Yoink is the app I use on my Mac every day as a temporary spot to park files, snippets of text, images, and URLs. By itself, Yoink for Mac has been a fantastic time-saver. The latest updates to Yoink for iOS and the Mac, however, have been transformative. There's more that can be done to support the cross-platform use of Yoink, but Handoff support, which makes it simple to move data between my Mac and iOS devices, and several other new features have already added a new dimension to the way I use the app and embedded it deeper into my day-to-day workflow than ever before.
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I use Gladys as my go-to shelf app on the iPhone and iPad, but I'm also a fan of what developer Matthias Gansrigler is doing with Yoink on iOS. Yoink is a popular drag and drop assistant for macOS that launched earlier this year on iOS with an iPad app that, like many others, took advantage of the drag and drop APIs in iOS 11 to offer a mix of a shelf app and clipboard manager.
At WWDC, I was disappointed that the iOS 11 announcements didn't include a shelf where content can be temporarily parked. When Federico and Sam Beckett made an iOS 11 concept video earlier this year they included a shelf, which felt like a natural way to make touch-based drag and drop simpler. I found the omission in the iOS 11 beta somewhat surprising. On the Mac, people use the Desktop as a temporary place to stash items all the time, and without a Desktop on iOS, a shelf that slides in from the edge of the screen seemed like a natural solution. In fact, it’s a solution that has an even more direct analog than the Desktop on macOS that makes a solid case for implementing something similar on iOS: Yoink, from Eternal Storms Software.
When I put together an article for MacStories on my Mac, Yoink by Eternal Storms Software is what brings order to the messy process of creating screenshots. You see, I like to use Spaces on my MacBook Pro to separate my writing environment from other apps I’m using to produce screenshots. But between Spaces, apps, and the Finder, things get cluttered fast. By being available wherever I am on my Mac, Yoink gives me an easily accessible spot to park images as I create them, so that when I’m finished, I can incorporate them into an article all at once, which saves me time.
Back in September I reviewed the first version of Yoink, a utility by Eternal Storms Software that greatly enhanced Lion's drag & drop support by adding a virtual "shelf" to the side of your screen to store temporary files you needed to move elsewhere. From my review:
Yoink is a drag & drop assistant for Lion, in that it provides you with a virtual “safe zone” to temporarily store files — or rather, links to them — you want to move from one location (say your desktop) to another space or full-screen app. Yoink doesn’t “copy” a file, or multiple ones, to its shelf: it only acts as a bridge between the original file, and the destination of the drop.
In its first version, Yoink was primarily meant to provide a better way to move files from the Finder to full-screen apps -- that is the reason the app was built with Lion APIs from the ground up. Yoink 1.0 undoubtedly offered a quick and elegant way to move files around apps and desktops in an intuitive manner; Yoink 2.0, released today, is a huge step forward that now allows the app to accept almost any kind of input from OS X, from text to images and web clippings from any app.
In accessing content from apps, Yoink has become more than a simple tool to temporarily store files that need to be moved around full-screen apps -- think of Yoink 2.0 as a secondary, visual clipboard that can accept almost any kind of file you throw at it. In my tests, besides dropping content from apps into Yoink's shelf, I've copied links, text and images from Safari and Chrome, and successfully watched Yoink create text clippings and full copies of the images ready to be pasted anywhere on my Mac, both in the Finder and other apps. Rich text from a web browser is converted to .textclipping once imported in Yoink, and you can easily re-export everything to the Finder, or into another app that accepts text, such as TextEdit or Twitter's compose window. Want to tweet a famous quote by The Beatles? Drag text into Yoink's shelf, open your client of choice, and drop your previously copied text. How about quoting someone else's words on your blog (and this is something I've been looking forward to)? Drag text into Yoink, fire up your blog's editor window, drop text.
Yoink's new drag & drop system works with almost any app and any kind of content -- you won't be able to preserve the exact formatting of a rich text document when copying, but it surely works very well as a lightweight solution to quickly save plain text files.
Yoink 2.0 brings a couple more interesting additions besides improved drag & drop. The interface has been redesigned to have more linen and the app can be assigned a keyboard shortcut; more positions for Yoink's window have been added and files shouldn't be lost anymore if they're moved from their original location. One issue I had (and already reported to the developer) was with an alias I moved from Dropbox to my Desktop, which didn't resolve correctly in Yoink and displayed a permission error. The error is likely happening because of some restrictions from Apple's sandboxing technology or the fact that the alias came from Dropbox -- Yoink 2.0 is capable of resolving aliases and, in fact, it worked fine with a file that was originally stored on my Desktop.
