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.

The Sweet Setup on Saving Instapaper Highlights to Ulysses

I’ve been using Ulysses on iOS on and off over the past year, but I recently switched to it full time for my writing needs. It’s a powerful app with a lot to offer, like excellent support for automation and publishing, including publishing directly to WordPress, which I’ve found very useful over the last couple of months. Not to mention, it’s a beautiful app that makes your text look great. Instapaper is another beautiful app, which I’ve been using for several years, which makes other people’s text look great, by presenting articles in a beautified, simplified format, allowing you to read, save, share, listen to, speed-read, highlight, and annotate articles.

The Sweet Setup, last week, wrote about using IFTTT and Dropbox to automatically save Instapaper highlights to Ulysses for research. I’m currently doing research for a job I want to apply for, and really hope to get, so I decided to give this a try. I setup my IFTTT applet similar to how it is described in the link above. However, I changed it to use the Append to Text File Dropbox action, rather than the Create New Text File action. I also made another important change at the beginning. Rather than using New Instapaper Highlight as the trigger in my applet, I changed it to use the New Comment option instead. I’ve saved to Instapaper some articles related to this job position, a newer form of technology it involves, information about the future of the industry, etc. Instead of just highlighting important bits, I wanted to add a note for each bit I found important, stating why I thought it important, or some quick thoughts on how it is relevant. In Instapaper, adding a comment to selected text automatically highlights it as well and, if you’re using the comment option for the trigger in IFTTT, then both your note and the highlighted text are available. I setup my applet to format the highlighted bit as a markdown quote, with my note below it.

Configuration of an applet to save Instapaper comments to Ulysses (via Dropbox)

It’s been useful so far. If nothing else, just having my highlights and related notes in Ulysses is a good start. I do wish IFTTT would allow me to only include the URL and Title of the article in the first comment for a particular article, rather than each highlight however, I can work with that for now. I also setup and applet specifically for highlights (without comments), but I haven’t yet tested with both turned on, to see if they play nicely together on the same article (i.e. if I make some comments in an article, as well as some simple highlights without comments, if both will be appended to the same file, without duplicating the highlights when a comment is used, since comments also highlight the selected text. If anybody has ideas about that or has tried it, I’d be interested to hear. For my current mission, at least, the comment version will work sufficiently. Thanks to The Sweet Setup for another good idea and, if you haven’t before, you should check out the site.

Link: ‘Your’ vs. ‘My’ (Daring Fireball)

I have to agree with John Gruber’s assessment of Tom Warren’s review on The Verge regarding the new iPad Pro and iOS 11 beta:

Tom Warren’s review for The Verge of the new iPad Pro and iOS 11 beta is headlined “iOS 11 on an iPad Pro Still Won’t Replace Your Laptop”. Exactly in line with my piece yesterday, that “your” should be a “my”.

As well as this:

Again, Apple is not trying to convince everyone to replace a traditional Mac or PC with an iPad. Apple executives say that the Mac has a bright and long future because they really do think the Mac has a bright and long future. Any review of the iPad and iOS 11 from the perspective of whether it can replace a MacBook for everyone is going to completely miss what is better about the iPad and why.

I think he is right on point with that. Apple isn’t trying to replace the Mac entirely. They still have plans and the Mac still has a future. They made quite a show of it at the WWDC keynote this year with new hardware and new technologies for AR and VR.

Sure, the iPad isn’t a Mac. And neither is the Mac an iPad. Where I see the strengths of using one device for a particular purpose, you might see weakness of using that same device for your own needs, and vice versa. I don’t think there is any valid debate as to whether or not the iPad Pro (and perhaps even an iPad Air) can replace a laptop. It’s not a fringe case. You can argue whether or not it can replace a laptop for everyone but you’d be missing the point entirely.

When I handled customer support for Workflow, I saw plenty of people doing plenty of work with iPads alone – and I do mean real work. MacStories is a perfect example of work being done iPad-first (or mostly iPad only). Hell, most of my work in the last two years was done from an iPad, and an Air 2 rather than a Pro at that. iOS 11’s new iPad productivity features certainly aren’t a setback to this. I don’t think there is any reason to suggest Apple is trying to force or convince everyone to go iPad only and toss out their Macs, and I don’t see them sheltering the Mac anytime soon. What i see with iOS 11 is Apple trying to make the iPad a better, more productive work environment for those who want to use it as such.

I have a 2014 MacBook Air and while I’d love to replace it with a newer MacBook Pro, I do love my Mac and I don’t plan on giving it up. I have a lot of great software there and I enjoy the look and feel of the system, the hardware, all of it. I feel the same for iOS and the iPad (and the iPhone), especially in iOS 11. Going forward, (and getting my first iPad Pro tomorrow) I have a feeling I will be doing most things from my iPad. I have my reasons, some of them being portability, speed, and the enjoyment I get from using a multi-touch-sensitive piece of glass capable of running great software, side by side, without a clutter of windows, and with fewer distractions.

There are other reasons but ultimately I enjoy using it and for what I need to do, the iPad is sufficient. There are plenty of people for whom the iPad Pro is sufficient enough for the work they need to do, but who feel more comfortable with a traditional keyboard/mouse interface. I get the feeling they’ll be able to continue doing so for a long time, but the iPad is a better way to work than a laptop for me.

Source: Daring Fireball

Getting message links from Airmail with Workflow

Using Airmail’s integration with Workflow to get a more portable message link.

The number of email clients on iOS is no small thing, and it continues to grow as developers implement their own ideas on how to improve email. Each of these have their strengths and weaknesses and those can vary widely between some email apps. It’s undeniable that one of the biggest players in this space right now is Airmail (also available on macOS).

