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.

 

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.

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?

Shot on iPhone 6

Apparently, there is a new showcase of photos taken with iPhone 6 on Apple’s Homepage. According to news at at macrumors.com it is just the beginning of a larger campaign:

“[…] involving 77 photographers, 70 cities and 24 countries. Apple will be featuring photos taken with an iPhone 6 in print media, transit posters and billboards across the world.”
Source: Apple Showcases ‘Shot on iPhone 6’ World Photo Gallery on Homepage

Apple Reports Record Earnings and iPhone Sales: $18B Profit on $74.6B in Revenue for Q1 2015

Apple Reports Record Earnings and iPhone Sales: $18B Profit on $74.6B in Revenue for Q1 2015

An evening with my Impossible Instant Lab – Creating Instant Photos

Since my bedroom wall is supposed to be decorated with Polaroid instant photos, I spent an evening with my Impossible Instant Lab, developing a series of photos with an iPhone 5 and the Impossible iOS App.

impossible-lab-1

impossible-lab-3

impossible-lab-2

The result being a bunch of color and black & white photos soon to be displayed in my personal little art gallery.

It comes at a price, though. 8 instant photos produced with Impossible Instant film sum up to 20 €, not considering the price of the instant lab. That one actually dropped recently from around 250 € to just 120 €.

So now is a good a time as any to start your instant photo experience even if you don’t want to buy an analog Polaroid camera like my Polaroid SX-70 Landa Camera.

Eve HomeKit Accessories

In September 2014 Elgato introduced Eve Smart Home Sensors supporting Apple’s HomeKit. I am not quite sure what to do with them really, but I am convinced I need stuff like this…

I can’t wait for a connected home. I would even consider renovating on a large scale to make it happen. For more information on the Elgato Eve sensors visit https://www.elgato.com/en/eve

eve-homekit-accessories-1

Source: eve – know your home, October 9 2014 

eve-homekit-accessories-2

Source: eve – know your home, October 9 2014