Last, Yoink now comes with File Stacks, a neat way to drag and drop multiple files into Yoink's window and have the app combine them into one item in the shelf. This can be very handy if you're dealing with multiple images and PDFs and you want to get them quickly out of the way.
At $2.99 on the Mac App Store, Yoink remains a fantastic way to enhance Lion's drag & drop with an app that acts as a temporary scratchpad/visual clipboard for content that you want to copy, move elsewhere, or simple save for later. Highly recommended, you can get Yoink here.
As I noted in my MacBook Air 13-inch review, the smaller the screen, the better full-screen apps get on Lion. For those still unaware of the new feature, OS X Lion comes with the possibility of enlarging applications to fill the entire screen -- thus the name "full-screen mode" -- so that, similarly to iOS, users can focus on one app at a time. Whereas some full-screen apps can look comically large on bigger displays such as a 21.5-inch iMac or Apple Thunderbolt Display, I found that smaller screens make more sense in regards to full-screen mode in that you don't feel like you're wasting available pixel space. Apple's system applications have already been updated to take advantage of full-screen mode, and we've seen third party developers starting to play around with the new API as well, coming up with interesting solutions to modify the user interface accordingly to full-screen mode.
Personally, I have enjoyed using apps like Evernote, Sparrow and Reeder in full-screen mode on my MacBook Air. With a four-finger swipe, I can easily switch between these apps, and go back to my main desktop where all my other application windows reside. However, as full-screen apps live in their own separate graphical environment, I wished on a couple of occasions that Apple would implement an easier method to move files between spaces and full-screen apps in Lion. Rather than delving into the technical details of drag & drop and APIs, here's a practical example: say I run Sparrow in full-screen mode, and I need to quickly drop an attachment onto a new message window. I could use the app's "attach file" dialog, but drag & drop would be more intuitive. On Lion, there's no simple way to drag files from Desktop 1, and drop them into a full-screen app. In fact, the "easiest" trick I've discovered to achieve such a functionality is to click & hold a file, hit the Mission Control key on my MacBook Air's keyboard, select a a full-screen app and wait for it to "spring load" (e.g. the window flashes and after a few seconds comes in the foreground), then drop the file. Clumsy and slow.
A new app by Eternal Storms -- makers of Flickery and ScreenFloat, among others -- called Yoink, aims at improving Lion's behavior with drag & drop and full-screen apps. Built from the ground-up with Lion-only APIs, Yoink places an unobtrusive, translucent "shelf" at the side of your Mac's screen every time you start dragging a file. Drop the file in there, switch to your full-screen app with a gesture, get the file out of the shelf. Done.
Yoink is a drag & drop assistant for Lion, in that it provides you with a virtual "safe zone" to temporarily store files -- or rather, links to them -- you want to move from one location (say your desktop) to another space or full-screen app.
Yoink doesn't "copy" a file, or multiple ones, to its shelf: it only acts as a bridge between the original file, and the destination of the drop. So, back to my Sparrow example: I can select a bunch of files from my desktop, drop them into Yoink, switch back to Sparrow with a gesture, and get the files out of Yoink. Very simple. This works with any full-screen app, any space -- Yoink works wherever you can drop a file. In fact, nothing stops you from using the app as a drag & drop utility for your Finder windows instead of full-screen apps, although the app is clearly focused on the latter.
In my tests, I've found Yoink to be very lightweight in memory footprint, and easy to use. The app only appears when you start dragging a file -- you won't see its window all the time -- and you can customize it to sit on the left, or right of the screen. Alternatively, you can tell Yoink to quickly move next to your cursor as you drag a file, then go back to screen's side. Yoink can store multiple files, Quick Look them, and let you scroll and select multiple items with CMD-click.
Yoink is available at $2.99 on the App Store, and you can head over the developer's website to check out a demo video and get a better idea of the app in action. If you work with full-screen apps on a daily basis and you'd like to enhance Lion's drag & drop support, Yoink is a must-have.
At WWDC 2018, Craig Federighi provided a sneak peek at what everyone was calling Marzipan: an as-yet-unnamed way for iPad app developers to bring their apps to the Mac. So, it came as no surprise when Federighi retook the stage in 2019 and revealed more details about the project and its official name: Catalyst.
