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Jordan Merrick

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iPad Collective

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-12 00:23

I recently started a new website, iPad Collective, where I post recommendations for great iPad apps and accessories—from Apple Pencil cases and charging stands, to games and productivity apps. New posts are made a few times a week, and you can also subscribe to the site's RSS feed or follow @ipadcollective on Twitter.

Despite its rising popularity as a personal computer, there aren't many websites that focus on the iPad. I created iPad Collective to be a useful resource for users who want to know what the iPad ecosystem has to offer, which products are worth buying, and how they can further improve their iPad experience.

A buyer's guide for iPad apps and accessories is just the first stage of what I'm hoping to accomplish with iPad Collective. Longer term, I plan to start publishing guides and other content that can help readers of any skill level get the most out of their iPad. I'd also like to have other iPad users contribute and share their knowledge, experience, and personal recommendations, too.

There may be some changes here and there as the site matures, but I have a lot of posts scheduled for the next few weeks. If you have any comments, suggestions, or feedback, drop me a line.


IFTTT Rich Notifications

Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-24 02:41

The IFTTT iOS app was updated earlier today with support for rich notifications. In addition to a custom title and image, these rich notifications also support a custom URL that can be opened when a notification is actioned. For example, an applet that notifies you of a new GitHub issue can now include that issue's URL. Tapping the View button in the notification would then open that URL in Safari.

It's also possible to use app URL schemes in notification URLs, so that tapping a notification opens an iOS app—even passing information into it. I created a simple applet, triggered by a button in the IFTTT widget, that sent a rich notification using the new URL scheme of Things as its URL. This URL simply created a new task in my Things inbox, and included some of the default ingredients as the task's note.

IFTTT automatically URL encodes any information passed as an ingredient, though any manually written text must first be URL encoded.

This update narrows the gap between IFTTT and native apps with URL schemes. We're still a long way off an end-to-end solution, since these URL actions can only be triggered when a notification is actioned, and I'm not quite sure how I might use this yet. However, it's still an interesting new way to leverage IFTTT in more apps.


Quitting Twitter

Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-22 02:12

It's been just over a month since I left Twitter. I did this for the sake of my well-being and happiness, and because I no longer wanted to use a service that allows so much abuse and does so little to stop it.

Twitter had become an inescapable deluge of abuse, anger, bad news, and disinformation, and I was barely treading water. I would wake up each morning filled with anxiety and trepidation about what to expect on Twitter during the day; a constant distraction that was mentally and physically exhausting, and making my life miserable.

The platform also brings out the worst in people because the worst people know they can get away with it. The amount of abuse and harassment on Twitter is overwhelming, and you don't have to look far to see just how toxic it is. The company is well aware of this but doesn't have the courage to take real action. Twitter would much rather work on features to increase revenue and user count than provide existing users with even the most basic tooling and support to deal with abuse.

Quitting Twitter has been a genuine quality of life improvement for me. It's as though a dark, heavy cloud of negativity has lifted, and I no longer get worked up about whatever might be the trending shitstorm du jour. I feel more focused and positive, and generally in much better mental health.

This decision has also boosted my productivity as I have a lot more free time now. I estimate I would check Twitter a few times an hour, a couple minutes each time. On a daily basis, I was probably spending an hour or two just on Twitter. Getting a couple of hours in the day back was an unexpected surprise, so I'm making the best use of it. I'm now much more productive throughout the day, find it easier to relax in the evenings and weekends, and am reading more than ever.

I have no desire to return to Twitter. I'm not ruling it out, but the platform would have to drastically change before I'd even consider it. There's very little Twitter can do for me that I can't go elsewhere for, and what it does provide isn't worth my happiness or support. For my own sake, abandoning Twitter was the right decision, and I only wish I'd done it sooner.


Getting Nespresso Capsule Information With Workflow

Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-07 02:15

I recently added a Nespresso machine to my growing collection of coffee paraphernalia. It arrived with a selection of some of the 26 varieties available in the OriginalLine range—each one has a different strength (intensity) and cup size (ristretto, espresso, or lungo).

However, there's no way to know this information just by looking at the capsule as it only has the name printed on it. To know more, one needs to either keep the packaging, refer to the website, or have this information memorized. There is a Nespresso iOS app available, but it's not easy to quickly find a capsule and get its strength and cup size.

This seemed like a good opportunity to explore Workflow's Dictionary functionality, a feature I hadn't really used before. I created this Nespresso Capsule Information workflow to look up the intensity and cup size for any Nespresso capsule. To make it a little more interesting, capsule information can be retrieved by selecting either its name or an image of it.

Nespresso Information Workflow

All of the capsule data is stored within a Dictionary action inside the workflow. I created a Base64-encoded archive of all capsule images and included it as a Text action in the workflow (that's what the nonsensical first action is). This is decoded and extracted when running the workflow, so no images need to be separately copied or installed anywhere—allowing the the workflow to be entirely self-contained.


