Airmail - at last an iOS email client for grown ups

I control my email, it doesn't control me. I work down to inbox zero through each and every day. I don't get an unmanageable quantity, probably about 40-60 a day but this soon becomes unmanageable if left to drift for a few days. If I'm in a situation where two or three important emails requiring action or attention are buried in an inbox containing 100 other mails, I'm left with an uncomfortable feeling, like carrying an extra nagging burden. Conversely, if I'm walking into my second meeting of the day with an empty inbox, anything that needs doing safely assigned to an Omni Focus task and everything else filed in an Evernote folder, then I feel freed up, clear headed, focused and energised.   

My email workflow is pretty straight forward. Working through each mail from oldest to newest and following this process:  

1) Can I action it now - if so do it

2) Does it need assigning to an Omni Focus task for action later or follow up

3) Does it need a Calendar entry

4) Do I need to keep a copy of it (and it's attachments) in Evernote for future reference 

5) Delete it  

Repeat steps 1 - 5 until the inbox is empty.   

I travel most days and I tend to do this on my MacBook rather than an iOS device as I have never found an iOS email client that comes into the same league of efficiency and speed to do those five actions. On the Mac, I use the standard email app but all of the 5 steps are tasks that are automated to single click actions using (mainly) Keyboard Maestro. For example, Ctrl 'M' takes the currently selected email, files it in my 'Misc' Evernote book, deletes the email and moves focus to the next message.

One of my most common clicks is Ctrl ‘X’: This takes the current email, replies to the sender with a brief message saying ‘thank you’, puts a follow up reminder about this message in my Omni Focus list for a week hence (normally to check that they have done what they were promising to do), archives the email, deletes it from my inbox and moves focus to the next message. If you have never tried something like this with your own inbox, try it. In one click it removes whatever issue that email was about completely from your burden of consciousness.  

I have long yearned for an iOS email client that allows me to do the same thing. One that has a few buttons that allow me to similarly use single click (or swipe) actions to achieve the same outcome. This sort of triaging lends itself to free moments, in the queue at the departure gate, iPhone in hand. But most often, apart from when emails just need deleting, I find myself waiting to do the other steps when I have my MacBook back in hand.

I can't believe the standard iOS does not even have a share button but It's remained my main iOS email client as every other mail app option has had killer road blocks for me that prevented me from using them. The now 'sunset-ed' Mailbox came closest but one of my roadblocks is being able to turn off conversations and despite my pleading, you couldn't in Mailbox. 

‘Conversations’ are a wasteful, delinquent bag of hurt that warrant a separate blog post - but suffice to say there should be short, sharp custodial sentences for anyone that allows their inbox to be cluttered with 9 messages when 1 is already too many.

Dispatch is the other iOS mail app that has come closest for me but somehow I just couldn't trust it. Initially, it was too buggy and UI always left me feeling that I couldn't send messages with it. I wasn't exactly sure of what I was sending.

Enter Airmail. Airmail for iPhone Review: Power User Email – MacStories

Airmail solves problems in a way that it feels like it was written for me. It's flexible, adaptable and fully featured.

Amongst the paired down, single use, sandboxed, childproof, Fisher Price dross that constitutes the iOS app landscape there are occasional beacons of hope. Apps that treat their users like grown ups and give them the flexibility and the power to cut across the normal Sun reader style iOS design paradigm. Airmail joins apps such as Downcast, Omni Focus, Drafts and Fantastical in a small hall of fame of iOS apps that really treat their users as grown ups.

It is head and shoulders ahead of any other iOS mail client. I can swipe to send to Evernote and Omni Focus. I can customise signatures. I can tweak settings to get stuff just about how I want it. It feels solid and reliable - when you press the send button you know what you are sending and, of course, you can turn off conversations.

Version 1 has a fatal floor - When you send to Evernore or Omnifocus, it only sends the text not the text plus attachments. I'm not sure if this is a bug or an omission but I'm sure it will be fixed or added as a setting.

Airmail really does add significantly to your productivity. It's an app that can give me significant minutes back. Everyday. Ultimately I'd like it to give me workflow options. To give me some sequential, programmable action buttons that allow me assign common multi step workflows to a custom action button a-la Drafts.

An iPad version is in the cards apparently but if you want to know how good Airmail is - I'm using the iPhone version on my iPad.

It's that good.

Time takes a cigarette

Not one for melancholy. More one for action.

Not one with a lot a patience for self indulgent reflection. It’s past ten pm in London and I’m sat at my desk with an empty wine glass betraying my only remaining New Year’s resolution. Headphones on, playing Ziggy Stardust. Lights down. Chill in the air. Sad.

