In case you missed it, downloading the Relay FM app now puts a set of Relay FM stickers on your iPhone and iPad. In addition to all the other Relay shows and memes, there are stickers for both Mac Power Users and Free Agents. If you figure out a way to use them in conversations with your non-geek friends, you get not one, but TWO gold stars.
A few weeks ago indie developer Christian Tietze released a new app called Table Flip that simplifies the process of making tables in Markdown. A few days ago I was working on a project where I had an excuse to use the app and it's great. Table Flip replaces a poorly written script I was using to make Markdown tables that felt like it was held together by rubber bands and scotch tape. Now I use Table Flip. My only gripe is the text size, which is too small. I understand that's getting fixed soon.
The below MKBHD video compares Siri and Google Assistant. It’s interesting to see how Apple and Google are approaching several common-type questions to their digital assistants. My overall impression is that they are pretty close except Google is better at follow-up questions. Apple needs to work on that. I think Google pushing the envelope with their own digital assistant is going to be great for Siri users. Apple’s at its best when there’s healthy competition.
This is one of those emerging areas of technology that will be fascinating to watch.
One of my guilty pleasures is watching a new episode of Star Wars Rebels every week. I know this show is hypothetically made for kids but I love it. This week my friends on the Rebel Force Radio podcast invited me on to talk about the latest episode. If you're a Star Wars fan, here's an opportunity to geek out for an hour.
Imagine spending a year designing a product only to have it ripped off (including your product name) in one week. That's what happened to one iPhone case/selfie-stick designer. While it's pretty remarkable that in today's world anyone can make a global product, it's also pretty disheartening how easy it is for someone to steal your ideas. Ugh.
Since posting this morning Apple made it official announcing its "Hello Again" event. As Stephen Hackett explains, the "Hello Again" moniker has been used before to announce new Macs. I expect the reason we're getting it here is the much rumored newly designed MacBook Pro. I know a lot of people that have been waiting to upgrade their MacBook Pros. I suspect they'll be happy next week.
Except for the MacBook, the entire Mac line is overdue for an update. We've been hearing rumors about new MacBook Pros and other goodies now for close to a year but suddenly things seem to be happening. Recode reports that Apple's going to have an event on October 27 where, among other things, new MacBook Pros get released. I'd not be surprised if the iMac, MacBook Air, and even Mac Pro get updates as well. Either way, if you were thinking about buying a Mac this week, put your wallet back in your pocket and wait until the 27th. If that event happens, I'd guess the Air Pods will go on sale that day too. I really like those Air Pods.
Once again Mark Gurman delivers an Apple scoop, this time explaining that Apple’s automobile plans are getting scaled-back. There have been rumors for some time now about layoffs on Apple’s car project. Some day there will be some great stories about the early days and revisions to this project. I imagine there are a lot of reasons why Apple has backed off on its never-announced car project but I'm certain that at least one of them would be the tremendous amount of attention it would take (away from Apple's other products) to launch such a thing. I also can't help but think that it's too early for Apple to get into the car game. Everything is turning over right now and the laws haven't even been written yet for self-driving cars. Apple usually shows up after the market has had awhile to mature and they can see a way they can improve upon existing products.
This week MacSparky is sponsored by MindNode. By now you’ve probably heard repeatedly how useful mind mapping can be to help you brainstorm and organize your thoughts. The trouble is, mind mapping applications are–as a breed–generally frustrating and complicated.
That’s not the case with MindNode. MindNode has a simple, easy to use interface that makes creating mind maps a breeze. It uses iCloud to sync your data across all of its platforms so you can use the application on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I love using MindNode to brainstorm. When I’m getting ready to start a new book or presentation, I create a mind map for in MindNode. Then, as ideas come to me I constantly update the mind map, whether I'm sitting at my desk with my iMac or taking a walk with my iPhone. You’d be amazed at how many problems your subconscious mind can solve if you keep a mind map to hold your ideas as they percolate to the surface. This little practice is super-useful and anyone can do it.
Why don’t you turn MindNode into your own secret weapon? Head over to MindNode.com to learn more. They’ve even got a series of videos (by yours truly) that walk you through the basics of creating mind maps with MindNode. Below is the introductory video just to whet your appetite. Thank you MindNode for supporting MacSparky.
Starting in March I began running experiments with using iCloud vs. Dropbox for cloud-based file storage. This week's episode of Mac Power Users reports in my findings. We're also joined by David Chartier, who recently switched from Dropbox to iCloud. I could tell you which service I ultimately chose but where's the drama in that?
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alt Mossberg wrote an article over at Recode, Why does Siri seem so Dumb?. In it Walt points out several failings.
