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.
Apple’s brand image has been taking hits left and right over the past six months. I’m not an Apple hater, in fact, I’ve been somewhat of a super fan for many years now. I have the iPhone X, iPad Pro 10.5”, and a MacBook Pro. I use the Apple Pencil and the AirPods. I’ve spent an enormous amount of money on Apple gear, and I love it all so much. Apple’s stuff doesn’t come cheap, but to me, the experience I get is worth it. And I preach that to my friends and family (as best as I can without being obnoxious). But that’s gotten difficult as of late. Here are three things that have made Apple look really bad recently…
iPhone X Price Point
I love my iPhone X. The screen is beautiful, the cameras are amazing, and FaceID is straight magic. It’s the best phone I’ve ever owned.
But it seems like every time I pull it out, someone goes, “Didn’t that thing cost you a thousand dollars??!” Yeah, actually, it did. And I happily paid that. I couldn’t wait for preorders to open. I was so excited.
The iPhone X is an iPhone for fanboys and fangirls like me. If you don’t want to spend $1000, get the iPhone 8. It’s a great phone. Compared to any older iPhone, it’s faster, got a better camera, supports wireless charging, and is priced normally for an iPhone.
But to a lot of people, just the fact that Apple sells a phone that costs more than the entire Cracker Barrel menu makes them seem… out of touch. Bourgeoisie even. Apple has always been about premium. But they’re walking a fine line right now.
Or maybe they’re not. Everyone I know with an iPhone X loves it. If we’re all such suckers, heck, they should charge whatever we’ll pay.
iOS 11 has been kinda rough. It seems to have gotten better recently, but late last year I was just having all kinds of random little bugs. I think I rebooted my iPhone more last November/December than any other month I’ve had an iPhone. These were all little things, all fixed by reboots. But that’s not like Apple.
What kills me here is that Apple’s hardware game over the last 18 months has been spot on. The new iPad Pro, iPhone X, and AirPods are all amazing, beautiful devices. But the software game just isn’t there right now. Here’s hoping Apple gets that together in 2018.
Slow Down Gate/Battery Gate
Whatever you wanna call this one, this is easily the worst thing that’s happened to Apple PR in the last few years. Before my opinions, let me first state the facts:
Apple admitted that they slow down older iPhones.
Wait WHAT? See that’s what you’re all thinking. “I knew it!” you say. “They ARE evil!” But wait, here’s the rest of the story:
As batteries get older (all batteries, not just iPhone batteries), their power output starts to get a little unstable.
During times of peak performance need (say, playing a 3D game), the iPhone is drawing a lot of power from the battery.
If the battery power output all of a sudden dips during one of these times, the iPhone could simply shut off, because it wasn’t expecting the power to cut out.
To fix this problem, Apple has programmed the iPhone to, well, expect this power dip. During periods of peak performance, older iPhones may intentionally slow down the processor if it believes the battery is likely to be unreliable.
The point is, Apple is trying to prevent your iPhone from just randomly shutting off right when you’re using it the heaviest. But that’s not really the point. The real point is, The conspiracy theorists were right. I’ve spent years assuring people that no, Apple doesn’t slow down your iPhone just to make you buy a new one. Even though Apple wasn’t technically doing this “to make you buy a new one,” the public perception damage has been done. Apple has done several things to address this problem, including offering battery replacements at over 60% off through all of 2018. They are also updating iOS soon to allow users to turn off this behavior in their iPhone settings. But still. Apple has a lot of ground to make up in 2018.
Do you have 1) a great idea for an app and 2) minimal coding experience?
Step 1 — Google Broadly
Start by Googling a basic description of what you’re trying to do, something like “how to use a scrolling picker in Swift.” Chances are, you’ll find a rather simple solution — and by simple I mean that it will have only a few steps. However, those steps will likely use terminology you’ve never even heard before, things like “view controller” and “app delegate.” For an experienced coder, these are simple steps. For you, not so much (and that’s OK!). Which brings us to Step 2…
Step 2 — Google Specifically
Dive deeper into what you’re trying to learn by Googling any terms you don’t understand. Turns out you place UI elements inside a view controller, but what the heck are constraints? Google that too! This takes time and effort to effectively learn and piece together information. But it does work, and it does pay off in the end.
Except when you can’t find what you’re looking for. Which brings us to step 3…
Step 3 — Ask!
Stack Overflow is a wonderful resource to find other people who’ve had the same problem as you and who have already found a solution. I used to be hesitant to post my own questions to Stack Overflow. To be perfectly honest, I was too lazy and too impatient, thinking an answer would take days.
If you think so too, you’re completely wrong. The few times I’ve posted to Stack Overflow, I’ve gotten an educated response within an hour. It’s an amazing community.
Now, make sure you do your homework. First, be sure the question hasn’t been asked before on Stack Overflow. If something similar has been asked, make sure you cite that question in your post, and explain what makes your situation different. Second, be specific. Include large blocks of your own code. This is the only way anyone will be able to understand what you’re trying to accomplish and, more importantly, what you’re doing wrong.
I recently published my first app. Before starting the project, I had some basic experience with coding, minimal experience with iOS programming, and lots of experience with Google. But enough about me, this is about you! With a little determination and a lot of patience, it is possible to Google your way through almost any programming problem. Happy hacking!
I’ve been reviewing apps here for a long time, but today I’m incredibly excited to announce that I’ve made an app of my own! Being an iOS developer has been a dream of mine for years, and I’m very proud of the app I’ve made. Please go check the app out and send me feedback on features you want added!
Stand Hours – Download Now!
Stand Hours is an app I created that helps you live healthier by sitting less and moving more throughout your day. If you work at a desk (like me), or are in school and spend lots of time doing homework (also like me), this is an easy way to become just a little bit healthier each day. Getting up and walking around for even just one minute (at least 100 steps) during an hour counts as a stand hour.
Stand Hours reads your step data from the Health app, which means it works with any fitness tracker that supports Apple Health (including the iPhone’s built-in pedometer).
Stand Hours also gives you hourly reminders throughout the day to get up and move around.
In addition to reading steps from Apple Health, Stand Hours can (optionally) export your stand hours to Apple Health. Yes, Apple Health has a metric called “Stand Hours,” but that can only be used by the Apple Watch. Instead, this app can store your stand hours as ANY activity metric in Apple Health – such as an empty one that you don’t use. It’s a great way to see this data in the Health app, even if you don’t have an Apple Watch!
You can use the form below to submit feedback, request features, or report bugs. This app is still in early stages, so if you’ve got a feature you want added to the app I’m all ears! Thanks for checking it out.