This week, Katie and I are joined by Bradley Chambers as he and Katie explain their differing strategies for canceling cable TV. There are some good tips in this show about consuming entertainment in general for 2015.
This week I'm pleased to welcome back PopClip as a sponsor. PopClip brings that iOS popup menu that you love on your iPhone to your Mac.
Not only can you use the the built-in PopClip tools, there is an extension system and lots of smart people have built clever little extensions I use every day. For example, if you like Fantastical, there is a PopClip extension that runs your selected text through the Fantastical text parser. I thought I'd use this opportunity to show off some of my favorite PopClip extensions.
Display as Large Type
This is useful for putting some bit of information across your screen when you need to see it across the room, like when dialing a phone.
Dial Phone Number
Speaking of phones, this one dials the selected phone number on your iPhone. It only appears when you select a series of numbers that looks something like a phone number and it and feels like you are living in the future.
Quite often I'll take a writing job that has some expectation concerning word count. This plugin tells me how I'm doing.
Paste and Match Style
So useful. Every day.
There are a few things I do that require uppercase. PopClip is the fastest way I know how to turn a block of selected text into all uppercase.
Whenever I catch myself writing something repeatedly, I select it and fire off this PopClip extension to turn it into a snippet.
There is a running bit in the Sparks house where my computer gives my children bad advice. I used to do this through the AppleScript editor. It is so much faster to pull this trick off with PopClip.
Yes. I am fiddly about quotation marks in my documents.
This is handy when pulling multiple bits of text from different places for pasting into a single place.
You'll notice not pictured are the traditional cut, copy, and paste buttons. After years of training I nearly exclusively pull those tasks off with keyboard shortcuts so I decided to kick them off my PopClip bar and make room for more interesting tools.
This is just a sampling. There are a lot more PopClip extensions right here. There is a free trial so go check it out now. PopClip is one of my favorite utilities and, after trying it, I bet it will be one of your favorites too.
A few weeks ago, Agile Tortoise released Drafts 4.1.2. My favorite new feature is the “Run Workflow” action. That's right. Drafts and Workflow are now like peanut butter and chocolate. Now I can fire off a Workflow from Drafts with a single tap. The action step can be configured with the name of a workflow and you can even specify the text sent to the workflow. There is a sample Drafts action that lets you round-trip convert markdown to rich text that I've already found handy.
Not to be outdone, the gang at Workflow added their own option in app to add a Workflow to Drafts, which opens Drafts and automatically creates the action. I love it when smart software developers gang up to make their apps even more awesome for us nerds.
This week’s home screen post features my pal Liana Lehua (Twitter)(Website). Liana just keeps doing amazing work and never ceases to amaze me. Most recently she was a co-producer and Assistant Unit Production Manager on the motion picture, BOKEH. She also is the co-founder of SignalWorx, one of the best streaming companies out there. So Liana, show us your home screen.
What Are Some of Your Favorite Apps?
Much of my time is spent planning for video or photography shoots, or on set where I have to be able to take notes, track requests, document events, and organize all of it for summary, action, and or distribution in multiple mediums, for various people and purposes.
I use Notability on my iPad most, because it allows me to easily write and record audio to a document for thoughts and ideas which may be fleeting or that I am afraid I might lose if I don’t capture them quickly. I write extensively in Notability using the Wacom Bamboo pen when I need to mind map ideas quickly. Being able to round trip between my iOS devices and the Notability for Mac app is key to my workflow.
The Drafts app helps me collect and prepare bits and pieces of information inside of one app that I can quickly capture and distributed in whatever tool I need (text, email, Twitter, etc.).
I am constantly working through concepts or story ideas when I’m on the go. I will take quick notes by topic or in acts using Index Card for iPhone where I can keep a working structure and order to some of my more coherent ideas.
Which app is your guilty pleasure?
Superhero Workout. Hands down. I use the app as a supplement to my regular training. The moves are simple, no equipment is required, and to the movements takes minimal space. The reason I use it is that it frees my mind from having to think about what to do and for how long. It’s perfect for when I’m heads down in a project, need a break, to get up from my laptop, and don’t have time to get outside.
What app makes you most productive?
Coffitivity + Spotify. I find cafes to be distracting, but I like the ambient noise of being in a public place. Coffitivity has various tracks of background noise I play under Spotify’s own “Coffee Table Jazz” playlist. It creates an ideal environment for me to stay focused, get organize, create, and get things done.
What app do you know you’re underutilizing?
What is the app you are still missing?
