Launch Center Pro 2.0 is Pretty Great

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Before I was writing AppleScripts, shell scripts and Ruby scripts, I was playing around with URL schemes. iOS URL schemes were my gateway drug to automation. It seemed magical to me (at first) that I could send OmniFocus tasks or email messages around with URLs. (This was before Javascript automation from Mobile Safari hit me too, which really bowled me over.) But, Launch Center Pro was showing its age. With iOS 7, Launch Center Pro felt heavy (UI-wise) and it hadn’t seen an update in a while. To my surprise, Launch Center Pro 2.0 launched today and shockingly, it’s a free update for existing customers.

What’s New?

  1. Launch Center Pro got an iOS 7 style makeover. The typefaces are lighter, there are now three themes for the app (light, dark and classic) and when you’re creating or modifying an action you get all the options in one screen. (I believe you had to drill down a little to get to custom URLs previously. That’s now available right up front.) There are new glyphs for folder icons and new background textures for actions.
  2. There are new actions for Dropbox. You can now send photos or the clipboard to Dropbox and optionally get a shareable link returned to you. There is also a [[dropbox]] tag that will pull up a Dropbox file chooser that you can include in your own actions.
  3. You can call on Launch Center Pro actions from outside Launch Center Pro. If you have a Drafts action or an Ashes “Share Anywhere” action, you can call Launch Center Pro actions externally.
  4. You can share your actions. There is a “share” button inside the action editor screen that will take you to Launch Center Pro’s site and let you create a shareable link to your action for others to import on their own iPhones.
  5. You can backup your actions. There is now an option to backup your actions to Dropbox; manually or automatically. I recommend manually, because if you choose automatic backup, it backs up after every little change you make.
  6. You can have as many named prompts as you want! Prior to 2.0, you could only have multiple prompts of the same type. You can now mix keyboard and numerical keyboard prompts and pull up Dropbox files as well in your actions.

Any complaints?

The glyphs are different for folders and actions. Maybe this is to preserve compatibility with the previous version of Launch Center Pro, but the glyphs you have for folders and actions are not the same. The action glyphs are the same as before, but the folder glyphs are the new Glyphish set for iOS 7, I think. They’re very nice, and I’d much rather have them for my actions as well.

Final Verdict

Launch Center Pro 2.0 is a fantastic update. I’ve already used the smarter prompts to simplify my existing actions and make some of them more interactive than before. The look is great, it’s faster and opens up even more possibilities for automating iOS. I’m surprised it’s free too. I would’ve payed $5 again (or maybe even $10) for this update.

Otto’s Antenna and Remote

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There’s an interesting new combo of apps out called Otto’s Antenna and Otto’s Remote (Official Site). Otto’s Antenna sits in the menu bar of your Mac and you give it AppleScripts, shell scripts and Automator workflows to manage. That’s all. Otto’s Remote, on your iPhone, can remotely trigger any scripts in Otto’s Antenna’s scripts folder. Anywhere. You don’t have to be in range of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. It works over iCloud (and surprisingly well). That’s nifty, but even niftier is that Otto’s Remote using geofencing to trigger scripts automatically. You can set these up with multiple Macs, with any script that Otto’s Antenna knows about, and can be set up to fire when you enter or leave a location.

Ottos

Otto’s Antenna costs $3.99 and Otto’s Remote is free.

Interesting Links for 7/31/13

A Drink Every Man Should Know About

Ever since I started imbibing, I’ve been a fan of the Cuba Libre.

Newsstand is Bullshit

I have long hated Newsstand’s visuals and implementation. I’m hoping that iOS 7′s update to the app and ecosystem will improve it.

Back to GTD: Simplify Your Contexts

Friendly reminded to corral your overflowing contexts.

When Listening to Your Body Doesn’t Work

Get more sleep!

Edward Snowden’s Not the Story

How safe is your data?

Questions from WWDC 2013

IOS 7 calendar app

Will the iOS 7 calendar support natural language input?

The new iOS 7 calendar app looks pretty and all, but I wonder if it’ll support natural language input. If it doesn’t, then all the fancy graphics won’t make a difference. I’ll keep using Fantastical because its language parsing makes adding calendar events a breeze.

Is the weather app still using the same weather backend?

I’ve grown to love Forecast.io and I want to continue to use it, but I’m gonna bet Apple ain’t using it.

Will the new Siri voices be available for OS X?

You can download Siri’s voice, Samantha, for OS X. Will the new male and female voices be available for OS X McCain/Palin ‘08 as well.

How secure is the new iCloud keychain?

Will you have to unlock the keychain when you want to access your passwords or are they going to be opened up after just your four digit pin code is used to unlock the screen?

Can the iCloud keychain store other info like software licenses and attachments to notes?

Can the iCloud keychain replace 1Password? I use 1Password to store software licenses and other secure notes (with attachments) and I’m betting iCloud keychain won’t do those things.

Ashes for Fever°

Ashes for Fever°

Ashes for Fever° started off a couple years ago as an iPad-only Fever° client. It was buggy to say the least. It was slow and it crashed constantly. After looking forward to a better way to look at Fever° on my iPad (compared to the non-iPad specific website) only to be let down by a poor iPad app, I was heartbroken. The app looked beautiful, but its performance was awful.

