The One That Got Away

There are many thoughts I’ve been having since WWDC. I’m mainly lamenting the choice I made by buying an iPad Pro 9.7″, 3 months before the new 10.5″ was announced.1 But somewhere in the mix of all of my feelings and re-watching some of the keynote, I had some really awesome thoughts about some amazing productivity ideas.

One of the biggest improvements for iPad productivity is drag/drop when incorporated with Split Screen. For simplicity, I’m going to denote the apps side-by-side by writing app | app for each scenario below. The main part of this centers around Workflow. It’s an app that I’ve had a love affair with for a long time now. It’s so useful, but I can’t help think of the amazing things I’ll be able to do. Imagine these simple possibilities:

Quick Memes

Workflow | Safari

I do a search in Safari, searching for the perfect image for a meme idea.2 Now, imagine if you could drag that image over to a specific workflow in Workflow, one that makes quick memes. The image automatically gets added as a variable into the workflow, you type the joke, and you can share it wherever you’d like.

Tasks

Workflow | Drafts

Let’s say you’re taking meeting notes in Drafts. Now you have a list of actions there, and you need to move them over to something like OmniFocus. You could simply drag/drop them over to your Inbox within things. But what if you want to add dates/times/contexts/etc. for them? Well, now imagine if you could drag that list of text over to a specific workflow that would parse each task and allow you to add those elements, then send them to OmniFocus?

Combining Screenshots

Workflow | Photos

You have several screenshots that you want to put side-by-side to show a point. Using the multi-touch gestures with drag and drop, you can tap and hold one image to initiate drag/drop. Then you use a different finger to add another screenshot. And another. And another. Now, imaging dragging them over to the combine images workflow you’ve created to put them side-by-side, complete with spacing. All of this is done as soon as you drop the images on the workflow to run it.

Pretty sweet, right?

Now, here’s the thing to remember: none of this will happen with Workflow because the app isn’t being developed with new features. Yeah, it’s kind of a gut punch for me too. This is an example of an opportunity that will be missed.

But maybe, just maybe, someone at Apple will read this, see the merit, and push to update Workflow for iOS 11 while Apple figures out how to best integrate what Workflow brings into iOS. If it doesn’t happen, this is going to feel like the one productivity feature that got away…

  1. Not the worst thing in the world, but it kind of is a kick in the dick.
  2. I love jokes. Don’t you?

3 Things About Things 3

I recently picked up the iOS version of Things 3 for both iPhone and iPad. And there’s a lot to love about the new version: the new look is great; the simplicity of the layout is fantastic; and all of the small, purposeful animations are phenomenal.

As an app developer, giving users options — even if your own opinions don’t match those users’ thought patterns — is ultimately the best way to go forward. This doesn’t have to be tweaks to everything in the app and giving the user options upon options. But often, these features would benefit the app for both novice and power users, increasing the flexibility and functionality of the app. And I believe that there are some very meaningful changes that could be made in Things 3.

Here are 3 things I want to see in Things 3:

1. Complete Feature Parity

At this point in macOS and iOS development, the feature parity between the Mac and iOS apps should be the same, except where Apple places a limitation. And when there is a redesign of an app, there really shouldn’t be any difference between the two. As more and more users are going iOS only, the functionality of the app should not depend, in any way, on having a Mac. And there are several examples of ways that the Things iOS apps are not on par with the Mac app.

Things 2 had several keyboard shortcuts in iOS. If nothing more, they allowed a user – more specifically iPad Pro users – to quickly create a new task via the ⌘ N shortcut. And it’s a big omission for the growing base of iOS-only users. They exist in the Mac app, I would like to see these get added to iOS, as to make the app more usable when using an iPad Pro and an external keyboard.

The Today view is a great way to view your tasks for Day/Night. But one advantage that the Mac app gives you is the ability to sort based on Area; once set on the Mac, this option syncs over to iOS. It’s an odd choice that you can set it on macOS, but not set it on iOS. This could simply be another sort option placed in the upper right carrot icon, where you find the sorting by tag, select, and share options.

Speaking of tags, there should be a proper way to manage your tags on iOS. As of now, the only way to manage tags would be when editing a single task. What I would propose is an added menu item in the settings list, so that tags can be managed outside of tasks. This will allow you to organize your thoughts on them in one clear list, group them together, and become more useful as you manage your tasks going forward.

2. Dark Mode

The look of Things 3 is clean. Bleach clean. Almost too clean. And while that’s awesome at times for clarity, it is almost too much white. I would love to see a dark mode added. The development cycle has been slow and deliberate with Things, and I feel like this was a miss for some polish and user-facing customization.

As much as I don’t like it, there are are many times that I will dump tasks into my inbox just before bed, because I’m thinking of them and I need to remember them for later. Having the dark mode/theme added would be a welcome change. There are elements of it already on watchOS, and something I’d like to see carried into the app.

3. URL Scheme Support

I am a huge proponent of iOS automation. I am constantly using Drafts and Workflow to get things accomplished on iOS. But there aren’t too many URL schemes available.

