Adopting Apple First-Party Apps

The term “Sherlocking” gets thrown around a bit in the Apple community. It’s used when Apple creates a pre-installed first-party app, or updates an existing pre-installed application in a way that ruins the business of an existing app by duplicating its features at no cost to the Apple user.

Some examples include apps like Readability or Instapaper (Safari Reader mode), Blackberry Messenger (iMessage), 1Password (iCloud Keychain), and Evernote (Notes).

Sherlocking is a Gradual Process

In most cases, the “Sherlocking” doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, over a year or three, the popularity of the apps declines as more users switch to the native experience and as Apple further builds out the feature set of it’s native app.

By the way, the term “Sherlocked” comes from the introduction of Sherlock 3 in Mac OS X 10.2. It was a web search assistant app and was widely regarded as a rip off of another similar third-party app called Watson.

Innovation via Third-Party App Developers

I’m a big fan of the innovation that comes with third-party apps. It’s these developers who bring new ideas and new ways of working to the iOS and Mac platforms. Apps like 1Password (password manager) and Alfred (quick launcher) are staples of my daily routines and workflows.

But with every new iOS version comes new Sherlocking opportunities and iOS 11 is no exception. I’m playing around with a few more of the built-in Apple apps over the next few months to see which have the feature sets that could replace third-party apps I use.

  1. iCloud Keychain – this is a system wide password and data manager that’s been baked into Safari and iOS in general for many years. I’ve used 1Password for this for a long, long time as it offers shared password vaults and works nicely on Mac, iOS and Windows. I’m not going to transition fully off of 1Password, but I have started storing usernames and passwords for less sensitive accounts (social media, etc.) in iCloud Keychain along with 1Password. The integration of iCloud Keychain into Safari across all of my devices is just too good to ignore and new innovations like in-app Keychain support are huge.
  2. Notes – Since I started using the iPad Pro as my main computing device away from the office, I’ve been using the Notes app far more than in the past. I’ve used both Evernote and OneNote (from Microsoft) and while both are good and offer apps for iOS and Mac, they are also a bit feature bloated for me. Additionally, the Apple Pencil support in Notes is far superior to anything that third-party notes apps can offer me. Notes in iOS adds a document scanner that replaces similar functionality from Microsoft and a few other apps.
  3. Safari – I’ve used both Chrome and Opera recently and the latter was really almost perfect for me as a daily browser. But I’m back on Safari because it syncs so nicely across my devices. See also the iCloud Keychain entry above…it’s really well integrated into Safari in a way that can’t be done with third-party browsers. Content blockers continue to get better for ad blocking and new in iOS 11 and macOS is some tracking prevention and auto-play video blocking.
  4. Spotlight – I’ve been an Alfred user for a long time, and before that Launchbar and before that Quicksilver. But Spotlight now works on iPad as well and that has me looking for a unified experience across iOS and Mac. Turns out that for what I use these launcher-type apps for, Spotlight works exactly the same. So I’ve switched.
  5. Maps – Originally I used a Garmin navigation app on my iPhone, and then switched over to Google Maps and eventually Waze when it became popular. I removed Google Maps from my iPhone a long time ago, and Waze was deleted recently as well. Apple’s Maps is just a more beautiful and intuitive navigation experience and it doesn’t have distracting ads and the tracking that Waze has. iOS 11 adds little notes on the map about how much slower or faster alternate routes are and the traffic and rerouting seems to be at least close to what Waze offers. iOS 11 adds lane assist and a few other nice features that make Maps a great car navigation app.

Out-Sherlocking Apple

I feel a bit guilty about throwing some of these apps to the curb, but such is life. In a lot of cases, Sherlocking isn’t a death sentence either. The popular podcast player Overcast continues to thrive despite the Apple Podcasts app which was introduced a few years back. 1Password isn’t leaving my homescreen anytime soon because it has a ton of sharing features that iCloud Keychain doesn’t (yet) offer.

While Sherlocking seems to be something that developers would fear, in many cases the third-apps can do well even with a first-party app simply by out innovating Apple and staying a few feature steps ahead.

WordCamp Ottawa – July 22-23, 2017

WordCamp Ottawa is coming up in a few weeks (July 22-23) and I’ll be both attending and speaking this year.

I was at WordCamp Ottawa 2016 on behalf of Hover as a sponsor and we’re a Gold sponsor of the event again in 2017. In addition to checking out the event, and representing Hover, I’ll be giving a talk on Sunday morning at 10:00 A.M. called “DNS and Domain Names Demystified”.

What is a WordCamp?

WordCamps are great events that don’t cost much to attend and provide some great information for anyone looking to establish or grow their online identity using WordPress. You’ll meet with a variety of people with differing skill levels and you’ll benefit from a transfer of information around the web and how to stake out your part of it.

They’re held in various cities around the world and are run by local organizers who are passionate about the Internet and about using WordPress to be a part of it. WordCamps are for everyone, regardless of skill level.

Attend!

If you are in Ottawa, and interested in WordPress and having your own presence online, then check out this event. At just $40 for the weekend, it’s a steal. You get some swag and lunch both days. The event is held at Carleton University, overlooking the Rideau River.

Find out more at the WordCamp Ottawa website.

Posting to WordPress from iOS

Here’s the question. Why is the WordPress app for iPad so lacking?

It’s not terrible, but considering the resources that Automattic has behind it, and the fact that they bought (and killed) the most excellent blogging app for iPad called Poster, it’s very disappointing that the official WordPress app is so lacking.

