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.

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. 

GoodTask 4.5: Checking All the Boxes

Over the course of the last year, I had transitioned away from GoodTask to Things, then Todoist, then back to Things. I might have even missed a quick affair with OmniFocus as well. But I digress.

GoodTask has been my long-time favorite Reminders client. From the surprise the first time I started really using it to now, it has made improvement after improvement in both functionality and appearance settings (love me those themes) on all platforms – iOS, macOS, and the Apple Watch. I was inclined to go back to GoodTask when the Apple Watch app was updated, so I moved everything over there in the beta. I had mentioned to the developer that there were a couple features which I was missing from Things, but I was very happy with the improvements to the apps. Those suggestions plus others were carefully considered, because they are now in the version 4.5 update of the app.

Tag Sorting

GoodTask 4.5 brings with it the ability to sort a List or Smart List based on tags. Tags are a clever implementation in GoodTask, which puts a #tag into the note of a reminder. GoodTask can parse this as a tag, and allow you to use that information within the note as a tag, much like the other information the developer uses to implement sub tasks. You can use all of your tags or specific tags per list, which is great for customizing how you view your different lists.

With the new tag options, I’m able to now recreate some of the features that Things provided which gives me a better view of my tasks in different views. It all stems from the ability to sort lists and smart lists using Tags first, then due dates, etc.

I absolutely love the headings feature of Things. When I have a specific project, having the breakout of different subsections is better for my brain. And with the tag sorting, I can re-create this now in GoodTask. For example, I can take all of the tasks in my Nerd Life1, apply the tags, and have the list sorted on them. While it may not be quite as pretty as the Things implementation, the capability in GoodTask allows me to break it down to key areas just the same.

Another key feature of Things that I adore is the Today view. Having your tasks along with the calendar is a fantastic singular view of what is ahead of me. Having a separate ‘today’ and ‘evening’ section has been critical for me to quickly view and clarify what needs to be done. Now with the tag sorting, I can recreate this view in GoodTask. I created a Smart List which includes my calendar, tasks scheduled for today, and any overdue tasks. This list is sorted by Tag then Due Date, and I also have my calendar events sorted on top, listed under the order section. I created a quick action to apply a #Today and #Evening tag as a toggle, so that I can quickly tag tasks which show up in the view. Again, this might not be as visually appealing as the Things view, but it provides me what I need while keeping the native Reminders service integration.

Completing Tasks

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to see more improvements to Reminders, but lately I’ve been wanting improved support within Shortcuts. When I think of what I want Shortcuts to ultimately be, I can’t help but want certain features added: for Reminders, having the ability to check off a task would be beneficial for certain shortcuts. So while we wait Shortcuts.app to catch up, GoodTask has added a Siri Shortcut to complete a task (and do so in the background). You’ll need to go to Settings → Siri Shortcuts → Add Complete Task to get the Siri Shortcut and/or add it to Shortcuts.app.

I’m getting old, so I take vitamins. I use a reminder to trigger this, so I don’t forget. I took this one step further and created a shortcut to run on my iPhone which logs the vitamin intake – including all the breakdown of the various types of vitamins – into the Health app, as well as mark it in Streaks as complete to help me keep track of when I’ve taken it. I always thought it would be nice to complete the reminder as well, but I the lack of the feature has prevented it. But now, I can copy the exact title of the task (and it must be exact) for my vitamins, add a text block and some clipboard actions to save and retrieve,2 then add the GoodTask Complete Task action block; I also turned off the “Show When Run” option so that it runs seamlessly in the background.

I use the native Reminders notifications due to the fact that they remain on the lock screen, but actions like the one outlined above have me rethinking that approach. GoodTask allows users to run a URL from the notification, which means I could run the shortcut straight from the notification and complete it all in one go. I’ll likely look to play around with this as time goes on.3

The full list of improvements can be found on the forums. Having been away for a while, I can see that there is a lot more to offer now with GoodTask than ever before. The developer is listening to suggestions, is adding features at a manageable pace, and I can really appreciate the level of continued development for the app.

  1. This is my own affectionate name for these things. 
  2. I wish they would fix this so that I can just use text and not have the extra blocks. Sigh. 
  3. Perhaps with iOS 13 around the corner Reminders will be improved, or third-party app notifications will be given the ability to perform in the same manner as Reminders. But I won’t hold my breath for either one. 

#ShotOniPhone Shortcut

Today, Greg Pierce posted a tweet about the new #ShotOniPhone Challenge:

Rene Ritchie followed up with this tweet:

And my reply:

When I first saw Rene’s tweet, I knew he was being snarky. However, my first thought went to Shortcuts when I saw it (hence my tweet). Renaming of files on iOS is a perfect use case of Shortcuts. But rather than stop at just simply renaming a file, it’s possible to submit the entry all with a couple of taps on iOS. And now that I’ve said that you can do it with Shortcuts, I figured I should make one if I’m going to put out the thought. So, with a little bit of work, I created the #ShotOniPhone shortcut.

When you install it, you’ll be prompted to input your first and last names: these items are required for the file name if you are going to email in the submission. Once you’ve entered that information, you can either run this as a stand alone shortcut or as an extension from the Photos app.

The first part of the action checks to see if any images were input, and if not, prompts you to select an image; I’ve used this little block countless times in other shortcuts, and copied the same method here. Next, you’ll be prompted for an image caption to go with the perfect #ShotOniPhone image. Then, the image will be given a new file name – which Apple requires for the email submission portion – using the dictionary items you were prompted for when first installing the shortcut and pulling the device type from the image metadata itself.1

Finally, there are a few options for submission: Twitter, Instagram, or email.2 You’ll select which one you would like to choose, and follow the steps from there. (For the Instagram step, it is important to note that the caption is copied to the clipboard and you will have to manually paste it in caption area of the app.) Each method passes the image in its full resolution to the application of choice; I’d recommend email as the first submission, as Twitter and Instagram will likely compress the image.

And that’s it! This shortcut may seem complex, but it’s really simple to run once you get it installed. Not only does it rename the photo for you, it also helps you submit your photo to the challenge. Now anyone can shoot and submit to this #ShotOniPhone Challenge, all from their iPhone. Turns Out™, you don’t need a Mac to do it after all…

  1. This was suggested by Thomas Verschoren, and I’ve updated the shortcut to reflect this. Thanks for the suggestion! 
  2. Weibo is also a part of this, but I don’t have the ability to add the action. So… maybe someone else can add it.