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Posts tagged with "macOS"

Bike: An Elegant Outliner For Mac-Focused Workflows

Bike is a brand new Mac-only outlining app from Hog Bay Software that executes the fundamentals of outlining flawlessly. The outline creation and editing workflows are polished, and the keyboard-focused navigation makes moving around a large outline effortless.

The app’s feature set is limited by design. That focus is part of what makes Bike such a good outliner. The care and attention that has gone into building a solid outlining foundation are immediately evident.

However, that focus comes with a downside. Bike is a simple app that won’t meet the needs of users looking for iPhone or iPad support, formatting options, Shortcuts support, or other features.

Overall, I like the approach Bike has taken a lot, but I think it has gone too far, limiting the app’s utility more than is necessary to maintain its simplicity. Let me explain what I mean.

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Apple Marks Global Accessibility Awareness Day by Announcing Upcoming Accessibility Features

Thursday is Global Accessibility Awareness Day. To mark the occasion, Apple has announced a long list of accessibility features coming to its products later this year and shared other ways it is celebrating the day through its apps and services.

Apple’s press release sums up the features coming to the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch as follows:

Using advancements across hardware, software, and machine learning, people who are blind or low vision can use their iPhone and iPad to navigate the last few feet to their destination with Door Detection; users with physical and motor disabilities who may rely on assistive features like Voice Control and Switch Control can fully control Apple Watch from their iPhone with Apple Watch Mirroring; and the Deaf and hard of hearing community can follow Live Captions on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Apple is also expanding support for its industry-leading screen reader VoiceOver with over 20 new languages and locales. These features will be available later this year with software updates across Apple platforms.

Door Detection will be part of the Magnifier app later this year. The feature helps blind and low vision users find and navigate doors when they arrive somewhere. The feature will judge the distance to the door using LiDAR, describe the door’s attributes, like whether it opens by pushing or using a doorknob, and read signs and symbols next to doors.

Apple Watch Mirroring.

Apple Watch Mirroring.

The Apple Watch will add several Physical and Motor accessibility features too. Apple Watch Mirroring, which is built on AirPlay in part, will allow users with physical and motor disabilities to control their Watches from an iPhone using Voice Control, Switch Control, voice commands, sound actions, head tracking, and Made for iPhone switches. The Apple Watch will also add a new double pinch gesture for controlling, like answering and ending phone calls and taking photos.

Apple Watch will add a new double pinch gesture.

Apple Watch will add a new double pinch gesture.

For Deaf and hard of hearing users, Apple will add Live Captions on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Apple says captioning will work with video calling apps like FaceTime, streaming video services, video conferencing apps, and in-person conversations. Live Captions occur on-device to preserve privacy, and on the Mac, users will be able to type a response that will be spoken aloud.

VoiceOver will get an update, too, adding the following languages:

  • Arabic (World)
  • Basque
  • Bengali (India)
  • Bhojpuri (India)
  • Bulgarian
  • Catalan
  • Croatian
  • Farsi
  • French (Belgium)
  • Galician
  • Kannada
  • Malay
  • Mandarin (Liaoning, Shaanxi, Sichuan)
  • Marathi
  • Shanghainese (China)
  • Spanish (Chile)
  • Slovenian
  • Tamil
  • Telugu
  • Ukrainian
  • Valencian
  • Vietnamese

VoiceOver on the Mac will also gain Text Checker that will discover formatting issues.

Additional upcoming accessibility features.

Additional upcoming accessibility features.

Apple previewed several other upcoming accessibility features across its products, including:

  • Buddy Controller, the ability for someone to use a second game controller to assist with playing a game as though the two controllers were one
  • Siri Pause Time, which will allow users to customize the period Siri waits before responding to a user
  • Voice Control Spelling Mode, for dictating words letter-by-letter
  • Customizable sound recognition of the sounds in your environment
  • New themes and text adjustments in the Books app for a more accessible reading experience
Apple apps and services are celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day, too.