Having said that, you can imagine my surprise to see that there is a new Ashes now available for iOS, and it’s for both the iPhone and iPad. The two version are largely identical, but that’s fine. The app retains its orangey and reddish hues, and where other apps would use white, Ashes uses a manilla folder yellow. Some may not like it, I didn’t at first, but after a few days of use, the color scheme has grown on me.

So what’s special about Ashes? For one, the performance issues of the past are gone (for the most part). The 1.1 release that’s currently available (as of 2013-05-09) is rather snappy. There are times when swipes aren’t recognized on the first try, but it’s not bad. The sync speed seems slow at times, but that’s largely dependent on how many sparks you have on your Fever° install. I have 300 or so, and because Ashes caches every article of every spark, if you have a lot of sparks, it can take a while. Also, because you host Fever° on your own, those with slow hosts will have slower speeds. When my host is running fast, Ashes syncs rather quickly. At busier times, my host just can’t spit Ashes the data very fast. YMMV.

The most impressive aspect of Ashes is its “Share Anywhere” feature. Share Anywhere allows you to craft your own sharing URL schemes. If you’ve used Drafts or Launch Center Pro, you get the idea. I was able to create sharing actions for Ashes that tied to my existing Drafts actions for adding to my daily journal, creating link lists from Fever° articles, and I whipped up a little action to send articles from Ashes to OmniFocus. You can read the tutorial about “Share Anywhere” on the the Ashes site.

So, should you buy Ashes? Well, even if you bought the old iPad app, you’re gonna have to buy Ashes again. I know, it might sting to buy it again. It was a $7 or $8 app back then, and it’s currently $6 and will go up to $8 after the introductory price period ends. It is a brand new app though. It’s completely new. It’s being actively developed, and there was a major update shortly after 1.0 shipped, and small bugs from 1.1 have been fixed and an update is coming again soon. If you’re happy with Reeder or Sunstroke, you might not need Ashes. If like me, you weren’t super happy with either of those options or if you’re really into the idea of creating your own sharing actions, Ashes could be a good investment. The power of Share Anywhere should not be underestimated. While Drafts empowered a lot of us with iOS automation, this is the first time I’ve seen a news reader give you the ability to create your own automated share actions. The possibilities are endless. You can buy Ashes for Fever° in the App Store.

[Review] TRAUMA for iOS

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TRAUMA is a unique photographic experience by game designer Krystian Majewski. Dive into the mind of a traumatized young woman to learn and understand.

TRAUMA for iOS started off as a PC game. It’s got a lot in common with point and click adventure games. You’re trying to solve puzzles by clicking on photos and changing camera angles to find more photos and you move around in the environment in a first-person (sort of) view. (I say first-person, but it’s not like you can see your BFG 9000 at the bottom of the screen.) Developer of TRAUMA and friend, Krystian Majewski, gave me a promo code for the Steam version last year when TRAUMA initially launched. I was back in the US at the time, and TRAUMA got lost in the shuffle. I was excited to hear that an iOS version of the game was coming out. Back when my (now defunct) Apple podcast Kernel Panic was still being produced, Krystian was on the show to talk about developing games in Flash. It was during that period where Steve Jobs was on his high horse about how terrible Flash was/is. (I still don’t have Flash installed on any of my Macs.) Even then, there were plans/ideas for an iOS version of TRAUMA. Having now played TRAUMA on an iPad mini, an iPhone 5 and going back to play it on my 27” iMac, I can safely say that the best way to play TRAUMA is on an iPad. Two reasons:

  1. The images in TRAUMA are images and they don’t scale well on large monitors. The photos that make up the entirety of the game looked kind of bad on my 27” iMac’s display. They are super sharp on my iPad mini and iPhone 5 though.
  2. While a mouse works well for clicking on photos (which is largely what TRAUMA’s about), the gestures you perform when solving puzzles and the added ability to use gestures to manipulate the camera in the iOS versions add a sense of intimacy to the TRAUMA experience. You feel like you’re just a bit more part of the environment, instead of just poking your way through it with a mouse.

Like Steve Jobs said, we’re all born with 10 styluses. Adventure games and their ilk can work very well with iOS’ touch screen interface. In the PC version of TRAUMA, you use a mouse to click around the environment and this translate perfectly to your finger. I sometimes felt the target areas were a little small, but since I played TRAUMA, there has been an update to address this. Like any other adventure game, when you get stuck in TRAUMA, looking for a photo or puzzle clue, it turns into a pixel hunt. You can quickly see all tappable objects on in your current screen by holding down anywhere on the screen. All touchable items will be highlighted, in succession, making it easy to see what you can do something with. There are also a handful of gestures you can use to navigate the environment. You can swipe left and right to turn the camera, you can draw an upside-down “U” to turn around and you can swipe up to back up. Gestures are also required when solving puzzles. You will find yourself drawing curly Q’s, outlining ghosts and making swirl patterns with the tip of your finger. The game is extremely forgiving about the shapes you draw and if you get even remotely close, it’ll probably count it.

