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iPad Diaries: Advanced File Management and Research with DEVONthink

As I wrote in my story on one year of iPad Pro, I consider cloud services a necessity for managing files on iOS. Dropbox and iCloud Drive make it possible to keep the same sets of documents and app libraries synced across devices, but, more importantly, they help overcome iOS’ file management woes through centralized storage spaces. In the article, I espoused the flexibility of Documents and its tight integration with Dropbox, noting how Readdle had built the missing iPad file manager with features Apple omitted from their iCloud Drive app.

Since early January, I’ve been thinking about my larger writing projects scheduled for 2017 and whether Documents can scale as a reference and research tool. Looking back at 2016 and the time I poured into organizing and referencing files for my iOS 10 review draft in Scrivener (which I covered here), I realized that neither Scrivener’s built-in file manager nor Documents could meet the basic requirements I have set for this year’s review. These include the ability to search different file types with advanced operators as well as a system to reference individual files and folders throughout iOS with local URLs. It was during this meta-research phase1 that I decided to try DEVONthink To Go again.

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My Must-Have iOS Apps & Web Services, 2016 Edition

2016 has been the year that I got used to iOS as my primary computing platform. After years of slowly transitioning from macOS, 2016 was all about optimizing my workflows and getting the most out of my iPhone and iPad.

As I documented in two stories – one in February, the other last week – the consolidation of my iOS-only setup revolved around the iPad Pro. I see the 12.9-inch iPad Pro as the ultimate expression of iOS for portable productivity. With my 2011 MacBook Air now used three hours a week exclusively for podcasting, I invested my time in understanding the iPad platform at a deeper level. Thus, following two years spent assessing the viability of working from iOS, 2016 was characterized by the pursuit of better iOS apps for my needs. That effort was most notable on the iPad, but it also affected the iPhone, which I see as the mobile sidekick to my iPad Pro.

Two trends emerged once I began outlining a list of candidates for my annual Must-Have Apps roundup. First, the apps that define how I work on iOS haven’t dramatically changed since last year. As you’ll see in this year’s collection, the core of what I do on iOS is in line with last year; there are some new entries and apps that have left the list, but my overall app usage is consistent with 2015.

The second pattern is more interesting. To be able to accomplish more every week and automate more aspects of my routine, I have increasingly switched to web services in lieu of iOS-only apps. In looking back at the past year of MacStories, I realized that a good portion of new workflows were based on web services, web automations, and open APIs. Some of those web services also offer iOS clients; others are strictly web-only, but I integrated them with iOS apps through Workflow and Zapier.

For these reasons, you’ll notice a difference in the 2016 edition of my roundup. In addition to my must-have iOS apps, I’ve added a section for my must-have web services. Whether I primarily use them with iOS counterparts, in Safari, or via an API, these are the web services that have helped me handle more responsibilities for my two businesses at MacStories and podcasting duties at Relay FM.

As in previous years, you’ll find a series of personal awards at the end of the story. These include my App of the Year and Runners-Up, and, for the first time, a Web Service of the Year and winners in other iOS categories.

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A Computer for Everything: One Year of iPad Pro

I wasn’t sure I needed a 12.9-inch iPad when Apple announced the iPad Pro in September 2015. And yet, over a year later, the iPad Pro is, by far, the best computer I’ve ever owned. I’ve never felt so satisfied with any other Apple device before – but the transition wasn’t easy.

After years spent adapting what I learned from the Mac to bring it to iOS, what I found on the other side was a more focused, efficient way of working and communicating with people. The iPad Pro accelerated my move to an iOS-only setup; today, I genuinely don’t know how to perform certain tasks on a Mac anymore.

I use my iPad Pro for everything. It’s my writing machine and favorite research tool, but I also rely on it to organize my finances, play games, read books and watch movies, program in Python and Workflow, and manage two successful businesses. While I’ve been advocating for such multi-purpose use of the iPad platform for a while, the iPad Pro elevated the threshold of possibilities, reaching an inflection point that has pushed others to switch to an iPad as their primary computer as well.

Much of the iPad’s strength lies in iOS and its app ecosystem. If Apple were to stop making iPads, I’d still prefer to work on a device that runs iOS rather than macOS. iOS is where app innovation happens on a regular basis with developers one-upping each other in terms of what software can achieve; I also prefer the structure and interactions of iOS itself. The iPad Pro is the purest representation of iOS: it’s a computer that can transform into anything you need it to be.

