The Interstitial

by j.r. arseneau
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How Do I Get Back?

There’s a new, yet subtle feature in iOS 9 that will save a lot of people a lot of time and frustration, including my father:

back to mail in safari

This link appears in most apps that opened due to an action initiated by the user, allowing the user to quickly get back to the previous spot in the app that triggered the open action. For example:

  • Tapping a URL from Mail opens Safari where you’ll see the same functionality I’ve shown in the image above and will allow a user to quickly get back to Mail.
  • Tapping a Yelp review from Apple Maps will show a Back to Maps link in the Yelp app.

Many users familiar with technology, iPads in particular know you can go back to the previous app using a few methods (4-finger swipe gesture, double tap home button), but none of these are intuitive, nor are they easily discoverable.

For years, my father has had an iPad. The most common frustration for him that I hear on a regular basis is: I just clicked on something and it opened something else and I don’t know how to get back to where I was. I’ve shown him all the ways you can navigate back to the previous app, but it just doesn’t sink in. When he had a Mac and he was using Mail, Safari would open on top of Mail, but he could clearly see the outlines of both the Mail and Safari windows overlapping each other. With the iPad, this isn’t the case. One disadvantage of the iOS model of an app taking the entire screen is that the concept of multitasking is now abstracted. Out of sight , out of mind.

This all changes in iOS 9. The new functionality will help a lot of people navigate around apps come the fall.

Now to figure out how I’m going to show him how to split-screen multitask…

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Apple Watch and iPhone" alt="Article image for The Sensible Apple Watch Choice"/>

The Sensible Apple Watch Choice

Today Apple finally lifted the veil on Apple Watch pricing and band options. If you haven’t watched the live broadcast, check out a replay of the Keynote, it’s definitely worth it.

There were many rumours swirling that Apple would limit the availability of the different bands, only selling some bands with some watches (this is actually only true of the Edition watches).

Last September, I opined that bands would become collector items:

Bands will become collector’s items. Although only a specific set of bands will be available for the launch, it is fully conceivable that other manufacturers (think Vertu) will make bands that cater to a very specific segment of the market. If Apple developed the band mechanism with longevitiy in mind, then there is a certain value knowing that investing in a series a bands for various occasions will allow you to bring those bands to future Apple Watches

With today’s announcement, we’re one step closer to that reality.

There are still a lot of unknows about the Apple Watch. Most interesting however is how successful will it be?. Apple has hit home run after home with most of their mass-market products run since the iPod, but past successes do not guarantee a fruitful future for Apple Watch.

If Apple Watch succeeds, versions 2 and 3 will contain significant advances in technolgy, including more advanced sensors to capture and track other health or activity-related data. I fear that the first generation of the Apple Watch will become obsolete quite quickly.

For the first iteration of the Apple Watch, there really is one very sensible option if you absolutely must get one. Assuming bands will be compatible with future iterations of the watch (which I believe they will), going with the Apple Watch Sport along with a nice band for more formal occasions is a safe bet (Modern Buckle, Leather Loop or Milanese Loop). With the Sport, you’re investing $349/$399 to get the exact same technology you would in the regular or Edition models and you’re paying at the very least $200 less. The fact that Apple also includes 2 bands with the Sport makes me think they won’t last very long.

Personally, I’m leaning towards the 38mm Space Gray Aluminum with Black Sport Band along with the Milanese Loop for a more professional look. If the Watch is as useful as I hope it will be, I won’t have any reservations in upgrading when version 2 inevitably hits the market. Oh, and I’ll still have my Milanese Loop and maybe one of the Sport bands left over.

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From Fastmail Back to Google’s Gmail

I really like FastMail. But I’m going back to Google’s Gmail after almost two years of being a FastMail User.

Why? Have I fell off the proverbial rocker?

