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Link: The Limitations of the iPad

M. G. Siegler writing on 500ish Words:

“But [the iPad] is actually my favorite device. Yes, you read that right. While I certainly use the iPhone far more than the iPad, I enjoy the iPad more. It’s just perfect for what I actually like doing — reading, writing, needlessly getting distracted on Twitter, and such. In fact, I like using it so much that I find myself very annoyed these days.

Siegler goes on to say that he’s annoyed at the iPad because it’s such a great device, but it still can’t fully replace his Mac. There are some things that the iPad simply can’t do, or can’t do well enough. I feel exactly the same way. My iPad is also my favorite device, and it’s frustrating that it’s still so limited sometimes. Recent years have brought some great improvements (like split-screen multitasking), but we still have a long way to go. Here’s hoping Apple prioritizes the iPad, makes it better, and allows it to fulfill everything we all want it to be. ••

Link

Link: My Interview on The Sweet Setup

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Image credit: The Sweet Setup

http://thesweetsetup.com/nick-fosters-mac-ios-setup/

My interview on The Sweet Setup runs today!  One of the things TSS does is interview someone each week and ask them about what devices and apps they use to be productive every day.  This week that someone is me!

If you’re not familiar with The Sweet Setup, you should go check out the rest of their site (after you read my interview of course).  In addition to these interviews, they also do great app roundups.  Big thanks to Jeffrey Abbott for working with me on the interview, I had a lot of fun with it!  ••

Bear: Beautiful Notes for iOS and Mac

I’ve been using iCloud Notes for about a year now.  In general, it works well.  After using Day One, however, I’ve been bitten by the Markdown bug, and I wanted to find a new text app that supported it.  Markdown is kind of like pseudo-HTML formatting.  It’s simpler to type than standard HTML, and it’s definitely faster than all the tapping involved with formatting in the Notes app.  I also liked the idea of organizing things with tags rather than folders.  Tags are better than folders because you can put a single note under multiple tags if you want.  These criteria led me to Bear.


The first thing you’ll notice about bear is that it’s absolutely beautiful.  The colors and typefaces are amazing.  Bear’s simple interface is exactly the same on iOS and macOS, which is awesome.  The editor is clean and distraction free, and shows Markdown output as you type.

But Bear goes beyond just writing text.  You can add images inline, or any other type of file as an attachment.  It’s also very easy to export all your notes and attachments from the Mac app (I’ve been burned by iCloud Notes here before).  Tagging is as simple as adding a hashtag anywhere in the note.  You can also use #tag/subgroups or #multi word tags#.  These are all automatically detected and can be found in the sidebar, or you can simply search for them.  You can also use other special search operators such as @attachments or @untagged.

Bear uses a subscription model for its pricing.  It’s $1.49/month or $14.99/year, with a one week or one month trial, respectively.  This subscription covers iPhone, iPad, and Mac.  This is great, since I’ve found many reasonably priced iOS apps have absurdly priced Mac counterparts.  At first I was put off by the subscription model, but I’ve since warmed up to it.  I realized that I would happily pay a flat $15 for Bear.  However, I move around between apps like this somewhat frequently, and in a year, I may have found something else.  If Bear still fits my needs in a year, I’m willing to support the developers by paying again.  Longevity and adaptability are worth paying for.  ••

Amazon Basics Bluetooth Keyboard: Thumbs Up

Years ago, I wrote about how I no longer bring my laptop to school with me, I just bring my iPad.  At the time, I also bought a cheap ($13) Bluetooth keyboard.  That keyboard turned out to be almost unusable, dropping the connection constantly.  I didn’t end up needing it much, however, so I never bought a new one.  This semester, however, I’ve got a lot more time between classes on campus, so I decided to pick up a new keyboard.

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Image Credit: Amazon

I’ve selected the Amazon Basics Bluetooth Keyboard for Apple Devices.  I’ve always been really happy with the Amazon Basics brand, and this product is no exception.  It works great, it’s comfortable to type on, and the price is right: $20.  I definitely recommend this product.

