Workflow Updated for iOS 11 and the iPhone X

Anybody who knows me knows that I love Workflow for iOS. I followed its development prior to its initial launch and, about a week after it launched, I began helping them with customer support. A few months later I would be hired on full time and have the privilege of working with the wonderful Workflow team for two years. Since being acquired by Apple in March 2017, Workflow updates seem less frequent. I’m still optimistic that this is for a good reason, yet to be revealed. Fortunately, the recent 1.7.7 update may help those whose faith had become shaky in recent months.

With 1.7.7, Workflow is updated to support the iPhone X, as well as drag and drop on iOS 11. I mentioned on Twitter a few weeks ago that I would love an app similar to the shelf app concept, except rather than just storing data and providing it in multiple available data types, it would intelligently run actions on the data you drop into it, based on which action you drop it on. Well, there are plenty of shelf apps — including my favorite so far, Gladys — but with the latest update, Workflow meets the needs I was discussing before. Now you can drag content and drop it into a workflow in the Workflow app, and it will run that workflow using the dropped content as input.

This is something I’ve been hoping to see since iOS 11 launched and it makes sense that Workflow would be the app for this. Now you can drop an image into a workflow and have it uploaded to Dropbox, or drag a link from Safari into a workflow to share it with predefined recipients and text.

To drag and drop content as input, simply drop the item on the Run Workflow button (the one that looks like a play button) — that entire rectangular section is a drop zone and will become highlighted to indicate this when content is dragged over it. From the main workflow view, you can hover over a workflow with dragged content for a second and the workflow will open, allowing you to drop the item(s) inside the workflow to run it.

I made a quick test workflow after updating, which accepts a URL for an article and generates markdown formatted text in the format:

# Title
By: Author on Publish Date
> Excerpt
**From:** URL

I can drag a link from the address bar in Safari, and drop it on the Run button at the top of the workflow. This will take that URL as input and run it through the Get Article from Webpage action, and then extract all the desired details into a single Text action using Workflow’s powerful and efficient magic variables system.

I hope to see continued development and, as I’ve mentioned multiple times here and elsewhere, I remain optimistic about the future of Workflow. I’d like to see better drag and drop support for reordering workflows in the main view (something that is and always has been very buggy for me) as well as in the Settings for Watch and Today Widget workflows. The custom drag and drop implementation used for building workflows and moving actions has always been good to me, and I don’t know if it could be improved by adopting the new standard from Apple (or perhaps they have in this version?). There’s always room for improvement and I am confident we will see more from them over the next year but, for now at least, I’m happy to see the development continue.

In addition to drag and drop and iPhone X support, 1.7.7 also brings support for the new image formats of iOS 11, some new health data types, new iOS 11 files support such as multiple files with the Get Files action, and some other improvements — much welcome in its first iOS 11 update. You can view the entire list of features and fixes here.

If you’re not using Workflow already, check it out. The app is free since it was acquired so you have nothing to lose but time (which you just might gain back with Workflow). Be sure to check out the official documentation, r/workflow on Reddit, and the in-app gallery for help, examples, and inspiration.

The MacStories iOS 11 Review Audiobook

I’ve been reading MacStories since 2013. In that time, Federico has grown the site and its reach substantially, bringing on more writers, publishing more content, redesigning the site a couple of years ago, and all the while delivering excellent content consistently. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

I’m also a big fan of the annual MacStories iOS review, published with the public release of iOS each September. This year, the gang at MacStories did something different: an audiobook version of the iOS 11 review. This review is long and detailed though, from what I read of it, a good read (as to be expected). However, some folks don’t have a lot of time to read through it all, while listening to the review on one’s commute can be easier and quicker. Even better, the review is read by Myke Hurley (of the RelayFM podcast network). If you’re a fan of RelayFM’s excellent shows like Upgrade and Connected, then you’ll likely enjoy listening to this. The review comes in at around 5 hours, and I’m about halfway through it, but it’s a great listen and loaded with interesting information and explanations. For example, I didn’t know I could tap a Safari link with two fingers to open it in a new tab.

