Returning to Pocket

A while back I wrote about App Support for iPad Centric Workflows, in which I discussed a bunch of apps I relied upon in my writing and photography workflows.

Key among these was a ‘read-it-later’ service. I have been a long time user of Pocket, but was growing increasingly frustrated by the company’s failure to update their iPad app to support multitasking, particularly split screen. Even though I subscribe to the premium Pocket service, I switched to Instapaper shortly after posting this article because there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

Today, on the eve of the launch of iOS 11, there has been an update to the app, with the update notes stating:

We’re excited to (finally) add support for Split Screen and Slide Over on iPad.

I have switched back, primarily for two reasons.

  1. I love Pockets sharing functionality that allows me to share stories with other Pocket users from within the app. My wife and I share articles with each other all the time this way.
  2. I’ve never really been comfortable with Instapaper being (now) a free service, owned by Pinterest. Really not a fan of sharing my data with a big corporation where I am the product.

Happy to be back on Pocket, and I hope that they will continue their support for iPad based workflows.

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App Support for iPad Centric Workflows

Its been some two years since Apple announced iOS 9, complete with iPad split screen and other multitasking functionality.

My iPads Pro are a key part of my writing, productivity and increasingly, photography, workflow. This is even more the case since the announcement of iOS 11, and all the incredible new iPad Pro centric enhancements.

Most of the apps I use on a daily basis to support my workflows have embraced and support iOS multitasking, including the split screen functionality. These apps include:

  • Bear
  • Byword
  • Draftsd
  • iBooks
  • Lightroom
  • Medium
  • Micro.blog[1]
  • OmniFocus[2]
  • ProtonMail
  • Reeder
  • Slack
  • Spark Mail[3]
  • The Photographers Ephemeris
  • Timepage
  • Tweetbot
  • Ulysses
  • V for Wikipedia
  • 500px

The list of apps that have refused to provide support for iPad Pro users is, fortunately, much shorter.

  • Affinity Photo
  • Flickr
  • Kindle
  • Pocket

I can kind of forgive Affinity as its quite a new app, and in the photography editing space which kind of develops a whole screen mentality.

But Kindle and Pocket are core reading/research/writing workflow apps. To be core to these types of workflows, the apps need to support iPad Pro type functionality.

Kindle holds a near monopoly, but Pocket has competition. I can’t help but wonder whats holding them back.

Doing this personal analysis of the core apps in my workflows it is pretty pleasing to see that most apps are well positioned to support the growing importance of iPad in a mobile lifestyle. And it is pretty telling to me that at some point I will need to make a call about apps that don’t support my workflows…


  1. Which was only released today.  ↩
  2. And I am pretty sure most other Omni apps  ↩
  3. And other apps from Readdle  ↩
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Airpods FTW

When I saw the Apple Airpods announced alongside the iPhone 7 I thought they looked interesting, but was a bit skeptical that they would be impractical for my workout needs. Like many, I was worried that they would drop out of my ears easily during a workout.

When it was clear that they would be delayed I decided to get the Powerbeats3 wireless headphones, partly because they were available, but mostly because I was fairly sure they would be better suited to use during exercise.

Turns out that the Beats headphones died within a few weeks – first the volume buttone stopped working, then the cetre button to start/stop/answer phone calls, and finally the power button died. Based on my experience:

Powerbeats = no power and no beats.

in mid-December I heard mention on several podcasts that the Airpods were released and there would be some availability pre-Christmas. On a whim I took a look at the Apple Australia website and there they were available – so I ordered a pair and they were delivered to me at home spot on time on 19 December[1].

The Airpods are brilliant. They are simply the best wireless in-ear style headphones I’ve used.

Pairing

Like other recently released Apple bluetooth peripherals, the pairing process on these is brilliant. Open the Airpod case, ensure the iPhone (or other device) is unlocked and the pairing screen should pop up.

There’s not much further to say, because it was the simplest and most straightforward device pairing I’ve experienced[2].

As a bonus, once the pairing was completed with one device, every other Apple device connected to the same Apple ID is also paired[3].

General Use

I’ve used the Airpods now for a week, and love them. I have used them walking to/from work, shopping, out making photos and even on a plane[4]. I have also used them exercising, but will talk more about that in a moment.

They fit comfortably[5], and for normal use I have no fear that they will bounce out.

When I first unboxed the Airpods my wife immediately stressed that it was important I keep them in their case – she was right from the point of view of not losing them, as well as from the perspective of the case being they way the Airpods are charged.

