Apple Pay and CurrentC

For a long time merchants have been paying a lot of fees to credit card companies and they don't like it. So they started their own payment initiative, called CurrentC, that gives them the ability to cut credit cards out of the loop and provide them more data about their customers. Then Apple unleashed Apple Pay on the world, creating something much more secure and easier than anything CurrentC could do but which still leaves merchants paying credit card companies. Rich Mogull does a good job of explaining the details at TidBITS

The stage is set. Hijinks shall ensue. I bet the CurrentC backers had no idea how much nerd-attention they were going to get when all of this started.

To me, the most interesting element of this looming dispute between mega-corporations is how clear the battle lines are. Apple Pay uses existing credit cards but adds a lot of security (with one-time transaction numbers) and a bit of convenience. CurrentC is more clunky (QR codes!) and cuts out the credit card companies and, to a lesser extent, Apple. CurrentC collects helps build a customer profile which is great for merchants and creepy for consumers. In terms of security, CurrentC doesn't use one-time number but instead stores your existing ATM card number or relies upon you charging up your account with merchants. So the three biggest pieces affecting consumer experience are security, data collection, and convenience. Apple Pay wins all three. (However I could see Apple incorporating loyalty program numbers and customer tracking numbers into Apple Pay at some point.)

CurrentC feels like something that solves the merchants' problems at the expense of their customers' convenience and security. I understand CurrentC's point that if merchants could stop paying credit card fees, they could lower prices but that is not enough for me to have to deal with QR codes and continued security problems. I also have to wonder if they actually would lower prices or then explain that they need the money they used to pay credit card companies to now maintain CurrentC.

Wearing my consumer hat, I can tell you the deciding factor for me is security. Merchants like Target and Home Depot have proven they are not capable of protecting my credit card information. I have one credit card. I'm now on my fourth number for that account this year. Apple Pay solves that entire problem. When choosing where to shop, merchants that will accept my secure Apple Pay one-time number will go to the top of the line.

Brick by Brick

Tim Cook wrote an excellent essay for Business Week about being gay and the impact it has had on his life.

Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.

I really like the tone of this essay. Tim goes out of the way to explain how he is not trying to be heroic but instead do his part. Over the past few years, a close friend of my family is a young gay man that I've watched face down prejudice and rejection with a dignity and honor that you wouldn't expect of someone his age. People like Tim Cook writing things like this are making a difference.


 

Pixelmator for iPad

I finally got some time to play with Pixelmator for iPad this evening. I know some of the people at Pixelmator and I know they've been working on this application for a long time. I knew it was going to be something special but not this special. For five dollars, you'll get a full features photo editor that just a few years ago would have required a Mac Pro and thousands of dollars in software. Moreover, the touch interface makes the photo editing more intuitive. I'm going to write more on this as I dig in deeper but for now, if you've got a recent iPad, just go buy this. Learn more at the website.

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Knocking and Unlocking

In a recent episode of the Mac Power Users I made an offhand remark how I thought it would be clever to use the Apple Watch to unlock my Mac. I received multiple emails from listeners telling me that this functionality effectively exists already with the application called Knock. I’ve been using Knock (iTunes) (website) now for a few weeks and am happy to report that those listeners were correct.

Knock is an iPhone application. It costs four dollars and once you install it, your iPhone becomes aware of when it gets near your Mac, even when it is locked. (You also need to download and install a utility app on your Mac found on their website.) Once you’ve got the system in place, when you get near your Mac, you will see a message on the lock screen that invites you to unlock by knocking twice on your phone. You can do this right in your pocket. For added fun, do this while pointing a toy sonic screwdriver at your Mac. The developer has a clever video that shows off this feature on their website.

After two weeks I’m convinced that this is more than a cute demo. I love unlocking my Mac simply by walking up to it and knocking on my pocket. I still think the Apple Watch could make this even easier but for now, you should check out Knock.

