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.

Evernote at the Office: Round 2

  
I recently started a new job and have decided, once again, to use Evernote as my main note taking system. I know OneNote isn’t the best for me, and although I was strongly considering the default Notes app, the lack of Windows support keeps me on Evernote.

This time around I wanted to avoid doing what I did at my last job: logging into my personal Evernote account on my office machine. I have thousands of notes in my account and only a quarter of them ever applied to work, so it slowed me down to have them appear in search results while at work. There are Saved Searches to filter specifically for a notebook, but they require an extra tap every time I initiate a search. I’d rather just tap the search bar and be done.

When I first used Evernote at work, I was hoping to selectively sync specific notebooks to the machine (similarly to how Dropbox works on desktop machines). However, that kind of data splitting isn’t possible within the same Evernote account. OneNote can selectively sync notebooks to a device, but Evernote only online notebooks — which sync to every logged-in device — and offline notebooks, which don’t sync at all.

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Quick Look: Day One 2.0 for iPad

  

Day One 2.0 hit the App Store this past Thursday for $10, but if you’re fast, you can currently grab it for $5 during its initial launch week sale.

For those not familiar with it, Day One it’s is a great journaling app on iOS and OS X. I’ve used the app for years now to help record how I’ve felt during major milestones in my life, as well as simply recording my day to day. I’m the kind of person who usually issues a blank stare when someone asked how my weekend was, and Day One has helped me drastically increase my recall of recent activities.

Day One 2.0 has expanded on a lot of what was great in the first version. You can now have multiple journals within the app, add up to 10 photos to a single entry, and multi-select entries for batch processing right on the iPad.

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The State of Apple Maps on iOS 9

Apple Maps iOS 9
As a big fan of Google Maps, it took me a while to warm to Apple’s own maps app. The service took a few years before I could really trust its directions or see a good representation of nearby points of interest in Toronto. Thankfully, Maps got a whole lot better in iOS 9 because Apple is listening. I’ve pointed a few Toronto locations out that weren’t showing up properly (unless you searched for them by name), and two weeks later, they were fixed. You don’t get the same email replies that you would if you report something on Google, but as long as the issues are fixed, I’m happy.
The iPad Pro has also had an influence on which maps app I want to use. I defaulted to Google Maps on the iPad Air 2, but iPad Pro support is still lacking. Apple Maps has the advantage here because it’s a system level app. It already looks great on the iPad Pro, and I can keep it open in Split View while I research parks and museums in Safari.

I’d ideally be able to use Apple Maps full time, but there are a few factors to consider.

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LINE Finally (Properly) Comes to the iPad

LINE universal app

LINE is one of the largest, if not the largest, messaging services out of Japan. It isn’t huge in North America, but it’s pretty big in east Asian countries. I use it to chat with my family on a daily basis. We could technically use other services like Google Hangouts or iMessage, but my mother and sister vastly prefer LINE for the personality it brings to the table.

Before the most recent update, I was ready to leave LINE because of its lackluster support for the iPad. The iPhone app is passable, but the official LINE for iPad app hasn’t seen an update since Oct 2014. It didn’t display at proper resolution on the iPad Pro, and you couldn’t reply to notifications.

It seems as though LINE has chosen to simply ignore the dedicated iPad app and have updated the main app to become universal. LINE is now a decent iOS 9 citizen across all iOS devices: it supports notification replies, and it scales properly for the iPad Pro’s hi-res display. It’s still not a great app, though. It lacks Split View or Slide Over support, and it won’t let you load up directly to the Chats view. It insists on pushing a Facebook/Twitter-esque timeline upon its users, and relegates actual chatting to a secondary “Chats” tab.

However, I stick with LINE because that’s where my family is, and they love LINE for the stickers.

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Switching back to 2Do from OmniFocus 2

 Returning to 2Do  

I can’t help but feel this is a bit of a “me too” move, but I’ve transferred my tasks from OmniFocus 2 back to 2Do. Federico Viticci of MacStories and Ben Brooks of The Brooks Review recently wrote about their reasons for switching over as newcomers to 2Do, but, to me, it feels like coming home. I’ve long enjoyed using 2Do for task management, but went back to OF2 for a while because of a months-long obsession with night mode.

