Two years ago in our MacStories Weekly newsletter for Club MacStories members, I shared a shortcut that enabled creating wallpapers for iPhone and iPad featuring solid colors or gradients of your choice. Given the newfound popularity of the Shortcuts app and the amazing custom Home screens people are putting together with widgets in iOS 14, I thought I’d play my part and revisit the shortcut by simplifying it and adding new features. The shortcut is now called WallCreator and you can download it for free (alongside 220 other shortcuts) from the MacStories Shortcuts Archive.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been using the developer beta of iPadOS 14 on my 2018 12.9” iPad Pro – my main computer and production machine. Although I feel like it’s too early for me to offer a definitive assessment of iPadOS 14, I figured it’d be interesting to share some initial thoughts on the evolution of the iPad platform now that iPadOS 14 is available as a public beta as well. These are just some of the key takeaways and “core themes” I’ve been mulling over since WWDC; I plan to dig deeper into every aspect of iPadOS 14 in my annual iOS and iPadOS review in the fall.
A few weeks ago, we released the latest product under the MacStories Pixel brand: MacStories Perspective Icons, a set of 20,000 custom perspective icons for OmniFocus Pro. You can find more details on the product page, read the FAQ, and check out my announcement blog post here. The set is available at $17.99 with a launch promo; Club MacStories members can purchase it at an additional 15% off.
As part of the release of MacStories Perspective Icons (which, by the way, takes advantage of a new feature in OmniFocus 3.8 to install custom icons with a Files picker), I wanted to write about my perspective setup in OmniFocus and explain why custom perspectives have become an integral component of my task management workflow.
Let me clarify upfront, however, that this article isn’t meant to be a primer on custom perspectives in OmniFocus. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, I recommend checking out this excellent guide over at Learn OmniFocus; alternatively, you can read The Omni Group’s official perspective documentation here. You can also find other solid examples of OmniFocus users’ custom setups around the web such as these two, which helped me better understand the power and flexibility of perspectives in OmniFocus when I was new to the app. In this story, I’m going to focus on how I’ve been using perspectives to put together a custom sidebar in OmniFocus that helps me navigate my busy life and make sense of it all.
Craig Hockenberry, writing on The Iconfactory blog:
We’re happy to announce a new version of Tot with some features frequently requested by the app’s legion of fans.
The main focus of today’s release are system extensions that allow Tot to co-exist with other apps. To this end, we’ve added a Sharing extension for both iOS and macOS. Additionally, there’s also a widget for iOS that lets you quickly access any of Tot’s dots. Like everything else in Tot, attention was paid to minimizing friction, allowing information to be collected as quickly as possible.
Tot’s new share extension is, quite possibly, the best one I’ve ever tried for a plain text note-taking app. In an intuitive, compact UI, the extension offers everything I need: I can pick one of Tot’s seven dots; I can choose to append or prepend text to a dot; the extension even lets me pick the number of line breaks I want to put between a dot’s existing content and the new text I’m inserting into a note. And here’s the best part: the upper section of the share extension’s popup has a full, scrollable preview of the selected dot, so I can see what the entire note will look like before appending or prepending text. Tot is the first note-taking app I’ve used that gets this aspect of sharing text/links to an extension right.
It may be considered a small enhancement to the app, but Tot’s new extension shows how much consideration went into designing an experience that is both powerful and willing to get out of the way as quickly as possible. I wish more note-taking apps offered a share extension similar to The Iconfactory’s app, which, months after its original release, I still use as my go-to scratchpad every day.
Today, I’m thrilled to announce MacStories Perspective Icons, a set of 20,000 icons for custom perspectives in OmniFocus Pro.
Here’s the short version of this story: our brand new Perspective Icons offer 400 unique glyphs with two distinct icon shapes available in 25 different colors, for a total of 20,000 icons included in the set. Yes, you read that number right. The icons can be easily installed in OmniFocus Pro for Mac, iPad, and iPhone using Finder or the Files app; all the icons and colors have been optimized for OmniFocus and designed to look like native additions to the app.
For a limited time, you can get the set at $17.99, down from the regular price of $24.99.
I’m happy to announce that MacStories Shortcuts Icons, our custom icon set for adding shortcuts to the Home screen, has received a free update today that adds 50 new glyphs. With this second free update, the set has reached 400 unique glyphs available in four versions for a total of 1,600 icons included in the complete Bundle edition.
The update is now available, free for existing customers (just download the file again); for new customers, the update is part of the standard purchase for all editions of MacStories Shortcuts Icons: Bundle, Color, and Classic.
