iOS 14 Could Make Changing Your Wallpaper Much Easier

iOS 14 Could Make Changing Your Wallpaper Much Easier

In case you didn't know yet, iOS 14 lets you enter jiggle mode by holding down on any empty part of your home screen. This lets you delete apps, move apps to your App Library, add widgets, and even hide entire screens. It should also let you change your wallpaper.

For those who haven't used iOS 14 yet, here's the concept next to the current version of jiggle mode in beta 1:

Pretty subtle, but I'd love to see this be how you get to wallpaper settings instead of bundling it in the Settings app.

“Android had it First.” “Well iOS had This First!” And Around and Around we Go

I was going to write a long article about each new thing in iOS 14 and whether each feature has been in Android already, but then I trashed the doc. I was getting bored writing it myself, so I can’t imagine how bored you would have been reading it.

Features like home screen widgets, cycling navigation in Maps, and picture-in-picture on your phone may seem like familiar features to Android users, but here’s the thing…

Here are some new features in Android 11 coming this fall:

  • Screen video recording
  • Uniform media controls in quick settings
  • New smart home controls
  • Airplane mode doesn’t turn off bluetooth
  • Pixel 4 face unlock can require eyes open
  • Better voice control
  • Allow location access just once
  • Auto-set dark mode based on a schedule
  • Scrolling screenshots (maybe)

There’s some other stuff there, but that’s a good chunk of the new features, and iOS users will probably already know where I’m going with this…all of this has been on iOS for years.

My point is that iOS and Android are mature operating systems and it is unreasonable to expect each platform to add new features that are totally unique. At this point, we can expect some new features, but a lot of the work is on filling holes (aka doing things the other guys have done for years) and refining the experience as a whole. Snarky tweets about “heh, heh, Android/iOS has had this for years 🤓” get likes and retweets, but they’re not particularly insightful commentary. If you just want to be snarky, that’s cool, enjoy! Let’s just not pretend that this commentary is anything more than fanboy bait.

I think the new widgets in iOS 14 look better than anything I’ve seen in Android widgets in 13 years and it’s stupid easy to make them look good on your home screen, but they’re also less capable and less flexible than what Android can do. The same goes for picture-in-picture, which Android has had for a little while, but iOS is adding a new ability to hide the video off screen and bring it back on demand. They caught up and then took the lead in this feature.

“Android had it first” and “iOS had it first” are mildly interesting data points now, that’s it.

The Value of Using Stock Apps

The Value of Using Stock Apps

This is part 1 of a two part series. Read the followup on the value of third party apps here.

I was chatting with Andy Nicolaides recently about task managers (as you do), and he was telling me how he tried using Things again after my recent article about how I use the app, and he said it didn’t work for him and he’d gone back to using Reminders. He also mentioned how he sometimes feels like his preference for using stock apps for as much as possible might be keeping him from enjoying some great third party apps. As someone who tends to prefer third party apps, Andy and I are approaching things from completely different angles.

That said, there are some definite advantages to using stock apps and I wanted to give those reasons a quick shout out here.

1. Here today, here tomorrow

How many photo library managers can you think of that have come and gone since iCloud Photo Library launched in 2015? How many task managers have either disappeared or languished since Reminders launched in 2011? How many mail services have disappeared since Apple Mail came out in 2007?

The advantage of using stocks apps (on iOS, at least) is that they generally have a longer life than third party options. There are things like OmniFocus that were around before Reminders and are still going strong, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

2. Predictable business models

This one doesn’t bother me as much as it does some, but the nice thing about something like Apple Notes is that you know it’s going to be free forever. You know iCloud Photo Library is going to cost you however much storage you need to save your photos.

The odds of Notes switching to a subscription model next year is basically zero. Also, if you start using it today, it’s not like Apple is going to release Notes 2.0 in a few months and you’ll need to pay again to get the updates.

Apple and third party devs have different business models, and each makes sense for each party, but from a straight up consumer basis, the one that is more likely to stay the same for longer is more appealing.

3. It’s just plain cheaper

Say what you will about the benefits of those other apps, but there’s no getting around the fact that since the cost of developing Apple Notes is absorbed by the income Apple gets from hardware sales, Notes is able to be free to the end user. You really need to get something significant out of the paid options to make them worth your while.

4. Keeping up with new OS features

Did your photo manager, email client, task manager, note taker, web browser, camera app, music player, news reader, podcast player, calendar, calculator, and messaging app have dark mode enabled on the day iOS 13 launched last year? If you used all stock apps, the answer is yes! If you used third party apps, then the answer is likely no, not all of them.

Or look at Google Docs/Sheets, which Connected has turned into a meme in asking each week whether it has added a fundamental feature that iOS enables (split view before, multi-window now). Months and months go by and then they finally add it, usually around the time the next version of iOS is in beta and has something else they won’t get to for a year. If you used Pages or Numbers, they supported those almost from day one.