However, with the advent of Night Shift in 9.3 (which warms the colour temperature of iOS screens in the evening), night mode is no longer paramount in the apps that I use. I’m finding that the warmer tones are making night reading more comfortable, and so I don’t really feel the harshness of the light as much.

My ideal is still to have both Night Shift and a night mode function in an app, but in the absence of the latter in 2Do, I take comfort in knowing that Night Shift will be baked into iOS from 9.3 onwards. Because it’s an OS level feature, I won’t have to worry about 2Do requiring a future update to support it.

As awesome as OmniFocus 2 is, I returned to 2Do for 2Major—er, two major reasons:

  1. The treatment of “Today”
  2. Feature parity across all apps

I’m picky about how I define “Today”. I want a Today view to show tasks that are due (or overdue), but also tasks that are starred or flagged as important. I like the flexibility of this workflow because I can plan specific tasks ahead of time by assigning due dates, but I can also add tasks to my Today view just by flagging them.

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Quick Look: Autodesk Graphic for iPad

  
One of the apps that the iPad Pro has really unlocked for me has been Autodesk Graphic (previously iDraw), an incredibly powerful vector illustrating app on iOS. I picked Graphic up late last year while it was on sale, and I’ve been playing around with the app over the past few weeks.

I’m pretty new to vectors, but I’ve used Pixelmator for a few years now, so the toolset isn’t completely foreign to me. The left toolbar features move tools, brushes, pens, pencils, basic shape tools, and even shape libraries to insert specific pre-made objects onto the canvas. There’s also a great RGB colour picker, complete with hex values. I love Pixelmator on the iPad, but having used Graphic for a few weeks now, I think the Pixelmator team could have afforded to be a little more traditional (read: desktop-like) with its UI, especially on the iPad Pro.

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iPad Apps with Night Mode / Dark Theme Support

OmniFocus 2 night mode

Before the release of the iOS 9.3 beta and Apple’s Night Shift feature (which warms the screen’s colour temperature at night), I had spent months looking to re-haul the apps I used on a daily basis. I wanted to optimize my home screen for apps that worked just as well in the day time as at night. This meant the inclusion of some sort of night mode or dark theme, which is a strangely under-served feature on the App Store. I have a lot of wonderful apps in my App Store account, but I’d reckon that only about 10-20% of them have thought about how the apps appear at different times of day.

If you aren’t familiar with night mode, it usually involves switching up the colour scheme and contrast levels in apps, turning whites into blacks, and vice versa. Many times this simply involves inverting all of the colours on the screen, but the best apps choose colours that suit light and dark themes equally.

A lot of this was inspired by my experience with iBooks and the dark theme in that app. I like to do an hour of reading when I get into bed, and iBooks is my main app for devouring ePub files. The default theme tends to blind me when the lights are low (or off), whereas the black theme feels easier on my eyes. It’s not so dim that I have to struggle to read, but it isn’t so bright that I’m being blasted by light as I’m trying to go to sleep.

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Quick Look: Outlook 2.0 for iPad

  

I used Outlook full-time in early 2015 and liked the Exchange integration, but the Mail app got so much better in iOS 9 that I just went right back to it. However, with the recent Outlook 2.0 overhaul, I decided to give the app another shot. I’ve been really impressed with how quickly Microsoft iterates on their iOS offerings, and although the app doesn’t quite have feature parity with Mail app, I do believe it’s only a matter of time until it mirrors and supersedes Mail’s feature set.

I’ve mainly used Outlook as a mail app, but I’ve dabbled with it as a calendar as well. I’ve written about it as a Gmail user, but you could also add any other Yahoo!, iCloud, IMAP, or Exchange account to the app. Here are a few rapid-fire thoughts on the past few weeks of use:

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Little Details in iOS 9.3

  
Apple doesn’t often publicize dot-releases. They’ll go out of their way to talk about big releases like iOS 7, 8, and 9…but you won’t often see them make a big deal about anything but their major software releases, or a dot-release that enables some sort of new hardware tie-in (like the introduction of CarPlay).

