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Reconsidering Evernote in 2019


Like the best origin stories, this article comes from humble beginnings. A few weeks ago, I had the idea of adapting my shortcut to save webpage selections from Safari (see Weekly 151, 152, and 153) to make it work with Keep It rather than a JSON file. Simple enough, right? Given a text selection in Safari, I wanted to see if I could create a shortcut to append rich text to an existing document in Keep It without launching the app.

As Club MacStories members know, Keep It is the app I've been using for the past several months to hold my research material, which played an essential role in the making of my iOS 12 review (see Issues 135 and 144) of MacStories Weekly). But then I remembered that Keep It's integration with Shortcuts was limited to URL schemes and that the app did not offer Siri shortcuts to append content to existing notes1. That was the beginning of a note-taking vision quest that culminated in this column, even though I'm not sure I reached the destination I was originally seeking.

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Why the Siri Face Is All I Need from My Apple Watch

What should a wrist computer ideally do for you?

Telling the time is a given, and activity tracking has become another default inclusion for that category of gadget. But we're talking about a computer here, not a simple watch with built-in pedometer. The device should present the information you need, exactly when you need it. This would include notifications to be sure, but also basic data like the weather forecast and current date. It should integrate with the various cloud services you depend on to keep your life and work running – calendars, task managers, and the like. It doesn't have to be all business though – throwing in a little surprise and delight would be nice too, because we can all use some added sparks of joy throughout our days.

Each of these different data sources streaming through such a device presents a dilemma: how do you fit so much data on such a tiny screen? By necessity a wrist computer's display is small, limiting how much information it can offer at once. This challenge makes it extremely important for the device to offer data that's contextual – fit for the occasion – and dynamic – constantly changing.

Serving a constant flow of relevant data is great, but a computer that's tied to your wrist, always close at hand, could do even more. It could serve as a control center of sorts, providing a quick and easy way to perform common actions – setting a timer or alarm, toggling smart home devices on and off, adjusting audio playback, and so on. Each of these controls must be presented at just the right time, custom-tailored for your normal daily needs.

If all of this sounds familiar, it's because this product already exists: the Apple Watch. However, most of the functionality I described doesn't apply to the average Watch owner's experience, because most people use a watch face that doesn't offer these capabilities – at least not many of them. The Watch experience closest to that of the ideal wrist computer I've envisioned is only possible with a single watch face: the Siri face.

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Ten Years Ago, Apple Said Goodbye to Macworld but Set the Stage for the Future

Macworld 2009. Image via Engadget

Macworld 2009. Image via Engadget

In January 2009, Apple took to the stage at Macworld Expo one final time. The company announced the change a few weeks before the show. Phil Schiller would deliver the keynote. News of Steve Jobs' medical leave would break just weeks later, one day before the keynote.

All of this cast a weird vibe over the event, and while it was far from Apple's most exciting keynote, it's worth revisiting Phil Schiller's three announcements now, ten years later.1

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Revisiting Evernote: Checking in with the Former Note-Taking King

Evernote is still alive. The popular note-taking app celebrated its tenth birthday last summer, but the last few of those years haven't been easy, with two CEO transitions and sizable layoffs at several points. Still, the core product keeps pushing forward.

I last reviewed Evernote in early 2017, when version 8 of its iOS app launched as a major redesign. I concluded then that one of the service's greatest strengths, particularly when compared with competitors like Apple Notes, is that Evernote strives to be more than just a note-taking app. It's a solid way to take notes, but it also aims to make those notes easily accessible, to create connections between notes, and ultimately serve as a valuable aid to productivity.

Though Evernote has retained a large user base all these years later, and in fact became cash flow positive nearly two years ago, there are a lot of former users who left the service long ago and haven't looked back. Personally, while I've kept an eye on Evernote over the years, I never put its recent updates to the test – until recently, that is, when I set out to revisit the popular note-taker.

As part of checking back in on Evernote, there were three core features I wanted to focus on evaluating: Templates, Context, and Dark Mode. These are some of the major developments Evernote has touted in its last few years of work, and they make for an interesting case study on the company's future direction.

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Thinking Different: Keys to Adopting an iPad-First Workflow

No matter how tech-inclined a person may be, no one sits down at their first computer and instantly finds themselves at home with the device. We all have our own tales of computing learning curves – figuring out how menus, file systems, and other traditional software elements work. Similarly, when making the move from one type of computer to another, there's an adaptation cost in acquainting yourself with all that's new. This is true when switching from a PC to a Mac, and also a Mac to an iPad.

Before the iPad Pro debuted in late 2015, transitions from Mac to iPad were extremely scarce. The iPad's hardware and software were both far too limited to compel many switchers. The software has advanced since that time – thanks to Split View, drag and drop, and Files, it's far easier to work on an iPad than before – but there's plenty more progress still to be made. The hardware, however, is where the iPad has shined most, especially with the newest iPad Pros.

