The Increasingly Rare iPad Deal Killers

Jason Snell wrote an excellent piece today about how he uses his iPad for a lot of his work. The post references a recent quote from Microsoft's Satya Nadella that implies the iPad is not a real computer and a recent iPad ad that makes its point nicely.

I've spent a lot of time writing and podcasting about the iPad as a potential laptop replacement. In the early days, I went iPad only while writing the book, iPad at Work. Back then it was rough. The hardware, operating system, and software were all in need of improvement. Things did, however, get better. iPad hardware these days benchmarks alongside currently shipping Macs very respectively.

iOS also is a lot more powerful than it used to be. Last year I gave my laptop to my daughter and used my iPad as a laptop for about six months before buying a replacement laptop. That was during iOS 10, and the reasons that I ultimately bought a laptop rested largely on the operating system. Before iOS 11, managing multiple files and email attachments felt masochistic. iOS 11 fixes that. Now with iOS 11 and the Files App, I'm able to manage files nearly as fast on iPad as I am on Mac. If I had 35 years experience using a tablet like I do the mouse and keyboard, I'd probably be just as fast. 

All that said I still find times where I need the laptop. The interesting bit for me is that while Apple has improved the hardware and the operating system, I've got some lingering problems with third-party software. 

Two such roadblocks that immediately come to mind are Microsoft Word and Googe Docs. I spend a lot of time in both these apps doing day-job legal work. In many ways, Microsoft Word on iPad is superior to its Mac counterpart, but it has one glaring omission, the inability to modify style preference. If I want to change a style format or line spacing, it's simply not possible in Microsoft Word for iPad. I've used styles in Word forever. If you know what you are doing, they dramatically improve document editing and tricky legal paragraph numbering. Likewise, Google Docs has a change tracking feature that works fine on the Mac but has never been properly implemented on the iPad app. I've found ways around these problems, but they are workarounds and get in the way of productively using my iPad.

It didn't hit me until reading Jason's piece tonight, but with each step forward, the iPad's limitations get narrower. The hardware and operating system problems are, for the most part, solved for me. Likewise, there are alternatives for my software problems. There are iPad word processors that support styles. Google's passive-aggressive approach to the iPad leaves them ripe for disruption by some other company that wants to make a Google Docs-like experience for iPad without second-class iPad software. I'd honestly be surprised if these problems (along with two or three other on my particular list) don't get solved in the next year. 

But getting back to the original point, if you are asking yourself whether or not the iPad is a "real" computer, the fact that I've got to go to Microsoft Word style formatting for distinction should tell you that the question was already answered a long time ago.

iPad Sans Bezel

Image by Benjamin Geskin

Image by Benjamin Geskin

Now that I've got a bezel-less iPhone in my hands, I'm looking at my iPad(s) a little sideways. Turns out I'm not alone. Benjamin Geskin did some lovely renders of a bezel-less iPad that feels to me like the direction Apple has to be going with this. The trick on iPad will be the swipe up gesture. Currently, there are two separate gestures: short up for dock and long up for the control center. If I was a betting man, I'd say that a bezel-less iPad would switch the long swipe up to match the behavior on the phone and they'd move the control panel to some other gesture.

The Case for RSS

For several years now, the trend among geeks has been to abandon the RSS format. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a way to queue up and serve content from the internet. The MacSparky RSS, for example, gives RSS applications a list of all the articles I post here since you last checked int. It is a great way to read blogs and the backbone of podcast distribution. As social networks took off, a lot of my friends that were previously big RSS fans gave up on the technology and instead relied upon sources like Twitter and Facebook to get their news.

That was never me. The reason I’ve stuck with RSS is the way in which I work. Twitter is the social network that I participate in most and yet sometimes days go by where I don’t load the application. I like to work in focused bursts. If I’m deep into writing a book or a legal client project. I basically ignore everything else. I close my mail application, tell my phone service to take my calls, and I definitely don’t open Twitter. When I finish the job, I can then go back to the Internet. I’ll check in on Twitter, but I won’t be able to get my news from it. That only works if you go into Twitter much more frequently than I do. That’s why RSS is such a great solution for me. If a few days go by, I can open RSS and go through my carefully curated list of websites and get caught back up with the world.

A long time ago, I used Reeder as my primary RSS application. It’s clean, fast, and attractive. Then a few years ago I switched over to Unread, which I found to be slower but a little more delightful. For the last week, I’ve been using Reeder again just for giggles. Their addition of dark mode for iPhone X is great, but ultimately I don’t know where I’ll land between these two great RSS Apps.

