Sponsor: Sanebox

I'm pleased to welcome back Sanebox as this week's sponsor. I've been using Sanebox for years and it still saves my bacon every day. There are so many great benefits to Sanebox. First and foremost is filtering. Sanebox looks at all of my incoming email and filters it for me to appropriate mailboxes. That way, the first thing in the morning I see are only those emails that are most important.

However, Sanebox can do so much more. I used to make fun of email deferment until I started using it with Sanebox. Now I use it all the time. When an email comes in that I don’t need to deal with for a couple days, rather than giving myself the extra work of scheduling a response in OmniFocus, I just defer the email two days. It disappears and then shows up again in my inbox in two days and I can deal with it then. Sanebox is highly customizable so you can set defer periods in hours, days, and weeks.

Because Sanebox is a cloud based service, it works in the email client of your choice, including Apple Mail. There is also an ingenious reminder system where you can blind copy an email to 1week@sanebox.com and the service will remind you if you don't get a response to the email within one week.

There is a lot more to Sanebox. If you get a lot of email, the service can really help. You can learn more at Sanebox.com. Note the links in this post will get you a discount when you subscribe. 

Home Screens: Joe Buhlig

Recently I stumbled into Joe Buhlig’s Blog and got lost for an hour. Joe (Twitter) likes to write about appropriate uses of technology and I think he’s great. So Joe, show us your home screen.

Notes about my home screen

I keep it simple. My home screen is designed around the apps that make me productive. Apps that don’t (like analytics apps or social media) are buried in folders. I try to keep everything on one page - the outcome is a slim home screen and iPhone.

What are some of your favorite apps?

Drafts

I’m using Drafts more and more. Every ad-hoc idea or task gets captured here. I carry note cards around but the power of Drafts has me entering my note card data into it. It can do so much auto-parsing that it’s easier to put it here as opposed to entering the metadata in other apps.

Workflow

David and Katie have had a number of conversations about this app on MPU and I’m always finding new uses for it. Our youngest daughter was born a few months ago and I used Workflow to send out the announcement texts. 

Group text messages for announcements always drive me crazy. Your puppy is cute, but I really don’t need your great uncle Hank’s phone number. In an effort to be nice to my friends and relatives, I created a workflow to send the same text to every person individually. 

I added blanks to a text message for the expected details - time, height, weight, and length. When our daughter was born, I filled in the details of the message and ran the workflow. It took that base text (and picture), looped through a group of assigned people, and sent the same text message to each person separately. No group message and uncle Hank’s phone number is safe.

Launch Center Pro

At first glance, you could say that Launch Center Pro and Workflow are similar apps, but I would say that’s a miss. LCP is extremely fast at starting a task and Workflow is great at creating new functionality. I like to add my workflows as actions in LCP in order to get new functionality started extremely fast.

TheBrain

I don’t see TheBrain talked about much, but it helps me make interesting connections. Think of it as mind-mapping that allows you to have a different mindmap for each node you create. And you can pull nodes from other places in your Brain to create deep links within the map. 

For example, I have a map inside TheBrain for people that I’ve met. I also have a map of places in the world in the same Brain (it’s nice that computers now allow us to have more than one brain). I can connect each person to a location. But I can also connect them to mindsets that we have in common or favorite drinks. The next time I go to New York, TheBrain helps me remember that John is out there. I dig deeper and see that he prefers a macchiato at Starbucks. So I set up a side meeting with John for coffee and talk about his recent trip to Utah.

1Password

You know it’s a great app when you use it constantly and yet forget about it. 1Password is that way for me. I use it on all of my devices every day. I’m lost if I have to type in a password somewhere. Even copy/pasting a password is weird anymore. If a new app doesn’t allow me to log in with 1Password, I’m prone to dropping it and finding one that does.

TextExpander

Once you use TextExpander you’ll wonder why you didn’t pick it up sooner. From typing my email address to writing long-form email responses to lipsums, it’s integral to my use of Apple devices.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Editorial is one of the more recent additions to my home screen. Just like Workflow and Launch Center Pro, Editorial can be a time suck. There are so many ways to alter text from my phone now. Editorial has single-handedly led me to consider a keyboard case for my iPad. 

What app makes you most productive?

