All posts by Thomas

My name is probably Thomas (yes, it is). I'll be able to help you figure out why Evernote isn't syncing, or recommend your favourite new RSS reader to you. That's partly because I am enamoured with the iOS ecosystem and hardware, but mostly because I'm Canadian.

Office for iPad Needs To Improve File Caching

Word for iPad

Microsoft is updating their Office apps on iOS at a pretty blistering rate, with a major update every one or two months, but it’s still lacking one basic feature for me: easier local storage.

Having Microsoft Excel on my iPad has been immensely useful, but it’s highly dependent on having a good internet connection when I want to access my files. I keep my work files on my office-supplied OneDrive for Business account, and accessing a large PowerPoint file can take upwards of a minute at times. Other times the download can simply stall on me, leaving me without all of the numbers I’m supposed to talk about at my meeting.

What I’d want here would be a quick way to star or earmark files for quick local caching so that, as long as I haven’t made any changes to the file, I can open the iPad up at any time and just re-open said file. What the iOS Office apps seem to do, however, is simply re-download the files every single time I want to access them, regardless of whether or not there were changes since I last loaded them. I do have the option of duplicating the file and saving a local copy to my iPad, but that copy won’t automatically sync any changes to my work PC, so it’s not really a workable solution.

I’d love to see a solution in the next few months that adds a switch to quickly cache a file as local (like Google’s Docs/Sheets/Slides apps) so that I can work on spotty Wi-Fi, but still enjoy the benefits of file syncing on OneDrive.

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My Biggest iPad Pet Peeve: The Lack of a Home Button Shortcut

This post is all about one of my greatest iOS pet peeves: the lack of a Home button shortcut on Bluetooth keyboards. I’ve got ZAGG’s newest keyboard to test for the iPad; and although I’m only a few hours into using it, I’ve already run into an issue that has plagued many Bluetooth keyboards before it: the lack of a dedicated Home button.

ZAGG should have made it a priority to include a dedicated key to simulate the Home button for iPad and iPhone users, but I also think that Apple shares the blame here as well. Of all the keyboard shortcuts that power users need at the OS level, it would be keyboard shortcut to emulate the Home button. I honestly can’t believe this is still an item on my wishlist with iOS approaching its ninth iteration, but it’s true. Unless hardware keyboard manufacturers specifically include a dedicated Home key, there’s simply no way for users to switch or leave apps without reaching up from the keyboard to tap the Home button.

This is obviously purely a matter of convenience and efficiency, but the solution just feels so tantalizingly close and simple that it bothers me that much more. After all, for the Home button on certain Bluetooth keyboards to work, that must mean that Apple provided a certain way for manufacturers to emulate the Home button. Why not bake a simple shortcut like Cmd + H or Cmd + Escape into iOS? It would save so much hassle and make keyboards — which are items that power users usually buy — that much more efficient.

I very badly want for Apple to address this somehow in iOS 9, or at least make software keyboards stable enough to make them a viable alternative.

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My New VSCO Cam iPad Workflow

 I recently wrote about how iOS photo extensions reduce picture resolution when used. That was a really disappointing discovery for me because I loved the simplicity of doing all of my photo editing in one place on iOS. I’d use the controls built into the Photos app to make basic adjustments, and then I’d add my own custom-made filters through apps like Flare Effects. The point was to make browsing and editing photos a seamless experience, but lowering my photo resolution was not a compromise I was willing to make.

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Paper for iPad Updated With Think Kit Tools

Paper by FiftyThree continues to be on the cutting edge of modern iPad app design. The incredible ink engine and drawing tools were already incredible, but these new shape, fill, and cutting tools really complete the package.

It could easily be argued that “it’s about time” that these features made it to Paper, as they’re readily available in many other popular note-taking apps, like Penultimate and Noteshelf. However, no other app really delivers as great an experience as Fifty Three does with Paper. I haven’t had very long to play with the new tools, but they are exactly what I’ve always wanted out of this app.

The Shape tool makes it easy to create quick, good-looking diagrams with smart shapes that I can move around at will. The fill tool helps me colour-code quick graphs or mock-ups. The cutting tool lets me move any element, as expected, but it also functions as a clone tool as well. That last feature make it so much easier and more fun to use Paper as a design sketchbook. It’s now dead simple for me to duplicate a base design and quickly create small variations, without having to re-draw everything each time.

Finally, Paper has become an even better place to share work from. I don’t use the built-in Mix platform very much, but I’ll definitely use the new export features to create PDFs and PowerPoint files from my drawings.