I understand that Apple has fixed several of these issues since the article posted but that’s actually part of the problem. Why does it take an article by a popular journalist to get these things fixed? I feel as if Siri needs more attention. I don’t think the underlying technology is as bad as most people think but it is these little failures that causes everyone to lose faith. Siri is a cloud based service and needs to be upgraded and improved every day. While things are better, the rate of improvement needs to accelerate.
There's no secret that I'm a voice dictation fan. I know a lot of folks that enjoy fancy pens and artisan notebooks but for me words (particularly first draft words) are more something that I want to get out of my system than something to lavish upon. I started using dictation tools about 20 years ago, when they were pretty crappy.
Nowadays, however, our computers are a lot faster than those of 20 years ago and voice dictation software is quite a bit smarter. One of the leaders in this space is (and always has been) Nuance and its Dragon Professional for Mac dictation software.
A Brief History Lesson about Dragon and the Mac
For a long time, the Mac was a wasteland for dictation software. In 2008, a product called "MacSpeech Dictate" showed up and it was workable, so long as you had never used the superior Dragon Dictate on PC. (I used to run a virtual PC on my Mac largely for the purpose of using Dragon Dictate for PC.) Then MacSpeech licensed the Dragon dictation engine and things got better. A year later, Nuance bought MacSpeech Dictate outright and turned it into Dragon Professional for Mac. Since then Dragon Professional for Mac has been the gold standard for dictation on the Mac. The built-in macOS dictation isn't bad but also can't keep up with Dragon Professional for Mac on accuracy or features.
The Skinny on Version 6
Every year or two, Nuance releases an update to Dragon for Mac. Version 6 just landed and I've been using the heck out of it. The short version of this story is that dictation and usability improvements make Dragon Professional for Mac version 6 both a great product to get in on if you want to get serious about dictation and a worthy upgrade for existing users. Here come the details…
One of the reasons a lot of people don't get very far with dictation is the training process. It takes time to get your microphone set properly and then train the application to understand your voice and speech peculiarities. This new version does away with much of the previously required training and instead does a better job of learning through your use of the product.
The app is also better at distinguishing your words from background noise. That makes the app more forgiving. I normally dictate using my high quality podcast microphone. However, for the past few weeks, I've been using my Mac's internal microphone to dictate words (including these). There is a small accuracy hit but it's really not that bad. A few years ago, the application was unusable with built-in microphones. Now I think you could pull this off, even in an environment with low background noise.
Dictation Speed and Accuracy
Every version of Dragon Dictate boasts improved accuracy. Nuance reports this update improves accuracy by 15%. So long as I dictate complete sentences and don't try to change course in the middle of a thought, I was already getting very high accuracy with version 5. Indeed, this is the secret to all dictation. If you give the application clear enough enunciation and context, Dragon can be extremely accurate. With a 1,000 word dictation, I normally have 5-10 corrections. Let's call it 99%. With version 6, I'm still getting excellent accuracy. I ran a few tests and I'm getting about the same numbers with version 6.
The difference, however, with version 6 is dictation speed. Put simply, the words are showing up on the screen faster, making dictation easier. I like that.
There are a couple reasons for this. One is that the engine is just faster. Another is some underlying technology improvements with the way Dragon views words on your screen. Up until now, typing and dictating at the same time with Dragon on a Mac was the dictation equivalent of crossing the streams. That's not true with Version 6. Through clever use of Apple's accessibility API, Dragon can now monitor text and edits you make on screen while you dictate. This only works in applications that support the accessibility API but Scrivener, TextEdit, and Pages are among them. New apps are getting added as Nuance verifies their accessibility support.
While the underlying engine of Dragon Dictate for Mac has been on par with its PC counterpart for years, the Mac version's user interface has been playing catch up with the much more mature PC version. Nuance made big strides with version 6 with revamped status and correction windows that feel less … well … goofy. They also cleaned up the way the windows display commands and the preferences selection screen. These changes are a welcome face lift but they were also designed to reduce the number of clicks and scrolls required to get things done.
Transcription, the act of extracting text from a pre-recorded voice file, used to be a separate product but got added to Dragon Dictate as a built-in feature a few versions ago. However, it always felt a bit like it was bolted on to Dragon Dictate. The new version fixes this. Transcription is now fully integrated into the application. Moreover, they've removed the need for training. Dragon instead trains its transcription engine with the first 90-seconds of your first transcription file. They've also added a batch transcription tool. I often record several small recordings and transcribing them all at once is a nice improvement.
