TextExpander Keyboard for iOS

TextExpander is coming out with a custom keyboard for iOS. TextExpander has always been crippled on iOS. Apps had to use clunky url exchanges to use it and typically only the indie developers bothered. This new keyboard, if it works well, should make a lot of TextExpanders happy. I use Keyboard Maestro on the Mac rather than TextExpander since I tend to use meta key macros more than expansions. I’ve not decided if this would make me consider TextExpander on iOS. If only because I just don’t do extended typing on iOS.1

The keyboard I’m most looking forward to myself is SwipeSelection. Apple even changed the keyboard API to make keyboards like SwipeSelection possible in iOS8.2 If TextExpander including sensical cursor movement in their keyboard ala SwipeSelection I’d probably get it immediately. Although it should be a selectable option. I actually found on my iPad I’d frequently turn SwipeSelection off. The way I rested my palm tended to accidentally move the cursor at times. (Ideally SwipeSelection would have a way to avoid this issue)

The keyboard market of iOS8 is apt to be initially quite crowded. While TextExpander is the established player a similar system apparently is Quickboard.

  1. Yes I know the value of expansion in Messages but again I tend not to message much on my phone.
  2. With beta 3 of iOS8.

Appigo ToDo

ToDoI saw a review of Appigo ToDo in my feed and thought I’d throw in a mention myself. I really should give some short reviews of my favorite and most used apps. I know I will often buy an app just on the recommendation of people I respect like say Dr. Drang or MacDrifter.1 I’m not saying you should buy what I use, but perhaps some might like to know what I use.

Appigo ToDo is definitely one of my most used apps. I’ve never read any of the main GTD books but the general ideas seem fairly easy to grasp. Appigo has that nice ability to move from simple to complex without demanding a lot of structure the way some GTD apps do.

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  1. I don’t always end up agreeing with them, but I trust them enough to try the software out.

Daylite and Google Fiber

Someone on Twitter asked me for help getting Daylite’s server to work with Google Fiber. Google’s router is a bit tricky and it was hard to explain in 140 characters so here’s a longer explanation. Hopefully others can use the information as well.

As I mentioned in my initial review1 you can use a dynamic ip address to access your server from anywhere on an other Mac or on your iPhone or iPad. I personally use No IP but there are lots of others out there. Needless to say this is rather nice when on the road and you have to call contacts. However for it to work you have to make your router direct incoming messages to the Daylite server’s ports to your proper computer. 

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  1. And yes I know I haven’t put up the second part focusing in on the iPad and iPhone yet. I’ve been tremendously busy.

On Unicode in Code

One of the more unexpected features of Swift was thorough embrace of unicode even for variable names. On the one hand this makes a lot of sense, especially in Asian countries. On the other there was a lot of expected hue and cry over how this could be abused. Source code examples using emoji for instance quickly appeared. Last week I posted a link to Euler which uses unicode characters to properly represent logic and set notation along with a few other mathematical symbols. Now using symbols really isn’t a new thing. Anyone of a certain age probably remember APL (a programming language) which did this. Even if most likely they never coded in it. Back in 70’s and 80’s you needed a special terminal to use the language. When the PC revolution happened most computers couldn’t deal with the characters and the language died.1 In science it seems like Maple, Mathematica and related systems tended to use function names rather than symbols. While I might be wrong2, I think Swift is the first mass market popular language that allows this more symbolic view of functions and operators.3 I’m quite excited about what this offers, especially to those of us who come from a more mathematical background and who see the equations themselves and much more readable than confusing pseudo-functional representations. I recognize not everyone agrees.

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  1. Yes, there were versions of APL available for microcomputers including CP/M systems and even one for the PC and the Commodore PET had an APL interpreter. By and large though it just didn’t catch on primarily due to the character issues — the language often required custom keyboards. There was a version for the old Mac that I had tried out in college. But since the language wasn’t popular it was more an idle curiosity.
  2. Edit: apparently I was wrong. Python 3 can use unicode variable names as can Ruby 1.9. Ada actually has allowed it since ’05. And Mathematica has allowed it for a long time, which I should have remembered. Even Java has done it for a while. There’s a nice guide to languages and unicode variables out. I’m surprised it hasn’t been discussed more in the past — but maybe it was and I just missed it somehow..
  3. Symbolic here meaning the glyphs, not in the sense that say Mathematica is a symbolic calculator.

Competition Works

This year our city got Google Fiber. Admittedly most of the fiber had been laid by the city. Various ISPs and cable companies had been created that didn’t really successfully make use of the infrastructure.1 I’m not sure if Google approached Provo or the mayor approached Google (probably the latter) but Google came in and took over the city cable and fiber for ISP. Now Provo always had a lot of competition in the ISP space. Since we’re beside rather large mountains microwave based ISPs make a lot of sense here, for instance. Comcast was also always here and, to a lesser extent, the old phone company worked as an ISP. We have Verizon FIOS and a few others as well. So compared to most of the US we’ve always been served well.

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  1. Successful in the sense of being successful in terms of profit. Not that their offerings were worse than Comcast.