If you are thinking about using RSS, I have a little advice. Be wary feed inflation. RSS is so easy to implement that it's a slippery slope between having RSS feeds for just a few websites and instead of having RSS feeds for hundreds of websites. If you’re not careful, every time you open your RSS reader, there will be 1,000 unread articles waiting for you, which completely defeats the purpose of using RSS. The trick to using RSS is to be brutal with your subscriptions. I think the key is looking for websites with high signal and low noise. Sites that publish one or two articles a day (or even one to two articles a week) but make them good articles are much more valuable and RSS feed than sites that published 30 articles a day.

The Workflow for iOS Update


Every time I write that people should still be using Workflow for iOS automation, I get a certain amount of flak. Apple bought Workflow earlier this year, and the reason for the purchase was not so they could keep developing Workflow. With no inside knowledge, I'm guessing the Workflow developers are spending most of their time working on some fancy new automation for integration into the iOS operating system. (Why else would Apple have purchased the company?) However, I don’t think they are spending all of their time on the new project.

Workflow has been steadily getting updates since it went “in-house”. Most recently they released version 1.7.7. It adds iOS 11 drag and drop and iPhone X screen support. It also supports the new Apple HEIF and HEVC image and video formats. The update even adds a few new features, my favorite of which is the ability to save a templated OmniFocus project to a specific folder.

I don’t know how long we’ve got left with Workflow. But isn’t that true about everything in life? I expect the Workflow team will be allowed to continue to nurse the app along until they release their next big thing which, at the very earliest, would be iOS 12 in a little less than a year. Workflow has enough awesome that it’s worth using, even if just for a year.

PDFpen for iOS Tutorial Videos

I recently did a series of seven tutorial videos on how to use PDFpen for iPad and iPhone. They're now available to watch at the PDFpen website and I think they're pretty good. Looking back, it's remarkable just how much my document review workflows have changed with the arrival of the iPad Pro. The combination of that big piece of glass with the Apple Pencil make it easy for me to review and annotate documents digitally. This is superior to my old method of printing it out and using a red pen and highlighter. Now I have way more annotation tools available and because the product is digital, it is easy to save, copy, and share. Another benefit I've noticed over time is how much easier it is to hold on to these digital annotations. I recently represented a client on a contract dispute and being able to look at my original annotations when the contract was signed last year was helpful.

Anyway, if you haven't looked into digital document annotation lately, watch these PDFpen videos. I've embedded one of them below.

Austin Mann's iPhone X Camera Review

Photo by Austin Mann with iPhone X.

Photo by Austin Mann with iPhone X.

Austin Mann took the new iPhone X to Guatemala, where he took some remarkable photos and had some great feedback on the new iPhone camera. One discovery he made was how much faster the iPhone X is at focussing in on a subject in low light. I didn't notice that until reading the article but playing around with the new camera in comparison to my iPhone 7 Plus, there is a significant difference. Anyway, read the full article and drool over Austin's Guatemala shots.

Keep on Top with SaneBox Reminders (Sponsor)

This week MacSparky is sponsored by SaneBox, the email service that adds power features to any email system. With SaneBox at your back, you add a powerful set of email tools that can work in just about any email client. SaneBox will automatically sort your email for you, defer your email to a more convenient time, set reminders, and automatically forward email. 

One of my favorites is SaneReminders. With SaneReminders you can copy (or blind copy) an email to some time period at For example, SaneBox will then keep track of that email and, if you don’t get a reply in a week, SaneBox will send you a reminder. This is a great way to keep track of email related tasks.

I use this feature a lot. So often I need to keep track of matters through email before they raise to the level of an OmniFocus project. SaneReminders are perfect for this. I send the email, activate SaneReminders, and SaneBox does the rest.

You can also use this system to send your future self time-sensitive reminders. For example, you could send an email to with the subject line, “Buy Valentine Gift for Sweetheart” and SaneBox will send you the reminder at the designated date and time. SaneBox explains reminders further on their website.

Best of all, because you’re a MacSparky reader, you can get $10 off. Try SaneBox today.

A Few Random Thoughts After 24 Hours of iPhone X

I've spent the last 24 hours playing with my silver iPhone X and occaisionally making a few notes. Here they are:

