Device Parity

It’s verboten to admit such things, but there are times when I actually want my iPad to be a big iPhone.1 Of course, I want it to do more than my iPhone, too. Apps like Editorial satisfy that requirement, but there are still tasks that I can perform on my iPhone that I can’t perform on my iPad.

For some reason, I find this lack of parity troubling, and I think it’s tangential to the discussion that cropped up recently concerning device ecosystems. Matt Gemmell wrote an excellent piece about it focusing on why you should be okay with owning and traveling with a phone, tablet, and laptop; each excels at different tasks, and you should use what’s most appropriate for whatever you’re doing. Mr. Gemmell:

Compromises don’t make for great products, and nor do they make for great experiences.

That’s why you have more than one device. That’s why it’s perfectly reasonable to pack and travel with several of them. And that’s also why a more rational view of a piece of technology is that it’s part of an ecosystem – your own personal one, encompassing your work, leisure, interests and utility needs.

Having multiple devices is fine. Picking the best device for the task is logical. My irritation manifests when I’m using one device that would be 100% suitable, appropriate, and capable of performing the task at hand but can’t because it lacks the necessary software.

Here’s a common scenario: I’m reading my Twitter feed with Tweetbot on the iPad. I get a message from someone on App.net. Since I don’t have a suitable App.net client on my iPad (or my Mac), I have to pull out my phone to reply instead of simply using my iPad. Multiple devices become an annoyance rather than a luxury.

In this case, the best device for the task is the one I have in front of me. But it isn’t up to the job because of a lack of software. Thus, instead of picking the right tool for the job, I’m forced to use the tool that has the app I need access to. If I wanted to live or travel with just an iPad, I couldn’t.

This likely sounds trivial and silly, but the time I waste switching between devices while performing the following tasks could be better spent.

Checking the Weather

I used to rely on Perfect Weather for radar and Weather Line for forecasts. Both excel at what they do, but both are iPhone-only. About halfway through writing this article, I switched to—wait for it—Check the Weather. It’s a solid app, but it lacks the UI polish of Perfect Weather and Weather Line. It’s universal, though, so I can use it on both my iPhone and iPad, which is a big win.

Communication via App.net

Felix is nice on the iPad, but I still prefer Riposte, and I love Whisper for ADN-based private messaging. And with the addition of Broadcasts, the App.net Passport app is now more useful, but it isn’t optimized for the iPad yet, so I only get broadcast notifications on my phone.

Automating Workflows

I’ve come to rely on Launch Center Pro for a number of tasks, including creating events and reminders, bookmarking URLs via Pincase, generating Markdown links, and more. Launch Center Pro serves as the glue between a few of my core apps, and having an iPad-optimized version would be a welcome addition to my toolset.

Creating Calendar Events and Reminders

Fantastical 2 brought with it a number of enhancements, but it didn’t bring a universal interface. Flexibits is working on a version for the iPad—I can’t wait to see what they come up with. Fantastical 2’s support for x-callback-url is a key part of how I deal with creating events and reminders on iOS.

Going Universal

This problem manifests largely in one direction: apps are written for the iPhone but not the iPad. Writing an app with an interface for both devices is not trivial. It’s almost as difficult as building two separate apps, so I don’t begrudge developers who build for one device and not the other.

That said, I’m hopeful that the continued high sales of the iPad will provide developers with the incentive to start supporting both devices out of the gate.


  1. Gasp. Shock. Horror. 


(via Cord Cutters And The Death Of TV – Business Insider)

I regret linking to a Business Insider article. However, this graph is compelling. Note the sharp decline in computer use when the work day ends around 5 p.m. Note the equally sharp uptick in tablet use around the same time.

This is part of why the iPad is so important to Apple. Tablets are what people are turning to in their leisure time (followed closely by phones, which Apple’s already selling a ton of). There’s still a gap between 8 am and 5 pm, though. Hence, Life on iPad.

Tablets have caught the leisure market, but people aren’t sold on using a tablet for Real Work™. The Life on iPad campaign sends a clear message: you can use it for just about anything.

Broadcasts

Setting up your own push notification service is a daunting task. It usually involves writing software and having a server you can rely on to deliver your messages. Yesterday, App.net brought push notifications to the masses. You no longer need to own or lease any hardware or write any code to, say, send push notifications about breaking news.

There are a ton of obvious uses; some are mundane, and some would be incredibly helpful. I would love to see services like GitHub use this to publish service outage notifications, for example.

I’ve gone the mundane route myself and set up new-post notifications for this blog just to test things out. You can subscribe here (or using the button in the footer).

