I read some great news from @Ticci of MacStories earlier today. Apple’s latest beta, iOS 9 b4, has solved a problem that has been plaguing developers for a few years now. Many excited tech fans — including yours truly — will flock to each new iOS beta as it’s released over the course of the summer. However, these betas are just that: software that is still undergoing testing. It isn’t ready for primetime yet, even though 80-90% of the features may be working.
The issue has been that people who sign up for the betas don’t always realize this, and they’ll leave a slew of damaging 1-star reviews for apps on the App Store. The developers are unable to address the reported bugs because they can’t issue updates that use beta code until the official release of iOS in the Fall. As a result, the 1-star reviews were left to stand, and there was little that the developers could do about this.
Thankfully, as of iOS 9 b4, whenever you try to leave an app review, you’ll be confronted with the screenshot I’ve included above. This change was almost certainly a result of developer and community feedback, and it’s great to see that Apple has listened.
I’ve been using the charger that came with my iPad Air 2, but it has only one USB port, whereas I carry four devices on me on a daily basis: my iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, and Sony camera. I charge most of my gadgets on a daily basis, and although I have enough power at home, it becomes a bit of a hassle when I’m outside.
I was reading a Wirecutter article on multi-USB Port chargers the other day when I stumbled upon the $20 ChargeTech charger. It’s worth mentioning the ChargeTech was not their top pick (due to price), but they had nothing but good things to say about it otherwise.
It’s just a little bigger than the tiny cube charger that comes with iPhones, but its prongs can fold in. But that alone wouldn’t be enough reason to buy another charger.
The real draw of the ChargeTech is its dual USB port, both of which feature 2.4A of power. That means this little charger is able to provide enough power for two iPads, simultaneously. That feature, combined with the amazingly small size, has me absolutely sold on this product.
I’m picking up two right now: one for me and another for my dad. Expect a review in the coming weeks, once I’ve had a little time to test.
Musixmatch is a great case of a new breed of iOS apps that tend to function more as services than outright applications. Musixmatch does have a UI for when you load it up, but it’s really best used as a widget for the songs you’re already playing. The only setup involved is activating the widget in Notification Center.
Once that’s done, Musixmatch can stream the lyrics for most of the songs in my library and display them right in tune with the audio — kind of like my own personal karaoke machine. Soundhound has a similar feature they call LiveLyrics, but it isn’t available as a convenient widget.
I had previously taken a few hours to tag all of my own songs with lyrics metadata so that I could reference those lyrics at any time within the Music app (one tap on the album art would show me lyrics while a song was playing). However, anything I add to my collection through Apple Music will not have the benefit of any lyrical metadata, and that’s why Musixmatch is so key to me. The service has a great database of lyrics, and it works with songs that I’m streaming to my iPad through Apple Music.
If you haven’t done so already, I’d highly recommend giving Musixmatch a try on your iOS devices. It’s free to use, and it’s a lot of fun to watch lyrics update as you scrub through a song.
I tend to use Siri a lot more on my Apple Watch and iPhone 5S, but there are still some great uses for it on the iPad. Apple wasn’t exaggerating those numbers during WWDC either: Siri really has gotten a lot faster over the past year — especially during the last few months. So if you’ve dabbled with Siri before but found the service a little too slow, I suggest you give it another try.
Incidentally, you’ll notice that I reference Siri as a “he”. That’s because I’ve chosen the male British accent for Siri, which makes me feel like I have my own version of Tony Stark’s Jarvis AI.
Now, without further ado, here are a few of my favourite uses for Siri on the iPad:
This is a bit more of a niche tip, but it could save a bit of pain for those who import camera photos onto the iPad. As I’ve written before, iCloud Photo Library is a great way to mirror your personal photos and videos across all of your iOS and OS X devices, but it requires Wi-Fi in order to update.
This means that the camera pictures I import to my iPad using the Sony PlayMemories app won’t propagate to other devices until I access Wi-FI network.
