Everything Missing From iOS 9 Part 7 (or What I Want From iOS 10)

This post continues my list of  iOS 10 features I want to see. You can catch up with the first post here. (Part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.)

News

A real RSS based iCloud news service is needed, one that is baked into the OS to combine various services from around the interface such as Reading List and News and third party feeds such as Instant Articles. Reading List on its own is very buggy and doesnt let me make mass changes without immediately falling into the “syncing bookmarks” problem when I try to do two things in rapid succession making it pretty unusable. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that Reading List is tied to the Safari bookmarks which seems like a very poor choice. It is time to move it into iCloud Drive and stop the frustrating madness.

Aggregation is key to giving users a single interface to call home and dominate the attention. The river of news is still an important concept, and it is something you cannot get anymore from Facebook or Twitter because of how they no longer guarantee that posts will appear in order, just that they will appear in the most convenient fashion. Feedly, for example, keeps track of all the stories from feeds and doesn’t miss anything, even if I miss a day reading it. I can still go back and read past articles I might have missed from the day before. I find that a lot of news apps miss that point and only show you what is relevant at exactly that moment because they are actually catering to advertisers and eyeballs. I like keeping up to date – having one place to view it in makes life easier. There is still value in yesterday’s news even in politics and sports.

Music and audio

Music organization on the iPhone is very disorganized right now. The fact is that people try out and purchase content on different services and Apple should try to unify that with a common API. Spotlight search is a step in the right direction but there is more that can be done. Apple needs to stop pretending that its music app is the dominant one and that it shares the marketplace. While it is always shooting for knocking out the competition, they should at least not pretend they do not exist and instead try to make things easier for the customer. They should have a way of aggregating music search where owned music bubbles up above all services, or set a default/preferred (that’s why settings were called preferences, remember) music service that always shows above others. The reasons for having a preferred music service are varied and up to each person but those should be respected if the customer is really considered paramount.

Audio output on iOS in general needs improvement. The device already plays beeps and other sounds, while I listen to a podcast or music while playing a game. Take that further and allow apps like YouTube to also play in the background while audio plays from other sources. What we really want is multiple audio channels a la Audiobus and at this point we really just want Audiobus support!

I think that if the iPhone 7 gets rid of the audio jack it will be a major step backwards. I do not see the lightning connector as a good proxy for the headphone jack; lightning cables break way too often on me, I am now on my third pair of bluetooth headphones in one year, and I have yet to have a pair of EarPods go bad on me, no matter how badly I find them tangled and smooshed at the bottom of my bag.

The long standing complaint of not being able to save MP3s etc directly to the Music app makes it a bad choice for some people. There are people who have legitimate needs to store mp3 audio directly on the device without having to go through a third party app. I think it not only promotes the Apple Music store but can be a further source of boosted income. We know that many people that pirate music go on to buy the content after having tried it, but where they do so is up to them. If Apple could guide these users within their own app, it can guilt them into buying it from them. By using some sort of Shazam style capability in the background, the device could identify files that represent music that is also sold in the Apple Music store and unobtrusively display something like an iAd that directs the person to the Apple Music store to purchase the content. All this requires some sort of safari download manager, but how much horsepower and extra size would that really need? How much trouble would it be to allow those files to be used directly in various places around iOS without requiring ye olde thyme method of our grandfathers with laptop or desktop iTunes syncing. Why is iTunes even still a thing?

(To be continued in part 8)

Everything Missing From iOS 9 Part 6 (or What I Want From iOS 10)

This post continues my list of  iOS 10 features I want to see. In case you’ve missed it from the start, you can start with Part 1. (Part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.)

Notes

Allow draft working copies in Notes similar to mail app. You might think every note is a draft or no notes are ever drafts, but being able to classify certain Notes as works in progress is a bit of GTD. It’s obviously something you can do by tagging something @draft or some other personal system, but it’s really awesome to have something like that officially build in to show Apple being progressive. The ideas behind GTD would really benefit all.

One of the great features about Drafts 4 is that upon opening the app, you can choose to have a blank note show so that you can start taking notes rights away. It seems that for iOS, the Notes app prioritizes syncing over quickly getting ideas onto the page. Evernote was pretty terrible about that too. Maybe that was my fault for letting too many ideas accumulate before I thought “hey I need to get these down before I forget them” and sure enough one of them would go back into the ether by the time syncing was done making things laggy. Notes takes too long to respond when you have a lot of notes in your account. Start notes right away!