5. Predictable Privacy

Is your email app selling your email data to advertisers? Do you trust putting personal information in your notes app? What if those apps are acquired by a company you don't trust tomorrow?

By buying into the Apple ecosystem, you probably trust Apple more than most companies. Again, their business model is selling you hardware and some premium services, not selling your data for profit. Lots of third parties are excellent here too, but you really have to check for each one if you want to be sure.

Takeaway

Look, my iPhone and iPad home screens are full of third party apps. For me, the benefits they allow (especially having web interfaces and working cross-platform) provide me value, but there is definitely a strong case to be made that it’s safest and cheapest to use stock apps unless you have a good reason not to do so.

Save Today’s New York Times Front Page with Shortcuts

Save Today’s New York Times Front Page with Shortcuts

Okay, so this one requires some credits before anything else.

  1. I modified Brian Renshaw’s shortcut which saves the page as a JPEG to Day One.
  2. His was modified from one by Matthew Cassinelli.
  3. His was modified from this one on Reddit.

The Shortcut

Download it here.

Before anything else, make a folder called "nytimes" inside your Shortcuts iCloud folder. Otherwise the shortcut will error out because it doesnt know where to save the file.

You can run this from the Shortcuts app, or you could run it from the home screen widget, or you could even set it up on an automation to run every day automatically. iOS still requires you to confirm you want it to happen, but it gives you a persistent notification on your iOS devices to make it happen.

What it Does

  1. Downloads today’s front page of the New York Times
  2. Saves the file to iCloud Drive (/Shortcuts/nytimes/2020-03-29.pdf, for example)

And that’s it…it’s pretty darn simple. My contribution was simply to make this a little cleaner and save the file named nicely with no usr input: simply tap the shortcut and it will be done in a second. Forgot if you ran it already today? No worries, just run it again and it will overwrite today’s PDF if it exists already.

Saving the file as a PDF takes up a little more space than the JPEG version in Brian’s version, but it also means you get high quality, indexable text you can use to find things at a later date. I don’t use Day One anymore, but I suspect the reason for the JPEG was because Day One doesn’t support PDFs for diary entries, but I’m not sure.

Bonus Shortcut

This one is embarrassingly hacky, but I used it to get all of the 2020 covers in one go.

Download the Jan 1 - Mar 29 covers with this shortcut.

If you know of a better way to do this, please let me know! Better yet, update it yourself and share it so more people can enjoy it.

UPDATE: Jimmy Little improved this version of the shortcut to return however many days of results you'd like. This is way better, so use it instead! Download here.

A Slower Apple Photos Sync

A Slower Apple Photos Sync

I don’t know if this is happening to everyone, but I’ve noticed a pretty big regression (in my eyes, at least) in Apple Photos since around the time iOS 13.1 shipped. Basically, no matter what is going on with my iPhone and no matter if the battery is at 5% or 100%, photos seem to upload to the cloud on some sort of schedule I can’t figure out.

Basically, I’m seeing the above image a ton, and it’s annoying me.

Previously, you would take a photo and it would start uploading to iCloud the moment it was done processing. This was really useful for two reasons:

  1. I knew that if I took a photo and my phone was destroyed a minute later, my photos would be backed up and I would have zero data loss.
  2. I could take a picture/screenshot on my iPhone and then use it on my iPad seconds later.

Now neither of those is valid since my phone will wait a while (sometimes an hour or more passes) to so the upload. I’m sure this is a decision that was made to improve battery life (and the message says as much), but it’s not something I’ve seen the Mac or iPadOS do, so it’s a bit of a pain to have it happening on one device only.

How I Use Things 3 to Keep Track of Christmas Shopping

How I Use Things 3 to Keep Track of Christmas Shopping

One of the things I struggle with year after year is keeping track of Christmas gift lists. I never know what to ask other people to get me, and I have never been good about keeping track of what I think other people would like. The latter part is especially frustrating because I have plenty of moments of “they would love this!” throughout the months leading up to Christmas, but when it comes time to actually buy gifts, I can never remember.

Sometimes these ideas go into Apple Notes, or Drafts, or worst of all, my memory. If GTD has taught me anything, it’s that my head is not a good place to keep track of lists of things I need to remember: I need a system to offload my brain.

My revitalized integration of GTD throughout my life this year has given me a new idea this year and it’s working out incredibly well for me. This might sound less magical to some people, but buying Christmas gifts is really just a project and the gift ideas are tasks in that project, so putting them into a GTD system makes a ton of sense.

Introducing Things 3

You could do this with any app or paper-based task management system, but I think Things 3 has tools that make this a really nice experience. Step 1 is creating a project called Christmas Gifts. If you want to have some fun, throw a 🎄 or 🎁 in the project name too.