Couldn’t listen to the radio today. Self indulgent tribute bollocks from people that felt the need to say something.

Better to say less. 

Better to stumble across the road.

But the day breaks instead, so you hurry home.

What do we actually use a Smart Watch for

Fitbit CEO, James Park, quoted in the Financial Times from CES.

“What are the things that people use the most [on smartwatches]? It’s time, notifications, health and fitness, then everything else is kind of noise,” Mr Park says. “Those are the three things we’ve focused on nailing in this product.”

I doubt that Fitbit's smart watch will be a killer product but what he says is absolutely true for the way that I use my Apple Watch.

iPad Pro - Not a Pro Device


Like every good citizen of the internet, I have spent the last couple of weeks using an iPad Pro, substituting it for where I'd otherwise use my retina MacBook or my iPad Mini but unlike almost every other citizen of the internet, my conclusion is - it’s not for professional users. It's an intriguing device but not a Pro device. I have persevered, as many who's views I respect, have fallen head over heals for it. But, so far, that love bug hasn't bit.

I have spent a lot of money on it. I want to love it. The hardware is impressive and first impressions, with such a big screen, are quite dramatic but when the dust settles and I think of my typical use cases, it doesn't make the cut as the best device of the three I own (MacBook, iPad Mini or iPad Pro) for many of the tasks I do each day.

I think I am probably a good case example of a 'Pro user'. I have a completely paperless workflow, I work from my office two days a week at home (on a multi screen desktop Mac) and travel domestically and internationally on a frequent basis. Comparing the iPad Pro, the latest iPad Mini and the new retina MacBook, in a simple list of my common use cases, I struggle to find many where the Pro is the best of the three.

Starting with my most common and prosaic use case - Sitting on the train for an hour going to and from London, triaging emails and calendar management - the retina MacBook is easily the best device for this. Keyboard maestro and Alfred mean I can do in seconds what takes minutes in iOS. I can much more easily swap between split screen desktops (email & calendar, email & Omni Focus, Omni Focus & calendar etc). Pressing one key (CTRL 3) on my Macbook takes the email I am looking at, creates an Omni Focus task for three days hence complete with the body of that email, files the email & it’s attachments in Evernote, archives the email and deletes it from my inbox. Try doing that same thing on 40 emails in iOS and you’ll have added 45 minutes to the same job. Even though the hardware is slightly slower on the MacBook compared to the latest iOS devices, the workflow is miles faster.

Reading a book or an RSS reader - the mini is the winner here. Almost invisible in weight in the hand but big enough to deliver every thing I need. Once it's away from a desk or a train table the Pro feels unwieldy in my hand.

Reading in a restaurant or my London Pall Mall club - nobody minds the Mini, if it's open on the table next to my wine glass, but the Pro is just to big to discreet. 

Any task from email to Omni Focus review to reading whilst my wife is sleeping in bed next to me. - The Mini again. Silent, no arm ache, no waking of spouse and I can hold and type simultaneously.

Reviewing a multi tab Excel document that someone has just emailed me -  the retina MacBook. You don't need me to tell you why. 

File management - sending stuff to Dropbox, Evernote etc. It's now doable on iOS 9 on the Pro but it's still a faff. It's about ten times easier (particularly if I am off the network, on a train or plane) on the retina MacBook.

Searching for one of the 4000 + emails I have archived or in the sent folder of my IMAP email.  The retina MacBook - where all of this is stored locally and so is instantly accessible. Email search on the iOS 9 mail client is an impossible wait of frustration, hurt, confusion & disappointment.

Watching a rented iTunes TV program. This was the one place where I was sure that the Pro would be the best of the three but no. In the rural, back of beyond place, where I live, the best internet connection is 3 Meg down. I normally start downloading an iTunes episode and whilst it will take about 25 mins to complete on the laptop, I can start watching after about 2 mins. On the iPad Pro I have wait for the 25 minute download to complete before I can start watching.

There are tons of these edge cases where OS X trumps iOS 9. That shouldn't be surprising to us, given the development timespans, but once the iOS device weighs more than its laptop equivalent and isn't as ergonomically easy to use, you have to start to question - what is it best for.

It's not the hardware that is the limiting factor here, stopping the iPad Pro being a machine for the Pro user. It's the software. If Apple is serious about having an iPad that is suitable for Pro users it needs a version of iOS Pro. Without it, there remains some resonance to the old cliche - ‘it’s just a big iPod’

The top three things that iOS Pro needs to tackle:

  1. The sand boxing restrictions that prevent Keyboard Maestro, Text Expander, Alfred style solutions from working smoothly - without the ability to easily create one tap workflows, you will never be truly Pro.
  2. An email client that stores you work locally so you can always work, on or off the grid. 
  3. A file management system. iOS has ended up in a cul-de-sac here. It's time to face into that. A file system that is good for your phone is not suitable for Pro users.   

