The OS X Beta Seed Program

Yesterday Apple announced its beta seed program, where non-developers can get in on early builds of OS X updates. I think it is simultaneously surprising and a great idea. It is surprising because … well … it's Apple and they just don't do things like this. However, at the same time, something like this is long overdue. Limiting the beta program to just developers and not including other types of users has left Apple blind in the past for some pretty significant bugs. Broadening the pool means better data and more bugs caught.

Having participated in Apple betas in the past, I do have some advice for you if you are considering taking the plunge:

1. Don't install early betas on a computer you want to get work done on. You will have apps break and be spending significant amounts of time nursing things along. Ideally, you'd install it on a second Mac for all but the latest of builds.

2. Don't bitch to developers about apps breaking in developer-build software. It makes tons of sense to inform developers when you catch bugs of their software in an operating system update. However, giving a poor review or expecting that they'll drop everything and patch for a still-unfinished operating system is just ridiculous.

A final question I have about all of this is why we are getting this now. It seems there is a lot of rumbling about Apple issuing a re-designed OS X this year to more closely parallel the new iOS look. If that is the case, I suspect they'll need more testers than ever and WWDC is just a few months away.

Unread 1.2

Version 1.2 of Unread (website)(iTunes) is now in the wild. If you are curious about an alternative take on an RSS iPhone app, I recommend it. The app has a personality that is, for lack of a better word, delightful.


 

The Incomparable Computer Draft

While at Macworld, I got to participate in the Incomparable podcast. I have to admit I was kind of giddy about being on The Incomparable, which is one of my favorite podcasts. We did a computer draft. I think I did pretty well, getting one computer that changed the world and another computer that fictionally created the world. You'll have to listen and decide for yourself.

Sponsor: OmniOutliner

I’d like to thank The Omni Group for sponsoring MacSparky.com this week. The Omni Group is a remarkable company. It is a group of extremely talented people all working hard at the goal of making the best possible Mac and iOS software. With their emphasis on gorgeous and functional productivity software, they’ve succeeded.

This week I'm featuring OmniOutliner. Often people will throw information at me in a jumbled mess. When that happens, there simply is no better tool than OmniOutliner for bringing order to chaos. Using OmniOutliner, I can quickly sort and organize information. I spent two hours in a meeting this morning and OmniOutliner bailed me out one more. OmniOutliner doesn’t just reference words but attachments too including links, images, sound files, and movies. The app even has the ability to record audio while you outline. This is so useful for students.

OmniOutliner 4 for the Mac is new and it's a fantastic upgrade. New features include:

  • A new user interface. I really like the way they've integrated the inspector.
  • A Resource Browser that displays recently edited files, lets you choose templates, and apply themes to existing documents
  • New and much improved Inspector window.
  • Works better cross platform with OmniOutliner 2 for iPad
  • Apply the styles from a template (its theme) to your outlines.
  • Pop-up List-styled columns benefit from the Smart Match technology in OmniFocus. 

A lot of work went into this and it is a really nice upgrade. They also have OmniOutliner 2 for the iPad and the two applications sync data seamlessly with the Omni Group’s very own OmniPresence syncing service. A good outliner can make your work product better and this is the best outliner available on the Mac and iPad. Go check it out.

Home Screen: Robert McGinley Myers

This week's home screen features Robert McGinley Myers (Twitter). Rob blogs over at Anxious Machine about "anxiety, technology, and scary things". I think Rob has a great voice. I really liked his recent piece on The Affordance of Intimacy and doing work on the iPad. Okay Rob, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

The apps that have had the most profound effect on how I use my iPad are Instapaper, Documents by Readdle (paired with PDF expert), Doceri, and Editorial.

I believe Instapaper (App Store) was the first app I ever bought for the iPhone, and it may have been the first app that showed me how apps could change my relationship to digital information. I had long been an avid reader of online journalism, and I had been hacking together my own ways of saving those articles for later by copying and pasting them into text documents, which I would then try to read on my smartphone. Marco Arment’s solution was so elegant that I’ve never looked back.

