The good, the great and the bad of iOS 8

Bad things first, since you’re wondering.

Initially I thought it was running visibly slower than iOS 7 on my iPhone 5. It was. There was definite lag, even when swiping between home screens. But I’ve been running iOS 8 since last night and now, about an hour after I last grumbled at that lag, it’s gone. The phone feels fast again. But it really had been bad enough that I was going to suggest you hold off unless you have a new iPhone.

I’m going to suggest that anyway. Let everyone else work through this. But when you do update on an older iPhone, and it is worth it, be prepared for it to take a few hours to get back up to speed.

On my iPad Air, by the way, it was immediately perfect. Fast and responsive, not one single pixel of a doubt that if you have an iPad Air you should upgrade to iOS 8 now.

On both machines, though, Safari was irritating. There’s this thing called Private Mode – if you were fussed about nobody seeing who you bank with online, you switch to Private Mode and Safari doesn’t track the address, it doesn’t keep the details in its history. When you’re done, come out of Private Mode and nobody can see that you’ve been to Offshore Islands Dodgy Bank Co. Fine. I didn’t realise I’d switched into it but I had, on both machines, before upgrading. After the upgrade, all existing tabs were considered to be in Private Mode and there is no way to say no, hang on, I want this one to be un-private. I had to swipe-to-remove each separate tab. And to keep important ones, it was copy-and-paste on the address. It won’t be an issue again but it was a pain today.

So was setting up 1Password. The only part that was iOS 8’s fault is the way you have to set up the ability to use 1Password extensions, to be able to be there in Safari and say oi, 1Password, pop my username and password in here. It’s just slightly confusing how you do it, and since I’d been through a very similar but not identical process adding Pocket, it was more confusing still trying to fathom the difference. (Pocket isn’t a lot better: it gives you the error message ‘not logged in’ when you first try to use it but you’re on your own figuring out how you therefore log in.)

Generally I’ve found that 1Password is a marvellous app in every single possible way bar anything to do with upgrading to new versions. It’s just a bag of frustration. The company goes to lengths to make it all automatic but since it goes wrong every time, the automation becomes a barrier to trying to fix it. Less an upgrade cycle, more alchemy. I sweat through it every time because the app is worth it, but I do also file bug reports every time.

So this is 1Password’s fault rather than iOS 8’s per se and actually it worked perfectly on my iPad Air. But I had to delete and reinstall it on my iPhone to get it to stop crashing.

Other annoyances that aren’t really iOS 8’s fault: TextExpander is a paid upgrade. It’s only £2.99 and it’s of course fair to charge for the new functionality that I will use a lot, but there was no mention of this before so it was annoying. Also, the new keyboard that TextExpander provides is simply ugly. That doesn’t help. But the functionality, that’s great.

One part that is iOS 8’s fault: setting up TextExpander as a new keyboard could be more straightforward. It is pretty straightforward but there is a final option called ‘Allow Full Access’ and you can’t even see that option until you’ve been in, set up the keyboard, come out and gone back in again.

One last minor annoyance. This is the most unfair thing of me but OmniFocus needs an New Task button in the Today notifications.

But let me use that to segue on to the good and the great. The good to very, very good is this Today notification. Pick up your phone and without even unlocking it, just swipe down. We’ve had this for a time and I’ve rarely used it as much as I expected to, but now it’s got my choice of extras. I’ve chosen OmniFocus: it shows me my current tasks for the day and I can tap them as done, when necessary. I’ve also chosen Evernote, though, and that gives me buttons to create new notes.

I want both. I want OmniFocus to include a New Task button and I want Evernote to show me my recent notes. I think you can bet these will both come, but it’s oddly hampering today.

I really like the Today view though. And I really, really like the ability to get 1Password to pop in my details on sites. Apparently it won’t do credit cards yet, only logins. That’s a shame but also hopefully something we can expect changed soon. The number of times I book tickets or buy things online is exactly equal to the number of times I get 1Password to pop all that stuff in for me. So I want that too.

For all that I said Safari was irritating, in normal use after you’ve got past that Private Mode tick, it is really superb. Very fast, responsive, and I like how a pinch brings up all your current tabs and you can see what you’re doing, where you’re going.