I’m glad that the iPad Pro exists. I’m optimistic about it’s future development. I share the view of many that it probably is a key product on the way to the future. It just feels like a couple of sacred cows have to get slaughtered on the way.

Never bet against the (bigger) smart phone

It is been 24 days since you could pre-order an iPhone 6s in the UK and 11 days since you could walk into a store and buy one.

It's interesting to note the current availability of specific model types. If you want a standard 6s, you can walk into any store and buy one without queuing, you can reserve one for any slot or order online for delivery within 48 hours.

The picture is very different for the larger 6s plus. These are completely out of stock in every flavour (even the normally unloved white 16 GB) with what looks like a 3-4 week back order.

Given the supply chain data that was available to Apple in the 12 months prior to this launch, they would have had a pretty good idea of what the size split was likely to be - based on sales of the two sizes of the standard 6 models.

Whilst it's possible that a specific component of the larger phone may be supply constrained outside of Apple's ideal plan, I doubt this, given the more stable run in to the 'S' cycle model.

The disparity that shows they have underestimated 6s plus sales and over estimated demand of the standard 6s leads me to conclude that the speed of switching to the biggest phone is accelerating faster than Apple (and most tech commentators) expected.

The 'largest phone on the block' arms race appears to be far from over.

iPad mini 4 retina - an under rated Gem?

iPad mini 4 review: The small tablet is a big deal again - The Next Web

In ushering in new iPhones last month, Apple glossed over the iPad mini 4. A quick take only suggested it was a smaller version of the iPad Air 2, and in many ways — it is.

The mini 4 is still kind of a big deal, though.

At just about every turn, Apple updated the hardware for its small new tablet. Those tweaks take advantage of the software in special ways, too.

My old mini (first retina series) had been made redundant by my iPhone 6+. Squeezed out between my phone and my MacBook. But, the combination of iOS 9 and the new mini 4 hardware got me to take a second look at a device that I used to have a lot of fondness for.

Early days, but after a weeks trial of taking this instead of my MacBook on my 1 hour train commute into London, when I mainly triage emails, review Omnifocus and manage calendars. l'm impressed.

It beats the laptop by being lighter, smaller & having an instant cellular data connection. And, with split screen, my workflows down to inbox zero are almost as fast.

It's notable how 'slow' the MacBook feels after working on the new iPad. Really ponderous. The biggest downside - iOS and its reluctance to keep any local copies of emails, making search impossible, but the fact that Evernote is now locally searchable through spotlight is taking a lot of the pain out of that.

Whilst I'm still a million miles away from wanting to give up on my dual screen Mac set up at my desk, it's not inconcievable that iOS could 'finaly' be about to replace OSX in my daily travel routine.

You can [never] be too thin

French MPs back ban on skinny catwalk models - BBC News

MPs approved a law to ban the use of fashion models deemed to be excessively thin. Under the law, models will have to show they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) above a certain level. Modelling agents that break the rules face fines and six months in jail. ... Up to an estimated 40,000 people suffer from anorexia in France, nine out of 10 of them women and girls.

Government banning stuff and generally interfering with people's lives is rightly, normally, perceived to be not cool. But, the French do have a habit of picking the right side of cool on their interventions.

Falling in Love

Falling in Love with Virginia — Liss is More

This trip changed everything for me. It allowed me to leave behind any preconceptions of Virginia. The trip showed me what Virginia really is: not only a truly magnificent part of the country, but also my home.

Lovely, refreshing and delicate piece by Casey Liss. It reminded me that once one has a child, one starts to reflect on earlier times and realise that these experiences now fall firmly into the 'a previous chapter' category, as life inexorably changes.

Saving time

The Apple Watch Is Time, Saved | TechCrunch

If you argue the Watch isn’t going to sell or do well, it’s worth pointing out that there are very, very, very few products that allow you to hand someone cash and be given back TIME.

This will be the Apple Watch metric to track: time saved.

The smartest thing I have read out of the many, many, articles on the Apple Watch.

There are two things that get me rev'd up about my iPhone:

1) it's ability to improve my productivity

2) it's use as a portal to do the things I love - music and words - spoken or to read

The more I can do (1) the more time I have for (2). I'm getting excited that the watch is going to move (1) up a couple of substantial rungs.