Instapaper still has the most options for beautiful typography, size, and spacing, and no other app does a better job of saving my place in the article. I know a lot of people have switched to Pocket (App Store), which may do a better job of parsing images and videos from a link, and I wish Instapaper would implement some form of tagging so that it would be easier for me to find articles I’ve saved, but for me there’s still no better app for simply reading.

As a college writing instructor, I also spend a huge part of my work life grading papers, and Documents by Readdle (App Store), paired with PDF Expert (App Store), has made me feel closer to and more in control of the papers I grade. I wrote about this in a blog post, The Affordance of Intimacy, but the short version is that I used to grade papers by tracking changes and inserting comments on my Mac. But PDF Expert gives me such a feature-rich experience of markup tools that I now grade everything on my iPad. And maybe it has something to do with the more direct experience of writing my comments on the screen itself, but I don’t dread the process of grading nearly as much as I used to.

One of my favorite features of PDF Expert is that you can zoom way into a document to write something, and then you have a handy little button to tap that will zoom all the way back out again. Another feature is that when you type or dictate text into a text box in the margin, PDF Expert automatically reformats the text so that it doesn’t overlap with any text in the document. I also love the seamless integration with Dropbox. My one wish is that someday Readdle will enable TextExpander snippets in the app (though I recently played with using Type2Phone to execute TextExpander snippets from my Mac to my iPad, and it works pretty well.)

Another app that has changed my work life as a teacher is Doceri (App Store) (an app I first heard about on an episode of MPU), which turns your iPad into a kind of smart-board replacement. The app pairs with a companion desktop app on the Mac (or PC) and allows you to annotate anything that’s appearing on your computer’s screen by writing on the iPad. I mainly use it in conjunction with Keynote. What I love is that I’m no longer bound merely by the content of the slide. I can put something on the screen for my students to consider, and then as we talk, I can draw and annotate the slide with whatever comes up.

Finally, I know a lot has already been written about Editorial (App Store), but I’m really not sure I would be a blogger without it. I used to contribute to a blog in my former job in public radio, but I never really blogged for myself until the summer of 2013, when I bought a book about Markdown and downloaded this app I’d read about in MacStories.

What amazed me about Editorial in conjunction with Markdown was how easy it was to read something in the attached browser, select text, quote it, and then insert a reference link, all just by tapping a few buttons. It felt like I was reaching into the web, grabbing a piece of it, and stitching it directly into my own tapestry. To me, the best blogs are records of interaction: a person reading the web and then reacting to it, adding his or her own thoughts. Editorial enables exactly that kind of blogging. I actually write more on my blog simply because I want to use Editorial more, and I can’t think of a higher complement.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

MG Siegler wrote a great post on his blog a while back about “The First App You Open in the Morning.” I remember reading it and realizing that the first app for me was always Reeder, my favorite RSS app. The reason I love it is the fact that it’s always delivering new things, but I’ve been wondering lately whether this is good for me.

I once had to take an aptitude assessment called StrengthsFinder, which is supposed to identify your top 5 “strengths,” to help you understand what you’re good at and why. My number one strength was “Input,” which essentially means I love acquiring new information. But I worry sometimes that my desire for the new distracts me from dwelling on the meaningful. I’m like a rat in a cage, endlessly pulling on the lever that will deliver a new pellet. I should be out exploring the world, or at least reading one of the longer pieces in my Instapaper queue. I like how the app Unread (App Store) tries to change how we read our RSS feeds, but I’ll be much more likely to use it when it’s on the iPad.

What is the app you are still missing?

For my to-do list, I use a mixture of Omnifocus (App Store) and Due (App Store), which are both wonderful. Omnifocus is the ultimate project management app because of its ability to show me precisely what I need to see at any given moment in my project. Due is the ultimate reminders app because of its ability to persistently remind me of what I need to remember to do. But neither quite meets my need for a “checklist” app.

