StaringAtPhoneshttps://staringatphones.wordpress.comChristian, student, blogger, friend. Electrical Engineering student at KSU.
I've been following the Apple world since high school, keeping up on the latest news using my iPhone 5s, iPad Mini 2, and 2012 MacBook Pro.
I refuse to use any reminder app that doesn’t support Siri.
For a long time, that meant I was stuck with Apple’s Reminders.app. It’s slow, glitchy, and a pain to use. In addition, I hate that you can’t set a due date without also getting a notification at 9am. Then I discovered that 2Do can sync with iCloud reminders, allowing me to set reminders with Siri, but then use 2Do to mange those reminders. I switched over a year ago, and 2Do is so much better than Reminders.app.
However, there are some weird issues with syncing this way. But I was stuck, both because of Siri and because I refused to pay $50 for 2Do’s Mac app (I was still using Reminders.app on the Mac). But when 2Do for Mac went on sale for $25 two weeks ago, I couldn’t resist. Having picked that up, I started to wonder if there was another way around my Siri problem. A way that would allow me to ditch iCloud and switch to 2Do’s recommended sync option, which uses Dropbox as a backend.
Enter Workflow. I set out to create an importer to take data from Reminders.app and bring it into 2Do. Here’s how it processes reminders:
Find all reminders on the default list.
If the reminder is a location-based reminder, recreate it on a “Location” list within Reminders.app. I don’t use many location reminders, so I decided to leave those in Reminders.app since it has better access to location data in the background.
Get the title, date, and notes from each reminder and create a new 2Do task. The workflow accounts for three possible ways I may have set the reminder:
“Hey Siri, remind me to…” results in no due date in Reminders.app. The workflow sets the 2Do due date to today, with no alarm time.
“Hey Siri, remind me tomorrow to…” results in a due date of tomorrow at 9am in Reminders.app. Since I didn’t specify a time, that means I probably didn’t want to be reminded at a specific time (you hear that Siri?), so the workflow sets the 2Do due date to tomorrow (or whatever day it may be) with no alarm time.
“Hey Siri, remind me tomorrow at 3pm to…” results in a due date of tomorrow at 3pm in Reminders.app. Since I specified a time, I probably wanted a time-based alarm, so the workflow sets the 2Do due date and alarm time accordingly.
Remove all processed reminders from the default list, and then launch 2Do.
And that’s all there is to it! It works great, and now I just have to remember to run this every few days or so. But even if I forget to run it, I’ve left notifications on for Reminders.app, so worst case if a task triggers before I’ve imported it, I’ll still get a notification. You can download my Workflow and tweak it to your needs here. There are lots of great todo list apps out there, but sometimes you need to cobble together more than one to do the job!
When I first downloaded Alto’s Odyssey – the newly available sequel – I thought it was going to basically be the same game, but with new challenges. Which was… okay… but I was a little disappointed.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Alto’s Odyssey takes everything I loved about Alto’s Adventure and adds so much more to it.
I first realized this when I reached the second “biome” of the game. This is where we’re introduced to the concept of wall riding. It’s a new trick, a new obstacle, and a new paradigm to master. I was elated. To me, this one new feature was enough to make this whole game worthwhile. They had innovated, and they had given me a new behavior to learn about and master. But it only got better from there.
As I entered the third and final biome, there something else new: water! It was at this point that I realized every biome of the game had a new element. These not only make the biomes unique from each other, but it makes each one unique from Adventure.
Currently, wall riding is my favorite new element. However, I haven’t yet fully explored that of the first biome: balloons. The problem with balloons right now is most of the time they’re too high to bounce on. But that will all change when I unlock the wingsuit. I love that Odyssey did this – instead of giving me everything at once, they tease a new element, but it’s not quite in reach just yet. I can’t wait to string together ridiculous combos with balloons.
So all told, Alto’s Odyssey is the same Alto we know and love, but better than ever. It takes an already stunning game and introduces new elements at every turn. It’s varied and surprising. And it’s also a lot harder, which is what I want in a sequel (I’ve earned every achievement in Adventure). On Upgrade last week, Jason Snell said that this is what a AAA iOS game looks like, and Myke Hurley called it the best iOS game ever made. I think I agree with them.
Unlocking Maya is where the game really became fun for me. My play style is to flip as often as possible, and Alto just wasn’t cutting it for me.
Chasms are so much more varied than they were in Adventure, which is a lot of fun.
The little birds of paradise are delightful. And they pick up coins for you!
I love that the biomes bleed together a little bit. For example, towards the end of the temple biome, you might see a single balloon way off on the horizon.
The entire game is gorgeous. The sunsets are unbelievable. Like dang.
It’s interesting to me that there is no llama-catching or any such equivalent in this game. It doesn’t need it. I think catching llamas was probably the first idea for Alto’s Adventure, but in the end the developers realized it wasn’t necessary. The game stands tall on it’s own.
Every time I go to Mint.com on my iPad, there’s a banner at the top of the screen. Taunting me.
Yes, I do have the Mint app installed on my device. No, I don’t want to use it.
The Mint app only has a fraction of the features available on Mint.com. It’s really disappointing. For the most part, I like Mint as a service, but it’s a rare occasion that I open their app.
But I’m not here to talk about Mint specifically. What I do want to talk about is something broader. I want to talk about what makes something a “mobile” app.
Six or seven years ago, Mint would’ve been a great app. These were the days that mobile apps were considered to be almost a satellite experience. A limited, on-the-go sort of experience. All the big features were on your computer, where you did real work, and the mobile app just had a few small, key functions that you might want to do from your phone. Doing real work on a smartphone was for addicts and Crackberries. No normal person would want or need to do work from their phone, right?
