​iPad Mini - Welcome Home

A comparison between the iPad mini 5 and the iPad pro.

I was a mini user. Big time. I bought the first one on the day it came out and it became my default device at the time. My cellular, retina, iPad mini 4 was the best portable computer I’d ever owned. I know that for many folks that designation goes to their phone but for me, the phone has never been big enough to get everything done on it. When I start triaging email, reviewing diary requests, calendar planning, working through my to do’s in Things3, if I’m on my iPad - I get to inbox zero. But, if I am on my phone, sooner rather than later, I decide to leave things incomplete until I’m back at my desktop computer (or iPad).

I have always immediately gone with the biggest iPhone I could get but they are never quite big enough. Flicking between screens to sequentially access apps always feels like a hack and a hassle. Which set of dates was the email asking me to check? By the time I have navigated to calendar, I have forgotten. Although the plus sized iPhone helped push my old iPad mini towards redundancy, it never effectively replaced it.

The mini was the device that was just big enough to make the cut. Big enough to multitask and have Fantastical in split screen with my email, with Things floating over as the third app being pulled from the right. But it got old, slow and out of date.

My connection to the mini 4 did not end abruptly, it faded slowly as the device became relegated by the iPad Pro’s. The pencil was and is a very big deal for me at work. I prefer to take notes in handwriting in meetings, I find it puts the other participants more at ease. It’s more human, more engaged. This meant that the pro became my default choice. I spent a lot of money on man bags and messenger bags to allow me to carry the bigger Pro around London Town. Over time the mini started being left at home and eventually became my ‘night time’ device. Next to my bed. Used when I need to finish some work while my wife slept.

I thought it was dead. I even once, a couple of years ago, emailed Tim Cook with a plea to bring back the beloved device. Its battery started to wain, losing charge within a day despite no real use. My daily driver evolved through 3 or 4 iPad Pros to become the new 11 inch which, with it’s square edges and it’s thin bezels, was kind of cool. I pretended that I was content but I wasn’t truly free.

Then the iPad mini came back. Like an old friend you thought you’d never see again. In it’s five designation, with pencil support and a fast A12 chip, it can do everything I do on my Pro - albeit with last years pencil and slightly thicker bezels. I would have preferred if apple had re-engineered the case to the new industrial design and allowed me to use pencil 2 but I don’t really care because I have my mini back and it’s super power, the thing that beats all - is it’s size. It’s brilliant size. This is a device that sets you free.

When I’m at my desk, I still prefer to use the iPad Pro but when I’m on the move the mini is in a different league. It fits in my suit jacket pocket, it fits in my jeans back pocket. It’s like having a note book and pencil that I can have with me at any time, without a bag or any other incumbrance and yet it’s a fully functioning, always on the grid computer. It sets you free in a science fiction, living in the future kind of way.

When I’m eating alone or waiting for guests in a posh restaurant, it’s like a hard back novel, discrete whilst being read without being visually a computer. When I’m on the tube I can hold it in one hand and read it like a kindle. When I’m walking across a work space and someone makes a point, I can take it out of my pocket, like a note book and write some notes or to dos with the pencil. When the sun shines and I decide I’d rather be cycling than sitting at my desk, I can zip it into the pocket of my cycling shirt, safe in the knowledge that I can stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere and do some work for an hour.

When I want to write something, like this post for example, I can hold the mini in portrait and use my two thumbs. I find this as quick and more accurate as hunting and pecking on the glass screen. If I want to write anything more than a few lines on my iPad Pro (where thumb typing is not an option) I need to use the keyboard cover. With this attached, it moves toward the weight and size of a small laptop. With the 11 inch Pro wearing its keyboard, you are getting 85% of the functionality of a MacBook for about 85% of the mass of a MacBook. What makes the iPad mini magical is that you are getting 85% of the functionality of a MacBook for what feels like 15% of the bulk.

Not having to carry an additional keyboard sets you free.

Although I prefer the newer design of the pro, the mini continues that physical illusion of feeling thinner than the 11 inch iPad pro. Something to do with it’s lightness and curved edges. It also allows me to discard one more item from travel bag. My kindle. I find that the mini works perfectly fine as a kindle substitute whereas my phone is too small and the 11 inch pro is too big to read a book for a couple of hours. Whilst the stats say that the mini is 1mm thicker than the pro, if you lay them side by side on a desk, the mini sits about 1mm lower - probably as a result of the lack of a camera bump.

