Finding a Niche For The iPad Mini

I picked up the 12.9” iPad Pro 3rd generation in November 2018 and haven’t looked back. The iPad, in one form or another, has been my main computer since getting an iPad Air 2 back in 2014 and I’ve worked my way through various shapes and sizes.

Up until recently, my iPhone had covered everything I need to do, in a day to day computing sense, that my trusty iPad Pro wasn’t suitable for such as reading or browsing in bed, or on commutes and lunch breaks etc. I thought going back to a 12.9” device, after downsizing to a 10.5” for the 2nd generation (from the original 12.9” iPad Pro) was going to be too much of a stretch and that I’d be bound to my desk when using the device. Thankfully, I was very wrong and the 12.9” fits my life perfectly.

I was content, and then it happened. Apple resurrected the iPad Mini in March 2019 and, while initially dismissing it, an unexpected bonus left me with a little spare cash so I went for it …

Seeing as this post is being written over a month after its release, this isn’t a review of the device. That’s been well covered by now. All I will say is the hardware itself does feel extremely dated after using the new design of the current generation of iPad Pros. The new Mini has bezels for miles and the screen, which lacks Pro Motion, among other things, is also looking very long in the tooth. That being said, however, I’ve found myself really liking the new iPad mini. That’s not something I thought I’d be saying in 2019.

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It turns out that the smallest iPad fits amazingly well into my particular use case alongside the largest iPad. It’s the perfect Robin to the Pro’s Batman.

Finding its niche

Now, for the majority of the time I need an iPad, I’ll be using the iPad Pro. This device, which I’m using right now to write this post, is still my favourite bit of Apple hardware I’ve ever owned. It brings me great joy to use, regardless of what I’m doing on it, being personal or professional uses.

I have, however, started finding a few areas where the iPad Mini, despite its many shortcomings,really does still shine above its bigger brother.

On a few occasions I tried to use my 12.9” iPad Pro to read books and comics in bed. I have a weird problem that, even when I’m not tired to start with, as soon as I start to read I get ridiculously tired. This condition paired with an iPad that’s bigger and heavier than some light aircraft, hovering above my soon to be sleeping face, is a recipe for disaster. I’ve drifted off in the past and it felt like I’d just been sat on by Godzilla. The iPad Mini, on the other hand, is barely noticeable when it slaps me across the face …

In seriousness, the iPad Mini is, and always has been, a fantastic reading device. The few comics I read still, generally, work better on the larger screen, but Apple Books looks great on the smaller device and it really does feel like carrying a small and light book around with me. I very rarely now read anything on the bigger model.

The Mini is also great for some YouTube / Apple TV (TV and films I’ve purchased) viewing whilst in bed as well. I really do occasionally do things not related to me being in bed, I promise.

I’ve found myself taking the Mini to work a fair bit as well, not to do any work on it, but to use during lunch break walks, or lunch itself, to again watch some films or read a book. It really does fit a niche as a great little media consumption device.

Another use I’ve found for it is to help keep my little one entertained in certain situations. I still have my now ageing iPad Air 2, which has been my daughters iPad for a little while. She’s still young, so I don’t let her (and she doesn’t want to) use it very often, but it was used for long car journeys and the like. Even though the Air 2 is still fairly light, and runs really well, the Mini is, unsurprisingly, much better for small hands. It’s been loaded up with a few emergency games and films, ready to roll at a moments notice. With a 4 year old prone to sulky moments, this can be worth the price of admission alone.

So, all in all, the Mini hasn’t set my world on fire, and it likely wont yours, but it has proven to be the perfect companion device for this particular iPad lover. I really hate the term ‘multi-pad lifestyle’, but it’s late and I can’t be bothered to think of something less cringeworthy, so I’m going to have to go with that when I say, thanks to the Mini, I’m now living my best multi-pad life …

Podcasting From The iPad

A few months ago, an article by the excellent Jason Snell appeared on his Six Colors site all about how Jason was tackling Podcasting from his iPad Pro.

The article quickly did the rounds with the usual entourage, with everyone seemingly being in agreement with the setup Jason proposed. If you’re interested in the specifics, feel free to jump straight over to Six Colors and give it a read. It’s okay, I’ll wait …

The TL;DR, however, can basically be summed up by the image below, that Jason shared (and presumably created) in this article.

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The thing that struck me about this setup was the seemingly over complication of the setup. I can appreciate that podcasting, to some extent, pays Jason’s bills, so quality is important to him, above convenience. To this end, the following short post isn’t a criticism of this setup, but is instead intended as a tip / bit of advice to the hobbyist Podcasting audience out there.

While my own podcast is on a very extended hiatus (if by hiatus you mean essentially dead and buried), I did have what feels like a bit of a simpler, and cheaper, setup that may be of interest.

