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Posts tagged with "iPad Diaries"

iPad Diaries: DEVONthink’s New Advanced Automation

iPad Diaries is a regular series about using the iPad as a primary computer. You can find more installments here and subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.

When I covered DEVONthink To Go in the first iPad Diaries column back in February, I briefly mentioned the app's limited support for URL schemes and automation. I concluded the article noting that DEVONthink's advanced file management features were ideal candidates for my writing workflow – particularly given the app's ability to store different types of documents, reference them with unique links, and search them with Boolean operators. I also expanded upon the idea of using DEVONthink as my only iOS file manager in the latest episode of Mac Power Users.

I've been moving more work documents and other research material (web archives and PDFs, mostly) to DEVONthink over the past two months. The turning point occurred a few weeks ago, when DEVONtechnologies began adding advanced x-callback-url automation to DEVONthink's beta channel and were kind enough to let me test and provide feedback for the functionality.

I was genuinely excited by the prospect of a scriptable DEVONthink: due to iOS' lack of a deeply integrated Finder, I've always wanted a file manager that could be extended and enhanced through automation and other apps. With an improved set of URL commands and various optimizations for usage in Workflow, DEVONthink To Go can now be that kind of file manager. I made my decision: this is the app I'm going to use to manage the research content for my iOS 11 review this summer.

The automation features introduced by DEVONtechnologies in the latest DEVONthink for iOS go deep into the app's structure, covering discrete functionalities such as file creation, search, and data retrieval. These changes will enable a greater number of users to integrate DEVONthink with their favorite iPad apps and workflows. And while the new commands are documented in the app, I thought it'd be useful to provide some concrete examples of how we can take DEVONthink to the next level through automation.

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iPad Diaries: Numbers, Accounting, and Currency Conversions

iPad Diaries is a regular series about using the iPad as a primary computer. You can find more installments here and subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.

For years, I struggled to settle on an accounting workflow I truly liked.

In the past 8 years of MacStories, I've tried organizing financial records and statements with plain text files and PDF documents; I've used and then abandoned dedicated finance management apps; for a couple of years, I even tested a combination of Dropbox, Excel, and Editorial to visualize transactions and generate invoices with a Markdown template. My Italian bank doesn't support direct integrations with third-party accounting services, and my particular requirements often include converting expenses from USD to EUR on a per-receipt basis.

Eventually, I always managed to keep my records up to date and neatly sorted with the help of an accountant, but I never loved any of the workflows I had established. In the end, several factors contributed to begrudgingly assembling reports and statements with systems I didn't find flexible enough.

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iPad Diaries: Working with Zip Archives

iPad Diaries is a regular series about using the iPad as a primary computer. You can find more installments here and subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.


Compressing files into archives and extracting them into a specific location is one of the most common desktop tasks that is still surprisingly tricky to adapt to the iPad.

Unlike macOS, the iPad doesn't come with a built-in Archive Utility app that takes care of decompressing archives, nor does iOS include a native 'Compress Files' system action to create and share archives. I'd wager that anyone who works from an iPad deals with file archives on a regular basis, whether they come from email clients, Dropbox links shared by colleagues, or uploads in a Slack channel.

Archives – and the popular .zip format – are a staple of document-based workflows and file management, but the iPad isn't well-equipped to handle them. Working with .zip files on iOS is among the most frequent questions I receive from iPad-first users every week; effectively, Apple only offers basic integration with iOS' Quick Look when it comes to file archives. Fortunately, just like advanced file management, we have some solid third-party options and automation to help us.

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iPad Diaries: Optimizing Apple Notes

iPad Diaries is a regular series about using the iPad as a primary computer. You can find more installments here and subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.


I've been using Apple Notes every day since its relaunch with iOS 9 in 2015.

