Apple acquired Workflow – The powerful workflow automation tool for iOS

When I was talking about my iPad Pro desktop replacement experiment, I mentioned Workflow, a powerful automation tool I use for tasks of many kinds on the iPad and iPhone. It lets you connect various features of many iOS apps in an easy to use interface that often reminds me of Apple Automator on the Mac, an application that Apple is slowly fading out in my opinion… or at least that is what I thought.

Workflow iOS app
Workflow iOS app

As it turned out, Apple just bought Workflow in March 2017, giving me new hope for more professional capabilities on iOS devices. Right now, the app provides the easiest way to generate workarounds for the various restrictions of many system and third party apps on iOS. For many things that are simple to do on a desktop machine, tasks need to be distributed between several iOS apps and chained together. Doing this manually takes forever, with Workflow it only takes longer than on a desktop machine.

With the acquisition I am hoping for a deeper integration into iOS that would allow for easier usage of workflows within and between apps. Also, I would consider it a good idea to broaden the number of preconfigured workflows to specifically target typical desktop tasks. If Apple is really serious about the iPad as desktop replacement, there is still much left to be done.

So I am looking forward to whatever will happen next.

4G Pocket Wifi with prepaid data plan in Australia

While staying in Melbourne in February 2017, I chose to buy a mobile hotspot to stay online with the various devices I had with me. As in 2016, I chose Vodafone as the service provider, since they seem to offer the best network, coverage, value for money and data options.

I bought a 4G pocket wifi R216H mobile hotspot with a 30 day 8GB prepaid option for AUD 59 (about USD 45 or EUR 43).  Any additional recharge would be AUD 30 for 8GB of 4G data.

pocket wifi
pocket wifi

In the U.S. I just recently used a AT&T GoPhone prepaid plan, offering 4GB with unlimited national calls and SMS for USD 45 . In Germany, Vodafone’s corresponding 5GB prepaid plan would be around EUR 35 depending on the service provider. So in terms of mobile broadband, Australia is a good place to be.

During my time in Australia the pocket wifi mobile hotspot never failed me. I used it with up to 4 devices (2 iPhones, 1 iPad Pro and an Apple Watch) both in Melbourne and on the Great Ocean Road. The advertised 10 hour battery life is easily matched and with mobile battery packs this can easily be extended to have a full day of mobile internet access with just one SIM card and one prepaid package.

So for anyone traveling in Australia, I can definitely recommend both Vodafone as a decent service provider as well as the pocket wifi devices they offer in combination with their prepaid data plans.

Working with an iPad Pro

Well, it has been a few months now and so far I did not regret my decision. I opted for an iPad Pro 9,2″ with an Apple Pencil and a backlit Logitech CREATE Smart Keyboard to explore a post PC setup for professional work once more. The setup is complemented by my iPhone 6S and Apple Watch. I plan to try it for at least 6 months and then decide whether to buy a Macbook/Macbook Pro or stick with it. So far, I think this might in fact change my entire tech outfit.

-> tl;dr

iPad Pro and Apple Watch
iPad Pro and Apple Watch

Memories from the first iPad

Back in 2010, when the original iPad was introduced, I was thrilled by the possibilities advertised and switched from my MacBook Pro to an iPad and tried to get everything done on tablet exclusively. Back then, I was working at Scholz & Friends as was involved in project management and corporate change management. I just implemented Google Apps for Work at the entire agency network and mainly used web based tools such as Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, Things, some Adobe Products etc.

The main issues back then were performance related (lag when switching apps, unusable clipboard functionality, no multitasking, etc.) and problems while integrating with agency toolchains and workflows with the Adobe Creative Suite, PowerPoint and Apple Keynote. Although the iPad had proven to be a very portable device and great for presenting, it quickly failed the test of being able to substitute a full fledged Mac as a professional working tool. Still I tried it for almost 6 months, so I am pretty confident about what I liked and missed.

iPad Keynote Remote
iPad Keynote Remote

iPhone 6 Plus vs. iPad Mini

Over the years I bought several other iPads, mainly for media consumption (watching videos, browsing the web, reading blogs and books) and playing games. For some time I used an iPad to work with Garageband or to control Apple Logic audio with virtual DAW controller apps or the Logic Remote app. I used the iPad Mini for quite some time as well, since it was very portable and a good compromise between an iPhone and a MacBook Pro (my all time setup for many years).