A setup I’ve used in the past, for my solo podcast, was to simply use an iPad Pro with a Blue Yeti microphone directly connected to it. This would work with different devices, of course, but the Blue Yeti is often recommended as a good beginner mic. For Lightning iPad’s you’d need an Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adaptor to connect the Mic to your iPad, or a hub of some kind for the USB-C toting iPad Pro’s.

When it comes to recording, and editing, you’d need to look no further than an app called Ferrite. I wont go into how this is done here, just suffice to say that with simply connecting a microphone directly to your iPad, and using this app, you have an incredibly powerful podcast recording and editing tool.

The spanner in the works comes when you get to the point when you need to move beyond a simple solo podcast, and start talking with multiple people at once. This is the point when Jason, and Federico Viticci it seems, requires the use of an external recording device, reducing the iPad Pro to a glorified phone. When I’ve guested on a few podcasts in the past, my solution to this has just been to use my iPhone. The setup here essentially remains the same. I would hook up a mic to my iPad Pro to record my voice talking. I would then simply call the shows host on my iPhone with some headphones attached and have that conversation separately. When I mentioned this to Viticci being a possible solution, his reply was that he didn’t want to use another device in the process, but he already was by using the external recording device. If you’re reading this site, the chances are you own an iPhone anyway, and you’d have it with you. I know Viticci certainly does, so to me using the iPhone isn’t another device you have with you like the recorder, but what do I know?

I’m clearly not implying an iPhone is cheaper / easier to get hold of than an external recording device. If you have no phone, the option of using the iPad to make calls and recording elsewhere seems sound. Like I said, however, I’d be very surprised if that was the case.

So, with the above being said, I guess the whole point of this post was to say that if you’ve been thinking about starting a podcast, you may find that it’s far easier to do than you thought, and also that you have far more of the required hardware to do it also!

Reading List and Speak Screen

For some time now I’ve been a big proponent of the default iOS apps. By and large these apps are fairly basic, at least in comparison to specialist third party offerings (think Mail.app vs Spark Mail for example). Shortcomings like this, however, are easily overlooked because of the unparalleled integration many of these apps and services enjoy in comparison to their third party cousins.

I still use Mail.app, Calendar.app and Notes.app, for example, though I do still greatly enjoy third party apps to cover holes where integration with the OS isn’t as important. One such area is, or at least was a Read Later service. I’ve used Instapaper a lot in the past, but recently Pocket releases a killer new feature. This feature allows you to setup Pocket to read the articles you save there aloud to you. At first glance, this seemed like a feature I could really get behind. I’m a big podcast listener so I already enjoy a lot of audio content, so this felt like it would fit right into my way of consuming content. For all intents and purposes it does a good job. I’m not, however, using it anymore.

In keeping with my aim of staying first party when I’m able to, I did find it difficult to move away from Reading List which is, again, just so nicely integrated into the system.

The 233 words above, essentially, a largely redundant preamble just to, essentially say:

Hey, did you know you can replicate the Pocket ‘read aloud’ functionality within Reading List?

Allow me to, finally, cut to the chase. This isn’t a feature so much as it’s a simple utilisation of a fairly hidden away part of iOS. This utilises an Accessibility setting called ‘Speak Screen’. You can replicate Pockets Read Aloud service with Reading List by following these simple steps:

  1. Firstly you’ll need to activate the ‘Speak Screen’ function by navigating to General > Accessibility > Speech and toggle on ‘Speak Screen’

  2. Once activated, open up your Reading List and pick an article to open up.

  3. Once this is done, press the button on the top right of the screen to turn on Reader Mode, which strips out most of the formatting and leaves you with a basic fact article.
  4. Now, all you need to do is swipe down from the top of your device screen with two fingers to activate the iPhones own Read Aloud service. Upon doing so you will see a great little floating control panel that allows you to change the pace of the speech and pause it etc.

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The nice thing about this UI item is that it collapses when not in use and floats on top of the screen, ready for you to tap when needed. The UI element allows you to pause, resume and change the speed of the narration. The audio playback also remains active across the device, in that you can close Safari and open another app whilst the narration continues in the background.

Don’t get me wrong, the feature on Pocket has obviously been designed with this specific use case in mind, so the voice itself it arguably better there but, for me at least, this is a far more flexible solution. You can utilise this on the fly as well, so you don’t need to send an article to Reading List, of course, prior to firing off the Speak Screen feature.

If you enjoy reading various articles, particularly long form, but often find yourself without time to actually read it, this is a really great option for when you’d usually tackle your podcast queue.

🔗 Christopher Tells You EVERYTHING You Need To Know About Working Off An iPad

I don’t often share link posts here at The Dent, but a video came out today that I just had to share with you all.

