Audio Messages in iMessages

Today iOS 8.1 releases (hooray!). Now that we've all been using iOS 8 awhile how big of a thing is the ability to send a recording of your voice via iMessages? I've done it once for the sole purpose of demonstrating how it works. I thought it may be a generational thing but my kids report they aren't using it either. 

The problem for me is that the ability to send an audio message defeats a lot of the advantages I get from text messages. When I'm in court, my secretary can send me updated witness availability via a text message. I can read that text message without having the judge throw me in the pokey. If instead, I start lifting my phone to my ear or playing audio messages, my results may vary. I just don't see the ability to send audio messages (even with a slick interface) as something taking off. One wildcard in this for me is the Apple Watch. It may be a lot more convenient with something on my wrist. For now, however, I just don't get it.

To Siri, With Love

Judith Newman wrote a touching piece for the New York times about her autistic son's relationship with Siri. If you've previously written off Siri and iPhone dictation, you should try it again. It just keeps getting better and better. I'm dictating these words using it.


 

Home Screens: Hay Oborn

This week’s home screen features Hay Oborn (Twitter)(Google+). Hay hails from Bournemouth, United Kingdom and routinely helps out with the Mac Power User show notes. So Hay, show us your home screen.


What are some of YOUR favorite apps?

Oh I have so many

Overcast - Is definitely up there as one of my favourite apps as I listen to podcast more than I listen to music, obviously this includes MPU - I think I have tried and tested most podcast apps including the Apple Default one and Overcast in my opinion is the best podcatcher.

Twitter - This is another app I have used many of, but I still always go back to the regular twitter application as it has everything I need - Sometimes I do jump over to Tweetbot too for a change of scenery.

Evernote - I can’t live without this app, I work as an IT Technician in a local secondary school and have to attend many meetings (Too many in my opinion) I send the meeting attendees the agenda and also the Meeting minutes afterwards and it’s just so simple to use, with the iOS 8 widgets Evernote is a must have - I also work off an iPad at times and this app just runs seamlessly.

TextExpander - I use 100’s and 100’s of snippets, literally if I have to write/type something more than once I will make a snippet for it, I use it regularly for email signatures etc. - By the way Smile Software - I LOVE the iOS 8 TextExpander Keyboard (Awesome Job)

1Password - I was a late starter with 1Password and after listening to MPU for YEARS I decided I needed to give it a bash, it takes a while to setup with changing passwords etc. - but once setup it’s another must have app - I can’t believe I hadn’t tried it before (I even use it on my MacBook Pro)

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

It has to be the iOS App Store as no matter where I am or what i’m doing I can always find something in there to help me problem solve, or keep me entertained when needed.

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

I listen to podcasts on my way to work every morning (20–30minute Drive) I use my iPhone constantly for reading and replying to emails when working around campus, I’m always listening to podcasts if I stay in one place long enough. My iPad is mainly used in meetings because if I use my phone for taking notes people think i’m not listening. I would much prefer using my iPad as my main work horse at work, but we run a Microsoft based network now and I work daily on a Windows PC - My iPad/iPhone/Mac still have a part to play.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

I have been a slow starter when it comes to widgets - but I do use the Evernote widget which has just made things 10 times faster for me. I also use the Dropbox widget, which is helpful with sharing files and accessing them on the go.

Any Favorite iOS 8 Extensions

I love the 1Password extension, need I say anymore? 

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

I have just jumped from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 6 and Touch ID is a feature I absolutely love, using my thumb print to purchase apps from the store is just genius, also the iPhone 6 screen is just stunning. The camera is also superb and I will be taking advantage on the slowmo and timelapse features on various occasions.

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

Now that Apple own Beats - I was disappointed not to see some sort of Beats headphones with the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, I’d like to see that in the future. I would also like them to bring to the table more customisation features to iOS - i.e. Change layout of icons, Custom themes - With iOS 8 I think Apple have started to realise this and the integration of third party keyboards was great. (Love TextExpander’s and SwiftKey Keyboards)

What’s your wallpaper and why?

I like random wallpaper, anything that looks groovy - I’ve had this wallpaper since having the iPhone 6 and have only just realised it is DG Skate Shoes on their side - at first I thought it was some kind of animals face.

Thanks Hay.