I’ve been interested in checklists since I read Atul Gawande’s piece about them in the New Yorker, which he later turned into his book The Checklist Manifesto. His main thesis is that as our lives grow increasingly complicated, one way to reduce the number of errors we make is simply by using checklists for any complicated procedures we have to complete on a regular basis. Among other things, he writes about a group of hospitals that implemented a checklist to try to reduce the number of infections caused by intravenous lines. They simply asked all doctors and nurses to make sure specific items were checked off on a list of best practices every day.

Within the first three months of the project, the infection rate in Michigan’s I.C.U.s decreased by sixty-six per cent…In the Keystone Initiative’s first eighteen months, the hospitals saved an estimated hundred and seventy-five million dollars in costs and more than fifteen hundred lives. The successes have been sustained for almost four years—all because of a stupid little checklist.

In other words, checklists are powerful. Even if we think we know how to do something, our memory is always less reliable than a checklist. And yet, there doesn’t seem to be an app specifically designed for implementing checklists in our work lives. Most of my Omnifocus projects are really checklists, because I do the same things in the same order to prepare for each class I teach. I’m currently using Applescript templates to hack together something like checklists for Omnifocus, but I’d love an app that just does this one thing well.

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

The thing that often feels lacking at Apple for me is true respect and gratitude for the developer community. I know they give out Apple Design Awards, which is nice. And they love to cite how many billions of dollars developers have made in the app store (even though most of these are in app purchase dollars for mindless, addictive games). But I rarely get the impression Apple realizes that independent developers are actually the biggest asset Apple has. When I switched to using an Apple computer almost a decade ago, I thought I would get better hardware. But the main thing I got was better software, and that software was provided mainly by indie developers: apps like Omnifocus, Launchbar, 1Password, Textexpander, Keyboard Maestro, Fantastical, and so on. The list has only grown with the introduction of iOS.

Of course, Apple has done things that have helped developers, like creating app stores to help publicize and sell apps. But the chorus of frustration from developers continues to grow. The current implementation of sandboxing, first with iOS and then with the Mac App Store, cripple the power of many apps. And how long have developers been asking about trial versions and upgrade pricing? It would be one thing if Apple gave a clear answer for why they weren’t providing these options. But it’s quite another when developers are met simply with silence.

If I were in charge at Apple, I would acknowledge that my company had helped cultivate the greatest community of software developers imaginable, and that my company’s success depended on sustaining that community. I would do everything I could to communicate with that community, both by listening to their suggestions and ideas, and trying to implement the best of those ideas, so that those developers would continue to be enriched, both literally and figuratively, by developing for my platform.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

I remember Steve Jobs onstage at the introduction of the iPad, talking about how amazing it was to hold the internet in your hands. You wouldn’t think just bringing the screen closer to your hands would matter that much, but it does. My favorite feature of the iPad is how my favorite apps allow me to reach out and touch the content (for lack of a better word), to interact with it in novel ways. Whether that’s plucking articles out of the stream for reading later, reaching through a screen to write on a student’s paper or a Keynote slide, or stitching a bit of the web into my blog post, each of these apps enable new, more intimate relationships with digital information. And that still feels amazing.

Thanks Rob.

 

The Stump

I first received one of these stands in my speaker bag at Macworld several years ago. It's a piece of heavy rubber with a metal disk in the base to give it weight that you can easily drop an iPad or iPhone in when you want to prop it up.  I liked it so much I bought a second one for the office. Since then Stumps have multiplied like Tribbles in my home. When my daughter came back from a day on the Macworld show floor, it didn't surprise me in the least that she bought her own pink one for her room. The stump is a great piece of low-tech to make using your-high tech easier. Macworld agrees.

Sponsor: Rocket Matter

This week MacSparky.com is sponsored by Rocket Matter, the premier cloud-based law practice management solution. The folks at Rocket Matter get how to run your business in the Internet age and Rocket Matter is the place to go when you've finally had it with the expense and pain of trying to do it yourself. This week Rocket Matter is giving away a free ebook, Cloud Planet: The Mobile Lawyer. This book is full of tips and advice to get productive on the go. There are tricks and tips helpful to anyone in a service based business. Go check it out.

