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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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Testing inconsistent Web Share Target API data with a Progressive Web App

One of the latest things I’ve been working on for Unmark is turning the app into a Progressive Web App (PWA). Among other benefits, this affords Unmark the capability of being a “Web Share Target” on Android. (Sadly, only Android for now)

A Web Share Target is very similar to a feature you likely use every day and may not realize it. When you “Share to” or “Share via” an app (say, Twitter or Facebook or Micro.blog’s iOS app) it automatically picks up the URL, title, etc. from the web page you’re currently on – this is using a similar feature set. For PWA’s, this is called the Web Share Target API.

What happens is that the app you share from sends a small little packet of data to the app or PWA. According to the spec it should be sending three specific items: title, url, and notes.

The issue I’ve been working through is that each app has a different way of sending that data. Some of them exclude one or more of the items and each of them have very different ways of sending “Notes”.

I don’t know why these apps aren’t consistent. I suppose it might be in part because they are handling PWAs the same way they are handling other apps. They are just sending a “chunk” of data and they expect the target app to work through it all.

Today I was noodling how best to set up a test application to install on my Android phone so that I can inspect how these apps share their information. This way I can see exactly what information is being shared how Unmark could work with each of them. And I was going to open source it so that others working on this same issue had something they could use.

But it turns out I don’t need to, the Web Incubator Community Group already has a Web Share Target Test PWA already in place to do this. Just install this app on your Android device’s home screen and “Share To” it.

Thanks to Matt Giuca on the Google Chrome team for pointing me in the right direction. I’m glad this already existed.

The Mac is turning less Pro

skywhopper, on Hacker News, commenting on a thread relating to Mark Gurman’s scoop on Apple’s (supposed) plan to have apps running on iOS and macOS using the same (or, similar) code bases by 2020:

And then the Mac is losing what should be its primary audience through unwanted innovations and otherwise stagnant hardware, and a failure to recognize the importance of catering to the power users who might want an actual escape key, multiple types of ports, and a keyboard that doesn’t feel like it came off a rejected tablet accessory.

I can see an argument for fragmenting the laptop world into Pro/developer hardware and consumer hardware. But Apple seems to have got the needs of those groups mixed up. Do Apple’s own software engineers love the newest Macs I wonder?

I left the Mac (but may come back some day) for two primary reasons:

  1. Apple doesn’t cater to me (a professional computer user, programmer, video and photo editor, that owns a bunch of peripherals) any more. They used to. In fact the Mac was originally for exactly the type of person I am. The hardware choices they’ve made make it clear they care far more about consumers than professionals.
  2. The price gap between a Windows computer and a Mac computer is no longer commensurate with the build quality gap. It used to be that Macs were so much nicer than Windows computers. It was inarguable. These days it is arguable, if not nearly indistinguishable. Microsoft’s Surface line, Lenovo’s ThinkPads, and (dare I even mention) Huawei’s laptops are nearly on par with the latest Mac laptops. And the price difference is significant. My DELL XPS 9370 was about $1,400 less than if I had purchased a somewhat comparable Macbook.

You might ask: But what about the Operating System? macOS is still nicer than Windows in a variety of ways. It used to be far nicer and far more capable. But the niceness gap and the capability gap have also shrunk.

Windows 10’s WSL has been a boon for me personally to allow me to do the types of things I need to do on a computer. Combine that with Docker and I’m able to do every single thing I used to do on a Mac.

The biggest gripe I have with Windows 10 is its inability to strip away the legacy stuff you find in the corners of the OS. They are being eliminated one by one – like the plates in the shooting gallery at the county fair – with each release I download. But even this gripe isn’t much different from what I’m seeing on macOS. The Marizipan apps have been universally panned, the updates to macOS haven’t really been all that compelling (Dark Mode is your biggest selling feature?), and when will Mail.app ever get the update it so desperately needs?

To sum up: Mac hardware and software is still (albeit arguably) better than most Windows 10 hardware and software. But the gap is all but closed – leaving the consumer the ability to choose based on budget for hardware. And with PWAs, web apps, Electron apps, etc. taking over both platforms a huge portion of the software we use every day is nearly identical.

