Charty for Shortcuts

22nd May 2020

I came across Charty recently on Twitter, and it looks like it’s going to be a great addition to the growing collection of apps that are designed to slot directly into the Shortcuts app.

After playing around with it, I was going to write an in-depth article on what I thought about it, but instead I’ve found three articles that I think explain it really well. And they also include examples so you can see what type of charts you can create.

Greg Morris:

This is one of those apps that at first you dismiss, but when actually looking around the app you realise just how helpful it can be. That’s because developer Rodrigo Araújo has thought about almost every aspect of the app. Building on the success of his first app ChartStat he aims to make it easy for everyone to visualise any kind of data.

Jason Snell:

Making charts by hand is labor intensive. But it gets easier if you can make the chart one time and just update the data as new numbers flow in. If that sounds like a job for user automation, you’re singing my tune—and I’m happy to report that the new app Charty is built to add charting capabilities to the iOS Shortcuts app.

Matt VanOrmer:

There are lots of Shortcuts actions and routines that generate data and could easily benefit from a simple bar graph or pie chart to provide useful insights more quickly and effectively. One example that comes to mind is graphing time-tracking data from Toggl once every week, let’s say, to see what tasks or projects you’ve been the most busy with — all without having to open the unpleasant Toggl app or the clunky web client from your iOS device. Charty is the perfect companion for those who accumulate lots of meta-data about their lives and want to frequently revisit and reassess the areas they are seeking to improve — whether that be calories burned, books read, or tasks completed, Charty plugs right into your existing Shortcuts routines and allows you to quickly turn those datasets into easily-digestible graphics. The option to create default chart format settings and custom “Export Profiles” of chart size, font size, and background color both help to add consistency in how your charts are formatted before saving them for yourself or sharing with the world.

My iPhone Home Screen

19th May 2020

I enjoy seeing other people’s iPhone home screens, so I thought it was probably about time I shared my own.

Home screen

Mine is rather simple and it’s got to a point where it’s pretty stable, with only a few apps changing now and then. There’s a total of 20 apps, with four of them being in the dock.

In the past, I’ve crammed my home screen full of apps that I think I use a lot. But that feels too busy. So instead, I leave the bottom rows empty. Which also gives me space to put an app I need to use temporarily, or if I’m trying something new out.

All apps that aren’t stock apps will have links to their App Store pages.


Wallpaper

Don’t worry, I’ve already thought about the wallpaper. I know from myself, that if I see someone’s home screen, I’ll probably want to know where they got their wallpaper from.

In my case, I found it on Unsplash, and it’s by a photographer named Amber Wilburn.


CARROT Weather

It’s maybe ironic that the first app on my home screen is the one that probably gets used the least. But still, I think CARROT Weather is one of the best weather apps available, and the snakiness always makes the interaction a bit funnier. And even though it doesn’t get used that often, it’s there when I need it. Which will probably after the lockdown ends and we’re allowed to go back to work.

Fantastical

Here’s another application that doesn’t get used too much either. It’s my calendar app of choice, Fantastical. I switched to Fantastical quite some time ago, and it was mainly due to the natural language support when creating new events, and partially because it had a nice UI.

Right now, I’m not really using my calendar that much, as I don’t have work events on my personal devices, and I prefer to use notes and a task manager to schedule my personal life. But I still use it for important events, but certainly not enough to warrant paying for the subscription, so there’s really not much keeping me loyal to Fantastical. And I can imagine me switching back to the stock calendar app sometime in the future.

Shortcuts

I have Shortcuts on my home screen simply so I have a quick way to experiment with new actions, and to test out new ideas. I don’t run many shortcuts from the Shortcuts app on my phone, I probably do this the most on my iPad. But that’s because the main shortcuts that I use on my phone are usually ran from the share sheet, for things like saving an article for later, starting a link post, combining photos, etc.

Clock

I don’t think I need to explain my use of the clock. I’ve to wake up for work somehow.

Photos

Another that probably needs no explanation. I have all my photos in iCloud, and nowhere else. So this is where I view them.

