Drafts 15

Drafts 15 has been released to support both iOS and the new iPadOS 13. And as it is with the major releases, I had the opportunity to write about it over at MacStories.

I encourage everyone to go read it there, but wanted to offer a couple of highlights:

  • Enhanced Shortcuts Support: the support for Shortcuts has been very well implemented and enables users to not only create, but to pull from drafts without opening Drafts itself.
  • Multiwindow Support for iPadOS: this is another game-changing feature, and is the cornerstone of this release. This will empower users to create new ways of working on their iPad, allowing users to integrate Drafts into more of their daily lives. I give a few examples here. For more on how Multiwindow works, I recommend reading Federico’s review and watching Chris Lawley’s video, which provide the overview for all of iOS/iPadOS 13.
  • Updated Interface: there are a multitude of improvements here, from iconography to re-written UI to contextual menus, new in iOS 13.

This is a fantastic update, and has once again changed the way I use my devices with Drafts. In addition, it’s streamlined my workflows and opened up new possibilities for me. I hope that everyone finds more and more use cases for Drafts going forward.

Brydge Pro Keyboard

When I purchased iPad Pro 11", I immediately bought the Smart Keyboard Folio (SKF, as I refer to it).1 At the time, this was the best – and only – keyboard option made specifically for the iPad Pro. I needed something that wasn't heavy, something portable, and something versatile. Over time, some of those needs have changed, and I've added a few more use cases that might not be best satisfied by the SKF. So when the Brydge Pro keyboards were announced, I was intrigued about the possibility of that option. I reached out to the team at Brydge, who were kind enough to send me an 11" Brydge Pro keyboard review unit to try out.

The unboxing experience is very akin to Apple: everything has a purpose, it's very clean, and well considered. In the box, you get the keyboard, a USB-C to USB-C cable, and the back panel. I like the inclusion of the back panel for most situations. While I do like this for when I'm carrying it around in a bag, I found that it didn't always fit as well as I would have liked; there might be an improvement in the tolerancing of the part that could help. I also found that a few times, I would slide the Brydge towards me on a table, and the back panel would catch on the bottom edge and want to come off. When you use it in tablet mode – the mode where you can write on it with the pencil – it does prevent it from folding fully flat; you'll have to set it off to the side to use it in that way. There's just no room for the back panel in that device sandwich. It just feels odd to throw that to the side when you want to use it in this way.

Brydge Pro in tablet mode

The keyboard itself is a Bluetooth keyboard, and utilizes a USB-C cable to charge. You can even charge the keyboard from your iPad Pro if you're running out of power. Out of the box, the keyboard had about 78% power, which was great to get me started. It took about 5 days for the battery to run down to where I wanted to charge it again, likely due to the backlit keys. I have found that if you're doing a lot of typing with the keyboard lit, you're going to drain it a lot faster.

Having the battery in the keyboard means it was going to be heavy compared to the SKF, which brings me to the first thing I immediately noticed about the Brydge Pro keyboard: this thing is heavy. Not just a little, but a lot. At 700 grams for the keyboard and the protective cover, it more than doubles the weight of the iPad Pro2 carry in my bag; compare that to the SKF, which clocks in at just 302 grams, and it's clear to see that you need to be very comfortable with the extra weight if you're going to carry this around. It may not seem like a lot, but it's significant. The extra weight is great for when you're using it in your lap, however, like when you're on a couch or as I did in a car while on a road trip; the SKF tends to be more top-heavy,3 and doesn't feel as stable in those instances whereas the Brydge felt solid.

