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.

iPhone 5s Review (sort of…)

What’s New Is Not That New

I’ve spent a week with the iPhone 5s now, and of all the iPhone’s I’ve owned, and I’ve owned every one except the first, this feels like the least significant upgrade yet. That’s not really something bad though. The iPhone 5 was (and is) pretty great. Externally, the only differences between my iPhone 5 and my iPhone 5s are the Space Gray casing and the new home button. I’m sure there’s a slight speed boost as well, but after iOS 7 slightly slowed down my iPhone 5, iOS 7 on the faster iPhone 5s just feels normal.

Space Gray is the New Black

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There’s not a black iPhone anymore. That’s weird, right? Instead, we’ve got Space Gray, which is fine. Truth is, most people, (I know, not John Gruber) use a case. I bought one of the new Apple cases as well. The color doesn’t matter all that much when you have 60% of the phone covered up with a case. The front of the phone is black and my leather case is black, so, it’s essentially a black iPhone. I’d love to go caseless, and actually did for the first couple weeks with the iPhone 5, but I buy a new one every year and I sell the old one off. I need to keep it as pristine as possible so I can get as much of my money back as I can for these damn things. It’s a fine color though, and probably less prone to the chipping that people experienced with the black iPhone 5. I approve of Space Gray.

Security Meets Ease of Use

Much has been said about TouchID being fooled into acknowleding fake fingerprints. I’m not surprised at this development, but it’s highly unlikely that someone will have a good fingerprint, your iPhone, the equipment required to do this and the skill that doing this requires. For a more secure solution, Apple would be better off to require a password and a fingerprint every time you want to unlock your phone. As with all things, there are trade-offs with security and convenience. As far as security goes, I’m satisfied with TouchID. I haven’t lost a phone yet, and I’m not worried about a perfect print being pulled off my phone.

In the convenience department, I’m thoroughly satisfied with TouchID. You tap the home button to wake the device, let your thumb linger and BAM! you’re in the OS. It’s smooth and easy to use. Just remember to wipe the fried chicken grease off your grubby paws.

Happy As a Pig In…

I’m pleased with my iPhone 5s. It’s the hardware that iOS 7 was designed for. It’s the best iOS 7 experience I’ve had so far. I’ve yet to see any noticeable performance boosts in any specific apps, but everything feels as smooth as iOS 6 did on my iPhone 5. Nothing feels slow, and that’s the most you can hope for. Maybe, as apps get iPhone 5s-optimized code up on the App Store, we’ll see the performance of the iPhone 5s jump up.


All observations are of a 64GB Space Gray iPhone 5s running on Softbank’s LTE network.

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.

The Evernote Tickler File

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The Best Electronic Tickler

When Evernote 5.1 launched, the Apple sites started crapping out “Evernote is a to-do app now!” posts because:

  1. They’re dumb
  2. People love posts about to-do apps
  3. Everyone’s dumb

Here’s the thing. A to-do app is a list of things you need to do. Evernote is not for lists. They may call them notes, but each note is a folder that consists of text, audio, images, PDFs, HTML and whatever files you throw in there. When you apply reminders to notes, you’re essentially turning Evernote into a tickler file system. To-do apps tell you what you need to do. Tickler files tell you when you need to act on something. That’s what Evernote is doing with reminders. Your notes need to be acted on. They’re not telling what you need to do. You can accomplish the same thing with OmniFocus by including links to Evernote notes in OmniFocus’ notes field, but using the Evernote reminders has its advantages.

The biggest advantage that I can see with Evernote reminders is that notes in a shared notebook will then sync over those reminders to everyone else who is in that shared notebook. Currently, I’ve got two notebooks shared with people I’m planning trips with, and I’m using reminders on notes with hotel information and shopping lists. These reminders will not only pop-up for me, but for my travel companion as well. When one before marks a note as done, that reminder will be removed and will make sure that other people know it doesn’t need to be acted on. I don’t use Evernote for Business, but I’m betting that this could be helpful in business situations.

Gripes

While Evernote for OS X has great AppleScript support, the dictionary currently lacks reminders support. Until this is added, Reminders can’t reach its full potential, in my eyes. Automating the creation and modification of reminders is the ultimate end. Imagine a script that will create a note, populate it with some text or file attachment and then assign a reminder to it. You could do a lot with that. As for iOS, Evernote hasn’t done anything with fancy URL schemes, so automating reminders on iOS could prove impossible.

Evernote Camera Roll 20130527 210145

Lastly, the way reminders are displayed, in a list at the top of notebooks is kind of in the way at times. You can collapse the list, but that collapsed list is still always lurking at the top. I’d prefer a way to turn that list off and have it in it’s own separate sidebar item. A lot of my reminders are set for months ahead and I don’t need to see them in this list two months before they can or need to be acted on.

