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Posts tagged with "things"

Things’ Quick Find Feature Upgraded Across iPhone, iPad, and Mac

Today the popular task manager Things was updated with several small, but noteworthy enhancements to its Quick Find feature across iPhone and iPad versions, with the Mac update arriving shortly. There’s a convenient new way to access Quick Find, recent lists are now displayed automatically, headings can be searched, and there are a variety of new lists that Things recognizes as search parameters.

One of my favorite details in Things is the ability to pull down from the top of a list to open Quick Find; the matching animation is lovely, and it’s accompanied by a perfect touch of haptic feedback on iPhone. Sometimes though, getting back to the top of a long list can take too long, so now you can simply tap a list’s name, which perpetually sits at the top-center of the UI, and Quick Find will immediately open. Also, the Quick Find window now always displays the four most recent lists you’ve visited; whether you searched for those lists or just accessed them from the sidebar menu, you’ll always see your last-visited lists in the search box.

The other big improvement to Quick Find is the new search parameters it now accepts. There are changes here in two areas: headings and special lists. Headings are an organizational tool you can use to sort your Things projects into divided sections; essentially, they’re a lightweight additional option for organization. Previously, none of your created headings could be searched in Quick Find, but that issue has now been remedied. Any and every heading you create in a project can be surfaced in Quick Find.

Things now offers a handful of special lists that aren’t accessible from the sidebar, but only through Quick Find. These include the following:

  • Tomorrow: Like Today, but for tomorrow’s tasks.
  • Deadlines: All tasks with deadlines.
  • Repeating: All repeating tasks.
  • Logged Projects: Completed projects, including completion date for each.
  • All Projects: Every current project.

Searching for any of these lists will grant easy access to them. I only wish Things provided the option to add one or more of these to the sidebar; hopefully a customizable sidebar is in the cards for Things in 2020.

Historically, iPhone and iPad apps haven’t been as feature-rich as Mac apps when it comes to search functionality. Where Mac apps often enable very granular search options, and power user features like saved searches, search on the iPhone and iPad is typically a bare-minimum approach. For that reason, it’s exciting to see the team behind Things devote a whole update to making search better, not only on the Mac, but across all platforms. Just as it did last year with keyboard shortcuts on the iPad, Things sets a strong example of pushing an oft-neglected iOS feature forward to be on par with its Mac equivalent.

Things is available on the App Store for iPhone, iPad, and Mac.


Things 3.7 Brings Support for Shortcuts, Siri Watch Face, iPhone Landscape Mode, and More

Today Cultured Code launched the latest update to Things, version 3.7, on iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch. The app’s headline feature is full support for Siri shortcuts, but it also brings welcome improvements in a few other areas: integration with the Apple Watch’s Siri face, landscape support on iPhone which includes the iPhone X, dynamic notifications, and more. Taken together, it’s a broad set of enhancements that takes full advantage of all the latest APIs Apple has to offer.

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Things 3.6 Reimagines External Keyboard Control on iPad

Despite Apple’s message that the iPad Pro can be a viable PC replacement because, among other features, it natively supports a dedicated external keyboard, its software still isn’t fully optimized for keyboard control. This isn’t surprising at all: iOS was designed with multitouch in mind; as long as the iPad shares a common foundation with the iPhone, it’ll always be first and foremost a touch computer. The iPad Pro line, however, is nearing its third anniversary, and its external keyboard integration still feels like an afterthought that’s hard to reconcile with the company’s marketing.

Take multitasking for example: after three years, Split View, one of the iPad’s marquee exclusive features, still can’t be controlled from an external keyboard. If you buy an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard and assume that you’re going to be able to assign an app to a side of the Split View, or maybe resize it, or perhaps change the keyboard’s focus from one side to another…well, do not assume. As much as Apple argued against vertical touch screen surfaces in laptops years ago, the iPad Pro ended up in this very situation: if you want to take advantage of all the great features iOS 11 offers to pro users, you will have to take your hands off the Smart Keyboard and touch the screen. There are dozens of similar instances elsewhere in iOS. For the most part, the iPad treats external keyboards as inferior, bolt-on input devices.

It’s with this context that I want to cover Things 3.6, a major update to the task manager’s iPad version that gives us a glimpse into what Apple could do with external keyboard control on iPad if only they understood its potential.