YouTuber, Podcaster and all round awesome guy Christopher Lawley dropped a video he’s been working on for some time, that aims to tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about working off an iPad. While this may sound like a bold claim, Christopher does indeed do a fantastic job of detailing some of the common, yet powerful use cases of an iPad, but he also unearths some real gems.

I consider myself a bit of an iPad Power user but there were things here that I didn’t know were possible, such as dragging an address bar to the side in Safari to open a split view (two Safari pages open on screen at once, not across two or more tabs). Whatever level of iPad user you consider yourself, I can almost guarantee there will be something in this video for you.

The thing that impressed me most of all about Christopher’s video, beyond the excellent production value, is that he was able to explain some, at times, complex operations in a very concise and easy to understand way. The beauty of the iPad, whether you’re using a ‘Pro’ device or not, is that you can use it for such a wide range of tasks. You can keep it very basic, if that fits your needs, or pull off some impressive productivity tricks. I don’t like the patronising term some bloggers and podcasters use to describe normal / non-techy users, but I do believe you could show Christopher’s video to the full spectrum of iPad users and all of them would both fully understand, and appreciate the excellent tips, advice and guidance. I would highly recommend you share this with anyone that uses an iPad from day to day, whatever their use case or level of skill.

You can find the video on Christopher’s YouTube channel or via the embed below:

 

Review - Memento

Over my many years of using iOS, I’ve worked my way through pretty much every To Do app on the market. So far, I think the only one I haven’t tried is Omnifocus because no one needs that much planning in their life. Please don’t email me …

When I try a new app or service, it usually lasts a few weeks, at most, before I start looking elsewhere. Throughout this time, however, one service has always been there, just hanging out in the background, ready to welcome me back with open arms. That service being Apple Reminders. Reminders is, of course, a default app on iOS, but it’s also an underlying framework that third party developers can also hook into and, essentially, create new front-end UIs for. For the last few months I’ve been using the fantastic GoodTask 3. GoodTask 3 sits on top of the Reminders framework and adds a whole slew of power user features. One of the things I’ve been loving about GoodTask 3 is the fact you can make your setup within the app as complicated, or as basic, as you need.

While the Reminders app itself has been quite stagnant for some time now, the third party app ecosystem that utilises the framework has been thriving. One such app, Reminder, was recently re-launched and re-branded to Memento, as part of their 3.0 update, so I thought I’d give it a try.

The app utilises a fairly unique UI for an iOS task manager app, but it will be very familiar to users of the iOS Home app. The Home apps interface has been critised by some over the years and, while I do like the look of it, it doesn’t deal with scale all that well. I currently have about 20 HomeKit accessories hooked up to the Home app, across Lights, Camera’s and Apple TVs etc. and it can get quite difficult to find what you’re looking for. This design within a To Do app, however, is pretty intriguing.

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When you fire up the app for the first time you’re presented with a Permissions screen so the app can have access to the Reminders data / framework, notifications, location (both when in use and always), contacts and Siri. These are all standard things for an app of this kind to request access to, but this section is worth calling out here because it doesn’t just contain the toggle to approve or deny the request, but each section includes a short, yet detailed, description about why the app is asking for this access. This is definitely a practice I wish more apps would embrace.

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Once you’ve approved, or denied, whatever areas you’re happy to, you’re presented with a clean UI with four tabs along the bottom. The first, Lists, looks very similar to the stock Reminders app in that it, as you’d imagine given the name, it displays the various Lists you have setup in Reminders. From here, you can choose your list and dive right in to see the reminder items contained within in. The main purpose of this view, however, is to create new lists, via the small + at the top of the page.

Next up, there’s a For You tab. This one provides the more traditional view of your reminder items, grouped up by day. This is the area that, to me, most closely mirrors the Home app interface, with each item occupying a small square under each day heading. You can see the task itself along with a tick box to complete the task, the date and time it’s due and also a colour-coded dot for the list it’s contained within. It’s all very simple, yet very intuitive and almost zen-like. This view is purely for viewing and completing tasks. You can’t actually create any here.

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We then move onto the Reminders tab. This one is a bit of a combination of the first two tabs. You see a view of your various due tasks, with and without due dates, but they are now grouped under headings for each of your lists. This is the most information dense and functional screen within the app, and one I usually spend most of my time in. You can view, edit, complete and most importantly create new reminder items here. The plus symbol, used to create new tasks, is colour coded to the list colour, which is a small but aesthetically pleasing touch.

