iOS


Android

Does Google Remember Wear OS?

13th August 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

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.

Opinion

My Opinions on Widgets in iOS and iPadOS 14

3rd August 2020 PERMALINK • 4 min read

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.

iOS

Back Tapping on iOS 14

25th June 2020 PERMALINK • 2 min read

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.

Opinion

Why I "Force" Quit Apps

27th May 2020 PERMALINK • 3 min read

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?

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

Project

Text Case 2.5

24th December 2019 PERMALINK • 2 min read

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

App

Bring Back the iPod Click Wheel With Rewound

12th December 2019 PERMALINK • 1 min read

I came across a fun app recently on Twitter, called Rewound. It’s a Music app that simply acts as an interface to your music library, but it comes with a rather interesting quirk, it looks like an old iPod. And you can even go back to a click wheel.

Rewound App.

The control layout can be changed within the app, however to apply a matching skin you have to download them from Twitter/Weibo (You can find them with the #rewoundskins hashtag) or add custom photos from your device.

Depending on the skin you add, it automatically assigns a layout based on the size. And if you use one with a click wheel, you will actually be able to use the circular gestures to navigate through your music collection.

It’s a bit of fun, and I’m sure some nostalgic people will love to see it. I can’t quite say I see this as a long term product though!

Download Rewound for free on the App Store


Update: 18th December 2019

It turns out that Apple have now rejected Rewound, and it’s no longer available to download. (via Michael Tsai)

iOS

Twitter Finally Adds Support for iOS Live Photos

11th December 2019 PERMALINK • 1 min read

After four short years, Twitter have added support for Live Photos. A feature that was announced alongside the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, in 2015.

If you ignore the strangely huge delay, I do think that it’s a very welcome addition. A lot of people including myself take Live Photos all the time. So I can see this being quite popular.

It doesn’t literally keep them as Live Photos though, they are converted to GIF format. That’s not exactly a bad thing though, as I’m sure there’s quite a few benefits of storing them as a GIF rather than the raw video from the Live Photo.

One thing I didn’t like about the video alongside their very brief announcement, was the attitude towards the newly added support. They talk about how millions of Live Photos are taken every day, but how they go unshared and forgotten about. But “Today is a new day”. Sure, today is a new day and it’s a pretty cool feature, but I think it easily could have been done a number of years ago. The only blocker for adding this support earlier was Twitter themselves.

App

Outlanders - My Favourite Game from Apple Arcade

4th November 2019 PERMALINK • 2 min read

If there’s one game that I’ve been enjoying as part of Apple Arcade, it’s Outlanders. I have been mildly obsessed with it ever since I gave it a try, very soon after it was available.

Outlanders Map

In essence, Outlanders is a game where you control a town of people, have them build out the town, whether it’s a farm to create a sustainable food source, or a tavern which they can go to at night that increases their happiness.

It’s very fun, and it’s based around scenarios that have a primary and secondary goal that you aim towards. For example, the level I’m on right now (6, which is currently the last) has an overall target to build 7 Windmills (which are used to convert wheat to flour, in order for a Bakery to make food), and 5 Taverns. All within 120 days. The optional secondary goal is to have a population of at least 70 by the type you finish.

Outlanders Level 6

At the start it’s relatively simple. You have some people forage for foot, while others focus on getting wood, and building houses for a growing population. But eventually you have a big population, that requires a lot of focus on what needs to be prioritised next. The maps are also finite, so the amount of resources (wood and food) will eventually dwindle down, leading you to build farms, windmills, and bakery’s to sustain the food for the population.

The first five levels I managed all within a few attempts, however this last one is proving to be quite difficult. Which is actually one reason why I’m enjoying it. It’s a fun game, which requires attention, and a general plan on how you are going to build out the town and population.

I really hope that the developer adds in more levels soon, as it’s only a matter of time before I’m finished with this one.

You can download Outlanders as part of Apple Arcade, and I would recommend it as not only one of the best games from the subscription, but of the many games that I’ve played on iOS over the years.

Markdown Tables for iOS
App

Markdown Tables for iOS

11th October 2019 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Whenever I want to add a table to a blog post, I always wonder if an app can do it for me. As I find writing Markdown tables to be rather tedious. The only problem is, I never actually looked. However, I’ve now been using an aptly named app “Markdown Tables” and it’s just perfect.

It features a really clean interface, that lets you focus solely on the table content. You have all the necessary tools at the top, there’s one to create a new table with a certain size or from the clipboard, inserting and deleting rows/columns, alignment, whether to include the header row, and the export button! It looks simple, however, it has all the functionality that you’ll need. It handles large tables quite well, as you can scroll around the content, and then simply tap on the field you want to edit, and it snaps it into place.

Exporting is maybe the most important feature of the app, and it couldn’t get any easier. All you need to do is tap the export button above the table, and the formatted table will be copied. Markdown Tables actually supports Markdown and HTML exporting, each with their own options for customising the format. Such as compact mode for Markdown, and also whether to pretty print the HTML.

It’s a fantastic utility, and I recommend it to anyone writing Markdown on iOS.

Find Markdown Tables on the App Store.

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