In the last year Nuance has improved the ecosystem around their dictation software. I also use Dragon Anywhere for dictation on iOS. With the latest version of Dragon Dictate for Mac, custom vocabulary words are now shared between Mac and iOS devices. If I add a new word on my iPad and then find myself dictating it on the Mac a few days later, it just works.
I use Dragon Professional for Mac every day. I think a lot of people that gave up on dictation 10 years ago are missing out. If that's you, check out the new Dragon.
Dropbox has long been an essential service for iOS power users but you wouldn't know that based on their app. Today that changed with the release of a new version with several substantial new improvements including:
1. PDF Signing
You can now sign a PDF document right inside the Dropbox application. It's not a substitute for a quality PDF application but in a jam, it will get the job done.
2. Messages Support
You can now link a Dropbox file from right inside messages instead of having to go back to the application for a link.
3. Widget Support
There's now a Dropbox widget so you can create, view, and upload files from the widget.
4. Notifications and Lock Screen
Dropbox supports notifications including letting you know when someone saves a new version of a file. This is another feature that will make Dropbox-based collaboration easier.
5. Picture in Picture
I've got a lot of media stored on Dropbox. I've long waited for this feature that lets Dropbox become an iOS media player.
The feature I want most in iOS Dropbox, split screen, sadly isn't part of the update but Dropbox promises it is coming soon.
Edit in Place?
Another feature I'd like to see Dropbox support is true "edit in place" functionality. Currently, if you want to edit a Pages document or PDF file stored in Dropbox, it gets sent out to the third party application where it makes a copy and then you have all the shenanigans that result from multiple copies of documents. Dropbox does support edit in place with Microsoft Word documents and PDFs (if you'll edit them in Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat) but that is far too limiting. iCloud actually does a better job at this part of the equation than Dropbox. Hopefully more robust edit in place support is on the horizon.
If you've been missing my dulcet tones, I've got several new podcasts:
Paul Minors has a great productivity minded podcast. On it I talked about some of my own personal workflows and my thoughts on "productivity" in general.
iMore writer and artist Serenity Caldwell joins the Mac Power Users to talk about the iPad, Mac, the new iPhone, and artist workflows.
The "Live" show has been renamed MPU+. We discuss what to do with Macs that Sierra has left behind, the problem with "free" software, Network vs. Direct Attached storage, listeners share their feedback on Amazon and tips for using Ulysses and Scrivener. We also learn how to print to PDF from Apple Mail and much more.
This week MacSparky is sponsored by OmniGraffle. I recently gave a presentation on, of all things, how to give a presentation. I had a few simple diagrams to illustrate my points. After the talk finished, I had several questions about my graphics. One participant asked me , “How do you find graphics that so perfectly match your points?” When I told her that I make them myself, her eyes glazed over a bit. In truth, they shouldn’t have. Anybody can make great diagrams and graphics with OmniGraffle.
OmniGraffle applies the Omni Group’s obsession for superior software engineering and design to the problem of creating diagrams and graphics. Traditionally, graphic software has been indecipherable to mere mortals without first taking a 10-day course and reading a 300 page user manual. OmniGraffle is not like that. It took me about an hour to get good enough at OmniGraffle to make custom graphics for myself. Those graphics are littered all over my books, trial exhibits, videos, and even this website. If you’ve ever had need to make your own graphics, stop goofing off and get yourself into OmniGraffle.
This is an excellent time to do so. They are getting ready to release version 7 and right now it is in a public test. That means you get an extended trial of the new version. If you’re feeling intimidated, watch a few product videos first, but either way take OmniGraffle for spin today and find out for yourself how empowering it can be to make your own graphics and diagrams.
Kourosh Dini, author and publisher of using Creating Flow with OmniFocus (and this guy) has a new project called Zen and the Art of Work. I have to admit that I’m normally resistant to anything that incorporates “Zen” into the name because the word has been twisted so much by commerce over the last 20 years that it’s now practically meaningless. However, in this case, I’d make an exception. I’ve known Kourosh for years and talked to him about how he balances his love for his family, his music, his medical practice (he’s a psychiatrist), and his other projects (like this one). The last time I had lunch with Kourosh, he wasn’t coming apart at the seams (like I often find myself) but instead wanted to sell me on a fiction book he’d read that he thought was just perfect for me. So if Kourosh wants to use the word Zen when teaching us how to work mindfully, he should by all means do so.
Zen and the Art of Work is a series of 16 video modules that helps the viewer develop her own habits gradually and without pressure. The series is productivity-system-agnostic so no matter what “system” or software you want to use, it should work for you. It’s all well-produced and Kourosh is an excellent teacher. It’s also reasonably priced at $35 and comes with a 30-day refund period if it doesn’t work for you.
