iPhone Homescreen

It’s been a while since I posted a Homescreen overview. So today, I’m starting with my iPhone.

As you’ll see 50% of the apps on my iPhone’s homescreen are the native iOS apps for certain services. I used to look the best third party app for any service, but I find myself going back to the default solution more often than not. The reason? Convenience. Apple’s first party apps sync natively with iCloud, which makes setting up an iPhone a breeze + it’s free, which lowers monthly recurring fees.

I tend to organize my homescreen by type.

Notably I do not have the Phone app on my homescreen. I see my iPhone as a computer and don’t like phone calls. I consider it an iPod Touch with cellular more than a phone with apps.

Productivity

The first two rows are what I call my productivity rows. They contains task related apps.

Calendar: I use the default app because it shows today’s date on the homescreen. I tend to add locations to most of my events, so I use the Up Next widget to see where I need to go and get timely “time to leave” alerts.

Todoist : Task Managers are my weak point. I tend to move from Omnifocus to Things to Reminders to … multiple times a year. I prefer Reminders for its native Siri integration, which makes dumping thoughts into an Inbox by voice quick and convenient. But Reminders has a terrible interface.

Thanks to Alexa (more on that later) I can now use Todoist as a task manager. I use Alexa to quickly input thoughts, get a daily update every morning and manage my shopping list. Which reminds me: “Alexa, add ‘Ask my wifi to start using Todoist for our groceries’ to my todo list”.

All tasks end up in Todoist. It is a rather utilitarian interface but it does it’s job nicely. I’m a big fan of the comment feature to add extra notes or adding attachments and its Share Extension is awesome.

1Password : Safety first. And when it comes to password management there’s only one choice. 1Password offers 2FA support, syncs across devices and allows me to share a vault with my wife via the Family Accounts feature.

Workflow : I’m going to let @Viticci answer why it’s there.

Files, Photos and Notes: I prefer the first party solutions for these three because they just work. Although I do use Google Photos as an extra backup for my photos and backup my files via Backblaze just in case. All three are rather basic in their functionality, especially when it comes to sharing, but when it comes to integrating with other apps they still win when compared to Dropbox, Google or other Cloud Storage Services.

Screens: I work on iOS mainly, but when I do need a Mac, I often resort to Screens to quickly connect to my Mac mini at home. Thanks to its Connect service you can connect from anywhere. Lovely app, although I hope they soon at MFA security to the Screens Connect account.

Social

The second big block is the social block. These are the apps that connect to the world.

Mail: Similar to task managers, mail is an app where there and back again is often applied. I used Spark, Inbox, Mailbox, … but always see myself go back to the default Mail app. I’m not a big fan of the defer to later mailbox approach (I use a task manager for this) so most third party apps are to complex for my needs.

Messages: I detest Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger is a necessary evil. So when I can, I go to iMessage to message friends and family.

Alexa: I’ve only started using Amazon Echo devices since last fall so I regularly use the Alexa app to add or change some skills. The announced Alexa voice integration within the app allows it to stay on the homescreen.

Safari: doesn’t need an explanation.

Tweetbot: Timelines should be chronological. That’s why they’re called timelines.

Instagram: Guilty pleasure.

Unread: I still use RSS feeds to follow blogs, no matter what Kottke says. Feedwrangler is my current backend service although I like what Feedbin is doing with their new Twitter integration. Frontend I use Unread for its beautiful reading experience.

Pocket: Feedreaders and read it later apps are two sides of the same coin. I’ve used Pocket since forever and love the way it allows you to save both text and media in a convenient way. I inject some sites like Daring Fireball and MacStories automatically via IFTTT, and use its sharing extension a lot.

Media

The last rows are dedicated to Media apps. Music, Video, Reading.