I also made an accessory for my keyboard.  My old keyboard, after being left in my backpack for months, had lost its ‘M’ key.  I wanted to protect my new keyboard, so I sewed a padded carrying sleeve for it.  Now I can be productive on my iPad – in style.  ••

Airmail: Stop Fighting Email

In addition to Notability and 2Do, another app that really changed the way I work last year is Airmail.  Just like iOS Reminders, I had used iOS Mail for years and years, and never had much of a problem with it.  However, as time went on, my use of email outgrew the app.  As I started getting more mail, I began using the “Unread” inbox filter to keep track of emails that required action.  However, I had to make sure I didn’t accidentally mark one of those emails as read, because then it would get lost in the shuffle of all my other mail.  Basically, I realized I needed to move to an inbox zero-based approach, moving all mail I was done with out of my inbox, leaving only the important stuff.  I wanted a more powerful email app to do this, so I turned to Airmail.  Shoutout to my girlfriend’s dad for this recommendation!


The bottom line is that Airmail allows me to be faster and more organized with my email.  The goal is to get everything that isn’t important right now out of my inbox, so I can focus on what is important.  After reading an email, if I don’t have to take any action on it, I archive it right away.  If it’s something I need to deal with later that day, like when I get home, I usually just leave it in the inbox.  If I’m going to deal with it another day, I snooze it.  Snoozing is one of the most powerful features of Airmail.  Snooze a message, and Airmail moves it to a special folder.  Then, at the snooze time, I get a fresh push notification and the message reappears in my inbox.  This has totally streamlined the way I work with email.  No more fiddling around with read/unread to make sure I can see the important stuff.  The important stuff is all that’s there.

Archiving and snoozing messages is super quick and easy thanks to Airmail’s customizable swipe actions.  I have right swipe set to Archive and left swipe set to Snooze and Trash – you can select up to four actions for each direction!  Need even more?  A full list can be pulled up for an individual message (see image 3).  There’s even more actions available, but I’ve set the app to only show the ones I use.

Customization is a big theme throughout Airmail.  The main menu in the left pane of the app is fully customizable on both iOS and Mac, and there’s tons of options.  Airmail also has support for smart folders (created via searches, just like 2Do).  I haven’t set any up yet, but I’m going to soon, to organize emails that I refer to often.  All this customization is what makes Airmail a great app: it can be as powerful as you need it to be.  There are still a few bugs and things that need to be worked out (threads on the Mac are kinda wonky), but it’s a relatively new app, and I’m sure these things will be fixed in time.  If you’re tired of fighting your email and want to work with it instead, you should definitely give Airmail a try.  ••

New Workflows from 2016: Notability

Two weeks ago, I started writing a post detailing some new apps and workflows I’ve started using over the past year.  It was originally going to be one post, but it quickly became clear that 2Do was going to need a post all to itself.  So I’ve decided to make each new workflow into it’s own post.  Today, I’m going to talk about Notability.


Easily the biggest new app I’ve started using this year is Notability.  Notability can technically be used as a text-based note app, but it’s really designed for use with a stylus.  I’ve officially given up paper in the classroom in lieu of taking notes on my iPad.  I’d messed around with this app before, but never actually gone all in with it for school.  However, my girlfriend and her sister both swear by it, and they convinced me to give it a try.  A week or two before fall semester started, I picked up a decent stylus on Amazon, and created a folder in the app for each one of my classes.  I’ll never go back to taking notes on paper ever again.  From the ability to use different colors, to the straight line tool, to copy and paste, Notability is simply a better way to take notes.

Notability offers many features that make it a fantastic experience.  First of all is the fact that I can write and highlight in multiple colors.  No more muddied diagrams with way too much information penciled in.  I can now draw or highlight different parts of a diagram with different colors, and then explain each part with the corresponding color ink elsewhere on the page.

Speaking of diagrams, I can import pictures and even entire powerpoints and documents into my notes.  If a diagram is too complicated for me to draw well (or if I’m just feeling lazy), I can simply insert the one my professor used on their slide.  In class, instead of wasting time trying to meticulously copy diagrams, I can actually focus on what the professor is saying (novel concept right?) and write that down, and then just leave a blank space in my notes to paste the graphic in later.  This makes my notes a lot more coherent and useful.

The final big feature of Notability is that I can record an entire lecture and my notes sync with the recording.  This means that I can play a recording back and watch my notes replay in real time.  I can also tap on a specific part of my note and the recording will jump to that spot.  So if I miss something my professor said, I can just put a big star in my note and easily come back to it later, I don’t even have to bother noting the time.