MPU 187: Word Processors

This week Katie and I dive deep on the current state of word processors on the Mac and iOS. We also talk about whether or not word processors even relevant in 2014. Sadly, we decided that for too many people (myself included), they are.

Thinking About the Hypothetical 12-inch Retina MacBook Air

When it comes to rumors, this is probably the last site you should read. If I actually know something, I’ll never tell. If I don’t know something, I’d be wasting your time. I can, however, share my nerd-lust for particularly juicy rumors. It seems like there is a lot of momentum building lately behind the idea of a 12-inch Retina MacBook Air, including this recent bit from Arnold Kim at Mac Rumors.

I don’t know if this is true or not but it makes a lot of sense. In size, I bet it wouldn’t be much bigger than the current 11-inch MacBook Air (that actually has an 11.6 inch screen and a wide bezel with plenty of space it could give up to a bigger screen). Acknowledging that I know nothing about what Apple intends to actually ship, I think it would also make a lot of sense to sell a small retina Mac and dump the existing 11-inch MacBook Air while leaving the non-retina 13-inch model for an entry level machine. My one question is battery life. The 11-inch form already has the least amount of space for batteries and retina screens are power-hungry. Last year we got a MacBook Air refresh at WWDC. June isn’t that far away. If you are in the market for a MacBook Air, I think now would be a good time to wait and see.

TextExpander touch 2.5 screencast

I had the pleasure of producing a video for Smile Software about the new features in TextExpander touch version 2.5. I’d like the think the video does a good job of getting you up to speed with TextExpander touch regardless of your experience with the app and demonstrates some of the new 2.5 features. The snippet group management is much improved. You can now watch, download, and otherwise consume it at Vimeo.

Weekend Project: Heartbleed Recovery Kit

There has been plenty of news about the Heartbleed bug this week. TidBITS did a great job summing it up. It appears something we all took for granted as really secure (Open SSL) really wasn't. As users that means we've potentially been compromised at a lot of websites. I say "potentially" because there is really no way to log incursions due to the nature of this bug. That's a little terrifying. So what should you be doing this weekend?

First take a look at this handy list from Mashable. If any of your vendors and online accounts show up as compromised AND fixed (that second part is important), log in and reset your password. If the site is compromised but not fixed yet, don't log in. In that case, don't touch it until it is fixed.

You all know how I'll be updating my passwords, with 1Password, which was not compromised. As an aside, someone at Macworld/iWorld asked me why I always change my major passwords (banking, iTunes, Amazon, Dropbox, Paypal) twice a year. Things like this are why (although in fairness this bug is so bad that wouldn't have saved me either).

Home Screens - Deron Bos

This week’s home screen features Deron Bos (website) (Twitter). Deron is, among many things, a dad, a professional organizer, and a geek. I love how Deron is bringing his love of Apple technology to his business. So Deron, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

Tweetbot

I heard the deafening nerd chorus of praise for this app for years, but it wasn’t until I started tweeting for my business and learning that Twitter is at its best when interacting that I fell in love with Twitter. Even still, my sometimes dominating Dutch cheapness, had me on the official Twitter app for sometime before I ponied up. Now I love it – the swipe to reveal conversations I use constantly and all its satisfying robot sounds are music to my young-on-Twitter heart. I liked it so much that I eventually even bought the $20 Mac version. Totally worth it, look forward to the iPad update…coming soon?

Habit List

I found out about this from David’s Macworld review and knew it would be a good replacement for Good Habits which lacked a sexy iOS 7 design or more importantly the versatilely to schedule certain habits for certain days. I’m mostly using to try to keep myself accountable for networking/social media work for my business, but I’m thinking about moving my morning routine from Reminders to here as well. The one thing I wish it had was the ability to have folders or different contexts, so that “Fill up Buffer with week’s worth of posts” wouldn’t be right on top of “Make boys’ lunches.”