A Few Notes on the October 16 Apple Event

I sat down and watched the video of today's Apple event and was left with a few thoughts:

1. No More iPad Parity

I'm curious why they spent so much time talking up the new iPad Air and then talked about the iPad mini as an afterthought. I thought last year's updates, which gave you essentially the same specs with different screen sizes, was a great idea. I wonder why that didn't continue. I can think of all sorts of reasons ranging from low sales of the prior mini to trying to push users to the bigger one. (I am an iPad Air fan.) I also have to wonder if the iPhone 6 Plus plays a role. Either way, the iPad mini is now a second class citizen.

2. Retina iMac

The retina iMac looks pretty nice. As I explained earlier, I'm not planning on going by the Apple Store anytime soon. Did you notice how Apple made a big deal about the electronics they invented to push so many pixels at the screen? I suspect that means it may be awhile before we get a retina 5K cinema display.

3. Sans Steve

Notice how nobody talks about how they miss Steve in these presentations. Apple management has really come up with a new formula for these presentations and they are getting pretty good at it. My only critique is that very short goofy jokes are fine. Longer goofy jokes, like videos of handshakes, get tedious.

 

Drafts 4

Watching WWDC earlier this year and witnessing so much progress towards iOS automation, part of me wondered what that meant for the early iOS automation pioneers. In particular what would happen to those apps that were able to use the few automation breadcrumbs on the floor of iOS 7 to bake some pretty delicious cake? The first app to come to my mind in this category was Drafts.

Drafts was the first app that I used that took advantage of URL schemes to make my iPhone dance. And boy did it dance. The concept was simple. Tap the icon, start typing (or dictating), and then tap a few buttons to make your text do stuff. Drafts then used scotch tape, chewing gum, and URL schemes to do amazing things with that text.

So my thought after WWDC was whether or not an iOS that was much more sharing and automation-friendly would somehow make apps like Drafts less useful. Drafts 4 is out and it delivers.

New Features

One of the key new features is the ability to customize the keyboard. This isn’t just customization of a limited set of functions. Drafts is wide open letting you create commands, labels, text, and scripts. There is also an online directory of custom functions that can range from application specific functions, like sending text to a new Dispatch email or sorting a list alphabetically. Users are already uploading their own custom-created scripts and in just a few days, we already have a rich menu of interesting things we can now do with our words in Drafts that wasn’t possible in prior versions. This is going to get very interesting in the coming months. Using the “label” key type, you can even create directories of additional commands.

The other banner feature (for me) is the Action Builder. URL schemes were helpful but also always a bit cryptic. Drafts now lets you create actions with much more of a LEGO approach, like seen in Editorial. These are much more accessible to me and make creating custom actions for even small projects much more feasible. Also, you can go to the website from inside the app and download developer and user-created actions. Of course, the application also has access to the more vanilla style iOS 8 sharing features.

There is more. The application now has modes to highlight Markdown or social snytax. So thinks like Markdown syntax or social hashtags display in highlight. There are versions so you can move back in time if your draft text takes a left turn.

There is also an Arrange tool that lets you re-arrange individual paragraphs. This is a feature I’ve long used in Greg’s other app, Phraseology. I’m going to use it even more in my precious Drafts.

Drafts can also now keep track of where you started a note and where you finished it. If you are looking at a note that makes no sense to you but then can see you wrote it at a bowling alley, that may help you sort things out. 

Drafts has always been a place to just start writing. This easy onramp to getting text out of my brain and into my iPhone and iPad is the application’s fundamental innovation and the reason it is in my dock. This new version, however, adds and extension to grab text from other locations and perform actions upon it and send it to Drafts. I haven’t found myself using this feature as much. I’m using Clips to capture text these days but the customization options of captured tasks via the Drafts extension make it ideal for web researchers and bloggers.

UI Love

With these new features and functions, the user interface (that was already getting crowded in version 3), could have become downright ugly in version 4. It did not. 

The interface now splits buttons between the bottom and top of the screen. By splitting the user interface buttons, density is reduced but you may have to reach on your big new iPhone for some of the more important buttons at the top of the screen. The Action menu also has better internal organization breaking up services between social, services, basic, and Markdown. The new design is a win.

