I spent some time today searching through the Mac App Store for an app that would monitor the battery status of my keyboard, mouse, and trackpad and put them in my notification center. I was unsuccessful (development opportunity!) but while searching, I did stumble upon Boss Radar. Boss Radar will monitor the bluetooth signal of any device it sees and let you know when that device is close. It could, for instance, watch out for your boss's cell phone bluetooth signal. When the device gets close, Boss Radar, will do things like change wallpaper, stop music, open up documents, and change browser pages. As the developer explains, it will make it appear as if you have "god-like focus". I didn't download Boss Radar and I really don't have any need for it but the fact that: a) a Mac developer thought of it, and b) a Mac developer actually built it and now sells it for three bucks explains exactly why I love Mac developers.
Walt Mossberg has an interesting piece explaining what he calls the Mac's second act. He makes a lot of good points about why Mac market share continues to rise. I agree with most of his points but I also think he left a few out. The rise of Windows happened at a time when most computer purchases were made by companies, not individuals. Back then the decision was driven by people that administrated computer networks, not people that worked at the computers being purchased. That's not true any more. (Or at least not as true.) Nowadays, a lot of people buy their own computers and are more discriminating.
Another reason for the Mac's success is that the Apple tax, is now largely fictional. Macs aren't as inexpensive as junk computers but their pricing is right in there for comparable Windows PCs. That wasn't true the first go-around.
This is probably a lawyer thing but I often find myself adding signature lines to the bottoms of documents, particularly contracts. Something like this.
Dated: November __, 2014 ________________
I was doing this the other day for about the millionth time in my 21-year career as an attorney when it occurred to me I could automate this with TextExpander. Here is my new snippet
The first bit:
Dated: %B __, %Y ____________________________
This creates a line with the date using the format of Current Month __, Current Year (e.g. November __, 2014). Then it tabs and and draws a line for the signature.
The second bit:
This repeatedly bangs the tab key and then dumps the contents of the clipboard.
The way I use this is to select the person's name from somewhere else in the document, copy it, and then fire off the snippet at the bottom. I use xsigline to trigger this snippet.
This is probably a lawyer-only thing but I do know a few lawyers read this site. Either way, you can download the snippet here.
A few weeks ago I wrote about my problems getting documents to sync with iCloud Drive. In response, I heard from several developer friends telling me that things were about to get better and to install the 8.1.1 developer preview. So I did. After using it for a week, and the beta going out to the wild yesterday, I'm pleased to report iCloud Drive document syncing is loads better with the latest updates. This morning I spent 30 minutes moving between my iPad and Mac on a large numbers spreadsheet and both devices were keeping up. In short, iCloud document syncing is manageable again. Third party apps, like Drafts and Mindnode, are also seeing the benefits of this update. If you've been waiting, or had a bad prior experience, update your Mac and iOS devices with yesterday's updates and give it a try for yourself.
The reason I've been so critical of iCloud lately is because I haven't dismissed it. I see real potential to using Apple's cloud solution. I like its tight integration with the operating system and since I'm using all Apple hardware, it just makes sense for me. I'm also considering going deeper into tagging and assuming that Apple tags will be better supported with an Apple cloud. I hope the problems of last month are initial stumbles. For now, I'm just happy to see the service working again as expected.
My friend Josh Centers, just wrote a new book about getting your arms around the iOS 8 update. If you’re having trouble with new version or would just like to get a little better at it, look no further than the iOS 8 Crash Course.
The Transporter has always been a consumer focussed product, until now. With the recent arrival of the Transporter Genesis, companies can host up to 24TB of data from their own server, effectively controlling their own cloud. A few years ago I wondered how long it would be before people could create their own cloud hosted data solutions from their own offices. It turns out we didn't have to wait very long at all.
Hoban Press is sponsoring MacSparky.com this week. I’ve heard from many readers that love their Hoban Cards pressed out of Hoban’s 1902 letterpress machine. Hoban has been advertising at MacSparky for a few years now and Evan has officially quit his day job to spend his full time at Hoban Press. I encourage you all to support him.
Hoban Press specializes in custom letterpress printed items like Business Cards and Stationery. This is the best choice if you need to use your own logo or artwork. They also provide design and layout services.
Hoban Cards specializes in in minimal calling cards. This is a less expensive way to get into letterpress printing. Pick from among 12 beautiful, typographic calling card templates. These are perfect for individuals or businesses looking for a unique and classy alternative to conventional, mass produced, soulless business cards.
There is no doubt I’m a geek but I have to admit I really love handing out letterpress cards … like a gentleman. Use ‘MacSparky’ during checkout to receive free shipping.