Two Nice Features of Fantastical 2.0.1 – Macstories.net

A URL scheme parameter that isn’t mentioned in the release notes but that’s been added to Fantastical 2 (and listed here) is add=1, which lets you create a new event or reminder from the URL scheme without having to tap on the “Add” button in the app to save the new item.

This is indeed a welcome addition, and I’ve already rewired my New Reminder action in Launch Center Pro to use Fantastical instead of Drafts. I’m also using the notes flag to throw anything in my clipboard into the new reminder’s notes field. I can copy related text, a URL, or a phone number, then run the New Reminder action, and the related metadata about the reminder gets captured automatically.

David Chartier on Path and App.net

Capture

Previous entries in this series:


Okay, this is where things start to get interesting and hopefully a little fun.

Capturing your words needs to be three things:

  • Fast
  • Reliable
  • Always available

Fast

The biggest driver behind my capture system is the idea that doing things manually is slow. Opening an app, letting it sync with Dropbox, finding my Ideas file, opening it, and entering text takes too much time. Even simply launching the Evernote app on iOS can be too time consuming. Hot keys, Drafts actions, and AppleScript keep me sane and productive.

Reliable

Dropbox and Evernote became my go-to services because they Just Work. They’ve never lost my data, they never fail to sync, and I’ve yet to experience any down time, which means I never have to worry about whether the ideas I’m jotting down are going to get lost.

Always Available

For this system to work, I need ways to capture text anywhere at any time. Since I spend most of my time with iOS devices nearby, the tricks I’ve come up with rely heavily on Drafts, a text editor for iPhone and iPad that supports some incredibly clever automation techniques. Drafts lives in the dock of both my iPhone and iPad.

What Gets Captured

I’ve found that the things I capture fit into four categories:

  • Article ideas
  • Project ideas
  • Journal entries
  • Random stuff I want to remember (i.e., everything else)

Article ideas, as I previously mentioned, live in a text file in Dropbox called Ideas. Project ideas live in a note in Evernote, journal entries are in Day One, and everything else goes into my Evernote inbox notebook to be sorted and filed away later. Here’s how I get all of these things into their proper bins.

Article Ideas

When I’m on my iPad or iPhone, I could open Byword or Editorial every time I wanted to jot down one of these, but I find it’s much faster to use Drafts and the Append to Text File action. Here’s what the action looks like:

Drafts Workflow

This appends whatever text I enter into Drafts as a new line in my Ideas file prefixed by a * to maintain Markdown list formatting. Very handy.

On the Mac, I’ve rigged a Keyboard Maestro workflow that performs the same append-to-file behavior by first displaying a prompt with a text field. It’s triggered with ⌃⌥⌘I.

Input Window

Heres what the workflow looks like:

Ideas Workflow

Project Ideas

On iOS, I use a workflow similar to the Drafts-based Dropbox action above, but this one uses the Evernote version of Append to Text File. Enter an idea, run the action, and it’s saved to my Project Ideas file in Evernote.

Project Ideas

Because new project ideas come along so infrequently, I haven’t set up a quick capture method on the Mac. Instead, I just launch Evernote.

Journal Entries

This is simple: just put them straight into Day One. The Mac version offers a menu bar item that you can trigger with a hot key for quick entries. I’ve set mine up to respond to ⌃⌥⌘J. On iOS, if you find Day One to be too slow, Drafts can help. It comes with a pre-built action called Send to Day One that appears if you have Day One installed.

Stuff to Remember

Everything else gets thrown into my inbox notebook in Evernote.

On iOS—wait for it—I use Drafts. I have an action called Send to Evernote Inbox that creates a new text file with the current date and time as the file’s name. When I process my Evernote inbox, I’ll rename the file to something sensible and file it in the proper notebook.1

Evernote Inbox

On the Mac, Evernote includes a menu bar item (similar to Day One’s) called Quick Note that can be triggered with a hot key.2 I use ⌃⌥⌘N. Mash the keys, type a note, and press ⌘Return to quickly capture something. The nice thing about the Quick Note window is that, until you press ⌘Return, the content is persisted, so you can easily do something like collect a set of URLs. Copy a link, paste it into the Quick Note window, go back to your browser, copy another URL, etc., and then save the note with ⌘Return. This is really great for doing research (among other things).

What’s Next?

Made it this far? Cool, high five! Thanks for sticking around. The next entry will cover the things that you do before you write—prep and research.


  1. Being a GTD nerd, I tend to process my inbox while I’m doing my weekly review on Friday afternoons.
  2. You can customize your hot keys in Evernote’s preferences.

Knock lets you unlock your Mac by knocking on your iPhone, but not really