What caught a lot of developers off guard though was SwiftUI, a declarative approach to building user interfaces that was also announced at WWDC this year. SwiftUI, known before the conference as Amber, its rumored project name, was on developers' radar almost as long as Catalyst, but it's fair to say that few anticipated the scope of the project. The purpose of SwiftUI is to allow developers to build native user interfaces across all of Apple's hardware platforms – from the Apple Watch to the Mac – using highly-readable, declarative syntax and a single set of tools and APIs. If that weren't enough to get developers' attention, using SwiftUI carries the added advantage of providing features like dark mode, dynamic type, and localization automatically.
The message from WWDC was clear: SwiftUI is the future, a unified approach to UI development designed to simplify the process of targeting multiple hardware platforms. It's a bold, sprawling goal that will take years to refine, even if it's eagerly adopted by developers.
However, SwiftUI also raises an interesting question: what does it mean for Catalyst? If SwiftUI is the future and spans every hardware platform, why bother bringing iPad apps to the Mac with Catalyst in the first place? It's a fair question, but the answer is readily apparent from the very different goals of the two technologies.
SwiftUI serves the long-term goal of bringing UI development for all of Apple's platforms under one roof and streamlining it. It won't take over immediately though. There's still work to be done on the framework itself, which Apple will surely expand in capability over time.
By contrast, Catalyst is a shorter-term initiative designed to address two soft spots in Apple's lineup: the stagnation of the Mac app ecosystem, and the slow growth of pro iPad apps. The unstated assumption underlying the realignment seems to be that the two app platforms are stronger tied together than they are apart, which ultimately will protect the viability of their hardware too.
The impact of Catalyst on the Mac and iPad remains murky. It's still too early in the process to understand what the long-term effect will be on either platform. There's substantial execution risk that could harm the Mac or iPad, but despite some troubling signs, which I'll get to in due course, I'm convinced that Catalyst has the potential for meaningful improvements to both platforms, especially the Mac. Let's take a closer look at what those could be.
My annual practice of deciding which Mac apps qualify as 'must-haves' is always an interesting exercise. At the core of this reflection is a simple question: 'Why?' Why this app instead of another one? Sometimes it's an app that stands out from its competitors, making the choice easy. Other times it's a unique feature that fits well with the way I work. Most of the apps I include in my annual round-ups fit into one of those categories.
Last year though, too many apps fell into a couple of different, troubling categories. First, I tolerate a handful of underwhelming apps because they're associated with services I like or which are essential to my work. Apps like Slack, Skype, and Trello fall into this category. Second, there are apps like Due and Reeder that I like, but either they don't get much attention or have fallen behind compared to alternatives on iOS. Fortunately, these apps are still in the minority among the apps I use regularly. For every disappointment, there are apps like Things, Ulysses, MindNode, iA Writer, Screens, and Yoink that are not only a pleasure to use on macOS, but offer excellent iOS apps too.
Still, as I covered in the conclusion of my 2018 must-have Mac apps round-up, the exercise of going through the Mac apps I use left me with an uneasy feeling:
there’s an interesting contrast between what I consider must-haves on iOS and the Mac. On iOS, many of the apps I consider must-haves are compelling because of a single feature that sets one app apart from others or because it fits especially well with how I work. Too often that’s not the case on the Mac. I find myself explaining that I use a particular app because ‘it gets the job done.’ That’s because there are too few alternatives to some apps, which is a shame.
Mac apps are not in a state of crisis, but at the same time, the universe of Mac apps is not nearly as big or diverse as iOS. That's not surprising given that the number of iOS devices in use is roughly 10x the number of Macs in use. As someone who works on and studies both platforms though, the trends are troubling.
For the past seven years, I've considered the iPad my main computer. Not my only one, and not the most powerful one I own, but the computer which I use and enjoy using the most.
I've told this story on various occasions before, but it's worth mentioning for context once again. My iPad journey began in 2012 when I was undergoing cancer treatments. In the first half of the year, right after my diagnosis, I was constantly moving between hospitals to talk to different doctors and understand the best strategies for my initial round of treatments. Those chemo treatments, it turned out, often made me too tired to get any work done. I wanted to continue working for MacStories because it was a healthy distraction that kept my brain busy, but my MacBook Air was uncomfortable to carry around and I couldn't use it in my car as it lacked a cellular connection. By contrast, the iPad was light, it featured built-in 3G, and it allowed me to stay in touch with the MacStories team from anywhere, at any time with the comfort of a large, beautiful Retina display.