A location scouting app. Reconnaissance is only as good as what can be accurately communicated to my director, cinematographer, line producers, and all my crew. There used to be an app, Pocket Scout, which allowed me to take pictures, writes descriptors, and store information about locations, including geotagging each entry. Then, I was able to search on keywords or phrases, “red brick wall”, or “graffiti tunnel”, for example, and get directions back to that location.
How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?
I don’t use any electronic device 2 hours before bed, 2 hours after I wake up, or during meals.
What Today View widgets are you using and why?
(Phillips) Hue: I’m always changing my lights in my house depending on what I’m doing.
Pocket Informant: I like the quick view of the days weather and events. I’ve been a Pocket Informant users since somewhere around 2000 (on a Compaq iPaq 3635, and it still does everything I need and want it to do.
ESPN: Because, sports.
What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?
The ecosystem. It’s because of how my devices work together that the hardware is valuable. I stop short of using the word necessary, because I come from a time before having the technology to “Think Different” in my work, play, and life.
If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?
I would change the pricing of the Apple Watch Edition collection.
$What’s your wallpaper and why?
Photographer Clark Little’s “Heart”. It reminds me of the things which bring me the most joy.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’d love to connect with you on Twitter @lianalehua if you’re interested in film/tv production, live streaming, or photography. You can see my most current work at www.signalworx.com.
PDFpen 7.1 got a nice update with some bug fixes and new features, including formatting options for page numbering and custom stamps. For me, the big new feature is the ability to auto-deskew when performing optical character recognition. Sadly, some of the people I work with aren't anal-retentive nerds and they often send me scanned documents that are more skewed than a cable news program.
With version 7.1, PDFpen will now perform the OCR and then straighten the page using the OCR'd text as a baseline. That means when you go to highlight later, everything lines up, just right. This made me so happy that I made a video.
Amazon announced it will now store an unlimited number of photos for free for its Amazon Prime customers and $11.99 per year for non-prime members. They'll also store an unlimited number of any files for $59.99 per year. A few years ago we hit that inflection point where storing your music in the cloud became practical. It feels like we are just about there with photos too. Next up, video.
For several years now, Fantastical for the Mac has been the best place to quickly create text-based calendar entries. The application existed in the menubar and had the uncanny ability to create new calendar entries with just a few words. One of the application's innovations is the way it physically animates the creation of the event while you type in the text. That way, you can see exactly how the computer interprets what you are writing. You don’t have to do this very long before you you learn to create new events as easily as typing a sentence.
I take this for granted now but thinking back to the days before Fantastical, creating a new calendar entry was a hairy mess of inspectors and mouse clicks. Fantastical changed all of that.
While this has dramatically increased the speed at which I create calendar events, I always thought of Fantastical more as a utility than a calendar application. It sat in my menubar and made new events really quickly. It was not, however, my calendar app. There was no way to see my week view, and it didn’t provide the types of tools that, frankly, I needed to run my calendar.
That is no longer the case.
Today Flexibits released Fantastical 2 for Mac. That menubar view still exists and you can still quickly add events but there is so much more, starting with a big-boy calendar.
The Full Calendar Application
This new version of Fantastical 2 includes a full screen calendar application. It has all of the expected bells and whistles including daily, weekly, month, and year of views.
Flexibits spent some time making these views look great. With features like heat-mapping the year calendar and a week view that can display 5, 7, or 14 days, you’ll find Fantastical 2 is up to the task of managing your calendar. Also, the design looks great on Yosemite with light and dark themes. One Apple Calendar feature that I’d like to see them add with a future update is travel time.
One of my favorite features with the new full calendar menu is the infinite scrolling list of events. This is largely the reason why Fantastical 2 took over on my iPhone as my main calendar application. I really appreciate the ability to scroll through future events and see what’s coming up and I think Flexibits has cracked this nut better than any of its competitors. They took a lot of those same design cues over to the Mac with this new version.
I’ve been using the application for a few months as Flexibits wrapped up the beta process (and I produced the attached videos) and Fantastical 2 has already taken over as the primary calendar app on my Mac.
One of the most innovative new features with this application is the addition of calendar sets. I use a lot of calendars. I have calendars for each of the members of my family, my legal work, my geek work, and even more that you couldn't possibly be interested in hearing about. I frequently find myself going in and tweaking which calendars I’m going to see at any one time. For instance, I don’t normally need to see the calendars for my wife and kids and I find it tedious going into the calendar settings to turn them off and on.