Pushpin

I teach digital organization to my clients, but like any good organizer I’m still figuring it out myself. I’m experimenting with Pinboard after feeling like links and web research would get lost in Evernote. Right now my digital buckets look something like: notes in Simplenote (NVALT on the Mac), long, sprawling, story like articles in Instapaper, scanned PDFs and cold storage in Evernote, more visual organizing links in Pinterest, videos in Pocket, and occasional recipes in Pepperplate. It seems a bit spread out to me at times, but the everything bucket model just hasn’t worked for me in the past.

Downcasts

Yes, its ugly and yes, I’m waiting to see what Overcast is like, and yes, I still can’t fully figure out its playlist feature, but it does stream episodes which for binge-listening a podcast like Fizzle (by recent Home Screen subject Chase Reeves) is key. MPU is heavy in my rotation too along with The Disney Story Origins Podcast and How Did This Get Made?

Reminders

I use lists with different contexts (Phone calls, Computer, Home, Errands, etc) for a very simple GTD system. It works fairly well – almost all the apps I love now have Mac counterparts like this one.

Messages

I love the multi-platform functionality of iMessages. Moving the same conversation from my iPhone to my full Mac keyboard is completely satisfying. Especially when it’s reminding my NYC friend of his perjorative views of turning 40 when he was 25.

Google Voice

This app has always been a bit crappy and it’s probably never going to be updated, but I use GV as my business line so it’s on the home page. I had hopes for GV, but I think it’s going to be integrated into Hangouts which I used the other day for the first time in a very long time and found very pleasing in its design.

Day One

This app knocks it out of the park – in all its versions. I love that it’s plain text, makes a great photo journal, and tags make it easy to place different content (food journal, movie review journal, journal-journal) in one place. An everything-journaling bucket that does work for me.

Reeder

This is one of the first iOS apps I truly loved and it’s still killer for me: pleasurable reading experience with a ton of options to send to the other buckets.

Lyft

I drive part-time for Lyft and the experience itself (rather than the app) of routing rides through Los Angeles with these things still we still call “phones” seems like a huge tip of the iceberg of how integrated technology is radically changing life. It’s continually surprising to me. Plus cute icons.

Waze

I’ve used Waze since it was one of the few free GPS iOS apps and I have to say it’s improved hugely in three years – it often does a very effective job of getting me around LA traffic through some untraditional routes.

Fantastical

Best calendar app, EV-AH.

Chrome

I’m somewhat surprised that I look like Mr. Google here, because I’ve never had any interest in Android, but there are some Google web apps that I’ve used for years fondly like Gmail and Google Docs (now Drive.) I switched to Chrome on my Mac because Safari was crashing so much on me, and it’s been much more stable, but I’m not sure I have the same need for Chrome on iOS. Mobile Safari is very fluid and I might switch back soon.

Gmail

I made the switch to Gmail focused apps after suffering through the Mail-Mavericks debacle and reading Macsparky’s convincing argument for embracing the Gmail apps that fully feature its uniqueness. Among them I like the divided inbox the most on mobile and the ease that it can handle my four (four?!) different Gmail accounts easily in one app. There are some things I miss in iOS Mail, not least of all the way it handles text.

What app is your guilty pleasure?

I don’t feel guilty about it, but an app I love for casual reading is Zite. I was bummed to find out that Flipboard bought it, because I always found much more superior and surprisingly personalized content on Zite.

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

As the dad of two young boys, I still seeing having multiple user accounts on the iPad as low hanging fruit for the next version of iOS.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Thanks so much for asking – I think the home screens feature might have been how I found this blog originally so I feel honored to be featured.

