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Instead of Launching Social Media Apps, Why Not Take a Deep Breath First?
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Instead of Launching Social Media Apps, Why Not Take a Deep Breath First?

13th October 2020 PERMALINK • 2 min read

I came across a tweet regarding an interesting app idea yesterday. The app is called one sec, and it's developed by Frederik Riedel.

The idea behind the app is to enforce a few seconds to take a breath before opening a social media app. So for example, when you go to launch Instagram to mindlessly scroll for a few minutes, you will be asked to take a deep breath, and then you can decide whether you really want to open Instagram or not. A lot of times, I tend to open Instagram or TikTok simply out of boredom. And I think it's become a bit of a reflex. Sometimes I catch myself blindly opening Instagram, but I little kick every time I did would be helpful.

It works via the Shortcuts app, and specifically by using the automation feature of Shortcuts where you can assign actions to happen when a custom trigger is activated. In this case, you assign the "Take One Sec.." action to the a trigger for when a certain app is opened. This way the shortcut is launched every time you launch that app.

The app has a level of customisation where you can select how long you want the "breathing" to last whenever you launch the app, and also whether you want it to apply if you relaunch the app within a specific period. I have it set to a 3 second duration, and also allows relaunches to be allowed if within 1 minute. That way I think it will cause enough friction to stop me from mindlessly launching things, but also not enough that it annoys me if I quickly go back to it a few seconds later. Because this would also apply if you're switching between apps quickly.

While you use/don't use apps after you're told to take a deep breath, one sec is keeping track of all of this, and displays these stats when you launch an app that is behind the "deep-breathe-wall", and also in the one sec app itself.

Another interesting feature is that when you're told to take a breath, you can obviously choose to open or not open the app, but you can also choose to continue breathing. And this time spent breathing, can also be added to the Health app to count as part of your "Mindful Minutes".

I think I'm going to use this for Instagram and TikTok solely, simply because I think I spend too much time on those apps when I should be doing other things. And a little kick will certainly help. I thought about doing it for Twitter as well, but I don't think the mindless scrolling really happens for me there. But we'll see I guess.


one sec on the App Store

App

Instagram Turns 10

6th October 2020 PERMALINK • 2 min read

Instagram is now 10 years old (Wow), and they are celebrating it by releasing a few new updates to the app and platform.

There's a few small change to the platform, like anti-bullying features that aim to hide abusive comments, adding warnings for people that regularly try to post "offensive" remarks, and a few other things like the constantly moving tab/icon arrangement. I'll leave that for Instagram to explain.

I'm interested in two things in the update. The ability to set a custom app icon, and the new Stories Map that you can find in the archive.

Custom App Icons

You now have the ability to change the app icon for Instagram! I know it's possible via Shortcuts, but these are actual custom app icons.

There are 13 to choose from, and they go back to 2010 before the app was even launched.

To get to the icons, you need to go to Settings, and swipe down from the top of the screen (a lot).

I've gone for the "Classic 2" icon. Because surely that's objectively the best option?

Stories Map

The Stories Map is a cool feature, and it's one for yourself. As in, it's part of your own archive, and not visible for other people.

To find it, tap on the menu while you're viewing your profile (What even is this menu called?), and tap Archive. Then you'll be able to see your past stories in a simple reverse-chronological list like before, in a calendar view, or on a map.

I think the calendar view will be the most useful when going back and looking at old videos. But the map view is also pretty cool. Although if you want your videos to appear on your map, you have to add a location sticker to a story when sharing it.


As much as I get annoyed with Instagram Reels and Shopping taking up more real estate on the app, it's not all doom and gloom.

Oh, and if you want to find me on Instagram, I'm @lordchrishannah. (Yes, technically I'm a Lord, I own a square foot of land in Scotland)

App

The New Share Extension in Tot

28th May 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Craig Hockenberry, writing at the Iconfactory blog:

We’re happy to announce a new version of Tot with some features frequently requested by the app’s legion of fans.

The main focus of today’s release are system extensions that allow Tot to co-exist with other apps. To this end, we’ve added a Sharing extension for both iOS and macOS. Additionally, there’s also a widget for iOS that lets you quickly access any of Tot’s dots. Like everything else in Tot, attention was paid to minimizing friction, allowing information to be collected as quickly as possible.

I personally use the macOS version of Tot, quite heavily actually. And I think this share extension will be perfect when I quickly want to send text to a note.

It also makes me want to download the iOS app, because that probably has to be the best looking share extension I’ve ever seen. It does seem pricy for a simple note app, and that is the main reason why I haven’t bought it. But now I’m using the macOS version more, both of them as a package are starting to look like a good deal to me.