Music

I’m an Apple Music subscriber (that’s somehow getting student discount three years after graduating from university), and it’s the only place I play music from. I use it to play music on my phone, and also to other devices like my HomePod, and Apple TV.

Overcast

In my mind, Overcast is the best podcast app available. I like the benefits of having the Smart Speed and Voice Boost effects, but they’re not the reasons why I use Overcast every day. I’ve just never seen another podcast app that feels as complete. For example, you have a lot of control about what happens with new episodes, when to delete old episode, and even advanced stuff like changing the seek back/forward times, whether to auto play next, etc.

I’ve seen other podcasts apps that I can live with, them being Castro and Cosmicast. But Overcast is the only one I think that could actually pass as a stock app. Which is something I like a lot.

TV

Apart from Netflix and YouTube, I use the TV app for all of my video entertainment. It has films that I’ve purchased from iTunes, Apple TV+ shows, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer. So it’s actually packed full of content.

I also really like the TV app, because it ties into the other apps/services, so I don’t always have to start videos from the TV app for the data to be visible. For example, keeping track of what episode I’m on in a series is something I don’t really want to think about. And the TV app makes it effortless.

Mail

This certainly follows a trend of using stock apps. I’ve tried various other third-party email apps, but never something just simple and clean like Mail. It’s not an app I want myself to spend too much time inside, so I think by using the most basic option, it helps me to just do the tasks I need to do and leave.

Twitter

Twitter is my most-used social network. I use it to share links to things I find interesting, my blog posts, and just to ramble about a subject. But I also use Twitter to keep up with people I’m interested in, the general news, and of course, football news.

I found myself a while ago with Tweetbot that I had a hard time being able to not read every tweet. But now I’ve switched to the official app, I find that the algorithm actually works well for me. I get to quickly read tweets that I’m interested in, and I don’t feel like there’s a fixed end that I need to reach before leaving. I’m sure many people would have the opposite behaviour, in that you can always find more tweets on the official Twitter app, so you may spend more time on Twitter accidentally. But I don’t seem to suffer from that. Or at least on Twitter, that usually happens to me on Instagram.

Books

To be honest, I don’t read as many books as I would like to. That’s usually because I’m too lazy to start ready something worthwhile and end up just reading something like Harry Potter. So I have the Books app on my home screen just to reduce the friction of starting/resuming a book whenever I’m in the mood.

It’s a technique I’ve used a few times before, where if I want to start using an app more, then I’ll put it on my home screen, and hope it triggers me to use it. But after a while, fix it hasn’t worked, it usually gets relegated to a folder or deleted. A recent app that didn’t work out was News. Turns out I don’t actually care that much about it. Or at least the publications that seemed to be appearing in the News app.

iA Writer

My writing app of choice is iA Writer, and it has been for a while. I’ve previously used Ulysses but came back to iA Writer because I like to see the Markdown as I write it. But not only that, I like how iA Writer works off a folder in iCloud Drive, so I can access my writing in other applications.

It’s also got great apps on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, so it allows me to have the same experience, no matter where I’m writing.

There are loads of advanced features in iA Writer, but I’m not really making use of them. I just like a simple Markdown editor, with a good interface, that exposes the raw files, and has support for all the platforms. And iA Writer certainly fits that criteria.

Messages

This is my main way of communicating with friends and family, as most of them have an iPhone. For the people that don’t, I have WhatsApp installed, and hidden in a folder on the second page.

Camera

I’ve used quite a few third-party camera apps like Obscura and Halide, but for whatever reason, I come back to the stock camera app nearly straight away. Although I take a lot of photos on my phone, I’m not actually fussed about various filters, effects, or anything other than a basic camera. So that’s why I’m using the Camera app!

Instagram

I’ve tried getting rid of Instagram from my home screen and from my phone entirely a few times, but I can never stick with it. I enjoy keeping up with friends, family, football, and random people. I probably look at the Explore page way too much, and get carried away with football rumours, but oh well.

TikTok

What can I say, I find TikTok videos funny! And it’s certainly a good place to sink some time into if you’re bored and don’t plan on getting anything important done.