Apple's refreshed note-taking app landed with impeccable timing: it supported the then-new iPad Split View in the first beta of the OS released in June, and Apple deftly positioned Notes as a nimble, multi-purpose tool that many saw as a much-needed escape from Evernote's bloated confusion. I almost couldn't believe that I was switching to Apple Notes – for years, it had been derided as the epitome of démodé skeuomorphism – but the app felt refreshing and capable.

Notes in 2017 isn't too different from its iOS 9 debut. Apple added integration with the Pencil in late 2015, private notes with iOS 9.3, and they brought sharing and collaboration features in iOS 10, but the app's core experience is still based on the foundation laid two years ago. Unlike, say, Apple Music or Apple News, Notes has remained familiar and unassuming, which gives it an aura of trustworthiness and efficiency I don't perceive in other built-in Apple apps (except for Safari).

I keep some of my most important documents in Notes – from bank statements to health records – and anything I want to save for later tends to be captured with Notes' extension. Apple Notes is my brain's temporary storage unit – the place where I archive little bits of everything before I even have time to think about them, process them, and act on them. Some of the content I save in Notes is eventually transformed into DEVONthink archives or Trello cards; other notes live in the app and they're continuously edited to reflect what's on my mind. I rely on Apple Notes and it's one of my most used Apple apps (again, along with Safari).1

Apple Notes, however, is not a great pro iPad app. Notes falters where other Apple software falls short: it's entrenched in iPhone paradigms at the expense of more advanced controls and customization options for iPad users. While Apple showed some promising steps towards "power-user features" with the three-pane layout added in iOS 10, I've long wished for a deeper degree of personalization in Notes for iOS. And given Apple's reluctance to tweak Notes' structure and functionality, I've come up with my own workarounds.

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iPad Diaries: Apple Pencil, Notability, and the Joy of Note-Taking

Please don't judge me by my terrible handwriting. I have other qualities.

Please don't judge me by my terrible handwriting. I have other qualities.

iPad Diaries is a regular series about using the iPad as a primary computer. You can find more installments here and subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.


Ever since I first got the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, I've wanted to use the Apple Pencil more. However, every time I tried to fit the Pencil into my workflow, I stumbled upon the realization that, no matter the excellence of the tool at hand, I'm no artist.

I spend most of my time typing with a keyboard (either a Bluetooth one or the iPad's software one) and, while it's fun to pretend I know what I'm doing in Linea or Paper, the sad reality is that I'm downright terrible at sketching or drawing. Moreover, unlike others, my background doesn't involve a passionate appreciation of pen and paper. Therefore, I'm attracted by the Pencil's concept and technology, but I don't need it for my main line of work; plus, handwriting stopped being a daily habit after I graduated high school in 2007.

I was inspired by a story Ryan wrote, though, to reconsider if my work routine could still benefit from a different note-taking perspective. Testing fresh approaches and new ideas has always been the underlying theme of my switch to the iPad, after all. So when Ryan shared his thoughts on using the Pencil for non-artistic purposes, I took it as an opportunity to try out the Pencil as a complement to my writing needs rather than a futile diversion.

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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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iPad Diaries: Advanced File Management and Research with DEVONthink

As I wrote in my story on one year of iPad Pro, I consider cloud services a necessity for managing files on iOS. Dropbox and iCloud Drive make it possible to keep the same sets of documents and app libraries synced across devices, but, more importantly, they help overcome iOS' file management woes through centralized storage spaces. In the article, I espoused the flexibility of Documents and its tight integration with Dropbox, noting how Readdle had built the missing iPad file manager with features Apple omitted from their iCloud Drive app.

Since early January, I've been thinking about my larger writing projects scheduled for 2017 and whether Documents can scale as a reference and research tool. Looking back at 2016 and the time I poured into organizing and referencing files for my iOS 10 review draft in Scrivener (which I covered here), I realized that neither Scrivener's built-in file manager nor Documents could meet the basic requirements I have set for this year's review. These include the ability to search different file types with advanced operators as well as a system to reference individual files and folders throughout iOS with local URLs. It was during this meta-research phase1 that I decided to try DEVONthink To Go again.

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