Squarespace Blog: I’m trying to blog more again and since Squarespace is the platform I’ve chosen I’m stuck with their iOS apps. I say stuck because the apps are basic. They allow you to enter text and media, but that’s about it. No sharing extensions, no Files integration, no API’s. For longer form text I use Ulysses and copy-paste though. (Yes I know, the app is in the wrong row and is technically a productivy app, but those rows where filled aready ;-) )

iBooks: I buy my media on Apple’s platforms. It’s a lock in and I can never read these books in Kindle but since I’m all in on Apple hardware it doesn’t really bother me. Why iBooks? One word: layout. The way iBooks displays text is way nicer than the Kindle app. I also use its PDF syncing feature a lot, and I hope they soon expose those files via a Files integration too.

Swarm: another guilty pleasure. I love to track where I’ve been and often use the app (and the full Foursquare counterpart) to check places I’ve been or refer restaurants to friends who go on holiday.

Music : “Hey Siri, Play Metallica” while walking around with AirPods is magic. Although I do have a Spotify account for Alexa.

Podcasts: “Hey Siri, Play Connected” while walking around with AirPods is magic.

Youtube: doesn’t need an explanation

Camera: I never use this shortcut and always launch the app from the lockscreen. That is, until I’m on the homescreen and look for the Camera app. I’ve removed the app so many times from my homescreen and found myself looking for it, it’s now a permanent ficture on the homescreen.

Dock 

The dock is filled with four folders. I love the way they replace the homescreen when you open them. It’s a nice mode-shift when going from homescreen to Wallet or Connected.

  • Office: all other productivity apps
  • Connected: smart home and activity apps
  • Media: all other media apps
  • Wallet: online banking, web shops, ...

Hidden Apps

Siri unlocks HomeKit. Activity and Health are tracked via the Watch. Alarms are managed via Siri, so is the timer (Seriously Apple, add support for multiple timers!). They do not need a place on my homecreen but I use them daily.

An heroic act

Done properly parenting is a heroic act. Done properly.

Deploying In App Purchase via VPP

TLDR; You can’t distribute apps with in-app purchases within a company using the preferred Apple VPP methods. Apple should create a VPP program for IAP to fix this.

Deploying Enterprise Apps 

When deploying apps within a company there’s the good, the bad ad the ugly way of doing it.

  • The ugly: buy the app once and allow all users to install it with a shared Apple ID. Or, in other words, welcome to 2010.
  • The bad: have users buy and install apps with their own AppleID, refund via iTunes Credits or use Vouchers from Apple’s Volume Purchase Program do deploy the apps.
  • The good: buy apps via the Volume Purchase Program and distribute them via device based assignment with an Mobile Device Management tool.

The Good

Why is the good, the good? Mobile Device Management platforms like Jamf allow you to assign apps to devices without the use of an AppleID. This way you control who has which apps, users can install and update the apps without passwords and, as a company, you retain control of your licenses making it both easier to revoke access when someone leaves the company, and easier to proof that all software used in the office is legally purchased.

You can buy licenses to distribute App Store apps to devices via Apple’s Volume Purchase Program. This portal is linked to your company, you buy x amount of apps via a central AppleID/Credit card, and the apps show up in your management system of choice. 

Once the license shows up in your MDM system you can assign the app to a device or group of devices (e.g. the new OmniOutliner 3 to all IT Support engineers) and they can immediately use the app.

Pretty cool.

The issue

Recently a couple of big Productivity apps made the switch from pay up front to get the app for free and unlock it completely via IAP. One of the bigger examples is The Omni Group, who made all their apps free, and allow you to unlock e.g. OmniGraffle fully via an In App Purchase. (They even allow you to get a discount if you’ve got a prior version installed).

Similarly, apps like Ferrite or Notability allow you to unlock extra features like new paper types or longer track duration via an IAP. There’s also apps like Ulysses, that are only useable when you have a subscription.

But currently there is no way to distribute these IAP to users. You can install Notability, or OmniGraffle but you can’t unlock the app for your users. Worse, when users try to unlock the IAP themselves, they can’t, since there is no AppleID involved.