App

Charty for Shortcuts

22nd May 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

I came across Charty recently on Twitter, and it looks like it’s going to be a great addition to the growing collection of apps that are designed to slot directly into the Shortcuts app.

After playing around with it, I was going to write an in-depth article on what I thought about it, but instead I’ve found three articles that I think explain it really well. And they also include examples so you can see what type of charts you can create.

Greg Morris:

This is one of those apps that at first you dismiss, but when actually looking around the app you realise just how helpful it can be. That’s because developer Rodrigo Araújo has thought about almost every aspect of the app. Building on the success of his first app ChartStat he aims to make it easy for everyone to visualise any kind of data.

Jason Snell:

Making charts by hand is labor intensive. But it gets easier if you can make the chart one time and just update the data as new numbers flow in. If that sounds like a job for user automation, you’re singing my tune—and I’m happy to report that the new app Charty is built to add charting capabilities to the iOS Shortcuts app.

Matt VanOrmer:

There are lots of Shortcuts actions and routines that generate data and could easily benefit from a simple bar graph or pie chart to provide useful insights more quickly and effectively. One example that comes to mind is graphing time-tracking data from Toggl once every week, let’s say, to see what tasks or projects you’ve been the most busy with — all without having to open the unpleasant Toggl app or the clunky web client from your iOS device. Charty is the perfect companion for those who accumulate lots of meta-data about their lives and want to frequently revisit and reassess the areas they are seeking to improve — whether that be calories burned, books read, or tasks completed, Charty plugs right into your existing Shortcuts routines and allows you to quickly turn those datasets into easily-digestible graphics. The option to create default chart format settings and custom “Export Profiles” of chart size, font size, and background color both help to add consistency in how your charts are formatted before saving them for yourself or sharing with the world.

App

My iPhone Home Screen

19th May 2020 PERMALINK • 8 min read

I enjoy seeing other people’s iPhone home screens, so I thought it was probably about time I shared my own.

Home screen

Mine is rather simple and it’s got to a point where it’s pretty stable, with only a few apps changing now and then. There’s a total of 20 apps, with four of them being in the dock.

In the past, I’ve crammed my home screen full of apps that I think I use a lot. But that feels too busy. So instead, I leave the bottom rows empty. Which also gives me space to put an app I need to use temporarily, or if I’m trying something new out.

All apps that aren’t stock apps will have links to their App Store pages.


Wallpaper

Don’t worry, I’ve already thought about the wallpaper. I know from myself, that if I see someone’s home screen, I’ll probably want to know where they got their wallpaper from.

In my case, I found it on Unsplash, and it’s by a photographer named Amber Wilburn.


CARROT Weather

It’s maybe ironic that the first app on my home screen is the one that probably gets used the least. But still, I think CARROT Weather is one of the best weather apps available, and the snakiness always makes the interaction a bit funnier. And even though it doesn’t get used that often, it’s there when I need it. Which will probably after the lockdown ends and we’re allowed to go back to work.

Fantastical

Here’s another application that doesn’t get used too much either. It’s my calendar app of choice, Fantastical. I switched to Fantastical quite some time ago, and it was mainly due to the natural language support when creating new events, and partially because it had a nice UI.

Right now, I’m not really using my calendar that much, as I don’t have work events on my personal devices, and I prefer to use notes and a task manager to schedule my personal life. But I still use it for important events, but certainly not enough to warrant paying for the subscription, so there’s really not much keeping me loyal to Fantastical. And I can imagine me switching back to the stock calendar app sometime in the future.

Shortcuts

I have Shortcuts on my home screen simply so I have a quick way to experiment with new actions, and to test out new ideas. I don’t run many shortcuts from the Shortcuts app on my phone, I probably do this the most on my iPad. But that’s because the main shortcuts that I use on my phone are usually ran from the share sheet, for things like saving an article for later, starting a link post, combining photos, etc.

Clock

I don’t think I need to explain my use of the clock. I’ve to wake up for work somehow.

Photos

Another that probably needs no explanation. I have all my photos in iCloud, and nowhere else. So this is where I view them.

Music

I’m an Apple Music subscriber (that’s somehow getting student discount three years after graduating from university), and it’s the only place I play music from. I use it to play music on my phone, and also to other devices like my HomePod, and Apple TV.

Overcast

In my mind, Overcast is the best podcast app available. I like the benefits of having the Smart Speed and Voice Boost effects, but they’re not the reasons why I use Overcast every day. I’ve just never seen another podcast app that feels as complete. For example, you have a lot of control about what happens with new episodes, when to delete old episode, and even advanced stuff like changing the seek back/forward times, whether to auto play next, etc.