Apple is going less Pro. I don’t blame them. There are more buyers. Apple will continue to string along developers into believing they care deeply about the Mac because they need developers (and the Mac) to build apps for their consumers – especially on iOS. You need a Mac to build an iOS app (at least today). But I think it might be time to stop believing them and start opening up ourselves to the fact that there are other options for some of us that don’t only build Mac or iOS apps.

One less comment from me: I’m not anti-Apple at all. I still really like the company and what they stand for. I miss my Mac nearly every day. Windows 10 still has a ways to go. And the grass always seems greener elsewhere. But, I prefer to continue to have an open mind. To not be dogmatic and to choose the hardware and software I use based on principles I care about as well as on the reasonableness of their cost.

/HN comment thread via Michael Tsai.

Firefox Reality

Mozilla:

Mozilla has always been on the frontlines of virtual and augmented reality (see our work with WebVRWebAR and A-Frame), and this is a mixed reality browser that is specifically built to tackle the new opportunities and challenges of browsing the immersive web.

Me, in April 2017:

The way information is displayed is going to dramatically change within MR applications. How should a Wikipedia page on the honey bee be shown to a child wearing MR glasses while they are touring an apiary? Certainly this new wave of information layout should not be constrained to the resizable “windows” that we see in current demos but that we will see a rich set of layout and display tools that will make mundane information that the web currently hosts to come alive.

Mozilla sees this and they are skating to where the puck will be.

PodcastMenu

PodcastMenu:

PodcastMenu is a simple app which puts Overcast on your Mac’s menu bar so you can listen to your favorite podcasts while you work.

I use Overcast two or three times per day while driving. But I very rarely listened to podcasts while working. PodcastMenu changes that — allowing me to pick up where I’ve left off in Overcast.

My tips for new iOS 11 upgraders

I’ve been using the iOS 11 public betas on my iPhone and iPad for several releases and I think it is one of the most important updates to iOS. It brings lifesaving features to the iPhone and powerful features to the iPad.

Tomorrow iOs 11 is being released to the public, I thought I’d jot down a few things that I believe people should do on the day they upgrade, so that they don’t just move on with their busy lives and forget.

  • Turn on automatic Driving Mode detection. This setting could save your life and those of others. You have no excuse good enough to justify being able to text while you drive. iOS 11 does a good job of detecting when you are driving and turns off all notifications. Almost immediately when you exit your vehicle at your destination your messages are waiting for you. I love this setting. Settings > Do Not Disturb > Do Not Disturb While Driving.
  • Set up Driving Mode auto-replies. Optionally, you can set iOS 11 to automatically reply to certain people with messages that you’re driving. Or, you can keep this feature off and people will simply believe you have a life and cannot respond to every text message within 15 seconds of receiving one. Settings > Do Not Disturb > Auto-Reply To.
  • Customize Control Center. The control center (the screen you get when you flick up from the button of the screen, or from the top-right on the iPhone X) is very different than iOS 10. You can now add or remove buttons from it, and even customize their position on the screen. I’ve chosen to have Camera, Notes, and Voice Memos easily accessible in the bottom-right of the Control Center. I love it. Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls.
  • Identify faces in group photos. For those of you without a Mac, you’ve never had facial detection and naming capabilities for your photos. Now you can put a name to a face in iOS 11 and when your device is locked and plugged in it will rummage through your photos for you and find the vast majority of the other photos with that person in them. I’ve found that using large group photos is the quickest way to finding the most people. So, start off finding a few dozen group photos, naming everyone in them, and then let iOS 11 go to work at night. It is surprisingly good and getting better with every release. Photos > Find a Group Photo > Swipe Up > Click on person under People > Tap “Add Name” (repeat for all people in the photo).
  • On iPad: Customize your Dock. You can have up to 15 apps in your Dock on iPad. You can also add more by adding folders of apps. There is also an area on the right side of the dock that can show recent apps. Turn on Recent Apps in Settings > General. Otherwise, drag your favorite apps into the Dock.
  • On iPad: Practice multi-tasking, split-screen, and drag-and-drop gestures. iOS 10 has had split-screen features for iPad since it was released and I still see many iPad users that do not take advantage of them. iOS 11 makes these features even more powerful. Unless you make these part of your muscle memory by practicing them, you might be under-utilizing the power of your device. Watch this video on YouTube to see how best to open multiple apps, drag-and-drop files, and more.
  • Try out Notes’ new features. Notes has some new features that you will definitely find useful but you need to know they are there. Try some of the following:
    • If you have an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, try tapping your Pencil on the lock screen. This results in a new note. Pretty slick.
    • Try the document scanner. iOS 11’s ARKit features allow for a pretty practical use of this technology in scanning a document and being able to sign it with ease. It is remarkably good. Put a document on a table, open Notes, in a new Note hit the + symbol, select Scan Documents. Prepare to be wowed. I wish this feature were part of the camera somehow or its own mode from Control Center. Again, here is a good video showing how this works.

