iOS


Some More Thoughts on the State of Safari

27th July 2021

I wrote a tweet a few hours ago, explaining what I think Apple should do with Safari:

With the amount of tampering that Apple have done with the new Safari design in the betas, I think it would be wise for the whole redesign to be postponed for a later point release.
That way they can spend more time getting feedback instead of rushing small tweaks.

Tweet

However, since Twitter isn’t exactly the best place for anything except quick opinions and hot takes, I thought I’d go into a bit more detail here on my blog.


My thinking is that because the changes to Safari on all platforms have received such widespread criticism (with varying degrees) and that Apple has been constantly tweaking (mildly) Safari during the beta process, then it should be clear that it is not going to be widely appreciated when released to the public.

Sure, enthusiasts will always care that bit more than the average user, but the complaints that I have and that I have seen, aren’t about insignificant details, but about the fundamental usability. And you’d expect with the number of users that will eventually be using the next version of iPadOS, and iOS, and macOS, then that has the potential to cause a lot of negativity and frustration simply because Apple wanted to redesign the built-in browser.

I’m somewhat of the opinion that Apple should take a tad more risk in their designs and try some new things now and then. But then again, making the built-in web browser less usable for potentially hundreds of millions of users isn’t a good move. No matter how much “courage” you have.

I think it’s only fair to include here that at the start of the beta, I was open to a new Safari design. I think the tab groups are a good idea, the tab bar looked a bit fresher on iPadOS and macOS, and the address bar was moved to the bottom of the screen on the iPhone, making it easier to reach.

But as I used it more on all platforms, I started to spot the weaknesses. The (initial) tab design on macOS and iPadOS didn’t work well with more than 5/6 tabs (although this has been slightly improved), the address bar on the iPhone regularly got in the way of content, and there’s been the apparent massacre of buttons within Safari on all platforms. In the latest round of betas, a few buttons have returned, but overall I believe that this version of Safari is not fit for purpose.

So in my opinion, I believe the wisest thing for Apple to do would be to either revert the major design changes or at least have it as an opt-in setting for people to choose. That way, they can receive more constructive feedback, spend some real time rethinking the design, and delivering a better version of Safari in a point release.

My ideal solution would be for Safari to keep some of the new features, like the tab groups, Quick Notes, the tab overview, and possibly even the new address bar on macOS. But the new floating address bar in iOS, the tab bar in iPadOS and macOS, and the sparseness of buttons should be at most an alternative and not the default option for all users.

I’m not saying that Safari should never be changed, but it shouldn’t be changed for the sake of it. This design has been proved to already be a bad move, and I don’t believe that mailing small tweaks here and there are going to fix the major flaws.

Rediscover Old Photos With Memories

23rd December 2020

Memories is a new app that lets you view photos from years gone by on your iOS devices, either inside of the app, or with its widgets.

Memories supports all three widget sizes, and they will each show a single photo from previous years. It won't just show the one photo for the whole day though, as it cycles through multiple photos throughout the day.

A lot of these types of apps exist, where you can go back in time and experience old memories. But personally, I know I'd never actually ever use them. That's why I like these widgets, since I can put a widget on one of my home screens, and my phone can remind me of various memories as I use it.

Download Memories for free on the App Store.

Ecosia Added to the List of Default Search Engines on Apple Devices

23rd December 2020

Apple has now added a fifth default Search engine option to iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. And that new addition is Ecosia.

Ecosia is a search engine that has been produced to plant trees. Not literally, but the profit from the search ads are used to plant trees, and therefore to help the environment.

I heard about Ecosia quite a few years ago, but it didn't seem to work that well for me. I've tried it again recently, and it seems to have improved a lot. So I'm going to be setting it as default on all of my devices to really try it out. For the simple reason that if I can get reasonable search results, then there really isn't a negative, only a positive effect of trees being planted.

To be honest, although Apple added DuckDuckGo to the list of default search engines, I didn't really expect them to add any more. DuckDuckGo just seemed like a privacy-focussed alternative to Google.

I wonder how many people will switch to Ecosia, and if Apple will add even more options in the future? Maybe they will make their own?

