Posts tagged with "iOS"

BitTorrent Sync 2.0

I used version 1 of BitTorrent Sync for many months, and started using version 2 as soon as it reached beta. Having used BitTorrent Sync regularly, I now find Dropbox to be incredibly slow, especially when syncing large files or even a large number of files. In some ways, BitTorrent Sync version 2 feels like the version they really wanted to make (akin to the iPhone 3GS or the second-generation MacBook Air).

From the official announcement:

We’re now ready to take the beta tag off and deliver a final product. All of the core functionality we introduced in version 1.4 last August still exist in 2.0, letting you securely share folders across all platforms, with visibility into who has access. A bunch of new functionality has been added, from enhanced user interfaces across desktop and mobile platforms to a new certificates-based security model with even greater control and ease-of-use.

Version 1 was good, but version 2 is great. How great? I plan to drop my paid Dropbox account when it expires, not just because BitTorrent Sync is cheaper, but because it’s so much better.

BitTorrent Sync has often attracted critics who complain that it isn’t open source. That’s true, it isn’t. For those who demand such things, other options exist. If you like building things from source, Java, or pre-alpha software, good luck and Godspeed. However, if you prefer to avoid those things, and are more interested in design, features, stability, usability, and an app you can use today (instead of something that seems like it might be good someday), I highly recommend BitTorrent Sync.

All of its new pro features are available for free for 30 days. After that, they will cost $40/year (that’s “per person” not per device). Don’t want to pay? BitTorrent Sync’s free version is still faster option than Dropbox, with no storage limits, and no limits on file sizes or transfer speeds.

Get BitTorrent Sync for Mac, Windows, Linux and FreeBSD. (Mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Amazon Kindle Fire should be available later today.)

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Workflow 1.1: Deeper iOS Automation

Released by a small team of indies in December 2014, Workflow reinvented iOS automation. Combining an interface reminiscent of Apple's Automator for OS X with easy access to native iOS features such as Safari, the photo library, and iOS 8 extensions, Workflow promised to make automating tasks on an iPhone and iPad a simple and pleasant affair. The results spoke for themselves: Apple selected Workflow as Editor's Choice, the app trended for weeks in the App Store's Top Charts, and thousands of users released interesting and useful workflows in various online communities. MacStories readers may remember that Workflow was my iPad app of the year.

Workflow is one of those few apps that have dramatically changed how I work on my iPad. For me, the point of using Workflow isn't to put together chains of actions to show off the app's power – I just want to save time I can spend doing something else. While I have fun experimenting with Workflow and understanding its capabilities, ultimately the app just sits there in the background, waiting for me to call a series of actions I need. I love Workflow the most when it's summoned for those two seconds and it does something magic that would have normally required minutes of manual interaction. Things like appending links to Evernote, converting spreadsheets to Markdown tables, or adding text to the clipboard.

Workflow fits my routine like a glove. I've used it every day to automate aspects of my work that speed up how I write and communicate on my iOS devices. And with Workflow 1.1, released today on the App Store, its developers are further expanding the app's capabilities with powerful new functionality that includes filtering, better conditionals and image manipulation, URL expansion and deeper calendar access, and even the ability to open multiple links at once in a web browser.

Version 1.1 of Workflow includes over 50 new actions and dozens of fixes, improvements, and changes to existing actions. Core parts of the app have been revised for a faster experience and the foundation laid with the Content Graph has started to pay off with the addition of metadata and filters. Because I've been playing around with Workflow 1.1 since the app's original release two months ago, I'm going to offer some practical examples with a high-level overview of the changes.

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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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