I saw a Daring Fireball post where John Gruber talked about David Pogues’ comment that rather than being concerned about the Airpods falling out of year, the greater concern is dropping them “between their two homes: the case and your earholes”.

I concur.

This is a big advantage of having to have the case whereever you take the Airpods – they can easily be returned to their home. I would suggest that the suggestions by my wife, Gruber and Pogue converge on the same point:

Airpods have two natural states – in your ears or in their case.

I love the feature where removing an Airpod from the ear pauses the playback, and replacing the Airpod resumes it. A simple one step process.

Double tapping either Airpod brings up Siri. So far I haven’t been able to get Siri to reduce or increase volume. Its a useful feature for making calls, but some sort of ‘offline Siri’ for adjusting volume, rewinding, etc, would be great.

I am not an audiophile, so can only say that the Airpods deliver a quality of sound for music, podcasts and audio books that I am very happy with. FWIW, they sound a little better to me than the Powerbeats3[6].

Use During Exercise

This is where I have been blown away – Airpods stay in my ears, even when running or when doing HIIT routines that include skipping ropes and other exercises.

There’s not a lot else to say. Airpods deliver quality sound while staying snugly in place during most exerise routines.

I generally get a reasonable sweat up during my routines, so will be interested to see how that will effect the Airpods in time[7].

Battery Life

Very good. I haven’t pushed any limits on the Airpods or their case, but so far I have reason to doubt the 5 hours for the actual Airpods and the 24 hours for the case that Apple claims.

What I have observed is that popping one/both Airpods back in the case for 15 minutes is very effective in bringing up the charge levels.

Final Thoughts

I really like the Airpods, and am happy using them.

For future iterations, I’d love to see some way of adjusting voume that doesn’t rely on Siri (at least the current version of Siri that needs a web connection), and I’d love some sort of feature that allowed you to find a dropped Airpod.

Other than that, they’re a device I would be happy to recommend to anyone needing wireless earphones that are simple to use and reliable for a range of uses.

 

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Thoughts on Evolving to an iPad Only Future

I’ve discussed previously about how more and more people are going iPad only, or at least iPad Primary. People like Federico Viticci have famously gone iPad only, and educator Fraser Spiers wonders if a MacBook Pro can substitute for an iPad Pro.

More and more people are sharing their adventures and epiphanies in going iPad Only, or iPad Primary, and I thought I might share some links to some of those stories…

Drew Coffman discusses his thoughts on Living With the iPad Pro. Clearly Drew has found that the iPad Pro is the ideal computing device for his current needs:

The thing that excites me more than anything is that the iPad Pro is such a young platform. Even with its flaws, I’m still enjoying it more than any other computer I’ve ever used. There’s plenty of room for the iPad (and iOS in general) to grow—but I’m no longer using today’s technology while dreaming of tomorrow’s. I’m more than happy with what exists in the present.

Meanwhile, Khoi Vinh comes to the conclusion that he isDone with MacBooks, though not with Macs:

But now, in contrast to my iPad, my laptop seems altogether much more cumbersome than I prefer to deal with. It’s much, much heavier and bulkier than my iPad, especially when you factor in its power supply and a carrying case.

He is speaking as a designer who relies on the powerful features available in macOS, yet his conclusion is that the best place for the high-end desktop OS is on his desktop, where he can have a high-end computer…

When I think about where I’m most productive with OS X, it’s always at my desk, where I have a huge monitor.

This makes a lot of sense. No matter how good a notebook computer is, a desktop running the same OS is always going to be more powerful and more flexible.

Ben Brooks is another who has a clear view on Why iOS is Compelling

iOS is my everything place now. It’s not only always with me, but it’s always in sync with itself. What’s on my iPad is on my iPhone

Justin Blanton made a prediction on Twitter in 2011 that looks like it might be closer to the truth than fantasy…

In a recent post Justin provides an update on the evolution to iPhone-only

nearly all of my professional (and personal) consumption can be done enjoyably from my iPhone or iPad; and almost all of my professional output is channeled through either email or Messenger, also easily handled by my iOS devices.

Clearly he broadened his thinking to include tablet devices, but he is actually upping the game on his prediction – he now thinks that iPhone 8 will be the tipping point. I like that he talks about the ‘enjoyability’ factor of using an iPhone or iPad.

###Conclusion

Some of these above are going iPad Only, others are going iPad Primary (especially when mobile), and others are even moving to iPhone centric. The future of on-the-go computing is clearly going to be centred on nimble, portable devices like tablets and smartphones.