I’ve been able to play around with Things 3.6 on my iPad Pro for the past couple of weeks. This isn’t another “keyboard-centric” update that only adds a handful of shortcuts to trigger specific commands. Instead, the developers at Cultured Code have focused on an all-encompassing keyboard control framework for the whole app, from task lists to popovers and multiple selections. With version 3.6, Things has the best implementation of external keyboard support I’ve ever seen in an iPad app.

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Things 3.5 Brings UI Refinements, Tagging and Automation Improvements, Clipboard Integration

It’s been a busy 2018 so far for Cultured Code, makers of Things for Mac and iOS. Earlier this year, the company shipped Things 3.4, which, thanks to app integrations and a toolkit for third-party developers, propelled the task manager into the elite of automation-capable apps on iOS. It doesn’t happen very often that a task manager becomes so flexible it lets you build your own natural language interpreter; Things 3.4 made it possible without having to be a programmer by trade.

Today, Cultured Code is launching Things 3.5, a mid-cycle update that refines several aspects of the app and prepares its foundation for other major upgrades down the road. There isn’t a single all-encompassing change in Things 3.5 – nor is this version going to convince users to switch to Things like, say, version 3.4 or 3.0 might have. However, Things 3.5 is a collection of smaller yet welcome improvements that are worth outlining because they all contribute to making Things more powerful, intuitive, and consistent with its macOS counterpart.

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Workflow 1.7.8 Adds ‘Mask Image’ Action, Things Automation Support, PDF Text Extraction, and More

In the first update since November 2017, Apple today released version 1.7.8 of Workflow, the powerful iOS automation app they acquired last year. The latest version, which is now available on the App Store, introduces a brand new Mask Image action, adds support for Things’ automation features, and improves the ability to extract text from PDFs using the company’s PDFKit framework, launched in iOS 11. While the unassuming version number may suggest a relatively minor update, Workflow 1.7.8 actually comes with a variety of noteworthy changes for heavy users of the app.

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Things Automation: Building a “Natural Language” Parser in Workflow

One of the Todoist features I miss the most as a Things user is the service’s natural language parser. Available in the Quick Add field of Todoist for iOS, web, and macOS, this feature is, effectively, Fantastical for tasks. Instead of having to manually select task fields such as projects, tags, or dates, you can take advantage of an easy-to-remember syntax and quickly type them out. As you do that, Todoist will highlight the parts it understands in red, indicating that it knows how to parse them. I entered hundreds of tasks in Todoist using this system, and I think it’s an aspect of task creation that every other task manager should implement as well. It makes perfect sense, and it saves a lot of time.

Aside from a half-baked attempt at supporting natural language entry in its date assignment UI, Things doesn’t unfortunately offer a quick entry feature comparable to Todoist’s. So, of course, I set out to make my own using the app’s latest automation features.

Well, kind of. For starters, as much as I’d love to, automation doesn’t mean I can make my own interfaces in Things, supplementing the app with my custom UI to more easily create tasks. Things’ new URL scheme only lets us send data from other apps such as Workflow or Drafts. More importantly though, the workflow I’m sharing today isn’t based on a complex natural language engine such as the one used by Todoist or, say, the Chrono JS parser; I’m just using some special characters sprinkled with some delicious regex to make sure Workflow knows what constitutes a task title, a project, or a due date. Thus the quoted “natural language” in the headline of this story: it’s only natural as long as you don’t forego the special syntax required to make the workflow run.

That said, I’m quite happy with how this workflow lets me add multiple tasks to Things at once. I’ve been finding it especially useful at the end of the work day or during my weekly review, when I make a list of all the things I’m supposed to do next and want an easy way to add them all to Things. For this reason, rather than restricting this workflow to Club MacStories members, I thought every MacStories reader could benefit from it and modify it to their needs.

If you’re a Club member, you can still look forward to advanced Things workflows over the next few issues of MacStories Weekly; this one, however, has been too useful for me not to share with everyone.

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Things 3.4 Brings Powerful New Automation Features and App Integrations

I switched to Things as my task manager late last year, sometime before the holidays. While I discussed this decision at length on Connected and AppStories, I didn’t write about it on MacStories because I didn’t want to rehash Ryan’s in-depth review of Things 3. In terms of design and features, everything I like about Things is covered in his original review.