What are some of your favorite apps?
Music — It’s very seldom that I’m not listening to something, in fact, as I’m typing this I’ve got Full Moon by Petit Biscuit blasting. I love every bit of the redesign of Apple Music in iOS 10, especially the For You tab and it’s weekly personalised playlists.
FaceTime — a lot of my close friends and family live in different parts of South Africa and the world, so being able to actually see them is incredible. It’s a long drive home to my parents, but every now and then we’ll have dinner or tea over FaceTime. It’s the best.
Pocket Casts — I listen to podcasts on the couch, my commute or whilst I’m ironing, and I enjoy using Casts (website)(iTunes) because of it’s colourful design and features, ‘Trim Silence’ and episode filters.
Habit building apps — I use Streaks (iTunes)(website) to focus on what’s important by keeping habits. Day One (iTunes)(website) is my daily journal that I’ve been using it for just under four years. I use Calm (iTunes)(website) near the end of the day for peaceful background music and meditations. The Nike+ RunClub (iTunes)(website) app makes running feel much more exciting with in-run commentary, stats and achievements. I’m also enjoying the iOS 10 Bedtime Clock feature and how it’s made me aware of my sleep schedule.
Which app is your guilty pleasure?
What app makes you most productive?
Evernote — I appreciate Evernote (iTunes)(website) more and more with each passing year. It’s the first app I open on my Mac everyday, and the iOS app is great for on-the-go note-taking and access to any of my notes. Evernote’s companion app, Scannable, is wonderful for going paperless and I’ve used it to scan every test and class handout since starting University last year.
Tyme — I discovered this gem during the June holidays and it’s completely changed the way I work. Tyme (iTunes)(website) is a time tracking app that I use to monitor how I’m working on my various University modules and side projects. It’s great because it keeps me accountable and provides data of how long, when and what I’m spending my time on.
What widgets are you using and why?
I absolutely love iOS 10’s widgets. Before and after each class I glance at the Fantastical (iTunes)(website) widget to see what’s next, where it is and how long until my next lecture. Sometimes it’s easy to forget about upcoming due dates, and the OmniFocus (iTunes)(website) widget makes sure that never happens. The quick capture inbox button is something I have already grown quite attached to. The Evernote widget is awesome with it’s buttons for quick capturing of notes and images.
What is the app you are still missing?
What I’m missing is less of an app and more of a feature request in existing ones. I’m a big fan of the new iOS 10 widgets and would love to see Tyme (iTunes)(website) and Streaks (iTunes)(website) implement widgets of their own. Streaks is a habit tracking app, so being able to be reminded of habits and then tick the off through a widget would be incredible. Tyme on macOS has a nifty little Finder widget that lets you know how long you’ve worked in a day. I would be so excited to see something like that implemented in a widget.
What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?
iOS. I love how someone doing the basics and someone as immersed in apps as myself can get equal amounts of pleasure and delight from our iPhones; and with every new version of iOS the experience gets even better.
If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?
I would bring attention back to our professional users’ needs. I feel like the iPad is a missed opportunity: for all that it can do, it’s still not the personal computer replacement that it could be. To earn the title “Pro” I feel that it needs to run Affinity Designer, Logic, Xcode, Final Cut Pro, Sketch and all the other pro creation apps. I would direct resources into developing a unique iPad operating system that can truly replace the personal computer and take advantage of the incredible hardware on offer. It’s obvious that macOS needs to be more of a priority again with more Mac first innovations. Apple’s income largely comes from typical consumers, but their future depends on their pros.
What’s your wallpaper and why?
I like wallpapers that are simple, but that remind me of something important. My current wallpaper is the logo from the front cover of a book I love, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Robert M Pirsig. The story revolves around a motorcycle journey across the U.S. by the author and his son. Along the way the author discusses quality, values, life and technology. The book gave me a new perspective and I like to be reminded of that.
I've been following the news pretty closely about Hurricane Matthew as it works its way up the Florida coast. In addition to a close friend, there is currently a conference going on in Orlando where some of the smartest Mac lawyers in the country are assembled in one room … in the path of a hurricane. Yikes.
As I write this post, Matthew is just arriving on the Florida coast and I noticed the App Store on top of things with a collection of apps for folks in Matthew's path. It's nice to see Apple on top of this.
Free Agents just released its sixth episode. This one includes an interview with former PlayStation executive PlayStation Shahid Kamal Ahmad, left Sony to become an independent game developer. We discuss why he left and how he schedules his workday in his garden shed, the ShaShed.
This episode is sponsored by:
- Equal Experts: A diverse network of experienced software consultants, specialising in agile delivery