A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the iOS Notes app and all of the improvements made to it over the last few years that brought me back to it. Now its time to turn our attention to the iOS Mail app, which has also gotten some recent love from Apple over the last two years. Looking back, Mail was one of the lynchpin apps in the early iPhone OS, and once it received Exchange email support in year 2, it really was the standard for email on a smartphone. This would continue for a couple of years, until Google finally got its act together and started shipping a good version of Gmail with Android.
Every once in a while I like to take stock of the number of cross-platform apps I’m using. On the one hand, this overview helps me look at how ready I’d be to move platforms, but it’s also a very pragmatic peek at how much I really rely on Apple’s ecosystem of apps and services. I’ve split this list into two parts, the cross platforms apps, and the apps that are still iOS / macOS only.
Cross Platform Apps
Evernote (iOS, Mac, Windows, Android)
For the umpteenth time, I’m back on Evernote, and I find I’ve been able to think more clearly because of this. I don’t like how they keep trying to up-sell me on Premium when I’m already a Plus member, but having my notes accessible on most any smart device or computer is really amazing. This is a huge selling point for Evernote, and their apps across each platform are improving.
Last week’s post about the 12.9-inch vs. 9.7-inch form factor got me thinking about the what would make the iPad more comfortable for long term work. I came back to the idea of a mouse and how it enables me to use more complex sets of on-screen controls, without all the overhead of remembering a ton of keyboard shortcuts. I do love my keyboard shortcuts, but they’re not a do-all replacement for controlling apps.
It struck me the other day that one (seemingly) simple change to the iPad, especially the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro, could be the addition of a pointer. Mouse or trackpad support would be fine.
Evernote announced a price increase last week, and also told the free tier of users that they’d be limited to syncing a maximum of two devices. Plus subscriptions are $35 USD per year, and Premium subscriptions are $70 USD per year. This isn’t a ton of money per month, but it’s enough to make you think about what you could spend that money on instead.
These Evernote pricing changes also come at a time when people are thinking more about subscriptions in general. We don’t know how many apps will adopt it, but the way we pay for software could change a lot starting with iOS 10 and the expansion of subscriptions to a great number of app categories. The Pay-Once-And-Update-Forever model obviously isn’t working well for a lot of developers (surprise!), and I might have to start paying monthly or annual subscriptions for the apps I really love using.
So the “in thing” to do in tech spheres has been to warn users to jump ship to Apple Notes or OneNote, because they’re the closest options in terms of features…and they’re free.
I won’t try to dissuade anyone from moving to OneNote. I have been using the service for my work notes. However, the service just doesn’t jive with me because I dislike how OneNote organizes notebooks only by Date Created, and not by Date Modified. But OneNote is beloved by a lot of people, and really is a very solid contender in the note-taking space.
It’s actually Apple Notes that I think can be be a bit of a fly trap here. The service improved a lot in iOS 9 and improved a little more in iOS 10 with a three-panel interface on the iPad Pro and note collaboration. However, there is one aspect of Notes I am a little concerned about: export capability.
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.
I’m feeling more and more that there needs to be a large change to how the iPad operates in iOS 9, and that feeling has actually been brought about by my Apple Watch. One of the things I’ve written the most about over the past few years — aside from software and hardware reviews — is how to take advantage of the iPad as a portable tablet, a hybrid device. My Air 2 is larger and more comfortable to browse on than my iPhone 5S, but not quite as powerful or heavy as my 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro.
I prefer to use the iPad for referring to Excel sheets at work, but the iPad’s file system and sharing options don’t make it very easy to access and sync certain work files without reliable Wi-Fi. I’d also love to do more photo editing on the iPad, but certain iOS 8 limitations keep me from editing my pictures at full resolution. Given the specs on the latest iPads — especially the 64 GB of storage and 2 GB of RAM on my iPad Air 2 — it’s strange to struggle with these limitations when a MacBook Air of equal size and price could easily accomplish the same thing. I’ve become so used to thinking about the right use cases for the iPad, treating it like a puzzle to solve, that it can almost be a little tiring to use at times.
That’s in sharp contrast to the Apple Watch, a new member to my device family, and yet another thing I have to put on a charger every night. However, because of its very particular set of functions and its convenient placement on my wrist, I knew exactly what to do with my Watch a few days into it. One definite reason is that it’s designed as a satellite device for the iPhone, but I also think it’s because there’s more specific intention baked right into the software.
With WWDC coming up, I’d like to see Apple take more advantage of the flexibility of the iPad, and untether it from some of the limitations of the iPhone. I still love how light the Air 2 is, and I’m still impressed by its speed, but it’s also being sandwiched by newer devices like the iPhone 6 Plus and the new 12-inch MacBook. Keyboard shortcuts, inventive multi-window multitasking, sharing information quickly across apps — some new software spark is needed to jolt some life back into the iPad.
Federico Vitcci of MacStories wrote a really great iOS 9 wishlist piece. It’s easy for most anyone to come up with wishlists, but I trust Viticci’s take the most because of how extensively he works on iOS, and how much he has worked on how to work on iOS.