I wrote about Monument Valley when it first released. This game really pushes my buttons. I like the puzzle nature and the wonderful visual treats of watching everything unfold when you figure it out. Now they've got an update, The Forgotten Shores. It is just a $2 in-app upgrade and worth every penny.
I stumbled on this video and enjoyed it. One of the difficulties I face in doing my day job and MacSparky both as, essentially, full time gigs, I always feel compressed over time and commitments. This resonated with me.
This week’s home screen features Stephen Grassie. Stephen pays for his shoes helping attorneys with courtroom technology but he also played a hand in the Brain Fuel Cookbook (made with iBooks Author) about eating better. So Stephen, show us your home screen.
What are some of your favorite apps?
I find that the apps I value the most are the ones that make my life easier. I can’t decide if that makes me smart or just lazy!
Pinbox is one of those simple apps that does one thing so well it feels frictionless. I enjoy researching plans before a trip, but I don’t like deciding on a specific itinerary of when to do things once I arrive. Pinbox lets me skip the itinerary by creating a custom map with as many location marker pins as I want—I just drop a pin on my hotel and then on any other location I might want to visit. At any point during the trip, I can open Pinbox and see a map of places I’ve saved compared to my location and decide what to do next. The app is quick and intuitive, but I hope the developer will add a few features like iPad optimization and map sharing.
Chronicle reminds me of upcoming bills in the era of paperless billing. Using it is so quick that I don’t find myself putting off adding new bills or updating balances. When a due date approaches, the app uses the standard red notification badge as well as notifications to make sure I don’t forget anything. (It also has a great Mac companion app if you prefer paying bills on your Mac.)
Paprika makes the process of cooking at home much easier. I really wasn’t much of a cook when I began working on the iBooks version of Sam Anderson’s cookbook, and I found myself struggling with the process of deciding what to cook and then figuring out what ingredients I needed. Even worse, when I forgot to plan a meal or to buy an ingredient, I’d end up wasting a lot of time going to the store again. Luckily, after adding my favorite recipes to Paprika, the process of deciding what to cook for the week and what ingredients to buy became so quick that I now often do it while sitting in the parking lot at the grocery store right before I walk in. It even exports your grocery list to the built in Reminders list.
Squarespace’s Blog app was a bonus I wasn’t expecting when I signed up. The app itself is unabashedly simple without being limiting.
Idea Bucket has a confusing name—it’s more like a pro/con list on steroids. When I am having a hard time making a decision, I’ll add the options to Idea Bucket and then add a few pros and cons to each. The app is different because it uses weighted slider bars rather than a standard list. Once I’ve gone through the process of entering the data, I can usually tell right away which option makes the most sense. I don’t use this app daily, but when I do use it I’m glad I have it.
iCam lets me use standard webcams as home security cameras and lets me check the cameras and recorded motion events from anywhere. I use it to check on the dog and see if I closed the garage door. It can even send you a push notification if it detects motion.
SimpliSafe is a modern DIY home alarm system. Shortly after installing it, we were on a cruise and couldn’t remember if we’d set the alarm. I pulled out my phone and armed it from the middle of the Caribbean and felt pretty darn cool. We even have a sensor in our mailbox that sends a push notification when the mail is delivered.
iBooks, of course! I greeted iBooks with great skepticism when it launched because I just couldn’t see myself reading full-length books on my iPad. Luckily I stumbled upon Paperless (by you know who!) and my eyes were opened to the cool new type of books that were possible on the iPad. These days, the first place I look when I need to learn something new is the iBooks Store.
Filemaker Go blows me away. I have always found cool uses for Filemaker on the desktop, but the iPad version has reached the point that it almost seems like magic.
Which app is your guilty pleasure?
An oldie but goodie is Voices 2, a voice changing and recording app. It probably takes the award for both the oldest iOS app I still use as well as one of the most beautifully designed. It is so much fun to open Voices and pass the app around to kids and adults until everyone is laughing at all the different ways it can change your voice. I keep hoping that the developer will release a version for the iPad one of these days, but I should probably give up hope at this point!
I also enjoy the Amazon Windowshop iPad app. Its my go-to when trying to find a gift for someone without knowing exactly what I’m looking for. Using Windowshop reminds me of browsing in an actual retail store, because it is easy to stumble across something cool that I didn’t know existed.
What is the app you are still missing?
Not an app, per se, but I’m still holding out hope for a more useful lock screen. I haven’t really found my stride with Notification Center, and notifications in general seem intrusive and distracting. A customizable lock screen would be a huge boon for me.