The Dock

Now for the apps that I have in my dock. I have four of them, like most people. And I try to put apps here that I want to access very regularly. Files may not fit that criteria perfectly, but I see Files similar to the Finder app on macOS. So I always want that available.

Files

I’ve been making proper use of my local storage on my devices ever since iPadOS 13 came out, as I started downloading more files on my iPad, and in general, using my iPad more. Which led to similar behaviour on my iPhone.

Now I use the Files app to quickly look at saved documents, check my downloads, and also keep track of projects that require more than just a single app. For example, I’m working on a long-form piece at the moment, and that requires mind maps, various notes, and the actual file that I’m writing in iA Writer. And I find it super helpful that there’s now a proper way to manage file on iOS. It’s hard to believe it didn’t have a “Files app” for that much time.

Reminders

I mentioned my recent switch to Reminders the other day, but essentially I have very minimal needs when it comes to a task manager. And Reminders gives me everything I want and need, without charging me more for it or even sacrificing any of the benefits that Reminders gets from by default from being tied into the system so much.

Agenda

Agenda is the newest app to be placed on my home screen, and I made a conscious decision to replace Mail in the dock since I think it’s an app that I’m going to want to access a lot.

I recently started using Agenda to help bring various notes and reminders together into a single place, where I can keep track of any ideas I have, or simply to provide more context to a task.

One big task I’m using Agenda for is to manage my blog, which can be split into four things:

  • Keeping track of articles that I want to link to.
  • Ideas for articles that I want to write (along with any necessary notes).
  • Keeping track of what I’m currently working on.
  • Making a schedule for when I want to finish/publish each post. (More on this in a future article)

I’ve seen Agenda mentioned before on Twitter, and blogs, mainly focussing on how it connects notes, reminders, and a calendar together. But I didn’t realise how much it made sense to me until I started using it.

Safari

I use Safari everywhere. And it’s not going to change anytime soon.


I’m not sure if my home screen is in any way spectacular or innovative. But in the same way, I appreciate looking at others for ideas, maybe it can do the same for others.

Text Case 2020.3

6th May 2020

Another small update to Text Case is hitting the App Stores.

It comes with a few UI enhancements, notably to help show pointer location when hovering. And also a simple context menu that appears when you right click or long press on any formatted text, where you can choose to either copy or share the result.

Improvements were also made to the performance of the app, and a few miscellaneous bugs were also fixed.


Links:

The NHS COVID-19 App

5th May 2020

The NHS has come up with its own contact-tracing app, “NHS COVID-19”, and there are already plans for it to be trialled with key workers on the Isle of Wight.

However, it’s doesn’t use the more privacy focussed solution that Apple and Google have come up with, but rather a centralised one. Where the data about the tracked interactions will be sent. Although it doesn’t seem exactly clear what that data is. It could simply be a list of unique IDs that the device has come into contact with, along with your own ID. Or it could also include other sensitive information. Who knows? All I know is that, that question will always exist while it uses a custom solution.

Privacy is not only the potential issue with the app though. My concern mainly is with its effectiveness. This is how they claim it works:

  • Once you’ve installed the app on your phone, it can detect (using Bluetooth) if other phones that are also running the app are nearby.
  • Importantly, the app knows how close it has been to other phones running the app, and for how long. This allows the app to build up an idea of which of these phones owners are most at risk.
  • If you then use the app to report that you’re experiencing coronavirus symptoms, all the phones that have been nearby will receive an alert from the app.
  • Users reading the alert will now know they may have been near a person with coronavirus, and can then self-isolate.
  • If the NHS later discovers that your diagnosis was wrong (and your reported symptoms are not coronavirus), the other users will receive another alert, letting them know if they can stop self-isolating.

My questions would be the following:

  • How often can it run? If it’s just an app with no special entitlements, then surely it is bound my the background restrictions like most other apps.
  • If it’s monitoring it relatively often, then surely even Bluetooth Low Energy will have an impact on the battery level?
  • What happens if a device is put into low power mode? Is all tracing stopped? Because surely background tasks aren’t run as often then.
  • Can you really trust it to trace every contact you’ve had? For example if you sit next to someone with COVID-19 for 10 minutes, but for some reason the background task to monitor Bluetooth doesn’t run, then does it really do it’s job?

