The New App Glut

There’s a new app floating around the productivity world. It’s marketed as a “note-taking tool for networked thought” that’s meant to help you see the relationships among your various disparate notes.

It’s called Roam Research and when I first saw it, my eyes perked up. It’s like mind-mapping software and Drafts were thrown into a blender by a small, yet vocal cult of self-help-book-reading, minimalist-Mac-setup-Instagramming productivity enthusiasts.

Seriously—even the company’s executives refer to Roam’s users as the “#roamcult.”

Then I saw the price: $165 per year.

Yikes.

So, I started looking around at alternatives. I found a free, nice-looking Mac alternative called Obsidian that did most of what Roam promised to do. Once I downloaded and installed it, I opened the app and…had no idea what to do with it.

Unlike Notion, which spoke to me immediately and gave me all kinds of ideas on how to organize my life and my writing, Obsidian left me feeling empty. I asked myself, “Do I really need another app?”

I’ve written six complete novels and several short stories and every time I write one, I find a new way to reinvent the wheel. I might write a draft in pencil or pen. I might use a typewriter. On rare occasions, I just dive into Scrivener and get to work. One book I might “pants” while the next one I’ll outline within an inch of its life.

I’m always looking for the next big/great/easy/efficient way of getting the words on the page. But sometimes, all I need to do is remember that Scrivener isn’t going to write my book for me. Notion isn’t going to organize my day for me. I have to do those things and nine times out of ten, they can be accomplished using the tools I already know and love.

You don’t need to join an app’s “cult” to be more productive. You probably don’t even need the app. Running to the store? Write your list down on a sheet of paper and tuck it into your pocket. Already write all your books in Microsoft Word without fail? Maybe you don’t need Scrivener like that guy in your writing group said you did.

If you’re under a deadline or struggling with procrastination/time management, then the time you spend trying to wrap your head around a new application is only going to make things worse. It can be fun to learn something new, but only when it’s not going to set you back.

So, don’t worry about integrating the hottest, newest services and apps into your life just yet. Embrace the ones you already use and if they’re giving you problems or making your job harder, then it might be time to look for an alternative.

Otherwise, get back to work. Playtime is over.

With macOS 11 Big Sur, Apple Travels to the Past to Pave the Future

I was going to do this in a tweet thread, but then I remembered I pay for a blog and so I should probably use it.

Apple unveiled its latest macOS update, codenamed “Big Sur” — and “big” it was. It boasts a completely new redesign that brings the look and feel of iPadOS to the Mac like we’ve never seen before. Rounded rectangle icons, menus and app designs that look like ports of iPad apps (and in some cases, that’s exactly what they are), as well as Control Center and Notification Center.

It is, as some have feared, the “iOS-ification” of the Mac.

And it looks awesome.

But not everyone feels that way. Developer Jeff Johnson tweeted the following this evening:

Classic Mac OS and Mac OS X (and NeXTSTEP) were desktop operating systems. They were designed to be desktop operating systems.

What we have now is no longer a desktop OS, and that’s why I’m no longer interested. I don’t want a “generic” OS. That’s not why I switched to Mac.

It’s a big leap for longtime fans of the Mac who see iOS as a smaller portion of their daily computing. They don’t see the Mac getting better as a result of Big Sur–they see it being sacrificed on the altar of iOS. I, however, disagree. This is the future of the Mac and how the company plans to welcome iOS users into the fold.

Let’s face it — the iPhone is a toaster. It’s a refrigerator. Everyone knows how to use it. They know what to expect. Hell, my five year old son knows how to putz around on my iPhone as well as I do. It’s…unsettling. Apple nailed it. They did what they’ve always done dating back to the original Macintosh, to the iPod, and everything in-between: they made a device for the everyperson.

The iPad follows in the iPhone’s footsteps. While it’s slightly more complicated due to its size and capacity for multiple gestures, the paradigm is familiar. You know how to operate an iPad because you know how to operate an iPhone. The Mac, on the other hand, is another beast entirely. Its interface is drastically different. iPhone users who use Windows on the desktop have no interest in migrating to Mac because it’s one more thing to learn. It’s another hurdle to jump over. “Can I get my favorite apps on it? Why doesn’t it behave like my PC? Why doesn’t it work like my phone?”

Well, now it does. Potential Mac users won’t see a third computing platform. They’ll see that their future computer looks just like their phone, or their iPad. And once Apple migrates to its own silicon, they’ll be able to run their favorite phone and tablet apps just about anywhere. Apple did what it always does: it saw the future and it ran straight toward it.