I’ve seen other podcasts apps that I can live with, them being Castro and Cosmicast. But Overcast is the only one I think that could actually pass as a stock app. Which is something I like a lot.

TV

Apart from Netflix and YouTube, I use the TV app for all of my video entertainment. It has films that I’ve purchased from iTunes, Apple TV+ shows, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer. So it’s actually packed full of content.

I also really like the TV app, because it ties into the other apps/services, so I don’t always have to start videos from the TV app for the data to be visible. For example, keeping track of what episode I’m on in a series is something I don’t really want to think about. And the TV app makes it effortless.

Mail

This certainly follows a trend of using stock apps. I’ve tried various other third-party email apps, but never something just simple and clean like Mail. It’s not an app I want myself to spend too much time inside, so I think by using the most basic option, it helps me to just do the tasks I need to do and leave.

Twitter

Twitter is my most-used social network. I use it to share links to things I find interesting, my blog posts, and just to ramble about a subject. But I also use Twitter to keep up with people I’m interested in, the general news, and of course, football news.

I found myself a while ago with Tweetbot that I had a hard time being able to not read every tweet. But now I’ve switched to the official app, I find that the algorithm actually works well for me. I get to quickly read tweets that I’m interested in, and I don’t feel like there’s a fixed end that I need to reach before leaving. I’m sure many people would have the opposite behaviour, in that you can always find more tweets on the official Twitter app, so you may spend more time on Twitter accidentally. But I don’t seem to suffer from that. Or at least on Twitter, that usually happens to me on Instagram.

Books

To be honest, I don’t read as many books as I would like to. That’s usually because I’m too lazy to start ready something worthwhile and end up just reading something like Harry Potter. So I have the Books app on my home screen just to reduce the friction of starting/resuming a book whenever I’m in the mood.

It’s a technique I’ve used a few times before, where if I want to start using an app more, then I’ll put it on my home screen, and hope it triggers me to use it. But after a while, fix it hasn’t worked, it usually gets relegated to a folder or deleted. A recent app that didn’t work out was News. Turns out I don’t actually care that much about it. Or at least the publications that seemed to be appearing in the News app.

iA Writer

My writing app of choice is iA Writer, and it has been for a while. I’ve previously used Ulysses but came back to iA Writer because I like to see the Markdown as I write it. But not only that, I like how iA Writer works off a folder in iCloud Drive, so I can access my writing in other applications.

It’s also got great apps on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, so it allows me to have the same experience, no matter where I’m writing.

There are loads of advanced features in iA Writer, but I’m not really making use of them. I just like a simple Markdown editor, with a good interface, that exposes the raw files, and has support for all the platforms. And iA Writer certainly fits that criteria.

Messages

This is my main way of communicating with friends and family, as most of them have an iPhone. For the people that don’t, I have WhatsApp installed, and hidden in a folder on the second page.

Camera

I’ve used quite a few third-party camera apps like Obscura and Halide, but for whatever reason, I come back to the stock camera app nearly straight away. Although I take a lot of photos on my phone, I’m not actually fussed about various filters, effects, or anything other than a basic camera. So that’s why I’m using the Camera app!

Instagram

I’ve tried getting rid of Instagram from my home screen and from my phone entirely a few times, but I can never stick with it. I enjoy keeping up with friends, family, football, and random people. I probably look at the Explore page way too much, and get carried away with football rumours, but oh well.

TikTok

What can I say, I find TikTok videos funny! And it’s certainly a good place to sink some time into if you’re bored and don’t plan on getting anything important done.

The Dock

Now for the apps that I have in my dock. I have four of them, like most people. And I try to put apps here that I want to access very regularly. Files may not fit that criteria perfectly, but I see Files similar to the Finder app on macOS. So I always want that available.

Files

I’ve been making proper use of my local storage on my devices ever since iPadOS 13 came out, as I started downloading more files on my iPad, and in general, using my iPad more. Which led to similar behaviour on my iPhone.

Now I use the Files app to quickly look at saved documents, check my downloads, and also keep track of projects that require more than just a single app. For example, I’m working on a long-form piece at the moment, and that requires mind maps, various notes, and the actual file that I’m writing in iA Writer. And I find it super helpful that there’s now a proper way to manage file on iOS. It’s hard to believe it didn’t have a “Files app” for that much time.

Reminders

I mentioned my recent switch to Reminders the other day, but essentially I have very minimal needs when it comes to a task manager. And Reminders gives me everything I want and need, without charging me more for it or even sacrificing any of the benefits that Reminders gets from by default from being tied into the system so much.