Notability is $9.99 for the iPad and iPhone version, and then another $9.99 for the Mac app.  However, I’ve been able to get by without the Mac app.  I’ve set notability to back everything up to Dropbox in PDF form, so while I can’t edit notes on my laptop, I can at least view them, and that works for me.  If you do a lot of writing on paper, you should really give Notability a try.  You may not think you’ll like it – I was adamant about the superiority of paper notes for a long time – but trust me: this is the 21st century.  There are much, much better ways to take notes.  ••

New Workflows from 2016: 2Do

Hi everyone!  I’m finally on Christmas break for the year, so I’ve got some more free time, and I wanted to get back to the blog and do some writing.  A lot has changed in the way I use my tech in the past year.  I’ve discovered several new apps that have really changed the way I use my devices to get things done.  That being said, I wanted to share a few of them over the next couple of weeks.

One app I’ve just started using is 2Do.  I’d been using the stock iOS reminders app for almost 4 years now, and it’s never worked away I wanted.  2Do, on the other hand, meshes with the way I use reminders perfectly, and I really enjoy using it.  This post isn’t meant to be an app review, it’s more just a commentary on the way I use 2Do to get things done.


The way I used the reminders app was weird.  I had all notifications except the app badge turned off, and all reminders set for the morning (the default time of 9am).  That way, everything was technically “overdue,” and the app badge just showed my total number of tasks for the day (side note: I know some people hate app badges but I love them and think they’re incredibly helpful and useful).  That worked OK, because most of my tasks aren’t time specific.  But that meant I couldn’t make a reminder that went off at a certain time (or location) if I wanted to, since notifications were off.  This system had once worked for me, but more and more now it felt like I was fighting it (and don’t get me started on fighting the Reminders app itself).

I know there’s lots of great to do list apps out there, but I refuse to use one that doesn’t at least sync with iOS reminders: I simply can’t give up setting reminders with Siri.  I had initially overlooked 2Do because I didn’t think it supported iOS reminders – it doesn’t ask to access your reminders the way it would photos or contacts.  However, 2Do supports syncing with iCloud reminders as a CalDAV server.  This seems odd to me, but it does work, so no complaints I guess (and I’m sure there’s a good reason for this that I don’t understand).

One of the most important features 2Do has is separate due dates and alarm times.  This means I can have most of my reminders due on a certain day, without that 9am alarm, and yet still have notifications on for other alerts.  I ended up turning off notifications for 2Do and letting the stock reminders app handle them, just in case I add a reminder with Siri that goes off before 2Do gets a chance to sync.  More on the way I implemented Siri later.

Before that I want to talk about the app itself.  It runs so much better than the stock reminders app, which is always crashing for me.  And it has so many more features, like due dates and tags and projects with subtasks.  Some of these advanced items are a little wonky when they sync over to the reminders app, which I still use on the Mac (because 2Do for Mac is $50), but it’s not a big deal.  I realized that I’d really outgrown the Reminders app; I really need the extra power of 2Do.

Speaking of power, the last thing I want to talk about in 2Do is smart lists.  2Do has unbelievable search and filter tools, with lots of keywords and AND/OR/! logic operator support.  My first smart list is my “Today and Location” smart list, which uses the search: !hide type: nodue OR overdue OR duetoday.  This list shows everything due today (or that I missed prior), and the “nodue” keyword includes location-based reminders (which don’t have a due date).  This list also excludes anything with the “hide” tag.

My other smart list is my “Inbox” for tasks I’ve set with Siri.  Trying to implement Siri was a conundrum.  I wanted alerts if I told Siri to “remind me in two hours” or “remind me when I get home,” but I didn’t want that default 9am reminder for something I set for next week.  So first I went to the reminders app and created a new default list named “Siri.”  Any new reminders created with Siri go on this list, but 2Do’s default list is still my standard “Reminders” list.  All this mess brings me to my smart list: !hide Siri type: alarms AND !duetoday OR nodue AND nolocation.  This shows all reminders: #1 On my Siri list, #2 That still have an alarm, and #3 That aren’t set “in two hours” or “when I get home.”  I then just keep an eye on this list and remove the alarms on any task that show up here (and then they disappear from the Inbox because they no longer match #2).

Is this a little convoluted and maybe even absurd?  Sure.  Does it fit the way my brain gets things done and help me accomplish more?  Oh yes.  ••