The audiobook can be purchased here for $9.99 but if you’re a Club MacStories member, you can get it for $3.99. (Hint: you can join Club MacStories for just $5 monthly) and get lots of great extras, in addition the monthly newsletter!

Ulysses Gains Drag and Drop Support and More

Yesterday Ulysses, the best writing app on iOS, released an update adding some UI changes to bring it inline with the iOS 11 interface (big headers over lists), as well as support for one of the most important iOS 11 features: Drag and drop. With drag and drop support in Ulysses, you can now drag sheets to arrange or move them, drag text and other elements within a sheet, and even drag text out of a sheet to create a new sheet with that text. This works on both iPhone and iPad. On iPad only, you can also use drag and drop between applications. Now you can drag text, links, or images and drop them into a sheet! Hopefully the future will see dragging out of Ulysses updated to include export options as well.

In addition to drag and drop, this release also adds the ability to preview images inline with your words. This doesn’t work if you’re using image links, but if you add images directly to your sheet, you’ll get a subtle, low-distraction preview inline. You can also now edit with multiple panes open. Previously, when you would start editing a sheet, the library and sheet list panes would be closed. Now, on iPad, you can edit with these open. I think that’s a good change for the screen real estate available on the larger iPad Pro. Finally, they also made some changes to how the library is viewed.

Of course, drag and drop is the highlight of this release. Ulysses is a powerful tool for writers, whether you use it for notes, papers, personal writing, fiction, or blogging. I write all of my posts in Ulysses and am happy to support them through an annual subscription. It’s great to see them continue development and bring excellent new features to one of my favorite apps.

If you aren’t already using it, Ulysses is free to try, and has an in-app purchase for monthly or annual subscription plans, which give you access to the app on iPhone, iPad, and macOS. An educational discount is available for the subscription as well. Check it out!

On Personalizing “Hey Siri”

From Apple’s Machine Learning Journal, in a piece about what goes on behind the scenes on your devices when you say “Hey Siri”:

We designed the always-on “Hey Siri” detector to respond whenever anyone in the vicinity says the trigger phrase. To reduce the annoyance of false triggers, we invite the user to go through a short enrollment session. During enrollment, the user says five phrases that each begin with “Hey Siri.” We save these examples on the device.

We compare any possible new “Hey Siri” utterance with the stored examples as follows. The (second-pass) detector produces timing information that is used to convert the acoustic pattern into a fixed-length vector, by taking the average over the frames aligned to each state. A separate, specially trained DNN transforms this vector into a “speaker space” where, by design, patterns from the same speaker tend to be close, whereas patterns from different speakers tend to be further apart. We compare the distances to the reference patterns created during enrollment with another threshold to decide whether the sound that triggered the detector is likely to be “Hey Siri” spoken by the enrolled user.

This process not only reduces the probability that “Hey Siri” spoken by another person will trigger the iPhone, but also reduces the rate at which other, similar-sounding phrases trigger Siri.

I found this whole thing very interesting, even as I am not experienced in the ways of machine learning. I found it particularly interesting because of something that happened last week: My wife and I were sitting on the couch and I used “Hey Siri” for something. Out of curiosity, I checked to see if it triggered hers, and indeed it did not. With my iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch at the ready, I had her try to trigger my devices multiple times, with no success.

It’s neat to see what goes into helping Siri reduce the chances of these false activations. Granted, my wife is a female with a slight Mexican accent (only very slightly). The chance of false activation would be higher with another male speaker, I imagine, but the fact that it is able to store and use the enrollment examples to cut down on this is still really cool.

Bear Adds New Drop Bar for Taking Action on Multiple Notes Quickly

Bear’s latest update takes advantage of a core iOS 11 feature in an interesting new way

Bear’s new Drop Bar lets you take quick action on multiple notes

In the latest release today – version 1.3 – notes app Bear added Apple Watch support, as well an interesting new feature called the Drop Bar. The Drop Bar takes advantage of the new drag and drop support in iOS 11 and works on both iPad and iPhone. Start dragging a note, and the Drop Bar will appear along the bottom of the screen. You can add other notes to your drag selection and, when you’re ready, drop them onto the Drop Bar to reveal a list of actions.

