Posts tagged with "iOS"

Improving the iOS Keyboard Switching Experience for Multilingual Users

Wang Ling has an interesting proposal to improve the iOS keyboard experience for international users who frequently switch between keyboards:

If you are a monolingual user you are unlikely to feel the need of a separate group of occasionally-used keyboard. Most of you enable at most two keyboards, your language keyboard and Emoji keyboard. Switching between two keyboards is never an issue because it never incurs unnecessary inconvenience. You always switch to your target keyboard directly and immediately.

However, if you are a multilingual user like me or many other Chinese (I guess also many other English-as-second-language users) users, things are very different. We use both Chinese and English keyboards. We type mixture of Chinese and English very often so we need to switch between the two frequently. If Chinese and English are the only keyboard we use there will be no issues, as explained above. But Emoji is fun and we also want to use it, occasionally.

Replace "Chinese" with "Italian", and that's me. Every day, I'm constantly switching between the Italian and US English keyboards on my iOS devices and the experience is slow and annoying. Once you throw in a couple of additional keyboards in the mix (I use Emoji and Copied) the only sensible way to switch keyboards is tapping & holding the globe button then sliding over to the keyboard you want to use again – which takes about 1 second in my experience. That doesn't sound like a lot, but the annoyance adds up; plus, imagine doing that for years. Assuming I switch between English and Italian keyboards 50 times a day (and I'm lowballing here), I can say I lose about 5 hours/year to this keyboard switching dance on iOS.

This won't seem like a big deal to monolingual users, but trust me – it's one of the most tedious aspects of working and communicating with others on iOS.

I see two possible solutions: either Apple implements something close to Ling's idea with separate shortcuts for frequent and occasional keyboards, or, even better, they build a smarter, unified keyboard that automatically recognizes multiple languages at a time (though that obviously wouldn't work for Chinese and other non-QWERTY keyboards).

Chrome for iOS Switches to Modern Web View API

Big news from Google's Chrome for iOS team today: the app has moved from the legacy UIWebView API to WKWebView, promising notable speed improvements and 70% less crashing.

Here's Andrew Cunningham, writing for Ars Technica:

Chrome’s stability on iOS should also see a big improvement. The UIWebView process in older versions needed to run within the Chrome process, so if a complex or badly behaving page made UIWebView crash, it would bring the whole Chrome browser down. With WKWebView, Google can move the process for individual pages outside of the app, better approximating the process isolation that Chrome uses on other platforms. Now when a page crashes, you’ll see the standard “Aw, Snap” Chrome error page. Google estimates that Chrome 48 will crash 70 percent less than older versions.

Apparently, Google worked with Apple to fix some of the bugs that prevented them from using WKWebView in Chrome before iOS 9. Developers have long been positive about the benefits of WKWebView (see my story on iOS web views from last year) and it's good to see Google moving to a faster, more stable engine.

I'm curious to know if Google's dedicated search app has been or will be upgraded to WKWebView as well. I don't use Chrome (I like the unique perks of Safari, like Safari View Controller and the ability to access webpage selections with action extensions), but I prefer the Google app for traditional Google searches – it has a native interface for the search box with handy suggestions and links to past queries. Not to mention Google Now, which I've grown to like to track shipments, get weather reports, and receive time to leave notifications.

An important note for VoiceOver users: today's update seems to break support for this key accessibility feature in the app.


Improving the iOS Emoji Keyboard

Steven Aquino, writing at The App Factor:

What I’d like to see Apple do is not necessarily make the emojis themselves bigger — the keyboard only fits a finite space, after all — but rather change how they’re presented to the user.

Here’s my suggestion: Apple should take the magnification animation it already employs on the text keyboard and apply it to the emojis. Every time I press on, say, a smiley face, the face would “pop up” in the same manner a letter does when you press its corresponding key. Taking this a step further, it would also be helpful if you could use the magnification loupe (for moving the insertion point) to scrub through emoji. The only caveat here is that Apple would need to make the loupe larger, which is something I wrote about in my aforementioned article. As it is now, the current magnification level wouldn’t do much good to compensate for the small size of the emoji.

Looking at the emoji keyboard from an accessibility perspective, Steven's suggestions make a lot of sense. Existing features such as Dynamic Type and Character Preview could also be used for emoji, but I like Steven's loupe idea better.


New Apps for 2016

Every year around this time, after compiling a list of my must-have apps and thinking about the goals I want to achieve in the next 12 months, I like to get started on the upcoming season of writing by reassessing some of the ways I get work done. Change never stops: rather than getting stuck in my own ways and refusing to embrace it, I feed my curiosity by entertaining the possibility of better tools for my trade.

Plus, it's always fun to spend a couple of weeks trying a bunch of apps and new services, seeing what works and should be explored further.

While this has become a new-year tradition, I've only written about it once – four years ago, when I was just getting started on the "iPad as a computer" idea. With 2016 and the transition to primary computer finally complete, I thought it'd be appropriate to publish a similar article again – if anything, for future reference.1

The apps below aren't my new must-haves. They are alternatives or additions to my current must-haves that I'm considering out of intellectual curiosity for now. I'm not ready to fully endorse them, but I like some aspects of them. Most of them aren't new, but they've received redesigns or feature updates that piqued my interest again.

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Pythonista 2.0 Brings Action Extension, iPad Pro Support, Code Editor Improvements, and More

Back in the Fall of 2012, a few months after I had taken it upon myself to start moving all my work from OS X to iOS, I came across Ole Zorn's Pythonista. A Python interpreter for iPhone and iPad that could natively integrate with iOS system features, Pythonista opened up a new world to me, demonstrating how I could automate tedious tasks on iOS devices via scripting. Since then, other apps have come along and shown how iOS tasks can be automated with visual interfaces and pre-packaged actions (above all, Workflow and Launch Center Pro), but Pythonista is, in many ways, the crown jewel of iOS automation and scripting for advanced users.

