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IA Writer Now iOS 4.2-ready

I’ve been waiting for this update: when IA Writer first came out, I couldn’t use it. I was already running iOS 4.2 beta on my iPad, and the app had a few bugs with the new operating system. The focus mode wasn’t working (and that feature is possibly the most important one in the app), custom keys didn’t match.

With the latest 1.0.2 that showed up a few minutes ago in iTunes, the app is finally ready for the elusive OS. Subfolders and auto-sync aren’t included yet, but they’re coming soon.

Finally, I can use IA Writer. Go get it, as it seems totally worth it.


Dialog Season 1 Finale, Writers and Writing: Wrap-Up

Today on Dialog, we conclude season one with a discussion of what we learned from each of our guests. Despite vastly different backgrounds, there were several themes that ran throughout our interviews with John Gruber, Frank Turner, John August, Carrie Patel, and Pierce Brown. To wrap up season one we revisit getting started as a writer, the impact and use of social media, influences and idea generation, getting past writer’s block, and the roles of hard work, luck, and privilege in succeeding.

Thank you for listening to season one of Dialog. We haven’t decided when season two will begin, but we’ll be back with an all-new set of guests and a different topic in the near future. In the meantime, if you missed any of previous interviews, go back and check them out. A big benefit of a show like Dialog is that the topics are evergreen and just as relevant today as they were when they were first published.

We also want to thank each of our guests for taking the time to chat with us about writing. Without the generosity of John Gruber, Frank Turner, John August, Carrie Patel, and Pierce Brown, this season wouldn’t have been possible. Thanks too to this season’s sponsors who believed in the show and supported it before we had even recorded the first episode.

You can find the final episode of season one here or listen through the Dialog web player below.

Sponsored by:

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Ulysses 19 Brings iPad Cursor Support, External Folders, Material Sheets, and More

The latest version of Ulysses, the excellent Markdown editor, is available now. Ulysses 19 offers enhancements in several different areas, from fully optimizing for the new iPadOS cursor, to supporting external folders for the first time, introducing a new ‘material’ designation for sheets, and adding keyword improvements, exportable backups, and even a new font. It’s a strong update, and one that continues to prove Ulysses the best app for my writing needs.

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Dialog Season 1, Episode 3: A Conversation with John Gruber (Part 2)

Today, we published the second part of our Dialog interview with John Gruber of Daring Fireball. You can find the episode here or listen in the Dialog web player below.

Like Federico, John Gruber was one of the first people I thought of when we began planning this first season of Dialog about writers and writing. Daring Fireball was an inspiration for me too, but in a slightly different way.

I first met Gruber in 2012 at the first Úll conference in Dublin, Ireland, where he was a surprise speaker. That was before I built my first iOS app or was writing or podcasting. I went to Úll on a lark to get a closer look at the iOS developer community I’d been following as I started to teach myself Objective-C. By the end of three days chatting with Gruber and other writers and developers at Úll, I knew I wanted to be part of that scene, creating my own apps. It would be almost three years before I launched Blink, my first app that drew any attention, and five before I could quit my old job, but that’s precisely why this second part of our interview with Gruber resonated with me.

Daring Fireball started like many indie businesses: as a labor of love that Gruber wrote on the side while working another job. The site didn’t earn enough to make it a full-time job at first, but over time it grew, and Gruber was faced with a choice. Daring Fireball had reached a point where it had a shot at supporting him and his family, but not unless he quit his day job, which he did.

In the latest installment of Dialog, we continue our conversation about the difficulty of making it as an indie writer online today. Gruber discusses how his priorities have shaped Daring Fireball, the audience for whom he writes, and maintaining the site’s relevance long-term.

Of course, no interview with Gruber would be complete without talking about Markdown. Although we nearly forgot to ask about it, I’m glad we did because it’s not easy to remember that Markdown, which debuted 15 years ago, took a while to catch on. Markdown’s human-readable syntax may not have clicked with writers on the web in 2004, but as more people who didn’t have experience with HTML started their own websites, Markdown gained momentum. Today, it’s used on all sorts of platforms and in text editors, blogging tools, and even Apple’s own Xcode IDE.