The future is the kid whose first device was an iPhone. The future is the lawyer who loves reading on her iPad, but wants to have a similar experience while working on her laptop. As Ashton Kutcher’s Steve Jobs puts it in the 2013 film Jobs while describing his vision of the Macintosh:

“This thing is for the everyman, right? That is our end user: it’s the school teacher. It’s the garbage man. It’s the kid. It’s some grandma out in Nebraska, right? So, we have to make this thing simple. It has to work like an appliance.”

That’s always been Apple’s ethos. Simplicity. Accessibility. An ever-flattening learning curve. Older Mac users may grumble about how their precious operating system has been hijacked, how the simpler it gets, the worse it gets (which I believe speaks to a much more toxic point of view from nerds who enjoy knowing things “regular people” don’t), but they’re missing the point. Or, perhaps, they’ve forgotten it: it’s not about them anymore.

The torch has been passed to a new generation. iOS wasn’t just a catapult to the future of mobile phone technology. It was a glimpse into the future of computing as a whole — the future of Apple. A future where a “generic” OS would entice “Never Mac-ers” into taking a closer look.

In the Fall of this year, Apple will introduce macOS 11. And you’ll see why 2020 will be just like 1984.

iOS/iPadOS 14 Wishlist

We’re a little over a week away from WWDC 2020, so I thought I’d throw in my ideas for what I’d like to see in iOS/iPadOS 14.

1. Auto-Deleting Text Messages

Every time I have to re-authenticate an app or sign into a service using two-factor authentication, I always end up with a text message carrying a one-time use code. Since Safari and Messages are already able to recognize when one of those codes is present and can automatically enter it for you, I’d love to see iOS 14 delete those text messages once the code has been used without me having to manually delete them out of Messages later.

2. Better Audio Support

This is at the top of a lot of podcasters’ lists I think. I just want to be able to record a conversation over Skype/Zoom/FaceTime on my iPad so I can edit it later. Whether that’s done natively or through a new API for third party developers to use, I don’t care. This is one of the few things keeping my MacBook Air in service and why I’m still 99% iPad-only.

3. Better Multitasking Focus

When I’m in split-screen on my iPad Pro, focus doesn’t automatically shift when I tap on either side. I have to drag the bar at the top of the screen just a little to bring keyboard focus to that window. Multitasking improvements should incorporate:

  1. Clear indication about where the keyboard is currently active
  2. A single tap to move the focus from one window to the other. No more dragging windows around.

4. “Pro” Apps

Ferrite and LumaFusion are evidence that the iPad is capable of so much more than Apple gives it credit for. GarageBand on iOS is convoluted and limited compared to its desktop counterpart. I want to see iOS versions of Final Cut Pro and Logic—”real” apps that put the iPad’s unique interface and powerful processors to good use.

5. Better Background App Support

When I run Brusfri to strip background noise out of audio files on my iPad, I need to keep the app open in order for the rendering to complete. For large WAVs, this can take up to 20 minutes, which puts my iPad out of commission until it’s done. I’m hoping iPadOS 14 brings more desktop-like functionality when it comes to background tasks, so I can still use my iPad while it’s rendering audio or video files.

That’s it. Pretty reasonable in my opinion. Nothing here seems too “pie in the sky” compared to other lists I’ve read recently. If Apple’s able to implement any of these this year, I think it will go a long way in proving to iPad haters and fence-sitters that the device can go toe-to-toe with almost any other device out there. I’m excited to see what’s in store.

Fascinating Rhythm: On Writing Comedy

I recently published a column in my weekly newsletter, The Study, on finding your rhythm when writing comedy:

You can tell when a joke will land. It’s in the way the audience laughs, whether you’ve had them from the beginning or you had to pull them to your side throughout a scene. I don’t have a live studio audience for my show, but I do have a gut feeling about how a joke will be received by the audience.

It took me six episodes, but I finally found The Shelf Life’s rhythm. I noticed it when I was editing laugh tracks in episode six. I’d left them in from episode five and watched as many of them lined up within a second or two of their previous locations from the last episode. My jokes were hitting in the same spots.

I’ve learned a lot while developing my podcast sitcom. If you’re interested in a little insight on writing comedy, maybe for your own project, give it a read.

And if you’d like to get these kinds of things delivered straight to your inbox every week, PLEASE SUBSCRIBE!

The Shelf Life Episode 4: “Mail Call”

A new episode of my podcast sitcom, The Shelf Life, came out on Monday:

An unexpected—and unwelcome—visitor drops a bombshell in Edwin’s lap that will change the future of Blue Cat Books forever, and the mail carrier brings a visitor from Edwin’s past back to the present. At least Vincent, Sarah, and Mrs. Larson are there to help, even if Edwin never asked for it.

Click here to listen—and make sure you subscribe so you get every new episode each Monday morning.