Making iOS Notes another social and collaborative app controlled by Friends rights is also something that can be a major step forward. Sure it would be great if there was sharing not just among your iOS pals but among the various others in your life. That’s what systems like OneNote and Evernote try to do; they are both systems I’m not keen on. The iOS notes app is where my ideas and notes live now. A standard that allows me to collaborate notes with other users regardless of their platform opens so many doors.

Handwriting recognition is still a niche but it’s in a better place than it ever was in the Newton days. With the advent of the Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro line, it makes more sense for iOS than ever before. This is available in some great apps like GoodNotes but having an system level SDK could let it hook directly into apps like Notes.

Voicemail

Transcribed voicemail first came on the scene with Grand Central before it became Google Voice. Years later, in typical Google style, it has not changed and the successful translation rate is very hit or miss. The poor quality of most calls, people not speaking clearly or even coherently, and over-abbreviated messages with repetitive poor information are to blame. My personal digital assistant needs to take a message for me while I’m out but most of the time my name is nowhere to be found even though most of my voice mails start out as “Hi Ernie”. Is Siri or any transcription yet up to the task? Apple has already gotten a black eye years back from the Maps app. This could be a horrible source of embarrassment but is a sorely needed feature. When will the breakthrough tech arrive?


If you’ve found this series useful or insightful at all, please share as much as you can. The extra clicks really do help.

(Continued in Part 7)

Everything Missing From iOS 9 Part 5 (or What I Want From iOS 10)


This post continues my list of  iOS 10 features I want to see. Click here for part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4

Visual interface

Stop blocking the screen with the volume indicator. Volume indicator dots across the status bar. Obstructing the time momentarily is more acceptable than obstructing potentially time sensitive screen content such as video. This will be more important for VR as it becomes more popular. The current volume indicator takes you out of your visual experience, ruining the effect. Many video apps have a slider in a top or bottom corner  for  volume control, while others don’t (looking at you, YouTube). It’s not consistent and ruins the experience; video is video, present it to me in the same fashion. We already have movable elements on the screen like the picture-in-picture window, so why not add more for indicators?

Use of a dark mode is now a common option in a lot of apps. I have grown to enjoy this feature in any apps where I’m doing extensive reading and I now even expect it as an option. I have even used it on the Mac for some time since it was released in 2014 with OS X Yosemite. I believe at this time, Apple could offer it across all the stock apps as a system preference. As someone who grew up with soothing green-on-black and amber-on-black screens of the first terminals that appeared in homes, this is a welcome and comfortable view of the screen. Apple has been very good about making the visual experience more soothing and combining this with night shift and true tone would really make the tablet reading experience more lifelike. Note dark mode is not the same as the reduced contrast view which just seems to indiscriminately flip light for dark in a stark and unnatural black and white interface.

This naturally leads into themes. Everyone has their own personal preferences, so why not allow users to customize their experience their way? Why not allow someone to have everything pumpkin orange on a green background if they choose? At the very least allow approved themes, as long as dark mode is one of them. Obviously not all apps would benefit and this would detract from the seriousness of many apps. A lot of combinations would even be overly gaudy, taking away from the mostly curated look of the stock OS and device. Similar to Apple Watch face customizations, Apple needs to be careful in what is and is not allow to be themed. 

The share sheet icons for communicating between apps takes up a large part of the screen across the narrowest part of your device. By luck, the icon I want to use at any given moment is somehow always off-screen no matter how I rearrange the icon positions. Allowing the share sheet to alternately appear as a list view, like the Locations feature for email attachments, would give more options on the screen at once.

The multitasking in iOS 9 is great as a first gen capability but in this next version it still needs a major overhaul. It seems like Apple did not expect so many apps to be on board with multitasking since finding the app you’re looking for can be annoying. The same sorting and search I mentioned for Notification Center should appear here or even a mini version of the home screen. Drag and drop between multitasks apps is such a natural was of sharing. Why put people through the extra steps of having to go through share sheets when the second app is already visible on the screen.