Whilst the old form factor does mean that this perfect screen sized device is 15 to 20 mm bigger than it needs to be in it’s portrait dimension, the old form factor does have a few advantages:

  • Touch ID - let’s face it, it’s lot more reliable, quicker and easier than Face ID particularly when using Apple Pay or laying down.
  • Headphone jack - This means I don’t have to be courageous about the battery life of my Bluetooth headphones on this flight I’m on right now from London to New York.
  • Lightning not USB C - whilst ever the iPhone is still lightning it’s just easier to have one charger requirement. On short overnight trips, I can carry one battery that has a built in watch charger and lightning tip. No cables, no adapters, no plugs. Simplicity and minimalism.
  • No camera bump and therefore no accompanying desk wobble, is a brilliant feature which didn’t get much air time when the mini 5 was launched.

Come September when the next iPhones land. For the first time since 2007 I don’t need to buy the biggest one. My mini will be carrying that weight. I will probably get the ‘X’ sized phone safe in the knowledge that the iPad mini is so uber portable, having it with me whenever I need to do some work will be an inconsequential burden.

If you want an iPad to use primarily at your desk, I’d recommend an iPad Pro. If you want an iPad as a portable computing device, an infinite notebook ready to capture your scribbles, a feather weight window into the web that’s always with you but never weighing you down, then I would strongly recommend you buy an iPad mini.

It’s a computer that sets you free.

IPad Pro 9.7 v IPad Pro 12.9 v Mac Book Comparison - What's the ultimate travel computer?

I took delivery of my IPad Pro 9.7 inch at the end of March and this happened to coincide with a two week trip I had to make from my UK home to Singapore and then a number countries around Asia. Normally for a trip like this, I would ALWAYS take my MacBook for reasons I have written about before around productivity, power and flexibility but this time, I thought I'd challenge myself and only take the new, smaller iPad Pro. Nothing else, other than my iPhone.

The iPad is 128 GB, Cellular, Space Grey with a Smart Keyboard and pencil.

If it hadn't have arrived in time, I had already decided to take my larger iPad Pro instead of my MacBook - this is a big change for me based on three things:

1) Just how much recent software advances (Airmail for email, 2Do for tasks, Fantastical for calendar) have increased the speed with which I can do my most frequent and volumous tasks.

2) How the Smart Keyboard and it's 'CMD' key have also added to my productivity - meaning I can go for long stretches without having to touch the screen. I positively love 'CMD Space' & 'CMD Tab' in iOS.

3) Using the pencil to take notes directly to the iPad (using OneNote and more recently GoodNote - come on Evernote get your act together here) is great and has removed a whole slug of work flow. I used to take notes into a notebook with a real pencil and then photo/scan it into Evernote - This chunk of workflow is now superfluous.

I was already up for giving iOS a go at replacing OSX on a Cat A business trip but the first hard step was leaving my bigger 12.9 inch IPad Pro behind and taking the new, smaller machine. For me, 30% of the time the bigger pro feels unwieldy but the other 70% of time it feels fantastic and as I was holding in my hands checking off my 'packing for a business trip' check list, I felt a really strong resistance to leaving it behind. It feels so empowering having all of that real estate in my hands but I was disciplined, locked it in my desk draw and put the smaller machine in my travel bag. I wanted to test just how small and light I could go.

One other incidental thought, all my devices are space grey. The one exception is my 12.9 inch pro. I couldn't get a grey one on launch day so, I settled (reluctantly at the time) for a silver and white one. It's grown on me, I like it now, it feels more contemporary than my space grey stuff - actually, when my 9.7 inch pro arrived, I was rather cross with myself for going back to grey. I wished that I'd been a bit bolder and got another colour - which I will next time.

First thoughts.

The smaller pro (inc. the Smart Keyboard) is noticeably lighter than than my MacBook which in turn is noticeably lighter than my 12.9 inch iPad Pro (& Keyboard). In the first few hours of use I haven't been troubled by the smaller size. I have used my three most common split screens (Mail+Calender, Mail+Todo & Todo+Calender) and not struggled with the size. Although, I would love, love, love to be able to toddle between these three split screens using a keyboard short cut in the way I do with Keyboard Maestro on OS X.