And I’d just like to point out the PDF that NHS made to explain the differences between a decentralised and centralised model. The only difference I see, is that their centralised model also includes an “NHS clinical algorithm” to detect the risk posed from each of your interactions.

I for one, will not be using any contact-tracing app, that doesn’t follow the solution that Apple and Google have come up with. Because, apart from wanting to control the data yourself, and possibly even retrieve more data than necessary, there’s no real gain to use a centralised approach.

Combining Screenshots with Picsew

19th April 2020

When writing about apps, it’s very common that you’ll need to combine screenshots together if you’re trying to capture a rather long page. One common case of this is when you’re trying to capture a screenshot of a Shortcut, which is why I looked for an app like Picsew, when I was getting screenshots for my recent article about how I’m using Data Jar to help writing link posts.

I’ve used apps like Tailor or LongScreen before, but I found LongScreen to be hard to deal with, and Tailor only support the iPhone. So I explored the App Store trying to find a solution for the iPad, and luckily I found Picsew.

Similar to the previously mentioned apps, Picsew has the ability to automatically combine multiple pictures together. But it didn’t seem to work well with the screenshots I took of some shortcuts. This is where the more “manual” option comes in. And I think that option is actually much more impressive than the automatic feature.

So after you select the photos you want to combine (in the correct order), and choose either vertical or horizontal, you use a pretty cool editor to adjust the position of each screenshot where you wish it to join the next one.

It’s quite intuitive actually, and was much easier than I thought it would be. You just tap on the join you wish to exit, and “push” the content towards the join until you’re happy.

Video: Picsew Edit Photo Join

You can also crop the entire photo inside the app as well, which is pretty handy as when you get a pretty large photo, it’s hard to do fine adjustments in the Photos app.

Video: Picsew Crop Photo

Anyway, I found it to be a very handy utility. So if you’re looking for an app that can join various photos together, or if you’ve used another one previously, I’d recommend checking out Picsew.

Download Picsew from the App Store

Text Case 2020.1

14th February 2020

It’s time for Text Case to receive its first update for 2020. Only a relatively small one this time, but it brings with it two new formats, and some work under the hood that should go unnoticed.

The new formats are quite straight forward:

Straight Quotes. This does the opposite of the “Smart Quotes” format, and converts all curvy quotation marks to the simple straight versions.

Slug. A bit of a weird one if you’re not already aware of what a slug is, but essentially it’s the more human-readable part of a URL that identifies what the page is. For example, a blog post will have a slug usually based on the title of the article. So this format will strip out all non-alphanumeric characters, and separate each word with a hyphen.

This update also contains a few extra things that shouldn’t be noticed, for example the way the UI is managed, and rounding corners, etc. It looks the same, except it’s done in a much more reliable way.

There is another less-than-tiny update to the UI that you may notice, and that is the gradients at the top of each format in the list view. These are now slightly more prominent.

Links


I’m guessing you would have noticed the 2020.1 version number, this is something I’m adopting from now on with all of my apps. The format will simply be YEAR.INCREMENT, where this is the first update to Text Case in 2020.


The updates to Text Case have been quite small and more incremental updates recently, and that I think is down to the maturity of the app. There’s not that many text transformations that people do regularly enough to need it in an app such as Text Case, and there’s only a limited amount of ways you can interact with the app.

So until there’s an advancement in iOS/iPadOS/macOS I can take advantage of, I would expect the updates to continue being small tweaks, and the occasional new format.

In the mean time I should really be working out what app I’m going to be building next!

Text Case 2.5

24th December 2019

There’s yet another update to Text Case, and it brings with it three new formats, theme syncing, and an action extension for the macOS version!

New Formats

New Formats

Smart Quotes – This changes any straight single of double quotation marks, into their curly equivalents, all based on your localisation.

Small Caps – ᴛᴜʀɴ ʏᴏᴜʀ ᴛᴇxᴛ ɪɴᴛᴏ sᴏᴍᴇᴛʜɪɴɢ ʟɪᴋᴇ ᴛʜɪs!