The tipping point came when I had to be hospitalized for three consecutive weeks to undergo aggressive chemo treatments; in that period of time, I concluded that the extreme portability and freedom granted by the iPad had become essential for me. I started exploring the idea of using the iPad as my primary computer (see this story for more details); if anything were to ever happen to me again that prevented being at my desk in my home office, I wanted to be prepared. That meant embracing iOS, iPad apps, and a different way of working on a daily basis.
I realized when writing this story that I've been running MacStories from my iPad for longer than I ever ran it from a Mac. The website turned 10 last month, and I've managed it almost exclusively from an iPad for seven of those years. And yet, I feel like I'm still adapting to the iPad lifestyle myself – I'm still figuring out the best approaches and forcing myself to be creative in working around the limitations of iOS.
On one hand, some may see this as an indictment of Apple's slow evolution of the iPad platform, with biennial tablet-focused iOS releases that have left long-standing issues still yet to be fixed. And they're not wrong: I love working from my iPad, but I recognize how some aspects of its software are still severely lagging behind macOS. On the other hand, I won't lie: I've always enjoyed the challenge of "figuring out the iPad" and pushing myself to be creative and productive in a more constrained environment.
In addition to discovering new apps I could cover on MacStories, rethinking how I could work on the iPad provided me with a mental framework that I likely wouldn't have developed on a traditional desktop computer. If I was in a hospital bed and couldn't use a Mac, that meant someone else from the MacStories team had to complete a specific, Mac-only task. In a way, the limitations of the iPad taught me the importance of delegation – a lesson I was forced into. As a result, for the first couple of years, the constrained nature of the iPad helped me be more creative and focused on my writing; before the days of Split View and drag and drop, the iPad was the ideal device to concentrate on one task at a time.
Over the following couple of years, I learned how to navigate the iPad's limitations and started optimizing them to get more work done on the device (I was also cancer-free, which obviously helped). This is when I came across the iOS automation scene with apps such as Pythonista, Editorial, Drafts, and eventually Workflow. Those apps, despite the oft-unreliable nature of their workarounds, enabled me to push iOS and the iPad further than what Apple had perhaps envisioned for the device at the time; in hindsight, building hundreds of automations for Workflow prepared me for the bold, more powerful future of Shortcuts. Automation isn't supposed to replace core functionality of an operating system; normally, it should be an enhancement on the side, an addition for users who seek the extra speed and flexibility it provides. Yet years ago, those automation apps were the only way to accomplish more serious work on the iPad. I'm glad I learned how to use them because, at the end of the day, they allowed me to get work done – even though it wasn't the easiest or most obvious path.
When Apple announced the iPad Pro in 2015, it felt like a vindication of the idea that, for lots of iOS users – myself included – it was indeed possible to treat the iPad as a laptop replacement. And even though not much has changed (yet?) since 2017's iOS 11 in terms of what the iPad Pro's software can do, the modern iPad app ecosystem is vastly different from the early days of the iPad 3 and iOS 5, and that's all thanks to the iPad Pro and Apple's push for pro apps and a financially-viable App Store.
We now have professional apps such as Ulysses, Agenda, Things, Keep It, and iA Writer, which, in most cases, boast feature parity with their Mac counterparts; we have examples of iOS-only pro tools like Pixelmator Photo, LumaFusion, Shortcuts, and Working Copy, which are ushering us into a new era of mobile productivity; and both from a pure iPad-hardware and accessory standpoint, we have more choice than ever thanks to a larger, more inclusive iPad lineup, remarkable Pro hardware, and solid options to extend the iPad via keyboards, USB-C accessories, and more.
Seven years after I started (slowly) replacing my MacBook Air with an iPad, my life is different, but one principle still holds true: I never want to find myself forced to work on a computer that's only effective at home, that can't be held in my hands, or that can't be customized for different setups. For this reason, the iPad Pro is the best computer for the kind of lifestyle I want.
However, the iPad is not perfect. And so in the spirit of offering one final update before WWDC and the massive release for iPad that iOS 13 will likely be, I thought I'd summarize seven years of daily iPad usage in one article that details how I work from the device and how I'd like the iPad platform to improve in the future.
In this story, I will explore four different major areas of working on the iPad using iOS 12 system features, third-party apps, and accessories. I'll describe how I optimized each area to my needs, explain the solutions I implemented to work around the iPad's software limitations, and argue how those workarounds shouldn't be necessary anymore as the iPad approaches its tenth anniversary.
Consider this my iPad Manifesto, right on the cusp of WWDC. Let's dive in.