The screen on the new iPad Pro is the best I have used, better than the retina MacBook and better than the larger pro. It's noticeably sharper with better anti-glare although I did find that I sometimes had to turn off the auto brightness as the brightness was fading in and out with alarming frequency. It's particularly better under bright florescent light.

The smaller keyboard is not a big deal. It took me a little while to get used to it but I'm not a super quick typist on any keyboard - the lack of illumination is a big downside though. Very noticeable on the plane once the lights had been turned out.

Battery is significantly better than my MacBook and it feels better than my larger iPad Pro - after 4 hours use, including watching 45 minutes of streamed football, I'm at 75%. It has that familiar solid iPad feel - that it will last you from dawn until bed. The larger iPad Pro was the first iPad I have used to miss that mark. If I use my large iPad Pro all day - I'm in the danger zone by 18.00. If I use my MacBook all day, I'm lucky to get to 18.00

With the Smart Keyboard attached I use the pencil as a stylus if I ever need to touch the screen. More accurate, no greasey finger prints, less RSI.

Times when I missed my MacBook.

Cricket - Whilst I was away, the T20 cricket World Cup final was played. I wanted to listen to the BBC commentary on this but as usual, the rights issues stuff meant the Internet stream from the BBC was blocked in Singapore. Normally, this would have me turning to Chrome on my laptop and Hola to use a UK proxy server. I saw there was a Hola client for iOS but I didn't fancy the £35 annual fee so result - No Cricket for me. (England lost).

Websites - The greater preponderance of iOS friendly websites is one of the key reasons why I dared to travel without a laptop but I still had two during my trip that refused to play ball with Safari on iOS. Gordon Ramsey's restaurant in Hong Kong wouldn't allow me to book (Blank Frame) and amazingly British Airways website rendered a strange inert, opaque frame in front of their 'Manage my booking' functionality.

Selecting text - Mid trip someone sent me a PDF containing a table of dates and details which required I copy and paste some selected entries into my calendar. This was the moment when missed my MacBook the most. I recon this took four or five times longer on iOS. Using split screen, I'd highlight the text I'd want to copy - half the time the selection would change or jump around in the table for no logical reason, half the time I'd get the extract I wanted only to find that when I pressed 'CMD C' nothing copied to the clip board. In the end it was quicker for me to re-type into the right hand side of the screen what I saw in the left hand, rather than try and select, copy and paste. That's not progress.

Times when I preferred having my iPad.

Pretty much everything else. The portability, the inconspicuous form, the charge and forget battery, the cellular connection, being able to use it during landing and takeoff on the plane, being able to take notes in meetings using the pencil. Ultimately the universality of having everything from a great e-reader to a mega-power productivity email client in a small, light weight slab of glass makes me feel that I'm living in the future.

I have crossed the wire. iPad Pro will now be my travel computer for all types of trip instead of a MacBook. It's a million miles away from replacing the Mac on desktop in my office but on balance, it's now a better companion for traveling and working away from home than any portable Mac. This is a big change for me. It was only back in November that I wrote about how the laptop was still a better solution. The bottom line is that it's the quality of third party software that has made the difference.

In the main (for now) I'd chose the 9.7 over the 12.9 for most use cases. I'll still be grabbing the bigger iPad Pro when I want to read the daily paper at my kitchen table and when I'm going to spend all day in the same Board room using the board paper client app. But, if I need portability, then I'll be grabbing the smaller iPad Pro. The introduction of this machine has probably made the Smart Keyboard for my big Pro redundant - I'll use the bigger iPad for more specific, more static applications. If I need a keyboard, I'm either going to using my Mac in the office or my 9.7 iPad on the road.

A great example of this is my school pick up trip. I often grab a device to take with me in the car when collecting my Son from school at the end of the day. I pull up outside the school and then wait for between 2 mins and 35 mins with no idea of exactly when he will turn up. I can't bear wasting this time so always use it to triage emails or deal with calendar admin. The smaller pro fits better on my lap if I am using the Smart Keyboard. Somehow the bigger one with the keyboard fitted over balances or won't fit between me and the steering wheel. If I'm using the bigger device in these circumstances then it's easier without the keyboard, typing on the glass.

The smaller iPad is also still much more socially acceptable in higher end hotels and restaurants sitting discretely beside you on the dinner table.