When the iPhone 6 Plus came out, I wanted to try it out, so I could get rid of the iPad Mini. Since I mostly used it for reading, it seemed like the larger iPhone might be a good way to reduce the number of devices. I was so wrong. The iPhone 6 Plus was the worst iPhone experience I had so far. I wrote up some notes on that some time ago and couldn’t wait for the iPhone 6S, which for some reason still is my current iPhone. Although far bigger than on older iPhone models, the iPhone 6S screen size doesn’t suit me personally for reading longer texts, so I am kind of back to reading serious texts on my Mac. (I might still try out the iPhone 7S for the dual camera setup, which I think is pretty neat).

Reading on iPhone 6 Plus
Reading on iPhone 6 Plus

The iPad Pro

When the large iPad Pro was announced in 2015, I was amazed by its performance benchmarks and the perspective the device holds for creative professionals. Still, when I took a looked at the device and held in my hands, I was sure it wasn’t right for me. It’s too big, too heavy and doubtful as a game changer to the way I used computers before.

In March 2016 though, Apple introduced the iPad Pro 9,2″, a smaller version of its bigger brother. Without going too much into technical details, it is basically the same iPad in a smaller iPad Air like size. The small iPad Pro comes with some additional features, such as the astonishing truetone display technology and the downside of just 2GB of RAM instead of 4GB in the larger iPad Pro. So what’s the difference for me you ask? Basically, it changes everything.

I must admit, I am not sure if I would love an iPad Pro in even smaller iPad Mini like size even more. Still, I think this is not only the best iPad (and tablet for that matter) that you can buy today, it opens another angle to a post PC professional working environment for me. Among many others, Walt Mossberg to think so too and wrote up the best “iPad as a Laptop replacement” review in my opinion.

What do I do with it?

Nowadays, I read a lot in a professional capacity, ranging from scientific journals and magazine articles to endless project reports, technical requirement lists and strategy documents among many other things. Also, I am more on the move than ever before, traveling a lot, communicating mostly via mail, instant messages/chat (far less #slack as one would imagine) and collaborating on documents with cloud based tools such as G Suite (formerly Google for Work) and more recently iCloud (Keynote and Pages mostly). Since most of my daily tools are highly optimized for mobile usage, I am confident not to miss out on anything over using a desktop machine.

The real benefit comes with reading documents (mainly PDFs). For years I have been trapped again behind my desktop screen, reading and marking PDFs, scrolling through comments etc. all while sitting at a desk or in a somewhat uncomfortable pose with the laptop on my lap. With the Apple Pencil and the high performance iPad Pro, for the very first time it feels like I am actually faster on the iPad than on a regular Mac and in fact faster than on paper.

Apps I use

For this I mainly use apps such as Papers (the best scientific reading and reference managing app I know) and sometimes Dropbox in conjunction with Adobe Acrobat or GoodNotes 4. For reading blogs I still use Feedly and social updates are managed through buffer. The only other news app I use is The New York Times (NYT), for which I actually have a subscription, the only newspaper subscription I ever had in my life.

Other apps I use for taking notes or writing are Scannable in conjunction with Evernote (although I secretly want a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner to finally get rid of all the remaining paper in my house), Apple Notes, iA Writer and Coda. I also use Paper 53 (highly optimized for Apple Pencil in my opinion), Adobe Photoshop Express, Adobe Sketch and Adobe Comp (Layouts, Wireframes, Mockups) to some extend.

I especially like Workflow, an app that allows you to choose from or create automation workflows to optimise seemingly long click-thru processes on the iPad. It feels like Automator for Mac, an application than Apple seems to be fading out slowly.

