Home Screens – Michael Tsai

This week’s home screen features Michael Tsai (Website) (Twitter). Among many other talents, Michael is a smart Mac developer with some great Mac apps like SpamSieve, EagleFiler, and DropDMG. So Michael, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

I really admire Fantastical and Weather Line. They provide basically the same functionality as the built-in Calendar and Weather apps, but the information is presented in a much better way.

Timer is like this as well. It’s both easier (single tap for common times) and more powerful (names, multiple times running at once).

I use the Camera app all the time. It’s amazing how much the quality has improved since the first iPhone. I rarely carry a real camera anymore.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Tweetbot and Overcast. Both are very useful, of course, but I spend more time in them than I probably should. I feel a bit guilty using Overcast because there are always new podcast episodes, and so I feel like I’m not making enough time for music anymore.

What app makes you most productive?

OmniFocus is the most important app that I use. From the iPhone, I use it to collect ideas and notes throughout the day, which I usually process on my Mac. TextExpander touch is a great help here; I don’t have it on my home screen because I pretty much always use it from within OmniFocus. Of course, I also use OmniFocus as a checklist for the things I’m doing.

1Password, Editorial, and Readdle Documents are great for accessing my account information and files of various kinds.

Rain  also makes me productive by helping me to sleep.

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

I have Workflow installed but haven’t had a chance to do anything with it. I should probably install Pythonista.

I’ve been entering my weight into Health but otherwise haven’t done much with the app.

I definitely could spend more time reading with the Instapaper and Kindle apps.

What is the app you are still missing?

For years, I’ve wanted f.lux to be in the App Store. That’s not possible, but Apple is adding Night Shift in iOS 9.3.

I want Apple to make the Videos app much better or add APIs so that third-party developers can make an alternative, the way I can use Ecoute instead of Music.

I’d like a camera app that can lock the HDR feature on. I’ve tried lots of alternatives to the built-in Camera app, but they all seem to be slower and/or harder to use.

Of course, I’d like to bring SpamSieve and EagleFiler to iOS.

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

I don’t know. I wish iOS were more open so that it would be possible to write an app to answer this question, e.g. like RescueTime on the Mac. There are lots of interesting software ideas that don’t really fit into iOS’s idea of apps.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

I have not found that I use Today View very much now that Touch ID is so fast. Right now I’m using Fantastical and Apple’s Batteries and Find Friends widgets.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone?

Well, I think the magic is in the combination of features all in one device that fits in my pocket. So maybe the size, if that is a feature.

Otherwise, in terms of hardware features: the camera, GPS, and Touch ID.

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

I would put more of the software focus on fixing bugs.

I would make lots of changes to the App Store: trials, upgrades, faster and more consistent App Review, a way for customers and developers to communicate. I’d also allow sideloading of apps that aren’t in the store.

I would make iCloud and iTunes backups more granular, so that people could, for example, restore the data for a single app without overwriting everything else on the device.

I would make the iPhone thicker and less rounded–more like the iPhone 5s shape. The iPhone 6s is just not comfortable to hold without a case, and cases are bulky and sticky in my pocket. If I’m going to thicken my phone to make it easier to hold, I’d rather thicken it with a larger battery than an inert case.

Do you have an Apple Watch? Show us your watch face tell us about it.

No. I like not wearing anything on my wrist. I think if I had an Apple Watch I would still be reaching into my pocket all the time because the iPhone is faster and can do so much more.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

My lock screen shows a photo that I took of the fire tower on Mt. Cardigan. That was the first image I chose when I got the original iPhone, and I haven’t seen a need to change it. I added a transparent overlay at the bottom that has instructions for how to access my emergency contacts and health information (by swiping right on the lock screen).

Anything else you’d like to share?

I have both Overcast and Downcast installed because Downcast makes it easy to play ad-hoc audio files that I’ve downloaded or created myself (e.g. by extracting the audio from WWDC sessions or YouTube videos).

Similarly, I have both Instapaper and Pocket installed because I like having two separate buckets for saving links. Instapaper is for articles that I want to read on my iPhone, whereas Pocket is for marking links from the iPhone that I want to process on my Mac. I only ever use it from action sheets in other apps, so it’s not on the home screen.