There's nothing quite like Pythonista on iOS. As I've documented over the past three years, Ole Zorn has slowly but steadily extended the app's capabilities with native ties to iOS interfaces via a UIKit bridge, support for location and the Reminders database, and even matplotlib and motion sensors. As it stands today, Pythonista is, by far, the richest and most powerful scripting app to integrate with native iOS features. Despite the variety of options now available for iOS automation and the continued evolution of iOS that cut down the number of tasks I need to automate (case in point: Split View and using two apps at once), I love keeping Pythonista around for key aspects of my workflow that can't be automated in any other way.

For the past several months, I've been using version 2.0 of Pythonista on my iPhone and iPad, which, after a few rejections from Apple, has been approved and is launching today on the App Store. A free update for existing customers, Pythonista 2.0 brings a refreshed UI, support for the iPad Pro, new modules, and, more importantly, a redesigned code editor and an action extension.

Behind the scenes, Pythonista 2.0 has played an essential role in helping me assemble my reviews of iOS 9 and the iPad Pro, with an action extension I rely upon for all my image uploads, OCR, text statistics, and more.

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Daylite 6 for Mac and iOS

Daylite 6 was released today for both Mac and iOS, and it's a major upgrade for the business productivity app. Already boasting a complete set of tools for managing projects, clients, and tasks for an individual or workgroup, the new version adds a slew of new features that take the app even further.

One of the major highlights of this release is the announcement of "Daylite Cloud." Previously, centralizing a group's Daylite data required running a copy of Daylite Server. With Daylite Cloud, it's all handled seamlessly, allows offline access, is cheaper, and has no barrier to incorporating it into your company workflow.

The task management features of Daylite have also expanded. The constraints of the previous Pipeline/Activity Set features have been augmented by a "Task Lists" feature, allowing free-form creation of task lists that might not be assigned to a linear timeline, with complete control over ordering, a new entry interface, and additional fields for time, location, estimated time, and other details. There's also a new "Smart Filtering Bar" for viewing tasks by details such as assigned team member, category, or keyword.

The iOS version has new goodies as well, with features including Today Widgets, full filtering capabilities, and improved editing of Daylite entries. It also adds file linking tools which allow you to snap a photo and link it to one or more items in Daylite.

If you're a user, also check out the Daylite Mail Assistant. It's not a new feature, but it's impressive. It allows you to link emails to Daylite items, schedule meetings, and share data without a chain of cc's and forwards, all from within Mail.

For a complete rundown of all the new features, check out the announcement post on the Daylite blog. You can learn more about Daylite on the Marketcircle website.

Publishing Articles to WordPress with Workflow on iOS

Posting to MacStories with Workflow.

Posting to MacStories with Workflow.

For the past two years, I've been publishing articles and linked posts on MacStories via Python. This inelegant solution was my only option to automate the process of publishing directly from Editorial (most recently, 1Writer): when it comes to writing on iOS, I'm too fussy to accept primitive copy & paste into WordPress' official client. Despite its minimal GUI, crude Python code, and lack of advanced features, my 'Publish to WordPress' script served me well for two years.1 99% of my MacStories articles since late 2013 have been published with it.

Still, I knew that something better would come along eventually. When the Workflow team pinged me about a new action they were developing to enable WordPress publishing from the app, I couldn't believe they were considering it. Workflow, an app that I employ on a daily basis to speed up core parts of my job, combined with the single task that powers my entire business – posting new content. It was almost too good to be true.

Fortunately, great things do happen in the third-party iOS ecosystem. Today's update to Workflow (version 1.4.2) adds, among more actions, a brand new WordPress action to publish posts and pages to configured WordPress blogs (both and self-hosted ones) and which can be combined with any other existing action or workflow for deeper automaton. After using a beta of this action for the past few weeks, I can say that it's, by far, the best automated publishing workflow I've ever had, and I don't want to go back to anything else.

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Markdown and Automation Experiments with 1Writer

In preparing my reviews of iOS 9 and the iPad Pro, I noticed that my writing process was being slowed down by the lack of multitasking support in my text editor of choice, Editorial. For the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to move some of my Editorial scripts and workflows to 1Writer, with interesting results and potential for the future.

I have written about Editorial at length on MacStories, and I still find Ole Zorn's text editor to provide the most powerful combination of Markdown and plain text automation that's ever been created on iOS. Over the years, I've put together hundreds of workflows thanks to Editorial's visual actions and Python scripting; while some of them were made for fun and intellectual curiosity, the majority of them helped me save time when doing actual work for this website, Relay FM, and Club MacStories. There is no other app with the same feature set and rich Markdown support of Editorial.

Since iOS 9, however, I've been wondering whether part of Editorial's automation could be taken somewhere else, possibly in another app that offered full integration with iOS 9 multitasking. I may have several workflows in Editorial, but I only use a tiny fraction of them on a daily basis for regular work on this website. I'd rather use a text editor that excels at a subset of Markdown workflows and integrates with iOS 9 than a single text editor with every imaginable workflow without proper iOS 9 integration.

It was this realization that pushed me to give 1Writer another look. I first bought the app years ago, but because I had no excuse to explore the world outside of Editorial, I didn't try to recreate any workflows in it. This time around, I was motivated to rebuild the core of my setup in 1Writer, so I took a deep dive into the app's automation engine.

Things will likely change again once Editorial supports iOS 9, but in the meantime I've developed an appreciation for 1Writer's design and features that helped me understand the app better.

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