In these circumstances it can be tempting to forego the wait and just use AirDrop to transfer pictures to my Mac or iPhone, but I’ve found a pretty annoying issue with this process. iCloud Photo Library doesn’t seem smart enough to realize that the imported photos from the camera are the same photos that I’ve AirDropped to one of my other devices, so I’ve ended up with duplicates in my library: one set that was initially imported from the camera to the iPad, and the other set that I Airdropped from iPad to iPhone. Both sets end up in the library once all uploading is completed.
It takes a while to notice this because iCloud Photo Library needs some time to upload multiple 24 Megapixel JPEGs, but after a few instances of this, I realized that AirDrop was the culprit.
So my current camera workflow is as follows:
- Import pics to iPad using PlayMemories
- Wait for iCloud Photo Library to transfer the pictures to my other devices
This means I can’t easily preview the photos on other devices while I’m out and about, but it’s a cleaner process in the end.
Apple Maps in iOS 9 now grant transit options for users in a select number of cities (inlcuding Toronto, thank goodness!). However, Google isn’t sitting on their laurels in the mean time. Yesterday’s Google Maps update added a number of interesting features, including direct sharing to Facebook and Facebook Messenger (great for events and friends who are showing up late).
However, the most useful feature for me has been the addition of live transit schedules built right into the app. It’s now easier to identify different kinds of routes, and these routes are differentiated the moment you request transit directions. I tested a few different locations and Google would divide its suggestions into Fastest, More by subway, and More by tram. Tapping on a particular line (e.g. 501 on Queen) displays the upcoming arrival times, so you can check to see how much leeway you have in case you miss the first streetcar or bus.
Google Maps has had transit directions for quite a while now, but it’s nice to see the UI has been cleaned up and now offers more granular detail. Apple Maps still seems to have an advantage in Canada due to the mapping of specific station exits, but this update from Google Maps is running a close second.
I stopped using Notes on my iOS devices very early on. This was partly due to the hilarious Marker Felt fonts of previous iterations of the app, but mainly due to the lack of flexibility. It took a long time for Notes to mature as a modern note-taking app, but that time is here.
To start, there are a few big advantages to using the Notes app. you can create or append to existing notes using Siri. Holding the Home button and saying “note that I watched Pacific Rim and loved it” will create a note saying as much. “Add Spider-Man to my Movies note” will append that text to a note I have specifically for movies I’ve seen. Given the most recent speed upgrades to Siri, this has become a really fast and reliable way to add new notes in a hands-free setting.
Notes are also fully searchable from within the app, and from the Search bar on the homescreen. Search is incredibly important for notetaking systems, and they’re one of the biggest differentiators between digital and handwritten notes. If you’re not keen on organizing notes into various folders, digital notes can be very forgiving by allowing you to search for key words or phrases to increase your chances of recalling that information.
However, these features were around before iOS 9. The real meat of iOS 9 notes improvements comes down to:
I actually saw this news last week on MacRumors, but I think it’s still bears mentioning as it has to do with AppleCare+ becoming more worthwhile. I’ve only bought AppleCare once in the past five years, and it never actually helped me out because all of my device issues happened within the first year of ownership (and Apple devices get a one-year warranty by default). However, the recent change to the policy indicates that batteries that fall below the 80% of their original capacity are eligible for free replacements during the coverage period.
That’s a much lower and more realistic threshold than the previous 50% that the plan offered. Regular usage of my iPhones, for example, tends to get the battery below 80% of its original charge over the course of a 1.5 years, so I know the plan would prove useful to me for ensuring I have a “fresh” battery as it comes time to sell.
Apple devices are built well enough that their hardware usually lasts years, but batteries are consumables and will degrade over time. Having better battery coverage built into the AppleCare+ extended warranty really makes me consider it for my next purchase.
