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My Markdown Writing and Collaboration Workflow, Powered by Working Copy 3.6, iCloud Drive, and GitHub

For the past couple of years, I (and the rest of the MacStories team) have used Working Copy to store and collaborate on Markdown drafts for our articles. As I explained in a story from late 2016, even though Working Copy is a Git client primarily designed for programmers, it is possible to leverage the app’s capabilities to perform version control for plain text too. Each MacStories team member has a private GitHub repository where we store Markdown files of our articles; in the same repository, other writers can make edits to drafts and commit them to GitHub; this way, the author can then pull back the edited file and use Working Copy’s built-in diff tool to see what’s changed from the last version of the file and read comments left by whoever edited the draft.1

As I mentioned two years ago, this system takes a while to get used to: GitHub has a bit of overhead in terms of understanding the correct terminology for different aspects of its file management workflow, but Working Copy makes it easier by abstracting much of the complexity involved with committing files, pushing them, and comparing them. This system has never failed us in over two years, and it has saved us dozens of hours we would have otherwise spent exchanging revised versions of our drafts and finding changes in them. With Working Copy, we can use the text editors we each prefer and, as long as we overwrite the original copies of our drafts and keep track of commits, the app will take care of merging everything and displaying differences between versions. From a collaboration standpoint, using Working Copy and GitHub for file storage and version control has been one of the best decisions I made in recent years.

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AppStories, Episode 54 – Pick 2: GoodNotes and Working Copy

On this week’s episode of AppStories, we pick two apps we use regularly to discuss. In this installment of Pick 2, John covers GoodNotes and how he uses it for planning and editing, and Federico explains how he and the MacStories team use Working Copy to collaborate on articles.

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Working Copy Integrates with the Files App and Drag and Drop

We use Working Copy every day to collaborate on articles for MacStories and Club MacStories. It’s an excellent tool for working as a group because it lets us easily track edits to documents and stay in sync with the latest version of an article. Ours isn’t the most common use for an iOS Git client – it’s usually used by developers – but it serves to illustrate the flexibility of Working Copy, which has only grown more useful with an update that incorporates new iOS 11 functionality.

Working Copy is a file provider in the Files app. This is a very big deal. Ulysses has had external file support for a while, but iOS 11 streamlines the process of accessing articles in our shared repos greatly. With a couple of taps in Ulysses, the document browser opens up with the familiar Files interface. There’s a folder for each of the repos I share with MacStories team members. All I need to do is select the document I want to edit, and any changes I make are saved to Working Copy. When I’m finished, I open Working Copy and commit my changes – that’s it. You can do the same with any app that supports document providers like Textastic, iA Writer, and 1Writer.

Because Working Copy is a document provider, you can also access your repos from the Files app. There, you can move files into folders, drag new files in, and delete files. When you’re finished, just sync everything up in Working Copy. You can even add tags and assign favorite folders.

With drag and drop support, it’s easy to get files in and out of your repos. When we do Home screen features in Club MacStories, I typically get drafts and screenshots sent to me by email. Now, all I have to do is drag attachments from Airmail straight into the Club MacStories repo in the Files app then commit the changes in Working Copy. This is the sort of thing I used to prefer to do on my Mac or would do by pasting text into Ulysses and then adding the document to Working Copy with its share extension, which was cumbersome and fiddly.

You can also drag files out of Working Copy to send them by email or drop them into another app for editing in place. Though I haven’t needed to do this yet, ZIP archives can be dragged into Working Copy where you are given the option to extract them into your repo.

Working Copy continues to grow in its versatility. With each passing revision, there are fewer and fewer reasons for me to use the GitHub Desktop app on my Mac. My needs are relatively simple. I work with a relatively small set of Markdown files shared with one or two people at once, but even if you have more robust requirements from a Git client, take a look at Working Copy, you may be surprised at just how much you can accomplish on your iPad these days.

Working Copy is available on the App Store.


Sidecar in iPadOS 13 and macOS Catalina: Working Seamlessly Between an iPad and Mac

The core experience of using Sidecar is fantastic. Part of the reason is that running an iPad as a second display for a Mac with Sidecar is immediately familiar to anyone who has ever used multiple displays. The added screen real estate, portability, and functionality are part of the appeal too. Of course, there are differences that I’ll get into, but Sidecar is so close to a traditional dual-display setup that I expect it will become a natural extension of the way many people work on the Mac.

There’s more going on with Sidecar though, which didn’t dawn on me until I’d been using it for a while. One of the themes that emerged from this year’s WWDC is deeper integration across all of Apple’s platforms. As I’ve written in the past, SwiftUI is designed to accomplish that in the long-term across all the devices Apple makes. In contrast, Catalyst is a shorter-term way to tie the Mac and iPad closer together by bringing iPad apps to the Mac and encouraging developers to build more robust iPad apps.

Sidecar strikes me as part of the same story. Apple made it clear when they introduced Catalyst in 2018 at WWDC that it’s not replacing macOS with iOS. Some tasks are better suited for a Mac than an iPad and vice versa. Sidecar acknowledges those differences by letting an iPad become an extension of your Mac for tasks best suited to it. At the same time, however, Sidecar takes advantage of functionality that’s unavailable on the Mac, like the Apple Pencil. Combined with the ability to switch seamlessly between using Mac apps running in Sidecar and native iPadOS apps, what you’ve effectively got is a touchscreen Mac.

However, to understand the potential Sidecar unlocks, it’s necessary to first dive into the details of what the new feature enables as well as its limitations.

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11 Tips for Working on the iPad

In a recent episode of Connected, we rounded up some of our favorite “iOS little wonders” and Myke was surprised by one of my picks: the ability to launch individual notes on iOS through shared links. The ensuing discussion inspired me to assemble a list of tips and tricks to improve how you can work on an iPad with iOS 11.