Apple apps and services are celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day, too.

Also, Apple has announced that Global Accessibility Awareness Day is being celebrated with Apple Store sessions, an Accessibility Assistant shortcut in the Shortcuts app, special Fitness+ sessions and Time to Walk or Push episodes, an accessibility-oriented Maps guide, and highlighted content on the App Store and in Apple Books Apple Podcasts, Apple Music and Apple TV.

We’ve seen Apple announce accessibility features coming to future versions of its OSes before, but today’s announcement is unique given the number of features revealed. I’m eager to try these features out. Based on what Apple has said, there seems to be a lot here that will make meaningful impacts on a lot of users’ everyday lives.


UI Browser for macOS to Be Retired in October 2022

Longtime MacStories readers may be familiar with UI Browser, an incredible scripting tool for macOS created by Bill Cheeseman. UI Browser lets you discover the AppleScript structure of an app’s menu system, taking advantage of Apple’s Accessibility APIs to make it easier to script UI, which is not – how do I put this – normally “fun”, per se. UI Browser developer Bill Cheeseman, having turned 79 years old, has decided it is now time to “bring this good work to a conclusion”, and the app will be retired in October.

Here’s what John Gruber wrote about UI Browser last week:

Long story as short as possible: “Regular” AppleScript scripting is accomplished using the programming syntax terms defined in scriptable apps’ scripting dictionaries. If you ever merely tinkered with writing or tweaking AppleScript scripts, this is almost certainly what you know. But as an expansion of accessibility features under Mac OS X, Apple added UI scripting — a way to automate apps that either don’t support AppleScript properly at all, or to accomplish something unscriptable in an otherwise scriptable app. UI scripting is, basically, a way to expose everything accessible to the Accessibility APIs to anyone writing an AppleScript script. They’re not APIs per se but just ways to automate the things you — a human — can do on screen.

A great idea. The only downside: scripting the user interface this way is tedious (very verbose) at best, and inscrutable at worst. Cheeseman’s UI Browser makes it easy. Arguably — but I’ll argue this side — “regular” AppleScript scripting is easier than “UI” AppleScript scripting, but “UI” AppleScript scripting with UI Browser is easier than anything else. UI Browser is both incredibly well-designed and well-named: it lets you browse the user interface of an app and copy the scripting syntax to automate elements of it.

I first covered UI Browser in 2019, when I published a story on how I could control my Mac mini from the iPad Pro using Luna Display and some AppleScript, which I was able to learn thanks to UI Browser. I then mentioned UI Browser twice last month for Automation April: it was thanks to the app that I managed to create shortcuts to toggle the Lyrics and Up Next sidebars in the Music app for Monterey. Maybe it’s silly, but I think there’s something beautiful in the fact that the last thing I did with UI Browser was bridging the old world of AppleScript with the modern reality of Shortcuts.

Gruber argued that Apple should acquire UI Browser and make it part of their built-in scripting tools for macOS; while I don’t disagree, I think it’s more realistic to hope another indie developer or studio picks up UI Browser and continues developing for as long as possible. There’s nothing else like it on the market, and I’d like to thank Bill Cheeseman for his amazing work on this application over the years. It’ll be missed.

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Automation April: 10 Shortcuts for Discord, Photos, Finder and Files, Tot, Weather Forecasts, and More

All the shortcuts I created for Automation April this month.

All the shortcuts I created for Automation April this month.

It’s the final week of Automation April, and before we get into the details of the final batch of 10 shortcuts I’ve prepared for this week, I just want to express my gratitude toward all readers – old and new – who checked out MacStories this month, entered the contest, or signed up for Club MacStories. The response to Automation April has exceeded our most optimistic expectations: we received over 200 shortcut submissions for the contest, which is why we’re taking a few extra days to sift through all of them before; look for an official announcement of all the winners next week.

