Posts tagged with "iOS"

Balance

When I started MacStories in 2009, two pillars sustained the narrative around Apple: its “attention to detail” and the “just works” aspect of its software. Since iOS 7, it feels like those pillars have begun eroding at a quicker pace.

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“Fork iOS for iPad”

Khoi Vinh, writing about iOS for iPad:

Unlike the projects above, this one could positively affect Apple’s bottom line: as I wrote in October, I believe that the iPad is at a crossroads. Its growth has stalled, and it’s failed to serve as a launching pad for transformative new software experiences and businesses the way its older sibling the iPhone has. What the iPad needs now is unique reasons for being—something that may be difficult to achieve while it remains in lockstep with the iPhone. Forking the operating system so that a dedicated team can focus exclusively on improvements that benefit the iPad solely could provide the right opportunity to open up new vistas for the device.

Of course, we'll have to wait and see results for the holiday quarter to assess sales of Apple's new iPad lineup and there have been major changes in iPad initiatives lately, but Khoi has a point.

I've long argued (see: iOS 7) that iOS doesn't feel truly optimized for the iPad and that several components of the OS are enlarged versions of their iPhone counterparts. Simplicity has always been one of the core tenets of the iPad, but sometimes simplicity works against user experience when functionality is too closely modelled after a smaller display for the sake of consistency or, worse, time constraints. I don't know if Apple needs to “fork” iOS for iPad and make it a separate entity, but improvements meant solely for iPad software would be great (multitasking, perhaps?).

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Workflow Tip: Append Text to the iOS Clipboard

If you do any sort of note-taking or writing on iOS, you probably find yourself wishing you'd be able to copy separate bits of text in the clipboard simultaneously. While that's still not possible because the iOS clipboard only supports one entry at a time, the process can be sped up with Workflow.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was looking for an extension to append links to an existing note through the system share sheet. I eventually downloaded NoteBox, which has an iOS 8 extension that can quickly capture any string of text and that has a merge feature to collect separate notes into a single one. That wasn't perfect, but it allowed me to collect dozens of tweets and prepare them for a blog post on MacStories in just a couple of minutes.

With Workflow, I came up with a better system that uses extensions and the ability to append text to the iOS clipboard. This is the workflow I use, which does three simple things:

  1. Receives input (text) from the Workflow action extension;
  2. Adds the input to your existing clipboard;
  3. Updates the system clipboard with the added input text.

In practice, this means that, using any app capable of showing the share sheet, you can add some text to your clipboard as a new line without convoluted steps of manual copy & paste. Want to add some tweets to a link you copied? In Twitterrific, run the workflow on those tweets and they will be added to the clipboard. Multiple links in Safari or RSS? Copy the first one as you'd normally do, then add more through the workflow. You won't have to manually merge the contents of the clipboard as long as you use the Workflow action extension to append text.

I'm using this workflow every day to end up with a clipboard that contains multiple links, email addresses, or generic strings of text, and it's been a great timesaver. You can download the workflow here.




Drafts 4 Review

Drafts is one of my all-time favorite apps on iOS, not only for its amazing utility, but also because it was the app that got me started writing about technology, so it has a special place in my heart. However, surveying what the app has looked like since its last big update over a year ago, it’s been clear to me that an unchanged Drafts would stagnate in the post-iOS 8 world. In the face of new methods of inter-app communication such as extensions, documents pickers, and widgets, surviving on URL scheme-based utilities alone would likely not be enough to keep Drafts relevant.

This is Drafts though, an app that has been at the forefront of iOS automation since the field began. I should not have been worried. Released today on the App Store as a new, iOS 8-only, and Universal app, Drafts 4 is an evolution which boasts a huge number of improvements and represents a much needed shift in direction. With a UI refresh, a smarter and more accessible interface for building actions, a fantastic Share extension, a customizable extended keyboard, an enhanced URL scheme, and the intriguing introduction of JavaScript scripts for text manipulation, Drafts 4 is Agile Tortoise’s statement that they are ready for the challenges of a modern iOS.

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Based on Launch Center Pro, Contact Center Simplifies Contact Shortcuts

Contact Center is not for me. The latest product from Contrast, Contact Center is a simplified version of Launch Center Pro that brings a subset of its features to a free iPhone app supported by ads and aimed at a less geeky and power-user audience. I don't need Contact Center. But, at the same time, I recognize that it's a great idea from the Contrast team, cleverly executed in this 1.0 release.

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The Slow Death of Buttons in iOS

Simone Rizzo has a good post on iOS and the progressive demotion of buttons, arguing that there's a reason Apple has started adding gestures to perform actions that used to be exclusively associated with buttons.

Assuming I’m right in spotting this trend of a) removing the need for buttons to interact with iOS or b) removing the need for the buttons to be on a specific point on the screen, the next obvious question is why. Why would Apple move away from an admittedly easy way of interacting with iOS, one that arguably sustained the initial success of the iPhone and iPad?

The addition of new gestures for key tasks (particularly navigation in iOS 7 and one-handed picture sharing in iOS 8's Messages) mixes well with iOS' new design structure, but I, too, believe that it signals upcoming bigger devices. (We'll see in September, I guess.)

The trade-off with relying on gestures too much is that, without clear borders, shadows, or realistic elements that indicate interactivity and state for buttons, the overall experience can be confusing and the interface difficult to use. A year later, I find myself occasionally struggling to make out buttons from labels, stopping my finger for a fraction of a second as I wonder “Is this a button?”. In other cases, I slow down my swipe because I can't remember if the app I'm in supports that Back gesture. I don't think I'm alone in this, but it's undeniable that gestures – whether suggested (like the Camera shortcut in the Lock screen) or implied – are becoming more prominent in iOS.

An OS that doesn't rely on buttons in fixed positions should make for a better experience when using a larger device. The issue with “button” design in iOS is still a hot topic in design circles, and I imagine that gesture discoverability will be as important if Apple is really working on a bigger iPhone. Perhaps some sort of guide to discover features could help.

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