The only wish at this point would be the ability to embed or import pictures so that I can mark them up within Paper.

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Photo Extensions Lower Picture Resolution on iOS 8

Photo Extensions Limit Resolution iOS 8

I’ve been taking a lot more pictures these past few weeks due to my new camera. I’ll come home with a few hundred shots, cull about two thirds of them, and then edit the rest. I do a fair amount of this on the Mac, but also on the iPad. I thought I could take advantage of Photo Extensions like Flare Effects on iOS to help me edit my shots right from the Photos app, but I discovered something yesterday that has killed my interest in photo extensions for now: using a photo extension to edit a photo will limit its resolution due to memory limitations on iOS 8.

The iPhone generates 8 MP shots and my Sony A6000 generates 24 MP JPEGs. Using photo extensions on pictures taken on those devices results in pictures that are 2 or 3 MP in size. That’s a really significant decrease in resolution, and I’m a little irritated that this detail isn’t included in the Flare Effects app description (at least as a disclaimer). In fact, there isn’t any sort of system warning from iOS that using a photo extension is going to reduce the photo’s resolution…you only notice at the end when your picture suddenly looks a little grainier. The developers at the iconfactory have a support article about this, but it doesn’t detail just how much smaller the resulting picture will be.

I’m really hoping this is addressed in iOS 9 or sooner, at least for devices like the Air 2 which have 2 GB of RAM (and should be able to handle editing a single photo via an extension). For now, however, I’ll return to using VSCO Cam in a way that won’t create duplicates in my photo library. More on this point soon.

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iOS 9 Wishlist On MacStories

Federico Vitcci of MacStories wrote a really great iOS 9 wishlist piece. It’s easy for most anyone to come up with wishlists, but I trust Viticci’s take the most because of how extensively he works on iOS, and how much he has worked on how to work on iOS.

Viticci does almost everything for on his iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6 Plus, so this is a great piece for power users of iOS to see where we’re at, and what Apple will hopefully capitalize on in iOS 9. This is exactly the direction I want iOS to move in for September: bigger, badder extensions; reliable keyboards; a more user-friendly iCloud Drive; and a Siri that you can type to as well as talk to! 

I also think the time is right for a shift in how iOS is presented on the iPad. It does feel like more thinking has gone into how iOS can be presented on the larger screen of the iPhone 6 Plus, and I think the iPad needs to be re-approached to take be more advantage of its larger screen. 

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The Apple Watch Has Made Me Hungrier For More Device Awareness

I got an Apple Watch last week and it’s showing me how amazing it is for devices to be more aware of one another. The iPhone is smart enough to stay quiet when I’m wearing the Watch, but the Watch will stay quiet when my iPhone is unlocked (because it knows I’ll see notifications on that screen). 

The odd man out is the iPad. I’ll get notifications while I’m using the iPad and still get occasional buzzes on my Watch because those two devices aren’t specifically linked at the OS level. I understand why the Watch doesn’t pair with the iPad (it’s not something you carry on your person all the time), but I also think there was a missed opportunity to pair with an iPad when the tablet is present. The Watch shouldn’t buzz while I’m using the iPhone or the iPad. 

The Watch has almost created a wedge in my family of iOS devices. The iPad and iPhone used to be best pals. I’d write text messages to my mom on the iPad, which I could send via the iPhone’s cellular connection and the Continuity features introduced in iOS 8. My iPhone and iPad were in sync using iCloud, often even more so than the iPad and Mac (because some iOS apps like Drafts just aren’t available on the desktop). However, with the Watch on my wrist, that dynamic has shifted. It’s the synchronization between the Watch and my iPhone that I now trust the most.

I’m being dramatic here because I still send texts through the iPad (it’s awesome), but the Watch has definitely shown how Apple can step up their game in terms of device awareness. I’d love to see a continuity of the thinking behind Continuity in iOS 9 this summer so that the iPhone, iPad, and Watch start to feel more like a system, and less like a series of devices. 

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Evernote Introduces New Plus and Premium Accounts

evernote plus and premium

Evernote recently introduced a new set of pricing tiers. You can still use the services for free across all your devies, but if you become a power user who wants to keep more notes and have more access to your notes (even while offline), you’ll want to invest in Evernote Plus or Evernote Premium.

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Quick Look: Does Not Commute for iPad 

There’s a Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie called Premium Rush that’s all about bike messengers weaving through the traffic in New York City. The main character visualizes all the wrong approaches and simulates several awful crashes before finally landing on the right angle of attack, which he then executes perfectly. It’s that kind of keen spatial projection that will get you through each level of Does Not Commute.

