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.
I have to say, Iâ€™m really enjoying Apple Music this second time around. I find its UI much faster to use overall. What used to feel like navigating a labyrinth of music now just feels like managing a library of music â€” which is as it should be.
Iâ€™ve been using Apple Music for the past month or two, and I think Iâ€™ll stick with the service for the foreseeable future. One of the major reasons I liked Spotify so much was that it made it fun and easy to discover new music, but now that Apple Music shows related music under each song, I find myself adding several tracks per week to my library. Iâ€™ve also set both my iPhone and iPad to automatically download any new songs added to my library, so it really does feel seamless when I get home. I can put down the iPhone and start playing those new tracks from the iPad, without even having to stream anything (since the songs were already downloaded to the device in the background).
You may have already heard about iOS 10, its official launch is just a few days ahead. Apple unveiled iOS 10 beta version in its annual WWDC 2016 event so that interested iPhone/iPad users can check the new offerings of iOS 10 and may give their valuable feedback before the full public release of full version.
If you’re one of those interested users, youâ€™ll have to undergo the general public beta download and install it on your Apple device.
One of the big delightful features in iOS 10 is the automatic tagging and organizing of photos into Faces and Memories. Iâ€™ve been giving these features a workout over the past few betas, and I think Iâ€™ve had enough time to at least talk about Faces in iOS 10 beta 3 (a.k.a. Public Beta 2).
The way that iOS starts to recognize faces is when the device is plugged in and on Wi-Fi â€” for most people this will mean while the device is charging on the bedside table as you sleep. This gives the device a solid few hours to cast its magic on your photos and start to group photos together into like faces.
Youâ€™ll find all of these faces in an album called Faces (surprise!). But this isnâ€™t really like the albums youâ€™re used to on your iPhone. Unlike other albums on iOS, the only way to add new content to Faces is to use its special menus to select and approve people that iOS has recognized for you.
On the surface, Apple Music seems like such a promising service. Itâ€™s baked right into the music app I was already using, and because itâ€™s part of the OS, I donâ€™t need to wait for developers to integrate it with Siri. It already works. I tried Apple Music out for a good half a year, but decided to return to Spotify earlier this year.
One of the biggest reasons for doing so was how cavalier Apple was about replacing the album versions of my songs with the live versions from concerts. I really hated this, because I often vastly prefer the cleaner sound in album versions, and there was seemingly no way to get my old music back without quitting the service. However, I heard some good news from The Loop this week that this might be changing for the better, thanks to audio fingerprints.
Iâ€™ve wanted to use Apple Maps before, but it took a few years before it was really a practical option in the city of Toronto. The first few years, Appleâ€™s 3D view made the city look post-apocalyptic because it hadnâ€™t fully rendered all of the buildings yet. The gas station near my parentsâ€™ place looked like it was two blocks away from its actual location. However, Iâ€™ve always thought the biggest flaw of Apple Map was the way it handled Favorites (Iâ€™m spelling the word the American way because thatâ€™s also how Apple Maps does itâ€¦even in Canada).
I mark Favorites for two reasons: so I can easily identify awesome restaurants and useful businesses on the map, and for mapping out exciting places in a city Iâ€™m going to travel to. Iâ€™ve based this behaviour on years of Google Maps usage, where you can â€œSaveâ€ a location and have it show up as a yellow star on the map. These saved locations are always visible, and this makes a lot of sense to me. It makes the digital map a lot more personal â€” the cartographic equivalent of scribbling in the margins.
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.
Third party keyboards were introduced as app extensions two years ago in iOS 8, and I was really excited by the prospect of getting to use long-standing Android keyboards like SwiftKey and Swype on iOS. Unfortunately, these other keyboards were nearly unusable when they launched. I think part of it was that developers were still getting used to how to develop input software for iOS, but the lionâ€™s share of the blame seemed to lie with iOS just handling this new kind of extension very badly.
Keyboards could very slow to load in different apps, and they would reliably crash as you switched between chats in iMessage â€” which just landed you back in the default iOS QuickType keyboard.
The lock screen on iOS has seen a pretty fundamental change in iOS 10. Although the changes carry over to the iPad, you really feel like the shift was centered around making things better for the iPhone.
You can now simply raise your iPhone up off the table, or bring it up from your pocket, and the screen will turn on. Just like the raise-to-wake on the Apple Watch, the iPhone can now watch and react to your intent with its motion sensors.
This means you wonâ€™t actually need to press the Home or the Power button if you just want to read your latest notification, though Iâ€™m finding the habit of pressing a hardware button difficult to break. But I do thinkÂ this new feature works very well in concert with the other major changes to the lock screen.
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.