For those who may have missed it last year: MacStories Shortcuts Icons lets you customize the look of your shortcuts added to the Home screen by choosing from hundreds of glyphs designed specifically with Shortcuts users in mind, going beyond what’s provided by Apple in the Shortcuts app. The icons are available in two versions – Classic and Color – and a Bundle edition containing both (and discounted by 40% right now) is available as well.
For as long as I can remember being interested in music as more than a mere source of background audio, but as an art form, I’ve been interested in the people who make music – the artists and their craft. Back when I used to buy CDs at my favorite record store in Viterbo, my hometown, I would peruse each album’s liner notes to not only read official lyrics and check out the artwork and/or exclusive photographs contained inside the booklet, but also to read the credits so I could know more about who arranged or mixed a particular track. Beyond the feeling of owning a tangible piece of music, there was something about reading through an album’s credits that served as a simple, yet effective reminder: that people – engineers, instrumentalists, vocalists, producers – created the art I enjoyed.
In today’s world of endless, a la carte streaming catalogs, we’ve reduced all of this to a cold technological term: metadata. Our music listening behaviors have shifted and evolved with time; when we browse Apple Music or Spotify, we’re inclined to simply search for a song or an album and hit play before we return to another app or game on our phones. A streaming service isn’t necessarily a place where we want to spend time learning more about music: it’s just a convenient, neatly designed delivery mechanism. The intentionality of sitting down to enjoy an artist’s creation has been lost to the allure of content and effortless consumption. Don’t get me wrong: I love the comfort of music streaming services, and I’m a happy Apple Music subscriber; but this is also why, for well over a year now, I’ve been rebuilding a personal music collection I can enjoy with a completely offline high-res music player.
Whether by design or as a byproduct of our new habits, metadata and credits don’t play a big role in modern music streaming services. We’re frustrated when a service gets the title of a song wrong or reports the incorrect track sequence in an album, but we don’t consider the fact that there’s a world of context and additional information hidden behind the songs and albums we listen to every day. That context is entirely invisible to us because it’s not mass-market enough for a music streaming service. There have been small updates on this front lately1, but by and large, credits and additional track information are still very much ignored by the streaming industry. And if you ask me, that’s a shame.
This is why I instantly fell in love with MusicSmart, the latest utility by Marcos Antonio Tanaka, developer of MusicHarbor (another favorite music app of mine). MusicSmart, which is a $1.99 paid upfront utility, revolves around a single feature: showing you credits and additional details for albums and songs available in your local music library or Apple Music’s online catalog.
iA Writer, my favorite text editor for all Apple platforms (which I still use as the central piece of my Markdown collaboration workflow via GitHub), has been updated today to version 5.5 both on Mac and iOS/iPadOS. I’ve been testing this version for quite some time (it’s the update I originally mentioned in my Modular Computer story back in April), and there are some fantastic details worth pointing out.
On iPad, the app can now be fully controlled with the trackpad. Besides obvious support for clicking toolbar buttons and other elements in the app’s UI, trackpad support includes the ability to swipe horizontally with two fingers to show/dismiss the Library sidebar (which I do all the time now) and – my favorite touch – support for clicking a document’s name in the title bar to rename it. I’m so used to these two new pointer features in iA Writer 5.5, I wish more iPad apps adopted them.
Version 5.5 also brings support for highlighting text inside a document by surrounding it with two equal signs – e.g.
==like this==. Highlighted text will turn yellow, and it’s impossible to miss. When I used Scrivener to write one of my iOS reviews years ago, the ability to highlight text in the editor was one of my favorite options to mark specific passages for review; with iA Writer 5.5, I can now highlight text and have a clear visual indication without giving up on the Markdown syntax. Even better: there’s a new ⌘⌥= keyboard shortcut to toggle highlighted text.
Among a variety of other updates (you can read more about them on the developers’ blog), iA Writer 5.5 also comes with a powerful PDF preview (which supports custom templates, so I can export my drafts as PDFs that look like the MacStories website) and the ability to show multiple stats in the editor at once. Thanks to the latter option, I can now see my word and open task count at once while I’m editing a story.
I’ve been using iA Writer as my only text editor for two years now, and I’m continuously impressed by the thoughtfulness and attention to modern iOS/iPadOS technologies that goes into the app. You can get iA Writer 5.5 on the App Store and read more about my writing setup based on iA Writer, Markdown, and file bookmarks here.
I wish I could quote a single section of Jordan Merrick’s Shortcuts wishlist, but I can’t because I agree with all of it. If you’re a heavy Shortcuts user, you’ve likely come across at least a couple of the limitations Merrick points out (lack of folders and struggling to navigate long shortcuts).
As we look ahead at WWDC 2020, it’s also a good time to link back to my What’s Still Missing from Shortcuts section from the iOS and iPadOS 13 review. Hopefully, a few items will be checked off this list in iOS 14.