Custom App Icons on Home Screen No Longer Route Through Shortcuts App in iOS 14.3 Beta 2 →

20th November 2020

Julie Clover, writing at MacRumors:

Apple in iOS 14.3 is streamlining the Home Screen customization process by simplifying the way that app shortcuts work. With the launch of iOS 14, users quickly discovered that Shortcuts could be used to replace traditional app icons to create an entirely customized ‌Home Screen‌ look.

Unfortunately, while these Home Screens created with Shortcuts looked fantastic, the experience was less than ideal because launching an app through shortcuts required the Shortcuts app to open briefly, slowing the app opening process. In iOS 14.3 beta 2, that's no longer the case because shortcuts no longer have to route through the Shortcuts app.

Such a small change, but yet this is going to make a massive difference. Custom home screens are the thing now, and major component of that is using Shortcuts to create custom app launchers. And until 14.3, they require Shortcuts to open before running the shortcut. But with this change, they’ll start to look and feel like real apps.

I like how Apple have been slowly integrating Shortcuts into the system. Bit by bit, iOS is becoming more customisable, allowing users to really make their devices their own.

Does Google Remember Wear OS?

13th August 2020

John Gruber, on his theory about Google being bored with Android:

Remember my theory that Google has grown bored with Android and doesn’t really care about it? That’s me talking about phones, which, in general, Google does care about insofar as they know that billions of people spend hours per day every day using them. With wearables Google never even cared in the first place, except for making goofy demo concepts like Google Glass. The customers who bought Wear OS devices care about them; the company that designed them clearly does not. If they cared, how could it be that you can’t listen to Google’s music platform on Google’s wearable platform?

He goes on to mention that it’s actually bad for the Apple ecosystem, since there’s no real competition. And even as someone who has stopped wearing an Apple Watch, I still agree that there is no real other worthy alternative.

I don’t think it’s just smartwatch market where Apple seems to be miles ahead of the competition as well. You just need to have a think about what the real options are for a tablet computer. Nothing else even comes close to iPad.

Furthermore, I think the problem is even bigger than just the smartwatch and tablet market. Because when you think about smartphones, there’s only two major players. Which means there’s no real need for innovation anymore, all you need to do is match and/or slightly out do the other player. I really want a third player to join the smartphone game, and have a real go at it. But then again, I can see why they wouldn’t. Apple and Google have both got massive head starts, and ecosystems already exist for both platforms. Sure, Android is bigger than just Google, and there are loads of companies creating their own Android phone. But that still doesn’t provide any real competition.

My Opinions on Widgets in iOS and iPadOS 14

3rd August 2020

I’m a big fan of the new widgets in iOS/iPadOS 14, but there are a few ways in which I think it can be improved. They’re obviously still in beta in beta, and things can be tweaked before the official release. But I thought I’d at least get my early impressions out.

First of all, one of the best things I like about widgets now is that they can be placed alongside apps on the Home Screen on iOS. Which therefore makes the fact that this isn’t the same on iPadOS one of my biggest disappointments. Sure, you can place widgets on the Today View on iPad OS, and you can have this pinned to the left of the Home Screen. But in my opinion, having them alongside the apps in the iPad OS Home Screen would be much more suitable. I think the fact that it’s like that on the iPhone is simply down to the screen size. But I think you could also apply the same idea to the iPad. I think because the iPad has a larger screen, that it should have widgets integrated into the Home Screen. And instead of having the Today View to the left of the Home Screen, the grid size should be increased. Which might even allow for more sizes of widgets.

Adding widgets on iPadOS

Another thing I like, which is specific to iPadOS, is how you can add widgets to the Today View. Admittedly it’s a bit of a consolation in my eyes, as the reason it works well is that the widgets are limited to the Today View, and it can make use of the rest of the space on the screen.

If there’s one aspect of the new widgets I don’t like, it’s the level of customisation. Although I’m not sure how much of this is the system itself, or just the built-in widgets that are currently available. It’s mainly the Reminders and the Shortcuts widget that have me feeling like this, so I hope it’s something that can be improved over time. And possibly even during the beta stage.