All of that is why iOS 9.3 so interesting. There’s no new hardware that’s rumoured to be released alongside iOS 9.3, so this really does seem to be a pure software update. However, unlike the iOS 9.1 and 9.2 before it, this update isn’t just about bug fixes and stability. iOS 9.3 brings some awesome marquee features with it, and it even has its own dedicated preview page. I’ll let Apple’s preview page speak for the major features, but I wanted to cover some of the smaller details of the beta.

Little fixes

Living day in and day out with an iPad Pro gives you a lot of time to get acquainted with the tiny, annoying, everyday bugs. John Gruber pointed out one of them out in his initial iPad Pro review: the spacebar didn’t work properly in Safari. A tap of the spacebar was supposed to scroll about 3/4 down the webpage, but leave you just enough context to keep things easy to read. This wasn’t the case with iOS 9.0-9.2. Thankfully, iOS 9.3 has fixed this and tapping the spacebar within Safari acts much like it does on OS X. Between this change and the new keyboard shortcuts added in iOS 9, it’s actually really pleasant to surf with a keyboard in Safari now. I love it, and there’s basically nothing I want to do that I can’t already accomplish with my Smart Keyboard.

Home is where the Command Key is

iOS 9.3 also changes the shortcut for getting back to the Home screen. In previous versions, you had to press CMD + Shift + H to get back Home. Evidently, people were finding that this was one key too many, because the shortcut in iOS 9.3 is simply CMD + H. This works really nicely and makes it very easy to trigger the shortcut with either your right or your left hand. I’m not entirely sure this change will stick, though, as some apps (like OmniFocus 2) already use the CMD + H shortcut. We’ll have to wait a few betas to where we net out. 

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Keeping The Apple Pencil Handy

 

Apple Pencil handyI haven’t been using the Pencil as much recently. Part of that has to do with some of the newness dying down, but I still really believe in the Pencil’s utility. I love using it every time I pick it up. I attribute some of this decrease in usage to keeping the Pencil in my bag too often, and simply forgetting I have it with me. My Smart Keyboard is always attached to the iPad Pro, so it’s easier to whip the keyboard out and use it whenever I want to sit and type. If I could get the Pencil to that level of ready availability, I think I’d end up using it more often.

I’ve done a bit of research into different Pencil carrying options, and here are a few of my favourites:

Pencil Clips

One cheap solution is to add a pen clip to the Pencil so that I could attach it to the dedicated pen loops in my bags. This would help keep the Pencil more visible at all times. It’s an intriguing simple solution, but I’m a little worried about how that might scratch the Pencil up over time.

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Experimenting With Slack for Casual Communication

Slack for casual communication

Slack has a killer reputation as a team communication tool, but since it’s free to use, my friends and I decided to give it a shot as a Google Hangouts replacement. We chat across OS X, Windows, Android, and iOS depending on location, so Slack’s multi-platform support was a huge selling point. There were also a few more advantages to Slack.

One of the big draws was that Slack has actual apps for every platform. Hangouts is clean, but it has to run in the browser on desktops, so you’ve got to pin a tab in Safari or use FluidApp to generate a dedicated window. Slack was also one of the first apps to embrace the iPad Pro’s screen size with a wider layout, which gave it big points for me as an early iPad Pro adopter.

Slack???

If you haven’t used Slack before, here’s the quick primer. You start off by establishing a team (ex. teamname.slack.com) and then inviting members to join that team. Slack has a very generous free tier for small teams, but the paid tiers allow for fancier integrations with services. You can run customer support and entire teams off of Slack, and the service has lots of little features (notification snooze and @mention notifications) that help it scale from teams of 20–200 people. We didn’t need to scale up because they only things we really send around are a few Dropbox links and images of our stupid faces. The basic tier was enough.

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