On writing (more).

For the past few months, I’ve tried to make a concerted effort to post here more regularly, if only to keep the exercise of writing fresh in my mind and routine. I really have enjoyed it, and I began thinking about how to extend the activity further. I’ve been asked in the past to contribute to other sites and I’ve always demurred, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make a commitment, or that I’d disappoint someone. I’m changing that now.

I want to make myself accountable for writing. I want it to be something I truly do every day, in some capacity. My first step is joining David Chartier’s excellent Finer Things in Tech family. The FT content is thoughtful and fun, with great tips and a focus on concise and meaningful content. It’s not a news grinder, and I couldn’t keep up with the cycle these days anyway. He’s invited me to submit posts on a schedule of my choosing, and my goal is to make it as regular a schedule as possible.

I’ve contributed to sites in the past, and it’s been a great experience for me. I’m extremely excited to be writing for a site other than my own again because it will allow me to do some different thinking about what I’m putting together, and I believe it’s going to help me continue to grow as I consider a different audience and a new set of goals apart from a personal blog about nerd stuff.

I think it’s a great step for me, and I look forward to sharing some new things. My first post for FT is here.

Here’s to some new challenges.

Workflow: Open tweet URLs in the iOS Twitter app.

Workflow 1.1 is out and it’s a terrific update. I’ve been playing with it since last night and toying around with a few new actions. One that I came up with doesn’t necessarily use the updates to the app but was something I’ve been thinking about for a few days regardless.

I really like the first-party Twitter app a lot and have been using it consistently since last fall. But sometimes when the flood of chatter becomes too much for me and I need to retreat a little, I fall back to Tweetbot or Twitterrific, two other lovely apps. Right now I’m using Tweetbot again because of keyword filtering, which I sorely needed for a few weeks of sanity restoration. But there’s stuff that the native Twitter app does (cards, analytics, archive search, etc.) that simply aren’t available in third-party clients.

Take cards for instance. Twitter has cool media previews embedded in tweets that let you check things out without leaving the app, but you only see a link in a third-party client. I built a little workflow that lets you open the tweet you’re currently viewing in the Twitter app to take advantage of some of those additional features.

In order to to this, I had to figure out how to get the app to recognize the URL being passed to it. Basically, you copy the link to the tweet, which gets formatted as an https:// link, which of course will open in Safari by default. Once there, there’s a tiny button in the web UI to open in the app. I copied that URL and applied it to a workflow step.

So you run the https link through a “Replace Text” step and strip out everything before the status ID, which is a long string of numbers, and append it to a link that opens the Twitter app itself (starting with twitter://). I’ve never used regular expressions before, and I know that while everyone gets all fired up about them, I just never had a reason to. But I tried it today so that you could send any tweet URL to it and it would strip the username and prepare the ID properly. One period and one asterisk later, I’m a regex expert AMA.

Seriously, don’t though, I barely got this to work. If anyone has any beginner regex tips, though, I’m all ears.

Anyway, it looks like this, and you can download it here. As with most of my first draft workflows, it can probably be done better, so have at it. I thank you in advance.

Behold, the majesty of my regex prowess, and despair.

02-17-2015, 7:05 AM
David Chartier linked to a better version with variables and all kinds of whiz-bang stuff that bypasses the copying I was doing and saves a step. Use this one instead (I know I will).

I really have to learn how to do these more complex things to take my game to the next level.

The iPhone 6 is my new phone.

I said I’d give it some time, but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t need to. After setting up our test device three days ago to see how I liked it, I went out yesterday and bought myself an iPhone 6 to use instead of the 6 Plus. It will be my daily phone going forward.

When the 6 Plus was announced, I was excited to try a completely new form factor for iOS. I was convinced that the unique size and abilities of the Plus would change the way I use my phone. In my mind, it was large enough to be a small tablet, and I would do so many more things on it, potentially obviating the need for an iPad. That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons.