And of course, Scrivener for iPad!
How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?
I have purchased every single iPhone so far on release day, but I recently made the big switch from a iPhone 6 Plus to a very simple feature phone that doesn’t even include a camera. The iPhone is incredible, but I started to notice that it was taking away about as much (or more) from my life as it was adding to it. Fast LTE internet access in my pocket made it far too easy to squander time, and being so connected made it hard for me to be alone with my thoughts. After 7 years of near-constant smartphone use, giving it up has been surprisingly easy (so far).
I still use my iPad a few times a day, but it is much easier to manage how much of my attention I give to the iPad since it doesn’t fit in my pocket and go everywhere with me.
What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?
Hands down: Siri’s voice dictation. Typing on the iPad isn’t bad, but not having to type is great!
If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?
I would slow everything down (just a little). I used to trust that when Apple released something, it would work as described – and beautifully! I feel like software updates have been coming so quickly for the last few years that Apple is having a hard time keeping up with the changes. I’d much rather wait on a polished product than have something that is almost ready (or full of compromises). A recent example: I couldn’t believe the convoluted words coming out of my mouth while I tried to explain to a friend why they should not activate iCloud Drive.
What’s your wallpaper and why?
The grass texture is one of the original wallpapers included with Mac OS 7.5. A while back I booted up an old Mac and experienced instant nostalgia from the desktop pattern alone, so I took screenshots of a few favorites and have been rotating through them. (By the way, repeating patterns really make the Perspective Zoom feature pop.)
Anything else you’d like to share?
The best part of being a Mac user is the community. My sincere thanks all of those who figure out awesome ways to accomplish things and are willing to share their techniques with the world!
Speaking of email, I've been hard at work updating the Email Field Guide to version 1.2. It's now live in the iBooks Store. There are a lot of changes:
- Added additional Gmail backup solution, Backupify
- Added Google Takeout to archiving chapter
- Added new section on Apple Mail Drop
- Added new section and screencast on the Apple Mail Markup Extension.
- Added new section and screencast on minimizing draft messages on iPad and iPhone.
- Updated section on Swipe Options based on iOS 8 improvements
- Added an explanation of Apple Mail Handoff
- Added a new section for VIP Threads in Apple Mail
- Added KeyRocket for Gmail Chrome extension
- Added bacn remover Unroll.me
- Updated for Microsoft Outlook 2014
I love that I can update content for my readers. If you've already bought the book in the iBooks Store, you should see the update badge light up. I'm finalizing the PDF version and will have that up by the weekend. Also, did you know that the Email book has 99 reviews? That is just one shy of 100. I'm just making an observation here. No pressure.
This month I contributed an article to the Alpha Efficiency magazine in their feature on habits and rituals. There is some great content in the magazine and I firmly believe ritualizing productivity is one of the best ways to pull yourself out of the doldrums.
Winner: No=Pecan Pie
This week I am pleased to welcome Drafts as a sponsor of MacSparky.com. Drafts is one of the most innovative apps to show up on iOS. The idea is simple: make it dead simple for people to capture text on their iPhone or iPad and then make that text dance for them. Drafts executes on this, flawlessly. When you first open the application, there is a blank screen and a keyboard. There is no need to monkey with opening new files, Drafts does it for you. Indeed, you can set it so it does this happens every time you open the application.
Once you've put some text in Drafts, you can then send it somewhere else on your iOS device. There are simple built-in solutions like sending it to a new email message or an application, like OmniFocus but you can also customize it. For example, I've got a custom task that sends a text message to my wife and two daughters. The workflow is so simple. I open drafts, dictate a short message, and push a button and the message goes out to those three. Drafts' developer keeps adding new features like deep control over Dropbox, Evernote, and now coming iCloud. I reviewed Drafts awhile back. Learning to automate text with your mobile devices is a game changer and if you haven't tried Drafts yet, shame on you. Go check it out and let them know you heard about it here.
Got some downtime this weekend? MPU 223 is out. In it Mike Rohde joins us to talk about his new book, the Sketchnote Workbook. We also discuss my fancy new iMac, academic workflows, goal setting, security, and share listener tips and answer questions.
My congratulations go to Microsoft for embracing iOS this year with versions of Office for iPad and iPhone. If there is anyone you'd want to see review Microsoft Word on the iPhone, it'd be a lawyer and nobody is better at these stress tests than Jeff Richardson. Jeff's conclusion are two thumbs up. I have a feeling that in my day job, using Word on my phone is one of those things that will make me wish I kept the big phone.