Import Siri Reminders into 2Do with Workflow

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.

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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!

iOS 9 is Here!

Last Wednesday was the official release of iOS 9.  After updating a day late, I’m really liking the new version.  There’s lots to talk about, but I’m going to highlight my two favorite features: the improved Spotlight search and iPad Multitasking.

Spotlight
Spotlight has been moved to a new-old home, to the left of the first home screen.  This is where it was before iOS 7 (interestingly enough, however, you can still access Spotlight by pulling down from any home screen, but you won’t get as many suggestions).  Right at the top of the new Spotlight are “Siri Suggestions” – contacts and apps that iOS thinks you may want to use right now.  So far, they just seem to be recents, but Apple has said that these will slowly tailor based on your usage.  Check Twitter and Facebook every morning?  Those apps will show up at that time.  Under that is “Nearby” – a group of buttons for finding restaurants, gas stations, and the like.  These too will change based on whether it’s breakfast or dinner time.  Finally, underneath that are a few top stories from the News app, which makes its iOS 9 debut.  What’s cool is that you get all this information by just swiping into the Spotlight screen.  If you actually start to search, you’ll see similar results to what you’d have seen in previous versions of iOS.  Except for one major thing: you can now search the content in third-party apps right from Spotlight.  Dropbox, among others, has already added support for this feature, and I think it’s going to be super useful.

iPad Multitasking
Unfortunately, iPad multitasking is a little fragmented.  Let me break it down.  The iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, and the iPad Pro (so the newest model of each size), can truly run two apps at the same time.  This can be done either with both apps taking up half the screen or with more of a 3/4 split.  So that’s great, but I have an iPad Mini 2.  Well the iPad Mini 2, 3, and 4; the iPad Air 1 and 2; and the iPad Pro can also do what’s called “slide over.”  This is where one app keeps running in the background, and an iPhone-width app slides over it on the right hand side, taking up about 1/4 of the screen.  Like this:


This is useful, but so far not many apps have been updated for it (disappointingly, not even all of Apple’s apps support it.  Why doesn’t Music?).  Hopefully this will get better though.  The final feature of multitasking, which comes to the same models that get slide over, is picture in picture.  This is available both for video apps like Netflix and things like FaceTime, so that’s really cool.

The last thing I want to talk about is performance and battery.  I mentioned in my WWDC post that iOS 9 is available for all phones that got iOS 8.  I was hoping that this, coupled with the fact that Apple trumpeted iOS 9 as improving performance, would mean that iOS 9 wouldn’t slow my phone down.  So far, my phone has been about the same (hooray!), but my iPad is definitely slower (this makes no sense, they’re the same model year).  Still, this is better than the usual performance hit we’ve gotten used it.  So far, battery doesn’t seem to have taken a hit either.  I’ve yet to try out the new Low Power Mode, but I think that’s a good idea too.  All in all, I like iOS 9, and I hope developers continue to add support for all the cool new features.  ••

Siri Goes to Grad School

I’m guessing you’re familiar with the iOS “personal assistant,” Siri.  If you don’t know what it is, it’s basically a way to tell your iOS device to do things by talking in natural language.  You can ask Siri to “Remind me to…” or “Make a note that…” and things like that.  This feature was first unveiled in 2011 as part of iOS 5, and launched exclusively on the iPhone 4s.  Nowadays, it works on almost all iOS devices.  The idea is pretty cool, but in reality it just works OK.  Apple tried to portray that you could just ask Siri anything, as you would a real person, and Siri would be smart enough to figure out what you meant.  In reality, however, Siri breaks things down in categories, just like any computer does.  (If you’re curious as to what exactly Siri can – and can’t – do, tap the little question mark button in the lower left corner of the Siri screen.)  Looking at the long list of categories makes it seem fairly robust, but in practice, Siri can be pretty limited.  If Siri can’t figure out what specific task you want it to perform (creating a reminder, making a note, etc.) it basically just plugs what you said into a search engine.  This works as a “catch all,” and for some reason this sort of bothers me.  I feel like Siri should do a better job of answering your questions directly, instead of letting Bing do it (if I wanted to do a web search, I could have just gone and done one).  However, I have a solution to Siri’s limited knowledge: allow third-party Siri integration.

Third-party Siri integration would allow other apps to create their own commands for Siri to control their app.  This would be great even for basic things, like Spotify.  When I’m listening to music in the preloaded Music app, I can ask Siri to go to the next track or play a different artist.  When I’m listening to Spotify, Siri can’t even pause the music, let alone skip tracks.  I think this is really stupid, especially since Spotify’s controls show up in Control Center and on the lock screen, just like the Music app.  If Spotify was allowed to program Siri, Siri could skip tracks and even play specific songs or artists.

But third-party Siri integration could be so much more powerful than this.  When Apple allowed third-party Notification Center widgets, they allowed developers to be really creative.  Widgets like Yahoo Weather‘s really weren’t that surprising, but PCalc‘s was.  PCalc gives you a fully-functional calculator right there in Notification Center.  Frankly, it’s fantastic, and I don’t think anyone saw it coming.  I’d love to see what crazy ideas developers think of (that I never would have) for Siri integration.  (I just hope Apple doesn’t choose to shut down the movers and shakers, like they almost did with PCalc.  Apple essentially said that PCalc’s functionality was too complex for Notification Center.  Fortunately, after an ensuing user uproar, Apple backed down.  It’s silly that Apple would open up great new functionality for developers to innovate, then tell them they’re not allowed to do so.)