My WWDC worries for Drafts were ill-founded. Not only does Drafts take advantage of the new sharing pathways found in iOS, it blazes even more new trails with custom scripts, making it even better at taking my words and making them dance. This new version is better, stronger, faster. There are already some great new resources explaining these new tricks from some smart folks including Alex GuyotBrett TerpstraGabe Weatherhead, and Dr. Drang.

Drafts 4 is published by Agile Tortoise, specifically Greg Pierce. It is a universal app and available in the iOS App Store now.

Shuttering Macworld/iWorld

We received news today that IDG has shuttered Macworld/iWorld for 2015. IDG is calling it a hiatus but I can’t really see how, after they’ve shut it down, they will ever get the momentum necessary to start it again.

Like many in the community, I find this information heart wrenching. In our world of Apple geeks, we all are adept at connecting with each other via those screens on our desks and in our pockets. However, none of this digital communication comes close to the value of gathering the tribe once a year and breaking bread together in San Francisco.

In my case, I don’t make my living spending all day being MacSparky. I’ve got a day job. Every year, however, for one glorious week I get to lay down that mantle and just be a geek with the some of the best geeks on the planet. Macworld Expo has, for so many years, been my Mecca.

I don’t hold any hard feelings toward IDG over this. They are a business and someone looked at a spreadsheet and made a tough decision. I’ll be forever thankful to Paul Kent, Kathy Moran, and the rest of the gang at IDG that poured their lives into making the show an annual success. Most of all, I’ll be sad that I can’t go back next year.

At this point, I’m hoping that somebody figures out a way to do something like Macworld in the future. Our community needs an excuse to gather.

Geek Misogyny

The last several weeks we've seen a lot of attention placed on the treatment of women in the geek community. A few months ago, Brianna Wu, a game developer that happens to be female, published an opinion piece about the treatment of women in her industry. I found it enlightening and, as the father of two daughters and a human being, a bit disturbing. A few days ago, some anonymous person posted Brianna's home address and then she started receiving death threats.

Peter Cohen at iMore covers this subject today with particular aplomb. One of the best explanations I've ever heard of geek misogyny came from John Siracusa a few years ago on the Hypercritical podcast.

I am not going to pretend to have all the answers to this problem but I do think we, as a community, should all shine as much light on this problem as we can and support our female geek friends in any way we can in confronting and eradicating this problem.

Jazz Friday - Birdland

This week’s Jazz Friday pick is my first pick from the fusion jazz movement. In the 1970s and 80s, a lot of jazz musicians started fusing jazz to R&B, rock, and other genres of music. One of the pioneers in this form of jazz was Weather Report, founded by more traditional jazz artists Wayne Shorter, Miroslav Vitouš, and Joe Zawinul. (Zawinul composed a prior Jazz Friday pick: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.)

Weather Report saw itself as jazz pioneers and over the years came to define the fusion jazz movement. Their most popular song by far is Birdland from the Heavy Weather album. The song was named after a New York jazz club that was ground zero for a lot of the bebop, cool, and post-bop eras that I keep writing about. Interestingly, the club itself was named after Charlie “Bird” ParkerBirdland also features bassist Jaco Pastorius, who is a legend in his own right and will get his own Jazz Friday post at some point. Birdland has become a standard with lots of jazz artists covering it over the years. I first played it with a big band in the 80’s. If you add one fusion song to your library, you’d be hard pressed to do better than Birdland.

This is from the Stadthalle Offenbach Concert in 1978. You can tell it is the 70s because Jaco and Peter Erskine took off their shirts.

Transporter 2.7 Gets Version Histories

I've been real pleased with the way the Transporter software team keeps adding features to my Transporters. They've added an API that lets developers connect to my Transporter, introduced photo features, and most recently added version support. Because the storage is on your transporter in your home or office, there is no limit on the number of versions of a document (so long as you have sufficient drive space). I like the way they keep rolling in these new features.

I started out using my Transporters as a family photo and video backup system. I then started adding files to it that I don't feel comfortable putting on someone else's cloud but with versioning and API's, I'm finding myself increasingly using it for working files.  

The Super-Sized iPad

There seems to be a lot of smoke around the idea of a super-sized 13 inch iPad early next year. Rumor sites are posting that they will come in multiple colors and have high resolution screens. One rumor even claims it will run both the Mac OS and iOS, which I have a hard time believing.