My personal motivation for switching to Things boils down to this: the way projects and the Today screen are designed in Things fits well with my schedule, and doesn’t stress me out. Things has a “calm” interface that doesn’t turn overdue tasks red, making me feel guilty; projects are clearly laid out with a tasteful use of San Francisco, and further organization can be applied to a project using headings, a feature I’ve never seen in any other task manager. And among dozens of thoughtful touches, Things’ separation of Today and This Evening for the current day is absolutely in line with how I think about my typical day. In short: I want 2018 to be less stressful than last year, and Things is helping with the task management part.

That said, as someone who used 2Do and Todoist in the past and heavily automated them for integration with other apps, I was missing some solid automation options from Things. Cultured Code has offered a basic URL scheme in their iOS app for a few years now, but the supported commands never went beyond the ability to create basic, metadata-free tasks in the app.

This is changing today with Things 3.4, which I’ve had the opportunity to test and experiment with for the past couple of months. With this new version, the folks at Cultured Code have shipped one of the most powerful and versatile URL scheme action libraries seen in a task manager for iOS – comparable to Omni’s work on OmniFocus, and, in a way, perhaps even more flexible.

The new Things URL scheme, which has been documented here, lets you create tasks, projects, show specific sections of the app, and search across your entire Things database. This may not sound too impressive on paper, but what sets this feature apart is the level of customization and detail that can be applied to every single parameter of every action. As a result, Things is now a first-class citizen of the iOS automation scene, and, within the limitations of iOS inter-app communication, its URL scheme unlocks several new possible integrations with apps and workflows.

Furthermore, Cultured Code wants to make it easy for third-party developers to natively support sending data to Things from their apps. Today, the company is also introducing a JSON-based command to allow more control when adding items to Things from external apps, and they’ve created a set of Swift helper classes that apps can use to easily generate the JSON needed to pass data to Things. As I’ll demonstrate later in this article, a couple developers of two of my favorite iOS apps are already taking advantage of these capabilities to great effect.

As you can imagine, I’ve been busy experimenting with the new automation features of Things and identifying aspects of the app I wanted to speed up by integrating them with other apps. Below, you’ll find a collection of the launchers and workflows I’ve put together for Things 3.4. These are the actions and scripts I find myself using the most on a daily basis, and which I believe considerably extend Things’ capabilities on the iPhone and iPad. More advanced workflows will follow over the next couple of weeks (and months) exclusively for Club MacStories members in the Workflow Corner section of MacStories Weekly.

Let’s dig in.

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The Sweet Setup Launches ‘All the Things’ Video Course

Today The Sweet Setup launched ‘All the Things’, a video course primarily aimed at explaining how to get the most out of Things, the popular task manager for Mac and iOS.

Like they did for their Ulysses screencasts last year, the folks at The Sweet Setup have produced a series of videos covering Things with walkthroughs of its basic features, project organization, as well as more advanced options such as iPad drag & drop and workflows. The videos included in the $29 ‘All the Things’ Basic package are:

  • Walkthrough of Things on the Mac, iPad, and iPhone
  • Anatomy of a Task
  • All the ways to Capture
  • Anatomy of a Project
  • Anatomy of an Area
  • Cloud Sync & Backup
  • iPad drag & drop
  • AppleScripts & Workflows

In addition to the screencasts, the Basic package includes setup interviews with Things users who rely on the app to get work done. I was honored when Shawn asked me to participate in the course, and it was fun to answer his questions about my decision to switch to Things and how I use the app. You can find my interview here.

I’m a fan of The Sweet Setup’s screencast courses. I like Shawn’s style of demonstrating features and how they work in practice, and I think the Basic video package is a great deal at $29 if you’re looking for a way to get started with Things and learn how other people use it.

There’s more, though. In the Pro version of the ‘All the Things’ package, available at $39 for a limited time, you’ll also get access to Shawn’s productivity training videos that contain general tips that work for any task manager. So whether you use Todoist or OmniFocus or something else, videos such as ‘How to Schedule Your Day’ and ‘Weekly Planning & Reviewing’ will likely give you something you can apply to your own workflow. And if you just want these videos without the Things screencasts, that’s also an option at $35.

I watched nearly every video of the ‘All the Things’ Pro bundle over the past week, and – I don’t say this because I was interviewed for this series – I think $39 for the discounted Pro package is great value whether you want to learn Things or optimize the way you work. You can find all the details about ‘All the Things’ and purchase the course here.