I was suprprised at the lengths they’ve gone to make the iPad more productivity-friendly. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t. It’s time these changes showed up on the iPad and they have the additional benefit of selling more iPads.
- My other big surprise was Notes. I never saw that coming. However, the fact that I’m writing about the Notes app at all gives you an idea of the more limited scope of changes in iOS 9.
I occasionally have need of a TextExpander snippet to automatically add the first name of an email recipient to the body of an email. Over the years, I've made lots of snippets that have a fill-in field asking me to type in the recipient's name but wouldn't it be great if the tiny robot inside my Mac did it for me? To a certain extent, this quest has been my white whale and I've been plunking away at it when the mood struck me for the past year. I initially went down the road of AppleScript, which never worked consistently. Ultimately, I found success using System Events. Below is the AppleScript code for System Events that pulls the first name from your recipient and types it in the subject line or body of the message.
tell application "System Events" tell process "Mail" tell text field "To:" of window 1 if UI element 1 exists then set theToRecipient to (value of UI element 1) if (count words of theToRecipient) is greater than 0 then return word 1 of theToRecipient end if end tell end tell end tell
Typing "xnm" in an email will insert the recipient's first name. You can combine them with additional snippets in TextExpander. For example, this snippet ...
... is activated in the subject line. It types "Purchase Confirmation", then hits the Tab Key, jumping to the message body, and then addresses the email to the customer first name and some additional text. Note the phrase "%snippet:xnm%" runs the prior snippet to drop the name in the text. This allows you to run an AppleScript inside a text snippet, which I thought was particularly clever.