No one thinks this way anymore.
In fact, the paradigm has completely reversed. Instagram is a prime example: Instagram is an app first, and a website second. “Second” might actually be too generous a word. For years, Instagram didn’t even have a web view. Now they do, but it’s only that: a view. You can’t post to Instagram from a desktop computer, you have to use their app. Mobile is king.
In just a few short years, the focus has completely shifted. Twitter just killed their Mac app. 93% of Facebook’s daily active users are on mobile. And I’m willing to bet that the numbers for 18-35 year olds are even higher. Mobile isn’t going anywhere. Get used to it.
A story of impulse, habit, and the battle for your camera.
Instagram is putting the heat on Snapchat. And I love it.
I quit Snapchat stories a few months back. I was tired of all the sleazy featured stories that were always plastered all over that page, so I decided to jump ship and try Instagram stories instead. I, like many, had rolled my eyes when Instagram first copied Snapchat like this, but I was surprised to find that Instagram’s story tools have gotten good. Really good. Instagram has better captioning tools. They’re more flexible, more interesting, and allow for more creativity. They’re fun!
But more importantly, Instagram stories are better because you can post pictures or videos from your phone’s camera roll. This allows for even more creativity. I can post time-lapses or photos that I’ve edited in other apps. The stories I see from my church and local businesses are amazing. These people are putting a lot of time into creating incredible, professional looking stories.
Why doesn’t this happen on Snapchat? The answer is found in this app update that popped up in my feed about two weeks ago:
Snapchat used to have this weird white box around any post that you didn’t take directly with Snapchat’s camera. It was awkward. The idea was to force people to use the Snapchat camera.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. When something cool happens in front of you, what do you do? More than likely, you pull out your phone. Then what? Do you launch the stock camera app, Snapchat, Instagram, or something else? I think many, many, people would answer that they open Snapchat.
Snapchat wants to be your camera app. They want everything you capture on your phone to go through Snapchat first. And they want you to share every moment – as long as you captured it in their app.
I’m sure Instagram wants this too – but they’ve decided to take a different approach. Instagram has decided to let you post whatever you want to your story, whenever you want. Instagram is aiming for quality over quantity. Maximum engagement looks like this: Take lots of pictures, caption them quickly, and post them to your story. Curation is different: Take lots of pictures (using your full-quality stock camera app), and then post the best on your story.
There is no way I’m going to document my entire life using both Snapchat and Instagram. That’s why this battle is important. And Snapchat was just forced to give up some ground. Instagram copied Snapchat, that much is for sure. But I honestly think Instagram is doing the majority of the innovating in this space now. I guess copycatting can go both ways.
The Phillips Hue lights are a very polished piece of gadgetry. They work reliably, are easy to configure, and fun to use. They don’t come cheap, but if you want a rock-solid product, you can’t go wrong here.
Awhile back, I was sitting at my desk in my room, thinking about how cool it would be if I could turn my lamp on and off by talking to it. So I decided I was going to get a smart outlet that would connect to Apple HomeKit. Long story short, this escalated until I finally decided I would buy a set of Hue light bulbs to replace all the light bulbs in my room.
These instructions were printed clearly on the inside of the box, and they couldn’t have been easier:
Install all the lightbulbs, turn them all on, plug the Bridge into your router, and download the app.
I walked through the app setup process, which involved downloading a software update for the Bridge, and then I was all set.
The dimmer switch was even easier to set up. I simply stuck the little plate to my wall with the included stickers. No screws, no mess, no fuss. Even better, the dimmer comes out (it attaches magnetically) and acts as a wireless remote.
Software Setup: Hue App
In the Hue app, I have all four bulbs grouped together as one room, which I tied to the dimmer switch. Then I created a “scene” called “Ceiling on,” which I mapped to the “On” button on the switch. So when I press the on button, only my ceiling lights turn on. But when I press the off button, all my lights turn off, including the lamp. No more forgetting to turn that thing off!
Software Setup: Apple Home App
In Apple’s Home app, I also have all four bulbs assigned to the same room. I’ve got three of them grouped together as my “Lights,” and the other one by itself as my “Desk Lamp.” Nice and simple.
Software Setup: Siri
I can control the lights using Siri by simply saying, “Hey Siri, turn my Desk Lamp on.” But the Home app goes even deeper than that with its “scenes” feature. A “scene” is a group of settings for any number of HomeKit devices, which can be configured all at once with a single tap, or by using Siri. So I can say “Hey Siri, goodnight” and all my lights go off.
My personal favorite turns my lamp on to 5% brightness and is called “You up.” So if I need a nightlight, I simply say, “Hey Siri, you up?” Straight magic.
Not too much to complain about here, except for a minor signal strength issue. We have two routers in my house, and I originally plugged the Hue Bridge into the one in my basement. In hindsight, this was silly, since that’s the router that barely reaches my room. The Hue Bridge had similar performance issues: it worked most of the time, but occasionally a bulb wouldn’t respond. Moving the Bridge to the other router in the garage — the one that does reach my room — seems to have solved this problem.
I’m extremely happy with my Hue lights. They work well, were easy to set up, and are very customizable. My eye for expansion is now turned to my garage. For my dad’s birthday, we’re going to get him a few more bulbs and a Hue motion sensor, so that the lights in the garage turn on automatically when you walk in. Heck yeah!
 Whoops. Never leave a nerd alone scheming about gadgets. Last summer I went on a 20 minute walk without my headphones to distract me, and by the time I got home I had convinced myself I needed to buy an iPad Pro.
 Except for my nightstand lamp, which I don’t want or need to be automatic.