Regular users face a similar issue when sharing apps via Family Sharing. If one family member unlocks all levels of Civilization, no one else can get that level unless they unlock, and pay, for the level themselves. It’s understable since most IAP are consumables for games and you can’t spend the same item twice. But when IAP are feature unlocks, or worse, ways to get the full app, the lack of IAP sharing across family members is a limiting, and often frustrating fact.

At least, within a family you can pay up twice (or trice) and get your IAP. But for enterprise users this is not possible. If you want someone in your company to use an app that unlocks via IAP you have to resort to the bad and ugly installation methods.

A Terrible solution or two

  • Developers could create specific enterprise SKUs in the App Store that allow you to pay fully up front. But this results in duplicate apps, user confusion and a lot of support tickets from users buying the wrong SKU. Plus it means they need to maintain two different versions of the same app.
  • Some developers allow you to buy the Mac app directly from their own store with seperate licenses. They can easily be installed via JAMF Pro but lacks the convenience of VPP distribution + it’s yet another serial key to track. Plus, you can’t use this on iOS.
  • You could go the way of Office365, 1Password, Dropbox,... and link the apps’ features to a user account that’s licensed. Downside of this approach: it’s yet another username and password for your users to remember, it’s yet another thing to manage seperately for your IT department. And not every app has need for a username.

A Better solution

With the launch of the new App Store, Apple also launched a better way to Promoting in-app purchases within the store. You can sometimes even buy an IAP directly from the App Store. Why can’t they expose that IAP within the IAP portal and allow us to distribute both the app and the IAP via the known VPP distribution methods within an MDM server?

You buy an app via the VPP Portal, and also buy the related IAP. On your MDM server you then assign both the app and the IAP to your user and voila, problem solved.

With macOS server focused more heavily on Device Management, and Apple promoting IAP and subscriptions as a way to provide upgrades for apps and give developers a means to get money for their work, it’s time for Apple to take these features to an Enterprise level.

So put this on my WWDC 2018 wishlist: Apple, please allow us to distribute IAP via VPP.

If you want this too, please create a radar and reference #37531416, which contains a copy of this post.

Making your website a first class Safari citizen

Anyone can build a website thanks to great resources like Squarespace. And, if the website is responsive and written with any decent framework, it’ll behave nicely on macOS and iOS. Safari will use the Title and Favicon tag to create a nice bookmark, it’ll pickup on the specified RSS feed and, if the site has any article content, it’ll show the Reader View option.

But, with a few extra additions to your site’s <Head>, it can become a first class iOS and macOS citizen.

iOS WebClip

Way before native iOS apps, Apple allowed you to add web apps, or regular websites to the Homescreen of iOS. Via a specific meta tag you can add a custom icon to your site. The easiest way is one simple 512px image, but you can add specific sizes for every screen size if you want to. Sadly, vector images are not supported.

And, if your site has a very long title you can add a shorter custom title for WebClips. The maximum amount of characters shown on the iOS Homescreen without being shortened with ellipsis is around 11 characters.

<link rel="apple-touch-icon" href="apple-touch-icon.jpg">
<meta name="apple-mobile-web-app-title" content="Verschoren">

Pinned Tab

Newly added in El Capitan, you can pin a site in Safari to the left of the Tab bar, making it easily accessible all the time. These pinned sites get a custom icon that’s highlight when active and is specified with a specific tag.

There’s a few rules:

  • The icon has to be an svg with a single layer and a <0,0,16,16> viewport.
  • The icon should be #000 black filled with no other styles.
  • The icon is always displayed in one color specified in the tag.

There’s also this great article by Iconfactory describing their flow.

<link rel="mask-icon" href="favicon-pinned.svg" color="#0898F4">

Touch Bar

By default the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar displays the default favicon for Bookmarked websites. But, as a free bonus, every site that has the pinned tab icon defined, gets a nice icon in the Touch Bar consisted of their icon in white surrounded by the specified color.