Fantastical 2 for the Mac solves this with Calendar Sets. Using this feature you can designate groups of calendars as a “set”. Spend a little time and you can create multiple sets of calendars and then you can easily toggle between them in the application with the mouse or keyboard combination. As an example I have a family set, a work set, and a geek set. Not only can you toggle between these manually, Fantastical 2 can also pay attention to the location where your Mac located and toggle them automatically. For example, you could have it display your work set of calendars when you arrive at the office and your home set of calendars when you arrive home. Once you figure it out, it feels like magic.
Text Parser Improvements
The Fantastical 2 text parser also got some additional fairy dust with this new version. You can now set an alarm with the syntax “alarm x” where xdesignates the number of minutes.
“Call Katie about MPU themed vuvuzela horns tomorroaw at 10am PST alarm 30”
The new version also got better at repeating events, letting you type something like “family game night on the last Saturday of every month at 7 PM” and Fantastical 2 will obligingly create a repeated event on the last Saturday of every month.
One problem I always had with the prior version of Fantastical 2 was the way it displayed reminders. They used to go in line with appointments, which I found too noisy for my taste. As a result, I used to always turn reminder support off. This new version solves that problem. Now Fantastical 2 keeps a separate list for reminders except for those reminders that have dates attached to them. Only those with dates attached will appear in line with your appointments, which makes sense. The reminders in the full screen calendar application also display separately.
There’s a lot more to explore with this new version. There’s a today widget, share extension, and action extension. Time zone support got even better, allowing you to search out a time zone based on city. The application works with iCloud, Google, Yahoo, and any other calendar you’ve added to your Mac’s built-in calendar (like Exchange). You can also attach custom CalDAV accounts to Fantastical 2.
This new version of Fantastical 2 is not simply an update but a brand-new application. The addition of the full screen calendar view adds so much more power to the application. Put simply, Fantastical is no longer just a utility. Now it’s a calendar application.
I made a series of videos for Flexibits all about the new application and I’ve sprinkled a few in this review but there are 12 in total that you can watch right here. The new version is $39.99 and available now in both in the Mac App Store and directly from Flexibits.
There's a new biography of Steve Jobs, Becoming Steve Jobs (iBooks) (Amazon), by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. I've already bought it and am looking forward to digging in. The Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs biography, released shortly after Steve's death, felt one-dimensional to me. It seemed to catalog his sins more than explore why he was so influential.
I fully appreciate that Steve Jobs had his flaws. What makes him interesting is how successful he was despite them. If we truly was that tyrannical, how could he possibly succeed? Early reviews indicate that this new book does a better job of answering that question.
If you are on the fence about the book, read this article by Steven Levy, which is what convinced me to buy the book.
Eddie Smith took the trouble to do something I've always wondered about. He compared iPhone and Fitbit step counts. Eddie tested the devices going up and going down, riding elevators, walking through nature, and even riding in a car. It's actually a really good read. To me, the most interesting datapoint was how close the devices were on step count over a 90 day period. I think that as motion tracking becomes standard issue on smart phones and smart watches, step counters are going to have to bring something to the table or they'll go the way GPS navigators and iPods..
Episode 247 goes back to the current state of read it later and RSS services. I think mastering this stuff is more important now than ever with all those shiny things being thrown at us and a lot has changed since the last time we covered these subjects.
This week MacSparky is sponsored by inShort (website) (Mac App Store) (iOS App Store). inShort is a process and project planning application that works across the entire Apple ecosystem with apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I've explained before how I'm a visual thinker and inShort is right in my wheelhouse as it lets me lay out project and planning steps visually. inShort is a powerful planning tool.
One of the more clever features is the way it allows you to embed processes and drill down to the level of detail you need at the moment. I like to think of this as "nested" flowcharts and I think it's really smart. This also gives you the added advantage of having one diagram with the big picture while at the same time being able to get down in the weeds with any particular component. You can also export the data to PDF and OPML format to share with your team, no matter what device they are on.
I was at a family event today and talking to relatives about the Apple Watch. Everyone is expecting the notifications to be useful but the more I think about it, I'm really interested in where this is all going with the Taptic touch features. The ability to draw a picture on my watch and have it appear on my wife's watch seems nifty but I'd argue the tap could be more useful.
With two Apple Watches I can tap on my watch which would result in my wife's watch tapping her wrist. Just think about that for a moment. We're using technology to remotely physically touch one another. I think this opens up a lot of interesting possibilities.
- One tap as I'm pulling in the driveway and we need to leave for our next appointment.
- Two taps when I'm leaving the park and walking home.
- Three taps while at a party = I want to go home.