Agenda

Agenda is the newest app to be placed on my home screen, and I made a conscious decision to replace Mail in the dock since I think it’s an app that I’m going to want to access a lot.

I recently started using Agenda to help bring various notes and reminders together into a single place, where I can keep track of any ideas I have, or simply to provide more context to a task.

One big task I’m using Agenda for is to manage my blog, which can be split into four things:

  • Keeping track of articles that I want to link to.
  • Ideas for articles that I want to write (along with any necessary notes).
  • Keeping track of what I’m currently working on.
  • Making a schedule for when I want to finish/publish each post. (More on this in a future article)

I’ve seen Agenda mentioned before on Twitter, and blogs, mainly focussing on how it connects notes, reminders, and a calendar together. But I didn’t realise how much it made sense to me until I started using it.

Safari

I use Safari everywhere. And it’s not going to change anytime soon.


I’m not sure if my home screen is in any way spectacular or innovative. But in the same way, I appreciate looking at others for ideas, maybe it can do the same for others.

App

NHSX Looking Into Apple/Google Solution for Contact Tracing App

6th May 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Tim Bradshaw, Sarah Neville, and Helen Warrell, writing at Financial Times:

Health chiefs in the UK have tasked a team of software developers to “investigate” switching its unique contact-tracing app to the global standard proposed by Apple and Google, signalling a potential about-turn just days after the NHS launched its new coronavirus app.

Maybe they’re finally getting the message, that their custom solution will not work? Just like I mentioned before?

That’s not the only bit of news from this article though, with more details emerging on the app. That is it being developed by a Swiss IT development company named “Zuhlke Engineering”, with a 6-month contract worth £3.8m.

They’re said to be doing this as a two-week time boxed technical spike. Which is basically a period of time allocated to evaluate a new technology/implementation. Then after the spike (evaluation) is complete, more work can be planned, estimated, and carried out.

I’m just glad they’re open to switching to the more practical Apple/Google implementation.

Project

Text Case 2020.3

6th May 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Another small update to Text Case is hitting the App Stores.

It comes with a few UI enhancements, notably to help show pointer location when hovering. And also a simple context menu that appears when you right click or long press on any formatted text, where you can choose to either copy or share the result.

Improvements were also made to the performance of the app, and a few miscellaneous bugs were also fixed.


Links:

App

The NHS COVID-19 App

5th May 2020 PERMALINK • 2 min read

The NHS has come up with its own contact-tracing app, “NHS COVID-19”, and there are already plans for it to be trialled with key workers on the Isle of Wight.

However, it’s doesn’t use the more privacy focussed solution that Apple and Google have come up with, but rather a centralised one. Where the data about the tracked interactions will be sent. Although it doesn’t seem exactly clear what that data is. It could simply be a list of unique IDs that the device has come into contact with, along with your own ID. Or it could also include other sensitive information. Who knows? All I know is that, that question will always exist while it uses a custom solution.

Privacy is not only the potential issue with the app though. My concern mainly is with its effectiveness. This is how they claim it works:

  • Once you’ve installed the app on your phone, it can detect (using Bluetooth) if other phones that are also running the app are nearby.
  • Importantly, the app knows how close it has been to other phones running the app, and for how long. This allows the app to build up an idea of which of these phones owners are most at risk.
  • If you then use the app to report that you’re experiencing coronavirus symptoms, all the phones that have been nearby will receive an alert from the app.
  • Users reading the alert will now know they may have been near a person with coronavirus, and can then self-isolate.
  • If the NHS later discovers that your diagnosis was wrong (and your reported symptoms are not coronavirus), the other users will receive another alert, letting them know if they can stop self-isolating.

My questions would be the following:

  • How often can it run? If it’s just an app with no special entitlements, then surely it is bound my the background restrictions like most other apps.
  • If it’s monitoring it relatively often, then surely even Bluetooth Low Energy will have an impact on the battery level?
  • What happens if a device is put into low power mode? Is all tracing stopped? Because surely background tasks aren’t run as often then.
  • Can you really trust it to trace every contact you’ve had? For example if you sit next to someone with COVID-19 for 10 minutes, but for some reason the background task to monitor Bluetooth doesn’t run, then does it really do it’s job?

And I’d just like to point out the PDF that NHS made to explain the differences between a decentralised and centralised model. The only difference I see, is that their centralised model also includes an “NHS clinical algorithm” to detect the risk posed from each of your interactions.

I for one, will not be using any contact-tracing app, that doesn’t follow the solution that Apple and Google have come up with. Because, apart from wanting to control the data yourself, and possibly even retrieve more data than necessary, there’s no real gain to use a centralised approach.

