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.

Third-Party Keyboards on iOS 9

iOS 9 keyboards

It’s been a while since I’ve written about third-party keyboards for the iPad, and that’s because the experience on iOS 8 really sucked, despite there being some really great ideas out there. I love how Fleksy lets me almost touch-type on the iPad’s screen, or how SwiftKey and Swype let me drastically reduce the number of keystrokes needed for long-form writing. Even Nintype’s really aggressive reimagining of a keyboard was interesting.

Keyboards would crash while switching between multiple iMessage chats, and it made Spotlight searches a lot tougher when no keyboard came up at all.

Apple hasn’t actually talked about third-party keyboards since they were announced at WWDC in 2014, and I think it’s because they’re just not a priority. That’s a crying shame because even though the QuickType keyboard is good, there are a number of other solutions that are better and faster for long-form typing. SwiftKey generates eerily accurate next-word predictions for me because I gave it access to some of my social networking data. I have years and years of my own software keyboard data available to Apple’s QuickType keyboard, but it still creates bizarre, laughable sentences out of its next-word predictions.

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Quick Look: Tweetbot 4 for iPad

Tweetbot 4_3

Tweetbot 4 is out and it has brought some long awaited changes to Tweetbot on the iPad. The app now matches the visual style of iOS 7–9, which means a flatter overall look with no faux textures in sight. This has definitely removed some of the original charm of the app because the graphics were what gave Tweetbot such a unique “bot” appearance, but there are some remnants of that personality in the sound effects, animation, and of course, the icon.

I’m also happy to see that the profile view is as good as ever, highlighting follow status, follower counts, and recent media (a feature I haven’t seen in any other Twitter app I’ve used). Tweetbot 4 is also a good iOS 9 citizen and supports things like Split View, Slide Over, and quick replies within notifications.

The app is unapologetic about being an entirely new purchase ($5 now, $10 when the launch sale ends), so you’ll have to pay for this upgrade even if you own the previous versions for iPad or iPhone. I’m totally fine with this approach, as I’d like to keep my favourite developers around by paying them with money.

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More Thoughts On OneNote for iPad

onenote and evernote

I take a lot of notes. Some of them are little scribbles with just a title, whereas others are more involved documents with attachments, links, and ordered lists. I like to keep these notes digital because of how easily I can sort them and find them, even years later. This isn’t just a hypothetical advantage either. When called upon to train a new teammate at work I brought up notes from 2013 that fully explained our invoicing process, step by step.

I take the vast majority of my notes within Evernote, but I took a little time in August to try out OneNote. That experiment concluded pretty quickly, but not before I, well, took a few notes on the process.

I tried OneNote out for a spin because of its perceived flexibility: freeform text layout, images, and drawing. It also ticked many of the same boxes as Evernote:

  • multi platform support
  • attachment support
  • rich text formatting
  • seamless syncing

It seemed really promising at the outset.

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Pixelmator 2.1 Enables Great New Photo Editing Workflows

Pixelmator 2.1 3

Pixelmator 2.1 includes a few housekeeping changes: iOS 9 support with bona fide Slide Over and Split View. On the surface, this is already enough to change the way you use Pixelmator on an iPad Air 2. Once the WordPress app is updated to support iOS 9 multitasking, I can see myself running WordPress right alongside Pixelmator as I finish up longer reviews.

However, the larger change to my workflow comes in the form of the “Save to Photos” feature. This is a big one, folks.

Previously, opening one of my photos within Pixelmator would create a copy within the app, and saving that photo to my camera roll would create another copy. I’d then have two such photos in my iCloud Photo Library — the original and the edited version. Pixelmator 2.1 changes things around by letting me save edits to the existing photo in my library. No more duplication. What’s more, these changes are non-destructive and completely reversible from within the Photos app. If I decide tomorrow that I don’t like my changes, I can edit that picture within the Photos app and tap the “Revert” button to go right back to the original.