John Gruber recently talked about this on The Talk Show when explaining how he'd like to use watch taps to communicate with his son when picking him up from the movies. Thinking about this, I'm not aware of any prior technology that gave these options and I have to think that when this thing gets out to the public, we'll find all sorts of interesting ways to use it. The next few months are going to be fun.
Last week I wrote about people that may be right for the new MacBook. Based on the volume of email I've received, I clearly left one group out.
iPad + Keyboard Users
A not-insignificant number of MacSparky readers wrote in to explain that they view the new MacBook with just one port and underpowered processor as an upgrade to their current rig of iPad plus keyboard. One reader even did the math and reports his new MacBook will only be 0.3 pounds heavier than his iPad plus keyboard combined. I realize that the iPad has its own advantages (like a touch screen and always-on Internet connection) but if my inbox is any indication, the new MacBook is going to get several iPad converts.
I don't know how I missed this when it first posted but Austin Mann did a post on Hyperlapse that has the potential to change your game with iPhone videography. I'm going to be trying some of these techniques over the weekend. Maybe you should too.
One of the best things about being a Pixelmator customer is reaping the benefits of their aggressive update schedule. Today, the Pixelmator team released version 1.1 of the iPad app, Aquarelle. This new version includes some amazing watercolor tools. there are 12 separate watercolor brushes and I can't wait to see what artists do with this. The painting engine is also faster and the new color picker remembers recently used colors.
Fast Company has an excellent interview with Tim Cook. If you're interested in this stuff at all, you should read the entire interview. I know that Tim Cook's statements to the press are more deliberate than those we used to get from Steve Jobs but I also think Tim says what he thinks. This passage about collaboration struck me.
For so long, I felt that this was the missing piece at Apple. Specifically, it appeared that their obsession with secrecy was keeping the right people needed to make the magic happen in separate rooms. Apple's words and actions in the last year indicate they've moved past that now.
I know there were problems (and continue to be problems) with some of the new continuity features and other iOS 8/Yosemite features aimed at making Apple products play together better but I'm convinced they are moving in the right direction with this and things are getting better.
It has been a week since Apple announced the new MacBook and the reality distortion field has dissipated enough for me to write about it.
I'm hardly the first person to make this observation but the introduction of this new MacBook feels a lot like the original MacBook Air. A lot of the same words apply: new, constrained, underpowered, future-thinking.
A lot of ink has been spilled over the original Macintosh quadrant Steve Jobs explained when he came back to Apple. At the time, computer manufacturers (including Apple) had so many different products that consumers faced decision paralysis when they went to buy a new computer. Steve wanted to simplify. Specifically he wanted to have two types of computers, desktop and laptop, with two varieties of computer in each type, consumer and pro.
For the longest time Apple stuck with this quadrant system. That's how we got the MacBook and the MacBook Pro. As the technology evolved and Apple got even better at making things, they started to explore how to make an ultralight Mac laptop. I can imagine the engineers lusting about the idea of building a laptop with portability as the primary design priority. That is what led to the first MacBook Air.
This wasn't an attempt to replace the consumer MacBook. Apple explained this laptop was all about portability. The new MacBook Air was something altogether different. I was at Macworld Expo when they announced the original MacBook Air and we all went nuts. Within minutes of Steve Jobs pulling it out of an envelope, they had demo units on the floor in the Apple booth and none of us could believe how light it was.
I think one of the important takeaways is that the introduction of the MacBook Air added a third box to the above matrix. No longer were there just consumer and pro laptops. Apple added ultralight to the mix.
I think it was much more obvious to us back then that an ultralight Mac came with sacrifices. One of the big deals at the time was the optical drive, which almost sounds funny in 2015. But looking back, that original MacBook Air was also RAM constrained and saddled with the slowest hard drive that had shipped in a Mac for years.
There was much wringing of hands over why the new MacBook Air didn't make sense. Nevertheless, the third category was introduced and a lot of people did buy the new MacBook Air. Within a few years, the MacBook Air got a substantial redesign and became the Apple consumer laptop and the “MacBook” got taken to a farm in the country. Or so we thought.
I look at the introduction of last week's new MacBook as another temporary introduction of a third category Apple laptop. The MacBook Pro ticks the pro laptop box. The MacBook air is the consumer laptop and the new MacBook is the new ultralight. I think a lot of the new MacBook's critics don't realize that this third box has been added to the matrix and are judging an ultralight Mac as a consumer grade Mac. I also think the success of the MacBook Air and the march of technology makes it harder for us to accept the sacrifices required for portability in 2015 than it was in 2008 with the original MacBook Air.
