It’s been a while since I talked about Screens, the VNC app that helps me remotely control my Mac from my iOS devices.Screens 4.2 came out this past week and introduced an interesting set of in-app purchases.
You can now use a Dark Mode for a very reasonable $0.99, and for $2.99, you can enable an accompanying iOS device to act as a trackpad for your remote connection. I have no need for a dark mode in Screens because I spend most of my time controlling my Mac from the iPad, so I barely ever see the Screens UI. However, the idea of the trackpad was interesting, so I cleared some space on my desk this evening to try the iPad and iPhone side by side.
I’ve given OneNote another shot over the past few months, using it both at work and at home for tracking receipts and personal thoughts. I’ve written about OneNote before, but I don’t think I really gave it a fair shake, so I moved 2000 notes over to the service to really determine whether or not I could adapt to the service. Unfortunately, the answer is still no, but I have a more detailed idea of why.
In OneNote We Trust
OneNote has been around for years, but it was only in the past few that it became a free product. You don’t have to pay for any monthly plans because the app just uses space in your Microsoft OneDrive, and there’s more than enough space with a free OneDrive account that it’s indistinguishable from unlimited for most users. Microsoft is so large, and OneNote such a core product, that I really do feel like I can trust in the service to stick around for the foreseeable future. That factor is a big deal when thinking about which note app to invest in: with platforms coming and going, where will your cache of notes still be accessible in four or five years? With OneNote, Microsoft has built up enough trust with me that the answer feels like a pretty safe “Yes”.
One of my favorite email clients, Cloud Magic is now Newton. Cloud Magic was already a clean, fast reliable way to navigate and triage your email. With a reliable push notification system, and versions for both iOS and Mac, Newton had developed into a mature ecosystem. Now that they have built their app into a huge success, the creators of Newton felt that it was time for the next stage of development. They intend to take this awesome email client/platform, and add even more power features and improvements. Furthermore, they plan to add support for additional platforms and evolve Newton into a email client that boosts your productivity by making email fun and easy.
Publishing on iOS has never been a terribly smooth process for me. The closest I got was the Blogsy app, which had a WYSYWIG editor and support for multiple blogs. Unfortunately it had an interface made for iOS 6 and just couldn’t afford to keep up with subsequent iOS updates.
The next best thing has been the official WordPress app, which can handle the three self-hosted WordPress sites that I post to. I write in Markdown in another app like iA Writer or Ulysses, and then post the draft as HTML into the WordPress app, and then add extras like categories, tags, and pictures. It doesn’t take very long, and it mimics what I’d do on the desktop, but the WordPress app feels pretty uninspired to me. It works, but lacks the polish of the web app. It’s not fun to use.
My latest workflow has been using Ulysses 2.6 and its new publishing features, which can take my Markdown-formatted post, and then add images, categories, tags, and even featured images and excerpts. All before I ever even see the WordPress interface.
This doesn’t sound like a huge deal but for the fact that Ulysses doesn’t seem like a full-fledged online writing app. I expect it to handle text well, but I’m surprised at how smooth they’ve managed to make the publishing and previewing processes.
The last time I wrote about Apple Notes was in early July. I wrote that post to try and balance out all of the very strongly-worded posts about dumping Evernote and jumping to Apple Notes, the newest free note-taking solution that synced across all Apple devices.
I can see why most people don’t want to have to pay for a Notes solution, so moving from Evernote to Apple Notes seems like a very easy switch. However, I was wary of fully committing to Apple’s service because there doesn’t seem to be any easy way of getting your data out of the service in a meaningful way. You can get plain text notes to export from Apple Notes…but that’s about it. All the pictures, rich URLs, media, and any files you’ve attached to your notes…those can’t be exported en masse or imported into any other service at this time.
Despite all of that, I decided to give Apple Notes another solid try for the past month and a half.
I can’t believe they’re calling Ulysses 2.6 a dot update. Adding WordPress publishing, Dropbox sync, and universal search feel like much more than that. And, they even had the nerve to add Typewriter scrolling, which was my #1 feature request ever since Ulysses made it to the iPad. Am I happy with this Ulysses update? No. I’m ecstatic.