Compare the iPad Pro's hardware to Apple's modern Mac lineup and the difference is striking. The iPad has Face ID, while Macs are stuck with Touch ID; the iPad has a Liquid Retina display with ProMotion, and Macs are still Retina only; the iPad Pro benchmarks comparably to the most powerful portable Macs; iPads can include LTE, while Macs cannot; and where Mac keyboards are vulnerable to specs of dust, the iPad's Smart Keyboard Folio can endure any crumbs you throw at it – plus, with the iPad you can choose the keyboard that's best for you. To top off all these advantages, the iPad Pro is also more affordable than most Macs.

Software limitations aside, the iPad clearly has a lot going for it; the iPad Pro is a more attractive Mac alternative than ever before. But moving to the iPad still involves some growing pains. The longer you've used a traditional computer, the harder an iPad transition can be. There are a few key things, however, that can help make your iPad adoption a success.

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MacStories Selects: The Best New Accessories of 2018

iOS devices and Macs sit at the center of our computing lives, often accompanied by a host of accessories. And each year brings a few standout new accessories that extend what our favorite devices can do in meaningful ways – 2018 was no exception. From dongles and hubs to cameras and headphones, the MacStories team tried a wide range of gadgets this year that made an impact on our daily lives. Below is our favorite, along with our runners-up.

Best New Accessory

Netgear Orbi Outdoor WiFi Satellite

John: There are few aspects of my computing life more important than a reliable, fast connection to the Internet. There are several good options available when it comes to WiFi mesh networking systems, but it’s Netgear’s Orbi Outdoor WiFi Satellite that makes its system stand out and has added the kind of flexibility to my setup this year that wasn’t possible before.

Federico and I both use Netgear’s Orbi WiFi router and indoor satellite to blanket our homes in WiFi. I started with an Orbi router and one satellite. The router sits in my basement where our Comcast service enters the house, the satellite sits in the kitchen, and recently, I added an Orbi Wall-Plug on the second floor. That combination of Orbi devices alone has been enough to blanket the interior of my house in fast WiFi and handle around 40 connected devices when my entire family is home.

This past January at CES, Netgear announced it was adding to the Orbi lineup with the Orbi Outdoor Satellite, an extender for the Orbi router designed to withstand the elements. Admittedly, there’s probably no one more susceptible to the promise of outdoor WiFi than me sitting at home staring out at the snow while reading roundups of CES gear. Still, I waited until the device was released and reviewed before finally giving in early this past summer.

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My Must-Have Mac Apps, 2018 Edition

Last year when I wrote about my must-have Mac apps, I was coming off a tumultuous year that started with a daily commute into Chicago for my old job and ended with me working from home. As the year came to a close, I was exploring what that meant for the way I work on the Mac.

That process continued into 2018. With the number of new things I took on in 2017 and the transition to indie life, I made the conscious decision to step back and settle into my new life. That wasn’t easy. There’s a natural tendency to take on everything that crosses your path when you go out on your own, but I’ve seen too many people fall into that trap in the past. Instead, I concluded that 2018 would be the year to improve the way I already work by refining existing workflows and reevaluating how I get things done, including on the Mac.

Three events led me to work on my Mac more in 2018. The first was the 27-inch LG 4K display I bought in January. It was a big step up from the 23-inch 1080p one I had before and, combined with a VESA arm, improved working at my Mac substantially.

The second factor was our MacStories coverage of the App Store’s tenth anniversary. For it, we produced seven extra episodes of AppStories that were released in the span of one week, which kept me in front of my Mac recording and editing for long periods of late May through June.

Third, just after WWDC, I destroyed the screen of my iPad Pro thanks to the trunk hinges that invade the interior of the 2016 Honda Accord.1 I decided to hold out for the new iPad Pros, but that meant writing for four of the busiest months at MacStories without a good iOS work solution. I used a current-generation 9.7-inch iPad some, but it couldn’t compete with my LG display.

As 2018 comes to a close, the changes I’ve made haven’t been dramatic despite the extra time I’ve spent in front of my Mac. Instead, I’ve fine-tuned existing workflows and added new apps for specific tasks.

Below, I’ve broken down the 49 apps I use roughly by activity and function. I’ll mention where Apple’s apps fit into my workflow as I go because without them there would be a few big holes in the landscape of apps I use, but the focus of this roundup is on third-party apps, not Apple’s.

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  1. I’m right there with you on this one John. ↩︎

Magnets: A Common Apple Magic Trick

As a young kid, I thought magnets were about the coolest things ever. Here in my 30s, I kind of feel the same way.

Magnets made nerdy headlines recently, with the new iPad Pro, which is chock-full of them to keep its Smart Keyboard Folio in place. Marques Brownlee had a tweet showing off just how many are in the tablet's thin chassis:

Apple's use of magnets in its products goes back further than the most recent iPad Pro, with its keyboard and Apple Pencil, or even the fun and functional AirPod case. Magnets allow Apple to do things without the need of mechanical components, keeping the design of its products clean and streamlined. Here are a few of my favorites over the years.

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