Thanks Deron

MPU 186: MPU Live

We recorded our second live show last Saturday and we're getting better at it. This show includes feedback and listener ideas relating to email, AppleScript, OmniFocus, Hazel and more. I really like the ability to tackle listener feedback and ideas once a month. If you missed it live you can download it now. Also, check out the show notes at the above link. Hay Oborn is not messing around.

iPhone JD Reviews Microsoft Word for iPad

Not surprisingly, Jeff has done the best review of Word for iPad I've seen yet. I've been using Word for iPad in the day job since it released and, by and large, it delivers the tools I need to leave the MacBook in the bag. I had the unique experience of tracking changes on a contract I'm working on with another attorney a few days ago in my favorite comfy chair in the local Peet's. My Kudos to the Microsoft team that delivered this as a really functional product. I hope they bring some of the innovation back to the Mac from the iPad version. Based on this interview, it appears they will. I still think Word is overkill for most people but if you need Word, things just got a lot easier on the iPad.

Pebble Resurrection

I remember when the Pebble was the Kickstarter darling and everybody was talking about it. I got sucked into the hype and put down my money. I was happy to wait a few  months before my Pebble arrived so I could see the next innovative smart watch. 

Then I waited, and waited, and waited.

I really can't begrudge the Pebble team. They started with a small project that unexpectedly turned into a massive project. I'm sure with the huge success came a million small problems they never anticipated they would have. 

Nevertheless, it took them way too long to deliver the product. When they finally did deliver, they got lackluster reviews and my own watch didn't get shipped to me until months after the original products went out. (The problem was I chose to get an orange one and it turns out it took them a lot longer to sort the color out.) There were black ones in stores already, the Pebble was old news, and my "early adopter" reward came months late. I was sick of the Pebble before it even arrived. 

When it arrived, I played with it for about 30 minutes but was unimpressed with the build quality, the software, and the screen. I put it in a drawer. I didn't even write it up here because by the then, the story was already months old.

So this year at Macworld I noticed a lot of friends wearing Pebble watches. These weren't the fancy new metal ones but the first-generation plastic watches, like the one sitting in my drawer at home. I got curious and finally asked a few people to show me their watch and it turns out Pebble has improved the software quite a bit since the last time I looked at it. I decided to give it another chance. Upon returning home I pulled it out, charged it, updated the software, and I've now been been wearing it for a few weeks. With the new software, the watch is actually a lot better than it was the first time I played with it. 

As a timepiece the display is still pretty ugly and low contrast. It does, however, stay on and I dont' have to push a button to see the time. Some of the faces incorporate extra data, like the weather. These require that your phone be close to your watch in effort to stay updated. Also, it appears that if the iPhone drops the Pebble app in the background, the data stream ends. There are some fun watch faces ranging from traditional to experimental. There are also novelty faces like a traditional Mickey Mouse watch and another one that looks like the Star Trek LCARS interface. My favorite is a simple display of time with digits and the current weather.

The Apps are interesting. They can provide a lot more information and some have accompanying iPhone applications. I've got a few apps running on it (including a tea timer) and I've downloaded several others. Overall, the more complicated apps are not ready for prime time. They take too much fiddling with the watch buttons to get data and with that eInk screen, really don't offer much of a payoff. I think that if you want anything remotely complicated, pull your phone out of your pocket.

The notifications, however, are another thing entirely. I really like getting text messages and other iOS notifications on my wrist. Often my phone vibrates in my pocket but I'm too busy to pull it out and check. Then, of course, I later forget to look at why the notification came in. Now I can just look at my wrist. I definitely see the benefit of this. I also like the ability to control my music from my wrist, especially when my phone is on the other side of the room in its cradle and streaming to SONOS or my office Bluetooth speaker.

Overall, I'm still not entirely thrilled with this watch. It feels pretty cheap and the design feels like Soviet-era public housing. There's probably a lot of good reasons for these massive buttons on the side and the otherwise blocky design of the overall watch but I wish they made it a little more subdued and refined. I do, however, appreciate this watch for finally getting through to me why a notification watch would make sense.

I'm very curious to see what Apple does in this space (or even if they make a watch at all). I'm also curious to see how often I'm wearing my Pebble in six months. For now at least I'm going to start wearing it a lot more often.