Showing all posts tagged ios:

Quick Text Shortcuts

I tend to assume that things I know are obvious and widely known, and so I don’t often bother to document them. However, I noticed that a couple of different people did not know this particular very useful trick, so I thought I would share it here for anyone else who might find it useful.

The trick (I refuse to call it a "hack", or even worse, a "life hack") is useful if you often need to type the same snippets of text on an Apple device, whether it’s an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac. You can do this using only built-in tools from Apple, with no need to install additional components or mess with anything under the hood.

On a Mac, go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Text. Here you can create the shortcuts that will be useful to you. You should have one defined already, which replaces "omw" with "On my way!".

Simply click the + button at the bottom of the window to add your own snippets. I have a couple for my phone number and email address, so that I can simply type "mynum" or "mygmail" to have those appear, with no fear of typos.

This is of course even more useful on an iPhone, where the small keyboard can make it frustrating to type when you can’t rely on autocorrect - and doubly frustrating to type phone numbers in the middle of other text. On an iPhone (or an iPad), go to Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement, and then tap the + to enter your own snippets.

The cherry on the cake of usefulness is that the text snippets will sync over iCloud, so any snippets you set up on one of your devices should be available on all your other devices too.


In which I make a Discovery

Everyone who cares probably knew this already, but I just discovered something cool with iOS multitasking.

If you have an iPad Air 2 or an iPad Pro, you can run two apps side by side on the screen. I was doing this so that I could listen to music via YouTube while twittering, because Apple in their wisdom mute Safari if it's backgrounded. You have to do proper multi-tasking, not just slide-over, which is why this only works on those two models.

I was already pretty happy with my solution, devoting untold amounts of innovation and computing horsepower to wasting time more efficiently than ever before - and then I clicked on a link in Twitter, and a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me.

Now normally if you click a link in Twitter for iOS when it's running in full-screen mode, the linked page opens in an embedded mini-browser, which is of course the Wrong Thing.

If on the other hand you click a link while Twitter is running side by side with Safari, the linked page opens directly in a new Safari tab!

Amazing, right? Right?

Okay, this is a pretty niche use case, but it makes me unreasonably happy. I hope this post is useful to someone else, too.

Apple Bottom Drawer

There has been a long-running complaint that equipping the entry-level iPhone with only 16GB of storage is not only cheap, but wrong-headed because owners will have a bad user experience. Most of the time, the example people bring up is operating system upgrades, with people forced to stay on older iOS releases because they don’t have enough free space to perform the upgrade1.

As per their usual tight-lipped policy, Apple has not said anything about precisely why it is that they continue to keep the 16GB models around. The general assumption has been that the idea is to offer a (relatively) low entry price for the iPhone range to get as many people as possible through the door.


Today, though, I overheard a conversation that illustrated a different reason why Apple might want to increase the storage in that bottom-tier device sooner rather than later. Someone recommended an album, someone else searched for it on iTunes, hit "Buy" - and was told that they did not have enough space. When storage limits are preventing sales, this is a problem.

One obvious quibble would be to ask how many owners of entry-level devices spend significant sums in the iTunes Store (or would do if they had the free space available). This overlooks the fact that these days, a significant number of iPhones are actually corporate-owned or at least -funded. Because the owner is not the user, it is not possible to infer the user’s purchasing power or willingness based on the device they have. Companies may well opt for limited storage because that’s all that is required for work purposes, even though employees would be willing to fill additional space with personal data, given the chance.

Bottom line: it’s high time for the bottom storage tier to move up to 32GB. I would also argue that when they do this, Apple should eat the difference and not raise prices, because their margin is big enough and the parts cost is so small. The improvement in user experience would pay for itself in Tim Cook’s beloved "customer sat", without even allowing for increased revenue per user (ARPU) as people are able and willing to fill up some of that free space.

  1. Yes, I know that you can also upgrade by plugging into iTunes without needing the free space, but these days, many iPhone owners don’t come from the iPod experience and would not necessarily think of that. Many of them in fact don’t even have iTunes installed, or may not even own a PC or Mac in the first place. 