[Review] Jaybird Bluebuds X Sport

Bluebuds package contents

I’ve been looking for a good set of Bluetooth earphones for a while now. Not a headset for calls, mind you, but an honest to God, capable of playing music well Bluetooth earphones. I happened to be at the Apple Store in Nagoya the other day, and I caught sight of Jaybird’s Bluebuds X Sport. They are built with exercise and sports in mind, and while that’s important, I was also deeply concerned about the aural quality of the earphones. I’ve had three Bluetooth earphones (for calls) in the past, and the audio quality has always been terrible. I have listened to music with Bluetooth headphones that were geared for music and they sounded great, so I know that it’s possible to do good audio over Bluetooth. I did a quick Amazon review check and they were mostly positive. I also did some research on the Jaybird site and every thing looked good. I decided to give them a spin but I really wish I had paid more attention to the boxes. I grabbed the white ones by mistake.

The Bluebuds X Sport are not as expensive as I thought they might be. The Apple Store here in Japan had them for just about ¥15,000, which will be different depending on when you read this, but let’s just say between $150-$160. I was expecting to have to pay around ¥20,000 for a good pair of Bluetooth earphones. Amazon US is currently selling them for about $170 (as of 2013-04-25). I was also surprised by the sound quality of the Bluebuds. I’ve used a lot of Bluetooth headsets in my time, but I’ve never use any that were actually geared towards listening to music. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Bluebuds sounds almost as good as wired headphones I’ve had over the years. While the bass isn’t as good with the Bluebuds as I’m used to, I’m definitely happy with the sound they produce. The battery life on the Bluebuds is also excellent. The product description states that the earphones’ battery will last up to 8.5 hours, but even after 3 hours of continuous listening, the Bluetooth battery indicator on my iPhone 5 never dips. This may be an inaccurate reading from the iPhone, but my iPhone’s battery runs out before the Bluebuds’ does.

Most of my complaints with the Bluebuds have to do with their remote. They have a voice that they named “Jenna” (who the Hell knows why?) who tells you super useful things like, “Power On”, “Headphones Connected”, and “Power Off”. Why they didn’t to give her a special name, I have no clue. That’s all she ever says. At the same time, whenever you invoke Siri (on an iOS device), there’s a delay before Siri speaks and she sounds awful! It’s like Siri’s talking through a tin can 50 yards away. Why is it that the headphones can play musically crystal clear, but they can’t handle the voice of Siri. It’s a mystery to me. The buttons on the remote are squishy too. There’s no satisfying click when you press them, just a smush. You also must be careful not to interact with the Bluebuds remote the way you do with any iPhone headset. To fast-forward or go back, you need to hold the volume buttons up or down. Double-clicking on them just increases or decreases the volume, and volume changes are not instant. The indication beep for the volume cuts out the audio you’re listening to. My one non-remote complaint is about the fit of the Bluebuds. You kind of need to “work them in” each time you wear them. Because they’re meant for sports, in order to make sure they stay put while running, need to push them into your ear a bit. I think I’m wearing them correctly, at least. They’re perfectly comfortable once you get them in, but you’ve got to twist them and work them into your ear every time. The upside to this is that they do stay in place well.

Overall, I’ve been really happy with my Bluebuds X Sport. They weren’t as expensive as I thought they might be, they sound great and the Bluetooth signal rarely hiccups. Check them out on Amazon.

[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.

Tom Bihn’s Brain Bag Reviewed

I need to start off this review with a bit of an “I’m sorry” to the lovely folks at Tom Bihn. I received a sizable discount on both this Brain Bag and my Camera I/O back in July 2012. It’s now March 2013, and I’m just now writing this review. In the meantime, I purchased (at full price) a Smart Alec, and that bag is now my day-to-day bag that I use for almost everything. I did however carry the Brain Bag every day from July 2012 through December 2012. I wanted to put some time into the Brain Bag before I wrote about it. One, because I wanted to stress the bag more than bag’s I’d previously reviewed and two, because the Brain Bag initially left me with a ho-hum feeling. I’ll expand on that initial feeling and how it changed after starting to use the Smart Alec day in and day out.

The Brain Bag is a monster of a backpack. That’s the reason I chose it. It can hold a lot of gear. I used it for a daily work bag where I carry textbooks, binders, laptops (it can hold two Brain Cells at a time!), large water bottles and a set of gym clothes. I also used it on overnight trips to the mountains of Oku-Hida here in Japan where I stuffed it with clothes, my DSLR and a couple lenses, an iPad and it still had space to drag my souvenirs back.

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Like my Empire Builder before it, the Brain Bag’s size wound up being a major factor in why I stopped using it. It was overkill as a daily bag that I took to work. As an overnight bag, it was excellent. It’s large enough to handle a two day trip’s worth of clothes and toiletries, a camera and space to bring back things you may buy on your trip. Since it’s a backpack though, and not a small suitcase or a duffle bag (like my beloved Aeronaut) it’s not as difficult to carry around.

The Brain bag has excellent straps like all Tom Bihn bags. They remain very comfortable even when the bag is fully loaded. They sit firmly on your shoulders and flare out to the sides as they go down to avoid rubbing your torso too much. The bag comes with removable chest and waist straps as well.