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Scalability of Slide Over and Split View in iOS 9

iOS 9 Slide Over interface

Now that we’re seeing more iOS 9 app updates hitting the store, more of you will probably have had the chance to use apps in Slide Over and Split View mode. As a reminder, here are the basics of how these features work:

  • Slide Over loads an app in a compact, iPhone-like view over your current app; they are not loaded simultaneously. Think of Slide Over like dragging a smaller piece of paper over a larger one.
  • Split View is true multitasking, but only on iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro. You can run two apps side by side, with one app taking the majority of the space, or two apps sharing the screen equally.
  • Both modes are activated with a slide-in gesture along the right side of the screen
  • Switching out a Slide Over or Split View app requires a downward swipe in the top-right corner, which reveals a single column of compatible app icons to choose from
  • Apps won’t work in Slide Over or Split View unless they’ve been specifically updated to do so

It took me a little while to remember to use these multitasking features, especially since banners and the ‘back’ button already aid in a lot of my multitasking needs. However, there’s no question that revealing an iMessage conversation with one swipe is a very powerful feature. I tend to use Slide Over more than Split View — but that’s probably because only a handful of my daily apps have received iOS 9 updates. I’m still waiting on Evernote, Paper, 2Do, and others.

However, one thing that I’ve wondered about this interface is how well it will scale. It was easy to use during the iOS 9 beta because only Apple’s own apps would show up in the Slide View bar. In other words, there really weren’t that many to choose from, and there were only so many useful combinations. Notes and Safari, Photos and iMessage, or Reminders and iMessage were really the only apps I would to run side by side. However, expanding that selection to include third-party apps changes a lot, and the UI for selecting Slide Over apps doesn’t scale — it just becomes a longer list.

This isn’t too bad if I’ve just been switching between a few apps for Slide Over, but what about the times I’d like to use Reminders and Safari…but Reminders is a good 10–20 apps up the list? The unfortunate answer is: a lot of scrolling. I have over 33 apps that are compatible with Slide Over, and they aren’t sorted in alphabetical order. I think a one-colum interface is the wrong way to go about tackling this issue.

As such, I think this will be one of the first UI changes that Apple makes to iOS 9. I think the interface should remain very simple: no search function or folders should be necessary. Simply displaying two or three columns instead of icons would do a lot more for users than showing just one. Apple would have to balance this system out to make sure it doesn’t look too visually cluttered, but if the icons were small enough, I think it could work.

Anyone have suggestions for how to improve this situation, or is this just a UI nuance we’ll get used to quickly?

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Review: iA Writer 3 for iPad

iA Writer 3

iA Writer Pro is gone and iA Writer 3.0 has taken its place. Here, I’ll explain why I’m really, really happy about that.

I loved the original iA Writer from 2010 for its Focus Mode: one tap of a button blurred all other paragraphs, leaving just the current sentence centered on the screen. The app was very simple, but I felt it did real credit to the idea of a distraction-free writing environment. No extra menus, no fiddling with fonts or spacing — just sit down and write.

Writer Pro came out as a paid upgrade in 2013 and brought a wealth of new features with it. Hardware keyboard shortcuts were a welcome upgrade and Syntax Control — which could actively isolate nouns, verbs and adverbs, conjunctions, and adjectives — was intriguing because it provided a very different way of examining your own writing. At its coolest, Syntax Control felt like “bullet time” for writing, providing a sense of self-awareness that was hard to gain in more crowded writing applications. However, on the whole, I really just stuck to Focus Mode.

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iOS 9: Now Available for iPad

iOS 9 for iPadiOS 9 is here, and it should be a lot easier to download for users with 16 GB iPads due to the decreased install size.

Once you’ve upgraded, you’ll probably want to look into these features:

  • Back Buttons: whenever you enter an app due to a notification, the top-left corner of the screen will turn into a back button. Tapping there will take you back to the app you were using moments before. Very Android, and very handy.
  • Split Screen and Slide-over: this will take a while to test as more apps roll out over the coming week, but if you’ve got chatty friends, this will be instantly useful. Browse in Safari, swipe from the right side to respond to iMessages, then tap right back into your browser. Or, if you’ve got an iPad Air 2, launch iMessage and Safari as split screen apps for equal parts chatting and surfing.
  • Keyboard improvements: the keyboard in iOS 9 reflects the current letter case of your keys, and has a built-in shortcut bar with dynamic controls for the app you’re using. What’s more, two fingers on the keyboard will turn the whole thing into a trackpad, allowing you to move the text cursor with precision. Much, much better than that magnifying glass we’ve been using for years.
  • Mini Safari: this one’s actually called Safari View Controller, but in practice it feels like mini version of Safari built into third-party apps. It’s active right now within Twitterrific, and it’s really awesome. Not only is the navigation experience more consistent across apps, but you also get the benefits of iOS 9 extras like auto-fill (for your passwords).
  • Spotlight improvements: Rob wrote some Spotlight search tips earlier this year, but we’ll need to update that list. iOS 9 and Siri empower Spotlight to do more powerful searches for local files (provided that an app supports this) or for quick calculations (e.g., currency or weight conversions).