More Thoughts on Ad Blocking

Last week brought iOS 9, and with it the long-awaited support for ad blockers in Safari.

I am not really comfortable with the idea of blocking ads; while it was more or less a requirement to block the worst excesses a decade or so ago if you wanted any sort of usable web experience, on the desktop at least that is no longer the case. It's an open question how much of this is due to adtech providers giving up on their most obnoxious tricks, how much to features like popup-blocking being built in to all major browsers, and how much to ad blocking on the wetware - simply ignoring most of the ads that are served to me.

It's another story on mobile.

Part of the problem is the ad networks themselves. Print publications generally carry significant amounts of advertising, but because it's controlled by the publisher, the ads that make it into the magazines are typically relevant to readers and in line with the rest of the content. For an example of a magazine that gets this right, pick up a copy of Monocle. The ads are for the same sorts of brands that also come up in the editorial content, they are tasteful and well presented, and generally in line with the high production values of the rest of the magazine. The same goes for their advertorials - sorry, branded content: relevant, unforced, clearly signalled, and often actually interesting in their own right - at least if you're a Monocle reader.

Now name the last time you had an experience like that on the web.

You can't - because hardly any web sites choose their own ads. They all sign up with one or several of the big ad networks, and they will serve you whatever they feel is relevant - to their customers, regardless of what you are reading or watching at the time. This disconnect can lead to idiotic consequences, with the same products stalking you around the web even once you've already bought them, or even been prevented from buying them!

So how do we get out of this situation? Micropayments for content do not look like a practical solution, so what can be done to avoid either beggaring online outlets or giving up on protecting our eyeballs and cellphone bills from the worst excesses of advertisers?

If ad networks are the villains - can they also be our saviours? What if they started policing their own ads better, enforcing "polite" ads? At a minimum:

  • No auto playing audio or video

  • No movement or resizing

  • No pop ups

  • No redirects (I see this on mobile, presumably as a side effect of evading pop up blockers on desktop)

  • No faking UI elements (pretending to be an OS message)

  • No excessive size, measured as a percentage of the actual content

I would have no problem whitelisting that network. In fact, if they made a blocker that only allowed through ads that respected such a code of conduct? I'd install that blocker!

Pity it'll never happen. Instead, we will get some sort of buggy-whip-maker protection rule, and we'll just keep muddling along.

Image by Pablo GarciaSaldaña via Unsplash

Crystal Will Not Kill Media

There’s been a lot of talk about content blocking lately, in the run up to the public release of iOS 9 with its built-in support for [content-blocking Safari extensions]( "Safari 9.0" ). Straight from the horse’s mouth:

> Content Blocking gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.

This is something people have been doing on the desktop for a long time. I used to run ad blockers myself, but [as I wrote]( "Ads and Ad Blocking" ),

> I feel that \[ad blocking\] meets my moral definition of theft. Companies put out content with the expectation of being paid for it, so it seems churlish at best for me to enjoy the content but refuse them the chance to make a fraction of a penny from their advertisers off my enjoyment. There is a line, but nowadays I am more likely simply not to visit offending sites than to try to bypass the ads.


Jean Louis Gaséee believes that the consequences of widespread ad blocking will be [disastrous]( "Life After Content Blocking" ) for media companies.

> This is going to be painful for those whose ad-supported business model is in danger of breaking. There will be blood.

I think that may well be true. The current state of ad tech is not ideal, but it’s what we have, and what a lot of people are paying the bills with. However, while we have become used this state of affairs on our desktops, it’s a different story on mobile. On even a single-digit-Mbps home broadband connection, the additional impact on a page load of the ads, analytics and tracking muck is not hugely significant. Our fixed connections are fast and not really metered on a scale where we are watching the individual megabytes.

Neither of those factors holds true on mobile devices. There, connections are slow, unreliable, and strongly metered. Dean Murphy has created a pre-release iOS content blocking extension, and [his benchmarks are eye-opening]( "Crystal Benchmarks" ).