The next thing I noticed: the keyboard is a bit narrower than the SKF. Being that this is the 11" model, that width can take some getting used to. But I was able to adapt over the first several days. The placement of the Siri key is also a bit difficult with the layout, as my finger often presses is when I'm attempting to use the control key. Again, this layout just takes some getting use to and is not insurmountable; I'm even trying to utilize Siri more now with this key, using the Type to Siri accessibility feature, and the availability of such a key is welcome. Having the media keys above the row is great. I really wish that Apple would figure out how to make this happen. I've suggested a couple of different ways before, but I doubt they'd ever consider it.4

My review unit did have a couple of issues: I noticed that the lettering on the keys weren't straight. I notice these sorts of things all the time as part of my day job, so it was immediately apparent to me. It's not a deal breaker by any means, and my hope is that it is because this is an early review unit. The main issue that I did have with the keyboard has been the missed keystrokes. It's not all the time, but when it does happen, it takes me out of my writing focus. I reached out to the team at Brydge to let them know, and not only did they quickly respond acknowledging my concern while assuring me that this is not normal and they wanted to inspect the unit to see what was going on, but they also shipped me a new one the day after. Issues can happen in products from time to time, and even though this appears to be an isolated incident, the quick customer service experience and the fact that Brydge stand by their products is fantastic. The second unit I used did not have this issue, and most of my missed keystrokes were due to the more narrow keyboard or my lack of force to activate the key travel.

Overall, I really like the Brydge Pro keyboard. The keys feel very good, the infinite angles and better lap capability are very versatile, and it really does make this combination of Brydge keyboard and iPad Pro feel like a traditional laptop. But I also couldn't help but notice that this might not be the best keyboard for me for the way I do work. In my day job, I'm often moving between typing and notetaking with the Apple Pencil, and the Brydge is more cumbersome for that particular way of working. I can lay it fully flat, but that doesn't work as well sitting on my lap.

At the end of my time with the review unit, I came away mixed: it's not as flexible for my style of working, but it's a really fantastic option for the iPad Pro. I'm likely keeping my iPad Pro for a few more years, so having this option in addition to the Smart Keyboard Folio and the Smart Folio (knockoff) is the trifecta, and something I'm excited to add to my kit portfolio. I might, however, wait a bit before I buy this: with iPadOS 13 and the addition of an accessibility feature which provides cursor support, I can't help but think that Brydge might be working on a trackpad edition, similar to the version they have for the Surface Pro. If this existed, I wouldn't have to carry an extra piece of kit in my bag. If they added that feature, it would push me over the edge for sure. But if you're in the market for a laptop-like keyboard, I cannot recommend this one enough.

  1. I actually bought the Smart Folio (SF) before this, but immediately returned it after 30 min because I realized that my use cases needed the SKF. 
  2. the iPad Pro weighs 470g, for reference 
  3. There's that word again, heavy. 
  4. My idea: turn the "globe" key in the bottom left of the keyboard with a "FN" key. Add the media functions to the number keys in the same way. This would also allow for the addition of a hard-key Siri button if you press and held the combination for a home button. Again, this is a way to solve it, and certainly not the way I envision Apple would do it. But I really wouldn't mind it being there. 

Letting Go

As I'm writing this, I'm taking a much-needed 3 days of "staycation". I've often loathed this word, but as things have become more and more busy for me at work along with everything that I've endured with my personal life, I need it now more than ever.

I have a ton of things to catch up on while I'm off: some appointments, my house, hopefully a movie, and some much needed writing time as well. But this also means doing something that I'm learning to live with: letting go. I'm in a weird space with work: I'm acting like a boss, but I'm not quite official in the title.1 It's a trial run. And for the most part, I feel like I've been doing a great job in handling it. When it comes to taking some time for me and letting that stuff be handled by others, I've noticed that it's difficult for me.

I haven't officially managed others before, but I'm getting the opportunity to manage my peers and others through my role. It's been a unique experience to visibly see the transition from someone who 'does' to someone who 'manages'. And being honest: that transition is much harder than I thought it would be. It's a learning curve of ones self to let it go and get done, instead of doing.

Over the years, I've set some lofty goals and personal standards for myself. These aren't always shared in the same way by the people I work with. There are some ways I conduct myself that others might not.2 And it's hard to sometimes rely on others to complete assignments to your own personal standards. Hopefully I've laid out expectations and imparted what little wisdom I can to empower my supporting team to get everything completed while I'm away.

But there are times that you still have to be a 'doer'. You do have to let go, and trust that it's going to get done. The work will still be there when I get back. The building will still be around. The job will still need to be done. But I'm hoping that I can entrust some of my work to others and have them pick up the torch while I'm taking some time for me. I'm hopeful that come Monday, I'll be able to realize that this is ok and that I don't have as much to worry about as I think I do.