For the Reminders widget, the first thing that bugged me is that you can’t have it show all tasks. Because to be honest, while I do use various lists in Reminders to keep things organised, when I’m actually viewing tasks, it’s normally via the “All” section. But after a while, I realised that I only need the tasks assigned to today, and possibly a few more lists.

Reminders Widget Stack

Therefore, I decided to combine three Reminders widgets into one using a Stack. Which means, if I want to switch between the three different lists I have set up, all I need to do is a vertical swipe on the widget. I would still prefer to have a more configurable widget, but I suppose a Stack will work fine for now.

Shortcuts widgets

As for the Shortcuts widget, I haven’t yet worked out how I’m going to make use of it. It’s partly due to me working out what Shortcuts I think would be most beneficial on the Home Screen, but also due to the widget itself. In my opinion, the buttons in the widget are far too big. The huge size makes it look a bit childish too me. I would prefer them to be half the size they are now. Maybe the best solution is more widgets or better configuration?

Shortcuts widget customisation

Coincidentally, the level of configuration is also the other part about this widget that annoys me. Since the only configuration that is possible right now is to either select a specific folder or all shortcuts to appear. It means that, at least for me, there’s no nice way to have specific shortcuts appear ƒin the widget. Because now you can have folders in the Shortcuts app, I’ve been using them to organise shortcuts in groups like “Writing”, or “Utilities”. But I think I’m going to have to create a separate folder to control what will appear in the widget. One option I’m thinking about is to have my shortcuts organised how they are currently, but have “wrapper” shortcuts in a separate widget folder. That way it doesn’t mess with my structure.

All in all, a lot of these opinions are based on my experience so far with iOS/iPadOS 14, and therefore will most likely change as I use it more. There could also be changes to these widgets before the end of the beta, which I’m hopeful for, but I can’t say I’m expecting biog changes before the official release. However, I do hope that any improvements are released during iOS 14 in minor releases. Because I think it’s going to take everyone a while to adjust to the new system, and to work out the best solution for their needs.

Back Tapping on iOS 14

25th June 2020

I haven’t had time to go through a lot of WWDC content just yet (I’m currently spending most of my time laying a new floor in my house), but I did install iOS 14 and macOS 11 to my devices essentially as soon as they were available. I’m really impressed with all the updates this year, and I’ll end up writing about the things I really enjoy. But for now, the feature I love the most is Back Tap.

It’s an accessibility feature at the moment, found in Settings → Accessibility → Touch → Back Tap. And it lets you assign actions to a double or triple-tap on the back of your iPhone. For example, you could double-tap the back of your iPhone to lock it, or you could take a screenshot. There are quite a lot of possibilities. There are currently 14 general actions, 7 accessibility actions, and 2 scroll gestures to choose from. That’s not including the fact that you can also choose a custom shortcut to run as an action.

What intrigues me is how it actually works. I imagine it’s detecting the shake, and not necessarily a “tap”. But it’s still interesting that a new feature was added that simply makes use of current hardware in a different way.

When I was trying to work out what actions I wanted to assign to my iPhone, I was trying to think of things I want to perform quickly, or without a delay.

The first was obvious, opening the camera. There are tons of times where I just want to quickly take a photo of something, usually, it’s my cat being weird, so that’s definitely going to be useful. There’s no standard open app action, but as you can run a Shortcut as an action, I made a simple one that just launches the camera app.

The second one took a bit more time to think of, but I settled on creating a tweet. This had to be a shortcut as well, but it was just as simple. One action that creates a new tweet in the Twitter app.

So I can double-tap the back of my phone to open the camera and triple-tap it to start writing a tweet. Who would have thought that would be possible with just a software update?

Although it’s currently hidden as an accessibility feature, I can imagine this being pretty popular. Certainly, enough for it to make its way to becoming a “real” feature.

Why I "Force" Quit Apps

27th May 2020

Ever since you could open the multitasking interface on iOS, you’ve able to “force” quit apps. And not long after that, there’s always been people telling you that you shouldn’t, and that it was bad practice.