Perhaps being a tech geek is about to stop being cool

Beginning - Matt Gemmell

Most importantly, everything I write is now for myself. It’s just me, and whatever happens to be on my mind at the time. For better or for worse, it’s all strictly personal.

Occasionally, I’ll still write about technology - but only because it happens to be on my mind. I’m very unlikely to write about programming, and there isn’t going to be any new source code. Certainly no apps. Those things feel like part of the past, for me.

I’ll be (and have been) writing a lot more about writing, which is my main focus. My thoughts on issues that are important to me, and whichever topics take my fancy at the time. That’s all I can promise.

Maybe it's just me but after a long period of blogs just chugging along, recently it feels like there is a lot of change in the air. Old faithful blogs suddenly feel a little stale and there is a drive toward diversification from traditional tech and geek subjects toward a wider, more challenging and interesting remit.

Matt Gemmell is one of the most refreshing and inspiring voices in this evolution. One of many and one of the best. But, it makes me wonder if this is a forward indicator of a wider phenomenon.

Perhaps being a tech geek is about to stop being cool.

This generation is so used to 'tech being cool' we have almost forgotten that for most of the history of time being a tech nerd was the centre of un-cool. The zenith of, 'Cross the road to avoid that loser', un-cool.

The tide was always going to change and in the context of broader history, I'm sure 'geeks being cool' will be seen as the aberration rather than the norm.

Perhaps this is the start. The desire to read more about Art, Literature, Music, Politics, Sex etc. on blogs and less about the pixel size on the next wristwatch might be the start of - 'For goodness sake, don't invite the tech guy to the party. They'll only bore everyone with that Node v Java Script conversation whilst the rest of us are trying to have fun.'

Just saying, Bankers in red braces with mobile phones the size of bricks were cool once.

Evernote almost out of the hot water

I love Evernote. It's one of the best apps around and it's on my very short list of platforms (actually, it's much more than an app) that I couldn't do without. It's a platform hub that sits at the centre of a lot of my daily workflows. As I mentioned in this post amongst many others.

Just like Stephen Hackett, I was troubled by the emergence of the context feature which Stephen detailed well in his post, On Evernote's new Context feature, and why it's a problem — 512 Pixels

Evernote has responded with a good and pretty open post allaying many of the key concerns particularly, those concerning the privacy of user data. It’s good to read:

Does Evernote share any user data with publishers or other partners?

No. If you click on a Context-suggested article and it opens in an Evernote note or a browser, publishers will see these clicks as web visits, just like they would if you went to their website on your own. Publishers do not see any connections between those views and an individual Evernote user and they never see the content of your notes.

It such a shame that Evernote then goes on to fudge the issue with the following paragraph of what can only be described as ‘lawyer’ or ‘PR’ words. It appears to be deliberately opaque to leave room for the fact that context suppliers are paying to be part of the program.

Questions and Answers About Context - Evernote Blog

How does Evernote make money from Context? Evernote makes money by providing products and features end users are happy to pay for. We think Context is a powerful feature that will help people do their best, most informed work. It’s one of several features that people enjoy when they sign up for Evernote Premium or Evernote Business.

A bit of straight talking would have been so much more refreshing (and more in the typical Evernote style) along the lines of either:

1) “We don’t make any income from content suppliers for the context feature”

Or (as I Suspect is more likely)

2) “We do make some income from content suppliers for the context feature but be assured that we are determined not to turn our users into a product that we are selling to content providers.”

I’m sure Evernote gets why (2) will make many loyal, premium subscribers nervous but I wonder if they understand that being a less than direct with the truth makes the same group even more nervous.

Everyone gets that Evernote needs a sustainable, profitable model. Many would be happy to pay a little more each year to keep the pure utility of the service without any slippage toward the google-fication of the operating model.

Once you become a custodian of people's private data, you get a huge responsibility to be completely transparent about how you are using it. If news organisations are paying for the opportunity to put their links in front of Evernote's premium customers based on the context of private data - Evernote's users deserve to be told this. Clearly and concisely with all the boundraries laid out for how this might evolve.

London is over (for the previous generation)

London is over...and it's about time too - Telegraph

Dr Johnson never had to wait forty minutes to be wedged in a stranger’s armpit on the tube – a daily occurrence for any of us who happen to live in that vast, vomitous mass that is sneeringly referred to by the wealthy as 'Sarf London’, even if parts of 'Sarf London’ are more expensive than truffles sprinkled in gold and served on a platinum plate with diamond detailing.