The final section will take you to the Settings section. This contains exactly what you’d expect, but there are a few areas worth calling out here. Firstly, the app has a robust Dark Mode, which you can activate here, along with the corresponding dark custom icon. You can not only configure the Dark Mode for the app, but you can also opt to turn on a similar effect for notifications and iMessage, which is a nice touch. Another important section here is the Time Presets section, which lets you define, you’ve guessed it, time presets! Here, you can set preset due times and give them names such as ‘This Evening’ for tasks you want to set to X time in the evening, or Next Week etc. This adds a lot of function and power to what is, generally speaking, a fairly light and simplistic experience. The final important area of the Settings tab is the Action area which lets you choose which actions you’d like to enable for each task. Some of the includes actions are ‘Complete’ to mark the task as done, and ‘Move to Tonight’ or ‘Snooze for X minutes’ etc.

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The time presets, along with the Actions, give Memento just enough power user features for me, personally, whilst still maintaining a nice, simple and almost relaxing to do app experience. This is a fine line to tread and one that GoodTask 3 can often cross, leaning more on the complex side, for many first time users. For me, I’m still in the experimental phase with Memento and I’m currently unsure if this will end up being my replacement for GoodTask which is, to be honest, not an app I’ve been actively trying to replace. I’ve been very happy with GoodTask, but I’m enjoying the breath of fresh air Memento brings. Once again, the joy of using the Reminders framework is that I have the luxury of switching up my app, every day if I wished, without losing any of my tasks or setup which really takes the headache out of an addiction for trying new apps.

While I am, generally speaking, very impressed with this lightweight app, there is just one area I would like to see improvements on. The app does feature 3D Touch functionality, but the widget that appears when you do this, and which you see when you swipe across from the homescreen, is a little strange. When the widget is active, but minmised, you get a basic view that gives you a total count of location based tasks, overdue tasks and upcoming tasks. This isn’t a hugely helpful view. If you hit ‘show more’ you do, however, see the more familiar Home app style view of up to 9 upcoming tasks which you can mark off directly from within the app. This widget would be far more helpful if you could also add tasks here as well.

Seeing as the app relies on the Reminders framework, Siri integration is great within the app. You can use the standard Siri phrasing to add new reminders which will instantly show within the app, which is an underrated but great aspect of using Reminders as your back-end. Memento allows you to tie the app into Shortcuts as well. It’s nice to see apps continue to take advantage of this aspect of iOS 12.

If the Reminders functionality is enough for your To Do needs, but you’re a bit tired of the dated and bland look of the Reminders app proper, I would definitely recommend giving Memento a try. I’m certainly enjoying using it and will continue to experiment with it over the coming weeks and months.

📱 Review - iPhone Smart Battery Case

I tried to resist. I really did. A few days ago, however, I caved and picked up the iPhone XS Max Smart Battery case and I wanted to share a few thoughts. For those interested, I chose the black one, because I’m not an animal.

If you want the TL;DR for this review, let me just say that the case is no longer on my iPhone. If, however, you want a little more information, read on!

First things first, as you have probably worked out yourself from pictures, the Smart Battery case is pretty darn ugly. Unlike many people, I don’t actually mind the hump design where the battery itself is housed. I can see what they were going with there, but there’s more to the case that makes it a little ugly than that. I really love the sleek design of the current generation iPhones, with its bezel-less screen and thin, yet sturdy frame. This case, in one fell swoop, takes all of this pleasant aesthetic away.

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The case is, understandably, thick at the back. This is, of course, to be expected. The frame on the other hand, around the band of the phone, adds some considerable bezel-like areas to the screen as is raised a lot more than the Apple Leather cases that I would usually use. There is also a lip at the bottom of the case, absent from the standard cases. This is due to, I imagine, the charging port and to enhance the grip of a heavy case. This bottom lip adds an issue you’ll often see in third party cases, in that it restricts the swipe up from the bottom motion that’s now requires to navigate the X range of devices. This is not ideal.

I mentioned earlier that I usually use an Apple Leather case for my phone. I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve really got used to the feel of it. I’ve always avoided the silicone ones, because I had assumed they’d be almost sticky and hard to get out of your pocket. The Smart Battery case utilises this same material and it’s actually the opposite to what I expected. It feels almost difficult to keep from slipping from your hand. This is, I would assume, due to the disable extra weight of the device thanks to its little battery backpack it’s carrying around. Don’t even get me started on the lint and fluff the case picks up. A couple of days into ownership and it looks a bit of a state already!

So, aesthetically, it’s no Mona Lisa. That being said, however, this devices gives you one of the few examples of where Apple has opted for Function over Form and it certainly is functional. On my completely unscientific test, the battery case added over 14 hours of standby time. I took the device and phone off charge at about 11pm, so bear in mind a chunk of that time included the phone resting completely idol. I don’t, however, get all that much sleep so this only would have accounted for about 4 hours.

It really was pretty incredible getting to about 3pm I’m the afternoon and still having a phone at 100% charge. The hardware also integrates with the iPhone seamlessly and displays the charging level of both the phone and the battery case when you connect to a charger, and in the battery widget, which is a lovely touch. The battery icon is permanently green, because it’s essentially being charged by the battery case. This is such a tiny point, but I found it a little distracting seeing the charging icon on the battery all day.