Most of the time these people will use the reasoning that having an app running in the background, doesn’t actually use up your memory or battery, and that that’s clearly why people are doing it. Others will say that resuming an app from the background is less CPU intensive than launching it from scratch. And there’s even the argument that it’s a waste of your time.

Even in Apple’s guide how to close an app has the prefix “How to force an app to close”, and in the guide, it tells you to do that “You should force an app to close only if it’s unresponsive”. So it’s not something they really endorse doing


So that’s why I’m going to explain the main reasons why I do quit apps on my iPhone and iPad.

Clutter

It’s the same as why I like to have a tidy desktop on my Mac and organised home screens on my iPhone and iPad. I don’t want clutter on my devices. And I find it irritating when I see apps that I’m not using when I open the app switcher.

It Helps To Signify the End of a Task

Similar to my disgust about the clutter, it helps to signify when I’ve stopped using an app.

For example, if I’ve been writing on my iPad, I’ve probably got iA Writer open, maybe Safari for research, Agenda for my overall planner, and even Reeder where I’m reading articles I want to write about. When I then finish writing, I’ll close all of these apps at once, and I no longer have to think about writing, until I actually want to start writing again.

What Does the Opposite Look Like?

Fine, let’s look at the opposite. What’s going to happen if you never quit apps on your devices? Well, one thing’s for sure, you’re going to have a lot of apps open.

I have 97 apps installed on my phone. So if I was to never quit an app, then by the end of a week, I’d expect to have quite a large number of them open. And eventually, surely the expectation is that every single application will be running?

Maybe there’s not much difference in battery level of memory usage when you’ve got a few apps in standby. But surely there’s got to be a difference at some point?

Either way, there’s certainly one place where you’ll see a difference. The app switcher. Imagine having 50 apps open, and you’re trying to find an app that just happens to be at the beginning of the list. That’s bound to be irritating.

Maybe the answer to that, is that if you do have 50 apps open at once, then the app switcher isn’t the place where you’d actually launch them from. Since having every installed app running and visible in the app switcher is essentially a giant home screen. In which case the app switcher becomes pointless.

What’s the Alternative?

Finally, the last reason why I “force” quit my apps, is because there is no alternative.

No matter what the system does in the background to running apps, they are still open. They are not closed.

Therefore, seeing as there’s no “nice way” to quit apps, I force quit them.


I’m aware that this topic might be unpopular, and there’s a good chance that you might think that quitting apps is plain stupid.

I’ll just leave you with one question:

If it’s a task that shouldn’t be done frequently, then why is it so easy and accessible to do?

Combining Screenshots with Picsew

19th April 2020

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

Text Case 2.5

24th December 2019

There’s yet another update to Text Case, and it brings with it three new formats, theme syncing, and an action extension for the macOS version!

New Formats

New Formats

Smart Quotes – This changes any straight single of double quotation marks, into their curly equivalents, all based on your localisation.

Small Caps – ᴛᴜʀɴ ʏᴏᴜʀ ᴛᴇxᴛ ɪɴᴛᴏ sᴏᴍᴇᴛʜɪɴɢ ʟɪᴋᴇ ᴛʜɪs!

Upside Down – Just another fun one, this attempts to flip the characters upside down.

These new formats are available on all versions of Text Case, iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.

Automatic Theme Syncing

Theme Options

Text Case has support for themes, but previously you would have to manually switch between them. With this version, you can select “Automatic” to have the Text Case theme sync with the light/dark mode of your system. This works on both iOS, iPadOS, and macOS!

Format Text Action Extension for macOS

Convert Text Action

On the iOS/iPadOS version of Text Case, there’s an Action Extension that lets you select text anywhere, and then get direct access to the different formats in Text Case. This is now coming to the macOS version, with essentially the same behaviour.

Now you can select a portion of text anywhere in macOS, right-click, and under “Share”, there should be a “Convert Text” action. (If it doesn’t appear, you will have to go to System Preferences, Extensions, Actions, etc enable it.)

That will bring up the Text Case UI, and selecting a format will result in the formatted text being copied to your clipboard!

Links

Text Case on the App Store

Text Case on the Mac App Store

Text Case Website