Here, let’s talk about why.
Tell me if this sounds familiar to you–you’re working on your laptop and you wish you had just a little more real-estate on your screen. Having another window open can go a long way unmaking you more productive. Maybe it’s your email–maybe you are a heavy Twitter user, and you like to keep the app open and active, or perhaps you want the extra screen for a FaceTime or Skype call. Whatever the reason, there aren’t too many functional and affordable options out there to choose from.
While searching for options, I came accross the Mountie from the folks at Ten 1 design. Not only was it pretty much exactly what I was looking for, but the minimalistic design and affordable price tag were icing on the cake. Available in both green and blue, the Mountie offers a convenient and easy way to add an additional monitor to your MacBook or PC without adding unwanted bulk to your set-up.
Email clients come and go with great regularity these days. There’s always someone working hard to come up with the next big thing. In an already crowded category, it’s increasingly hard to stand out. We all use email–it’s a necessary task that we all partake in until someone comes up with a better system. Unfortunately, the biggest sticking point for many new email clients is that, to get the best experience out of them you have to fully invest in the platform. This “all in” mentality can become frustrating when even some of the most popular email clients haven’t stood the test of time. I’m looking at you Sparrow & Mailbox.
My newest favorite email client is non-specifically called Email–which seems a little weird. It’s already hard to stand out in this crowded category. A strong name could go a long way in setting it apart form other apps. Having said that, it’s also referenced as EasilyDo Mail, incorporating the developer’s name that also designed EasilyDo Assistant.
I’m back on the OneNote boat. Again. I’m still not in love, but I am trying to give it a real go and shake off all of the Evernote-specific habits I’ve made over the last six years.
OneNote is quite powerful, but I still think Evernote is leagues ahead in terms of how notes are displayed, sorted, and searched for on the iPad and iPhone. The good news is that I had a peek at OneNote’s release notes from the last six months or so, and it looks like the Microsoft team aims to release new features or improvements at least once a month.
That’s a pretty amazing pace of development, and I like that they seem to really listen to their users.
It’s been a little less than a year since I last wrote about Screens. The purpose of the app hasn’t changed: it’s still a VNC app for remotely connecting to a Mac or PC from an iOS device. But there are a few specific features released in Screens 4, which is a free update to all existing users, that are so tasty that I just have to talk about them.
Curtains for you (well, for anyone really)
One of the coolest new features is Curtain mode. I really like this idea for providing a little bit of extra privacy when I’m remotely connecting to my own machine. I haven’t had the need for this feature very often, but I’m really impressed with the implementation. Sometimes you want to connect remotely to a machine, but have that session remain private. If you want to grab some files from your machine quickly without providing access to anyone who might be near the actual computer, Curtain mode is a great way to go about this. When activated, this pulls a curtain over the screen of the machine you’re connecting to, disabling all of the local controls and also blocking view of the monitor with a gigantic padlock. You can set specific remote sessions to always launch right into Curtain mode, so if you frequently need to VNC into a computer that’s in a very public location, this is a great way to go about it.
Ulysses 2.5 really is a very, very impressive writing environment. This latest version does enough new stuff, and fixed one of the most irritating bugs I was experiencing, that I think it warrants a fresh look since my last review of Ulysses in June 2015.
Ulysses isn’t a notes app, it’s a writing app. As such, it’s meant for longer form writing and has special features to help you structure larger bodies of text, as well as keep your eyes on the prize as you write.
Each of my documents is called a Sheet, and all of these Sheets sync up over iCloud. The Sheets are in plain text but do support in-line Markdown formatting, which is great if you write for the web like I do. Ulysses also supports the addition of extra metadata, like pictures, notes, and goals in the sidebar.
What’s fun about Ulysses is that it embraces choice. There are choices of themes, fonts, layouts, and multiple export options (including some solid DOCX support). There are a lot of different ways you can use Ulysses, and it’s not one of those apps that tries to shoehorn you into a specific way of thinking.