I love and use my iPad Air every day. I like the bigger screen because it’s easier to read and since I only carry an iPad in my bag, the bigger one is no less inconvenient to carry around than a mini. I’m sure there are people that would love a super-sized iPad. If nothing else, I think it would be interesting to see what the world does with a large tablet computer. If Apple adds the ability to split the iOS screen between multiple apps, the bigger screen may be important. 

Based on the number of rumors in circulation, I suspect we will all find out some time next year.

MPU 218: MPU Live, A Festival of Skeuomorphism

This month's live show is ready for download. We’re joined by Luke Soules of iFixit to talk about iPhone 6 repairability and follow-up on our own experiences with the iPhone and iOS 8. We also discuss security concerns and FileVault, review listener feedback and workflows in Education and review tips on a variety of topics including uses for TextExpander, automated filing services, and travel.


 

Clips for iOS

Today Clean Shaven Apps (the same developers behind Dispatch) released Clips, a wicked useful iOS app that leverages the iOS 8 extension frameworks to give you a clipboard manager on your iPad and iPhone.

If you spend any time writing in iOS, you know how frustrating it can be collecting bits of text and links for use in whatever you are creating. The iOS clipboard only holds one entry. If you are pulling text and data from multiple sources, the process of copying and pasting gets tedious real quickly. Moreover, if you decide you want to go back and use something you clipped earlier, you’re going to have to go and copy it again. There is no way to keep a list of all your clippings and easily access them without doing something silly like opening a separate document just to hold clippings (which you still need to go back and repeatedly copy before pasting). At least that was the case until now.

Clips in Nutshell

Using Clips you can collect bits of saved text and links into the Clips application. Then you can use, modify, and paste those clips easily in other applications using the Clips Today View widget or its custom keyboard. The clippings can be used repeatedly without having to go back and recopy them. It’s not as seamless as a clipboard manager on Mac OS, but it is pretty close and exponentially better than anything we’ve had before on iOS

Copying Clips

iOS doesn’t let an app monitor your clipboard. This security motivated limitation is probably a good thing. I’m not sure I want any application to be able to see everything I copy. This limitation does, however, make getting copied bits of text into Clips slightly more tedious. 

Rather than having the ability to grab everything you copy automatically into Clips, you have to paste the information into Clips. There are a few ways to pull that off:

  1. Save in the Clips App When you open the Clips app, you are presented with a list of your previously saved clips. Additionally, if you have anything currently saved in your copy buffer, it is displayed in a red box at the top of the screen. Tap the plus sign next to the text and your copy buffer has now been sucked into the Clips list.

  2. Use the Today View Widget Clips also has a Today View widget. If you enable it and pull down the notification center with anything in your iPad or iPhone’s copy buffer, Clips again gives you the ability to tap and add the data to your Clips list.

This manual process of adding copied data to the clips library is the only significant difference between a Mac clipboard manager and Clips. On the Mac that process is automatic. With Clips on iOS, you need to do it manually. The developers make it pretty easy though and in testing the app, it has become second nature for me to pull down the widget while inside Safari (or any other app for that matter) and add to Clips. While doing it manually adds a bit more work, it also keeps your Clips library of copied text to just those bits you actually want to use, which makes it easier to find later.

Pasting Clips

Using your clippings is just as easy as copying them. From inside any application, you can pull down the Today View widget and paste with a single tap. There is also a specialized keyboard that holds your clippings if you roll that way.


If the Clips feature set stopped right there, I’d be a happy user. The ability to store and access multiple clippings is something I’ve always missed on iOS and this is exactly the kind of innovation I was hoping for when Apple announced iOS 8 extensions.

However, as I mentioned earlier, this app is designed by the same people that develop Dispatch, which is one of my favorite 3rd party email clients and one of the best apps on iOS at sharing things. Of course they took this further.

When pasting a clipping with Clips, you have options. If it is a clipping from a website you can include the text, the URL, or both. You can customize these copy templates from inside the app but the built-in ones should suffice for most.