What I would like to see them do, at the very minimum, is open up the app from a URL standpoint to allow the use of an x-callback-URL perspective. This will allow other apps to chain into task creation. Rather than send a list from Drafts to Reminders to Things, I could send that list over iterations from Drafts.

Once that is added, adding additional items like due/reminder times, tags, etc. would be easier. There are many reasons to do this: if you’re a new user, you can simply import a text list of items into the app and get going; if you have meeting minutes, you can export the tasks for further processing in Things; and you could build templates outside of the app for importing, similar to how OmniFocus and 2Do currently support. It would make it more powerful while remaining simplistic, which is really what this app strives to be.

Piques of the Week – Volume 11

Apple TV

We recently decided to get a fourth-generation Apple TV. My entire family uses Apple products, from iOS to Mac. And given that we recently cut cable, we needed something better to watch shows and movies with. Prior to now, we’d have to watch either via the smart TV built-in apps, or through plugging something in. Not ideal at all.

One of the things I really, really like about having the Apple TV is AirPlay. We can use the iPad mini 2 as a giant remote for the TV as well, if we want. My youngest loves the show Thunderbirds Are Go, and until Amazon brings their app to the tvOS, we can just use the iPad to project it on the TV.

The Siri remote is really nice and the battery lasts a long time. I’m a bit paranoid about losing it, and they aren’t cheap to replace. But so far, I’m using a remote caddy that I found for less than $10, and that helps keep it in one location. I am considering getting a remote cover for it in a bright color, just so we don’t lose it somewhere.

One additional aspect of having the Apple TV: this can lead to HomeKit-enabled devices being a part of our house, as the technology improves and our finances allow.1 It will open up a new possibility for us going forward, even if it’s not going to be anything more than a set-top replacement right now.

Overall, I’m really pleased with how the Apple TV is working for us at home. I’m sure Apple will announce something even better at WWDC, but I’m happy with it as it currently stands. I’m sure I’ll find even more uses for it over time.

Ecobee 3

Home ownership is… well… fun? Yes, fun. Let’s go with that. Owning a home means often maintaining or improving it; improvement is often necessary and can be expensive. But spending the money up front can yield dividends down the road.

Recently, I improved the insulation and ventilation in our attic — something that was long overdue. With that in place, I wanted to keep the house at a good temperature year round, no matter what the weather. We had a basic thermostat that worked well. But one thing we have to consider in our climate is which mode — heat or cool — we have to be in at any given time. In the spring/fall times of the year, we might want cooling in the day and heating at night; the temperature swings can be 40-50°F difference, and that has made from some interesting mornings when waking up.

So I started searching for a thermostat which would automatically switch, thus providing better HVAC performance. And much to my dismay, I wasn’t coming up with much. Really, when it comes down to it, I just wanted to have my thermostat automatically switch modes. Then, at the suggestion of a friend of mine, I started looking into smart wi-fi thermostats. He has a Nest, and was really happy with it. My house is a little larger than I think the nest could handle accurately, so I looked at an Ecobee3 Thermostat w/ Remote Sensor.2 In addition, also picked up a 2-pack of the remote sensors. Now I can monitor the whole house temperature: I have one sensor on each side of the 2nd floor, one in the family room, and the integrated sensor on the thermostat in the center of the house.

The setup for the thermostat is pretty rad. If you download the Ecobee app, it guides you through the installation process complete with instructions, images, and videos. There’s a bit of wiring involved, but at no time did I worry about it; the app does a great job at doing everything needed. Speaking of the app, it’s a really nice app that supports iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. I can make adjustments when I’m gone, or even if I’m feeling lazy and don’t want to get out of bed.

Now, one big reason I went the route of the wifi thermostat vs a traditional one: rebates. Before you look into purchasing one of these, see if your electric and gas companies offer a rebate on wifi thermostats. I was able to get one for each utility company. With those two rebates, and a third for my newly-installed insulation, I was able to completely pay for my new thermostat with the extra remote sensors. Not bad at all. With the new insulation and thermostat, I’m really anxious to see how well this cuts down on our energy bills.

BUBM Universal Accessories Bag

I might have a watch band problem. It’s not be as bad as others, but I have a total now of 12 watch bands. And for a while, I haven’t really had a good way to store them. There are times that I would like to take them with me: if I travel or change from work to workout, I want to be able to grab a new band whenever I feel the need.

I stumbled upon the BUBM accessory bag thanks to this article on iMore. Priced at $13, this seemed like the best choice on the list, rather than going with the $50 option. The bag comes with enough space to store a total of 16 bands, 2 in each slot provided. It also gives me a little spot to include four to six more bands or some other accessories, such as a Speck CandyShell Fit Case or a charging cable for the Apple Watch; I’m also keeping the Lightning to headphone jack adaptor and the Apple Pencil charger adaptor. The best part is that it is better protected and takes up less space than what I was using previously. It’s the perfect little carry case for all of my extra accessories.

  1. The smart light bulbs and switches are still expensive. But I think the cost is coming down, thanks to more manufacturers developing products in this space.
  2. I found this on sale at The Home Depot, presumably because the Ecobee4 thermostat is now on sale, which has an integrated Echo into it. But I’m ok with not yelling at my dingus to change the temperature.