Rising costs

I own a personal domain that I use for e-mail for myself and a few other family members. When I originally migrated from Gmail to FastMail in May 2013, I only had 2 active accounts on this personal domain. As of this writing, I’m up to 4 accounts. A few of these accounts are on the $40/15G plan and a few others are on the $20/1G plan. There’s also the obligatory $5 master user account for any family-based plan on FastMail. These are of course yearly costs. Both $40/15G accounts use much less than 15G. One is that 2.5G, the other at 1.1G. FastMail does not offer an option to add extra space without moving into the next tier unfortunately.

Being Canadian, the falling Looney hasn’t helped matters. I’m now at a cost of $125 USD per year, which as of this writing is approximately $160 CAD. Will $160/year break my back? Absolutely not. I use e-mail a lot, but that’s not the only cost.

Spam

FastMail’s spam filtering is good, but it’s not as good as Google’s. FastMail even offers a unique feature where you can designate 2 special folders to help train the Bayesian spam filtering engine. One folder where you move spam mail that was not filtered by the engine so that it learns to filter in the future and another to train the system to recognize certain e-mails tagged as spam (false positives) as good e-mail. Anyone familiar with SpamSieve from C-Command Software will feel right at home, as FastMail uses a very similar spam fighting engine.

However, even with these engines, spam still gets through. I use a singular email address for personal matters and have a few other, older e-mail addresses being forwarded to my main one. I will often get 3-5 (or more) spam messages a day appear in my Inbox, whereas with Google, I’d rarely receive one.

An option would have been to use MailRoute which has been recently sponsoring quite a few tech Podcasts. However, MailRoute’s options are $29.99 USD per year, per e-mail account. Unfortunately, MailRoute does not provide any bypass options, meaning that if you’re using a custom domain and have 4 e-mail addresses at that domain (like I do), you must pay for MailRoute for every address on that domain. This would mean my MailRoute costs would be $29.99 * 4 = $120 USD a year (another $150 CAD).

Adding both FastMail and MailRoute would bring my e-mail costs per year to about $300 for 4 accounts.

Third party apps

There are some very interesting new takes on e-mail these days. Specifically, Mailbox has been on my radar since it launched a few years ago. Unfortunately I have been unable to use it due to Mailbox being compatible with only Gmail and iCloud accounts. A few weeks before this migration, I had the app running on a separate Gmail account and could understand why this app is getting so much attention. The ability to swipe and archive e-mails (and mark them as read while doing so) is a boon to processing a volume of e-mails quickly. The ability to swipe an e-mail to a list (and use IFTTT to send e-mails from that List to my OmniFocus inbox) is another great reason to use Mailbox with Gmail. Finally, having scheduled e-mails and lists is also a fantastic option (but one that is available is other apps such a Dispatch and Outlook).

Speaking of Outlook on iOS, I’m a big fan as well. I use it exclusively for my work e-mail and have been very satisified with it. I had some issues with my personal e-mail and the spam filtering. It would often place e-mails in my Inbox that were actually in my Spam folder. Meaning I would have to delete the e-mails from the Outlook inbox in order to get rid of them. This really defeats the purpose of having spam folder. Opening a support ticket to Microsoft did not yield the expected result. Instead, Microsoft indicated this was by design, although I can’t imagine it being so.

IFTTT integration

Gmail supports all kinds of external integrations that are simply not possible wih FastMail. For example, the popular web-automation service, IFTTT allows you to automate e-mails coming into your Gmail account with various other services. For example, a shipment from Amazon or other service can be added to the excellent iOS Deliveries app automatically. You could even recreate VIP notifications directly to your iOS device using IFTTT’s Gmail and iOS push notification integration. Searching the IFTTT website for Gmail integrations yields thousands of possibilities.

I’m also a heavy OmniFocus user and being able to create a special list in Mailbox, attach that list to IFTTT and have any e-mail added to that list be automatically added to my OF Inbox has been a feature I’ve been looking to have for some time now.

