Category Archives: Productivity

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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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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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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Notes for iOS receives an updated, expanded role in iOS 9

iOS9-Notes-appApple has an iOS app called Notes–ever hear of it?  No?  I’m not surprised.  For those of you not familiar with this app, it’s one of Apple’s stock apps that comes pre-installed on your iPad.  For many, though it ends up getting relegated to a folder or buried in one of your lesser used home pages–forgotten and unloved.  I’ve tried to use it a few times in the past, but could never manage to stay with it for an extended period of time because it just did’t provide features that many other productivity apps offered for free.  That was until now.

Now, the Notes app will finally have all of its contents saved to iCloud so all of your information can be saved and accessible across all your iOS devices as well as on your Mac.  The new and improved Notes app for your iPad now supports many different ways of saving your quick ideas, in addition to providing you new ways of saving them all in one place. In addition to simple text entries, now you can…



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Review: Ulysses for iPad

I’ve been an iA Writer and Writer Pro user for a few years now, but recently took a break from those apps to give Ulysses a fair shake. The devs at The Soulmen have put together a very powerful combo of Mac and iPad apps with a very clean approach to empowering plain text. If you write for the web on a regular basis and prefer to use Markdown for formatting, Ulysses could be your new best friend.

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What are the best cloud storage options available on the iPad?


Yesterday I wrote abut how to upgrade or downgrade the amount of iCloud storage you need for your iPad.  While I suspect that this is the default cloud service used by the majority of iPad owners–it certainly isn’t the only cloud service available to store your data in the cloud.  One of our readers who read my post from yesterday brought up a good point

Why not suggest to open a Hotmail or GMail account and get a free 15 Gig of storage?     –DAN

This got me thinking.  Dan is absolutely right.  There are definitely other viable options out there worth mentioning.  So, after  little research, I thought I’d gather some of the more popular cloud storage  options for iPad owners.  For the sake of this exercise, here are a few basic ground rules I’m applying in my comparison.

  • Only real-time offers available _right now_ are considered
  • No special offers or promotions considered for buying your iPad at any particular retail outlet.
  • No extra incentives to “earn” additional storage (e.g. referring friends, tweeting or sharing on Facebook for additional “free” storage)
  • Personal accounts only–no business or shared accounts
  • New iPad owners only–no bonus deals for having been grand-fathered in to legacy deals.


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Paper for iPad Updated With Think Kit Tools

Paper by FiftyThree continues to be on the cutting edge of modern iPad app design. The incredible ink engine and drawing tools were already incredible, but these new shape, fill, and cutting tools really complete the package.

It could easily be argued that “it’s about time” that these features made it to Paper, as they’re readily available in many other popular note-taking apps, like Penultimate and Noteshelf. However, no other app really delivers as great an experience as Fifty Three does with Paper. I haven’t had very long to play with the new tools, but they are exactly what I’ve always wanted out of this app.

The Shape tool makes it easy to create quick, good-looking diagrams with smart shapes that I can move around at will. The fill tool helps me colour-code quick graphs or mock-ups. The cutting tool lets me move any element, as expected, but it also functions as a clone tool as well. That last feature make it so much easier and more fun to use Paper as a design sketchbook. It’s now dead simple for me to duplicate a base design and quickly create small variations, without having to re-draw everything each time.

Finally, Paper has become an even better place to share work from. I don’t use the built-in Mix platform very much, but I’ll definitely use the new export features to create PDFs and PowerPoint files from my drawings.

The only wish at this point would be the ability to embed or import pictures so that I can mark them up within Paper.

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Evernote Introduces New Plus and Premium Accounts

evernote plus and premium

Evernote recently introduced a new set of pricing tiers. You can still use the services for free across all your devies, but if you become a power user who wants to keep more notes and have more access to your notes (even while offline), you’ll want to invest in Evernote Plus or Evernote Premium.

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Popular iOS app Todolist to receive major makeover with v.10 later this year


Todolist the popular universal iOS task-manager app is slated to receive a major update that is described on their Blog site as a Completely new version for iOS.  I have a love-hate relationship when it comes to productivity apps.  I touched upon some of my feelings when highlighting a major update to Wunderlist earlier this month. Updates are good–hell, they’re needed to keep the user base loyal and happy.  Todolist hasn’t received any updates to their app this year.  I suspect they have been focusing their efforts into this new overhaul, and I for one, am excited to see what they have planned.  Their goal was to make Todolist iOS app faster, easier to use, and more beautiful–sounds like a good start!

