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.

AppleCare+ Now Covers iPad Batteries That Fall Below 80% Capacity

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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.

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Loving The New Music App in iOS 8.4 for iPad

iOS 8.4 music app

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.

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Email Attachments on iOS 9

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.

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Using a Hardware Keyboard on iOS 9

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.

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Six-month update: iCloud Photo Library Has Sped Up     

I posted an update two and a half months ago about the state of iCloud Photo Library, after having decided to store all of my photos and videos in Apple’s cloud. At the time, I was having issues with devices not syncing properly and cloud videos streaming in very, very slowly. However, something seems to have changed in the past few months.

I haven’t had a single issue with my devices dropping out of sync since my last post. As long as my iPad has had time to stay on Wi-Fi, I know I can turn it on and see full-resolution versions of the photos I just took on my iPhone earlier in the day. This alone is worth the price of $4/month for me. 

However, video streaming and playback has also improved dramatically. It used to take upwards of 10 seconds for a video to start playing, and even then playback would still be a little choppy. On a decent connection (LTE or Wi-Fi that’s 20+ Mbps) my videos will start playing within about three seconds and allow for me to scrub through them. I tested this on videos that were 10 seconds and for videos over 1:10, and both started equally quickly. I was really thinking that all future devices I’d need would require 128 GB, but the increasing reliability of iCloud Photo Library has me feeling that 64 GB could be just fine for quite a while. 

The last little bonus observation is that iOS 9 seems to have also improved the photo browser within apps like iMessage and photo editors. Trying to send a picture from within iMessage on my Air 2 usually took several seconds on iOS 8, but it’s noticeably faster on iOS 9. It’s not instantaneous, but I’m welcoming the improvement. 

If you’ve been interested in iCloud Photo Library as your one stop shop for photos and videos, now is a pretty good time to jump on board. The service had some growing pains, much like iMessage did when it first launched, but it’s gotten better and is definitely feeling reliable now.

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Would A Force Touch Keyboard On The Next iPad Be Practical?

Images of a scaled-up software keyboard in iOS 9 from developer Steven Troughton-Smith hints at the existence of a larger iPad. This new keyboard has more keys, larger key sizes, and more symbols and numbers available at the surface level. The conclusion most people are making is that this layout could only feasibly be executed on a larger screen than the iPad has now. 

This is interesting news on its own, but it got me thinking that a real breakthrough would be a software keyboard with a localized implementation of Force Touch (which is used on the Watch and new MacBook). One of the things that makes typing on the iPad different is that you can’t place your fingers on the keys when you want to rest them, and I think Force Touch could be an interesting solution to this issue. Imagine if you could rest your fingers on the area of the screen displaying the keyboard, but no keystrokes would be registered unless you apply more deliberate pressure to the screen. 

The caveat here is that I don’t know if Force Touch could be designed to only work for a portion of the screen (depending on what’s displayed), and this kind of input would probably need some form of haptic feedback to help me feel when I’ve applied enough pressure to actually trigger a key press. The iPad has also never had a vibrating motor, let alone haptic feedback, and it could prove too noisy with the iPad on a desk. 

However, if we’re going to see a larger iPad and a modified keyboard to suit it, I’m hoping to see more of the innovation that went into designing the keyboard and trackpad on the new MacBook be applied to the input mechanisms on a larger iPad. 

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iOS 9 Has Reinvigorated My iPad

Before iOS 9, I was tempted to sell my iPad Air 2 and opt for a MacBook this Fall. I figured that, between the next-generation iPhone and the new super thin MacBook, I’d have what I needed for a compact computing setup wherever I go. However, with the announcement and my rash decision to install the very first iOS 9 beta on my Air 2, I’m once again feeling very excited about the iPad as a computing platform.

The result of all of the little iPad-specific features added in this latest release is that friction has been reduced across the board. There are so many little roadblocks that iOS 9 has removed at the system level, and although it will really take us until Fall to realize the full extent of what this update offers, there is some great low hanging fruit to discuss.

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More Context For Siri And Search In iOS 9

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Siri and Spotlight are merging a little in functionality in iOS 9. The first change is that the Search screen will reside to the left of the first home screen, instead of being activated by a downward swipe. I’m not sure I’m a fan of this change because I like how accessible Search is in iOS 9, but I welcome all of the extra power that Apple has given this core feature.