Of course there are more apps I use on the iPad, but they are the usual suspects for communication, media consumption, travel, shopping etc.

tl;dr

Although there is still ample room for improvements for efficient ways to do complicated things on the iPad, there is far more than can be done than I would have expected a few years ago. I will let you know, how it goes from here.

 

Leica introduced instant camera – Leica Sofort

 

Leica Sofort
Leica Sofort by leica-camera.com

In late 2016 Leica introduced an instant camera, called Leica Sofort. It utilises Fujifilm Instax Mini instant film material and might prove to be another great addition to the recent instant film revival by companies such as Impossible Project, who just introduced their first analog instant camera after selling refurbished Polaroid cameras for many years.

Over the past years I used instant cameras quite a bit and experimented with the Impossible Project Instant Lab and their polaroid compatible film material to create instant images from digital photos. The Fujifilm instant film never was high on my list of priorities because I don’t like the formats they offer. Now might be a good time to give it another look. The Leica Sofort setup looks like a sweet deal.

For more information check out the article by WIRED.

How the Apple Watch (somewhat) changed my life

When Tim Cook introduced the Apple Watch, I was very excited and enthusiastic, as any good Apple fanboy should have been. This blind enthusiasm and the desperate need for something new to change the world was not impaired by the watch’s price tag in any way. Since we all know that Apple is working on becoming a luxury brand, everything seemed pretty reasonable for a paradigm shifting, game changing new device that would redefine time itself. For some reason, I opted for a Apple Watch Sport with a 42mm wristband and could resist the urge to choose the stainless steel version for just twice the price.

Trying on the Apple Watch - 4

 

Not much happening with the Apple Watch

Now, after almost 11 month and the recent Apple Watch OS 2.1 updates, things are still pretty slow with the Apple Watch. I am not talking about somewhat disappointing sales figures Apple is not really talking about for some reason (although these numbers seems to be growing and the Apple Watch will be great business in the end), but rather the slow adoption of the ecosystem by third party app developers. Up until today, there is basically no app whatsoever I am using on the Apple Watch apart from Apple’s own system apps. And I feel like I tried them all. Sure, 1Password, Airbnb, Camera+, DriveNow, eBay, Evernote, Foursquare, Lufthansa, Things, Uber, Withings and Yelp have updated their apps for Apple Watch, as did many others. But whatever they are doing, it’s not much. In addition the apps are so slow, it takes them forever to load and any potential advantage over taking out the iPhone and starting the apps gets lost on the way.

Here are a few screenshots of some apps I use on my iPhone. Make up you own mind wether their Apple Watch implementation blows your mind:

 

Still the Apple Watch changed everything for the better…

Although I am deeply disappointed by the Apple Watch ecosystem so far, I am still more than happy with my purchase. Finally I have full body contact with an Apple device. Apart from that, I enjoyed the sketch feature for a few weeks but it wore off pretty fast. What didn’t wore off, however, was how I use the Apple Watch for notifications. And this changed everything for me.

Until before I was constantly checking my iPhone for news updates, message notifications and all that stuff just because of the fear of missing out. I could have deactivated most notifications on my iPhone, but I really like their way of keeping me informed without having to start a bunch of apps. So basically I suffered through buzzing notifications every day for years. Also this led to me (and everyone else for that matter) being constantly on the phone, isolating myself from social interactions in some way.

With the Apple Watch I can basically use a different notification scheme, allowing me to focus only on the most important messages. That means turning most notifications off. Now my iPhone is in silent mode most of the day, not vibrating anymore. Anything that might be of real importance to me will come through to the Apple Watch, everything else just has to wait until I actually use the iPhone.

The results are: I am using the iPhone far less than before and I am not taking it out of my pocket while in meetings ever since. This is a liberating feeling, I can tell you that much. It allows a whole new level of concentration on the moment. In addition I also feel much more calm, since I  filtered out so much noise. It’s a huge improvement over how thing where before. This sounds like a tiny little issue, but in fact it changed my daily routine for good and for the better. This alone was totally worth buying the Apple Watch.