Last year, if I was travelling with only my iPad, I'd get to the end of the day with a number of tasks or emails that I'd left in my inbox on the basis that they'd be easier to do on once I had access to a Mac. The big change for me now - is this is no longer the case. My inbox is empty, my bag is lighter and I'm using a device that feels less work, more social, more fun.

Replacing OmniFocus with 2Do - a comparison

OmniFocus has been a stalwart of my workflow across all of my devices for a long time. It’s never let me down but the fact that it sometimes seems to make harder work of recording and organising tasks than is necessary has been grating recently.

The catalysts for me considering a change of Todo app are actually the iPad Pro and Airmail [1]. Now that the iPad normally gets chosen for my travel bag rather than my Macbook, two particular issues have been bugging me with OmniFocus.

Firstly, many of the tasks I want to chuck on to my list are relatively trivial, miscellaneous tasks that I want to get on my list as quickly as possible, without any friction. I want to say, - ‘Hey Siri, remind me to back up my Son’s phone tonight’ and for that to end up on my todo list without any further interaction or categorisation. In OmniFocus I have been getting fed up with having to go to the inbox and allocate this to a project. I might add 20 or 30 Misc tasks in a day and I don’t want to allocate them one by one to a project.. which gets me to my second issue..

Batch processing. I didn’t notice this when I was using a Mac [2] but on the iOS Omni client, when you want to change the state of a task (such as a due date) or process an inbox item, you can’t select a bunch of them and do them all at once. You have to do them one at a time. I often find that a change of plan mid way through the day leaves me wanting to change the due date on 15 - 20 Misc tasks (that were on that day’s todo list) to my next free day. Having to do them one by one rather than all at once on my iPhone is real friction.

Spurred by Federico Viticci’s article on 2Do I thought I would give it a go. I put 2Do on my Mac, Phone and iPad. Replacing OmniFocus is a big ask for any app - for me it’s akin to moving house but here’s my early days key pluses and minuses:

Plus points of 2Do compared to OmniFocus

  • You can tell the app to automatically allocate tasks to a default specific list (project) and day
  • You don’t need to use the inbox[3]. You can get stuff straight onto your todo list
  • It’s very malleable and flexible - its feels like you can work to your system rather than one being prescribed for you
  • You can batch process tasks on iOS - Move 20 tasks with two taps!
  • The phone app is a triumph. It’s not intuitive but once you’ve watched the Youtube tutorial videos there is nothing you can’t do with it
  • If you use your main iCloud CalDAV account as your sync engine - the integration with Reminders, Siri and other apps like Fantastical is really good

Minus Points of 2Do compared to OmniFocus

  • The Icon. Seriously, this almost stopped me before I started - It looks cheap and amateur on iOS and compared to the lovely purple Omni tick, hurts me every time I look at my phone dock.
  • No Watch complication. I am used to being able to glance at my wrist to see how many outstanding tasks I have on any given day. The developer has hinted that it’s coming. It is essential
  • Emailing tasks into the app is a faff compared with the benefits of Omni having their own server
  • You can’t put attachments (like PDF’s, word docs etc.) onto Tasks as you can with OmniFocus

My jury is still out but I am certainly going to persevere with 2Do for a couple of weeks further before I decide whether to move my task manager house permanently.

  1. Before Airmail on iOS, I always felt I needed a Mac Laptop to triage my email, now I can do it faster on iOS.  ↩

  2. Batch processing on the Mac version of OmniFocus is fine.  ↩

  3. Unless you are emailing in tasks which causes the 2Do app to turn on the inbox without a choice. Nuts.  ↩

Travelling Light

I am away from home 2 or 3 nights a week. Mostly travelling from my home in the middle of the English countryside to London but once or twice a month, somewhere outside of the U.K. Travel is a wonderful opportunity to maximise every inch of operational effectiveness. I take great delight and genuine pleasure from getting every aspect of my trips honed to the n'th degree. Nowhere more so than in travelling as light as humanly possible.

I am obsessive about travelling light.