I’m playing around with some other writing apps to see if I can do better. So far I like 1Writer, but going from 1Writer to WordPress isn’t exactly easy. For the moment it involves using a Workflow app workflow along with a nifty action in 1Writer. I’ll detail that at some point in the future, but it’s a less involved version of what Federico Viticci is doing.

A great editor makes for better writing

Generally I value the writing experience over all else and I’m willing to do a bit of extra work at the end to actually get the post into WordPress if it means I can have a better, more intuitive and pleasant experience during the writing process.

We’ll see where this goes, but so far I’m still in the “hoping to find something better” mode.

WordCamp Ottawa 2017

Blogging has taken a bit of a back seat of late. That doens’t mean I haven’t been writing though. Rather, I’ve been putting my thoughts to virtual paper in the Day One journaling app. It’s been a good exercise and I’m proud to say that I’ve journaled daily since mid-April now. I plan to keep it up for at least a year, and probably forever.

WordCamp-Bound

One of the reasons I’ve revived the blog here is that I’ll be at WordCamp Ottawa again in 2017 on behalf of Hover. I attended last year as well and enjoyed both the event and the location. I’m a fan of Ottawa the city, and it was a good opportunity to spend a weekend there without the Race Weekend getting in the way.

Last year I used OCTranspo to get around town and over to Carleton where WordCamp was held. The O-Train was my friend that weekend and I’m looking forward to taking a few rides on it again this year.

I also hope to get out for some runs while I’m there. The hotel is right downtown again and that provides a good home base for runs along either the Ottawa River, or along the Rideau. Maybe I’ll get out into some other areas of the city this year. Last year I got over to Gatineau on one run and along the river under Parliament on another.

I’ll have more WordCamp Ottawa news in an upcoming post and I think I’ll blog a bit about some of the sessions while I’m there.

A Mini-Review of the new 10.5” iPad Pro

I picked up a new 10.5” iPad Pro last weekend and I figured it might be fun to put some thoughts on virtual paper now that I’ve spent almost a week with the device.

The tl;dr is that this is the best Apple device out there. Period. It’s really quite amazing and (for me) pretty much replaces a laptop for everything I want to do outside of work, and also some of the stuff I do at work too.

The Hardware

The 10.5” model is a new screen size for the iPad, sitting between the 9.7” regular iPad and the 12.9” iPad Pro. Truthfully, I considered the larger iPad Pro and really thought it would be the one I would choose. But some time with both at the Apple Store left me thinking the big one was just too big for what I was after.

If I didn’t have a work laptop, I would probably opt for the bigger one, but since they provide me with a 13” MacBook Pro, I have that power and screen size when I need it. Holding the larger iPad feels just a bit too big for things like couch surfing or writing a blog post in bed.

The Apple Pencil is an amazing device, especially paired with the new 120Hz ProMotion screen on the iPad Pro. It’s really uncanny how much it feels like you are literally writing with a marker on the screen. I don’t think I’ll use the Pencil a ton, but I’ve been grabbing it to make some quick notes in meetings, and for annotating pictures and screenshots. It’s excellent.

The Smart Keyboard is my favourite accessory. It takes a consumption device and turns it into a creation device. The keyboard is a bit small, compared to the MacBook Pro, but it’s big enough and I am able to type quickly and accurately on it. In fact, I’m writing this post using the iPad Pro, the Smart Keyboard and the WordPress app for iPad.

iOS 11

I upgraded both my iPad and my iPhone 6S to Developer Beta 2 on Friday and the new multi-tasking features and dock really extend the iPad’s capabilities as a laptop replacement. Being able to flick up from the bottom of the screen to show the Dock, and then touch and hold to drag a Safari window into split screen is pretty slick.

I haven’t done much with the new Files app yet, but taking screenshots (like the ones in this post) and dragging them in is intuitive. The old way of adding photos from the camera roll was okay, but this is much more like macOS.

It’s a Laptop

Using the iPad Pro like a laptop makes you realize it’s a laptop. Keyboard shortcuts like Command-Tab do what you expect. Command-Space brings up Spotlight which works like Alfred or Spotlight on the Mac does (a quick launcher). In fact, most of your favourite keyboard shortcuts like cut/copy/paste just work. You can even go back to the home screen with Command-H.

The Upsides

Battery life is amazing. It goes for hours and hours and hours. It’s super light and portable, especially with the keyboard cover removed. Even with the cover on, it’s quite light and slides into my bag and feels “barely there”. The Smart Keyboard is more than usable on my lap or on a desk, table or counter.

The screen is…amazing. Bright, crisp and clear. It’s an incredible display that’s readable in sunshine, or indoors at night.

The Downsides

Coming from a 13” MacBook Pro (late 2016) to the iPad, I did run into a few things that get in the way of being able to say it’s a full laptop replacement.

Safari sometimes gives you the mobile version of a website, and things like pop up seat checkers on the Blue Jays website sometimes don’t load properly. Occasionally I find the 10.5” screen a little small and wish I hade just a bit more size to work with. Split screen apps give you a pair of iPhone-sized interfaces vs. getting two iPad mini versions of the app.

Final Thoughts

The iPad used to be the computer for people who didn’t need a computer. It was perfect for email, light web surfing, and games. My parent’s love theirs and Ginny gets by with her 9.7” iPad fairly well. But the new 10.5” iPad Pro, with the Smart Keyboard and iOS 11 takes the iPad and brings it much closer to being a “real” computer.

Most people will find the iPad Pro to be a very capable small laptop. While there are a few things that might have you wishing you had a full laptop, the portability and flexibility of the iPad easily makes up for that the rest of the time.

I’m super happy with mine and expect to get a ton of use out of it.