I really like Search because it keeps me from having to dig through large folders of apps, like the single “Apple” folder that I inevitably dump all of my unused first-party apps into. iOS 9 will make Search more powerful with more data sources — e.g. Vimeo, YouTube, iCloud Drive — and an API that will allow third-party apps to show up, as well. We didn’t see a specific demo of this at WWDC, but it should mean that I can search for “chicken recipe”, tap on an Evernote link in the result, and have the Evernote app open up right to the note containing said recipe. I enjoy that level of deep linking on OS X through Alfred 2 and some plugins, so I’d be delighted to see it in iOS 9 this Fall.

The other big thing is that Siri is getting smarter and more aware as an assistant. Prompts with natural language can now do more things, allowing me to say things:

  • “show me pictures of Patrick from my iPad Insight Party” (loads a specific album in Photos)
    “remind me about this tonight at 7pm” (sets a reminder with a deep link to a specific webpage)

I find that promising not only because it shows more awareness of context, but also because it hints that Faces will sync to iOS this Fall. I tag the crap out of my pictures on the Mac, and it’s disappointing not to have that metadata sync over to my iPad on iOS 8.

The only thing I’m wondering at this point is whether Siri can respond to text queries (e.g. “how old is Martin Sheen?”), or if those are still reserved purely for voice. That Public Beta in July can’t come soon enough…

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Fantastic iPad Keyboard Improvements Coming With iOS 9

Oh, at long last! Apple just announced at WWDC that iOS 9 will have vastly improved keyboard support on the iPad, for both the software and hardware keyboards.
Two fingers anywhere on the iPad screen will now move the cursor around, even if your fingers are right over the keyboard. This works for moving the cursor around, as well as selecting text. Apps like Ulysses and iA Writer Pro offer features like this with their own custom solutions, but Apple’s universal solution will work across all apps.

Built-in Shortcut Bar on the QuickType bar make it easier to cute and paste while using a software keyboard, which should prove to be a pretty big time saver over the long haul. Think about the way cutting and pasting works now: 

  1. you double tap on screen and then drag to select text
  2. wait to tap on the cut pop-up
  3. tap and hold elsewhere 
  4. wait to tap on the paste pop-up

Combine the new text selection and built-in Shortcut Bar, and text manipulation becomes a lot faster. My fingers can stay on the keys for writing and editing, and cutting and pasting will be faster when I don’t have to wait for a pop-up animation.

However, it’s really the final feature that I’ve been waiting years for: proper hardware keyboard shortcut support. Pressing one of the modifier keys (Cmd, Option, or Control) will highlight shortcuts across the screen in any app, and I think this will be the key to making keyboard shortcuts a more universal feature on the iPad. Cmd + Tab will work for app switching (YES!), but I’m pretty sure this will apply to all the little things, like pressing Cmd + Enter to send an iMessage without having to tap the screen. This will make my favourite keyboards, the Belkin QODE Ultimate Pro and Logitech Ultrathin, a lot more useful.

These features are big enough that I may jump on the public beta of iOS 9 this July, despite the app compatibility issues and battery impact it will likely have. 

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Review: Ulysses for iPad

I’ve been an iA Writer and Writer Pro user for a few years now, but recently took a break from those apps to give Ulysses a fair shake. The devs at The Soulmen have put together a very powerful combo of Mac and iPad apps with a very clean approach to empowering plain text. If you write for the web on a regular basis and prefer to use Markdown for formatting, Ulysses could be your new best friend.

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Review: ZAGG Pocket Keyboard

I’m really into carrying a bag these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in university, I wanted to get away with carrying as little as possible, and doing as much as I could with the stuff I could keep on my person. It’s for people like my university self that the ZAGG Pocket Keyboard was designed.

This little keyboard folds up into a slim rectangle that measures 9 inches long length-wise — perfect for the inside pocket of a blazer or iPad-specific bags. A magnetic seal keeps the keyboard closed during storage, but still allows me to set my little typing station up in seconds when I get to a desk. Two thirds of the tri-fold design are devoted purely to the keyboard, and the last third folds out into a stand upon which to prop an iPad or larger smartphone.

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