This is a game about driving and finding small moments of beauty in all of the chaos, like when you skid perfectly between two incoming cars and reach your destination without a scratch. You drive one car at a time from point A to point B, and once you arrive at your goal, you’ll take the role of a different car somewhere else on the level. Once you’ve finished a few runs, you’ll realize that all of the cars you’ve previously driven are now whizzing by you. You’ll suddenly rue your reckless driving from only 30 seconds earlier as past versions of yourself make it hell for you to skid around a corner in one piece. If that sounds chaotic, that’s because it is, but the “crashendo” builds so slowly that you’ll always understand just enough to navigate your way through it all.

Add a countdown timer for each level and a set of tantalizingly placed timer refills around the map, and you have yourself a recipe for some nail-biting vehicular puzzles. You’re playing the long game in Does Not Commute, and you may find you’ll have to return to previous puzzles to allow yourself the time to finish the next ones. Fortunately, well designed power-ups you unlock along the way make the experience more forgiving and expand your options, even as the puzzles get harder.

Does Not Commute can be a punishing, but satisfying game with pockets of well-written humour to ease the stress, and it’s one of my favourite titles to come along in a while.

Here’s an App Store link for Does Not Commute; it’s free to download with an In-App purchase option to add checkpoints for $1.99.

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Transferring 24MP Pictures To My iPad With The PlayMemories App

I recently purchased a Sony A6000 so that I could take more dramatic videos and stylish review shots. One of the biggest changes I’ve been adjusting to is that modern cameras actually have Wi-Fi on board, and so I can transfer my 24 MegaPixel JPEGs right from the camera to my iPad for editing on-the-go. I can do all of this thanks to the PlayMemories app on the App Store, which allows me to connect straight to the ad-hoc network broadcast by my camera.

This is an awesome setup for me, as I can take a few hundred burst shots while I’m playing tennis with friends and then send all of them over to my iPad while we break for lunch. It takes about 5-10 minutes for each set of 100 shots, and so the transfer is usually complete by the time my friends and I are done eating. I can then cull all of the crappy out-of-focus shots from the iPad’s 10-inch screen, and even start editing photos with some of my favourite extensions.

When I get home, I don’t even have to worry about transferring pictures off of the camera to the Mac. iCloud Photo Library automatically uploads all of the JPEGs from the iPad to my iPhone and Mac. This workflow is a dream come true for me, and it’s a far cry from the days of requiring iPad memory card adapters, or worse: transferring all photos from the camera to iPhoto, and then syncing lower resolution versions to the iPad through iTunes.

I’ve been using the iPad as a computer substitute and a second screen for years now, and so it’s a thrill to be able to use the machine in a new context. It’s amazing how versatile this little tablet is proving to be.

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Typing Comfortably on the iPad 

One of my ongoing missions, despite all of the lovely hardware keyboards available, is to find a way to write comfortably for longer periods of time on the iPad. I’m actually surprised there aren’t more articles out there that acknowledge that the iPad isn’t really a very ergonomic setup for touch typing. I can’t be the only one suffering from occasional pins and needles, or soreness from typing for too long at the tablet.
In fact, a few minutes of typing is usually enough to I start to cause the dreaded finger tingles that signal the return of RSI. However, in the interests of science and my own morbid curiousity, I push onward and try out different sitting and typing positions every once in a while.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my posture while I type and how it distributes the weight and pressure on my wrists. My latest attempt at a more sustainable typing position involves keeping my feet flat on the ground, lower back pressed ups against the chair, and generally reclining while looking down at the iPad. This takes a lot of strain off of my wrists, and because I don’t have to bend them upwards as far, and I’m finding I can type for a good 15-20 minutes in this position before actually feeling uncomfortable.

Another key has been to experiment with keyboards that minimize the numbers of keystrokes I actually need to complete a sentence. I’ve written about Nintype and Fleksy before,but I’m giving SwiftKey another thank due to its more aggressive auto-suggestion algorithm. SwiftKey is much faster the iOS QuickType keyboard at showing corrections and at displaying predictions for what my next word will be, so a lot of my typing can be reduced to simply tapping on the spacebar to confirm the currently suggested word.

I’m also learning to try and type at a slower pace on the iPad. Doing so has reduced the number of typos in my pieces, but also made it a little easier on my hands. My fingers tend to fly on real keyboards because I can feel the he rhythm of a sentence and how much pressure certain keys will respond to, but it’s a very different experience on a touchscreen that doesn’t move. I’m finding a lighter, more deliberate touch just feels better and ends up being more accurate overall.


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