Sponsor: Sanebox

I'm pleased to welcome a new sponsor to the website this week, Sanebox. I've been using Sanebox for over a year now 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 with its Black Hole service that makes unwanted email go away, forever. 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 $5 off your subscription.


 

Retina iMac Review

Jason Snell delivers his review of the new retina iMac over at Six Colors and he liked it enough to buy one for himself. After reading the review, I went into a local Apple Store and violated my own rule. I looked at it. There is definitely a Retina iMac in my future. I am weak.

It is clear to me now that when I wrote this list I should have added:

5. Whatever you do, don't read Jason Snell's review.

Home Screen: Dave Stachowiak

Dave Stachowiak (Twitter) is the host of the Coaching for Leaders and Carnegie Coach podcasts. Dave is also Executive Vice President, Talent Development at Dale Carnegie of Southern Los Angeles. Dave, through his podcasts, manages to combine a love of technology with a bit of sanity towards being productive. So Dave, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

One of my go-to apps is Lift. This app helps me reach larger goals by keeping track of daily, important habits. I have seven daily habits right now, including things like “walk 12,000 steps” and “read a book for 30 minutes.” At the end of the day (or when I complete the habit), I mark it off and it keeps track of my progress over time with graphs and other cool stuff. I’ve interviewed co-founded Lift Tony Stubblebine and they’ve got great plans for the future of Lift.

My excuse for owning pretty much every podcast app out there is that it’s helpful for troubleshooting the occasional podcast feed issue for folks in my listening community. The real reason is that I was always searching for the perfect podcast app. That all changed with Overcast. Finally, I feel like I’ve found an app that balances great features with ease of use. The smart speed function is amazing. The rest of my podcast apps have been relegated to a podcast folder on the second screen.

I’ve tried several of the third-party calendar apps over the years, but always ended up back with the Apple Calendar app, since it seemed like meeting invites (I get a lot) never got handled correctly and the learning curves were steep. I have no idea why I was so stubborn about not trying Fantastical, since I’ve heard great things about it for years. Once I did, not only am I not going back to the Calendar app, but it now has a beloved spot in my dock.

Who doesn’t love Drafts? Thanks to Mac Power Users for getting me hooked. I definitely underutilize it…right now, just to capture thoughts as they come in, and twice a week I have an OmniFocus task set to go in and file/clear all my content ideas and random thoughts. It’s high on my list to learn lots of the new advanced sharing and power features in the new version.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Other than Starbucks, my guilty pleasure these days is the MailChimp app. I’m a big believer in slow, steady growth over time, so the MailChimp dashboard gives me a daily smile when I see people subscribing to my weekly updates. My wife Bonni is on the same account for her Teaching in Higher Ed platform so we get to cheer each other on. It’s a blast. There are worse things to be addicted too, yes?

What is the app you are still missing?

I already feel like I underutilize so many of my current apps. Writing this is reminding me that I need to carve out some time to learn the advanced features on a few of them. Every time I’ve done that in the past, the time investment always pays off in the long-run.

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

The short answer? A lot. I work from home and almost all my work is virtual these days, so I choose to stay very connected. We have two children under the age of three, so there are days where a virtual office in my pocket is a life-saver.

That said, I’m intentional about staying off the phone with I’m with our kids or it’s family time. Over the summer, I found I was checking email too much when out and about with kids (Bonni and I aim to share equal time caring for them) so I took email off my phone completely for a month to break the habit. It worked - and today I keep the email app buried in a folder on the second screen. That helps and is a constant reminder to keep email to mostly scheduled work times.

I almost always leave my phone in my home office when work is done for the day and don’t pick it up again until well after kids are fast asleep. The only people I need to be instantly connected to in the evening are already in front of me.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

I’ve never been much into widgets. I’ve tried (and like) the OmniFocus and calendar widgets on my iPhone 6, but in practice I always just go right to the app.