On privacy

I am fully cognizant of Google’s shady history with respect to privacy in general. I don’t voluntarily use many of Google’s services and recently changed all my default search engines to DuckDuckGo, thanks to the integration with iOS 8 and Yosemite. Do I still have a little voice nagging me that going back to Google could be a mistake? Absolutely.

However, when weighing the points I’ve outlined in this article with the fact that a big part of me doesn’t care as much about the privacy of my own personal e-mail (really, there isn’t a whole lot of confidential information in there). I end up thinking to myself that the benefits outweigh the cons of having your e-mail indexed and added to Google’s ever growing mass of information on me.

A final word on FastMail

I still love FastMail and would easily recommend them to anyone I know. It is by far the best e-mail provider I have ever used and the web interface is head and shoulders above any other service (including Gmail). I would reconsider going back to FastMail in the future if their pricing model changed, their spam filtering got better and Mailbox started supporting IMAP (seriously, Mailbox is almost reason alone to use Gmail or iCloud).

Will I live to regret moving back to Gmail? Unlikely. I’m a small fish in a very big pond. But if that pond suddenly gets a lot smaller, I won’t have to think twice before I move back to FastMail.

Who knows what the future may hold.

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Mail to OmniFocus AppleScript for Yosemite

Yosemite is great and the latest Gold Master Candidate release is rock solid. The only missing piece for me was to integrate Mail with OmniFocus which I do numerous times on a daily basis.

According to The Omni Group, Apple has disabled some Mail plugin functionality in Yosemite that broke the Clip-O-Tron 3001 so I decided to whip up a small AppleScript to bring the currently selected message into OmniFocus as a task.

You can grab the gist of the script on GitHub.

Feel free to send pull requests. Hope you enjoy this interim fix until The Omni Group fixes the Clip-o-Tron.

Finally, here’s a very short video of the script in action.

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On Apple Watch Pricing and Obsolescence

John Gruber wrote a great piece this week where he postulates the possible pricing of the Apple’s watch. What’s specifically interesting is the pricing of Apple Watch Edition, where he puts it firmly in the realm of you need to be rich to own one:

Most people think I’m joking when I say the gold ones are going to start at $5,000. I couldn’t be more serious. I made a friendly bet last week with friends on the starting price for the Edition models, and I bet on $9,999.

The lowest conceivable price I could see for the Edition models is $1,999 — but the gold alone, just as scrap metal, might in fact be worth more than that. [Here’s a link to a forum discussion(http://forums.watchuseek.com/f23/rolex-worth-its-weight-gold-568254.html) pegging the value of the gold alone, as scrap metal, of a Rolex GMT (including bracelet) at $5–6000. Just the gold alone.

Also, on the latest Accidental Tech Podcast, Marc Arment, John Siracusa and Casey Liss question who’s going to buy something that expensive when it has built-in obsolescence where a rolex does not? This is a great point, but there may be an angle that Apple can approach this from a truly Apple-eque way.

What if the Apple Watch Edition comes with a replacement plan?

This may sound crazy, but think of it for a moment. With the solid gold Apple Watch Edition carrying so much value, there would be benefits to Apple providing customers of this watch a sort of guaranteed replacement (or upgrade) plan. While the electronic components will eventually become outdated as Apple releases new versions of its watch, the gold should in fact keep its value. What if after a year or two of owning an Apple Watch Edition, one could walk into an Apple Store (or Apple Boutique?), pay a small premium and get a new version of the watch? This would definitely answer the question of owning a $5,000 watch that would become obsolete after a few years.

What’s more is that Apple could recycle most of the components in the watch. The electronics could be recycled and the gold could be melted in order to make new watches. We all know the importance Apple places on its carbon footprint.

Further, what if the bands are a sort of new dock connector?