As we conclude our first Dialog interview, I want to thank John Gruber for taking the time to be our first guest on Dialog. Next week, we’ll begin a two-part interview with singer-songwriter Frank Turner, who we caught up with as he passed through Madison, Wisconsin on tour last month. I’m excited to share those episodes for a couple of reasons. First, it was a personal thrill to interview Turner, whose music I love. Second, while the conversation is a departure from what you likely hear on a lot of your favorite tech podcasts, there are fascinating parallels between John Gruber’s writing on Daring Fireball and Turner’s songwriting, which is precisely what we’d hoped for when we began this season.

Finally, thanks for listening. If you missed the first part of our interview with John Gruber you can listen to it here, and you can subscribe to the podcast here. Also, if you’re enjoying the show, please take a moment to rate it in iTunes or recommend it in Overcast to help others discover it.


Dialog Season 1, Episode 2: A Conversation with John Gruber

Today, we published the second episode of Dialog Season 1 (called ‘Writers and Writing’) featuring the first part of a conversation with Daring Fireball’s John Gruber.

You can find the episode here or listen through the Dialog web player below.

I’d like to provide some context around this interview as John Gruber was one of the first names I thought of when my colleague John pitched the original idea for Dialog months ago.

When I started MacStories 10 years ago, Daring Fireball was one of my main sources of inspiration: I was incredibly fascinated by the idea that a single person – more than a blogger, a writer – could share his opinions about Apple and technology on a website that was so clearly attached to his name. Gruber’s columns and original in-depth software reviews were the blueprints upon which I modeled my writing for MacStories: at the time, I felt that, even though English was not my primary language, I could at least try to do the same, but for iPhone apps and the modern age of the App Store and iOS developers.

Of course, as I shared for our tenth anniversary coverage in April, MacStories’ style and scope changed throughout the years: I realized I didn’t want to run a single-person website anymore and we expanded to newsletters and, most recently, podcast production. However, two of the underlying principles that I observed in Daring Fireball a decade ago still inspire my work and MacStories to this day: MacStories is a website by Federico Viticci and Friends (it’s right there in the logo), and I want to publish longform, personal opinion columns in addition to news, app reviews, and links.

John Gruber and Daring Fireball created a framework for other independent online writers to follow in the late 2000s, particularly in the Apple community. From this very website to 512 Pixels or Six Colors, I genuinely believe we owe a lot to John Gruber’s experiments with online ads, sponsors, memberships, and merch – ideas that, in many ways, he pioneered over 15 years ago when it was uncommon and, to an extent, perhaps even frowned upon – to try and monetize an “indie site” on the open web.

In this week’s episode of Dialog, we asked John to tell the story of his first experiences as a writer (and later editor-in-chief) of the school newspaper at Drexel, where he majored in computer science. That intersection of programming and in-depth, opinionated writing ended up shaping John’s entire career as a freelancer, documentation writer at Bare Bones Software, and, finally, independent writer at Daring Fireball. In addition to contextualizing John’s experiences as a newspaper columnist and editor in the early 90s, in the interview we covered topics such as the role of luck and privilege, how Daring Fireball’s beginnings can be traced back to Apple’s renaissance with the iPod, and, of course, the business of writing online and how he sees the influence of Daring Fireball over the indie Apple community.

I’m happy we were able to interview John for this first season of Dialog, and I like how the entire conversation turned out. It’s inspiring to hear the backstory of Daring Fireball and the core ideas at the foundation of one of the most successful indie websites on the Internet. In Part 2 of this interview, out next week, we’ll continue to dig deeper into the business of Daring Fireball, how John makes a distinction between linked posts and regular columns, his podcast The Talk Show, and, of course Markdown.

If you haven’t subscribed to Dialog yet, now’s a good time to do so. You can listen to the first part of our interview with John Gruber here, and subscribe to Dialog so you’ll instantly receive Part 2 when it drops next week.


Introducing a New MacStories Podcast: Dialog, Where Creativity Meets Technology

Federico and I are excited to announce a new MacStories podcast called Dialog. The show is a seasonal podcast featuring weekly, in-depth conversations with special guests about the impact of technology on creativity, society, and culture.

You can subscribe here and listen to the first episode on Apple Podcasts.

You can also listen to the first episode on the Dialog website here.

Each season will be organized around a central theme and include in-depth discussions with guests with expertise in the season’s topic. To kick things off, season 1 is all about writers and writing. You’ll hear from a combination of familiar and unfamiliar voices, all of whom are accomplished writers with backgrounds in journalism, songwriting, fiction, screenwriting, and more. Since we began recording episodes, it’s been fascinating to hear guests share their unique perspective on writing, the creative process, and the business of writing and discover areas of overlap between very different kinds of writing.