Again, I don't think the return of the ultralight category is a permanent fixture in Apple's lineup. The use of the name “MacBook” signals that Apple has every intention in the next few years, with a bit more iteration, to do away with the MacBook Air line and leave this new design MacBook as the consumer Apple laptop once again.
Not surprisingly, this new computer raises many questions. Are people willing to pay the price (both in higher cost and lower performance) to have an ultralight computer? I suspect the answer, again, will be for a number of people, “yes”. This is literally the same conversation we had when the original MacBook Air shipped. It's funny how, as geeks, we all get very personal about these decisions. Is this the computer for everybody? No. Is this the computer for some people? Yes. I don't think this new MacBook is going to supplant the MacBook Air (yet) but it is going to find a home with a lot of users.
Apple has this reputation for being a secretive company but in a lot of ways their intentions are obvious if you look in the right places. The Apple vision for the future of laptops is the new MacBook. Over the next few years, the technologies and design choices made in the new MacBook are going to make their way across Apple laptop line and, ultimately, across the entire laptop industry. That also happened with the original MacBook Air.
So, getting a bit more practical, who is the right customer for this first iteration of the new MacBook design?
1. The Road Warrior
This is an ideal machine for someone that travels a lot and does not need a lot of power. If you spend your days on the web, email, and other low bandwidth computing tasks, this may very well be the computer for you. I know people are concerned about the new USB-C making it more difficult to share data. I think we're going to be flooded with USB-C devices in the very near future. If there isn’t already a manufacturer ramping up a thumb drive with both standard and USB-C connectors on it, I'd be shocked. Moreover, even non-geeks are much more savvy about cloud storage now than they were even just a few years ago. (A few weeks ago I had a 74-year-old friend “offer” to teach me about Dropbox.)
2. The Early Adopters
I have several friends that bought the original MacBook Air just because of its revolutionary design. They knew it had flaws and they knew it was going to cause them some grief but they didn't care. They just loved living in the future. There is nothing wrong with this. Early adopters, I get you.
3. The Retina Snobs
There are two camps over the retina screens. One group can't tell a difference or explain that the difference is not significant enough to matter. The other group completely lose their mind over retina screens. I'm in that second category. I've got a three-year-old MacBook Pro with a retina screen. It was Apple’s first retina screen laptop and I still catch myself gazing lovingly at the text on this screen … after three years. I simply love these displays.
A little over a year ago a friend offered to sell me her used 11 inch MacBook Air. She really just wanted to get rid of it and was offering it to me at a price that was ridiculously cheap. When I told her I wasn't sure how I'd use it, she let me borrow it to see if I had an 11 inch MacBook Air sized hole in my heart. I loved the portability of it and found all sorts of places I'd take it where I would have left the 15 inch MacBook Pro at home. However, I ended up giving it back to her. I could not get over the non-retina screen.
My lesson from that experience was that I simply cannot use a non-retina screen on my Macs anymore. The retina MacBook Pro ruined me. I'm not alone and I'm certain there will be people looking for something less than the MacBook Pro but absolutely require a retina screen. This new MacBook will suit those people nicely.
4. The Second Computer
All of the MacBook's power and expansion problems go away if this new MacBook is your second computer. If you’ve got an iMac or MacBook Pro that you keep docked somewhere and just want a Mac you can carry around with you for classes or client meetings, I suspect this new machine will serve nicely.
If you find yourself in one of the above categories, the new MacBook is a perfectly acceptable option. For me, the big take away is that the introduction of this new MacBook once again represents Apple carying three categories of laptops. This makes my own decision process slightly more interesting.
I am interested in the new MacBook. My existing laptop is three years old and it is about the time I usually start pining away for a new one. Moreover, my own laptop requirements have changed significantly. Up until a few months ago, I needed my large MacBook Pro because it was my full-time computer as I commuted back-and-forth to my day job. Now I spend a significant amount of my time working on my retina iMac at home. My laptop is no longer my main computer but instead the thing I take along for client meetings, speaking gigs, and other road trips.
This work does not require the power of a MacBook Pro and with this new retina screen MacBook, I suddenly find myself with an alternative. Nevertheless, I still have questions. The new keyboard could be my deal killer if it doesn't work for me. Likewise, I'm a bit concerned about heat. I think the idea of a fanless MacBook is a good one but I don't know how hot it will get. I’m going to need to see the reviews on the devices come out and spend some time in the Apple Store but I have not ruled out the possibility of selling the big laptop and buying a small one.
Regardless of what you think of the new MacBook, I believe it is the future consumer line Apple laptop. It's only a question of time before Steve’s quadrant is restored.