Thanks Michael.

Paying for BetterTouchTool

I’ve written about BetterTouchTool in the past (most recently here) and also talked about it on the Mac Power Users. This Mac utility dramatically improves the functionality of your trackpad, mouse, and other input devices. I’ve worried about BetterTouchTool though. My concern has never been the software itself. The developer continues to add new features all the time.

Instead I’ve worried about the fact that it is free. As the software became more complex, I knew maintenance and support had to be time consuming. Nobody can support software this good for free forever and still put bread on the table.

I’m pleased to see that is changing. BetterTouchTool is now on a paid model. The developer has made this as gentle as possible with a “pay what you think it’s worth” system. If you use the application as much as I do, I recommend you pay generously. As explained on BetterTouchTool’s website:

“I understand the concern [about requiring payment]. However I think this is still much better than abandoning BetterTouchTool development.”

Support the software you love if you want to keep it.

iPhone Divergence

There are a lot of rumblings lately about divergence of features in the iPhone 7. Some reports say Apple is serious about a smaller phone that will lose some of the features found in the current iPhone 6s line. Other reports, like this one, explain that the iPhone 7 Plus is going to get a dual-lens system that will give it a significantly better camera than the iPhone 7.

The interesting question for me in all of this is whether Apple would be willing to start separating the iPhone line with differing product features. The case against it is pretty obvious. When people go into the Apple Store to buy a new phone, they want it to be a simple decision. There is nothing easier than saying, “They are all the same. Pick your screen size and you’re good.” Not only does this make things easier for consumers, it also eliminates the inevitable frustration that comes from people that want a smaller screen but also the best possible camera. But this, of course, isn’t even true with the current iPhones where the Plus phones have image stabilization features that the standard line does not.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but think that Apple’s preference would be to keep the phones as similar as possible. However, the market brings its own pressures. Android phones are a lot better than they used to be and Apple is quite serious about making the iPhone the best mobile phone on the market. Repeatedly Apple has shown its dedication to the iPhone camera system. So given this pride in the iPhone and the continuing press of competition, would Apple diverge the lines to such an extent to put a dual-lens camera in the iPhone 7 Plus? I think they would.

Not only do I think they would, I also think they should. Artificially holding specific models back because other models can’t support the same features seems silly to me. If you can put a better lens system in one phone, then you should. Consumers will sort it out and I’m sure it will result in some people upgrading to the bigger (and presumably more profitable) phone. When it comes to the iPhone, I don’t think Apple should hold back. If Apple is going to continue to succeed with the iPhone, it needs to continue making the best possible iPhone it can.

Home Screens - Garren Rose

A few months ago I started corresponding with Garren Rose, an IT student at Arizona State University who is using the heck out of his iPad Pro. Garren was nice enough to share his iPad Pro home screen and explain some of his favorite apps. So Garren, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

I’ll admit, when I got the iPad Pro last month, I went a little nuts in the app store. My sister gave me an iTunes gift card to get me started, and then I spent the next few days in a blur of pure joy and reckless financial ruin. After the dust settled, I ended up with some great new favorites, and I’ve barely even scratched the surface of what’s available:

Pixelmator - I rushed to this app first because I’ve been a big fan of the desktop version for a long time and I was excited to be able to sync my projects between devices. What I did not expect, however, was how crazy-intuitive, racked with new features, and FUN the iOS version would be. I used it right away to touch up my family’s holiday card and it couldn’t have been easier. 

Korg iMS–20 - I’m a big synth nerd and I’ve been waiting years for Korg to release a reliable, non-crashy version of this app. I’m happy to say, the wait is over! The UI looks intimidating because it is designed to look exactly like the real Korg MS–20, but it’s incredibly user-friendly and comes with fantastic documentation. I port it into Garageband when I’m on-the-go so I can save my little synth hooks to use in bigger Ableton projects on my Mac later. 

MacID - Every time I use MacID, I feel like a straight-up wizard. This piece of software is seriously genius. It gives paranoid (security-minded) people like me the ability to lock and unlock their Macs securely from an iPad, iPhone, or Apple Watch. With Touch ID enabled, the process becomes ridiculously simple and fast. Now, I don’t ever have to waste time pecking in my gibberish password 20+ times a day. The iOS version also lets me control iTunes on my Mac, in case I want to rock out while I lock out.