Initial Yosemite Thoughts

The betas for Yosemite have been out for a while. The public beta started last week. I think that the betas are mature enough to actually use regularly and give some thoughts on. Not everything is stable of course. For instance messages using your phone to enable calling phone numbers or sending SMS messages is still a little flakey.1 A few things still aren’t working quite right and some features still seem like they are being added. But overall it’s starting to look mature. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn Apple plans a late September release. Of course Apple has gone Gold Master earlier than I think justified in the past. (Actually I think both 10.9 and 10.8 were released probably a month earlier than I was comfortable with). So I wouldn’t be shocked to hear beta 6 is the GM although I hope that’s not the case.

Here are a few thoughts on Yosemite after using it a bit. I know there are many people holding off or wanting to know about certain features. I’ve simply not used everything Yosemite offers so there’s a lot I can’t comment on. (For instance I’ve simply not tried Hand Off to pass control from my phone to OS X) I’m primarily focused on the apps I used the most or issues I’ve long griped about.

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  1. I find that if your phone is on the lock screen it won’t work properly. Log in to your phone and it works fine. I’m not sure if that’s a feature or a bug.

Developers, the iOS Line and Reactive Design

The great Brent Simmons linked to me about my brief comments regarding universal apps and the new form factors of iOS devices. I always respect Brent’s views and enjoy reading them. I think he’s wrong here though. He thinks that while Apple may push Universal apps it won’t require them. I’d be shocked if, a year and a half from now, the separate iPad/iPhone categories don’t disappear. I suspect they’ll maintain some semblance of them for legacy apps but will start requiring all new apps be universal. Again it won’t happen quickly. Give it a year and a half. It’s coming.

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Making It In the App Store

In my opinion, you make money on the App Store by selling small things — its very nature is a bitesize marketplace. This is how you maximise your effective hourly wage. This doesn’t mean you have to turn around crap. You can still output quality pieces of software.

Benjamin Mayo

This seems right. You have to be well organized and disciplined to do this. Willing to drop a project quickly if it starts taking too much time.

I had two projects I was working on but ended up ending development on both because I just wasn’t sure it was worth the investment in time and money. One of my projects had just ended up being far more involved than I expected. It’d have taken an other year at least. With very little guarantee of making much money, let alone enough to justify that time. It’s the sort of thing I may still work on in spare evenings but never full time unless things change. If I start working on something else my primary strategy will be a whole lot of small simple apps that are easy to support.

It’s honestly getting worse, not better out there. Apple appears to really want people to make reactive design so that one app will adjust for multiple screen sizes. Thus the loss of the extra income for a separate iPad app. I’m sure they’ll allow dual pricing for a while but I’d be shocked if that pricing will last for long. I bet by fall 2015 Apple will begin demanding a single app for all of iOS.

An other solution is to focus on some sort of service that entails a subscription. One of my most used apps is Appigo ToDo which has a cloud service for syncing. The cloud service costs $20/year and I don’t mind paying it at all. However it can be difficult to think of a service that fits that model. 

Against the Larger Phone

I’ve more or less reconciled myself to the 4” iPhone form factor going away. There’s not been a single rumor about an iPhone 6 version in the existing form factor. I wasn’t going to upgrade this year anyway since my 5s is more than adequate. I can’t help but imagine that disliking the bigger size is part of that as well. I completely get why many want the larger form factor. The line between tablet and phone is blurring. At times I think my ideal device would be a regular sized iPad with full phone capabilities and a bluetooth headset. Yet there are lots of times I just want the smaller size. I can’t imagine putting the 4.7” in my pocket when I’m bending a lot and working in a factory. Honestly every time I pick up my old iPhone 4s that I’m running iOS8 on I find myself wishing Apple would go back to that form factor as an option. I remain convinced that, except for the cracking back problem, that the iPhone 4 was the pinnacle of Apple design.

One problem I’ve noticed with even the slightly longer length of the 5/5s is how poorly many (including Apple) have made their designs for one handed use. I know some just think one handed use is bad because they imagine people using it while driving a car. However I frequently am doing things at work where one handed use would be great. (Holding a product, hand covered in grease, etc.) The work around once the 5 was introduced was the dreaded “hand shimmy” or the “stretch that thumb as far as you can.” I’ve had cramps from doing this and it’s very hard to hit buttons by position in this way. (That way you don’t even need look at the phone) Often with the 4/4s I could use the music app without even looking at the phone. No more.

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Replacing Google Apps

If you want to replace Google Apps because of price or because of privacy there are actually tons of good choices these days. I reconciled several services and servers on Bluehost recently saving a considerable amount of money. There was a quirk that meant I couldn’t FTP at first but a quick call to tech support fixed it. And, unlike Google, there actually is tech support and they answer their phones quickly. The price is right as well at only $3.95/mo for the low tier. I paid the extra for the pro version. But that’s only $19.99/mo — less than what Google chargers per user.

I have several different hosts running on it. They’re all low volume — mostly different companies. I have a lot of archived email though. Nearly 4 gig, which was why I had been hesitant moving. However Bluehost handles it no trouble. This blog is running on it too.

About the only quibble is that by default there’s no CalDAV or CardDAV server. Personally I hate having too many of those. iCloud is enough for me and then I do one directional sync to Google Contacts via Contacts Sync for Google Gmail. I do that so I can actually find addresses quickly in Google Maps. But I do it one way so nothing gets screwed up by Google. However if you really need calendars or contacts in the cloud I was able to install Baikal in about 10 minutes just using FTP. Much easier than the OSX Server solution I’ve heard some propose.

Trying to figure it all out a post at a time