He never had his toes broken by a wheely suitcase, and he was never sworn at by a cyclist who careered into him after running a red light. Had Dr Johnson come to London now, he would have been completely exhausted by it. People would be shouting blue murder at him as he slept-walked slowly through Victoria Station; they’d be elbowing him out the way as they raced to be swallowed whole by the tube.

I share many of the sentiments of this piece as I head out of the smoke to my decrepit county pile each Thursday or Friday evening. But, the truth is; It's not that 'London is over', it's that Bryony (& I) are older.

The Voting Project

The Voting Project by The Human Project. — Kickstarter

The Voting Project will be a digital election to be run in parallel to the 2015 General Election. Voters will choose policies, not candidates. These might not be the policies on offer in the real election as they will be contributed by the public. They may be conventional, new, radical or reactionary, but will be real and from the people. We'll then sort them out, do our research and design a policy spectrum. People will then vote, using an engaging digital system. There won't be parties or candidates to wrangle over or align ourselves to. Unlike systems that match up people's views to parties, our results will show policy outcomes. We'll visualise the results in creative and interesting ways, both for individual voters and the country as a whole.

Unbridled nativity.

But, occasionally it's good to have some unbridled nativity.

Apple apparently ruining notification centre in iOS

Goodbye, Drafts Widget (For Now?) – MacStories

[Drafts] which we reviewed in October, offered a handy Notification Center widget to open the app in draft creation mode. The widget could launch Draft to a new empty draft or, even better, create a new draft based on the contents of the clipboard.

Today, after a few weeks of back and forth with App Review, Drafts' Greg Pierce said he was told to remove buttons from the widget, therefore making it useless.

As Greg Pierce tweeted

…if what they are telling me is true, expect Evernote and other widgets which have similar shortcuts to be removed as well.

Apple, grow up. We all love the functionality of Today View widgets. Like many people, I use the Evernote, Drafts and Fantastical ones many times a day. Don't allow dogma to make life harder and destroy creativity.

If you want to live on the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, sometimes, you have to learn to go with the flow and not behave like the 100lb gorilla when things evolve.

If it's what your best developers and most advanced customers want - you should probably be doing it.

(Posted from Drafts in iOS)

Twitter client bad behaviour

Twitter to snoop on every app on your phone - Telegraph

In a post on its help centre web page, Twitter said it would target people who use its app on all mobile devices that run Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems.

"To help build a more personal Twitter experience for you, we are collecting and occasionally updating the list of apps installed on your mobile device so we can deliver tailored content that you might be interested in," the company said.

The information, which Twitter calls a person's "graph data" will be used to "improve 'who to follow' suggestions that share similar interests; add tweets, accounts or other content to your timeline that we think you'll find especially interesting, and showing you more relevant promoted content".

If ONLY we'd have all taken up

There is an interesting paradox here. Most real people use Facebook. Most geeks don't (and sometimes this means they forget that most real people do) but most geeks do use Twitter.

As it moves inexorably toward the Facebook crime sheet - Will the geeks stop using it? Marco Arment thinks not.

New Twitter search API won’t be available to third-party clients –

We’re all just one compelling feature away from leaving our third-party apps on our own. For some of us, this full-archive search will be that feature. What’s next remains to be seen — I suspect direct-message enhancements may be — but I bet third-party clients will lose half of their users within two years without Twitter ever having to explicitly kill them.

We won’t even be angry at Twitter — we’ll move to the official apps voluntarily, and we’ll look back on all third-party clients like we look back on Tweetie, vanity link shorteners, and third-party image hosts today: as relics of a quickly abandoned past before we all started using Twitter’s better, newer features. You’ll see.

Maybe Twitter will let the geeks keep their own little ghetto. It won't make any difference to the economics.

Beats becomes Apple music

Apple to push Beats to all iPhones according to FT - BBC News

Apple is planning to push its Beats streaming music service to every iPhone in the new year, according to a report in the Financial Times newspaper. Apple will include the Beats app in its latest update to the iOS operating system

A spokesman for Spotify said, "On balance, we have had better f@**ing weeks."

Seriously though, I predict a tie into iTunes Match were one subscription buys you the entire Beats catalogue plus anything else they don't have that you choose to upload. One unified space for all your music.

Will it be called Beats or iTunes?

Neither - my prediction, Apple music.

Unless it's better quality than 256k MP3/AAC, this correspondent won't be getting excited.

This Weekend's homework

This weekend fuel your soul by spending a couple of hours perusing second hand vinyl LP stores and find yourself a copy of Rickie Lee Jones Eponymous 1979 album.

Don't buy a digitally remastered copy. Get a 1979 original analogue pressing. Pay whatever it costs, Rickie fans are too cool to haggle.

Go home. Listen.

Listen to music.