Apple’s feature list is now large enough that most users are confused about what they can do, especially when features like multitasking do not have obvious manipulation handles on the screen. I don’t think such a visual guide for letting people know the feature exists but adding such a handle would crowd the interface more. I do think the devices now need an Explore app for major feature tutorials, similar to that on the Apple Watch app for new users. An app with videos that quickly explain a feature would keep users in the Apple ecosystem while learning instead of going off into YouTube for amateur presentations.

If you like what you see in these posts, please take the time to share on social media. Thanks for reading!

(Continued in part 6)

Dumping URLs into Pocket

I use Pocket as my morning paper for my commute and centralized place for collecting things to read, with URLs fed into it from IFTTT, Feedly, plus Safari on Mac and iOS8. For a while I even used NYTimes URLs fed from IFTTT as http://www.gmodules.com/ig/proxy?url= URLs which would avoid the paywall.

I like to dump as much as possible into the reader so that I have a variety to ready from. This means any digest emails or other pages full of URLs from Mashable or Medium are ideal to throw into this. Forwarding the email to Pocket will only get you the first link – useless when there could be 10-15 links. To make this easier I created a Service with Automator called ExtractURLs2Pocket which consists of a “Run Shell Script” block feeding into a Copy To Clipboard block in case you need the output:

osascript -e ‘the clipboard as «class RTF »’ | perl -ne ‘print chr foreach unpack(“C*”,pack(“H*”,substr($_,11,-3)))’ | ~/Dropbox/rtf2html.pl -noimages – | ~/Dropbox/geturls.pl | /usr/bin/egrep -v ‘(w3.org|opt|unsub|email-settings)’ | /usr/bin/sort -u | ~/Dropbox/add2pocket.pl

What this does is grab the clipboard as RTF and convert it to a text format, which I then convert to HTML, grab the href URLs, grep to filter out any URLs that might be unsubscribe links, sort and uniq the list, then feed that to my Pocket add script.

rtf2html.pl is the sample script in RTF::HTMLConverter from https://github.com/lvu/rtf2html

geturls.pl uses the list_uris function of URI::Find::Simple:

#!/usr/bin/perl

use URI::Find::Simple qw( list_uris );
my @urllist;
my $url;
while (<>) {
@urllist = list_uris($_);
foreach $url (@urllist)
{
print “$url\n”;
}
}

add2pocket.pl uses WebService::Pocket to use the Pocket API:

#!/usr/bin/perl
use WebService::Pocket;

my $line;
my $url_hash;
my @urls_array;
my $p = WebService::Pocket->new(
username => ‘pocket_username’,
password => ‘pocket_password’,
);

while (<>)
{

$line = $_;
chomp($line);
print “$line\n”;
$url_hash = {url => $line};
push(@urls_array,$url_hash);
}

#break array into chunks of 9 URLs so the add won’t choke
while (my @subarr = splice @urls_array, 0, 9)
{
$p->add([@subarr]);
}

Once you have this in place, just highlight some text anywhere on the Mac, copy it, right-click, select Service -> ExtractURLs2Pocket. It’s even pretty fast!

Open LinkedIn links in your Mac contacts

If you use LinkedIn on your iOS device, your contacts are saved with a linkedin:// URL. These contacts will sync to your Mac and have the same linkedin:// URL in the contact. Unfortunately there is no LinkedIn app on the Mac to open these URLs so you need a helper app of some kind.

Enter BasilSalad.com’s “Open LinkedIn app”. Download the zip file from http://adib.github.io/OpenLinkedIn/ to your mac and drop the app file into your Applications folder. Start the app and set it to Open at Login. The app registers itself to handle the linkedin:// URL and redirect it to your default browser. From now on you’ll have access to the LinkedIn profile for your contacts!

Securing Your Mac Against Malware with Hosts File

gasmask

With zero day vulnerabilities on the loose more than ever before, it is best to take every precaution against being the first to get your system broken by malicious hackers. One way that helps is to avoid altogether any sites that are known to be suspect. One site that maintains a very good list of sites for blocking is http://someonewhocares.org/hosts/. This file can be copied and pasted directly into your system host file (see the directions in the page itself) to immediately give your system protection. It is a long file, which should give you some idea of how big a problem malware is.