At $99, AppleCare+ costs exactly as much as a battery replacement for the iPad, but it also includes an extra year of warranty coverage, as well as a $49 optional iPad replacement if the tablet falls vicim to accidental damage (drops, spills, or worse). If you’re a heavy iPad user, this is liking buying the battery replacement up front and getting the extended warranty as a benefit. Just make sure you buy AppleCare+ within two months of your iPad purchase, as you won’t be able to buy it after that.
With the release iOS 8.4 today, this is the perfect time to talk about the new Music app, which I’ve been playing with in iOS 9. I can’t talk about the new Apple Music features yet, but I can run through a quick tour of changes for those who manage music libraries on the iPad.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the app has gotten a complete visual overhaul, with many parts having taken inspiration from Apple’s own “Remote” app. There are a lot of frosted panels that take on the main colour of the album artwork, and a side panel navigation bar to help you scrub through whatever section you’re looking at (e.g. Artists, Albums, etc.).
A “Recently Added” section is pinned to the top of most sections, allowing you to see the most recent songs, albums, or artists you’ve added to your library. This should prove much more useful with an Apple Music subscription, as it’s very easy for a music library to snowball out of control when unlimited streaming and listening are introduced.
Emailing on the iPad on iOS 9 has become so much easier thanks to the new Attachments option. Previous versions of iOS required me to copy and paste pictures into emails, or using third party apps (like Dropbox or Outlook) to add files to my emails for me. However, as of iOS 9, the Mail app has really grown up.
Attachments can come from a number of Locations: iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. iCloud Drive works by default as long as you have that service turned on, and Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive become available once you install those apps.
Actually adding an attachment in Mail is accomplished by using the paper clip icon on the Shortcut Bar, or by tapping and holding, then swiping over to the “Add Attachment” option on the pop-up menu.
One thing I was worried about was whether or not iOS would actually append an attachment to the email. Some services choose to include links to the cloud files, which isn’t quite as convenient for certain things (like pictures or PDFs). Luckily, iOS 9 works as expected: adding an attachment actually adds that file directly to your e-mail.
The caveat is that you first have to have that file on one of your storage locations, and if that location is the cloud, the file will need to be downloaded before you can add it as an attachment. Certain other apps like Notes and Reminders have options to store files locally (“On My iPad”), but no such area seems to exist for Mail. The closest equivalent is to use an app like Readdle’s Documents, and store your important local files in there (so you can send those attachments without having to download them first).
The only other thing I might want in this system is the ability to select multiple files for attachment, but iOS’ document picker can currently only handle a single file at a time. However, I usually only send a handful of files in a single email, so this hasn’t been a real issue so far. Right now it’s just liberating to be able to attach files on my iPad just like I can on my Mac.
Now that I’ve had a few weeks to use a hardware keyboard alongside my iPad Air 2 on the iOS 9 beta, I have to say I’m quite impressed with how much Apple has addressed. There are many little areas they’ve added keyboard shortcuts to, and these tiny changes have really added up. If you’re the kind who wants to learn more shortcuts, but can’t quite remember them all, holding on the Command key in any compatible app will show you a list of shortcuts (as shown above).
I can now browse Mail messages by using the keyboard alone. Cmd + Up and Cmd + Down switch between emails, and it’s easy to Reply or Replay All with a quick keystroke as well.
iMessage has gotten a very modest set of keyboard shortcuts, but it really only needed the one. Pressing enter *finally* (finally!) sends messages, eliminating the need to tap the “Send” button on the screen. It wasn’t a big deal to do that a few times over the course of a day, but if you’re actively chatting with people, it got very old very quickly.
Surfing in Safari has also improved. There are shortcuts to switch tabs, close tabs, copy the URL, and even find text on the page. I can also use the arrow keys to scroll through the various search suggestions, which is a good touch (I wish the same applied to the Spotlight search, but that isn’t keyboard friendly yet).
It’s early days yet, but Apple is already setting a very good example of what great keyboard shortcuts can do for iOS power users with their first party apps. Combining these keyboard shortcuts with the system-wide Command + Tab (for switching apps) has made work a lot snappier on the iPad.