I’m writing this post from the airport in the newly released Ulysses 2.5 (review coming soon!). I’m heading to Tokyo for a few weeks of vacation and a ton of picture-taking. In the weeks before this trip I started shooting more of my photos in RAW + JPEG. If you’re not familiar with RAW files, they’re basically vanilla versions of your camera’s pictures, but with more visual data preserved in the background. As a result, you can tweak and play with RAW photos to much greater extent than you can with JPEGs (where you’ll start to see noise and blown highlights much sooner). There are two downsides to RAW, though:
- RAW files take up more space. My Sony A6000 takes 24 Megapixel shots, and each one is about 6.0 MB as a JPEG. Those same shots are 22-24 MB as RAW (.ARG) files.
- RAW isn’t well supported on iOS at all.
These two factors led me to consider bringing my Retina MacBook Pro on this trip, in lieu of the iPad Pro. It would have been heavier to lug around on a daily basis, but Photos on OS X will let me edit RAW files, whereas Photos on the iPad Pro can only tweak JPEGs.
I’ve been waiting quite a while for photo extensions to really come into their own on iOS. They were first introduced in the iOS 8 keynote in 2014, and they promised a way for you to do more of your editing right within the Photos app. I really like this idea, since Photos are where all of my media is stored on iOS. It isn’t just an app, it’s a storage location for my media. Empowering the Photos app to help me add extra details like grain, highlight colouring, and brush-on exposure changes would save me a lot of time. I could use Photos’ built-in controls for basic photo tweaking, and then add final touches with photo extensions like the one VSCO demo’ed at WWDC.
Unfortunately, that never came to pass. Many photo editing apps neglect photo extensions entirely, either due to technical limitations or to require you to spend more time in the actual apps. VSCO never did come out with a photo extension, and the extensions I have been able to try haven’t offered me the filter flexibility I’ve been seeking. Camera+ offers a lot of options, but their filters always feel a little too heavy-handed. Afterlight is a little lighter on the Filter effects, but I felt like I had to apply too many layers of filters to get results that I liked.
One of the subjects that deserves an occasional revisit is what I really, truly need a Mac for. My iPad becomes more capable with each passing year, and the release of iOS 9 in late 2015 was one of the biggest leaps forward that the iPad has seen in a while.
I can probably get about 70-80% of what I need done on my iPad Pro; and there are many activities like task management and location look-ups that I do almost exclusively on the iPad. However, there are still a few outlier tasks that I really can’t accomplish on the iPad, and which still require either iTunes, Photos, or OS X to complete.
Before iOS 9.3, you were able to use the Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro in much the same way you would a finger. This is one of those things I didn’t think I really cared about until it was taken away from me in the past four betas. After all, before the introduction of the Pencil, I had always used my fingers to scroll and tap elements on iOS. The whole operating system is optimized to have the finger be the pointing device, and a stylus just didn’t seem necessary because the tap targets were always big enough. Now that I can once again scroll and tap anything with the Apple Pencil in iOS 9.3b5, I’m starting to get it.
What I didn’t account for previously is how convenient it can be to browse while using the Pencil. My usual browsing habit when I’m using the iPad Pro at a desk is to keep my right hand clamping the bottom-right corner of the tablet. I keep it there because I scroll often while I’m browsing, and it’s a lot more comfortable over the long-term to scroll with one thumb than it is to use my index finger to flick at the middle of the screen. However, all of the controls within Safari on the iPad are located along the top of the screen. I don’t switch tabs with my thumb (for obvious reasons), so I use my index finger to point at the screen and tap them. Since the iPad Pro’s screen is so big (a good nine inches across), I often move my hand across the width of the screen to reach different tabs.
The Pencil changes this interaction up because it can act like a much longer index finger. I can easily reach across the entire screen while keeping my elbow in a fixed position on the desk. In other words, I don’t need to lift my whole arm up to tap between different tabs. Scrolling on web pages is also simpler because I can flick with my entire wrist, instead of just the smaller arc afforded by my thumb.
I’m not going to blow this out of proportion and say that this has changed the way I use my iPad Pro. It’s really just a more convenient option for browsing (which I do a lot of on my tablet), and I also make frequent use of keyboard shortcuts for loading sites and switching tabs. However, I did want to point it out to show that there are other ways of viewing a stylus than just for precision drawing or helping you to tap small on-screen targets. There’s also something to be said about having a stylus simply to have a longer pointing tool, especially as touch screens get bigger and bigger.
I’d be curious to see what Apple could do with even more Pencil integration at the OS level. It may prove challenging to integrate 3D Touch on an iPad because of how hard you’d have to press (you might accidentally collapse a Smart Cover or topple the device), but I could definitely see some cool use cases for navigating the iPad with a Pencil and having iOS respond to pressure and unlock additional control.
Now if only I could find some place to hold the Pencil when I put it down…
With the release of iOS 9, Apple introduced the iOS Public Beta Software Program. This was a big change for Apple and how they previously guarded new features that had yet to be released on iOS. For the first time they were welcoming input from the typical user, and not just from developers. This was a well thought out decision on their part, as there are millions of active users who could prove to be invaluable. iOS users could assist Apple in detecting bugs and unforeseen issues that can arise in the wild, and then provide feedback to Apple engineers through an app that is downloaded to their device during the installation process.