Screens - This app has saved me two grand by keeping me from needed to replace my aging (but functional) Macbook Pro. I commute far to school and lugging the 15” Macbook Pro Retina every day was starting to take a serious toll on my machine. With Screens, I can leave my Mac safely at home on my desk and access it remotely from my iPad Pro whenever I need to grab a small file or work in any of my desktop software. One downside for iPad Pro users: if you use one of the smart keyboards, you’ll have to disconnect it and use the normal touch keyboard while logged in to your Mac. Hopefully Edovia has an update for us in the pipeline.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

My guilty pleasure app is BaconReader, a reddit client. I spend far too much time on it—it’s my go-to “I’m bored right now” app. I’m referred to as a “lurker” on reddit, which means I soak up all the interesting things that other users post, and in return, contribute nothing to the conversation. I am a terrible redditor, admittedly. But it’s addicting.

I’ve tried all of the big reddit clients out there, including their own homegrown Alien Blue, but none have been as easy to browse or operate as BaconReader. 

What app makes you most productive?

There are two apps that tie for me in the productivity department: 2Do and LastPass.  

2Do is my task manager and my calendar, combined. It is a phenomenal task manager; it syncs seamlessly over CalDAV via the Reminders app to all of my devices, leaving me with no excuse not to get those tasks checked off every day. If you’re someone who needs a ton of customization options in your task manager, consider 2Do. It’s packed with more features than you’d ever need so that you can find a combo that suits your lifestyle.

LastPass is my password manager of choice. From what I hear on MPU, it seems to have a lot of the same features as 1Password, but without the added "Team” element. It was reasonably priced for a year of premium, so I went for it, and I have had no complaints whatsoever. The UI is slick, organized, and consistent across every platform I’ve needed it on. I can’t believe how many passwords I used to carry around in my head all the time. Additionally, the app recently added action support, so accessing my passwords in any iOS browser is cake!

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

IF and DO Button (IFTTT apps) - I jumped on the Wemo train this year and purchased some components for my home. I’ve had a pretty good experience so far; it’s nice to not have to get up to flip the lights off while I’m working or watching TV, but I would love to incorporate more automation into the setup. I’ve read enough about IFTTT to know I could be living that sweet fully-automated life if I just sat down and messed with it for an hour. 

What is the app you are still missing?

I just want to see more apps that implement VR headset technology like Google Cardboard. Despite the old stigma, VR is not a novelty anymore and it’s certainly not going away. Look at the incredible following and praise Oculus has already drummed up! I say Apple should go all in and get to work on the iHolodeck. 

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

Between work, school, and wasting time, it’s got to be in the hundreds. I have them on me constantly!

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

QuickSwitch - QuickSwitch is an alternative app to control Wemo devices, but I bought it specifically because it includes the widget element, whereas the official Wemo app did not. Now it’s just one simple swipe down and I can toggle or adjust all of my devices.

2Do - The little 2Do widget can be customized to display whichever lists the main app that I designate, but I like to keep mine set to only show overdue tasks that I’ve tagged as “important," but still haven’t completed. When my alarm wakes me up in the morning and I want to roll back over to sleep, that’s when this widget really shines. My workflow is simple: swipe down to access the widget, glance over the ultra-crucial tasks I didn’t do yesterday, panic while imagining the consequences, and just like that, I’m up! Carpe diem!

MacID - From this widget, I can lock/unlock my Mac, start a screensaver, or send the iPad’s secure clipboard data to the Mac—all with just one swipe down and one tap. 

Evernote - I love how Evernote is all about accessibility. This widget acts as a launcher for creating/adding new Evernote elements on-the-fly. It can also search through my indexed notes and preview my most recently viewed ones for quick access. 

What is your favorite feature of the iPad Pro?

My favorite feature of the iPad Pro has got to be the screen real estate, especially when combined with the split screen multitasking technology we got with iOS 9. I use this feature all the time to quickly respond to messages without interrupting my workflow. I can’t imagine ever going back!