The sharing extension in Pocket and Evernote is pretty close to fabulous. Again, once you’ve set it up. But to be on any website and tap to send it to Pocket or to Evernote, wallop, done, sold, I will be using this all the time.

The only reason I don’t call that full-on fabulous is that there is something else that is. Siri. When it’s plugged in to mains power, you can say aloud “Hey, Siri” and ask it whatever you want to ask it. At any time. Without pausing. I reckoned I would use this all the time in the car where I think of tasks I’ll need reminding of, but this morning I had an entire conversation with Siri without pressing the button once. Because it’s plugged in to mains by my bed while I charge it.

I need to say that Angela is away, I wouldn’t have a natter with Siri at 5am if she weren’t. So maybe I won’t use that all the time. But it is freaky fabulous.

Overall, now it’s setup, I think iOS 8 is pretty freaky fabulous. And yes, the first thing I did after installing it was buy OmniFocus 2 for iPad. Happy now.

The short history and long reach of iOS

If I were going to contort this into a piece of advice about being productive, I'd be saying something about how small moves and tiny steps really add up. I think I'd also being saying that sometimes you need to say bollocks to everyone else and keep going. To know that it is better to take some criticism lumps now and really earn the praise later rather than try to please everybody each step of the way.

All that is true. I've just surprised myself. I was honestly thinking it was a contortion saying all that, that it was plainly a justification for just showing you something I enjoyed reading. But having written it down, I realise I mean it.

Still, I did just enjoy reading it. The Verge wrote about the development of iOS, the operating system that has underpinned every iPhone I've ever had:

In what is widely regarded as his greatest presentation ever, Apple's Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world on January 9th, 2007. In the five-plus years since then, the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch have literally redefined the entire world of mobile computing. That world is moving so quickly that iOS is already amongst the older mobile operating systems in active development today. That certainly doesn't mean it's underpowered or underfeatured — quite the contrary. Through what can only be described as relentless and consistent improvement over the years, Apple has made iOS one of the most feature-rich and well-supported platforms on the market.

iOS 7, the system currently powering Apple's mobile devices, offers an easy-to-understand smartphone operating system to new users, a powerful platform for app developers, and a relatively un-fragmented experience across multiple devices. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about iOS is how similar the OS as it exists today is to the OS as it existed 2007, yet the number and breadth of features that Apple has baked in since then is mind boggling. Far from suffering from the “feature creep” that typically bogs down operating systems over time, iOS has managed to stay relatively snappy and is more internally consistent than anything else available today. And iOS 8 — launching on devices this fall — looks to evolve the story even further.

How did we get from a platform that began without third-party apps, multitasking, or even copy / paste support to where we are today? Read on to see exactly how Apple evolved its mobile platform over the years, in our history of iOS.

A Visual History of iOS – The Verge

Use Microsoft Office for free on iPad – kinda

It's a trick, but it might be useful if you don't want to pay a subscription just to make one twiddle in a one Word document. As of today – 28 March 2014 – Microsoft Office for iPhone is completely free. Not just free as in you can read a document but must pay to edit or create ones, it's completely free.

But you can run iPhone apps on your iPad. They don't look great. This one doesn't look as good as the proper iPad version of Office released yesterday. But it is Office and it will open Word and Excel documents. Possibly also PowerPoint but, seriously.

You do still have to sign up for a Microsoft account and there are myriad better ways to write and edit documents than on the scaled-up iPhone Office but it works.

Get Microsoft Office for iPhone (it's one app with Word, Excel and the other one together) here.

Ten months 0% finance offer at Apple

Apparently only available in some parts of Europe – I just checked, the UK is one of the parts – this is a nice deal from Apple. I bought my office iMac through a similar deal last year and it was handy to keep my capital and only pay out a portion each month.

Mind you, it was also nice when the months ended and I could call the iMac my own. Just about the day my ten-months interest-free payment ended, though, Apple brought out a new iMac. It's as if they knew. The cunning rascals.

There are terms and conditions on this deal and you should eye them up carefully. See for details.

