Posts tagged with "iOS"

iPad Diaries: Clipboard Management with Copied and Workflow

One of the common challenges involving a switch from macOS to an iPad is the lack of desktop-like clipboard managers on iOS.

By nature of the platform1 and technical restrictions imposed by Apple, apps like Pastebot or Alfred wouldn't be able to adapt their Mac capabilities to the iPad. Third-party iOS apps can't constantly monitor changes to the system clipboard in the background; similarly, it isn't possible for an iPad app to register as the handler of a keyboard shortcut at a system-wide level. An app would have to at least be currently in use via Split View to listen for clipboard changes, but, even in that case, it would have to be active to receive external keyboard commands.

With these limitations, it's no surprise that clipboard managers aren't a flourishing category on the iPad App Store. However, once we accept the intrinsic differences between the Mac and iPad and if we look at the problem from a different perspective, there's plenty we can do – either with apps or automation – to go beyond Apple's modest clipboard offerings on iOS.

After years of testing iPad clipboard managers and automation/scripting strategies, this is what I've come up with.

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Omni Group Automation

New website dedicated to The Omni Group's upcoming automation features in their apps, created by Sal Soghoian:

By default, all of the macOS versions of the Omni applications offer robust integrated AppleScript and JavaScript (JXA) support for Apple Events scripting on the Mac. These excellent automation tools will continued to be integrated into every macOS version of Omni software.

And in addition, the Omni Group now offers integrated cross-platform JavaScript support for both the iOS and macOS versions of their popular productivity applications. Finally, the power of automation is available regardless of whether you use Omni tools on mobile devices, laptops, or desktops.

As for the technology itself:

OmniJS, the name for Omni’s new version of the JavaScript language, is based on JavaScript Core, the foundation of the JavaScript implementation in WebKit. Using OmniJS, the Omni Group suite of applications will be able to be queried and controlled on both iOS and macOS in ways similar to how they are automated today using the traditional macOS Apple Event-based scripts.

What's most impressive is that The Omni Group is bringing all of these automation features to iOS as well – it's not limited to the Mac. Watch the OmniGraffle videos recorded by Sal to get an idea of the functionality automation will unlock. I'm genuinely excited about all this.


Workflow 1.7 Introduces Magic Variables for Easier, More Powerful Visual Automation

Magic Variables in Workflow 1.7.

Magic Variables in Workflow 1.7.

At its core, Workflow is a visual programming app that deals with variables. Data flows through actions and is altered by the user until it has to be stored in a variable – a local reference that can be recalled in subsequent steps.

Since the app's original release, the Workflow team has done a commendable job at abstracting the complexity behind variable creation and management, but the feature itself is a vestige of traditional programming languages. The manually-saved variable is fundamentally ill-suited for Workflow's visual approach predicated on direct manipulation of actions. Workflow revolutionized several automation concepts, yet it was always anchored in the common practice of declaring variables between actions.

For the past year, I've been lamenting the sluggishness involved with setting variables and extracting additional details from them. Anyone who's ever created complex workflows has likely come across the same problem:

  • There's a "master variable" that contains rich metadata (such as an iTunes song or an App Store app);
  • You want to extract details from the master variable – e.g. an app's name, icon, or price;
  • Each of the variable's sub-items has to be extracted by repeating a combination of 'Get Variable-Get Details of Variable-Set Variable' over and over.

Not only did this limitation make workflows slower to create – it also made variables difficult to explain and workflows harder to read for people who aren't proficient in iOS automation.

As someone who writes about iOS workflows on a weekly basis, I've been thinking about this issue for a while. Every time I had to explain the inner workings and shortcomings of variables, I kept going back to the same idea: Workflow needed to get rid of its clunky variable management altogether.

Here's what I proposed when Workflow 1.5 launched in May 2016:

"Instant Variables" to get details of a macro variable without doing the Get Variable-Get Details-Set Variable dance every time. You could save a lot of time if instead of fetching details of a variable multiple times you could use a single master variable and only specify where necessary which sub-details to use;

With today's 1.7 update, the Workflow team isn't introducing Instant Variables. Instead, they've rebuilt the engine behind variables on a new system called Magic Variables, which completely reimagines how you can create workflows and connect actions for even more powerful automations.

More than a mere tweak for power users, Magic Variables are the next step in Workflow's goal to enable everyone to automate their iOS devices. By making workflows easier to create and read, Magic Variables are the app's most important transformation to date, and the result far exceeds my expectations.