Seasonal Format and Future Guests

Dialog is a sort of spin-off of AppStories, our podcast about the world of apps. The interviews we’ve done on AppStories are some of the most popular episodes we’ve produced. However, over time, we realized that AppStories’ format is too constrained to do justice to many of the interviews we want to do. The self-imposed time limit of that show and its topical focus became a barrier.

That led me to sketch out the contours of what would become Dialog during our annual MacStories winter holiday break. To overcome AppStories’ constraints, I decided we needed to flip that show on its head both structurally and topically.

Structurally, Dialog’s conversations with guests are far more in-depth than we could accomplish in a 30-minute AppStories interview. Dialog’s interviews will run as long as two hours but will be split over two episodes to keep each episode to about one hour long. It’s a format that also provides headroom for Federico and me to participate more fully in each episode; less like a traditional interview and more of a conversation with our guests.

Topically, Dialog’s focus is also broader than any interview we’ve done on AppStories. Of course, you can expect Federico and me to come at each season from a tech angle, but that’s the lens through which each season will be viewed more than it is the subject matter of the seasons themselves.

Although Dialog is different than anything we’ve done before, its roots are also firmly grounded in MacStories’ character. We enjoy the apps and hardware we try every day, but what we love the most is telling the stories of the people who make those things, exploring how they empower creativity, and reflecting on their impact on the world around us. Dialog is a natural extension of our approach to technology.

The first episode of Dialog, which you can listen and subscribe to here, introduces the topics we will cover this season. Federico and I talk about our backgrounds in writing, how we got started, our approach to writing at MacStories, the business of writing online, and a lot more.

Next week, we’ll be joined for a two-part conversation by our first guest, John Gruber of Daring Fireball, who will be followed by singer-songwriter Frank Turner, and other guests throughout the summer. At the end of the season, Federico and I will wrap up what we’ve heard and learned from the writers we’ve talked to before taking a break to plan season 2.

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iPad Diaries: Using a Mac from iOS, Part 1 – Finder Folders, Siri Shortcuts, and App Windows with Keyboard Maestro

iPad Diaries is a regular series about using the iPad as a primary computer. You can find more installments here and subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.

After several years without updates to a product that, somewhat oddly, “remained in Apple’s lineup”, the Mac mini was revived by the company last November with a major redesign geared toward pro users and designed for flexibility. As listeners of Connected know, one of the show’s long-running jokes was that I would buy my last Mac ever as soon as Apple released a new Mac mini1; when it happened, I took the opportunity to completely rethink my home office with a new desk, well-specced Mac mini, and 4K display that supported both modern Macs and iPad Pros via USB-C.

Effectively, I had never owned a desktop Mac until2 this Mac mini arrived. I always preferred portable Macs to workstations, and over the years I moved from a late 2008 MacBook Pro to a 2011 MacBook Air and, in 2015, back to the (now Retina) MacBook Pro again. Over the past couple of years, however, and particularly since the introduction of iOS 11, my penchant for Mac laptops started clashing with the realization that the iPad Pro had become my de-facto laptop. I was using a MacBook Pro because I thought I needed a portable Mac machine just like when I started MacStories in 2009; in reality, the iPad had been chipping away at the MacBook’s core tasks for a while. Eventually, I saw how my MacBook Pro had become a computer I’d open twice a week to record podcasts, and nothing more.

With the iPad Pro as my primary computer, the Mac’s role in my life evolved into a fixed environment that was necessary for multi-track audio recording and Plex Media Server. And as I shared on Connected on several occasions, I realized that my workflow in 2018 wasn’t the same as 2009 anymore: it no longer made sense for me to have a Mac laptop when what I really needed was a small, but powerful and extensible Mac desktop. That’s why I started waiting for a new Mac mini, and my wishes were granted with the 2018 relaunch of the mighty desktop machine.