For this final group of 10 shortcuts, I’ve assembled another pretty diverse list of utilities for iPhone, iPad, and Mac that integrate with different parts of Apple’s operating systems. There’s a shortcut that automatically deletes old files from Finder or the Files app; another that finds the unique identifier of a specific task in the Reminders app; there’s a shortcut that gives you a weather report for the location of an upcoming event in your calendar. In case you missed the previous collections of shortcuts, you can find them here and here.

So, with Automation April coming to a close, let’s dive in one last time and check out the details of the shortcuts I’m sharing this week.

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Knotwords: A New Word Game From Zach Gage and Jack Schlesinger

Knotwords is a deceptively simple new game from Zach Gage and Jack Schlessinger that combines elements of multiple word and logic puzzles into a unique, fun experience.

Each puzzle is composed of a set of squares that are divided into sections. Letters in the corner of a section establish which letters can be placed in that section of the puzzle. The goal is to arrange the letters, so they spell words vertically and horizontally throughout the puzzle. If that sounds simple, it is, but like any good game, just because the rules are easy to grasp doesn’t mean the game itself is easy.

As you explore and test solutions in Knotwords, the available letters are highlighted on a keyboard at the bottom of the screen, making it easy to tell which letters remain available to play. Once a row has been filled with letters horizontally or vertically, Knotwords will let you know if your letters are out of place by scratching out the letters in pink.

Like Sudoku, solving words makes each puzzle progressively easier by eliminating the number of possible letters that can be placed in open squares. It’s a dynamic that helps ease the frustration of getting stuck on one part of a puzzle because focusing your efforts elsewhere often leads to a breakthrough in an area where you were having trouble. There’s also a built-in hint system featuring the game’s rabbit mascot, who dispenses hints in the form of definitions of words instead of the answers themselves. Also, on iOS, the game includes an upbeat soundtrack with a jazzy lounge music vibe and generous use of haptic feedback, both of which add to the overall experience.

I’m a big fan of logic puzzles like Knotwords. They’re an excellent way to unwind by concentrating on something that isn’t your work or something else that might be on your mind. Knotwords fits that role perfectly by being easy to learn and play but challenging to solve and unique. The experience is a little like doing a crossword puzzle without the clues. It’s a combination that I love, so I plan to make Knotwords a regular part of my downtime this summer.

In addition to iOS and iPadOS, Knotwords is available on Android, the Mac, and PC. The game is free to download on the App Store and includes a core set of puzzles, but for $4.99/year or a one-time payment of $11.99, you can unlock more puzzlebook puzzles each month, a daily Twist puzzle, additional hints, statistics, and color themes.


Automation April: Processing Tot Dots with Shortcuts

I’ve used Tot by The Iconfactory on and off since it was released in 2020 and reviewed by Federico, but it never stuck. I never came up with a system for using the app that fits well with how I work. Instead, I would simply dump text and URLs copied from the web or jot notes to myself haphazardly in any of the app’s seven colorful dots. The trouble was that when I went back to the app to find something, I often found myself clicking and scrolling around a lot to find what I wanted.

With the introduction of Tot’s Shortcuts support, I immediately saw an opportunity to process Tot’s dots in ways that would make the app fit better with the way I use it. I still don’t have a system for the app’s seven dots. Instead, I’ve got a shortcut called Tot Dot Review that lets me parse and process Tot’s dots in several different ways that shows off Tot’s shortcuts actions along with a handful of built-in Shortcuts actions for extracting different types of data from text.

Tot Dot Review lets me quickly pull URLs, Apple Maps URLs, addresses, phone numbers, and dates from my Tot notes without skimming through each of the app’s seven notes. I can also copy Tot’s notes into Markdown-formatted text that I can copy and paste into another app for processing and delete the content of all seven Tot notes, so I can start fresh. The combination of options has made it easier to find and manage things in Tot, which has led me to use the app more too.