Headers Make Sense of Large Lists

From there, you want to use Things’ headings feature which you can access by tapping on the three dots icon at the top right of the project view. I used these to create sections inside the project for different people. I have ones for:

  • Me
  • My wife
  • My immediate family
  • My wife’s immediate family
  • General gift ideas

As I come across things that I think certain people would like, I add them as tasks in this project and drag them to whatever section they belong in.

And because Things lets you add notes and tags to tasks, I make sure to add a link to the item and tag it with the specific person I had in mind for it. Things will not automatically sort this project page based on your tags, so you still need to manually sort stuff, but unless you’re buying for a ton of people, I don’t think it’s too much of a hassle.

Sharing Things I Want

Things very kindly lets you copy a task from the app and paste it into anything else as plain text. It brings over the task name (product name), the notes (link to the product), and tags (who it’s for). So when my dad, for example, asked me for a list of gift ideas, I just selected the half dozen tasks in my “Me” section, hit CMD+C on the iPad keyboard, and pasted them into an email.

I removed the tags because that wasn’t really important for him, but the information was all there and it was very little work to format it nicely in my email app.

Marking Stuff Complete

Collecting the information is easy enough, and organizing it is pretty simple, but here’s where it gets really nice for me. Since these are tasks, you can treat them like action items in your existing task management system. I tend to buy gifts over the course of a few months and the monthly budget only allows for some things to be purchased at once.

So to stagger my purchases throughout the season, I start assigning due dates to items on the list. This lets me stick to a budget and get everything on my lists for other people without breaking the budget.

Also, because these are tasks and Things does a good job of showing you what you have previously completed, I can easily look at my previously completed tasks to see what I’ve bought already.

Other Apps

There is no reason you could not do this in Todoist, OmniFocus, or any other task manager out there, but Things is what I use right now and I think it has the best UI for sorting out tasks for something like this. I’d love to hear if you are doing anything like this, and if you are using another app like Todoist, I’d be really interested to see your setup.

Why I Liked the Android 10 Update

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbXxMKqhQJ4

This can only go well, right?

This was actually a video I made in September but didn’t feel like posting right away. As the description and title cards try to make exceptionally clear, this is not a video bashing Android, it’s just fun to see Android folks praise the virtues of things iOS either has or has had for literally a decade. The Android 10 update was really the “let’s add a bunch of things iOS does to make things safer for our users” update, and I think that’s why I liked it.

A Celebration of iOS’s Unbelievable Software Library

From iOS To Android And Back Again - Greg Morris

Apps from the same developer often work different, look different or are missing functions (even Googles) on Android. Which is a huge shame given the open nature of the platform. Sure you can ‘do anything’ with your device, but the quality of software to go with it is still lacking in broad terms – and this becomes apparent very quickly when switching.

Greg totally nails it here. Android 100% allows the potential to do more than they can on iOS, but I can also say that “potential” does not come even close to manifesting in actually better or more powerful software. You can link to all the themes, icon packs, and system tweaks you want, but software that actually helps people get work done either does not exist or is worse on Android.

This is a drum I bang time and time again, I know, but I think that in 2019 it's as true as it's ever been. It's also not something I mean to bash Android with, it's more to say that iOS's ecosystem is so incredibly good, and all platforms, even macOS and Windows wish the amount of quality software for them could match what iOS has at its fingertips.

Round 3: Night Sight vs iPhone XS

I did one more shoot with Night Sight on a Pixel 3 and an iPhone Xs which lead to this message from my wife:

She knows me well…

As with the other comparisons, the first photo will always be the iPhone and the second will be the Pixel.

https://youtu.be/ronqsBnJ-OM

This first one is a wild difference, and really shows off what Night Shift can do for you. The iPhone was hopeless at getting something here, but the Pixel got something totally unnatural, but shows off the thing I was shooting.

This one is up to personal preference, as the iPhone is sharper, but the Pixel gets more of the surrounding area. I like the iPhone shot personally.

This is another massive difference, with the Pixel getting so much more of the scene than the iPhone.

Again, I like the iPhone shot better, as the Pixel made everything lighter, but doesn’t actually show any new details the iPhone missed. The Pixel has a blurry shot and the iPhone is surprisingly sharp.

The Pixel is back on top here, but neither camera did a particularly great job.

This was a zoom shot at 2x, and I was surprised how much better the Pixel shot was here. Not only is it much brighter but the details are sharper as well.

Takeaway

Again, Night Sight shows why it’s useful as another tool in a photographer’s bag of tricks. It gets shots that are simply unusable and turns them into pretty decent photos. What it does not do is make every low light shot perfect, which I think has become the narrative out there for some people. It absolutely creates messy images and some that are just plain ugly. But much like Portrait Mode on the iPhone, it’s an opt-in tool that adds to your options without limiting you from doing anything else.

While I maintain the iPhone Xs camera is better than the Pixel 3 for me, if you’re looking for a camera that gives you the most options in low light, it’s hard to recommend the iPhone over the Pixel at this point.