Malware protection is a moving target however. The moment you have pasted something into your hosts file, someone else in the world is already setting up another malicious site that will need to be blocked. The hosts file at the above site changes periodically with updates to new blocked sites that you will want on your system. Managing the changes can be a complicated and repetitive task. You wouldn’t want to remember to check the site, then sit and compare the new hosts file to the previous one manually – that’s a foolish use of your time when a computer program can do the job better. Using a tool to automate this takes the headache off your shoulders and provides prompt updates. Enter Gas Mask.

Gas Mask is a tool that lets you manage one or more static or dynamic hosts files and keeps a constant merged list.  I use the original hosts file from my Mac with some local additions, a list of hosts for Adobe updates, and the dynamically updated hosts file from the above site. For those that don’t know, using the localhost address is a shortcut to point to your own machine instead of the bad site. Make sure the tool is set to run at system startup so that it is always doing its job. Your computer will check this file before checking the internet for the location of a web site, so you are always protected no matter where you are.

Gas_Mask_Prefs

The dynamic pieces are constantly checked according to a schedule you define in the Preferences, then assembled and saved as your hosts file. Visiting any of the sites listed as 127.0.0.1 (or 0.0.0.0 if you used the zero version of the site) should come up as blocked. Enjoy your new found safety!

BTW, if you are a Windows user, this will work for you too, however I am not aware of any tools that manage this for you.

Sharing Memories Online

SharingMedia

I love taking photos and videos of family events for posterity, often to the annoyance of my family. Memories are very important to me, and the idea of digitally recording events has always appealed to me vs the old shoe box full of flammable and yellowing photos.  When it comes time to storing and share my digital memories, the options are varied. To whittle down the list of online offerings, I have a couple of basic needs that I look for. Everything I consider must be at least compatible with my iPhone and Mac, as well as some sort of web interface. When it comes to taking photos, I believe in “the best camera is the one you have with you” and that means my iPhone 6 Plus even over the beautiful Leica lens of my beloved Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 (even with Eye-it wasn’t able to mimic smartphone capability and smartphone cameras are only getting better). My iPhone is always in my pocket and the bulk of an additional camera is a deterrent from carrying anything but my iPhone. I’ve never been someone who takes photos of sunsets and flowers, but I respect some of the amazing photos that people take and share. To me, my moments are just as precious. Obviously I’m not interested in photos that disappear after 10 seconds like Snapchat – yawn.

First and foremost, I need my photos be presented on Facebook. Facebook is, for the most part, the social network where my friends and family live. Facebook is where real contextual conversation and friend interaction happens. They also provides fine grained control over who can see my media. Other networks are either subsets of my Facebook friends, or a public broadcast platform to strangers such as Twitter where I don’t want to present photos of my kids.

Second, I need my photos to be potentially removable from the site in their original form. I was bitten badly by Everpix when they went into non-free mode and were unwilling to get my uploaded pictures back to me in any form whatsoever. Google frequently cancels services. I am in a sense using an online service as a backup and want to make sure that backup is always there for me. I don’t want to upload my high quality pics to a service only to find that what I get back is lower quality. I don’t want my pictures silo’d into something that my Facebook friends have to go to another site to see or have to register for another account or have to make 10 clicks to get into. Any other form of sharing such as email is rudimentary and just gives the recipient no sense of presentation.

Flickr – All platforms. Tons of free space. The 1TB that Flickr gives us is immense. I have over 44,000 photos going back 20 years (some are scanned prints) and I am at 4.5% of usable space – the remaining space is more than I will be able to use in my lifetime.  I can see that people who are into serious photography who might be using RAW format would be the primary target for that amount of space.

Unfortunately, Yahoo still hangs on to the idea that it wants to sort of create its own social network so Flickr has no real idea of integration with social networks. Albums and photos need to be set to completely public in order to share into Facebook, so all my photos are set to private by default. Automatic photo sync. Photos kept in original format. I do like the new Uploadr app which lets me auto sync photos from certain folders on my Mac, which means I can auto upload any pics I get in iMessage, which means also capturing any media sent by my green-bubble non-iPhone friends: capturing almost all media that I’m in contact with. Photo sorting and organization on Flickr is greatly improved with the new Camera Roll feature. I hope this is a sign that the service will be getting more attention in the coming months instead of languishing unattended for yet another few years.