> On average, pages loaded 3.9x faster with Crystal and used 53% less bandwidth. Just by having Crystal installed, I saved a total of 70 seconds and 35MB of data on these 10 pages.

On mobile, that’s ***huge***. Everyone will want to install Crystal (or similar extensions) for those sorts of gains.

This is without even getting into some of the other aspects of ad tech. Privacy is the obvious one, although for most Muggles it doesn’t seem to be a huge priority. Nevertheless, if you want to scare yourself you can try using the [Lightbeam add-on for Firefox]( "Lightbeam for Firefox - Mozilla" ) to see *just how much* tracking is happening behind the scenes of even major web properties. That has been true for some time on desktop, though, and hasn’t caused any widespread outrage.

What is different on mobile, apart from connection speed and bandwidth constraints, is the interaction itself. Ads on the desktop take up a relatively small proportion of the screen real estate. On mobile, ads can take up *the entire screen* when loading the front page of popular web sites. Users have to scroll down an entire screen just to get to content!

In addition, users have been running their own content blockers on their wetware for a while now. I don’t even *see* standard ads any more, because I have developed reflexes that cause my eyes to scan right by them without ever taking them into my conscious awareness. To force their way past this problem, ad tech developers (one rung up from actual malware developers IMHO) have come up with all sorts of schemes, from interstitials, to CSS-based "popups" that hover in front of the content, to things that zoom out if you inadvertently roll your mouse cursor over them, and no doubt even more heinous variations are in the pipeline right now.

The thing is, on the desktop these things are only moderately annoying. I don’t have Flash installed on this machine, which already cuts down on the potential irritation, and the rest I deal with by simply not visiting especially grating web sites.

On mobile devices, these things are *horrid*. My wife, normally a sweet and well-mannered person, was reduced to incoherent rage this morning when an ad on a web site she was attempting to visit on her phone kept redirecting her to another site. This was no doubt intended as some sort of grey-area pop-up spawning thing, but iOS simply interpreted it as a straight redirect. Result? That website may have got the one visit and its ad-load, but it will never get another from either of us.

Bottom line? I will continue not to run content blockers on my Mac, but on iOS, I’m installing Crystal as soon as I get my hands on iOS 9.

After the initial period of pain, I don’t think it’ll even be as bad for publishers as they think it will be. I have no doubt that there will be disruption, and some of it will be painful. Some web sites will go down, and while my rational response is that they will be getting their comeuppance for a crappy business model, I do feel sympathy for the writers who will be out of a gig through no fault of their own.

My point is different: as with much of this Big Data nonsense, I have a sneaking suspicion that nobody is actually *using* any of the data that are collected. My [personal experience]( "Online Shopping" ) bears this out. Sure, the gathered data are used in some limited sense, but no truly innovative deep analysis is carried out that you could not have done on the subscriber rolls of the *Readers’ Digest* back in the day. Dumber web advertising will do *just fine* without all the tracking and analytics that are *de rigeur* these days.

Relax and enjoy the resurgence of simple banner ads.


Image by [kazuend]( via [Unsplash](

Wishing for a Wish List

Why does Apple hate wish lists so much?

The wish list is the main thing I miss since I fell out with Amazon and moved all of my media buying over to iTunes. Amazon not only has great management of its wish list, allowing you to sort it any way you like and highlighting deals, or sharing it with friends and family as suggestions; it also uses the contents of your wish list as inputs to its recommendation engine.

Over the decade or so that I used Amazon regularly, its recommendations grew to be uncannily accurate, alerting me to new books or albums that I might be interested in. The algorithm involved was clever enough to recommend not only new works by artists I had already bought from in the past, but also works by other artists I had not previously encountered. This was driven by their ability to identify that "other people who bought X also bought Y", based on their insight into all of our purchasing histories.

Of course this is a critical feature for Amazon, which explains why they spend so much time and effort on refining it. In fact, it was only when they messed with my wish list that I left in a huff.

I had continued to buy from Amazon’s UK site after leaving the UK, because with free shipping within the EU, it made no difference, while it allowed me to keep that all-important wish list history. A few years later, however, Amazon in their wisdom decided that many items would no longer be made available to ship outside the UK. Instead of simply tagging the items with a notice, they simply removed the items from users’ stored wish lists. In my case, this meant I lost nearly half of my wish list items.