In terms of delivering what you want, a large boost to battery life, you can’t fault this case. The looks are not important, in the grand scheme of things, because I believe the point is to just use the case as and when you need a boost, rather than it being your main case. This being said, however, the way you have to fold the top section down a bit to yank the phone in and out doesn’t strike me as being very good for the silicone and even after pulling it out just once it feels a little worn.

All in all, I’d say I’d you really need an extra boost of life in your phone, you’d get no better quality and integration than Apple’s own case, though I wouldn’t recommend using it every day. Unless you like your phone feeling like a brick phone from the 80s that is. Each to their own, however. Given the price, I can’t justify the case sitting in my drawer for the majority of the year so it will be going back to Apple, but I will consider picking one up again should the need for longer battery life become more frequent for me.

🎮 My Wizard of Oz Moment

If you’ve listened to the latest episode of the podcast you would have heard that I’ve been on a bit of a gaming kick recently, more so than I have for a while. I mentioned there that a lot of my time is spent on the Nintendo Switch, despite also owning a screaming fast Xbox One X, so I took a bit of time out to try and understand what the draw is of the Switch, and Nintendo in general.

From an early age, my life was full of adventure and wonder. By the time I had hit my early teen years I had already been on an epic quest to save a princess, I’d visited the stars and even raced a hovercar in the year 2560 at breakneck speeds. Life was good and the future was truly bright. I could do anything.

Role forward another twenty years or so, to early 2019, and the bright future I had been promised was nowhere to be seen. The colourful splendor of my youth had dissipated, only to be replaced with a heavy grey sheen of despair. My life was no longer full of honourable quests and laughing with friends. It was full of monotonous tasks such as the daily commute and a repetitive need to bang my head against a brick wall, metaphorically speaking of course. My life had become a monochromatic reflection of its former glory. Don’t get me wrong, I have a loving family, a good job and my health, but there is an aspect of my life that was in dire need of some colour. I needed a ‘Wizard of Oz’ moment, in that my life, like Dorothy’s, will change from a dull sepia to vivid life and colour.

Very recently I finally had my ‘Wizard of Oz’ moment. My life, once devoid of hope and luminosity, once again exploded into colour. What I am trying to say, via the use of some very convoluted metaphors, is that Shuntaro Furukawa and his company Nintendo were back in my life, thanks to the purchase of the Nintendo Switch. I had owned the Wii U (and Wii) prior to this, but the Wii U just didn’t grab my imagination like the Switch did, and continues to do.

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Since its release at the start of 2017, the system has seemingly exploded. Initially, at least, it was unlikely to be anyones primary console, but it lends itself to be a perfect secondary one. It feels like this has been a major contributing factor to the sales phenomenon the Switch has turned out to be. The flexibility of it’s use-case, as a home console or mobile device ticks so many boxes, and can easily be justified as a companion to an Xbox, not a replacement.

I’ve been a big fan of my Xbox (of various generations) over the years, and again continue to enjoy it, but after hour 500 in Destiny, having torn through thousands upon thousands of repetitive monsters, the grey drabness I mentioned above really started to sink in. I started to miss the colour, energy and pure joy that is a Nintendo console and it’s enviable pile of fantastic IPs.

I recalled my fondest gaming memories, such as playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, a game that remains one of my favourite of all time, and of endless multiplayer matches of Goldeneye and Street Fighter 2 with my brother. The list went on and on, with a single, very important link (pun intended) binding my happy memories together. That link being, of course, Nintendo.

My hunger for new Nintendo hardware was not hampered by the lackluster Wii U. The device felt cheap, it didn’t work well and the game catalog ended up being attrocious, but the console did act as yet another example of Nintendo not resting on its laurels and not following the crowd. It was something different, unique and it turns out it formed the very core foundation of what would become the Nintendo Switch.

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When I started to see some of the announcement videos, as the launch date approached, I was both very nervous they could actually pull of what was promised this time, still tainted by the Wii U, but also completely on board. if anyone deserves my trust and loyalty when it comes to gaming, it’s Nintendo. It turns out this trust paid off, big time.

The console, as is the hallmark for Nintendo, took past design cues, both those that were successful, and those less so, and evolved the Wii U design into something that both looks, and feels, leaps and bounds ahead of what came before it. The console felt mature, yet maintained so many of the nice, family friendly characteristics that make Nintendo Nintendo, from the quirky dual controllers that can pop up for a quick 2 player action, to the smart colours and designs.