First, the size of the Plus is notable, but it’s just no iPad. I think that’s partially a product of the aspect ratio (16:9 for the phone, as opposed to 4:3 for the iPad) and partially a product of the software. Or more accurately, the fact that no one seems to know what to do with the Plus. Apple demonstrated a split-view that looks like the iPad in some apps, but the truth is that you end up seeing and doing less in those views because of the shorter height of the screen in that orientation. Don’t get me started on the abomination that is the landscape keyboard—extra buttons and features that shift the layout just enough to destroy your muscle memory for typing, along with an uncomfortable width make it virtually unusable.

I don’t blame developers either; the Plus is kind of an outlier in the device family. The apps that support it basically do the split-view thing and not much else, which makes sense because you probably don’t want to bifurcate your app’s phone experience too much. Between maintaining a somewhat consistent UI and the odd landscape shape of the device, I completely understand why most apps don’t go crazy with Plus features.

It runs phone software with a lot of extra room, but is constrained by that shape to not have more abilities like the iPad. As a result, it’s better at a few key things (e.g. battery life, reading, movies), but it’s worse at the things a phone excels at (quick actions, one-handed use, comfort). Throughout my use of the Plus, I was willing to make those trade-offs because I felt that I was getting value from the hardware for what it was. As time went on, I realized my behavior patterns weren’t indicating that, and I wasn’t doing anything on it that I couldn’t do on a slightly smaller screen.

In addition to its unique physical characteristics, based on my personal findings and the feedback of other Plus users, I’ve come to believe that the device is severely affected by its RAM allocation. My theory is that while it has the same amount of memory that the iPhone 6 has, the extra large screen and constant scaling the device does to manage the display put it at a serious disadvantage. I noticed apps constantly relaunching, Safari tabs being flushed extremely quickly, and states across actions and apps not being preserved the way I’d expect. In day-to-day use it gets annoying, but it’s not crippling. That said, for a device I use dozens of times a day, it becomes a pretty glaring negative. The few OS updates that have arrived since it launched have helped a little it seems, but not enough to be unnoticeable. Additionally, this impacts other aspects of use, as an app like Pebble will get flushed from memory more frequently, preventing the watch from working correctly. Any external hardware that requires an app connection to be held in memory for consistent functionality passed between devices is probably eligible for this kind of problem. (I doubt this will be an issue for the Apple Watch though, as the connection will be at a much lower device-level.)

Based on my personal use and my feelings about the device itself, I’m switching to an iPhone 6. It will not have the incredible battery life or the giant screen and spacious keyboard I’ve gotten used to. It will, however, slide into a pocket comfortably, perform all the things I usually do in a day admirably, and fit well in one hand for extended periods of time. It’s markedly lighter than the Plus, and in the past few days, I’ve not noticed the memory issues that plague the larger phone, or some strange bugs that I’ve attributed to the different display and how the software handles interactions with it. Which is not to say I’ll never notice them, but if the frequency of those issues drops significantly, it approaches zero in terms of one’s perception. That’s good enough for me.

The iPhone 6 Plus is a great device, and a lot of people I know have picked them up after talking to me. For most of those people, they’re totally perfect and the things I’ve outlined wouldn’t even show up in the negative column. For me, my use patterns have pushed me in the direction of the smaller phone and I’m very happy in spite of myself. I’m glad I spent a long enough time with the big phone to know this conclusively and I’m thrilled to have a new device to use. In the past few days, I’ve already been in situations where the 6 has been the perfect phone in the moment and the Plus would have been awkward. I so wanted to believe that the Plus was going to be a completely new device that provided a wholly new iOS experience, unlike what I’d been used to. Discovering that it really isn’t was a disappointment, but it led to finding the right phone for me, which makes me extremely happy. It’s the single device I use the most over all others, and it needs to feel like an extension of my arm. As cool as the Plus is, it just never did.

02-09-2015, 5:17 PM
Steve Streza mentioned on Twitter that what I was seeing with regard to the memory issues was not a new thing, or unique to the Plus. Wanted to mention it here as I’d done a lot of hand-waving and complaining, but Steve is actually a developer who would know more about it.