Even if this discussion was settled a long time ago, it bears repeating: millions of people today like working on iOS more than they do on macOS, and the iPad Pro is the best machine to run iOS. There is no sarcastic subtext about the Mac here, which is still a fantastic environment that many Apple users love and need for their line of work. The Mac and the iPad can coexist in a market where customers believe one is superior to the other. I prefer working on the iPad; others like their Macs more. And that’s fine because, ultimately, the Apple ecosystem as a whole grows stronger and we all reap the benefits.

Over the past year of daily iPad Pro usage, I’ve made it my personal goal to optimize my iPad workflows as much as possible. This is one of the best aspects of the iOS platform: competition between developers is fierce and you can always choose between different apps to get work done – apps that are improved on a regular basis and are constantly updated for the latest iOS technologies. With enough curiosity and patience, iOS rewards you with the discovery of new ways to work and save time.

Since my last iPad story in February, I’ve taken a hard look at my entire iPad setup and rethought the parts that weren’t working. I tried new apps, created new automations, and optimized every weak spot I could find. I improved how I collaborate with my teammates and produce weekly content for Club MacStories members. Thanks to the time I invested in understanding and fine-tuning my iPad Pro, I was able to embark on more projects, double MacStories’ growth, and manage a larger team.

As a result, my iPad Pro today is noticeably more capable than it was a year ago – all without the need for a hardware refresh.

Here’s what I’ve done.

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    #MacStoriesDeals Black Friday & Cyber Monday 2016: The Best Deals for iOS and Mac Apps & Games

    Every year, thousands of iOS and macOS app deals are launched for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. At MacStories, we handpick the best deals for iOS and Mac apps and collect them in a single roundup with links to buy or share discounted products directly. You don’t have to be overwhelmed by app deals; we take care of finding the best ones for you.

    Bookmark this post and come back to find updated deals starting today through Monday. Updates will be listed as new entries at the top of each section; iOS apps are organized in sub-categories for easier navigation.

    For real-time updates, you can find us as @MacStoriesDeals on Twitter.

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    iOS 10: The MacStories Review

    Sometimes, change is unexpected. More often than not, change sneaks in until it feels grand and inevitable. Gradually, and then suddenly. iOS users have lived through numerous tides of such changes over the past three years.

    iOS 7, introduced in 2013 as a profound redesign, was a statement from a company ready to let go of its best-selling OS’ legacy. It was time to move on. With iOS 8 a year later, Apple proved that it could open up to developers and trust them to extend core parts of iOS. In the process, a new programming language was born. And with last year’s iOS 9, Apple put the capstone on iOS 7’s design ethos with a typeface crafted in-house, and gave the iPad the attention it deserved.

    You wouldn’t have expected it from a device that barely accounted for 10% of the company’s revenues, but iOS 9 was, first and foremost, an iPad update. After years of neglect, Apple stood by its belief in the iPad as the future of computing and revitalized it with a good dose of multitasking. Gone was the long-held dogma of the iPad as a one-app-at-a-time deal; Slide Over and Split View – products of the patient work that went into size classes – brought a higher level of efficiency. Video, too, ended its tenure as a full-screen-only feature. Even external keyboards, once first-party accessories and then seemingly forgotten in the attic of the iPad’s broken promises, made a comeback.

    iOS 9 melded foundational, anticipated improvements with breakthrough feature additions. The obvious advent of Apple’s own typeface in contrast to radical iPad updates; the next logical step for web views and the surprising embrace of content-blocking Safari extensions. The message was clear: iOS is in constant evolution. It’s a machine sustained by change – however that may happen.

    It would have been reasonable to expect the tenth iteration of iOS to bring a dramatic refresh to the interface or a full Home screen makeover. It happened with another version 10 beforetwice. And considering last year’s iPad reboot, it would have been fair to imagine a continuation of that work in iOS 10, taking the iPad further than Split View.

    There’s very little of either in iOS 10, which is an iPhone release focused on people – consumers and their iPhone lifestyles; developers and a deeper trust bestowed on their apps. Like its predecessors, iOS 10 treads the line of surprising new features – some of which may appear unforeseen and reactionary – and improvements to existing functionalities.