The strength of Nintendo’s past offerings has always sat with their first party games featuring Link, Mario, Kirby et al. This hasn’t changed with the Switch, but something that even Nintendo didn’t bank on, I’d imagine, is the incredibly strong third party support from incredible feats of engineering with ports of Doom and Wolfenstein 2, to unbelievable support from the indie community. Games such as The Messenger and Celeste are some of my favourite games on the system. While these are not Switch exclusives, they do feel so incredibly at home on the dynamic little console.

The point of this short article was not to review the Switch, it’s a bit late for that at this point. It was more to share a thought that gamers need to start remembering what it is that drew them towards the hobby in the first place. I can appreciate that we’re a diverse race, and we all have different ideas of what is fun and enjoyable. If the best graphics and realism are key for you, then by all means keep buying the Playstation 4’s and XBox One’s of this world. If, however, you yearn for a return to pure, and unadulterated fun in your life, I think you’re doing yourself a disservice by not picking yourself up a Switch and jumping into some of the most relaxing, empowering and enjoyable gaming experiences available today. I defy you to fire up Mario Kart 8 and not feel a massive grin crawl across your face …

I will always have an affinity to Nintendo, but systems like the Switch not only cement this for me and bring that much needed colour back into my life, but it will no doubt turn a whole new generation of young gamers onto the fun, lighthearted side of gaming that is needed now, more than ever.​

Tech For Good: Be My Eyes

In the spirit of keeping things positive, and looking on the bright side of technology, I’ve been keen to explore some of the more interesting things technology can do to enhance our lives, and the lives of those around us.

Our iPhones (other phones do exist, or so I hear) and iPads have improved our lives in numerous ways. They help us find our way, capture and share magical moments with friends and family, and even let us browse through pages and pages of cute animals at a whim.

Many of us spend hours reading reviews about the latest and greatest To Do app, or email client, but there is often not much said about how these powerful devices can be used to not only help us remember to put the bins out on a Tuesday, but also enhance and even improve the lives of those in need around us. Allow me to change that, in my own little way, with a very specific use case.

I recently discovered an app called ‘Be My Eyes’. The team behind the app provides this short, but succinct, description about what it’s all about:

Be My Eyes is an app made up of a global community that connects people who are blind or have low vision with sighted volunteers and company representatives through a live video call.

In essence, it’s very simple, but it can have a huge positive impact on someones life. After downloading the app, you create an account, let them know what languages you speak and you’re done. You then sit back and await a notification indicating that one of the currently ~100,000 blind members of the community need some assistance with something. The assistance will, as you can imagine, involve helping an individual to read a letter or notice they’ve received, read an instruction manual or perhaps describe an item of clothing the individual has received as a gift.

I was first turned onto the app via the Late Night Alternative With Iain Lee podcast, which also spoke a bit about another alternative app, called BeSpecular which is the same idea, but a little less direct. At the time of writing, the sign-up page for BeSpecular seems to not be accepting new applicants, but you can sign up still from within the app itself.

If you have a little time on your hands on occasion, in-between cute cat videos on Reddit, it would be a great idea to take advantage of one of the above services to improve someone’s day, even if just a little bit. Not only will you be helping people, you may even find it quite fun and, BeSpecular in particular, could even be a fun game to play with the help of your children. It’ll teach them the importance of helping others, and to also make them aware that not everyone is life is as able bodied as others, and we could all use a helping hand at times.

If you get one of the apps above, and give it a try, I’d love to hear about your experiences with it. Please feel free to give me a shout on Twitter.

I Wrote A Book ... Sort Of

My daughter started school back in September and, since doing so, her love of reading has grown exponentially. Now that she has started learning to read to herself, there’s no stopping her. Her school has started sending some simple books home for her, and her classmates, to learn with. The problem is, these books are a little too basic for her, because currently they only have one word per page, and she was keen to try more.

As is always the case when I need something, my first port of call was Amazon, but this proved to be a fruitless exercise. Given that Amazon started life as a book store, it’s surprisingly bad to use when trying to find a book in 2018. I quickly gave up on this idea.

I moved onto Plan B.

This will likely come as a shock to you, but I adore my iPad and when I get a chance to use it for yet another task I’m a happy camper so I thought that it may just be easier to try and make something myself …

Now, I should start by saying that J.K.Rowling has nothing to worry about when it comes to my book writing ability. This isn’t a post to brag about how I’ve become a skilled novel writer overnight, it’s more about highlighting another fun thing you might enjoy using your iPad (or iPhone for that matter) for.

There are multiple ways of achieving the end result here, I’m sure, but when creating my master piece I took advantage of the following apps:

First things first, I used Pages as a basic tool for creating the basic design of the book. I’m not entirely sure how long they’ve been there, but the current version of Pages on iOS already has nine basic book templates to choose from. One of them, simply called ‘Story’, is already a basic children’s book, which is useful!