Bands will become collector’s items. Although only a specific set of bands will be available for the launch, it is fully conceivable that other manufacturers (think Vertu) will make bands that cater to a very specific segment of the market. If Apple developed the band mechanism with longevitiy in mind, then there is a certain value knowing that investing in a series a bands for various occasions will allow you to bring those bands to future Apple Watches.

There is a lot of speculation about how Apple will tackle these problems but if one thing’s for certain it’s that we don’t yet fully know nor understand Apple’s hand.

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My Home Screen: iPhone 17 July 2014

This is the first in a series of posts that will document the evolution of apps that I use on a regular basis and have found their place on my home screen.

iPhone Home Screen 17 July 2014

Here are the apps:

  • Phone: Gotta make calls sometime.
  • Strides: Great app for tracking goals, personal milestones or to form habbits.
  • Yahoo Weather: I use Yahoo Weather because it looks good, and more importantly gives me the precipitation amount which is important when living in the great white north and having to deal with how much snow you’ll wake up to the next morning.
  • Fantastical: Best calendar app on iOS. Full stop.
  • Spotify: Recent addition to my home screen. I’ve tried Rdio, Slacker, Spotify, Beats and a few others but Spotify is the one I prefer. I am still on the fence about a paid subscription service vs. purchasing your own music.
  • Picturelife: My cloud photo library, for now. With iOS8 looming, Picturelife may not be long for my home screen.
  • Plex: If you have a lot of video that isn’t through iTunes, Plex is the best damn media player / library available.
  • Overcast: Newly added as of 16 July, 2014. Marco Arment’s most excellent podcast app.
  • Scotiabank: Man’s gotta bank?
  • YNAB: You Need a Budget has supplanted Mint as my go to budgeting and financial management software.
  • Slack: Team-based chat/collaboration for my work teams.
  • Tweetbot: My preferred Twitter client of choice.
  • Basecamp: The pioneer of the online project management and collaboration tool. Used extensively within my work teams.
  • Instapaper: Original read it later client. Still the best one out there (although Pocket had once occupied this space on my home screen).
  • Pushpin: Best iOS Pinboard client you can get.
  • Unread: My fav iOS RSS reader. Where I get my daily fix of what’s going on with the sites I follow. I was a long time Reeder user until Jared Sinclair released Unread. It has by far surpassed my expectations and fits perfectly with the way I read my feeds.
  • Launch Center Pro: Great automation tool for getting things done quickly. I don’t use it as much as I should and there’s a good possibility of it disappearing from my home screen soon. Time shall tell.
  • Drafts: Like a reliable swiss army knife for dealing with notes and text. Drafts can pretty much do anything.
  • 1Password: I couldn’t live without 1Password (on either my iPhone, iPad or Mac). By far the app that gets the most use. If you aren’t using 1Password to manage your sensitive data, you’re nuts.
  • System: I wish I didn’t have to put this on the home screen but the fact of the matter is that I am always finding myself in the System preferences.

So there you have it.

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How HipChat Just Screwed Its Users

Update 27 April 2014:

HipChat ammended its blog post to clarify the issue about who may access the 1-to-1 chats. Scott from HipChat also commented on this post (see below). They state (emphasis mine):

The new terms allow customers to request chat history from us, and allow us to provide it, if the customer has the right to view the communications of their employees. Those rights are very often granted through a company’s employee handbook or policies. So, for chats occurring after the terms become effective (May 27th at the earliest), if an account owner contacts us and requests their 1-to-1 chat history these new terms allow us to provide it to them.

Curiously, they do not state how they will confirm that the customer has the right to view these communications. There appears to be an assumption being made that the “account owner” is also an individual who holds these rights. This is not necessarily the case. For very small teams, it is conceivable that the account owner is either a supervisor, team lead or other individual that does not have these kinds of rights in a large organization. In my example, I authorize the purchase and am listed as the account owner on our instance of HipChat, but my organization does not grant me the right to view employee communications (even if they are my own subordinates). In fact, this right is not granted to anyone except for instances where there may be a legal matter at stake or to investigate a possible security breach.