The action selected will be applied across all of the notes dropped onto it. The available actions include pinning the notes, moving them to trash, duplicating, sharing, copying the note links, copying the note identifiers, completing all tasks within selected notes, removing specific tags, and exporting or copying as one combined note, in various formats. The Export action provides several formats, including txt, markdown, Textbundle, PDF, Taskpaper, DOCX, and a couple of others.

While I still have been using Ulysses more frequently for notes and writing, I do have some notes in Bear, particularly some personal documentation (because of Bear’s support for easy inter-note linking). I’m a fan of Bear, and would like to get more use out of it. With this latest update, they continue to take advantage of iOS features in a smart way that fits with their overall design, of which I am a fan. I may give them a try for more general notes again and see how useful the Drop Bar can be for me.

If you’ve not already checked it out, Bear is available for free on the App Store, with a $1.49/month subscription available as an in-app purchase to unlock Bear Pro.

Learn Ulysses: Here It Is (The Sweet Setup)

You deserve to be free to focus on your ideas, your writing, your notes, and your research. That’s why I use Ulysses, and that’s why I want to help you learn Ulysses and discover everything it’s capable of doing.

The Sweet Setup has launched a new course for learning Ulysses, the powerful dual-platform (iOS and macOS) text editor from developers The Soulmen. I haven’t had a chance to check out the course yet but it sounds good and has some good reviews from those who have. Learn Ulysses consists of 7 videos, which seem to cover everything there is to know about using Ulysses.

Ulysses has been the subject of some discussion lately, since their recent switch to a subscription pricing model. Some folks might not be able to justify the cost given how they use Ulysses, while others will know that they use it too much not to purchase a subscription. Personally, I took advantage of the annual subscription’s discount for existing users. I don’t hold any issue with their decision to switch, as long as it enables them to continue to provide the excellent quality Ulysses customers have come to know and expect in their favorite writing app.

If you recently decided to purchase a subscription for Ulysses, or you’re considering whether it will be worth it for you, personally, Learn Ulysses might be able to help you make that decision or figure out if it was the right decision for you to have made, by showing you everything you can do with it and maybe even giving you some ideas on ways you can take your use further. Like I said, I haven’t seen it, and this isn’t a review. However I like and trust the work of Shawn Blanc and the others at The Sweet Setup.

If you’re interested in this course, it’s usually $29 but you can get a launch week special of 20% and grab it for $23 now.

Farewell, TextTool

Sad news in the iOS Utilities category: Craig Pearlman has announced he will be ending development of his excellent iOS text utility, TextTool 2.

I’ve been a fan of TextTool since version one launched, and was excited to upgrade to version 2 fairly recently. Unfortunately, it didn’t bring in enough money to support development. This is a real shame. I’ve conversed with Craig a few times on Twitter and Slack and I can only imagine how much care he put into revamping TextTool for version 2 (though one doesn’t have to imagine if they’ve ever used the app; it shows).

TextTool was built out of love for iOS and the need to perform certain types of tasks. It started as a simple idea and grew. TextTool 2 was written to take this to the next level, to try to provide a desktop-class experience to a platform that needed it.

As he says in his post, he will be back; I don’t doubt that and I look forward to seeing what comes next from Blackfog Interactive. I’m the meantime, I hope somebody who can keep it true acquires TextTool 2.

Crashplan drops consumer level plans

If you’re a Crashplan user, you probably have already heard that they’re dropping their consumer level plans in order to better meet the needs of their enterprise and small business customers. As a business decision, I can understand that. While they are allowing current customers’ plans to continue, they wont be starting new plans or renewing those existing plans once they expire. They are providing a 60-day extension to current customers to find a replacement and move their data over, which seems fair in my opinion.