What’s your wallpaper and why?

My wallpaper is a digital painting by my incredibly talented girlfriend Megan. She made it on her iPad Mini 4 using the Paper 53 Pencil.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I just want to say thank you for all the guidance and encouragement you give to Mac nerds like me, and that it’s a huge privilege to contribute to Home Screens!   Oh, and I’ll give a shout out to the fantastic ASU Polytechnic School IT Program. Go Devils!

Deliveries for Package Delivery Tracking

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Like a lot of people these days, I tend to buy things on the Internet. Many years ago I started using an app on the Mac called Deliveries from Junecloud. Well, it actually wasn’t app is much as it was a widget. (Remember those?) Deliveries was the most often used widget ever loaded on my Mac. Whenever I bought something new and shiny, it would help me track it as it moved around the world and eventually found its way to my doorstep.

Over the years, Junecloud has continued development and Deliveries has evolved. It’s now a separate application on the Mac and iOS. (They even support the Apple Watch.) The two platforms synchronize data between them so you can input data about your new iPad Pro pencil Mac and track it on its journey from China from your phone in your pocket. A few competitors have shown up but Deliveries still remains my favorite application for tracking packages.

This morning I happily received the 7.0 update to Deliveries on iOS with several new and useful features including:

  • Support for 3-D touch with peek and pop and Quick Action items from springboard.
  • Support for the iPad Pro and iPad keyboard shortcuts.
  • iCloud sync (The Mac App also got an iCloud sync update.)
  • Deliveries is now a sharing destination so you can share a delivery email directly to the app

It’s nice to see an app with the long history of Deliveries continue to get updates and, even after years of development, new and useful features. You can find Deliveries in the Mac App Store and iOS App Store.

Office for iOS Gets More Cloud-Friendly

Today Microsoft announced extended support for third-party file storage services inside the Office for iOS apps. This is a big deal for iPad workers.

This feature first rolled out a few months ago with Dropbox and now they've added Box. The advantage of this new integration is that you can open, edit, and save file stored in your cloud storage without making a separate copy in the Office for iOS app. This is always how you edited files on the Mac but up until very recently was impossible on an iPad or iPhone. Instead, iOS required you to make a local copy in and then re-upload it to the cloud service later. (And in the first days of the iPad you had to transfer documents using iTunes on the Mac and a cable.) Any file system that requires you to make multiple copies of a document in order to edit it will one editable result in lost data and many tears.

So Office for iOS now lets us work directly on files in Dropbox or Box without any multiple-copy shenanigans. All of this happens right from the Open menu. I've been working with my Dropbox documents in this manner since it first rolled out and it works great. Microsoft intends to add additional services in the coming months.

Unfortunately, missing from the list is iCloud and that is too bad. Currently, you can access your iCloud storage from inside Microsoft Office for iOS apps but when you open the file, it gets copied to the the Microsoft One Drive storage space and and the original gets left on iCloud. Again, you'll be working with multiple documents.

It seems to me that Star Wars isn't the only place where we've had an awakening. Microsoft has been upping its game for the iOS Office suite. I spend a significant amount of time in Microsoft Word and Excel with my day job and lately I'm finding the iOS versions of the the Office Suite more interesting, more stable, and more fun to use than their companion Mac versions. Moreover, with these continued updates it seems like there are no signs of Microsoft letting up. We are no longer dealing with the same Microsoft Word we saw just a few years ago and I like that.

34,000 IPH

Today was Apple's earning's call. There was lots of interesting information and again Apple earned enough money to fill a super-tanker with $1,000 bills. The most interesting stat I heard was that last quarter Apple sold 34,000 iPhones per hour (IPH). Every hour. 34,000.

I had never thought much about Apple's IPH number but 34,000 is crazy. That means they've got to build, ship, sell, and activate 816,000 iPhones a day. Has manufacturing somethings as complicated as an iPhone on this scale ever been done? Congratulations Apple on this amazing accomplishment.

Sponsor: SaneBox

This week MacSparky is sponsored by SaneBox. SaneBox is my secret weapon in the war against email and it can be yours too. SaneBox is server based so it can work with any email client. I use it with Apple Mail.

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.