The Public Beta Program is available to anyone willing to install beta software on their iOS devices. As with any beta software, there may be times when the stability of the operating system might not be ideal. You could potentially experience occasional to frequent crashes and re-springs. While this may not happen during your experience, it is the trade-off for early access to new features. Continue reading
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.
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.
Apple just released iOS 9.2 update for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. It includes improvements and bug fixes for Apple Music, Safari, iBooks, and much, much more. To download the iOS 9.2, go to Settings–> General–> Software Update. The update log in all its glory is listed below for your reference. While none of these fixes were something I was definitely wanting or needing to have fixed ASAP, I can definitely relate to some of these issues happening to me periodically. iOS 9.2 has been in beta with developers since October, so it would appear as though Apple put some major time into collecting and squashing a great number of bugs iOS users have been experiencing.
One of the more notable changes that many users will find useful comes to us from the Safari view controller. Now with the support for third-party app extensions you will be able to access them in the Safari view of other apps.
iOS is arguably the most sophisticated, seasoned mobile operating system available today. Love it or hate it, we are currently running the ninth version iOS–and there are no signs of slowing down any time soon. Apple has approached updates to iOS with the “slow and steady” mindset. There has never been a silver bullet update to end all updates, and I’m ok with that–mostly. It’s hard to be patient, especially when there are whispers each year of purported upgrades, and new features planned for iOS. One thing we can count on, though–Apple won’t release/introduce a new feature unless it’s ready for primetime. This can be frustrating at times, especially when we crave the next big thing. However, in the end, the user experience is king regardless of any features added to the latest version of iOS.
Over the years, one of the biggest enigmas with iOS has been the stale, unchanging home screen layout. The first screen we see when we power on our iPad’s and iPhone’s, is in need of major upgrade. The current layout has become boring and outdated. It’s true that many new iOS users may find comfort in knowing that a quick press of the home button will always bring them to the same screen _every_ time. But does this mean that this screen has to remain a boring grid of icons–even after 9 iterations of the OS? I say no, and it has never been more clear than after the introduction of the iPad Pro.
If you had spoken to me earlier this month, I would have told you that I was definitely going to be leaving Apple Music and returning to Spotify. It’s not the fact that I don’t “own” my music, because $10 for unlimited streaming and offline access (as long as I stay a subscriber) seems quite fair to me. Rather, it’s the implementation of Apple Music within iOS 9 that doesn’t feel right.
Simple things like the difficulty I have in seeing the list of songs in my currently playing album. This was never an issue when I synced with iTunes or used iTunes in the Cloud. But tapping the three dots (•••) and tapping on the album art doesn’t always work. Sometimes I’m just brought to an empty album that reads *null*. Having this happen multiple times over the course of a week has definitely put a dent in my desire to explore the service further.
Then there are instances of the iTunes versions of songs being different from what I had in my own library. A slight remix, starker instrumentals — you notice very quickly when a song you’ve listened to for years is suddenly different. I swear the Lost In Translation OST on iTunes is different than I remember.
But then I thought about the alternatives. None of the nearest competitors, like Spotify or Rdio, can currently interact with Siri. That means I can’t utter commands like “play more songs like this” or “play the song ABC”. That only works in the first-party Music app, and I love having that convenience around.
Then there’s the fact that I own an Apple Watch, and although it doesn’t communicate with my iPad, it has quickly become one of my favourite ways to choose and pause my music. I could skip and pause songs that play from my Rdio/Spotify through the Watch, but there’s no interface to choose specific artists or albums. Once again, Apple’s own apps and services hold the advantage here.
I try to keep things iPad specific when I write here, but that doesn’t seem like the best way to discuss a service like Apple Music that is so integrated with all of the devices I own. That’s ultimately what is keeping me on as a subscriber, at least for the next few months, as I give the device a chance to improve. There are a number of kinks to work out, but it’s hard to beat how well the entire service is baked into iOS.
Let’s take a bit of a break from criticizing iOS 9 and shine a light on one aspect that has been working really well so far: Spotlight Search for third-party apps. I honestly had my doubts about this one when it was announced. It’s an exciting prospect and could prove to be a new, extremely powerful way to navigate your information, regardless of the app. That’s because it’s often easier to remember a piece of information (“pie recipe”) rather than which app you’ve placed that information in. Swiping between different home screen pages and opening app folders can very quickly become disorienting, and I’ve often found myself entering apps only to ask: what was I looking for again? Spotlight search for third-party apps addresses this issue by letting you type into the search bar and find relevant results, organized by app.
Once implemented by an iOS 9-compatible app, specific developer-specified strings of your data become indexed for Spotlight search. Some examples of apps doing this are:
- search the inbox (but not archive) for the title or contents of any note
- search for notes by title in any notebook available on your device
- search for notes by title + content in any notebook available on your device
- enter the name of a movie and see IMDB results in Spotlight
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.