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TRAUMA doesn’t have “graphics”. Not really. TRAUMA is composed of a large collection of photographs of real places in Germany (and you can unlock the GPS coordinates and view the real places in Maps.app if you find every secret in the level). There are some non-photographic visuals that are used when solving puzzles but for the most part, you’re looking at real photos.

The music in TRAUMA is minimalist. The main menu music is great and the intro video that plays at startup is great as well. The music in the levels is subtle and calming. It would be great to have on in the background while napping. It lulls you into a relaxed state and is great for a game where you might spend 20 minutes mulling over a tough puzzle. Check out the TRAUMA soundtrack here.

While I was initially lukewarm on TRAUMA, by the time I completed the second level, I got into the game and wanted to do everything. The thing about TRAUMA is, the complexity of the game is not apparent at first. The first level, and I say this because it’s the level on the left side of the main menu, isn’t hard to finish (completing the main ending). But there are alternate endings for each level as well. And the ways you complete the puzzles that unlock these other alternate endings don’t become clear until after you’ve played all of the levels in TRAUMA. TRAUMA slowly unfolds over the course of the entire game. You slowly learn about the mechanics of the game, and you can play the levels in any order you like. I played them left to right, but you can dip into any level you like at any time. The more you complete and unlock in TRAUMA, the more secrets open up to you. You can find the places you’re playing through in the real world and you can unlock a “true” ending if you find every photo and solve every puzzle in the game. Finding everything probably won’t take more than two or three hours in all, and it’s a worthwhile experience. I recommend that you go all the way and find everything for the payoff of the “true” ending. The app is universal for both iPad and iPhone, but if you have an iPad, play it on iPad. Buy TRAUMA for $2.99 in the App Store.

I Don’t Appreciate This

It’s not that people paid 99 cents. It’s that they paid for your app at all.

I get that devs want to be compensated for their work. I pay for a lot of software. If AppCubby wants to add in-app purchases to Timer, go right ahead. My problem with the whole thing is that every time devs take a previously paid app and make it free so they can get more downloads and hopefully make up their costs, they add ads. Starting free and charging for in-app purchases is fine. Starting free and going paid is fine. Starting paid and going free with no ads is fine. It’s the starting paid, going free, and then adding ads that’s the big “fuck you”.

And don’t say I’m entitled. I didn’t need an update. Timer was a buck or two, and did all I needed it to. It’s like paying someone to paint your house, and then they come back and say they’ll give you a free touch up and then slap a billboard on your front door and say, “If you give me a little extra, I’ll take this billboard down!”

It’s a dick move and I think AppCubby realizes that people would think so. Previously, in the app’s settings, there were contact buttons, but not anymore. Why make it easier to complain about something that you know people won’t like?

There’s a simple way to get around this. Don’t update the app. Let it die. Let me keep the ad-free app I wanted, and sell Timer 2.0 as a brand-new app. When Tweetie 2 launched, Tweetie 1 went away and if you wanted the new one, you could buy it, or you could keep using the old one. When you put out an update that people don’t want they have few options.

  1. Don’t download it and be forever annoyed because you can’t use the “Update All” button in the App Store ever again.

  2. Download it and be unhappy.

  3. Delete the app.

They are shitty choices, but those are your options.

Evernote 5.0 for iOS

Evernote on iPhone

Evernote on iPad

The newest edition of Evernote for iOS is out and it’s a radical change. The old basic iOS style is gone. No more buttons at the bottom of the screen, which means more room in the list and note views, but that also means a very different style of menu navigation. The root view of the app looks like you’re staring down a drawer full of file folders. There are folders for All Notes, Notebooks, Tags and Places.

A Neat Thing

If you leave the Notebook view on Favorites, then you have essentially created a Favorites tab. You can do the same for tags as well. This allows for actually faster access to your most used notebooks and tags. If you go digging around (which you may be apt to do, I don’t know you) you’ll lose your place, but if you don’t do a lot of hunting around and just rely on search in Evernote, then you can get a hidden feature.

Source of Frustration

I’m really frustrated that Evernote can’t understand Markdown. If it did, I could see myself doing all of my note taking there. As it stands, things that will later be published to my blog or printed with Marked need to be written in a text editor that is purely plain text and comprehends Markdown. Unfortunately, I don’t think Evernote or the people who work on it will ever support Markdown.

[Review] Tally for iPhone

Tally from Agile Tortoise was released slightly ahead of its scheduled 11/07 release date and I’m glad to get my hands on it. It’s a rather simple app but its uses are endless. It has a very clean, minimalist UI. Menu navigation is handled throughout swipes only (think Check the Weather). If you want to create or access tallies, swipe right. If you want to modify the selected tally, swipe left. You can set the name of the tally, its starting count and its step value. Swiping up on the main window lets you either reset the tally to 0 or send the current tally to Agile Tortoise’s app Drafts. I’ve already found a use in Tally for counting how many cups of coffee or water I drink. I’m imagining that the app will be useful for tracking how many good or bad things you do on a daily basis. For that reason, I’d love to have a way to reset all tallies, and not just one tally at a time.

You can buy Tally for $0.99 in the App Store.