Notebook and laptop computers are far from dead, but the real place where a desktop OS like OSX or Windows delivers the greatest power will be on the desktop.

Completing The iPad Pro – The Smart Keyboard

I ordered my iPad Pro just over two weeks ago – and it arrived here in Darwin just two days later.

At the same time I considered purchasing the Smart Keyboard, but the expected delivery was 4–5 weeks, so I decided to wait and see what other options would come onto the market. I ordered a Smart Cover instead, which shipped the same day, but was sent separately and arrived five days later!

When it arrived the smart cover had been damaged in the mail, so I called Apple who have refunded the cover, and then decided to go and look locally at a couple of retailers[1] who had the cover in stock. Arriving at JB Hi Fi at Berrimah, I was surprised to find that they had a half dozen Smart Keyboards in stock[2]. I decided to purchase one, and am really glad that I did.

Having been a happy user of Logitech keyboards[3] for previous iPads I had grown used to the extra row of iOS specific keys for navigation (home, app switch), search and system contols (volume, brightness, etc), and was concerned that not having these would somehow limit my experience. Similarly I was concerned that the extra bulk and weight might diminish the utility of the Smart Keyboard.

I’ve been using the Smart Keyboard for about a week now, and love it. It makes the iPad Pro experience one that it both versatile and complete. The iPad Pro combined with the Smart Keyboard is a notebook computer alternative that will work for me[4].

It is still only a week, so I am sure my opinion will evolve, but here are my current thoughts on the Smart Keyboard.

  • The convenience of the integrated keyboard with a Smart Cover is outstanding.
  • The experience of the built in pairing is excellent. Plug and go in real life.
  • The integrated charging/powering from the iPad Pro battery is excellent. One less charger to worry about.
  • The lack of the extra row of iOS specific function keys has not turned out to be an issue for me. I like the app-specific smart key approach, and look forward to more app developers[5] building in support for these. That CMD+Space brings up Spotlight (search) and CMD+Tab brings up an app switcher is a great experience as there is consistency with
  • Any additional bulk/weight is negligible when compared with the standard Smart Cover for the iPad Pro[6].
  • Proportionally the addition of the Smart Keyboard adds less bulk/weight to the iPad Pro than a keyboard case like the Logitech Ultrathin does to an iPad Air[7].
  • I’d like backlighting, but not at the expense of extra size/bulk, so I think a happy medium has been reached.

My thoughts are along the same lines as the Initial Thoughts on the Apple iPad Pro Keyboard by MacSparky, who said

…the Apple keyboard has the right amount of balance between minimal profile and working keyboard that I think it is the keeper for me.

All in all, I am really happy with the Smart Keyboard so far. It is an awesome match with the iPad Pro, and I am keeping the Smart Keyboard on 24–7 as a cover with an integrated keyboard[8].

My iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard


  1. There is no Apple Store within 2,500km of Darwin, but the local JB HiFi and Harvey Norman stores have good Apple stocks.  ↩
  2. They also had Pencils in stock. As at 24 Dec 15, the Apple Online store is showing 4–5 weeks wait for the Pencil and 3–4 weeks for the Smart Keyboard. Harvey Norman had 13 Pencils & 12 Smart Keyboards on display that day.  ↩
  3. Both the Ultrathin keyboard/cover and Keys-to-Go keyboards  ↩
  4. For several years the month of March has been my iPads of March experiment where I’ve attempted to use only an iPad (and iPhone of course) as my on-the-go device, coupling these with a desktop at home (iMac) or work (generally a PC). Each year the iPad has gotten closer to the goal, but the iPad Pro realises it for me.  ↩
  5. Looking at you, Byword.  ↩
  6. Especially noting that the iPad Pro is already a larger device.  ↩
  7. I haven’t seen any of the third party keyboards for the iPad Pro in the wild yet, so can’t comment on those.  ↩
  8. I have subsequently been able to take a look at the Logitech Create keyboard for the iPad Pro. While it is a nice piece of kit with the function keys and backlighting, it is bulkier, and I honestly could not imagine using it as a permanent cover.  ↩

Fraser Spiers Asks If The MacBook Pro Can Substitute For An IPad Pro

Fraser Speirs (@fraserspeirs) asks the question Can the MacBook Pro Replace Your iPad?. In this article, Speirs focuses on the strengths of the iPad Pro, and then compares how the MacBook Pro meaures up. Some of his key points are interesting.

On the form factor…

The fact that the keyboard and screen are limited to being held in an L-shaped configuration seriously limits its flexibility.