By doing the above you may just save a life. But, also you’ll get far more use out of the device you already own and take full advantage of this monumental release of iOS.

If you have any others, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

Less apps is more

Tim Nahumck:

I always try to reduce the number of apps that I use at any given time and cutting the reliance on multiple services when and where possible.

This sounds a lot like my repeated attempts to consolidate around Apple’s default applications.

I like Tim’s use of Slack as a personal center of information. I have Slack open all day as well and pushing just about everything into that would eliminate the need to have other apps open. I may look into this.

/via Colin Walker.

Observations on using the iOS 11 Public Beta

The iOS 11 Public Beta is the first beta OS I’ve installed from Apple. I did so in part because I want to help improve the OS by providing feedback and analytic data, but also because I wanted to test my aforementioned app that I’m building, and lastly I’ve wanted driving mode since very early iOS days.

I waited until the second developer beta (which was the first public beta I believe) was released before I updated my iPad. And I waited until the next developer release (or, second public beta release) before I updated my iPhone. I waited in hopes that there would be a great enough improvement in these builds that I didn’t have to worry too much about my iPad or iPhone not working at all.

I thought I’d jot down some observations during my use:

  • So far the “biggest” problem I had was charging my iPad. During the first public beta the only way I was able to charge my iPad was by first plugging the lightning cable into the iPad first and then plugging that cable into a power outlet. Weird, I know. But the next public beta has seemingly fixed that.
  • While there are minor UI niggles that could be easily pointed out, I’m going to refrain since they seem to be cleaning up the loose ends very quickly. This last public beta build fixed a slew of issues.
  • Driving mode is beginning to work very, very well. I’ve had trouble starting a song via Siri via Apple Music after a podcast episode in Overcast is finished playing – but perhaps that will get fixed in an upcoming release. Overall, this feature is going to be a lifesaver.
  • The style and controls aesthetic are much better in my opinion. Previous releases of iOS attempted to be too “elegant” (unsure if this is the term I’m looking for) by being overly thin and translucent. This latest release of iOS brings some sanity to the UI. Also, as I get older I’m beginning to appreciate the larger text sizes throughout.
  • The new App Store should prove to be a huge improvement over the previous versions. It remains to be seen whether or not Apple’s team will keep up with the editorial (since they’ve yet to update any content in there) but I’m hoping they’ll do this part great when the time comes.
  • Though I use iCloud Drive, Dropbox, and other file sharing platforms I’ve not put the Files app to the test just yet. Perhaps I don’t see the need for it as much as others will. I’ll report back after I’ve used it more.
  • The Notes app is incredibly good at this point. I switched to it from Simplenote and I’m loving it.
  • iOS 11 shines on the iPad.
  • The new keyboard on the iPad is particularly cool. You essentially pull down slightly on a key as you type if you’d like the letter you’d usually get by holding down the shift key modifier. Great idea.
  • Oddly enough, the new multitasking capabilities on iPad don’t work as well yet for me as the old way. I’m sure I’ll figure it out and get used to it but the “dock” and dragging icons out of it, etc. does not work for me very well. It could also be that apps haven’t yet been released with support for that feature.
  • iOS 11 has “broken” a ton of my apps. Not beyond usability but I’m guessing that developers are scrambling to get new iOS 11 builds ready. Some of the oddities could be very difficult to fix.
  • coreML and ARKit are incredibly cool.