Notable changes include…

  • Completely revamped task interactions will make it easier and faster to get your ideas out of your head and onto your to-do list, no matter where you are.
  • New organizational features will give you more control over how you view and prioritize your tasks and projects.
  • And much, much more– you may even see a few pops of color incorporated into our characteristically minimalistic design…

Via their Blog they go on to say that the update is coming up fast–which could mean anything, I guess.  Perhaps in the next few weeks?  If you want to hear about the release as soon as it happens you can sign up to have the news delivered to your inbox.  Once the iOS version is released the same features will also be available on the Web, and on your Mac or PC.

While this all sounds great, three bullet points are enough to get my attention, but that’s about it right now. Here’s to hoping we get some additional teaser updates before the final release.

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Quick Look: Vesper for iPad

Patrick already picked Vesper as last week’s iPad App of the Week, but call me greedy: I wanted to write about it as well. If you look at Vesper bullet point by pullet point, it’s hard to see why you’d use it as an alternative to apps like Drafts or Evernote. Evernote has apps on every platform and its notes can take files, images, and text. Drafts has had is iOS only, but it has all the tools you need to automate your text workflow on an iPad.

In comparison, Vesper was designed to excel as a classier version of the built-in Notes app, with an option to add a single picture to each note.

I spent the past few days playing with Vesper to see whether it would stick for me, and I found all sorts of really delightful details embedded in the UI. If you show Vesper to someone who has never seen it before, they’ll likely comment on how nice the font is. In my experience, even people who aren’t into fonts tend to see the difference. Then there are the animations. Tapping on a note in the list view will cross-fade you into that note, swiping to see the tag list uses a subtle parallax effect, and leaving a note zooms smoothly back out into the list view.

The thing is, as an iPad app, Vesper isn’t really there yet. It’s really just an adapted iPhone version that happens to work on the iPad. This means there can be a lot of blank space on the screen, as most iPhone apps show a single pane of information at a time. There aren’t any obvious modifications to the iPhone design to take advantage of the different ways that people use and hold an iPad, or to take advantage of the extra space on the iPad’s screen. I’m not too nervous about this though. Q Branch is working on the Mac version of Vesper, but I’m pretty sure they’ll circle back to re-imagine the iPad app afterwards.

I really want to integrate Vesper into my everyday workflow, in large part because it’s just so incredibly satisfying to use. It has a better and faster sync engine than Drafts does, so notes are more consistently updated across my iPhone and iPad during the day. However, that custom sync engine is also what keeps me from committing to Vesper. I’m worried about not being able to access notes on my work PC, or having my data stuck in Vesper should I choose to try another app six months from now. You can of course use the iOS 8 share sheet to send notes out of Vesper, but only on an individual basis.

That isn’t a condemnation of Vesper, simply an admission that this magnificent app isn’t for me. As simple as Vesper is to use, keeping it around would actually complicate my setup, so I’ll be sticking with Drafts and Evernote for now.

Here’s an App Store link for Vesper ; it’s priced at a very sustainable $10 with no in-app purchases. You will definitely get what you pay for.


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Wunderlist for iPad receiving big overhaul in 2015


I love To-Do lists and Productivity apps in general.  Some may say I love them to a fault.  See if this sounds familiar–you want to find the perfect To-Do / Productivity list app.  You try so hard, and you invest so much time in researching your needs against what is available that you never can decide on just the right one.  This has been a problem form me for years–and I’m sure part of the problem is me and my indecisiveness with regard to this issue.  However, there has to come a time when you decide to either sh@t or get off the pot.

I always enjoyed using Wunderlist, but it never quite fit my needs with regard to how I _wanted_ to use it, and the support and integration it had with other apps was lacking for me.  So, a few month ago I started using Evernote as a task manager/To-Do list/repository of all things important from my work, my writing and my personal life.  Thomas has already written extensively on the merits of such a move.

Now, again, I’m reconsidering my choice.  Wunderlist CEO Christian Reber announced major changes coming to the Wunderlist platform this year–and they all sound great!

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