The only problem with third-party Siri integration is that some apps would abuse it (whether purposefully or not).  This is probably the main thing holding Apple back from doing something like this.  I for one, however, am more than willing to take the bad with the good here, and I don’t think I’m the only one with that view.  I hope that Apple will continue to learn to let go of its precious little “perfect” operating system in order to allow developers more freedom to innovate.  Fingers crossed we see some super cool Siri stuff coming next year with iOS 9.  ••

First Thoughts on iOS 8

A few months ago, when iOS 8 was first announced at WWDC, I wrote about a couple iOS 8 features that I was really excited about.  iOS 8 finally came out last Wednesday, and so far I’m pretty impressed.  iOS 8 certainly isn’t anywhere near as ground-breaking as iOS 7 was, and it does have its share of new bugs.  Still, I think iOS 8 is really cool.  Now that it’s officially released, I thought I’d write about how those features I wanted actually work in practice.

1.  Actionable Notifications
In iOS 7, if you got a banner notification at the top of the screen, you could tap it to see the text message, email, or whatever it was.  However, that would switch you into the messages app, and after you replied you would have to switch back to whatever app you were using before you got the text.  With iOS 8, you can swipe down on a notification to get actions for it.  This means a reply screen for a text message, and “Mark as Read” and “Trash” buttons for emails.  This is really useful, and I’m looking forward to seeing what third-party developers will do with this new feature.


2.  Hands-Free Siri
This feature works more or less exactly as promised, though you’ll have to first enable it in Settings -> General -> Siri.  When your iOS device is plugged in, you can say “Hey Siri” to activate it.  You can then tell Siri to play music, text someone, or set a reminder.  There was also a little extra thought put into this feature that makes it really useful.  Normally, when you tell Siri to set a reminder, it says “Here’s your reminder” out loud but doesn’t actually say the text of the reminder out loud.  This was fine before, because you had to be holding your device to use Siri in the first place.  When using hands-free Siri, however, Siri will read the text of the reminder out loud to you.  This little bit of extra thought puts Siri’s new usefulness over the top.

3.  Continuity
The main part of continuity I want to talk about here is a new feature called Handoff.  With Handoff, all your devices are aware of what you’re doing nearby on your other devices.  If you’re looking at a website, typing an email, or looking up directions, Handoff broadcasts your activity to your other devices via Bluetooth.  If you, say, start writing an email on your iPhone, then realize you’d rather use the keyboard on your Mac, you simply walk over to your Mac, click the Mail Handoff icon on the dock, and your draft is magically transferred.  Handoff won’t work on the Mac until OS X Yosemite is released next month, but for now I tested it between my two iOS 8 devices.  I started an email on my iPod, then picked up my iPad, and a mail icon appeared both on the lock screen and in the multitasking menu.  Swiping up on the lock screen icon or tapping the page in the multitasking menu brought the draft up on the iPad.  Pretty neat!


The final feature I mentioned last summer was the possibility that the iPad could run two apps at the same time, side by side.  This was never announced by Apple as a feature, but someone digging through the iOS 8 beta found the code required to do it.  There’s been no mention of this feature in iOS 8 so far, but it’s possible that Apple will release an iOS 8.1 later on, maybe after the new iPad models come out next month.  If this becomes a feature, the iPad’s usefulness, especially as a productivity tool, will go through the roof, and I know there are many people who will be very, very happy about that.  ••

Three iOS 8 Features I Want Right. This. Second.

Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference ended just over a week ago, and during the conference we saw some new stuff about iOS 8, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.  Apple likes to be really secretive about new hardware, but it has to be a little more open about software because third-party app developers have to be in on the loop in order to ship iOS 8 software along with the actual OS.  Because of this, we saw a lot of stuff about iOS 8 during WWDC.  After I got the lowdown from the excellent TechHive.com, I’ve compiled a list of my top three picks.

1. Actionable Notifications
I’m guessing you’ve been here: You’re in Safari, reading some article online.  Suddenly, you get a text message, and a banner pops up at the top of the screen.  You read the text and decide to respond to it right then, so you tap the banner.  iOS then takes you out of Safari and into Messages; then after you reply, you have to switch back to Safari.  Most of us take this for granted: that’s just how iOS has always worked.  But with actionable notifications, you can swipe down on that notification and a keyboard pops up.  You haven’t switched apps, this is just an overlay over whatever you’re currently doing.  After typing your reply, the overlay disappears, and you’re right back to Safari.  Nifty, huh?  (I’m not sure if I described that very well, so here’s a picture from TechHive/MacWorld if you’re confused.)

2. Hands-Free Siri
Google has recently made a big deal of the “OK Google” line.  On certain Android phones, you just say those words and the Android virtual assistant pops up, no button pushing required.  As of iOS 8, the iPhone will have a similar feature.  As long as the phone is plugged in (as a battery life consideration), saying “Hey Siri” will activate, well, Siri.  I think this is a cool idea, especially if your phone is charging on the table across the room, and you want to have it, say, play some music.

3. Continuity
Continuity is a feature that will tie your iPhone, iPad, and Mac closer together than ever before.  There are lots of different parts of Continuity, but I’ll only mention a few here.  One feature is called Handoff, which allows you to, for example, push an email draft from your iPhone to your Mac.  This is great if you decide you’d rather use a real keyboard for that email.  Sure, you could have just emailed it to yourself, but that’s a pain.  Continuity will also allow you to accept phone calls and send SMS on your Mac or iPad, basically routing things through your iPhone.

As a bonus, I’ve got one more feature that isn’t official yet, but is rumored.  I really hope the iPad will be able to run two apps side by side, at the same time.  I don’t think Apple should even bother allowing this on the iPhone, it’s just too small.  But the iPad is a different story.  It would be really nice to be able to use Mail and Notes (or other combinations of apps) at the same time, instead of switching back and forth.  So, for all you Apple engineers out there who I’m sure are reading this, could you please get on that?  Thanks, I appreciate it.  ••