I use wish lists as a way to spread out purchases or remind me of items that are due to come out in the future but that I am not committed enough to pre-order right away (or which may not yet be available to pre-order). Deleting half of my wish list in this high-handed way was enough for me to quit a triple-figure-per-month Amazon habit cold-turkey.

This coincided with the move to a new house, where even our existing media collections were overflowing the shelves once we had finished unpacking. The time was therefore ripe for a move to electronic content only, and given that I was cross with Amazon, Apple was the only real alternative.

It’s been a couple of years now, and I have not regretted it in any way. I adapted very quickly to reading on the iPad, and music and the occasional film are of course super-easy. There is only one glaring problem, and that is the utterly inconsistent handling of wish lists on the part of the Apple store apps.

iBooks app on iPhone - note lack of wish list button

The fact that it’s plural "apps" is a bit of a problem in its own right, actually. I have a Music app to listen to music, that I buy in the iTunes Store app. That is where I also buy videos, that I then watch in the Videos app. But if I want to buy books, I have to do that in a special tab of the iBooks app.

Historically this makes sense - iBooks came along much later than the rest of iTunes. But why the weird inconsistencies in when I can add something to my iTunes/iBooks wish lists? iBooks on iOS won’t allow this, but iBooks on the Mac will. On the other hand, iTunes on the Mac won’t let me add an album to my wish list, but the iTunes Store app on iOS will.

Same screen in iTunes Store app on iPhone - note "Add to Wish List" button

This is why I have a file in Notes with iTunes Store links to items that I wanted to add to my wish list, but couldn’t because I didn’t have access to the specific device that would let me do that at the time.


This is admittedly a pretty minor niggle in the grand scheme of things, but I think it’s philosophically important for Apple to fix this inconsistency. It lies right at the heart of the iTunes ecosystem, and creates an unexpected and annoying discrepancy between MacOS and iOS platforms, and even between different devices on iOS.

Problems that only affect me

It seems that iOS 8.3 changed something in the way multiple keyboards are handled. If you don't know, you can add keyboards to iOS from Settings > General > Keyboard. This is worth doing even if you only type in one language, because it's how you get access to the Emoji keyboard. Enabling multiple keyboards adds a little "globe" key between the numlock and dictation keys:


Simply tap that "globe" key once to switch to the next keyboard in the list, or hold it to see a menu and select the keyboard you want.

The advantage of having multiple keyboards is that it enables predictive text to work in other languages. It also allows you to choose alternative layouts, e.g. AZERTY for French, QWERTZ for German, or QZERTY for Italian - but I find that confuses me more. Luckily, iOS lets you set all keyboards to use QWERTY.

Now, here's the problem. Before 8.3, if you had a primary keyboard (generally corresponding to your locale), you could switch to another language to type some text. The next time you hit the key, as long as it was within a reasonably short period of time, it would switch you back to your default keyboard. This is great for me, as I type mainly in English, but switch to other languages several times a day.

With 8.3 this behaviour has gone, and the "globe" key always switches to the next keyboard in the list.

This change is probably invisible to almost everyone, and only a minor irritant for those few of us who use multiple input languages frequently, but it is surprisingly annoying when you are used to the old way of things.

I can even understand the rationale, as I have seen people get confused by why the switcher would sometimes go to the next keyboard but at other times revert to the default - but the solution there is to give us preference settings to disable the behaviour entirely or change its timeout. I don't even mind if it's turned off by default, as long as I can turn it back on - but that's not the Apple way.


It's the little things

One of the things that make it most frustrating to use the web from an iPhone is form inputs. Reading the content is generally doable - and if not, there's always Instapaper. But form inputs are always a pain. Partly this is because they're over-styled, so you get stuck with fields that are either tiny or huge. Sure, testing that sort of stuff gets annoying fast. What about the stuff that is easy to do right, though?