  • Face ID is the real deal. I already like it better than Touch ID. I'm not the first person to say this, but it reminds me of the original iPhone where there was no authentication at all. You just lift the phone up and start working. Security almost becomes a non-event. I’ve tested it in the dark, outside with the sun at my back (and front), with sunglasses, and with a hat. It just works. I'm letting my beard grow for the week to see what happens but I fully expect it to continue working fine. The only failure I’ve encountered is when the phone is held upside down, which isn’t really fair but easier than you think given this buttonless flat piece of glass.
  • 1Password and Face ID together are kind of awesome. It does feel like living in the future.
  • The longer screen makes sense. I spend a lot of time in apps that list data, like Notes, OmniFocus, and Fantastical. The extra vertical space is useful. Some apps handle the extra space (and notch) nicely. Others don't, but it's too early to call anyone out. The conscientious developers will figure out the best UI for the new display.
  • Speaking of the notch, I don't like it. When I'm in an app that has a dark user interface, I don't notice it. When I'm in a light colored app interface, I think it looks terrible. Edge-to-edge everywhere else really makes the notch stand out. All that said, I'm glad Apple didn't wait until they could bury the sensors under the screen to make this phone. As much as I don't like the notch, I'm willing to live with it in exchange for all the other stuff the phone can do.
  • After years of buying Space Gray, this year I went Silver. There are a few reasons for that. First, the silver phone still has a black bezel in front. (I wasn’t a fan of the white bezel.) Second, those stainless steel edges look damn fine next to my stainless steel Apple Watch. It kind of reminds me of the original iPhone. (Catching a theme here?)
  • Looking at an iPhone sans home button is jarring. After 10 years of seeing the same face on my phone, it still looks like something got cut off.
  • The new gestures do not take long to internalize. It’s kind of remarkable to me how quickly swiping up for home screen became second nature. I'm still not sold on having to go to the right ear to swipe down the control center. I'd have preferred a long swipe up from the bottom. Swiping left or right on the home bar lets you switch between apps. That is easily best app switching gesture Apple has provided us to date.
  • Reachability is taking a back seat. You have to go to accessibility preferences to turn it on and the gesture, swiping down at the home bar feels awkward to me.
  • The OLED screen looks great but it is not on the same level as the transition from non-retina to retina screens. After just a day, I don’t notice the OLED as much as I thought I would
  • Coming from the 7 Plus, the new camera system is better. This is particularly true with the 2X lens, which now also includes image stabilization and lets in more light. Indoor shots have improved. I took several test photos on my walk this morning and the iPhone continues to take better pictures. The biggest upgrade is the selfie camera, that can now take a pretty great portrait-style selfie. There’s a gallery below.
  • The sleep/wake button on the right is bigger and more prominent than I’ve ever seen it on the iPhone.
  • The iPhone X sounds excellent. I turned up the volume all the way, and the iPhone X speaker is fine for podcasts, audio books, and – in a real pinch – Dexter Gordon.
  • It’s too early to report on battery life. This thing has been hot and sucking down battery since I first turned it on. That’s typical for someone like me that has his entire life stored in cloud services. I expect things will calm down in a few days.
  • Carrier authorization when I was first setting things up was a mess. This also reminded me of the first iPhone.
  • Transitioning from a Plus size phone down to the iPhone X has been interesting. I like the way the smaller phone fits in my hand, and I'd forgotten about that feeling after using the bigger phone for the last two years. Despite physically being nearly the same size as the standard phone, the screen is nearly as big as the Plus size screen, which almost makes you feel like it is bigger on the inside. I'm worse at typing on the smaller on-screen keyboard but, overall, I'm looking forward to carrying a smaller phone.
  • Overall, I like the iPhone X. I guess there is no surprise in that. It’s not going to change the world in the same way the original iPhone did, but after so many years of evolutionary updates to the iPhone, it’s kind of nice to have something a little more revolutionary.

iPhone X and AppleCare+

If you're like me and waiting for your door doorbell to ring, you may want to take a moment to read this post from Stephen Hacket about iPhone X repair costs. In short, they're really expensive.

If you break the front iPhone X screen, out of warranty repair cost is $279. If you break the back, it's a whopping $549 to repair. If you bought your new iPhone X without AppleCare, I'd recommend adding it ... today. You can add AppleCare to a new device within 60 days after purchase.

Home Screens – John Voorhees


John Voorhees (Twitter) joined MacStories in 2015. He is an editor and regular contributor to MacStories and the Club MacStories newsletters, co-hosts AppStories, a weekly podcast exploring the world of apps, with Federico Viticci, and handles sponsorship sales for MacStories and AppStories. John is also the creator of Blink, an iOS app that creates links for the iTunes Affiliate Program. So John, show us your home screen


What are some of your favorite apps?

My Home screen is organized to put my most-used apps within easy reach. I’m left-handed, so that means the lower left corner of the screen is where my most heavily used apps live.

If I’m mobile and using my iPhone, you can bet I’m listening to podcasts or music. My daily podcast player is Overcast because I love its Smart Speed feature, but I also use Castro, which added amazing drag and drop support with iOS 11. 