Even though I covered or mentioned some of these suggestions in my iOS 11 review or podcast segments before, I realized that it would useful to explain them in detail again for those who missed them. From keyboard recommendations and shortcuts to gestures and Siri, I’ve tried to remember all the little tricks I use to get work done on my iPad Pro on a daily basis.

After several years of being iPad-only for the majority of my work, I often take some of these features for granted. And admittedly, Apple doesn’t always do a great job at teaching users about these lesser known details, which have become especially important after the productivity-focused iPad update in iOS 11. I hope this collection can be useful for those who haven’t yet explored the fascinating world of iPad productivity.

Let’s dig in.

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iPad Diaries: Working with Drag and Drop – Bear and Gladys

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.

In my review of iOS 11, I noted that the impact of drag and drop – arguably, the most powerful addition to the iPad – would be best measured in the following weeks, after developers had the time to update their apps with richer implementations of the framework. I dedicated a large portion of my review to drag and drop as I felt the feature would fundamentally reshape our interactions with iPad apps and the entire OS altogether. However, I knew that wouldn’t happen right away. With iOS 11 having been available for nearly two months now, I think it’s time to reassess the effect of drag and drop on the iPad’s app ecosystem.

Starting this week, I’m going to take a look at some of the most important tasks I perform on my iPad and how drag and drop is helping me rethink them for my typical workflow. For the comeback of this column, I chose to focus on Bear and Gladys – a note-taking app and a shelf app, respectively – as I’ve been impressed with their developers’ understanding of iOS 11 and intricacies of drag and drop.

When I started researching this mini-series, I assumed that drag and drop hadn’t dramatically affected my favorite third-party apps yet. I was wrong. Drag and drop has started to trickle down into several areas of my daily iPad usage, often with surprising and powerful results.

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iPad Diaries: Working with Zip Archives

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.


Compressing files into archives and extracting them into a specific location is one of the most common desktop tasks that is still surprisingly tricky to adapt to the iPad.

Unlike macOS, the iPad doesn’t come with a built-in Archive Utility app that takes care of decompressing archives, nor does iOS include a native ‘Compress Files’ system action to create and share archives. I’d wager that anyone who works from an iPad deals with file archives on a regular basis, whether they come from email clients, Dropbox links shared by colleagues, or uploads in a Slack channel.

Archives – and the popular .zip format – are a staple of document-based workflows and file management, but the iPad isn’t well-equipped to handle them. Working with .zip files on iOS is among the most frequent questions I receive from iPad-first users every week; effectively, Apple only offers basic integration with iOS’ Quick Look when it comes to file archives. Fortunately, just like advanced file management, we have some solid third-party options and automation to help us.

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Working from an iPhone

One of my goals in 2016 was to make working from my iPhone as efficient as possible. The desire to make this happen initially sprung from experiences raising a baby. My wife and I began foster parenting in July of 2015, and one of our foster children was AJ, a four-week-old baby boy. AJ ended up staying with us for about a year before returning to his birth mother, and in that year I learned that when raising a baby, there are frequently occasions when only one hand is available for computing. I would often have a hand tied up feeding AJ or carrying him around, and if I needed to get any work done during that time, my iPad Pro was no help. iPads are built for two-handed computing, while iPhones work great with one.

In addition to the motivation of being able to get work done with one hand, one of the things I’ve learned during the past couple years is that the best computer for work is the one you have with you. Despite the iPad Pro being more portable than most Macs, it still pales in portability compared to the iPhone. Because my iPad doesn’t travel with me everywhere, I need to be able to do anything on my iPhone that I can on my iPad.

Between my two current jobs, much of my work can be done while on the go – whether I’m waiting for an oil change to be completed, standing in a seemingly endless DMV line, or any similar scenario. In these short intervals of life, there are moments work can be done – which is where my iPhone comes in, because it’s with me wherever I go.

If and when a pressing work issue comes up, in many cases it can’t just be ignored until I get back to my desk; my iPhone needs to be capable of handling the task. Even if the issue isn’t time-sensitive, getting things done while I’m out makes the load lighter when I do get back to my desk.

I’ve grown extremely proficient in using my iPhone to get things done, and there are six key things I’ve identified that make that possible.

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Working with Duet Display

Stumbling around on a Monday morning, I wake up too late, throw on a hat, and unplug four devices: my 12.9” iPad Pro, my iPhone 7, its companion Apple Watch, and my 12” MacBook. The first and last are tossed in my backpack to be used in and between classes to take notes, check social media, and design documents.

When I sit down in my design class, I pull out my MacBook, open inDesign, and try to manage multiple windows as I pull images from the Web and import them into my document. On the MacBook’s 12” screen, the limited real estate forces me to use a slew of keyboard shortcuts and trackpad gestures as I jump between apps. Frustrated, I pull out my iPad, fire up an iOS app to replace one on the Mac, and work in two separate environments.

The problem here is obvious: although macOS and iOS functionality overlaps, working in two OSes simultaneously isn’t ideal. The inability of the iPad to act as an extension of the MacBook’s display limits my productivity. Even people with larger 15” MacBook Pros would probably appreciate it if their iPad’s screen was available to display Mac apps.

For a while, I’ve been trying to solve this problem by using Duet Display, an iOS app that allows your iPad or iPhone to function as a second screen for your Mac or Windows PC. Duet has been around for a couple of years, but continues to get significant updates to speed it up, reduce lag, and offer touchscreen support. The fundamentals, however, are still the same: Duet, with an iOS device, can be your mobile Mac monitor.

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