 

… even without wearing it

In addition I might add, that I haven’t worn wrist watches in the past years, although I really like them as a fashion statement. This led to me forgetting to put on the Apple Watch from time to time. Since I arrived in Sydney I left it at home to save my wrist from the otherwise unavoidable tan lines. The most interesting part ist, that although I haven’t worn the Apple Watch in almost 4 weeks now, I didn’t change my iPhone routine. This might be great. So even if things don’t pick up with the Apple Watch in the future, I broke my terrible iPhone habits… hopefully for good.

Adobe killed Flash, finally…

Last week Adobe announced to rename Flash Professional CC to Animate CC in 2016. In addition Adobe recommends to use modern technology standards such as HTML5 and WebGL. After many years of “Flash ain’t dead yet” this might finally be the beginning of its last chapter.

 

This might be a good time to take a look at Steve Jobs’ open letter “Thoughts in Flash” from 2010.

“Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

[…]

New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.”

Source: “Thoughts in Flash” – Steve Job. April, 2010

Looks like they finally got the message.

Apple as a Service – What A Monthly Tech Outfit Subscription Model Could Look Like

Apple - get an all access pass

Source: Apple Music Membership – Apple.com

Apple has indeed changed very much over the years. I don’t want to talk about what happened in the 80ies or 90ies or how Steve Jobs saved the company. I also don’t want to talk about the iPod or the even bigger iPhone and iPad era. Neither do I want to point out how Apple might be changing since Steve Jobs passed away. That has been said and discussed abundantly. Recently I started thinking more and more about Apple’s rapidly growing software and services business with its subscription models.

“Once upon a time, Apple was a hardware company that also maintained a software and media ecosystem since it helped drive purchases of Macs, iPods and more. But over the years, the software and services side of the business has become increasingly important, and CEO Tim Cook even went so far as to state out right that Apple is “not a hardware company.” Not once, but twice.”

Source: Tim Cook Talks Up Apple Software And Service: ” We Are Not A Hardware Company” – techcrunch


 

Subscription Models

Quite obviously, I couldn’t agree more. iTunes, Apps, movie rentals and recent subscription services such as Apple Music are making up for a substantial share of Apple’s revenue. Most interesting are developments with the subscription models, I think. These services provide a steady and projectable revenue stream and might be very appealing in contrast to regular sales, which are more volatile even for Apple.

That’s probably why Apple is experimenting more with subscription based models for a variety of their products. There is iCloud storage, which is becoming more and more affordable, and Apple Music with family options but thats far from it. Apple also introduced a subscription model for the iPhone, the iPhone Upgrade Program, basically allowing customers to get a new iPhone each year for a premium starting at $ 32.41 per month for the smallest iPhone version. Apple is offering up to 0%  financing and leasing models for creative professionals and businesses as well, which could be considered as kind of subscription like as well.

iPhone Upgrade Program

Source: iPhone Upgrade Program – Apple.com


 

Apple Outfit on a Monthly Subscription

Apple could be offering subscription like models for every product they have, converting much of their regular sales revenues into projectable continues revenues. And since we are talking about Apple, they would not be not aiming for a $ 9.99 $ per month target, not even $ 99.99 if you think about it.

Take into consideration my current Apple outfit, which is far from high end compared im my opinion. I use a high end Macbook Pro 13″ Retina, a iPhone 6S 64 GB, an iPad Mini 4 64 GB, an Apple TV 64 GB, an Apple Watch, another moderately pimped Mac Mini, a Thunderbolt Display and some amount of adapters and software in addition to an Apple Music and iCloud storage subscription. Even if I consider yearly updates for the iPhone and updates for the Macbook Pro and everything else every 3 years (which I consider to be very conservative), it amounts to quite some money.

Based on current Apple product pricing (November 2015) in the US, this would amount to $ 9,137.16 over a 3 year period, not considering potential returns from reselling used products. But in fact, this might not be possible in a subscription model if things turn out the way they do with the iPhone Upgrade Program, where you are required to return the iPhone to Apple when receiving the newer version, as far as I understand it.