App

Combining Screenshots with Picsew

19th April 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

When writing about apps, it’s very common that you’ll need to combine screenshots together if you’re trying to capture a rather long page. One common case of this is when you’re trying to capture a screenshot of a Shortcut, which is why I looked for an app like Picsew, when I was getting screenshots for my recent article about how I’m using Data Jar to help writing link posts.

I’ve used apps like Tailor or LongScreen before, but I found LongScreen to be hard to deal with, and Tailor only support the iPhone. So I explored the App Store trying to find a solution for the iPad, and luckily I found Picsew.

Similar to the previously mentioned apps, Picsew has the ability to automatically combine multiple pictures together. But it didn’t seem to work well with the screenshots I took of some shortcuts. This is where the more “manual” option comes in. And I think that option is actually much more impressive than the automatic feature.

So after you select the photos you want to combine (in the correct order), and choose either vertical or horizontal, you use a pretty cool editor to adjust the position of each screenshot where you wish it to join the next one.

It’s quite intuitive actually, and was much easier than I thought it would be. You just tap on the join you wish to exit, and “push” the content towards the join until you’re happy.

Video: Picsew Edit Photo Join

You can also crop the entire photo inside the app as well, which is pretty handy as when you get a pretty large photo, it’s hard to do fine adjustments in the Photos app.

Video: Picsew Crop Photo

Anyway, I found it to be a very handy utility. So if you’re looking for an app that can join various photos together, or if you’ve used another one previously, I’d recommend checking out Picsew.

Download Picsew from the App Store

Automation

How I’m Using Shortcuts and Data Jar To Help Write Link Posts

18th April 2020 PERMALINK • 3 min read

Last night I spent some time reading on my iPad, and I noticed a few articles that I might want to link to from my blog. Except I didn’t want to start creating drafts in iA Writer, or doing any manual work. I just wanted a way to remind myself that I want to link to this at some point.

I started to think that I could simply create a reminder in the Reminders app (I’ve switched from Things), possibly with the URL as a note so I could get back to it when I needed it again. However, that would require me to then later load the URL, and fetch the details from it. And seeing as I would have had the article loaded at the time of reading, it made more sense to store this data, and then be able to reference it at a later date.

So I came up with an idea of two shortcuts, one to store relevant data about the article I wanted to reference, and then another which I could use to select from the list and kick off a draft in iA Writer.

That’s when I thought about using the recently released data store app, Data Jar, which is a fantastic tool for storing all kinds of data.

Store Link Post Idea

To start off, the Shortcut I created to do the initial data storing and reminder creation was relatively simple. It accepts input from the Share sheet, in the form of a Safari web page, and then has just three actions:

  1. Add a new reminder with the title of the article to my blog list.
  2. Create a dictionary with four pieces of data – the title, URL, any text that was selected that I want to quote, and also the author. Although I’ve found the author to not be very reliable.
  3. Store this dictionary at the end of my drafts list in Data Jar.

Download the Shortcut: Add to Drafts List

Starting a Link Post

This shortcut is a bit more complex, as it has to do quite a few things:

  • Retrieve the list of link post ideas from Data Jar.
  • Show the list, and allow the user (me) to select an option.
  • Transform the various pieces of data into a link post outline.
  • Create a new document in iA Writer.

It’s a bit long, so I’ll put the long screenshot below, and then explain why it may seem pretty complicated for what it does, and the things I had to work around.

Start Link Post From Draft Shortcut

To start off, the shortcut gets the list of drafts from Data Jar. This contains all the drafts that have been saved.

It then does a little transformation with that data, using a temporary variable in Data Jar. It clears the value for the specific key I’m going to use, and then it loops through the list of articles, and extracts the title and the index of each article into a new list. This is because we need to show the list of articles, and also perform operations on the specific article that was selected.

The temporary list is then displayed, and from the chosen article, the Index is then used to fetch the complete article data from Data Jar. That includes the title, author, page selection (snippet), and the URL.

Once that data is extracted, the page section is formatted as a Markdown Blockquote via Text Case (my app), and then it’s put together with the rest of the data to form a basic link post outline.

Finally, the outline is URL encoded and opened as a new document in iA Writer via the URL scheme.

Download the Shortcut: Start Link Post From Draft


These two shortcuts are simple in theory, and to be honest I could have achieved the same result with less complexity, and maybe even without Data Jar. However, I like that the storing and kicking off a link post in iA Writer are separate processes. Because it allowed for more flexibility in the future and also doesn’t distract me at the time of reading an article. Which was one of the big reasons for me making these.

I really liked using Data Jar for these as well, so I hope I can make use of it again in future shortcuts!

Links

Find the apps used, and the shortcuts below:

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