<link rel="mask-icon" href="favicon-pinned.svg" color="#0898F4">

Testing and developing the icon is a bit difficult since Safari caches this icons rather strongly. You can however clear the cache by quitting Safari and executing these two Terminal commands:

rm -rf ~/Library/Safari/Template\ Icons
rm -rf ~/Library/Safari/Touch\ Icons\ Cache

Prompt, command line on iOS

I’m an iPad user, although I have a Mac mini at home for backup, caching and media purposes but I prefer to use iOS for my daily entertainment.

My project for today was activating my Raspberry Pi again and trying to run Homebridge on it. And aside from dumping the Raspberry OS on a micro SD card via my Mac mini, I did all configuration on my iPad, using Panic’s lovely Prompt 2 app. It’s a great Terminal app that gives you a rock solid connection and has a great interface for doing command line work.

Since installing and testing Homebridge involved a lot of reusing the same code again and again until it works (rebooting the Raspberry, stopping and restarting Homebridge,..) I especially love the Clips feature. Clips allows you to store often used commands and have them available via a single tap. A bit like TextExpander, but you know, for code.

Panic’s apps also sync across your devices. So those same configurations are available on your iPad, iPhone and Mac. Pretty useful.

HomeBridge on a Raspberry Pi

We've got Alexa running at home to control our Sonos devices. Alexa, play Metallica. Alexa, play VRT Studio Brussels. Alexa, lower the volume. Alexa, stop the music.. Once you're used to controlling music by voice, anything else feels antiquated and clumsy.

Before Alexa, I had already installed HomeBridge on my Mac mini to integrate Sonos into HomeKit. Nothing fancy, it just enabled Play/Pause via the homebridge-sonos plugin. This allowed us to say Hey Siri, Stop Music in the Dining Room. Or, combined with a Hue Tap next to our front door, enabled me to tap one button when exiting the house and having all lights and music turn off with a single action. 

But Homebridge on my Mac mini wasn't the most stable of installations. Updating the Mac often resulted in a broken node.js or npm installation. A recent series of tweets from Federico Vittico about installing Homebridge on a Raspberry Pi made me remember I had one somewhere in the house.

So, an afternoon later I now have a Raspberry Pi running HomeBridge with the Sonos plugin active.

 

 

Falcon Heavy Binaural Audio Immersion

Put some good headphones on and enjoy.

112

112, our version of 911, just released an App that allows you to contact emergency services and immediately send them your location, name and contact information. Pretty useful in case of an emergency.

Update: Apparently, this is already part of iOS too via Emergency SOS, so not THAT useful, but better be safe than sorry I’d guess?

Older version of this post: Would be awesome if this could somehow be integrated with iOS 11’s Emergency SOS

AirPower

The iPhone X supports wireless charging via the QI standard, and the Apple Watch has its own proprietary charging system that’s kinda similar to QI but not really. After a few months of using wireless charging, I have to say, it’s pretty awesome. Charging an iPhone is nothing more than putting it on my desk/nightstand/kitchentop. Never expected not needing to grab a Lightning cable could be so convenient. I even tried adding QI to my iPad Pro with a third party Lightning to QI sticker, which works, and charging an iPad with a bit more than 5W is possible but takes ages. So for now, it’s good old usb for the iPad.

Sometime in 2018 Apple will release its AirPower standard that wirelessly charges iPhone, Apple Watch Series 3 and AirPods on a single charging mat. (AirPods will require a new case though). Since I’ve got a Series 2 Watch I can’t really use it to its fullest, but the idea seems pretty neat.

In the meanwhile I created my own wireless charging solution that’s not that different from an AirPower mat.

I recently bought an Ikea Nørdmarke Wireless Charger, which can charge up to three QI devices and has an extra USB port on the side. Add an Apple Watch charger with some double sides tape and voila, homemade AirPower solution.

(This made me look for a way to charge my AirPods too, but the solution is kinda ugly and kinda prone to wear and tear.)

Wireless charging. Love the convenience.

How CloudKit Works

There’s a paper circulating online that explains on a deep technical level how CloudKit, the backend of modern iCloud, works. It’s insightful, albeit mostly way over my head.