I still feel the hardware of the Plus exacerbates the problem far more than in the other handsets.

Test driving the iPhone 6.

I’ve talked about the iPhone 6 Plus here before. Overall, it’s a fantastic device, but its shortcomings do stand out to someone like me who might notice them (read: for lack of a better term, a power user). The reason I’d initially wanted the 6 Plus was to have a completely new iOS experience, wildly different than my previous phone, which was an iPhone 5. The iPhone 6 didn’t seem like enough of a jump to be exciting, and I was certain I’d be using the 6 Plus for all kinds of new things because of its size.

At first, I did. I marveled at how much I could see on screen at once. The keyboard is large and comfortable. The screen is really very nice. The battery life is mind-blowing. I could VNC into remote machines and pop around easily. I watched some TV shows on it and it blew me away. But apart from some isolated use cases that I haven’t run up against in a while, I’ve started to realize that I’ve begun using it almost exactly like my previous device again, and not like something new. I find that the split-view landscape feature isn’t well-implemented as while it might speed up certain activities, you lose so much viewable space in that orientation that it often isn’t worth it. (I attribute this to the fact that the phone is 16:9 while the iPad’s 4:3 is far better suited to these changes.) I also picked up an iPad Air 2 last fall, and I’m hard pressed to do anything outside the norm on my phone. That thing is phenomenal, and an absolute joy to use.

It got me thinking. If I wasn’t really using the immense screen for more than my usual “phone” activities, what’s the point of carrying something this big around? Certainly I’m used to it, so it’s not that, it’s been four months already. But we have a 2-year old, and she’s a handful. I’m always pulling it in and out of a pocket while I play with her, and it can sometimes be a pain. Also, we’ve got another baby on the way, and one-handed use, while totally achievable with the 6 Plus, isn’t really a great feeling (I’ve got smallish hands). You get used to it, and I’m obviously making it work, but there’ve been some real scary moments, I won’t lie. In real-world applications, I’ve found using Apple Pay to be workable, but often a little awkward just because I’m usually holding a bag of something already, which means a one-handed Touch ID balancing act over the reader.

So I’m doing an experiment. I’m going to set up and use the iPhone 6 I have at the office exactly as I’m using the 6 Plus and see how it feels. I’ll do all the things I’m used to doing, and put it through its paces. If I vastly prefer it after a period of time, perhaps I’ll stick with it. If I decide I miss the vast expanses of the behemoth’s screen, I’ll go back, no harm, no foul, my mental condition satiated for the time being. I’ll make some notes about the experience so as to make this a bit more scientastic, and so that I can actually form a cogent verdict that isn’t based on my vacillating emotional state, brought on by the miserable ice-hell that is winter right now. I’m curious to see how this goes.

The ultimate hybrid device.

I found myself daydreaming about the ultimate hybrid tablet/laptop device earlier today because I’m 12 years old, and I think I’ve got it nailed this time. Stay with me, unless you’re allergic to awesome ideas.

A 13″ iPad Pro. Fully functioning new class of device, runs iOS. Basically the thing we’re all expecting to see at some point.

The bottom half of a MacBook Pro–keys, battery, processor, etc. All the guts and power, no screen.

The magnet hinge that affixes Smart Covers right now locks into this bottom piece (obviously, but with some serious magnet upgrades), which has a hinged joint, for moving the screen to different positions.

When detached, the iPad has its own battery and processor and iOS runs normally. When docked, it connects with the MacBook body and OS X is not run from the iPad, but is displayed on it, as it’s run from the MacBook body. So it’s projected onto that screen. When you’re done, grab the screen, detach, and iOS pops right back on.

Think about it. That’s all I’m going to say. I realize this is ludicrous, and there’s a million reasons why Apple would never build it. But I would buy the shit out of this thing. And yes, I suppose you can do this (sort of) with some of the Windows PCs that are out there now, but we both know that’s no substitute for a device like this. Sell it to professional users, at a premium. Not for your grandma, bro. For serious work and play. They can use that if they like.

I don’t know why I torture myself like this.