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.

iPhone Owners Still Buy More Apps

Chance Miller at 9to5 Mac reports app sales on iOS are currently earning 75% more revenue than Google’s Play Store. For years I’ve noticed that Android owners simply don’t buy applications. Ask your Android-wielding friends to show you their phone and you’ll find a lot of free stuff and little, if anything, that they actually paid for.

Subconsciously, I’d assumed that had changed over the last few years as the Android phones have become higher-quality but apparently it has not. App Annie, the analytics company that supplied the data for the above article says they track more than 1 million applications and iOS revenue is still eclipsing that in the Google Play Store.

I don’t think it is as simple as Android owners are cheaper than iPhone owners. I think it’s more about the fact that iPhone owners (or at least a significant segment of them) are choosy about their software and more likely to pay for it. An addition point in favor of Apple is that people are also quite used up giving money to Apple for iTunes and generally trust the system. This makes it a lot easier to buy games and the inevitable in-app purchase that come with games, which the above-cited article explains earned $1 billion in revenue in December.

My OmniFocus Courses at Lynda.com

I recently had the privilege of spending a week at the Lynda.com studios recording screencasts about OmniFocus. It was a lot of fun and now the courses are available for viewing and download to Lynda member. There are two courses:

OmniFocus for Mac Essential Training

OmniFocus for iOS Essential Training

If you are a Lynda subscriber (or know a Lynda subscriber) please watch the screencasts and spread the word. I’m quite proud of them.

HomeKit, Where Art Thou?

I don’t think I’m alone in my disappointment with HomeKit. First announced in June 2014, it feels as if HomeKit has never really received the attention due to it. In the SixColors 2015 Apple report card, HomeKit did the worst with a grade of “D”.

There are apps that now support HomeKit. I use Siri to turn on and off my Hue Lights for instance. However, it is hardly seamless or, for that matter, easy to set up, comprehend, and use.

Apple even has a fancy website explaining all the nifty things you can do with HomeKit. However, despite being a super-nerd, I don’t know anyone who has gone all-in with HomeKit for home automation.

I think that home automation is now more on people’s minds than it ever has been. I also think now is a great time for Apple to step in with a single solution. It seems that the existence of HomeKit indicates at least a few people at Apple agree with me. The unanswered question is why haven’t they been pressing down the gas pedal on this?

If I had to guess I’d say it’s been difficult getting all the third party vendors on board but now it’s been over a year and a half and that excuse sounds stale. In the time that has elapsed so far, Apple could have made its own home automation hardware.

Another solution that is entirely within Apple’s Control is to create a HomeKit app. Right now, you must go to settings and third party applications to take advantage of HomeKit features, which is nuts. The iPhone should have one centralized place to manage all HomeKit enabled devices. You should even be able to mix and match between HomeKit devices in that hypothetical app so your lightbulbs turn on when the front door unlocks.

There are a lot of people out there that would love to further automate their homes but are not willing to jump through all of the hoops. This seems like the kind of problem Apple can crush. I sincerely hope HomeKit gets some serious love with iOS 10.

Sponsor: OmniFocus

This week MacSparky is sponsored by OmniFocus. We are all busy. We all have multiple commitments. In the modern world, it is very easy to wake up in the morning with a sense of dread and foreboding. You know you have a lot of tasks to do and a lot of commitments to keep. The problem is you don’t know where to start.

OmniFocus solves that problem. It’s a task management application for big boys and big girls. I hear from readers and listeners every day that use OmniFocus to make amazing things happen in their lives. As we are entering the new year, if you are having trouble keeping up with everything, now is the time. All I ask is that you give a half day to learning OmniFocus. Watch my video or watch some of the great materials on the Omni Group’s Inside OmniFocus website. Then download the free trial and spend some time familiarizing yourself with it. Once you understand how it all works, the magic starts.

One of the great things about OmniFocus is that the development team never sleeps. They’re constantly striving to make the application better in all of its iterations. This was evidenced most recently when Apple gave it a “Best of 2015” award for their Apple Watch OmniFocus app.

Learn more directly from the Omni Group. Thank you OmniFocus for sponsoring MacSparky and all the help you give me with my task lists every day.