Drafts. It helps me stay on task by making it easy to get things out of my head. Naturally, OmniFocus would be a close second, but keeping me on task is a lot harder than deciding which task.

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

Drafts, Workflow, and Launch Center Pro. I use them all the time, but I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what they can do. If I would spend more time with these apps instead of goofing on Twitter I might create something unique with them.

What is the app you are still missing?

I would like to know how much time I spend in each app. Maybe iOS 9 will open the door to this, but I’d like to have some way for it to alert me after a designated amount of time in a given app. Something that helps me control my iPhone habit. 

How many times a day do you use your iPhone?

Too many. I catch myself checking it any time I have a few seconds.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone?

Touch ID. It’s so easy to keep your phone (and many apps) locked and yet really easy to get into. This feature makes apps like 1Password magical. 

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

I’d like to see Apple spend some time perfecting the interplay mechanisms. AirPlay, AirDrop, and Handoff are great concepts. I just don’t find myself using them very often because they’re unreliable.

Deeper connectivity between apps. It sounds like we’re getting some of this with the Universal Links in iOS 9, but allowing developers deeper access to the system could open things up. It could allow Workflow and Launch Center Pro to gain power, make my app tracker possible, and start to make “iOS only” people more common.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

It’s one of the stock Apple wallpapers. I like using a dark background on any app I can. It keeps my phone from being a light bulb and makes it easier on my eyes.

Anything else you’d like to share?

As I was writing this, I realized that my iPhone is all about getting work done. That’s not necessarily bad, but breaks are important. My home screen proves I’m not the best at slowing down. Maybe I need an app for that.

Thanks Joe.

Apple Music, iTunes Match, and DRM

I've been neck deep in Apple Music this week as we prepare for a Mac Power Users episode devoted to the topic. One issue, that is worth sharing right now are the evolving questions about digital rights management (DRM). DRM has been largely missing from iTunes tracks for several years now. With Apple Music (a subscription service), it's back. That makes sense. The music industry doesn't expect you to be able to download and keep the entire iTunes music library for a single month's subscription. When you stop paying the subscription fee, you lose the rights.

The problem arises when you first set up iCloud Music Library and it overlaps with your prior iTunes Match tracks (that you presumably purchased and should be DRM free). Early tests, including this one from Kirk McElhearn, are indicating some of your iTunes Match tracks are getting DRM applied to them when they shouldn't.

The point of this post is that I want you to download and save copies of all your music on a spare drive before diving in with Apple Music. This may get all sorted out but I think having your own DRM-free copy of the music you've purchased is a good idea on most days (and an outstanding idea today).

MacSparky Fields Guides Now Available on iPhone

With the release of iOS 8.4, iBooks on the iPhone can now display iBooks Author rich media books like the MacSparky Field Guides. Hooray!

Often I receive emails from readers asking to read my books on the iPhone. Now you can. The books look great on the iPhone. Paperless, Email, Markdown, and 60 Tips all display in the alternative format (pictured). This allows you to also change the type size. Presentations displays in its original format, which looks great but doesn't allow you to change type size.

Either way, I'm thrilled to have millions of potential new customers. If you've already purchased the books, they'll load just fine on your iPhone today. If you've been waiting for them to become iPhone compatible, today is your lucky day. I'm already making changes to the next MacSparky Field Guide to make it even more iPhone friendly.

Sponsor: HoudahSpot

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.

Anyway, don't take my word for it, go try out the app. If you like it you can get 20% off with the coupon code MACSPARKY or purchase through this link. There's no better way to search your Mac.

Directions On My Wrist

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. 

Apple's Teaching Swift Materials

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.

Tunnel Bear VPN

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.

 

MPU 263: Rethinking Task Management with Kourosh Dini

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.

Trip Mode Protects Your Data Caps

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. 

Sponsor: Automatic

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.


 

Home Screens: Joe Darnell

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…

Rdio

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. 

Thunderspace

This is another app that I discovered thanks to a great videoThunderspace 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.

Instapaper

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?

That’s got to be Fantastical. On my Mac, the no-brainer answer would be OmniFocus, but in the way I work and flow through the day with my iPhone, I get more done with Fantastical’s help.

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.…

Thanks Joe.

DuckDuckGo Growth and Its Future With Apple

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.