Get the Latest Cryptocurrency Prices With Workflow

Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-02 01:45

For those wanting to keep track of popular cryptocurrency prices, this workflow retrieves a list of the top 10 cryptocurrencies on CoinMarketCap using their API. Selecting a currency returns the current price in USD, along with the percentage change from 24 hours ago.

The workflow can be run as normal, from the Today Widget, or directly on Apple Watch.


Opening Reddit URLs in Apollo

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-07 17:45

Apollo is a superb Reddit client and one of my favorite iOS apps from last year. Unlike the official Reddit app, Apollo can't automatically open reddit.com URLs1, so these URLs open in Safari if the official app isn't installed. However, there are a few easy ways of opening them directly in Apollo.

Copy URL to clipboard

If you copy a Reddit URL to the clipboard, then launch Apollo, the app automatically detects the reddit.com URL and asks if you want to open it. It's a few taps and swipes, but it works fine.

Workflow

Reddit URLs can be opened in Apollo through the use of an action extension workflow that replaces https:// with apollo://. Sharing any Reddit URLs to this workflow automatically converts the URL and opens it, launching Apollo.

Opener

Both of the above options are quick to do but involve a couple of steps to complete. Opener ($1.99) is a useful app and action extension that allows you to open links in any app that supports it.

The benefit of Opener is that it can be set to auto-open URLs with compatible apps. For Reddit URLs, I've configured Opener to auto-open them in Apollo. If I have a Reddit URL, I can just tap the Share button and select Opener, then Apollo launches automatically.

  1. This isn't a fault of the app, it's because of the restrictions iOS has in place. iOS doesn't allow you to specify a default app, and universal links can only be used by official first-party apps (e.g., the official Reddit app for reddit.com URLs). 


My Favorite Tech Purchases in 2017

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-03 03:23

Following on from my previous post, here's a list of my favorite tech purchases in 2017.

iPhone X

I haven't been this impressed with an iPhone since the first one. It's a beautiful design, though I don't get to admire it because I keep it in a case at all times. Face ID works so well that the process to unlock my iPhone is completely transparent—I just look at the screen and swipe up. The OLED screen is magnificent to look at and its notch is simply a non-issue. In fact, apps like Halide have come up with clever ways to make it part of the app experience.

My favorite feature of iPhone X is the camera. I've always wanted the dual-lens camera system but didn't like the form factor of the Plus-sized iPhone. iPhone X gives me the best of both worlds, and I'm finding myself reaching for my DxO One less and less.

Nintendo Switch

I've lost count of the hours I've spent playing games on my Nintendo Switch. It's such a fun experience, and games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey represent Nintendo at its best.

My time spent with the Switch is about 50/50 docked and undocked. Being able to spend a few hours playing a game with the Pro controller on the TV and then go portable is a novelty that hasn't worn off. If someone had told me a few years ago that I could play Skyrim on a portable gaming device, I wouldn't have believed it.

Asus Predator Helios 300

While I'm on the subject of video games, I also replaced my aging gaming PC. I decided to go with a gaming laptop this time around (rather than build a new rig) as I wanted the option of portability. When it's on my desk, I use it with an external display, Logitech G Pro keyboard, and Logitech G602 wireless gaming mouse.

Despite being priced more in the $1,000 "budget" range, the Asus Predator Helios 300 still packs a punch. It's powered by an Intel i7 processor and Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics card, so games run buttery-smooth. When playing Overwatch on High settings, I can get close to 200 FPS.

KeySmart Pro

I've written about the KeySmart Pro already, but it's definitely one of my favorite purchases of 2017. Not only is it a handy key organizer, the rechargeable Tile integration means I can keep track of my keys without the need for a separate Tile attachment.

Eufy RoboVac 11

One of the top picks over at The Sweet Home, the Eufy RoboVac 11 robot vacuum cleaner has done a good job of dealing with dust and dog hair. It can run for well over an hour before it has to return to base and recharge, works on both hard floors and thin carpets, and is clever enough to deal with various obstacles and chairs around the home (though it does sometimes get tangled in the occasional loose cable).

It's not a replacement for a proper vacuum cleaner, but running it a few times a week does wonders to keep our home clean.


My Favorite iOS Apps in 2017

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-23 21:47

2017 was the year I bid farewell to the Mac and went all in with iOS. Following the lead of Federico Viticci and Gabe Weatherhead, here's a selection of my favorite iOS apps of the past year.

Apollo

Using Apollo (Free, $2.99 to unlock Pro features) on my iPhone X to browse Reddit is such a delight. It has an elegant design that feels uncluttered, and includes a ton of features and options. Despite all that, the app never feels bloated, complex, or clunky.

The app is clearly a labor of love by someone who frequently uses Reddit. There's a great community of users in /r/apolloapp, where the developer also discusses bugs, feature requests, and what's to come in later versions.

The iPad experience does need some improvement, though the developer has plans to overhaul this experience as part of version 2.