Discussing input…

The MacBook Pro continues to be hobbled by its lack of touch input.

Considering battery life…

Despite their far greater size, and consequently weight, there is no MacBook Pro model that gets better battery life than the iPad Pro.

And on the topic of connectivity…

If you are a road warrior, the MacBook’s total lack of cellular connectivity options would be a serious hinderance to a cloud-based storage lifestyle in any case.

MacSparky on iCloud Drive Sync Improvements

MacSparky discusses the recent improvements in iCloud Drive sync

The reason I’ve been so critical of iCloud lately is because I haven’t dismissed it.

This is in line with my thinking – I have expectations that iCloud can be a real enabler. But it is true to say that Apple has had an extremely ‘two steps forward, 1.8 steps backwards’ approach to its cloud based offerings.

I think we all need to be critical when Apple makes mistakes. They not always (even ever) publicly acknowledge their mistakes or the criticism, but their (recent) track records indicates that they do listen and act.

Putting the recipient last… With Let.ter

Email is one of the most important ways people communicate in the contemporary world, yet it is one that is often frought with problems, most of which seem to stem from a lack of attention to detail before hitting the send button.

Over at MacDrifter, Gabe Weatherhead discusses a simple concept:

The last thing you write is the recipient address

Gabe discusses writing using non-email apps like Drafts on iOS and nvAlt on OSX.

I also use Drafts to prepare up new emails on iOS (both iPhone and iPad), but have found what I think is an ideal for preparing new emails on the Mac – the wonderful Let.ter app.

Let.ter starts with a simple blank screen, with four easy steps.

  1. Enter a subject
  2. Write the body in plain text / Markdown
  3. Enter the recipient(s) email address(es)
  4. Preview and then send

In both Let.ter and Drafts I extensively use TextExpander so they are both powerful yet simple apps for sending email.

I think that the utility behind Let.ter is that it is truly minimalist, and that it allows the use of Markdown. But since reading Gabe’s post, I am also thinking that leaving the recipient address until last before previewing is part of what makes the app useful.

My Feed Wrangler 12 Month Anniversary

I can’t believe it has been a year that I’ve been using Feed Wrangler.

Feed Wrangler

Which means it has also been a year since Google Reader was shut down.

My use of RSS (Web feeds) has not diminished in the past 12 months—if anything it has increased, and continues to be an incredibly important part of my daily workflow.

I use Feed Wrangler as a back end sync service, and don’t actually use their website very often, and don’t even have their iOS apps installed.

Feed Wrangler is a great sync service, and I love that I can pick the apps that best suit me at the front end[1]:

I’ve tried others, including Reeder on OSX, which is good but I like that ReadKit also serves my Pocket and Pinboard needs. Similarly I’ve played with Unread on iPhone, but keep coming back to Reeder.


  1. Affiliate links. Thanks in advance 😉  ↩

Siri Performance Improvements

MacRumors has today reported on a study by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster showing improvements in performance of the iOS virtual assistant Siri.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, who has regularly assessed Siri’s accuracy in terms of correctly interpreting and answering queries, has issued the latest version of his Siri report card, noting that Siri has continued to improve under iOS 7, particularly in terms of being able to properly interpret questions being asked.

My anecdotal feeling corresponds with this view – not only is Siri (I service I use daily) getting better in terms of the range of information being sourced, but it is doing a far better job of interpreting my inputs. When I previously asked it to call my colleague Mike Davey I would get a response along the lines of “Des, I don’t understand. What do you mean by call my baby?”. Now it gets Mike Davey everytime.[1]

Marco Armant (@marco) isn’t quite so enamoured:

This is good, but the biggest problem I always have with Siri is reliability, not quality of answers.

For a while I got a lot of responses indicating Siri’s apology for being down. I haven’t had that experience now in several months. My experience is more like that of Federico Viticci (@viticci):[2]

It’s still far from perfect, but I’ve been using Siri on a daily basis for phone calls, directions, and Wikipedia integration. I particularly appreciate how iOS 7 made Siri smarter in understanding pronouns, indirect speech, and verb conjugations.

Anyway, Siri is an important part of my daily iOS usage, and I generally find it to be reliable and constantly improving. And I still love finding Easter Eggs.[3].


  1. I know I could’ve trained it to interpret that name better, but I had never got around to it.  ↩

  2. Maybe the Australian Siri and the Italian Siri share the same servers, or at least use different servers than American Siri…  ↩

  3. If you’ve never asked Siri about the plot of the movie Inception give it a try.  ↩