It also includes a “More” button. That takes you into the Clips application. From there you have additional tools to make the text all caps or all lowercase. You can also access the rest of your installed iOS 8 extensions to share the text to a text message, email, Twitter or any of the other extension enabled applications on your device. For a no-brainer $2 in-app upgrade, you keep an unlimited number of clippings and sync them across all of your iOS devices.

I’ve been using the Clips beta for a few weeks and, as someone who spends a lot of time writing on my iPad, find the application liberating. It has spoiled me and now I can’t imagine not having it on my iOS device. You can learn more (and watch a video) at the website and get the app in the App Store.

Picking Between the 6 and 6 Plus

Until a few months ago, as an iPhone user getting the new iPhone has been pretty easy. There’s only been one. This year Apple, for the first time, released two different iPhones in the same cycle. (I’m not forgetting the 5C. That just doesn’t count.) Now there’s choice. Specifically, a big one and a bigger one.

For some reason, this choice of iPhone really threw me for a loop. I was pretty torn about the that beautiful big 6 Plus screen and increased battery life versus the problems that come with carrying a phone bigger than a Pop Tart. I purchased the 6 Plus with the idea that I may end up turning it back in for the smaller one. Indeed, that is exactly what happened. I used the 6 Plus for a little over a week before exchanging it for the 6, which I’ve also now had for a week.

I’ve been living out this first world problem all over the Internet so I thought it was at least worth writing the epilogue. 

6 Plus Praise

I liked the big screen 6 Plus quite a lot. That extra screen real estate came in handy. I spend quite a lot of time reading PDF documents. Using the 6 Plus I was able, for the first time, to read PDFs on my phone. That is pretty handy considering my phone is always with me. The 6 Plus optimized applications have not rolled out yet but I suspect they are coming and in the next year, smart developers are going to jump in with both feet. Productivity apps (which are my particular weakness) stand to improve the most with this extra screen space.

The battery life was also a marked improvement. I spent the day at Disneyland with my family shortly after getting the 6 Plus. The Sparks family makes regular trips to Disneyland and we usually carry an external battery in our bag because Disneyland is hell on phone batteries. While there, I took pictures, fiddled with Twitter, and did the other things I usually do on a phone at Disneyland. When we returned to the car, I looked at my battery to see that I still had half a charge. That has never happened to me with any prior iPhone. Not once. There is a lot to like about the big phone.

6 Plus Problems

I did have problems though. The phone fit easily in the pockets of my various pants, jeans, and shorts. I never felt it was at risk of falling out. I’ve always carried my iPhone in my front left pocket. That’s my iPhone pocket. Keys and other bits and bobs don’t go there. The 6 Plus in my front left pocket always made its presence known. Taking a walk with it in my dress slacks, it would audibly smack against the front of my thigh. Sitting down at a restaurant, I could feel the pressure of the pocket and leg against the phone. I never experienced these issues with prior iPhones.

Another problem I never overcame in a week of usage is the delicate nature of the big phone. It is large and thin with lots of curvy bits. Handing it to my wife to take a picture felt more like transferring nitroglycerine than sharing a phone. It just felt like I needed to be very careful every time I handled the beautiful beast. Some people on Twitter suggested I put on a case but that just makes the phone bigger.

I understood the 6 Plus is a two-handed phone but it doesn’t really sink in until you face it directly. At one point I was expecting an important text. My phone buzzed in my pocket and I knew that was it. It took me too long to get out of my pocket and the message was gone by the time I could see the screen. I was holding a briefcase in my other hand and tried, very carefully, to unlock the phone one-handed. I couldn’t without balancing it on just a few fingers and risking dropping it. I think I could have handled the “big in pocket” problem. The “can’t get at my message one handed” problem, however, was my own personal deal killer for the 6 Plus.

A Little Perspective

The Apple Store is pretty nice about these things and they swapped me to the smaller phone without trouble. I held off on this post because I wanted some context for the smaller phone too. In general, I also really dig the 6. I can check messages one handed. It is easier to handle and not as large in my pocket. 

Having spent time with both phones, I’m still not entirely clear which phone I liked better but the 6 feels right for me, at least for now. If the Apple Watch delivers and I can get that important message on my wrist, I may find a little bigger phone makes more sense in the future. (In other words, I get to deal with this all over again next year about this time.) One point in all of this that I find interesting is the unusual amount of angst I’ve had over this decision. I’ve never had a problem picking iPad or Mac screen sizes. The new phones, however, really threw me for a loop. I think there is something to all this talk about the personal nature of these small electronics.