Hook

The back of the Brain Bag has a nifty carabiner that you can use to hook something (water bottle or umbrella) to the bag and straps below the clip will keep the item in place and there’s a strap on the bottom that prevents the hooked item from sagging down past the bottom of the bag. I usually use my clip when I’m taking my glass water bottle out with me, but you could use this clip for just about anything.

I wasn’t that happy about the side pockets on the Brain Bag. The Synapse’s side pockets have great sleeve for a cell phone and have o-rings inside them so that you can hook up accessory (key) straps that Tom Bihn sells. I always use these to make sure I know where my keys are at all times when I’m out with my Synapse or Smart Alec. The Brain Bag lacks these o-rings in either of its side pockets.

The Brain Bag’s side pockets do include slips for pens and pencils and large pockets that could be used for passports, notebooks or cell phones (although they are a little large for an iPhone and it might slip out if the bag is turned over). The left side pocket has a mesh pocket on the outside that I often stuck extra water bottles in at times.

Small pocket

At the top of the front of the bag, there’s a small compartment that I used to keep my wallet and phone in. It’s a great size for keeping small item like these in, but the zipper on this pocket is kind of loose and I often worried about it being pulled open from behind while I was out and being pick-pocketed. That’s not a huge concern here in Japan, but I was paranoid about putting valuables (or just fragile items that might break if they fell out of this pocket) in there. This pocket does have an o-ring inside, so it’s a good place to clip your keys. The loose zipper is ideal for quick access to keys.

Moving backwards, the middle compartment, the smaller of the two large areas of the Brain Bag is a big open space. No built-in pockets inside, so I added a Freudian Slip to organize my pens, notebooks, cables and files. The Freudian Slip fits perfectly into this middle compartment and really enhanced my use of the Brain Bag. If you decide to purchase a Brain Bag and need to organize smaller items inside it, the Freudian Slip (vertical) is a must-buy accessory. Lastly, this compartment also includes an o-ring.

The final part of the bag is also its biggest, the back of the bag. It’s a giant open space with two sets of Brain Cell clips for your laptops. You could fit a couple 17-inch MacBook Pros in here (if Apple still made the damn things). I carry an 11-inch Macbook Air, however, so these clips were lost on me, as Tom Bihn doesn’t make a Brain Cell for the 11-inch, only a Cache sleeve. This part of the bag also includes an o-ring. Are you seeing a trend here?!

Overall, here are my final thoughts on the Brain Bag.

  • While there are o-rings in the two main compartments and the small one at the top of the bag, why aren’t there o-rings in the side pockets?
  • The carabiner clip on the front of the bag and its accompany straps are a novel idea that I really miss on every other backpack I have.
  • The bag felt too big at first (as a daily work bag) but its size is a huge plus if you’re going on two or three day trips and don’t want to drag a duffle bag along with you.
  • There needs to be a better place for things like your wallet and cell phone. The small compartment on the front or the side pockets can be used for these things, but the side pockets are the right size and the small front compartment feels unsafe.
  • There’s a good bit of fraying around the biggest compartment’s zipper that’s a little worrying. So far, I’ve been able to just cut the threads without any trouble, but it’s been worrying me about the build quality of this particular bag. Not that any of my other Tom Bihn bags have ever had build quality issues, so this may just be a one time problem, that hasn’t affected my use of the bag as of yet.

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.

[Review] Check the Weather

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The Important Stuff

Check the Weather displays all the important stuff right up front. Not too much that it crowds the UI and enough that it doesn’t seem sparse. You get the current temperature, an attractive graphic of the current weather conditions and a three day outlook. A lot of apps go overboard with the minimalism and forget to include a quick glance of the upcoming days or apps go overboard with information and pump the entire 7 day forecast into the front display with sunrise and sunset information!

Ease of Use

Check the Weather has two gestures. Swipe to the right to reveal a detailed run down of today’s hourly forecast with temperatures, chance of rain or snow and sunset times. Swipe to the left to reveal a 16 day forecast. (Thanks 4-inch iPhone 5 screen!) All the detailed stuff is there, if you swipe it over.

Plays Well With Others

A lot of weather apps (I’m looking at you, Dark Sky) don’t work outside the US or Canada. I live in Japan and am keenly aware of this fact. I wind up buying a lot of software only to find out it’s kind of broken (or completely broken) in Japan. (Quick Route…) I’m glad to say that most of Check the Weather’s functionality works here. The Dark Sky API integration that Check the Weather is capable of for live-updating Doppler stuff can’t work here, but oh well. For $1.99, I’m pretty pleased with Check the Weather.

Wishlist

Two things I wish I could change about Check the Weather:

1. The Font

Check the Weather’s font is a little too modern-looking. I wish it was a slightly more standard looking font. It’s a little distracting. I focus more on the look of the information and less on the information itself.

2. URL Scheme

I really want a URL scheme that I can use with Launch Center Pro so I can replace my current morning reminder to check the weather with one using Check the Weather.

Update: 2012-10-18

Apparently Check the Weather can be called on by using “checktheweather://”.

Tried it in Launch Center Pro and it worked great!

Buy Check the Weather on the App Store here.