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Starbucks Adds Voice with iOS Beta and Alexa Skill

Starbucks has started a limited beta test of voice-assisted ordering via its iOS app. The beta is currently limited to 1000 users but will expand through the summertime. Android support is slated for later this year.

The feature, called My Starbucks barista, is part of the Starbucks iOS app and gives customers the ability to order, make changes to their order, and pay via voice. The feature’s interface is reminiscent of a messaging app and lets you interact by typing into a text field if you prefer that to voice.

Starbucks also announced the Starbucks Reorder Skill for the Amazon Echo. Customers can say ‘Alexa, order my Starbucks’ to order items designated as their ‘usual’ food and beverage order.

What Starbucks is implementing in its iOS app isn’t possible with Siri yet. Hopefully, this sort of experimentation will push Apple to open Siri faster to avoid the fragmentation that could result in multiple solutions being implemented across many vendors.

Pokémon Duel Release Expanded to the US and Other Countries

The Pokémon Company has released another Pokémon game for the iPhone and iPad: Pokémon Duel. First released in Japan, Duel is now available in the US App Store and many other countries. Duel is a strategic board game the object of which is to maneuver your Pokémon to a goal in your opponent’s territory. According to The Pokémon Company:

Selecting the six Pokémon for your team is an important part of Pokémon Duel. Each Pokémon figure has different strengths and a set number of steps it can take, so you'll have to plan your moves strategically. Send your Pokémon along different routes in a rush to the goal, or block your opponent's Pokémon from advancing.

When you get next to one of your foe's Pokémon along your route, you'll need to engage in battle to advance. Battles are determined by Attacks on each Pokémon's Data Disk—spin the disk to see which Attack each Pokémon will use.

Pokémon Duel is available on the App Store as a free download. The game includes an in-game shop to purchase items with gems, which are collected by playing the game, but which can also be bought with In-App Purchases.


TextTool 2.0 Review

TextTool is a powerful text editor with an extensive catalog of built-in text transformations. Developer Craig Pearlman has rewritten the app from the ground up and released it as a new Universal app. With support for URL schemes, JavaScript, and an extension, TextTool’s flexibility has never been greater.

TextTool defies easy categorization. It’s a text editor, but not a place where text lives. You won’t find an archive of past text documents you've created. Instead, TextTool is a temporary place to write, edit, and manipulate text that ends up somewhere else.

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Slopes Skiing and Snowboarding App Adds Search

Slopes, by developer Curtis Herbert, is a skiing and snowboarding app that tracks your activity on the mountain. Like apps that track running and cycling activity, Slopes uses GPS to create maps of your runs, display real-time data while you ski or snowboard, track lifts, and compile detailed summary data that you can study after you finish a day’s activities. The app is full of nice touches like lift detection that automatically pauses data recording, and glanceable real-time statistics on the iPhone and Apple Watch.

Today, Slopes received an update that anyone who skis or snowboards a lot should appreciate. Version 2.5 of the app adds activity search. If you’ve logged hundreds of runs, you no longer have to scroll back through a long chronological history to find a particular trip. Now, you can search by several criteria including, resort name, city, state or province, and country. The update also improves integration with Apple’s Health app, enhances the design of resort maps, and includes several other smaller improvements and bug fixes.

I’m not a skier or snowboarder, so I haven’t tried Slopes on a mountainside myself. However, I did try the app with demo data to get a feel for it in action. As a stats-obsessed runner, I can see the appeal of Slopes to skiers and snowboarders. It makes tracking and logging data a breeze by minimizing the interaction needed to get started, which lets you enjoy yourself without fiddling with your iPhone or Apple Watch frequently. Then at the end of the day, you can sit back and study the breakdown of your activity to your heart’s content.

The core features of Slopes are free on the App Store, which makes trying Slopes on your next ski trip a no-brainer. You can unlock the ability to track additional detail about your skiing and snowboarding runs, daily timeline data, premium maps, and 3D interactive run replays by purchasing an in-app subscription for $19.99/year, $8.99/month, $4.99/week, or $1.99/day.

Apple Updates iOS App Design Resources

Apple has updated its iOS design resources with a comprehensive set of colors, guides, templates, and UI elements:

Creating iOS apps is even easier with the updated Apple UI Design Resources. Use the latest Sketch and Photoshop templates and guides, color palettes, and the San Francisco typeface to quickly and accurately design iOS apps that integrate seamlessly into the overall user experience of iOS.

The design assets are available to download in both Photoshop and Sketch formats on Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines website. In addition to the new assets, Apple has four videos covering the materials, an overview with User Experience Evangelist, Mike Stern, as well as videos covering design comps, icons, and glyphs, also narrated by Stern.