  1. I really do hope that a promotion is coming. Not counting on it, but it would be a nice cherry on the top of all this stress. 
  2. Yes, of course. There are people who are better than me. Not saying I'm the best, far from it. Not the point here. 

The iOS-Only Podcasting Kit

I got into podcasting late. I've been listening for years, but I never started my own. But by the time that Seth and I did, there was an emerging idea started by Jason Snell: recording and editing podcasts iOS-only. As someone who rarely ever touches a Mac for their day-to-day work, this idea has continued to gnaw at my brain. I tried my hand a couple of times at doing something differently with it, but it never panned out the way I wanted.

In an effort to head down this road, I ended up switching microphones last year: I had the clutch Blue Yeti microphone, but decided on the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB instead. Not only was it better for the environment in which I record, but it also afforded me the possibility to record using both the USB and XLR connections, pushing me closer to the goal of iOS-only.

A month or so ago, I was recording the show via the late-2012 Mac mini I have. I ended up having an issue while recording, and I lost my audio in several spots. Given that this is one of two jobs that I ever ask it to do, I was understandably upset and put off by recording in the same way going forward. The idea of going iOS-only came back to the forefront of my mind. I again turned to Jason's setup, only to realize that this was going to cost me several hundred dollars to create. I don't have that lying around, and I wanted to find something that would work for me.

I can already record iOS-only: I can use my iPhone with AirPods to make the call and use my iPad Pro to record the local audio. This is how I recorded my end when I guested on Episode 23 of the Automators podcast. I enjoyed doing this, but I also don't have a great way of having the good audio from my mic broadcast to the other hosts. I like the idea of using the iOS devices I have to record: I'm always going to have them with me, so it just makes more sense to use them for the complete audio setup. I can use either device to record or make the call, I just need a way to get the sound of the mic to both of them. So that's where my search started. I had most of what I needed, I just needed an XLR interface of some type. Rather than search 'USB XLR interface' like I had done multiple times before, I ended up just searching for 'XLR interface'.

That's when I ended up finding something new and unique: the Røde i-XLR. This device was made for reporters, plugging into an XLR microphone and allowing mobile recording of interviews; when I saw it, I thought it might work perfectly for podcasting as well. Rather than take my XLR connection through an expensive USB interface into an XLR recorder of some type or another adaptor to my iPhone, this allows me to use my XLR connection and plug it directly into the iPhone without all the extra cables and steps. There's even an app – the Røde Recorder – which was specifically made for this microphone. The idea was intriguing, so I decided to purchase it and test it out.

The schematic. Don’t judge my drawing skills.

Here's how my setup is all connected, using my iPad Pro 2018 and my iPhone Xs.1 First, I start with the power: I recommend using this Anker wall-charger, which provides a Power Delivery USB-C port along with a USB-A quick charge. I use it all the time for travel, and it's perfect for what I need. I use a USB-C to USB-C to power the iPad. Next, I connect the USB microphone cable to the iPad Pro using the Satechi hub;2 this also allows me to use the HDMI for an external monitor and the USB-C port to power everything. Then, I connect the Røde iXLR to the end of the cable which comes with the microphone, and plug that into my iPhone directly. Finally, I connect the over-the-ear headphones to the the Røde iXLR and do a test recording to dial in the sound level for the environment. When I have that part set and I'm happy with the audio, I'll connect the monitors directly to the back of the microphone so I can use them for the audio call; I can monitor the sound visually using Røde Reporter or Ferrite. I prefer using Ferrite due to the smaller file sizes and better recording controls for volume as well as the ability to bookmark the audio when topic change and/or I cough; it helps me in the edit later. However, I have noticed that using the configuration menu in Røde Reporter allows me to use a -20 dB pad for the mic, resulting in quieter background noise and an overall better sound.