Bottom line, I still don’t like it, but I can’t say I fully blame them either.


Up until today, I was a big fan of Atlassian’s products. In our organization, we’ve deployed both their project and issue tracking software, Jira as well as their collaboration and wiki software, Confluence. I’ve also recommended their products to many colleagues. Over the past year, our team has been experimenting with various asynchronous chat/collaboration tools, finally landing on HipChat in the fall of 2013.

When Atlassian acquired HipChat in 2012, I had high hopes they were going to bring the same kind of polish present in both Jira and Confluence. In fact, the product has grown tremendously since then, with the inclusion of 1-to-1 Video and Screen Sharing that arrived in March of this year, the future of HipChat was looking good.

And then today happened.

Today, Atlassian has modified HipChat’s Terms of Service (TOS), effectively screwing over their users. The first:

The Atlassian terms require binding arbitration for disputes. As HipChat grows, we need to have a cost-effective alternative to going to court. Our terms now mandate that we resolve disputes via arbitration. We expect binding arbitration to help contain legal costs and offer a faster path to resolution for both parties.

Translation: If we get sued, we’re screwed so we’re changing our policy to ensure we don’t get sued.

This is exactly what Dropbox did back in February of this year. Except with Dropbox, existing users had the opportunity to opt-out, not so with Atlassian’s terms. This protects Atlassian against any legal suit, for example a privacy breach where all your user’s data gets stolen. Sorry, you can’t sue anymore – it’s all going to arbitration (and chances are an arbitrator friendly to Atlassian).

But even worse, there’s this doozy:

The Atlassian terms allow companies to access 1-to-1 chat history (for future chats, not retroactively). The Atlassian Privacy Policy also removes a HipChat restriction that has caused a lot of confusion for business customers. Under HipChat’s support documentation (which is referenced in the HipChat privacy policy), HipChat administrators cannot view other users’ 1-to-1 chat history or the files that were shared. In many cases, this is inconsistent with an employer’s policy about employee communications occurring in the workplace, which employers typically have the right to access. Under the Atlassian Privacy Policy, HipChat administrators will have the right to access all information in the HipChat account they manage, including 1-to-1 chat history and files shared in those 1-to-1 chats. The HipChat-Specific Terms require customers (e.g. the account holder) to secure all required consents from users to allow for this level of access. Note that this change does not apply retroactively; 1-to-1 chats occurring before the Atlassian terms become effective are still covered by the prior HipChat policies.

Translation: Joe down the hall who introduced you to HipChat can now read all your private messages, even though he may not have authorization to do so.

While it may be true that most corporate policies about employee communications does indeed stipulate this fact, there is a massive distinction to be made between traditional corporate systems such as E-mail, and a tool such as HipChat.

E-mail is often heavily protected and accessible only via the most trusted of System Administrators. Also, corporate policy will typically only resort to reading other people’s mail in the event of a legal obligation or possible security breach. There are also internal policies for dealing with situations that require access to this “private” data. This is a far cry from a small collaboration tool such as HipChat which is often introduced in these organizations from bottom-up or grassroots methods.

Let me make this clear, anyone can create a HipChat team under the guise of an organization and HipChat does not validate the authenticity of the individual creating the team account. To put it bluntly, if your buddy Joe down the hall setup HipChat for your team, guess what? Joe can now read all your 1-to-1 messages, even though Joe may not be in any position in the corporate ladder to have such authorization bestowed upon him.

There is a significant risk that this change will have negative consequences for Atlassian and HipChat. Once users find out that their 1-to-1’s are no longer private, they will lose faith in the system, trust will erode and eventually, usage of the tool will fall. This is unfortunate, because while I don’t think HipChat will cease to exist anytime soon, I believe the amount of teams and users using the tool will diminish over time.

