I spend a lot of time at a keyboard. The obvious advantage of a keyboard is speed. When I'm in a groove, nothing beats typing into a text editor at my Mac or iPad Pro for quickly recording thoughts and ideas, so they aren't forgotten.
Moving fast is not nearly as important when it comes time to refine those ideas into something coherent. Slowing down, switching tools and contexts, and working in different environments all help to bring order to disparate thoughts. The same holds for planning something new, whether it's the next big article or organizing my thoughts on some other project.
It's in situations like these when I grab my iPad Pro and open GoodNotes. The switch from the indirect process of typing into a text editor to working directly on the iPad's screen with the Apple Pencil enables a different perspective that helps me refine ideas in a way that typing doesn't.
With version 5, the GoodNotes team has taken my favorite iOS note-taking app and refined every aspect of the experience. The update retains the simplicity of the app's design but does a better job surfacing existing functionality and extending other features. The result is a more flexible, powerful app that plays to its existing strengths – which current users will appreciate – but should also appeal to a broader audience than ever.
As I wrote in my roundup of must-have iOS apps, I've been using iA Writer as my text editor, primarily because of its integration with Working Copy, beautiful typography, and syntax highlighting mode. As a non-native English speaker, I find the latter particularly useful when editing articles. iA Writer was updated to version 5.2 last week, and I'd like to point out a few welcome enhancements in this release.
Launch Center Pro, Contrast's popular launcher for iPhone and iPad, has been updated to version 3.0. It may be hard to believe, but Launch Center Pro 2.0 came out five years ago (in 2013), before Workflow, when Pythonista, Editorial, and Drafts were the only other apps pushing forward the idea of iOS automation thanks to URL schemes and x-callback-url.
The iOS automation landscape is vastly different five years later. While Apple still hasn't shipped a native automation framework for inter-app communication and URL schemes are still the only way to let apps exchange data with one another in an automated fashion, the evolution of Workflow into the Shortcuts app now provides users with an easier, more integrated solution to craft complex workflows. Not to mention how, thanks to its widget, 'Open URL' action, and ability to add custom launchers to the home screen, Shortcuts alone can supplant much of the functionality the likes of Launch Center Pro and Launcher have become well known for. Apple may not necessarily think about the Shortcuts app as "iOS automation" (they never used this expression in public), but it's undeniable that Workflow (then) and Shortcuts (now) are a superior, more powerful alternative to perform actions that were previously exclusive to Launch Center Pro.
For this reason, I believe it's best to think of Launch Center Pro in 2018 as a companion to Shortcuts – a more intuitive, perhaps simplified, versatile front-end to launch actions and apps in different ways, using triggers that aren't supported by Apple and which can complement Shortcuts rather than replace it. And with version 3.0 released today, Contrast is embracing this new role of Launch Center Pro as well, doubling down on what makes it unique compared to Shortcuts, and expanding the app's launcher capabilities in a handful of interesting ways.
For the past couple of years, I (and the rest of the MacStories team) have used Working Copy to store and collaborate on Markdown drafts for our articles. As I explained in a story from late 2016, even though Working Copy is a Git client primarily designed for programmers, it is possible to leverage the app's capabilities to perform version control for plain text too. Each MacStories team member has a private GitHub repository where we store Markdown files of our articles; in the same repository, other writers can make edits to drafts and commit them to GitHub; this way, the author can then pull back the edited file and use Working Copy's built-in diff tool to see what's changed from the last version of the file and read comments left by whoever edited the draft.
As I mentioned two years ago, this system takes a while to get used to: GitHub has a bit of overhead in terms of understanding the correct terminology for different aspects of its file management workflow, but Working Copy makes it easier by abstracting much of the complexity involved with committing files, pushing them, and comparing them. This system has never failed us in over two years, and it has saved us dozens of hours we would have otherwise spent exchanging revised versions of our drafts and finding changes in them. With Working Copy, we can use the text editors we each prefer and, as long as we overwrite the original copies of our drafts and keep track of commits, the app will take care of merging everything and displaying differences between versions. From a collaboration standpoint, using Working Copy and GitHub for file storage and version control has been one of the best decisions I made in recent years.
Evgeny Cherpak’s iOS app, Remote Control for Mac, has been updated with Siri shortcut support, which opens up some interesting ways to control a Mac with shortcuts. I’ve been using the app’s new Siri shortcuts for about a week and, as I covered on AppStories today, the shortcuts I’ve created that incorporate Remote’s functionality are already ones that I use every day.
Yoink is the app I use on my Mac every day as a temporary spot to park files, snippets of text, images, and URLs. By itself, Yoink for Mac has been a fantastic time-saver. The latest updates to Yoink for iOS and the Mac, however, have been transformative. There's more that can be done to support the cross-platform use of Yoink, but Handoff support, which makes it simple to move data between my Mac and iOS devices, and several other new features have already added a new dimension to the way I use the app and embedded it deeper into my day-to-day workflow than ever before.
Not long ago, I reviewed an update to a new text transformation utility for iOS by Chris Hannah called Text Case. That update added support for title casing text according to popular style guides including the Chicago Manual of Style that we use here at MacStories. The app can do 13 other text transformations too like URL encoding and decoding, all caps, sentence capitalization, and many more.
I have the title casing rules of the style guide internalized for the most part, but every now and I want to check on a headline to be sure. In the past, I used an online service, which works well, but switching to a browser is an interruption. It’s a small interruption, but it’s one that may lead me to check another open tab or do something else that distracts me from completing an article. When I’m writing, I’d rather stay immersed in my text editor.
With Text Case’s extension, I can run a headline conversion right inside my text editor from the share sheet that’s accessible from the contextual popup menu that appears when you select text. With version 1.3 out today, Hannah takes the app a step further by adding Siri Shortcut support too.
There are a lot of habit trackers on iOS, but Streaks was one of the first and remains the gold standard against which I measure all other trackers. Even as Crunchy Bagel has added new features and customization options, Streaks’ simple, elegant design has remained at the center of its user experience. That’s important because habit tracking only works if it’s easy to log events. Even the slightest friction makes it too easy to abandon your efforts.
I’ve reviewed Streaks 2 and last summer’s major 3.0 update before, so I won’t cover that ground again here. Instead, I’ll focus on what’s new: an all-new iPad app, timed tasks, improved health tasks, and Siri shortcuts.
Several weeks ago I mentioned Chris Hannah’s recently-released iOS text transformation utility Text Case in the Club MacStories weekly newsletter. The app has a simple, utilitarian design that uses the big, bold header text popularized by Apple apps like News and Music. Version 1.0 included a long list of built-in text transformations. Some, like URL encoding and decoding, are useful, and others, like ‘Mocking SpongeBob,’ are just for fun. By and large though, the transformations in version 1.0 were geared more towards developers than writers. That’s changed with version 1.2 of the app, which should make it appeal to a wider audience.
The latest update adds Title Case, which can transform headlines according to the style guides for the Associated Press, American Psychology Association, Modern Language Association, or Chicago Manual of Style. The update also adds sentence case and Pascal case.