I did run into one small technical issue when getting this all set up: when the i-XLR is connected to the iPhone, the cellular radio creates an interference with the audio. To avoid this in the audio track, I have to turn on airplane mode,3 then turn on the WiFi and then record. It's a simple issue, and one that I'm not too concerned about: I can still get calls or messages if something is urgent. I also don't want to be disturbed when I'm recording so that I can give the other person (or people) my fullest attention possible, so it's a non-issue for me.4

The iOS-only setup in my home studio.

For home use, I have my microphone on a Neewer boom arm,5 which allows me to keep it at the appropriate level when I'm standing. I also have the iPad Pro in a stand and use the Magic Keyboard to type because I had it at home; you could use any wireless keyboard for this, and in the future, I might just pull the trigger on a Brydge Keyboard for my 11" iPad Pro, but I'm waiting for more reviews to come in to make the call. I may also look to improve my home setup with a mute switch, but I'm going to hold off for now.6

This iOS-only setup is completely portable for recording anywhere.

With a few more additions, not only can I have an iOS-setup at home, I can also have a completely mobile setup as well. I can start recording more often, no matter where I am: whether it's traveling for work, going to my parents house on a short weekend trip, or taking a long-overdue vacation, I can record from wherever I am. I bought some inexpensive in-ear monitors and some duplicate cables, which complete the mobile setup. It all fits into a hard-side case made for my specific microphone, and the entire case fits in the bottom of my travel backpack, meaning I can go anywhere and record.

Everything fits into one case for easy carrying.

From here on out, I'm going to be recording iOS-only using this setup: my iPhone will record my local audio, and my iPad Pro will handle the call. The only bit that I don't have is the recording of the call itself, which isn't a big deal to me as long as the people I'm recording with know what they are doing. This setup allows me to use my iOS devices which have shown to be more dependable than my Mac mini. I find my new setup option to be better for the actual running of the show: I can have my iPad Pro in split screen to handle show notes in Drafts, Safari to do any real-time look-up, and the call in slide over on Skype; if I'm using FaceTime, I can simply just jump back to the call if I want by tapping the green indicator in the upper left of the screen.

This setup works surprisingly well. The audio quality is completely fine for anyone who's not a die-hard purist with bottomless pockets. I've been testing a lot with it and can't notice a difference in what I've been producing in the past. I'm trying to do this for as little as possible. For someone who has an iPad and an iPhone, you can have a complete setup – for both home and travel – for around $400 all-in, including all of the chargers, cables, usb hub, interface, and microphone.7 It's even less if you already have chargers or a USB hub. You can even expand the setup over time, making it the most versatile setup out there.

I think this is the best part of the mobile setup I've created: I don't need to have more wires and boxes costing me hundreds of dollars more. I will always have my iPhone and iPad with me, so this just makes more sense. It also helps make my setup portable, making my mobile setup that much better. So while I impatiently wait for WWDC to bring changes to the way I can podcast using only my iPad, I have found the best possible work-around for my uses. I'll share how I edit on iOS in my next post.

Here are the items you need to create the mobile kit with your iPad Pro (2018) and iPhone:

  1. Caseling hard case
  2. Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Microphone
  3. Røde i-XLR
  4. Neewer In-Ear Monitors
  5. Cable Matters USB C to Mini USB Cable (3.3 ft)
  6. Satechi hub
  7. Anker 49.5W USB C PD + USB A Wall Charger
  8. Anker PowerLine+ C to C 2.0 cable (6ft)

  1. This is the hub I use which works with my iPad Pro. You can use a multitude of others, or if you have a different iPad, you can use one that works for you. 
  2. Seth was right. 
  3. If you have an older device laying around which supports Ferrite or Rode Reporter, you can use this as the "storage" device if you really have an issue with what I've described here. 
  4. there is a package deal which includes the mic, a boom arm, and a pop filter that I would recommend. This wasn't available when I bought my mic. There are also other mics and stands out there. This is just what I use, and it's inexpensive. 
  5. I'd love to see a mute feature added in Ferrite for recording in the future to negate the need of an extra box. 
  6. The prices I'm listing are in USD. Includes tax and assumes Amazon Prime shipping for everything. You may already have the cables and everything, so it could end up being cheaper for you.