  • Macbook Pro 13 Retina 3.1 GHz, 16 GB memory, 1 TB flash storage = $ 2,699
  • iPhone 6S 64 GB = $ 649
  • iPhone 6S 64GB Upgrade Program = $ 36.58/month x 36 = $ 1,316.88 (basically 2 additional iPhones)
  • iPad Mini 4 64GB Wifi + Cellular = $ 629
  • Apple TV 64 GB =  $ 199
  • Apple Watch Sport 42mm = $ 399
  • Mac Mini 3.0 GHz, 16 GB memory, 1 TB fusion drive = $ 1,399
  • Thunderbolt Display = $ 999
  • Adapters & Software = $ 200
  • Apple Music Family = $ 14.99/month x 36 = $ 539.64
  • iCloud storage plan 200 GB = $ 2.99 /month x 36 = $ 107.64

This insanely sum would come down to $ 253.81 per month. This is without tax and without any interest for a service offering like this. I would suppose if Apple adds Apple Care and other support coverages, it would be even more. On the other hand, there might be discounts and various other factors, which could reduce sum considerably. Anyway, a conceivable Apple as a Service subscription service might come down to something of a medium 3 digit amount of $$$ per month easily, even with just a moderate Apple outfit. Just consider a creative professional using an upscale iMac or Mac Pro outfit with some additional peripherals.

Taking Apple’s huge profit margin into consideration (up from 1.23% in 2003 to 21.60 % in 2015), Apple might in fact be able to offer services like this for a select group of customers and could provide products in advance, collecting its revenue over the installment of the service.

In any case, it was kind of shocking to sum up the amount of money I spend on Apple products each year. Compared to any other subscriptions I have, this is definitely the most expensive one. But still, I wouldn’t want to miss out on any part of it.

Powermat Wireless Charging at Starbucks in Palo Alto

I recently went to Starbucks in Downtown Palo Alto for some Frappuccino to kill some time. While waiting for the hours to pass, surfing the web on my iPhone, I ran out of power quickly. This is when I noticed the Powermat wireless charging stations they offered in the store. This is how it works:

“Powermat lets you power your phone without wires or cords or worries. Simply visit one of our Powermat locations. They’re easy to find using our app. Plug in your Ring and place on a Powermat Spot to start charging.

When plugged into your phone and placed on a Powermat Spot, the Powermat Ring wirelessly recharges your battery. Powermat charges your devices just as fast as a cord, while being conveniently within reach (no more crawling around looking for outlets). The Powermat Ring comes in multiple colors and fits all Android and iPhone mobile devices.”

Well, I appreciate the effort and can say after some issues with the loading mechanism stopping when the iPhone goes to sleep, I was able to recharge my iPhone 6 Plus. There were only a few tables equipped with the Powermat Spots, so I also had to wait until a ring became available. Apparently many people are still using the old 30-pin iPod connector since they had far more of those rings than for lightning connectors. For some reason they also had usb connectors for Android user, but I didn’t see any at this particular Starbucks. Anyway, the charger worked well enough.

The main issue with this type of charging station is that I can’t really use my iPhone while charging. If the iPhone moves just a little, charging gets interrupted. So even when using the iPhone lying on the table, it hardly possible to keep charging. I suppose preinstalled cable based charging outlets would provide a better service for Starbucks’ customers and would work better. But that’s not very innovative and that’s what Palo Alto is all about, right?

Tumblr importer for WordPress – Why it sucks.

A week ago I decided to move my Tumblr blog to WordPress using the Tumblr importer plugin. I moved the blog for various reasons, more possibilities for customisation being among them. Ever since 2010 I only used Tumblr because of its easy of use. In 2012 I started using moritzrecke.com as a custom domain with my Tumblr blog. Since I didn’t want to loose old content or the corresponding URLs on my domain, I wanted to migrate all posts.