Apple Notes

Notes continues to be my preferred note-taking app. I've used many different apps and services over the years, from Evernote to Bear, but I just keep coming back to Notes for it's simplicity and stability.

It's a great example of an app and service that "just works". Syncing is always rock-solid and fast, with changes immediate reflected across all my devices. The improved Share Sheet in iOS 11 has made it even easier for me to quickly capture thoughts or pieces of information.

There isn't much I need from a note-taking app, and Apple Notes fits the bill.

Castro

I don't have the time to listen to every episode of the podcasts I'm subscribed to. The rather unique approach Castro ($1.99) takes to podcast management is one I truly appreciate—and why it's my favorite podcast app.

Instead of adding new episodes to a play queue automatically, they're placed into an Inbox to triage first. I can then take a look at each episode and decide if I want to add it to the queue. This is especially useful for managing shows with daily episodes that aren't required listening. For some of my must-listen shows, I have Castro skip the inbox and add them to the queue directly.

Coda

I've owned Coda ($24.99) ever since it was released, but it became one of my most frequently used apps this year. With it, I'm able to use my iPad for web development.

Coda is really three apps in one: a text editor, SSH client, and file manager. Any time I need to make a change to my site that requires editing code, I can connect to my development server using Coda and make the necessary changes.

Since I have full command-line access to that server using Coda's SSH client, I can start an instance of Jekyll and test the changes I've made. If everything looks good, I use git commands to commit the changes and push them to GitHub.

Unfortunately, the future of Coda isn't clear. Earlier this year, Panic published a retrospective of 2016 and highlighted that the company has struggled to make their iOS apps profitable. I'm optimistic about its future though—if anyone can figure it out, it's Panic.

MindNode

I started using mind maps earlier this year, and MindNode (Free, $14.99 to unlock all features) is my app of choice. I can quickly hide the interface and create a distraction-free environment as I'm writing down my thoughts, and there are a wide range of formatting options to style and structure the resulting mind map.

MindNode's support for iOS 11 allows you to open and save mind maps anywhere that's supported by Files. Mind maps can also be exported into a variety of formats. The app even integrates with Reminders and can sync tasks and completion status.

Things

I used to be a Things user back in the day, but the lack of custom timed alerts on tasks drove me to 2Do. But after recently giving Things 3 for iPhone ($9.99) a try, I immediately switched over.

The app itself is stunningly beautiful. It feels more laid back than most other task management systems, yet still has a lot of the same functionality you'll find elsewhere. There's no friction between me and the tasks I create or need to accomplish, and even the task list view shows only the most important information.

It's not as feature-rich as 2Do but, like Apple Notes, it does everything I need, and even includes a decent Apple Watch app and Siri integration. I also use Things 3 for iPad ($19.99), which is available as a separate purchase.

Working Copy

Working Copy (Free, $14.99 to unlock all features) is one of my all-time favorite apps. For those unfamiliar with it, it's a fully functional Git client for iOS that seamlessly integrates with services like GitHub and GitLab.

Working Copy is an integral part of the process to manage and update this site. Any changes I make (e.g., new blog post) are committed and pushed to GitHub, after which Netlify regenerate's the site and deploys the changes automatically. I also use the app to manage the Workflow Directory repository on GitHub.

Working Copy is one of the best GUIs for Git I've ever used. Without it, I doubt I'd be using my iPad in the way I do today.


Tiny GIFs in iMessage

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-10 20:26

As my wife, friends, and work colleagues can attest to, I often communicate using GIFs (hard G, don't @ me). Most of my usage is within Slack, though I do occasionally use them in iMessage. However, my experience with iMessage and GIFs has been problematic. Whenever I'd send someone a GIF via iMessage, the recipient would often reply saying it was unwatchable because the size of it was so small.

It didn't matter where the GIF came from (either pasted in or sourced from an iMessage app like GIPHY), the resolution of the GIF received was always extremely low. I had no idea what was causing this and just assumed it was an issue with iMessage's handling of GIFs. But after receiving watchable GIFs from friends, I began to investigate the issue.

I took a look at some settings for Messages and noticed that there is a Low Quality Image Mode option that was enabled. I remember enabling this option several iPhones ago to save bandwidth whenever I sent photos via iMessage, back when I was on a terrible data plan in the UK. After turning this option off, GIFs were untouched when sent and were received as intended—in their full, bloated glory.

To everyone in my iMessage conversations, I apologize in advance for the upcoming impact to your data plans.


Device Screenshots Workflow Updated for iPhone X

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-05 01:42

I've updated my Device Screenshots workflow with support for iPhone X (direct link to workflow). As with other devices, it automatically detects the orientation of the screenshot and generates either a portrait and landscape image.

iPhone X device screenshot

For landscape screenshots, the notch is located on the right.

iPhone X device screenshot in landscape

I've also added a Set Name action to the workflow so a name can be given to the finished device image before saving it.