There is something remarkably freeing about being unencumbered by stuff when moving from place to place.  To be able to jump off a plane in New York with nothing more than a lightweight shoulder bag and head straight downtown without worrying about what to do with my bag feels super fantastic. My fantasy, complete list for a flight abroad would be:

  1. iPhone
  2. Creditcard
  3. Passport
  4. Bluetooth Earbuds

Whilst this isn't practical for an overnight stay, it is my ideal list for a day in London - to the extent that I have recently moved to an iPhone case that holds a credit card and three banknotes (Bellroy Phone Case) - this combined with Apple Pay means I can leave my wallet at home. Less stuff to carry, less stuff to worry about, less to distract your attention and concentration.

Obviously, when staying overnight you need more stuff but over each and every trip, I try and chip away at optimising my luggage and what I take with me, towards fewer, lighter things.

There are two absolutes for this approach. Firstly, you must always have a bag that is ready to go. It must contain a duplicate of everything that you need so that the only things you need to pack and unpack is your clean and dirty clothes. (Even those, I have been known to buy and dispose of en-route on certain trips). You need a complete duplicate of your toiletries, eye wear, headphones, gym kit, passport and technology, always in the bag so you are never looking for an item in the 60 seconds it should take to pack for a trip. 

Think really hard about your toiletries kit. Most folks have way too much weight in this. Years of mountain climbing have taught me the value of pairing back to only exactly what is essential - as full bottles of any liquid weigh too much, if you are carrying it up 4000 meters of ascent. Yes - I do cut my toothbrush handle in half.

The second absolute is that you must have a shoulder bag (mine is a Tumi Alpha 2 Tri Fold). This can carry everything you need, double as a brief case (back packs don't cut it in the boardroom), go as hand luggage on planes (as you know - checking luggage is a criminal offence - right?) and most importantly it leaves two hands free when you walk around with it. Your aim is to get this bag to a weight where you can quite happily carry it on your shoulder without a worry, or even really noticing it. Like a briefcase. If I get off the train in a foreign city and its a 25 minute walk to the hotel or office, I never want to be saying, 'Oh, I'd better get a cab as I have a bag with me.'

The pull along wheeled flight cases don't cut it for three reasons:

  1. You don't get both your hands free (always need to be able to drink a coffee, talk on the phone, use your Apple Watch as a contactless ticket on the tube and walk at the same time) 
  2. They are really not cool
  3. They get in other people's way. Normally mine and I'm really fussy.


Silk clothes are good, as they are light. Westin Hotels are good as they'll lend you a laundered gym kit and sneakers so you don't have to lug a gym kit around. But, most of the rest of the weight of your pack is going to come from your technology. iPad airs and the new MacBook have really helped in this department (pick one, not both) but the MacBook has helped particularly in one area which I think has been signifcantly under commented. And, that's charging.

I have a lot of stuff the needs charging. A phone, a laptop, an iPad, Bluetooth headphones, Apple Watch and now occasionally a bloody pencil. Whilst the stuff itself has got considerably lighter over time, the same can't be said about the chargers.

In just the same way that I used to carry around a PDA, a phone and an iPod dreaming of the day an iPhone would converge these devices - More recently, I have carried separate chargers for a laptop, a phone and other stuff dreaming that one day I could just have one charger.

Now with the Retina MacBook you can use your iOS charger.

The retina MacBook is the first apple laptop that will quite happily charge from a 2.1 amp USB charger that you'd normally use for your iOS devices. You need the cable below, it takes all night and it won't charge whilst you are using it but this suits me fine. It gets plugged in - in my hotel room at about 9.00pm and the next morning at 6.00 it's fully charged, ready to go as I leave the hotel in an annoyingly chirpy  - 'I'm an early morning type of person', mood.

This means I now need 4 USB charging outlets, one for my watch, one for my phone, one for my laptop or iPad (depending on which way I am going on that particular trip) and one for my headphones. I need 4 sockets, 2 of which need to be capable of 2.1 amps and a global plug solution so that no matter which country I travel to, I always have the right plug. It's been my brief to get this spec to the lightest smallest load. The solution I have now weights considerably less than the single Apple power brick I used to lug around just to charge my laptop.

My global, all device, charge kit

My global, all device, charge kit

The contents are:

1 Swordfish global plug adaptor which has two USB ports. I can plug this in every country with the selectable prongs and it has a socket on the back for ...

1 MU Duo dual USB charger - this is lighter than the swordfish above and plugs into it when I'm out of the U.K. It's the best smallest, lightest, 2.4 amp UK one I have found. If I didn't leave the UK, I'd just take two of these. It only delivers 1.2 amps per socket but if your watch is plugged into one of those sockets as soon as it stops drawing current it gives the full 2.4 amps to your remaining device.