Viticci does almost everything for MacStories.net on his iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6 Plus, so this is a great piece for power users of iOS to see where we’re at, and what Apple will hopefully capitalize on in iOS 9. This is exactly the direction I want iOS to move in for September: bigger, badder extensions; reliable keyboards; a more user-friendly iCloud Drive; and a Siri that you can type to as well as talk to!
I also think the time is right for a shift in how iOS is presented on the iPad. It does feel like more thinking has gone into how iOS can be presented on the larger screen of the iPhone 6 Plus, and I think the iPad needs to be re-approached to take be more advantage of its larger screen.
Federico Viticci of MacStories recently unveiled version 4.0 of his website, and it’s gorgeous. One of the articles he chose to publish alongside the new design was a set of iOS 8 Wishes. I agree with most or all of the items on his list, but I think there was something missing. One of my major teeth-gnashing issue with iOS is the keyboard, which is in dire need of some loving.
The split keyboard that was added in iOS 5 was a crucial step in making data entry on the iPad more pleasant, but the whole way that auto-correct works on iOS is still far too obnoxious. I’m getting better at touch typing on my Air in landscape mode, and yet I frequently feel like I’m being punished for flying too quickly along the keys when auto-correct swoops in at the very last second. Carefully spelled names (e.g. Connelly) are suddenly changed to completely ridiculous little phrases (e.g. “comely it”), and I end up having to break the flow of my writing to head back and correct stupid typos caused by auto-correct.
I take issue with how auto-corrections are displayed. It’s workable in apps like iMessage — where the text I’m typing is situated directly above the keyboard — but it can be a real pain in the app (heyo!) when the text is any higher up on the screen. Does Apple really think it’s ergonomic or efficient for me to lift my fingers off the keyboard, dismiss a hilariously small auto-correct pop-up with a tap, and return to typing? The Blackberry, Android, and Windows Phone 8.1 OSes all feature keyboards that intelligently show auto-correction possibilities in close proximity to the keyboard, which just makes sense to me. It’s so much easier to dismiss erroneous corrections that way. The keyboard is usually where your eyes are focused, and your fingers are obviously directly above the keys as you type.
One of my biggest wishes for iOS 8 — right alongside better hardware keyboard support on the iPad — is for the system keyboard to get more than a fresh coat of paint. I think auto-correct needs a major overhaul on iOS, because it doesn’t just work. More often than not, it just works me over.
AirPrint is an iOS feature that lets you print wirelessly from your iPad or iPhone. It’s a great feature that has got better each year – because the range of wireless printers that support it has grown substantially.
By now there are thousands of printers that support AirPrint, including printers from 24 leading manufacturers. That number has grown from 15 in just the last year – and includes major brands like HP, Epson, Lexmark, Canon, Brother, Dell and lots more.
It’s very easy to find printers that support AirPrint. Here are some of the best ways:
— Check this Apple support page that lists all current AirPrint printers from all the different vendors.
— Look for confirmation of AirPrint support when buying in an online store, or just ask a salesperson in a retail outlet.
— Visit Apple’s online store and their AirPrint Printers section.The wireless printers there start at right around $100.
Last night I noticed a friend’s mention on Google+ that the HBO Go app now supports AirPlay Multitasking. As in, you can be streaming your HBO content from your iPad to a big TV via Apple TV and at the same time switch away from the HBO Go app and do other things on the iPad.
This could also be referred to as the ability for AirPlay, with full audio AND video, to work in the background. I’m not an HBO subscriber – but seeing this feature added to their app made me curious about how many iPad video apps support it.
My quick round of testing today shows that only about 50% of video apps for iPad support AirPlay Multitasking – with full video. This is a relatively small sample of course, but I tested 16 video apps out on my iPad 3 and iPad mini and found that the following apps do not support AirPlay Multitasking:
Epic Rap Battles of History, Frequency, Watchup, CNN, History, Video Time Machine, ABC News, BrainPop Jr
Here’s the good news – these apps do offer support for AirPlay Multitasking:
MLB At Bat, TED, YouTube, iTunes, Concert Vault, PBS, Squrl, ShowYou
The multitasking ability is a huge plus for many of us who are often dividing our focus between two screens. I spend parts of many evenings watching something on TV while also playing an iPad game or checking social networks, or even taking review notes. It’s great to be able to do that while viewing (often better) content via AirPlay.
I think all iPad video apps should add support for AirPlay Multitasking. What do you all think? Is this feature important to you?
AirPrint, the ability to print wirelessly from the iPad and iOS devices, is one of the great features of using iOS devices. Some of the most commonly asked questions about AirPrint are all about whether it will work with a specific printer.
The good news is that Apple provides good, clear information on exactly which printers are supported by AirPrint. The even better news is that the list has grown tremendously over the last 6-12 months and now includes well over 500 printers from 15 different manufacturers. Here are the 15 leading printer manufacturers who have printers on the AirPrint supported list:
Brother, Canon, Dell, Epson, Fuji Xerox, Gestetner, Hewlett Packard, Infotec, Lanier, Lenovo, Lexmark, NRG, Ricoh, Samsung Savin
You can see the full list of AirPrint supported printers on Apple’s AirPrint Basics page.
Here are a few more useful things to be aware of in regard to AirPrint:
— Some printers on the supported list will need a firmware update to become AirPrint-enabled. Check the manufacturer’s website for available firmware updates and details.