    Even without a clean slate, and with a release cycle that may begin to split across platforms, iOS 10 packs deep changes and hundreds of subtle refinements. The final product is a major leap forward from iOS 9 – at least for iPhone users.

    At the same time, iOS 10 is more than a collection of new features. It’s the epitome of Apple’s approach to web services and AI, messaging as a platform, virtual assistants, and the connected home. And as a cornucopia of big themes rather than trivial app updates, iOS 10 shows another side of Apple’s strategy:

    Sometimes, change is necessary.

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      Club MacStories, Year One: Celebrating with Club MacStories Anniversary Month

      When I announced Club MacStories almost a year ago, I wrote:

      But, at the same time, I’m also ready for more – something a bit more focused and dedicated to our biggest fans, built with care every week and delivered with the same passion that we put into MacStories every day. Club MacStories is a new challenge for us, but I know that I, Graham, and the rest of the MacStories team can pull it off consistently and with the quality you expect from MacStories.

      If you love MacStories as much as we love making it, I hope you’ll consider becoming a Club MacStories member. This isn’t just about good feelings and supporting MacStories directly (although that’s pretty great): you’ll receive what I believe are useful and informative newsletters every week, plus a recap of everything MacStories and more every month.

      A year later, I couldn’t be happier with the progress of Club MacStories and the response from Club members. In twelve months, we’ve delivered 60 newsletters (if you’re counting: 48 issues of MacStories Weekly out of 51 weeks). We’ve featured discounts, giveaways, and eBook downloads exclusive to members, and our team has grown thanks to John’s contributions to the Club.

      I’m happy, signups to the Club keep growing on a weekly basis, and we continue to think about how to offer even more content for Club MacStories. I’m extremely thankful to everyone who’s considered the Club and signed up.

      I don’t like dwelling on self-celebrations, but a year of weekly content in addition to the site is an important milestone for us. And so, as the anniversary date was approaching, I thought it’d be appropriate to give back to our readers, show our appreciation, and celebrate the first year of Club MacStories together.

      What better way than discounts on great software, exclusively for Club MacStories members?

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      Ulysses 2.6

      Fantastic update to my iOS text editor of choice, Ulysses, released today on the App Store. Version 2.6 adds native WordPress publishing, support for external Dropbox folders, and typewriter/focus mode in the editor, among other features.

      I haven’t had enough time to test the beta of Ulysses 2.6 (I’m busy working on a big project in Scrivener), but I want to point out that I’m not going to be switching to Dropbox sync again. Ulysses’ iCloud sync has been rock-solid – I haven’t run into a single data loss/conflict once – and it has the added benefit of supporting notes and images attached to sheets. Dropbox only works with text sheets, and I’ve been relying to the ability to save images inside my text documents for Club MacStories and other app reviews at MacStories. Having image attachments live alongside sheets is what sets Ulysses apart from text editors I’ve used before, and it’s only possible with iCloud.

      I’m also going to consider Ulysses’ WordPress publishing instead of my workflow. I like how Ulysses lets me preview a post with custom CSS, and there’s even a way to create linked posts by setting the title at the top of a sheet to a link (it automatically applies a custom field under the hood). It’s incredibly clever, with just the right amount of options to check before publishing.

      Ulysses 2.6 is available on the App Store.

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      Connected, Episode 100: Tepid Takes

      On the centennial episode of Connected, the crew covers #TicciMentee program applications, checks out Scrivener for iOS and considers iOS 10’s widgets and privacy features.

      On this week’s Connected, we celebrate episode 100 with a very special surprise and a host of iOS 10 topics. I’d like to thank everyone who has listened to us so far. I’m excited to keep producing Connected every week with Myke and Stephen.

      You can listen here.

      Sponsored by:

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      #MacStoriesDeals Black Friday & Cyber Monday 2015: The Best Deals for iOS and Mac Apps & Games

      Every year, thousands of iOS and OS X software deals are launched for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. At MacStories, we handpick the best deals for iOS and Mac apps and collect them in a single post with links to buy or share discounted products directly. You don’t have to be overwhelmed by app deals; we take care of finding the best stuff for you.

      Bookmark this post and come back to find updated deals starting today through Monday. Updates will be listed as new entries at the top of each category. This year, we’ve also organized iOS apps in sub-categories to make navigation easier.

      For real-time updates, you can find us as @MacStoriesDeals on Twitter.

      Read more