2 x 1 metre Lighting cables (Phone and iPad) - note different colours to help identify what is plugged into what.

1 Apple Watch charger

1 10cm micro USB cord with a lightening adaptor on the end of it. - This allows you to charge a third iOS device or use the micro USB for Bluetooth headphones.

1 USB to USB C charging cord for the new MacBook 

This charging kit sits in my travel bag, always ready for wherever` I get dispatched to in the world from Singapore to Toronto. And, it only weights 300g.

It's a matter of great Irony to me that at the moment when I finally have a unified charging solution for my MacBook and phone, that means I can leave behind the massive power brick, I find that the evolution of the iPad means that on a number of journeys, it is edging out the Macbook as the technology that makes it into my travel bag. If the iPad Air 3 - rumoured to be out in Mid March has the pencil and and a pro style Keyboard, it might have reached the tipping point. But at the moment, I spend more time deciding which device to take than I do packing my travel bag.

Why would you call an iPad Air 3 an iPad Pro?

Why would you call an iPad Air 3 an iPad Pro?

If your new 9.7 inch iPad had all the features of the bigger iPad; pencil support, 4 meg of RAM, super fast processor etc. But, was a couple of mm's thicker or a few grammes heavier to accommodate the battery needed to power these features for ten hours.

Could you have an iPad Air 3 that was heavier or thicker than an iPad Air 2?

I'm thinking no. That wouldn't fly.

Enter the 9.7 inch iPad Pro.

All these new features and only x mm thicker and/or y grammes heavier.

Can't wait for the iPhone Pro.

iPad v MacBook - it's not just programmers

Monumental and fascinating piece by Mr Vittici

Working on the iPad: One Year Later, Still My Favorite Computer – MacStories

In some corners of the Apple community, too, the iPad has suffered from faltering evangelism due to an unwillingness to recognize iOS as a valid productivity environment. Across multiple blogs and publications, the "you can't get work done on an iPad" argument morphed from intriguing criticism to inconclusive meme that failed to understand the improvements of iOS 8 and iOS 9. For example, a common take on using the iPad as a primary computer I've seen is to dismiss it as "jumping through hoops" or, more amusingly, as "masochism". Some of these opinions stem from a one-sided (and often patronizing) perspective: they usually come from programmers who have to use Macs – and only Macs – for a living.

OS X is a fantastic desktop operating system, but it runs on machines that increasingly don't fit the lifestyle of users who, like me, can't sit down at a desk every day. I can't (and I don't want to) depend on Macs anymore because I want a computer that can always be with me. The majority of the world's population doesn't care about Xcode. I want to use an OS without (what I see as) cruft of decades of desktop conventions. I want powerful, innovative apps that I can touch. An iPad is the embodiment of all this.

Not quite right. It's not just programmers. If it was, the debate would be over and OS X would be toast.

It's folk that have to do something in their workflow that's still not practically achievable on a phone OS (For that's what iOS presently is) For me that includes spreadsheets, scanning and auto processing documents, reading wimail.dat attachments that some exchange servers spew out and even dealing with calendar invites which still fox iOS half the time.

It's not just programmers. It's a wide cadre of people that use computers to get stuff done productively across commerce. These people aren't programmers, they are not writers or artists or creators. They are people who work in logistics, supply management, finance, real estate, coms, marketing etc. - they are the white collar army that keeps the western world moving. The phone OS has taken the lower hanging fruit, the first 50-60% of tasks (email, messaging, social media, audio etc) and created use cases that are better than the computer. The remaining 40% is harder. It's a long and diverse tail. The iPad is slowly Salami slicing through those tasks.

I can do more on my iPad than ever could and each time an app like Airmail or Fantastical comes out for iOS another couple of tasks, another 1 or 2% gets shaved off my 'not worth trying to do on iOS list' but Apple needs to make faster inroads into that remaining 40%.

The irony is, by the time the tail of stuff that it's better/easier to do on a computer is less than 20%, by the time tablets are adopted across the piece to do the day to day grind of commerce, iOS (or at least iPad OS) will look a lot more like the hefty cruft of existing desktops.

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 mail.app 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 mail.app 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.

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.