But the key points begin with the fact that you can only get the deal on hardware (seemingly you might include some software through the store's attempts to upsell you). Next, it's 0% financing for ten months and this is separate from Apple's longer-term financing deals. I don't know anything about those. But they don't get any of this 0% lark.

Last and maybe a killer point: you have to spend over aproximately £450. But then this is the Apple Store, you can do it. The iPad Air that I raved about here the other day starts from £399 but I would (and did) spend more by getting one with greater capacity. The new iPad mini with Retina display starts at £319 but bung in more capacity or a Smart Cover and you're away


If you only buy one productivity aid this Christmas, make it…

…an iPad Air.

I used to think I relied on my old, original iPad but it was a toy compared to the new iPad Air. Mind you, I did give my old one to my mother about two months before the new model came out so I had a lot of time to notice how much I was missing having one. Actually, my OmniFocus work fell off badly: if you don’t know OmniFocus, I should tell you that it’s a kind of bionic To Do manager that pretty much completely runs my life. If you are now intrigued by OmniFocus, I have to warn you that it only runs on Apple gear. It’s also comparatively expensive – well, it’s expensive when you compare it to all the free To Do apps; it is not in the slightest bit expensive when you contrast it to how much use it has been for me.

One of the things it does is let you focus only on what has to be done right now and what can be done right now. It does that by hiding away everything else but that only works, that can only be allowed to work, if you periodically review everything on your list. There’s a thing called Review. It’s not wonderful on the Mac version of OmniFocus, it doesn’t exist at all on the iPhone version, but it is gorgeousness incarnate on the iPad one. So good that you are fooled into thinking it’s an easy thing to look at all your tasks and then as you go through everything, it’s so remarkably easy to see what you’ve got to do that you tend to just go get it done. I timed myself once for The Blank Screen book, just finding out how long a typical review took me and I was astonished that it was two hours.

In those two hours, I reviewed about fifty different projects with a total of, I don’t know, a couple of hundred tasks. I found I’d already done a lot of them – I want to say thirty, I’m not sure now – and as I went through them all and saw ones like “Email Bert to ask for your spanner back” I’d email Bert to ask for my spanner back. By the end of the two hours, I’d marked off many more tasks as done. And most importantly of all, I knew where I was with every project.

And could immediately forget it all. Forget it, knowing that it was all in hand and that it was all in OmniFocus. Knowing that if it wasn’t something that would come up in the next couple of days, I would at least see it during the next review. I could concentrate on now. The fact that you can park the thinking and churning and worrying about things you can’t do yet and instead put all that engine effort into what you can, it’s life-changing.

Except it fell over completely when I gave away my iPad.

So the first thing I installed on my new iPad Air last month was OmniFocus. I swear to you that I breathed out. And I thought that would be something to tell you, I thought that would be enough to tell you, all by itself.

Except you may already know that iPad Airs have a ten-hour battery life. What I did not expect is that I would use up that battery life almost every day. The ten hours is true, actually the ten hours is conservative, but I use the iPad so much that I have had to charge it up again nearly every night. Don’t take that as a criticism of the battery, take it as a gulping assessment of how very, very much I use this machine.

Most of what you may have read on The Blank Screen blog was written on that iPad Air. I’ve written thousands of words on it in just the three or four weeks I’ve had it. 

And yesterday, Angela needed my bag as a prop for a play and that meant I couldn’t carry my iPad around with me all day. (As sturdy as it is, it’s also so light you can’t believe it’s strong so I’m looking for a case but haven’t found one I like yet.) I swear to you I got itchy. 

And that’s when I realised I am now life-support-dependent on my iPad Air. 

Have a look at them yourself. If you happened to choose to go through this Amazon link and then bought an iPad Air or maybe a car, I’d see some cash coming my way. But check it out on Apple’s own store instead: they have a lot more detail and some particularly well-made videos about the product.

Go to a real-life Apple Store too: just walk in and pick one of these up. I was working in Paris the day they came out and I tried one in a store there but wasn’t all that impressed with the apparent lightness. I was by the speed and the gorgeous display. Now that I have one, I’m very impressed with the display, the speed and the lightness too. Maybe I was wearing thick gloves that first time. I don’t kow.