One of the things the iPhone does is to show the user a different keyboard depending on the context. If the entry point is in an email address, the keyboard shows characters that are used in email addresses - the @ mark, dashes and underscores, and so on - instead of the space. If it's a phone number, you get a numeric keypad. This makes life much easier.

All of this is driven by the type of the HTML input element. Set it to email, tel or whatever, and let iOS do its thing. But no, nobody bothers to set their input element type, so iPhone users are switching back and forth, hunting and pecking, and all the time hating web developers so very, very much.

And that's just one tip for this useful list of
8 HTML Elements You’re Not Using (and Should Be)
. Go, and do ye likewise.

Apple opens up OS X Beta Seed Program

Apple has always made beta version of its operating systems (both MacOS and iOS) available to registered developers. What was not widely known is that there was also an invitation-only programme for non-developers to get access to pre-release versions of the OSen. This programme has now been opened up for anyone to join.


Here is the link - but I hope you won’t sign up.


Remember iOS 7? Before the thing was even out, it was being lambasted in the press - including the mainstream press - for being buggy and even bricking people’s phones. It turned out that the "bricking" was simply the built-in auto-expiry of the beta versions. Non-developers who had somehow got hold of an early beta but had not kept up with newer version found out the hard way that betas expire after some time. Also, being beta versions, the quality of the software was - guess what? - not up to release standard yet.

In light of that experience, I do wonder whether opening up OS X even further is a wise move on Apple’s part. I really hope that I don’t have to read on the BBC next week that OS X 10.9.9 is really buggy and unstable, or something equally inane.

Microsoft Office - on an iPad? SACRILEGE!

If you follow tech news at all - and if not, why are you here, Mum? - you know that Microsoft finally got around to releasing Office for iPad.

Within hours of the launch, Word became the most downloaded application for iPads in Apple's app store.

The Excel and Powerpoint apps were the third and fourth most popular free app downloads, respectively, in the store.

Note that the apps themselves are free, but advanced functionalities - such as, for instance, editing a document - require an Office 365 subscription. A Home Premium subscription to Office 365 is $99 / £80 per year, which is a lot for home users. Fair enough, many Office users will presumably get the subscription through their employer, but many companies still don’t have subscriptions, so that is hardly a universal solution.1

In contrast, new iPads get the iWork apps for free, and even for older ones the price was hardly prohibitive - I think it was less than $10 per app when I bought them. Lest you think that the iWork apps are limited, I have successfully used Pages to exchange documents with Word, with change tracking too. Numbers also works well with Excel files, including some pretty detailed models. Keynote falls down a bit, mainly because the iPad is lacking some fonts, but a small amount of fiddling can usually sort that out too. I would assume that the fonts issue will bite PowerPoint on the iPad too, anyway.

The main thing though is that Office on the iPad is just too little, too late. Microsoft should have released this at least two years ago. By then it was clear that the iPad was the tablet in business. Far from the lack of Office killing the iPad, the lack of iPad support seriously undermined Office!

Anyway, I will probably never even download it, despite being an Office power user2 on my Mac. I think it will do okay, simply because of the critical mass of Office users that still exists, but Microsoft missed their chance to own the iOS productivity market the way they own that market on PCs.

A more detailed treatment of the pricing issue:

Apple makes their money on hardware sales. Therefore, they can give away iWork for iOS by baking its development costs into the overall iOS development costs.

Google makes their money on targeted advertising. Therefore, they can give away Google Drive because they’re scraping documents and tailoring ad content as a result. That’s pretty creepy, and might be against your employer’s best practices for confidentiality of information.

Microsoft doesn’t make money on iPad hardware sales, nor do they scrape Office documents for ads. Therefore, they charge you money to use their software beyond the basics. Makes sense to me.

Makes sense to me too.

  1. Of course Microsoft may still make more money on Office this way by avoiding rampant piracy on the PC side. The question then becomes: what does this do to their market share? Part of the ubiquity of Microsoft was driven by wholesale piracy, especially among home users. 

  2. Well, Word and PowerPoint, at least. Us marketing types don’t use much Excel, as a rule.