Upside Down – Just another fun one, this attempts to flip the characters upside down.

These new formats are available on all versions of Text Case, iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.

Automatic Theme Syncing

Theme Options

Text Case has support for themes, but previously you would have to manually switch between them. With this version, you can select “Automatic” to have the Text Case theme sync with the light/dark mode of your system. This works on both iOS, iPadOS, and macOS!

Format Text Action Extension for macOS

Convert Text Action

On the iOS/iPadOS version of Text Case, there’s an Action Extension that lets you select text anywhere, and then get direct access to the different formats in Text Case. This is now coming to the macOS version, with essentially the same behaviour.

Now you can select a portion of text anywhere in macOS, right-click, and under “Share”, there should be a “Convert Text” action. (If it doesn’t appear, you will have to go to System Preferences, Extensions, Actions, etc enable it.)

That will bring up the Text Case UI, and selecting a format will result in the formatted text being copied to your clipboard!

Links

Text Case on the App Store

Text Case on the Mac App Store

Text Case Website

Text Case for Mac

19th December 2019

I’ve been slowly working on this for quite a few months now, but I think it’s finally time to release Text Case for Mac.

With it comes all 32 formats that are currently supported in the iOS app, and the same customisation options (except custom app icons).

To recap all of those:

  • Title Case (AP, APA, CMOS, MLA)
  • URL Encoded/Decoded
  • Uppercase
  • Lowercase
  • Capitalise
  • Capitalise Words
  • Sentence Case
  • Reversed
  • Strip HTML
  • Strip/Trim Whitespace
  • Markdown Blockquote
  • Markdown Code Block
  • Markdown Ordered/Unordered List
  • Markdown to HTML
  • Camel Case
  • Snake Case
  • Pascal Case
  • Kebab Case
  • Hashtags
  • Mocking Spongebob
  • Emoji
  • Base64 Encoded/Decoded
  • Rot13
  • Clap Case
  • Shuffled

In fact the macOS version is 2.4.4, and the iOS version is sitting at just 2.4.3. The only differences being some improvements to the Emoji format, where some localisations could cause the format to not work at all (it now defaults to English if it doesn’t support the language). And also some macOS specific changes, which are mainly to remove parts of the app that won’t work such as Siri Shortcuts support, and also fine tuning the macOS experience.

There are things that I’m already planning on adding the Mac version, such as an Extension so you can format text from outside the app, similar to how the Action Extension works in IOS, and also other automation support such as URL schemes. However, I feel that it’s much more beneficial for people to have Text Case for Mac now, rather than waiting even longer to get it into peoples hands. Because just like the iOS app, I really like to adapt the app to users feedback, and I already have a few extra formats (such as small caps) that I plan on adding soon. I also want to see what I can do with the Touch Bar!

Have a look at the Mac version:

Text Case for Mac

Text Case for Mac

Text Case for Mac

Find Text Case on the Mac App Store.

Markdown Tables for iOS

11th October 2019

Whenever I want to add a table to a blog post, I always wonder if an app can do it for me. As I find writing Markdown tables to be rather tedious. The only problem is, I never actually looked. However, I’ve now been using an aptly named app “Markdown Tables” and it’s just perfect.

It features a really clean interface, that lets you focus solely on the table content. You have all the necessary tools at the top, there’s one to create a new table with a certain size or from the clipboard, inserting and deleting rows/columns, alignment, whether to include the header row, and the export button! It looks simple, however, it has all the functionality that you’ll need. It handles large tables quite well, as you can scroll around the content, and then simply tap on the field you want to edit, and it snaps it into place.

Exporting is maybe the most important feature of the app, and it couldn’t get any easier. All you need to do is tap the export button above the table, and the formatted table will be copied. Markdown Tables actually supports Markdown and HTML exporting, each with their own options for customising the format. Such as compact mode for Markdown, and also whether to pretty print the HTML.

It’s a fantastic utility, and I recommend it to anyone writing Markdown on iOS.

Find Markdown Tables on the App Store.