Airmail is an email client geared towards power users, providing users with numerous options for taking action on email messages. This includes the now-typical options to snooze a message or mark it as a todo, as well as a long list of actions to process messages with system features or send them to a number of apps. With Airmail’s actions, you can easily create a reminder, an event, or a PDF, or send the email message to one of the supported apps such as Trello, OmniFocus, Todoist, Day One, Ulysses, Bear, and even DEVONthink, just to name a few.

Apps and services available in Airmail

A more recent addition to Airmail actions is support for running workflows in Workflow and custom actions. Custom actions can be useful, allowing you to essentially carry out multiple actions in one. With custom actions, you can star an email and then create a task or reminder, without having to run two separate actions. Workflow actions are setup as custom actions as well.

When setting up a Workflow action, you can choose which elements of the message are sent to the workflow such as Sender, Sender name, To, CC, HTML, Text, and more. It also offers the Message Link parameter, however message links are created as airmail:// URLs, which means you can only open them in Airmail. While there are advantages to this, if I am linking to a message in a note or some reference material that I may come back to down the road, I want to be able to open that message even if I am using a different client. That’s where Workflow comes in. Apple Mail also has a URL scheme that allows you to open messages from elsewhere. The messages have a unique message ID. This ID is the same in Mail as it is in Airmail and this is what is required for Mail’s URL scheme to open the right message.

Mail’s URL scheme to open a particular message is message://<messageid>. We can set up the action in Airmail to send the message link to the workflow, and then we can use Workflow’s Match Text and Get Group from Matched Text actions to isolate the message ID from the Airmail URL that is sent to the workflow. We can do this using a simple regular expression messageid\=(.+)$ to match the ID and then insert the group we get from into a message:// URL within a Text action.

I should back up a moment and add that sometimes, I want a link in a markdown format. I setup my Airmail action to send the Subject in addition to the link. When setting up Workflow actions that send multiple parameters, Airmail lets you define a custom separator character1. At the beginning of the workflow, you can use the Split Text action to separate by the same custom character you set in the Airmail action. The you can reference each item individually at its index using the Get Item from List action2. This allows us to receive the link and the subject, and then provide multiple options for generating the link as a plain URL, or a markdown link. I took it a step further in my workflow by including the option to generate an Airmail markdown link or a plain Airmail link as well.

The workflow being used to copy a Mail URL as a markdown link.

Now whether I need to reference an original message source months from now, or just create a quick reminder with the link to a message, I’m good to go. You can get the workflow here.

EDIT: Somehow a couple of little things got changed that I didn’t realize before. The proper changes have been fixed in the version of the workflow linked above, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Just pointing out that the screenshots throughout this post may show a few differences. In setting up the Airmail custom workflow action, the separator field should not be blank, it should be a double pipe || character. I also changed the index in the workflow from what the screenshot shows. For some reason if a separator is specified in Airmail, the app will include a blank item first, so the subject was at Index 2, rather than Index 1. Finally, I added a copy option to the workflow, which was also not pictured. Apologies for any confusion. Hope you find this workflow useful.

Note: Airmail and Workflow icons are property of their developers/owners/designers, which is not me

  1. This field was blank in the screenshot, but the custom separator my workflow uses is double pipes (
  2. The screenshots of the workflow show it getting the first item to get the subject. For some reason Airmail sends a blank item first when using a custom separator so it should actually get the item at Index 2 for the subject. It’s fixed in the final workflow linked at the end of the post.

Optimistic iOS User

Some thoughts on why I am optimistic about the future of productivity, automation, and professional use of iOS — specifically the iPad.

Earlier this week, in the keynote for their annual Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced the next version of iOS: iOS 11. The announcement of the next version of iOS was expected, of course, but there some changes I wasn’t expecting quite yet but was happy to see, particularly in regards to the iPad which, as they joked on stage, is being turning up to 11.

We all have our own critiques, and I’m no different, but I’m generally an optimist about these things. iOS certainly has its flaws, as an software platform will, but the announcements from Monday do a lot to move the iPad forward as a legitimate computer; something some of us already saw it as, despite room for improvement. I expected Apple to eventually implement better features for multitasking (and perhaps even drag and drop), although I was expecting to have to wait another year or so — what a pleasant surprise. I haven’t gotten my hands on the beta yet, but I plan to try the public beta later this month (after a proper backbup, of course!). That said, I remain optimistic about the productivity improvements coming to the iPad.

The revamped control center and app switcher — resembling something more like Mission Control on macOS, the improved dock, the implementation of drag and drop, screen recording, and instant markup for screenshots — just to name a few — will undoubtedly enable many iPad power users to get more done more efficiently than before and, hopefully, draw in new iPad users and an increase in use for existing-but-less-frequent iPad users, pushing further it’s place in the wide world of computing devices.

I know a lot of people were concerned with Apple’s acquisition of Workflow. Some who rely on the app for work and other reasons were worried that this might be the end of Workflow and perhaps lead to less powerful automation on iOS. One of the reasons I can remain hopeful about the future of iOS — and specifically the iPad — in terms of automation, productivity, and professional work is that after being a part of the Workflow team for a little more than two years, I can say that they loved working on Workflow as much, or more, than I did: developing it, improving it, introducing new features to our customers. They were passionate about it. While I don’t have any inside information, I personally don’t think they would have made such a deal if they didn’t think they could continue to do these things in some manner at Apple. I should reiterate that I’m not basing this on anything other than what I saw working with them for a couple of years so I could certainly be wrong but, as I said before, I am optimistic.