Apple Music has come a long way since its early days. I’ve found that the algorithmic playlists are much more closely aligned with my tastes than in the past and I’m a fan of the new social features. Every few days I find myself browsing through what friends are listening to, which is a fantastic way to expand your musical horizons.

My iPhone is also all about communication. Messages is the primary way I chat with friends and family, so it gets the coveted first position in the dock. 

Slack is where conversations with MacStories team members happen. It’s where we plan the Club MacStories newsletter, post links to interesting news stories, and coordinate article assignments. 

Airmail can be a little buggy at times, but its customization and third-party integrations can’t be beaten. I keep it just out of easy reach and don’t use badges because I don’t want to be dipping in and out of email constantly, but I also need to have it readily available.

Tweetbot is always close by too. I don’t view Twitter as the productivity sink that most people think it is. It can be if you let it, but at least half of the time I spend in Tweetbot I consider research because it’s where I find leads on apps to cover on MacStories. That said, it’s also where I kick back to joke around with my friends as a break from work.

Most of my Home screen consists of work-related apps. Blink is an app I built that I use for creating iTunes affiliate links to the apps I write about. I keep up with the latest Apple and tech news with Inoreader, a highly customizable RSS reader and save stories I find interesting in Pocket for reading later and linking to on MacStories or our weekly Club MacStories newsletter. Other research material is stored in DevonTHINK To Go or Apple’s Notes app. I’m in Safari on and off all day, so it’s in my dock as is my task manager, Todoist, which is where all my work and personal tasks go. I’ve tried many task managers and always come back to Todoist because it’s so easy to get tasks into it and to collaborate with others. My ‘Bidness’ folder is full of ‘money’ apps for my banks, PayPal, Stripe, TransferWise, and Xero to name a few. 

What app makes you most productive?

Ulysses is the app that I spend the most time in each day whether it’s writing for MacStories and Club MacStories or preparing materials for AppStories. I don’t use it frequently on my iPhone, but for quick edits and rough drafts in places where I don’t have my Mac or iPad, it works in a pinch. The two other apps that make me most productive on my iPhone are Working Copy, which we use to share and collaborate on writing projects with the MacStories team, and Workflow, which automates the setup of each week’s Club MacStories newsletter.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?

It varies depending on whether I’m in front of my Mac. If I’m on my Mac, my iPhone gets used to respond to text messages or run a Workflow, but if I’m away from my Mac, my iPhone gets used whenever I’m not occupied by another task.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad.

My favorite feature of the iPhone is the ability to work anywhere and stay in touch with others. Before I left my day job as a lawyer, I ran every aspect of my side hustles from my iPhone. I also have friends who are scattered across the globe who I’m lucky if I see once a year. Whether we’re catching up on what each other has been doing or collaborating on a project, the iPhone is the glue that connects us. 

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

I’d start by bringing inter-app drag and drop to the iPhone. I understand why Apple chose to limit dragging items between apps to the iPad, but apps like Castro and Bear have demonstrated the power of in-app drag and drop on the iPhone, which would be even more powerful if there was a way to drag items between apps.

Things are Rosy at Apple

Today Apple had its quarterly earnings call. Jason Snell covered it with his usual aplomb at Six Colors. There are a few bits that stood out.

The iPad Continues to Grow

iPad growth is up 11%. After so many years of decline, that’s good news. I always believed in you, iPad.

Services are For Real

Services have grown to 16% of Apple’s overall revenue. It was $30 billion in 2017. That is a lot of services. Hopefully that means Apple continues to improve iCloud.

Big Days Ahead

Apple is expecting between $84B and $87B in sales in the next quarter. That’s nuts. It seems like just a few years ago that Steve Jobs was astounded about Apple being a $50B per year company.

There’s a lot more, including many pretty graphs over at Six Colors.



Free Agents 33 - When You Say Yes to Everything

The latest episode of Free Agents is up. We've fiddled with the show format a bit. Specifically, now that we've covered most of the topic shows we wanted to cover, we're spending more time talking about the challenges we're seeing on the ground. I'm struggling with how I'm spending my time. Jason is trying to figure out when to say no and he got some better perspective about how well his business is doing, prompted by a job inquiry from a former co-worker. 

Sponsors include:

  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.
  • Podcast Listener Survey: We rely on advertising as a way to support this show. If you could do us a favor and answer a few short questions, it would be really helpful to us.

The Disneyland Stress Test for the iPhone X

Matt Panzarino for TechCrunch reviewed his iPhone X by taking it to The Happiest Place on Earth. There are now several reviews posted with Apple seeding review units to several people in the press. One of the big questions in my mind was how well Face ID will work in the real world. If these initial reviews are anything to go by, it sounds like things will be just fine. Mine shows up Friday and I can hardly wait.