No Guidance Here

If you are reading this post for guidance as to which phone you should buy, I can’t help you. Nobody can. They are both great phones. There is no magic formula that will tell you which is right for you. One is more portable and the other has a bigger screen and more battery life. Pick your poison.

On the Rumored Retina iMac

Rumors are heating up that Apple is about to reveal a retina caliber iMac. Having used a retina MacBook Pro now for two years, I can tell you I love it. After all of this time I still sometimes look at text on this screen and just drool. I'm so spoiled. 

If Apple releases a retina iMac I'm sure it is going to be gorgeous. I do, however, have a few tips if you are thinking about this currently-mythical device:

1. Don't Buy on Launch Day

The first generation retina iMac may have issues. Specifically, every time retina screens are added to a new device, there is a performance hit. Usually, it takes the second-generation device for the graphics horsepower to catch up with all of those pixels. Recently, we have seen this in the third generation iPad and also the first generation retina MacBook Pro. This may not be a big deal to you, but you should at least go in with your eyes open. Shortly after the product releases, there will be benchmarks that will give you an idea of what you're getting into.

2. No Cinema Display for Awhile

Don't hold your breath for a retina Cinema Display anytime soon. In an iMac, the screen is, in essence, jacked straight into the graphics card. With an external display it would have to go through the Thunderbolt port. The amount of data required to drive that many pixels through a Thunderbolt cable is going to be difficult until Thunderbolt cables get faster (which is planned).

3. Be Prepared to Pay a Premium

When the retina screens found their way onto the MacBook Pro, Apple added the "retina" moniker to the front and a few dollars to the price tag. I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happens to the retina iMac.

4. Don't Look at One Unless You're Willing to Buy One

I love my retina display on my MacBook Pro. Text is gorgeous. I could never see myself buying another non-retina screen Mac. This screen has ruined me. I will intentionally not look at the retina iMacs if/when they show up.

 

Yosemite Conference

Next April, CocoaConf is hosting an Apple conference called, "Yosemite" held in ... you guessed it ... Yosemite National Park. I'm not going to be able to make it but if you've never been to Yosemite, this is an excellent excuse to go. Next to a few reefs in Hawaii, Yosemite is my favorite place in the entire world. April is an ideal time to go. The snow will have melted and the falls will be in full bloom. In addition to seeing Yosemite, there is also an outstanding slate of speakers, several of which are former MPU guests like Michael Lopp, Jim Dalrymple, and Serenity Caldwell. Learn more here.


 

Dispatch Update and Print to PDF

For awhile now I’ve been splitting email duties on my iPhone between the native Apple Mail application and Dispatch (App Store). I covered Dispatch in the Email book and there is a lot to like about it. Dispatch gives you the ability to attach actions to emails and easily ship emails off to Evernote, OmniFocus, or whatever other app you use to handle tasks out of emails.

The developer recently issued the 2.1 update that now lets you navigate between folders, meaning Dispatch is useful in all your mailboxes, not just the inbox. That really helps people like me, that use services like Sanebox to make sure the Inbox isn’t very large to begin with. They also added the ability to send and archive with one tap, which is pretty special.

All of this is swell but the reason I’m writing about this update is the addition of a feature I’d nearly given up on in iOS, Print to PDF. I’ve long pined away for a simple way to save documents, files, and emails to PDF from my iPhone and iPad. This problem is particularly difficult when you want to save an email, which is ridiculously simple on the Mac. Dispatch now includes its own service that will save the selected email as PDF and even let you share it to cloud storage or a PDF application. There are a lot of reasons to save an email as a PDF and now, thankfully, you can pull that off in iOS too. Now if we can just talk them into releasing an iPad native version of Dispatch …

MultiTasking Troubles

I really enjoyed Clay Shirky's recent piece on requiring his students to put technology away in class. While I'm not sure his decision was correct, the essay nicely describes the sins of multitasking. This is a thing for me. I believe that nobody multitasks effectively. Splitting your attention between various masters just means you will serve none of them very well. The elephant metaphor explains it far better than I could. Save this one and read it over a nice beverage, while not doing four other things.