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Sofa 3.3 Adds Extensive Customization Options

Sofa 3.3, the media organizer app for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, is out, and the update is all about customization. If you haven’t tried Sofa before, check out our recent coverage of the app, which was a runner-up for the MacStories Selects awards in the Best App Update category last year. The update includes a long list of ways to personalize Sofa, which are best shown off by showing you what’s possible, so let’s update the list of books I’ve got in Sofa.

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Automation April: myTunes, a Personalized Music Video Channel

One of the delights of Shortcuts is the potential of simple individual actions. By themselves, they might not do much, but combined with simple actions from other apps, they create shortcuts that are greater than the sum of their parts. Two of my favorite recent examples are a pair of actions from the apps Play and Downie that combined with a new feature of the Channels app, have allowed me to create a personalized music video channel that I can watch anywhere.

I’ve been tinkering with this idea on and off for months, but it wasn’t until Play came along, and Channels expanded beyond TV shows and movies, that the last pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Those two changes have allowed me to build my own version of 80s era MTV, when the channel was about music, not reality TV, using just a handful of Shortcuts actions.

There are already ways to stream an endless playlist of music videos, including Apple Music TV, which is available in the TV app. However, I like the concept of Apple Music TV more than its implementation. It’s too much like radio, spoon-feeding me someone else’s music picks. What I wanted was complete control of the library of music videos I watch.

Watching myTunes on the Apple TV.

Watching myTunes on the Apple TV.

One way to solve this would be to create a playlist on the Mac with my favorite music videos and play them on shuffle. That’s not a bad solution, but it doesn’t square with how I find music videos. More often than not, I discover videos on Twitter or in my RSS feeds where I follow sites like Chorus.fm and Pitchfork, which frequently link to music videos on YouTube.

What I’ve always wanted was an automated way to download the best videos I find from YouTube and play them at my leisure on my TV, an iPad, or any other device with a screen. What Shortcuts and a few third-party apps have delivered is even better than I’d hoped: a virtual TV channel ready to play my favorite music videos 24/7 on shuffle, which I call myTunes. Here’s how it works.

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Automation April: A Three-Part Shortcuts Workflow for Syncing Timestamped Research Notes with Videos

Whenever I review notes I’ve taken on a video, I inevitably want to go back to rewatch parts of it. However, finding the right segment is a slow, cumbersome chore, which is why I’ve created Timestamped Notes, a trio of shortcuts that are optimized for the Mac, but adaptable to iPadOS, to automate the process of creating timestamped notes without interrupting your typing.

There are two scenarios where I use or plan to use these shortcuts a lot. The first is during Apple events when I’m under time pressure to get stories out and don’t have the luxury of scanning through large sections of a presentation as I write. Timestamped Notes got its first real-world test with Apple’s March event and passed with flying colors.

The second scenario where I’ll use Timestamped Notes a lot is during WWDC. I take lots of notes as I watch recorded presentations, but I often don’t revisit the notes I take for days or weeks later. If I need to refresh my memory of what was said during the session by skipping back through the session, Timestamped Notes will be what I use. No matter what kind of video or audio you take notes on, though, if there’s a chance you’ll want to go back to the source material, Timestamped Notes makes finding what you took notes on much easier.

Part of the inspiration for this shortcut came from a series of articles by Jason Snell and Dan Moren on Six Colors. They built a Stream Deck-powered shortcut for taking timestamped notes to highlight portions of podcast audio that needed editing. I built a similar shortcut at the time but abandoned it because it didn’t fit with the way I edit podcasts. However, the experience got me thinking about other ways to use timestamped notes that might fit better in other scenarios, which is what led to Timestamped Notes.

Timestamped Notes addresses three problems:

  • Creating a clean starting point, so your timestamped notes line up properly with the start of the video you watched
  • Providing a simple and fast way to create a timestamp that doesn’t interrupt the note-taking process
  • Converting clock-based timestamps, so they line up with a video’s timeline, which starts at 00:00:00.

The solution was to create three separate shortcuts, which I’ll cover in turn.

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