Serendipitously, I stumbled upon Slack a few weeks ago and introduced it internally to our team early this week. So far, the response has been extremely positive. To top it off, it’s free for our particular use case for unlimited users (hard to argue with free). After this fiasco with Atlassian, we’re dumping HipChat and going with Slack full time. I’ll have more on Slack in the upcoming weeks as we’re really liking the tool and its feature set. I’m truly saddened by this decision from Atlassian to the point where we will take a long, hard look at the usage of their other products in our team. Something tells me I don’t foresee using their products much longer.

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On App Store Upgrades and OmniFocus

Now that iOS 7 is officially out, we are starting to see some prominent App developers releasing new versions of their software where an upgrade fee applies. One such developer is The Omni Group, which has recently released a new version of their OmniFocus productivity app as a completely new app that needs to be re-purchased. This has caused quite a kerfuffle on twitter.

OmniFocus is the 300lb. gorilla in the room when it comes to time and task management apps. It is, for all intents and purposes, the Adobe Photoshop of the ToDo app space. It isn’t comparable to the built-in Reminders app, or apps such as Clear or even Wunderlist. These apps fulfill a need with their respective customers, but they don’t come close to providing the ability that OmniFocus does. Yet strangely, people have this odd sense of entitlement when it comes to either getting the upgrade for free or at upgrade pricing (let alone that Apple doesn’t permit any form of upgrade pricing in the App Store).

Assuming for a moment that users of OmniFocus are those that take full advantage of everything OmniFocus brings to the table (GTD, contexts, perspectives, syncing across all platforms). It’s far likely that the value OmniFocus has brought to these individuals is a drop in the bucket in comparison to the cost of the software. Including version 2, I’ve spent $130 on OmniFocus apps in the last 5 years (I work at an academic institution which means I’m eligible for a $30 discount on the Mac version). The time saved and the value it has brought to both my professional and personal life has been immeasurable (really, I can’t put a price on it, most likely in the thousands of $’s). If you don’t find that kind of value in the OmniFocus family of apps, chances are you probably aren’t using them to their full potential.1

The Omni Group has built its’ business for the last 20 years in providing high quality, well designed and extremely beneficial productivity apps for the Mac and iOS platforms. Like Adobe, these are premium products and deserve premium pricing. Creating these types of applications takes a lot of time, effort and money, which people are seemingly forgetting. A parallel I like to draw is one of an average office worker. In the example, let’s assume this individual is working for a big company. Imagine if this person only got paid the first time they produced a yearly report and their supervisor expected them re-produce a new report on a yearly basis without getting paid. How long do you think it would be until that individual goes and finds another job? Or maybe they lose their home, can’t feed their kids or even worse? Take the job you do everyday and imagine you not getting paid even though you’re still showing up for work, still doing the work you’ve been tasked to do? How then, is this any different from the people working hard at The Omni Group making the apps you love to use on a day to day basis? The answer is that there is no difference.

Producing apps such as OmniFocus that people love to use every day takes a lot of time and effort. Do developers work for free? Do you work for free? If The Omni Group continually provided new versions of their apps for free to individuals who purchased a previous version, they wouldn’t be in business today. Period. Full Stop. I for one want The Omni Group to keep producing these apps I love to use everyday.

The lesson here is if you use an app day in and day out and that app produces value to you, pay the developer for an upgrade. Just like you, they have mortgages, families and obligations and just like you, they also don’t work for free. You wouldn’t expect Adobe to release a new version of Photoshop for free, or Apple to provide a new version of their professional apps such as Final Cut, Logic or Aperture at no cost, so why other developers? Don’t blame developers just because they can’t provide App Store upgrade pricing, because even The Omni Group would provide upgrade pricing on the App Store were it possible.


  1. If you’re having difficulty leveraging OmniFocus to its fullness, I strongly recommend Kourosh Dini’s Creating Flow with OmniFocus: Mastering Productivity and Asian Efficiency’s OmniFocus Premium Posts 
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