One related hack I’ve found helpful is keeping my iPhone, iPad, and Macs on the 24-hour clock. This resolves two mental obstacles I have. First, since I do a lot of work virtually, I feel like the mental addition/subtraction of time zones when booking calls is way easier with the 24-hour clock. Second, the number of times I’ve missed alarms I set for the morning because I forgot to slide the “PM” to “AM” when setting a clock alarm is embarrassing. Problem solved on the 24-hour clock (although whatever weirdness going on in my brain likely remains).

I have very few badge notifications active since I only want to be annoyed with things I actually need to take action on (overdue OmniFocus tasks, my Drafts inbox, unread RSS feeds). Probably I should just take badged off my Unread app too since I seem to be chronically behind on RSS reading (who isn’t?)

Any favorite iOS 8 extensions?

I did a Snoopy dance when Pushpin updated their app recently with an extension that allows me to save links right into Pinboard. I use Pinboard for both my reading queue and bookmarking archive. I’ve used both Pocket and Instapaper before (and like them too) but I find it’s way simpler just to have it all in one place.

I’m also loving the new 1Password extension for iOS8. Populating passwords in Safari with Touch ID still warms my heart every time. iOS 8 was worth it for that extension alone.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

When the iPhone got slim enough to fit comfortably in a pocket a few years ago, I dumped my wallet and starting using iPhone wallet cases from SenaCases. I was initially disappointed to see the iPhone 6 get taller, cause I’d gotten used to the small profile of the iPhone 5 and dislike anything taking up more pocket space.

In practice through, I haven’t noticed a pocket real estate issue with the iPhone 6 and I have to admit that after a day, I fell in love with the larger screen. I’m now using the Heritage Wallet Book from SenaCases for this phone and love it.

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

Family sharing doesn’t seem to be all it was cracked up to be. It’s not making sense to have to pay for iTunes Match multiple times or in app purchases again for different IDs in the same house.

Between Bonni and I, we have something like four or five Apple IDs from various stages of Apple ecosystems over the years (.Mac, MobileMe, etc.) It doesn’t compute with me why Apple doesn’t have any option to merge purchase histories of Apple IDs and help people onto a single account. For now, we’re keeping all current/new app purchases on one family account.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

I’m pretty boring with wallpaper. The current one is an iOS default background. I pretty much always use one of the defaults on every device (the Macs I use already have the stock Yosemite photos on the desktops). I do have a photo of my son and I on my iPad lock screen, but that’s it. Probably there is something wrong with me.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I read all these home screen posts and love getting app ideas from others. Thanks to David for such a creative way for us all to learn from each other.

I feel like I’ve arrived now that I’ve been featured. It’s all downhill from here.

Thanks Dave.

App Specific Passwords

As Apple ups its game with two-factor authentication (you are using it, right?), you may find some of your apps suddenly stop recognizing your iCloud password. I've seen this in my life with Sanebox, Fantastical, BusyCal, and Dispatch just to name a few. In these instances, Apple stops recognizing your password and instead requires you to make an app-specific password just for that third party application. If you suddenly find yourself locked out of third party email, calendar, and other iCloud account related applications, you'll need to learn to set up your own app-specific passwords. It is not that difficult.

It all starts right here at the My Apple ID page.

You are going to want to bookmark the above link. You'll need it often as you are required to create app-specific passwords. The My Apple ID page gives you a few options. Click on "Mange your Apple ID".

Next, you'll need to insert your account credentials.

You'll also need to provide two factor verification to get in.

Once your in, click on the security pane and the app-specific passwords are available at the bottom of the right pane. 

Click on "Generate an App-Specific Password" and you'll walk through the process. First you'll name the App-Specific password. Name it after the app you intend to use it in. Then iCloud will spit out a new password. Use that in your designated third-party application and you're in.

You can even access (or revoke) prior app-specific passwords. While a bit inconvenient, this is absolutely do-able. Moreover, having app-specific passwords is much more secure. Given the amount of data and information in my iCloud account, the increased security is worth the time this takes to set up.

 

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 syntax. 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 an 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.