There’s a lot more to talk about in iOS 9, but these are little gems that you can test moments after you install. If you’d like in-depth overviews, iMore and MacStories have some incredible iOS 9 reviews out right now.

As for me, I’ll be delving into the medium term usability of Slideover apps, re-examining third party keyboards, and testing to see how useful local search really is. Stay tuned!

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Using Dropbox and iCloud Photo Library for Media Storage

icloud and dropbox

I’m taking a step back from iCloud Photo Library. I had chosen to go all-in and place over 12,000 photos and 500+ videos (35 GB of data) into the service, but it hasn’t been working out. I’ve been taking a lot more pictures since I purchased my Sony A6000 earlier this year, and the resulting 24 MP shots are taking up a lot of room on my Mac and iOS devices — enough that I’m consistently getting storage warnings while I use them. So I’m opting for a hybrid system for photo and video storage that utilizes iCloud Photo Library for recent photos (the past 5 years) and Dropbox for everything else.

“Optimize iPad Storage” isn’t Optimal

In my Four Month Update post I discussed using iCloud Photo Library’s “Optimize iPad Storage” settings. This setting dynamically downloads full-res versions of your media, thereby saving space on devices where there isn’t enough space for your full photo library. The optimize settings were working well earlier this year, but the performance has since deteriorated. Pictures that aren’t stored at full resolution can take anywhere from 1–10 seconds to load on LTE, and loading times that last more than a few seconds just kill the buzz when you’re trying to show vacation shots to friends.

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The iPad Lineup As Of September 2015

iPad lineup 2015

The iPad Pro joins Apple’s previous gallery of tablets, which means there are a total of three iPad sizes to choose from. Each size also has different models which vary in speed, features, and capacity — which can be quite confusing to those who haven’t been watching the lineup as it grows. The good thing to know is that these are mainly differences in CPU speed and Touch ID integration. All iPads in the lineup now features Retina screens.

Here are a few key things to know about each iPad and its price point, discussed in the same order that Apple uses on its website.

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Our Thoughts On iPad Pro

iPad Pro

November will see the release of Apple’s latest and greatest tablet, the iPad Pro. First off, let’s tick off the more vanilla specs and numbers:

  • 12.9-inch display (vs the 9.7-inch display of the Air 2)
  • A9X — 1.8x faster CPU and 2x faster GPU performance
  • Four integrated speakers
  • $799 for 32 GB / $949 for 128 GB / $1079 128 GB w/ LTE
  • Still 10-hour battery life

The gigantic 2732×2048 display on the iPad Pro was really brought to life by the demos during Apple’s Keynote. Microsoft and Adobe had some great use-cases for getting “real” work done quickly and efficiently through the use of split-screen apps.

Copying tables and charts out of Excel and pasting them into Word looked easy, but it was Adobe’s presentation was even more efficient. They seem to have built “send to” features right into their apps, so you can take the currently selected image and send it straight to one of their other apps, without dealing with any extra pop-up menus. Short of dragging and dropping right across the app thresholds, Adobe seems to have the right idea about how a 12.9-inch display can be utilized.

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Searching For Faces Within Photos for iPad

Faces Support in Photos app for iPad

There’s a lot that you can accomplish within the Photos app on your iPad on iOS 8:

  • Built-in tools help edit the exposure, contrast, saturation, and more with non-destructive edits
  • Videos in the library can be trimmed so that you’ll always fast forward straight to the best parts
  • Third-party photo extensions can spice up images, or even show you the EXIF information of your shot (e.g. ISO, shutter speed, etc.)
  • Photos are auto-sorted by Moments, Collections, and Years; but you can also create albums out of hand-picked collections of pictures and videos

However, Faces are still strangely only half-supported on iOS. I love this feature on the Mac because it helps me identify and tag the faces of friends and family in my shots. The first few times require some manual tagging, but the algorithm quickly picks up on who “Po”, “Nicole”, and “Leona” are, and their names start to appear automatically as suggestions for me.

Unfortunately, aside from albums, there isn’t any way to tag sets of pictures on iOS — but don’t worry, as long as you’ve got a Mac, specifying Faces in Photos for OS X will sync that same metadata over to iOS. The only catch is that you’ll have to search for the names in the search bar, because they won’t appear as albums on your iPad.

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