After loading up the Story template, I removed the placeholder text and began crafting my manuscript. This was, again, made for a four year old, so it’s no War and Peace …

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I duplicated each page, to keep the formatting the same, and just updated the content. All simple stuff so far, though it was obviously looking pretty bland. Given the target audience for the book, a bit of art was needed. I included the disclaimer above regarding my lack of novel writing prowess, but I’m afraid I am now going to have to include another. I cannot draw to save my life. This will be clear once you see what comes next.

A quick search on DuckDuckGo (yep, I’m a search engine hipster) and I’d found some great images to be the star of my book, Poppy. Given I will, clearly, not be selling the finished article, I was essentially free to grab a few images that I needed.

Once I had my images, I imported them into the excellent Pixelmator for the simple task of cropping out the background, leaving me with a clean image ready to use.

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Next up, the newly cropped image was copied to my iPad clipboard and I moved onto Linea Sketch to paste it into a new canvas to create the scene for the book. Linea is a really great app which is both simple, and powerful, at the same time. It’s in no way as powerful as something like Photoshop, but it’s not trying to be. Its main function is for drawing, but it does also include some basic laying functionality which was ideal for my needs. The panda images, which you can see below, were simply pasted from Pixelmator into a Linea canvas and I then added new layers for the background colour and then more for other things I needed to either also copy in, or draw, like the microphone (which was pasted in) or the expertly drawn hat.

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Once done, I had a selection of images that fit with the text I wrote early so I, once again, jumped back over to Pages to finalise things. I opened both Pages, and Linea, in a multitasking view and copied each separate Linea canvas and simply pasted the image directly into each page of the book. After a little dragging around to line things up, it was essentially done.

As a final little cherry on the top, I exported my creation out of Pages, into Apple Books, as an ePub for my daughter and I to enjoy at bed time.

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Generally speaking, my daughter doesn’t use an iPad much, especially at bed time, but on this occasion we did take the new story for a spin and it went down very well. She was able to read something herself that stretched her more and I had the satisfaction of both being able to give her what she wanted, whilst also getting even more use out of my iPad. The above process took about thirty to forty minutes to complete, at most, yet I’m pleased with the results. The book itself, on it’s own, looks pretty hideous, I know, but the fact I was able to make it so quickly was great, and the actual look was largely irrelevant to a child that just wanted to have some fun reading.

I can see a lot of potential for taking this idea further down the road, where we can maybe write and illustrate the book together next time. I’ll be sure to share some details of our next best seller as and when the big launch comes around next!

For now, however, you can breath easy J.K. your crown is safe.

Home Is Where The iPad Is

I’ve previously mentioned, in my post about getting things done on the iPad, that one of the main factors in making the move to an iPad as my primary computer was space. Or lack thereof. This particular issue changed for me, about a year ago, and I’ve since setup a cosy little working space for myself in one of our spare rooms. While the room is, admittedly, pretty horrendous for podcasting (I literally have to cover myself with a blanket when I record …), it’s a great area for getting other tasks done.

I posted a couple of shots on Twitter a few days ago of my current setup, which seemed to get quite a bit of interest. I know I, also, really enjoy seeing, and hearing about, different people’s setups so I thought I’d go into a little more detail about what I’m using currently.

The iPad Pro

I’ll start with the most used item first, which is of course the iPad Pro. Essentially everything else on the desk is there to support or enhance my usage of the iPad.

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The iPad itself is the 12.9” iPad Pro (2018). As I mentioned during my review, one of the reasons for moving up to the 12.9”, from the 10.5”, was so that I could use the device on the desk more, and it hasn’t disappointed. I’ve seen a lot of people, quite fairly, saying that the 12.9” is, despite the body size reducation, far too big of using away from a desk. I, personally, disagree with this, and find it very comfortable in any position or circumstance I can throw at it. It is, however, so very nice on a desk. I will refrain from gushing over the device too much more, however …

When I’m using the iPad away from my desk, I use the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio. This accessory has had some negative reviews, given its pretty crazily high price point, but for me it’s as much a part of the iPad Pro as anything else. I’ve never been big into large, noisy, mechanical keyboards, so the low profile really fits my use case and preferences very well. It’s a joy to use, and I like that it now covers the entire device.

In a very un-Apple like move, the Smart Keyboard Folio has absolutely no Apple logo across the entire product. While it makes the device very clean and minimalist looking, it is extremely boring. I’ve never been a big fan of putting stickers on my devices, even accessories, but the Folio is just so dull I had to give in. I saw Daryl Baxter tweeting about some retro 6 colours Apple logo stickers he’d recently purchased so I picked up a set from Amazon. Once received, I placed the sticker on the back of the Smart Keyboard Folio, in the orientation Apple themselves should add logos to iPad devices, in landscape.