For the past three months, I’ve been busy setting up the Mac mini and optimizing it for the tasks that inspired its purchase. I bought external SSD drives (these two) to use for Plex and Time Machine backups; I set up a homebridge server to add unsupported accessories to HomeKit (such as our 2017 LG TV) and turn iTunes playlists into HomeKit scenes; I rethought my podcasting setup (I now have a Zoom H6 recorder and a taller microphone stand) and arranged my desk to make it easier to use the same UltraFine 4K display with the Mac mini and iPad Pro (I just need to plug in a different USB-C cable). Because this Mac mini is fast enough to handle 4K transcoding for Plex without breaking a sweat, I started using youtube-dl to enjoy 4K YouTube videos on iOS devices with the Infuse or Plex apps. I’m trying to take advantage of a powerful, always-on Mac server in any way I can, and I’m having lots of fun doing it.

This doesn’t change the fact that the iPad Pro is my main computer, and that I want to interact with macOS as little as possible. Aside from recording podcasts using Mac apps, I rely on the Mac mini as a server that performs tasks or provides media in the background. Any server requires a front-end interface to access and manage it; in my case, that meant finding apps, creating shortcuts, and setting up workflows on my iPad Pro to access, manage, and use the Mac mini from iOS without having to physically sit down in front of it.

In this multi-part series, I’m going to cover how I’m using the 2018 iPad Pro to access my Mac mini both locally and remotely, the apps I employ for file management, the custom shortcuts I set up to execute macOS commands from iOS and the HomePod, various automations I created via AppleScript and Keyboard Maestro, and more. Let’s dive in.

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  1. It was funny because everybody thought the Mac mini line was done. ↩︎
  2. Many years ago, I did use an iMac for a few months. However, I never considered that machine truly mine – it was set up at my parents' house (where it now sits unused) and I worked on it for a while until I moved in with my girlfriend a few months later. ↩︎

iPad Diaries: The Many Setups of the 2018 iPad Pro

iPad Diaries is a regular series about using the iPad as a primary computer. You can find more installments here and subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.

One of my favorite aspects of working on the iPad is the flexibility granted by its extensible form factor. At its very essence, the iPad is a screen that you can hold in your hands to interact with apps using multitouch. But what makes iPad unique is that, unlike a desktop computer or laptop, it is able to take on other forms – and thus adapt to different contexts – simply by connecting to a variety of removable accessories. The iPad can be used while relaxing on a couch or connected to a 4K display with a Bluetooth keyboard; you can work on it while waiting in a car thanks to built-in 4G LTE, or put it into a Brydge keyboard case and turn it into a quasi-MacBook laptop that will confuse a lot of your friends who aren’t familiar with iPad Pro accessories1. In a way, the iPad is modern computing’s version of Kirby, the famous Nintendo character that is a blank canvas on its own, but can absorb the capabilities of other characters when necessary.

Thanks to its USB-C port, the new iPad Pro takes this aspect of the traditional iPad experience even further by enabling easier connections to external devices that don’t come with a Lightning connector. At this stage, the new iPad Pro does not integrate with all USB-C accessories like any modern Mac would; also, connecting to Bluetooth keyboards has always been possible on iPad, as was interacting with external USB keyboards if you had the right Lightning adapter. But the point is that USB-C makes it easier to connect an iPad Pro to other USB devices either by virtue of using a single USB-C cable or, in the case of USB-A accessories, using existing USB-C hubs from any company that isn’t Apple. Not to mention how, thanks to the increased bandwidth of the USB 3.1 Gen. 2 spec supported by the iPad Pro’s USB-C port, it is now possible to connect the device directly to an external 4K/5K USB-C monitor, which can power the iPad Pro and act as a USB hub at the same time.

We haven’t seen the full picture of built-in USB-C with the new iPad Pro: external drives still aren’t supported by iOS’ Files app, and other peripherals often require app developers to specifically support them. However, I believe the removal of Lightning is already enhancing the iPad’s innate ability to adapt to a plurality of work setups and transform itself into a portable computer of different kinds. For the past few weeks, I’ve been testing this theory with Bluetooth and USB keyboards, a 4K USB-C monitor, USB-C hubs, and a handful of accessories that, once again, highlight the greater flexibility of the iPad Pro compared to traditional laptops and desktops, as well as some of its drawbacks.

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A Promising Work in Progress: Initial Thoughts on HomePod

At the start, you should know two things about me: HomePod is the first smart speaker I’ve ever owned, and I’m all-in on the Apple ecosystem.

These facts make me the HomePod’s perfect customer, and they will surely color my comments. I’m guessing if I had more experience with other smart speakers, or I didn’t own nearly every modern Apple product, my thoughts on HomePod would be different. That said, here are my early impressions.

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