WordPress – Completely public presentation. Manual upload. 3GB space for the basic account, pay for up to 13GB on the Premium account and unlimited for the business account. I’m past the days where I once ran my own PHPGallery site so I don’t want to build web pages or manage a site when it breaks – I just want to upload phones and be sure that it works, not make me do more of what I already do at work. Not Facebook friendly. Photo organization is redimentary.

Dropbox – All platforms. Sharing is not linked to anything like Facebook. It’s just a filesystem so you do whatever you want with your files and folders. Booooooring. Beyond the initial free 1GB account (or is it 2GB these days?), you can sign up for their Carousel app which does automatic sync and gives you some bonus space. Otherwise you are invited to pay for all the storage you can use. No real presentation for recipients – just a disorganized online shoebox. Not Facebook friendly. No Uploadr equivalent to get photos from alternate sources. Sharing and collaboration are primitive.

Microsoft – All platforms. Same as Dropbox, except Microsoft provides OneDrive app to do the syncing. Also no Uploadr equivalent to get photos from alternate sources. Sharing and collaboration are primitive. You get 15GB of space these days for free. I feel like this is another company that could offer 1TB of space, but if you want more you can pay for it.

Facebook – All platforms. I’m not aware of any limits on the number of photos you can have. Photos and videos are separated into different albums, although Moments app tries to bridge this. No auto upload from mobile and no autocapture capability for photos on my Mac, although interestingly Benny Wong does just fine in this area with the Timehop Mac app. Collaboration on the platform with Shared Albums is really good in getting moments that you yourself weren’t able to capture. Photo sorting is a little frustrating – one large set of pictures was set to sort by time the photo was taken and it was a jumbled mess. The real drawback – video quality is surprisingly horrific for uploads.

Apple – Automatic photo sync. Photo and video quality is fantastic. The 5GB limit of the basic account is anemic, but Apple knows how to monetize so you always have the privilege of paying for more space. Only captures photos that I take – anything else relies on my saving the photo or on Uploadr via my Mac. Sharing via Photos relies on other members being iOS users. Apple could add more audience by providing some similar functionality to Windows and Android users, but that’s not the point of their halo effect. As much as I’d like it to be otherwise, however, not everyone I know is an Apple user. Photo organization here is what everyone would expect from every service. As such I can only capture and share photos with my Apple gear, but not have any meaningful backup.

Google – All platforms. Data export through Google Checkout is awesome. Sadly, image quality is altered for unlimited uploads – you can only store unlimited photos in lower than original quality (they call it High Quality). Uploading original photos in highest quality results in using up your allotted space (currently says 16GB for me) and having to pay for more space. Google was one of the big players in the space wars when 1GB online was a big deal, now they’re holding back just like the rest. Google Photos Assistant and Magic are genius level features – I share those back into other services. Automatic photo sync since they already had that capability in Google Plus, but this is a backup of last resort. No Uploadr equivalent to get photos from alternate sources unless you’re still counting Picasa.

Instagram – Many but not all platforms (ahem, iPad). Disorganized mess. Connected to Facebook. No auto upload.

Twitter – Please. No. Stop.

I cannot keep my photos in any one single place where I can trust that they will still be under my control in their original form. Being native to Apple, I have to use Photos in iOS and Mac to share, but I cannot keep them there since I am unwilling to pay for the extra storage and photos basically age out of the system for me. Automatic syncing to Flickr works as my backup for storing full sized photos. Facebook is my preferred sharing platform. I use a lot of connected automated means of capturing photos from everything else, including IFTTT to capture media that I’m tagged in like Instagram, but that tends to be such a very small amount.

If there were any areas of improvement in the above flow, I’d say:

  • Facebook should auto capture my photos from mobile and desktop, making sure everything is private by default.
  • Apple should provide a lot more space especially to those that have invested in multiple iCloud capable devices. The limits should be 5GB per device for the basic account.
  • Yahoo should integrate Flickr sharing permissions with Facebook to get some granularity. All the above services should as Facebook is now the de facto backbone for all social networks – stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Sorry Twitter.
  • Flickr or Apple or both should pay attention to the AI magic of Google Photos’ Assistant. This only improves presentation and it’s the future.
  • Stop with the stupid stickers on photos. I don’t want to explain to kids 20 years from now why there is a thumbs up hand in the middle of one of their most cherished photos.
  • Facebook needs to stop making my videos look like blurry photos of bigfoot escaping into the woods. This is a crime against humanity in 2015.