When I’m sat at my desk, particularly for some writing, I will switch things up a little. I place the iPad itself in a smart little stand, the AboveTEK Elegant Aluminium iPad Pro Stand (catchy name!) which I highly recommend. The stand comes with 2 clamp like attachments, one for each iPad size, which can be swapped out without too much hassle, should you need to. If, like me, you treat your technology with kid gloves, you’ll be happy to know the clamp itself has some soft, rubberised, padding inside, so it feels secure, yet gentle, when holding the iPad.

The stand itself looks very much like the foot of the iMac, which is another nice touch. Like the iMac, this base is nicely weighted, so even when you’re pressing on the screen it feels very secure. The clamp can be tilted back and forth for better viewing angles, and can even twist so you can use the device in different orientations, if needed. The only down side, which is pretty minimal, is that the way the stand holds the iPad, you can no longer connect, or charge, the Apple Pencil. Luckily, I have a solution for that too! Back when I had the first generation Apple Pencil I would often find myself nowhere to put, or store, the device, so I picked up little accessory called the Belkin Stand for Apple Pencil. Despite the fact I now have a home for my Apple Pencil 99% of the time, this little stand is still on hand for when the iPad is clamped into the stand.

Now that the iPad is comfortable in its snazzy stand, I can get on with getting things done. When using the iPad in this configuration I use the ‘Space Grey’ Apple Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad. There isn’t much more to say about this accessory, really, other than that I really love typing on it. The key travel is limited, which is exactly what I want, and you can’t deny that it looks rather pretty …

The podcasting setup you can see in the image above, along with the details behind this, was again detailed in my Getting Things Done on the iPad post, so feel free to check that out if you want some more information on this front.

Now that the iPad Pro has moved to a USB-C connector, I decided to fully embrace this, and grab a dongle which can take advantage of it a bit more. I picked up a Lenovo USB C Hub, after zero research online. It’s proved to be fairly competent, however, which I’m pleased about. With this, I can charge the iPad, connect my external microphone, connect an external monitor, among other things. I’ve been pretty happy with it so far.

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The Monitor

As soon as I started getting my new office / study setup I decided that I wanted to get a 4k monitor on there. My initial rationale was that, despite external monitor support on the iPad being a little (very) half-baked, I thought it would be a good device to still connect to an iPad when watching films (which actually do take advantage of the screen). Beyond watching films, I will sometimes connect my iPad to the monitor when playing games, or even when writing if I need an even larger screen to work with, though this is less common to be honest.

As we all know, all work and no play makes anyone a dull boy, so I also have my old Xbox (which has been replaced by an Xbox One X) hidden away under the deks, which is also connected to the monitor (which has built in speakers) from when I need to unwind.

The Elephant In The Room

I can already hear the comments coming in about the little square device to the left of my desk:

But, Andy, you said you were iOS only ...

Well, that is still true. When the study / office was ready, I was still using the 10.5” iPad Pro as my main device. The new models were still 6 months, or more, out, and I started to get itchy feet, so to speak, because I had already picked up the monitor. Cue an evening of some browsing of the Apple Store website and a little deep dive into the refurbed Mac section … I came away from that visit with a low end 2014 Mac Mini on order. When it arrived, I realised I’d made a terrible mistake.

The HDD on this old model was beyond showing its age. It literally took about 10 minutes to power up, and hung constantly. It was, essentially, unusable, especially when coming from an instant on, massively over-powered and quick iPad Pro. Not one to ever stop throwing good money after bad, I picked up an external SSD and enclosure and have since been running macOS off this. To be fair, this seemed to speed things up considerably, and it’s now far more usable. The issue is that, now that I’m so invested in iOS, I have almost nothing I would need a Mac for. Right now, and I kid you not, the Mac Mini is fired up once a month, when I get a new book from Audible, so I can download it, add it to iTunes, and then manually sync the file with my iPad and iPhone so I can listen to the book in Apple Books instead of the Audible app. Yep, that right there is £600 (for the Mac Mini + SSD + enclosure) well spent …

The Lights

The light panels at the back of the room always get quite a good reception, whenever I share an image of my room, so I didn’t want to neglect detailing these a little also.

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They are the Nanoleaf Light Panels. You can place them in any configuration you want, providing they are connected. Given that each separate panel is a triangle, your design choices are slightly more limited, but you can still come up with some interesting designs. The light panels are HomeKit compatible, which is a must for any Smart Home stuff I buy currently. You can colour each panel separately, if you wished, colour them all the same, or use some of the presets to produce a really nice, vivid, almost moving, texture across the entire set. I highly recommend these lights, particularly in a space like this. They really bring the room togehter!

So, that’s it! I’d love to see some of your own office setups, so please feel free to get in touch with me on Twitter with what you’re currently working with!