For Crashplan users, this would be a great time to give Backblaze a try. If you don’t have an off-site backup strategy yet, then you’re tempting fate and should check out Backblaze all the same. At just $5/month per computer, you can have all of your data backed up off-site. Download select items from their web interface or iOS app as needed and should some unfortunate circumstances befall you and you don’t want to redownload all of your data, they can ship you a hard drive with all of your data on it ready to go.

I’ve been a happy Backblaze user for a few years now. For just $5/month, my MacBook Air and my external hard drive are both backed up, keeping all of my data, as well as my Dropbox data, and my Lightroom catalog and photos, backed up in an additional off-site location. Best of all, it’s completely automated and I hardly have to do a thing once it’s been setup.

If you decide to try Backblaze, you can try it out here and get a free month of service (full disclosure: that is an affiliate link and I will also get a free month).

Drafts and Interact on Sale in the Agile Tortoise Back to School Sale

It’s back to school time and Agile Tortoise is having a sale on two of their wonderful apps. For a limited time, you can grab Drafts (iOS) for $2.99, down from $4.99, and Interact (iOS | macOS) for $1.99 down from $3.99.

Interact is a great way to deal with contacts on iOS, but it’s biggest strength for me is the Scratchpad feature, which allows you to quickly and easily add new contacts, or update info for existing contacts, using plain text. The macOS version of Interact brings the scratchpad to your Mac as well. I definitely recommend it, even if you don’t deal with contacts on a daily basis (I don’t).

Drafts is where text starts on iOS. That tag line couldn’t be more true for me. I’ve been using Drafts since version 3 in 2013 and version 4, release back in 2014 and continually support since, has been and remains one of my go to, docked apps on all of my iOS devices. Drafts, and the pieces about it on MacStories are what got me into iOS automation – and eventually Workflow – in the first place. Luckily there are many actions available in the Drafts Action Directory so you can probably get started without any extensive knowledge of URL schemes. I highly recommend this app, and at $2.99 it’s a steal.

Using Workflow to get map images of locations

We just got back from vacation. By just I mean last weekend, but I may still be in denial that it’s over. I haven’t had a lot of time since, though, to write much, so I am working on that. In the meantime, I thought I’d just share a simple little workflow I sometimes find useful for saving locations.

There are plenty of ways to share your location with others these days, be it through the recently added features in Google Maps, the built-in options in Apple Messages, or some other service such as Glympse. There are also plenty of ways to save locations, using apps like Swarm (Foursquare) or, one of my favorites, Rego (more on that in the future, probably). Though not created specifically for saving locations, Day One is also a great app here, with its quick and easy Check-in feature, and ability to add location to a journal entry’s metadata. Usually, if I am saving a location, it is going to be by taking the location data from a photo using Rego, or creating a Day One journal entry. Sometimes, however, I want more than just a location’s coordinates, or a link to open it in Maps. Sometimes, I want to have a map image of the location.

While I could certainly take a screenshot in whatever map app I happen to be using, that requires cropping and potentially more. I want something I can access easily, tap, and get a map image of my current location, without having to tell it anything. Luckily Workflow provides a very simple way to get this, thanks to its ContentKit framework. When you pass input to an action in Workflow, that action will process the input based on the type of input it is expecting or capable of receiving. If you pass a photo into the Get Text from Input action, the output obviously wont be the photo. Workflow knows you want text, so it gets the only text associated with the input: the file name of the photo.

You might see where I’m going with this: Using this same concept, we can pass a location into the Get Images from Input action in a workflow. The only image that would be associated with location data, at least as far as Workflow is concerned, is a map image of that location, and so that is what it gives you. This means we can simply use the Get Current Location action, followed by Get Images from Input to get our map image for the current device location. You can use Workflow’s magic variables system to easily construct some more details, if you would like to share or save the image along with a location name, coordinates, or perhaps a Maps or Google Maps link.

Here is a simple version of the workflow that gets the map image and then lets you share it. Here is what the output looks like:

The workflow results in an image of a map of the current location.

If you have any questions about setting the workflow up for more specific scenarios or run into trouble with it, feel free to reach out to me.