You’ve Paid Me Once, Now Pay Me Again

23rd July 2019

About a week ago, the popular mail app for iOS and Mac, Airmail, switching from being a paid upfront app to one based around a subscription. Understandably, this brought a lot of conversation online (mainly on Twitter), about the ethics of it, the App Store rules that may be broken by the switch, and general complaining. I’m obviously “late to the party” on this one, but I would like to think of this being about an app moving to subscription in general, rather than solely Airmail. Although, it has a few specific mentions.

The major issue that I’ve seen around the Internet about Airmail’s business model switch, is that it has been to a degree, forced upon users that have already purchased the app. Because when they purchased the app, it was a paid upfront app, with no notice about needing to pay for a subscription in the future. So they’ve essentially had their purchase taken back, and been told to pay a monthly ransom to keep using it.

There’s certainly the argument that if developers are constantly updating and providing support to apps, that they should be able to charge for it. But when you purchase an app, you’re more than likely not thinking about a scenario where features will suddenly be put behind another paywall. This is not to say that it’s the developers fault for providing quality updates, but instead, maybe a fault of the way app updates are handled. For example, there still isn’t a proper way to do upgrade pricing. And I think that alone would provide a better experience for everyone. Developers could have a more clearly defined line between major updates, and it would give users a real chance to evaluate an update, and even say no to them. Especially if they feel like they’d rather not get any more updates if it means not paying a subscription for features they’ve already paid for.

The two features that are being put behind a paywall with this switch, are multiple account support and push notifications. Two notable features of an email app, and for the majority of people, I would imagine these being deal-breakers.

That being said, the first feature, is still free if you had already purchased the app. So this is only no longer available for free, for future users. That’s a bit better, however, it certainly seems strange to me that such a common feature would be behind a paywall. Especially with one that costs either ~$3 a month, or ~$10 a year.

As for the latter, this also seems like such a fundamental part to an email client. Sure, there’s the possibility that this was the reason it was put behind a subscription fee, but I don’t feel like that feature alone is worth the fee. I know that there are server costs for push notifications, but is it honestly $10 a year worth?

I also think it’s worthwhile to note that if you are a paying customer already, while you still maintain access to multiple account support for free (well, free after the initial purchase), the subscription price for the remaining one feature, is the same as what new customers would pay for both features.

There are also a few sections of Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines, that also create a few questions about whether the switch also follows the rules or not.

The first one is that if you switch to being subscription-based, then you’re not allowed to force users to pay for features that they have already paid for:

If you are changing your existing app to a subscription-based business model, you should not take away the primary functionality existing users have already paid for. For example, let customers who have already purchased a “full game unlock” continue to access the full game after you introduce a subscription model for new customers.

I’m guessing they’ve handled this by maintaining multiple account support, but there’s an argument to be made that this should also apply to push notifications.

There is also a rule regarding push notifications:

Monetizing built-in capabilities provided by the hardware or operating system, such as Push Notifications, the camera, or the gyroscope; or Apple services, such as Apple Music access or iCloud storage.

However, with a response to MacRumors, Airmail state that they are “not using system push notifications of CloudKit or other operating system features, but its own server infrastructure.”. I guess they are claiming to show that this rule should not apply to their implementation.

However, regardless of any guidelines, and the ethics in general of making the switch from a paid app to a subscription-based app, it’s surely best to let customers know about the switch as soon as possible. As most complaints, I found online, seemed to come from a place where this is a surprise, and they feel that they’ve been asked for money with no reward being offered to them. Rather than functionality that they have already paid for.

The switch to a subscription app is always going to be hard, especially for an app like Airmail that has existed for so long already as a paid upfront app. As you have to make the subscription seem appealing for new users, and at the same time making existing users feel like there is also something to gain for them too.

In my opinion, this specific case seems a bit rushed. And I think a bit more care could have gone into ensuring new and existing customers had a good experience. Either it should have been coupled with a bigger update, that actually added new features to a subscription, or simply had a longer grace period for existing customers. Four months feels a bit short.

What’s worse for Airmail, is that there are other great email apps available for iOS. Including the stock Mail app that comes with iOS, which is what I use myself.