Tumblr importer

WordPress offers an importer plugin, allowing anyone to make a swift move from Tumblr. All you need to do is register a Tumblr app to get an OAuth Key for API access. To gain access to the Tumblr blog you also need to disable the custom domain on Tumblr for the time of the import, since the plugin can only access blog-name.tumblr.com configurations. Also you can import data from as many of your Tumblr blogs as you want. There is decent setup wizard included, so nothing can go wrong. All Tumblr posts and drafts will be recognised and get imported with tags and article formats intact. Only static pages are not supported.

tumblr importer - import tumblr posts to wordpress

If you want to keep using the old URLs on the domain from previous Tumblr posts (…/post/post-id/post-title), you need to configure 301 redirects for them. I used the Redirection plugin for this with a single rule such as:

Source URL: .*/post/\d+/(.*)

Target URL: /$1

This requires the “Permalink Settings” of WordPress to be configured to “Post name” (…/sample-post/). Now all old article URLs are redirected to the corresponding new address. Surely you could choose another permalink structure and adapt the redirect accordingly if you want to. If you choose to delete some posts on yourWordPress blog that existed on Tumblr before, you need to create additional redirects because of this general rule. Otherwise it will result in 404 responses. If you keep all Tumblr posts on your WordPress blog you are done.

tumblr importer - tumblr urls 301 redirect

It was a pretty easy process, taking just a few minutes of initial configuration and some patience during the import process. With me and my 444 posts it took around 15 minutes. Afterwards you can switch the DNS setting for your domain to the WordPress blog, adjust the general WordPress settings and you are done. The old Tumblr blog will stay available at blog-name.tumblr.com and is ready for further use or deletion, whatever suits you.

Issues after the import

When looking at the imported data in more detail, some problems surfaced. For one the plugin only imported image files that were contained in the photo article formats on Tumblr. I read about problems with files getting imported at small sizes. That was not the case, they were transferred in full resolution. The filenames were exactly the same as on Tumblr, which I suppose is ok but I would have preferred some kind of option to rename them to match the articles.

All other images in all other article formats weren’t imported at all. The images were embedded using the Tumblr URL instead. This means you have to import all other images manually, especially if you’d ever want to delete your old Tumblr posts at some point (I did). If you want to have image filenames that match the image’s content you also have to rename every image ever uploaded. Depending on the number of images, this might actually be a time consuming process no matter what tool you use.

Another issue is tags. I used tags quite heavily on Tumblr and would have appreciated some kind of selection process during the import to preselect the most important tags. Since I used to post photos from Instagram on Tumblr as well there were hundreds of tags I will never use again in the future. You could use the Tumblr mass post editor to delete any tags you  might not want to migrate (I unfortunately didn’t). Also if you plan to use categories on WordPress you need to either create new categories or convert some of your existing tags into categories using a plugin like Categories to Tags Converter (it works both ways despite the name).

There is even more. Any content I embedded in Tumblr posts didn’t make it to WordPress. This includes Youtube and vimeo videos, embedded Google Maps and other formats. For Youtube at least there is a note about the source so you know something is missing but the rest is just gone. So look forward to re-embedding all this content again.

I you optimised your Tumblr content for Google, get ready to do it again as well. Any metadata I had embedded in my Tumblr posts got lost. I am not that much into optimising articles, but I did some basic stuff like basic keywords using tags etc. Anyway, it’s gone.

Many more things could be said, but I will leave it at that. Now that I am through with most of the pain, I won’t roll back. I could, maybe even should have in the beginning, but now I won’t.

tl;dr

All in all, I appreciate the effort to provide an easy tool for the transition from Tumblr to WordPress but when you look at it in detail, the Tumblr importer is more work than fun. I would not use it again and search for another solution. If you plan to optimise every article anyway, I suppose you are better off reworking every post manually after all, unless you are tech-savvy.

A Visual Introduction to Machine Learning

A Visual Introduction to Machine Learning is an awesome animated introduction to Machine Learning created by r2d3.us as a scrolling page with animated data visualisations.