While I don’t yet recommend updating to iOS 11 Public Beta for most people – if you’re willing to deal with a few hiccups the driving mode feature may save your life. I can’t imagine going another day with out it. Apple can not get this version of iOS out soon enough in my opinion.

Transmit 5

Panic:

With one massive update we’ve brought everyone’s favorite file-transferring truck into the future with more speed, more servers, more features, more fixes, a better UI, and even Panic Sync. Everything from the core file transfer engine to the “Get Info” experience was rethought, overhauled, and improved.

Hard to believe Transmit 4 is over 7 years old.

Back to Apple, again

Each year WWDC week gives us new and updated Apple software that is easier to use and more tightly integrated. As a result, each year I find myself wishing that I used Apple software exclusively instead of using third-party applications.

Forgive me, but I’m about to quote an entire post that I wrote in June 2014 as to the pros and cons of using as much Apple software and services as possible. Stick around, though, because at the end I’ll fill you in on how I’m feeling today and what I’m doing to use more Apple software and services.

There are hundreds of thousands of third-party apps that you can use on your computer, phone, and tablet. Some of them are amazingly good and far better in a number of ways than what ships with these devices by default.

By using third-party apps, however, you sometimes give up a level of seamless integration between all of your apps in how they share data and function across multiple devices.

Using the default apps — whether they’re built by Microsoft, or Apple, or Google — you can end up losing some of the personality, the extra niche features, and the one-on-one support that you get from third-party app developers.

So, there are pros and cons to making the choice between using an app that was built by the makers of the device and or operating system or by choosing to buy a third-party alternative.

Over the last several years I’ve acquired a stockpile of third-party apps on all three of my devices. I’ve been using third-party apps for everything, even the most basic of tasks like email and calendaring and listening to music. While most of these apps are extremely good, and I had no trouble paying for them, I’ve been missing that seamless integration. I’d get into work and I couldn’t pick up where I’ve left off listening to music or a podcast episode in the car. My mail clients on Mac and iPhone don’t know how to work together (in my case, Airmail and Mailbox respectively). And so on.

So I’ve decided to double down on Apple apps and services. I want that seamless integration back. I want my mail box to look the same across all devices, I want to see my podcast subscriptions on my Mac be exactly the same as on my iPhone, and I want all of my photos in one spot, etc.

OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 seems like a huge step forward to making it even easier for third-party apps to work better together across both operating systems and all devices. So perhaps this issue will get easier and easier to manage in the future. But today, I’d like to manage and learn less apps and get more work done.

I started to make the transition back to Apple late last week and over the last few days I’ve been so pleasantly surprised at the progress Apple has made on their apps. It has been like an entirely new experience.

This week Apple announced macOS High Sierra and iOS 11. And, again, it is a big step forward. So I found myself preparing for these updates in the fall by moving away from third-party services and using more Apple products and services.

This week alone I’ve put more data on iCloud (so it was nice to see the storage bump), I’ve moved from Simplenote to Notes, moved back to Safari from Chrome, subscribed to Apple Music’s family plan and ditched Spotify.

When I made this adjustment in 2014 I didn’t do a good job of following up with how it all worked. So I’m making a mark in my calendar to do so two weeks after macOS and iOS ship this fall.

Clips

Apple:

Introducing Clips. A new iOS app for making and sharing fun videos with text, effects, graphics, and more.

I’ve been looking for an app like this for a long time. The Verge describes how I think I’ll use this app.

My best guess is because the default camera app is still something that’s supposed to be super simplistic (and accessible from the lock screen). And I think in some ways, this is a precursor to a consumer AR app, but Apple declined to answer questions around that. Clips seems like it could be the perfect app to use when iMovie is too much and the default camera app is not enough. The question is whether it will be the necessary stop between your phone’s camera and your favorite social network.

I’ve tried to edit a personal “vlog” (that I do not publish publicly) for a long time. And I did it using iMovie. But iMovie is too much for this. What I really want is Instagram Stories or Snapchat Stories in their own app. It looks like I’ll kind of sort of get that with Clips.

I don’t know why they didn’t just release it. Apple doesn’t usually announce things before they’re ready (I’m not counting operating system releases which require so much public testing). But I’ll be happy to get my hands on this next month.