Fantastical 2.2 ⇢

MacStories has a full review of Fantastical 2.2 which is available today. It includes several new iOS 8 features including interactive notifications, today widget, and sharing extension.

Fantastical 2.2, available today on the App Store, brings iOS 8 features that allow the app to be more easily integrated with iOS workflows thanks to a share extension and that extend the app beyond its silo with actionable notifications and a widget.

The iPhone and iPad version of the app are also on sale for $2.99 and $7.99, respectively for a limited time.

Changing NYC’s Catholic School System ⇢

Cardinal Dolan writing about how Catholic schools in New York City have adapted to the challenges of declining enrollment, rising costs, aging facilities, and competition:

Our schools now belong to everybody. Not only are our schools Catholic in values and atmosphere, but we made our schools catholic, with a small c. This meant a very dramatic decision: the days of one parish supporting its own parochial school were mostly over. Is it practical, our board of consultants asked, to expect that one pastor and parish could any longer support their own school all alone? I, for one, mourn this realistic admission, as the parochial school model was an example of subsidiarity and grass-roots attitudes at their best. True, we still have about 40 classic parochial schools. But now, for the most part, our schools are regional, belonging to all the parishes in a given area, whether the school is on their property or not.

Returning to OmniFocus

I have leveled some pretty heavy criticisms against OmniFocus (Mac, iPhone, iPad) in the past. I was disappointed by the lack of feature parity among the different versions of the app, frustrated that there was no web interface, and annoyed by the high price of the software.

In January I decided to switch over to a different system. I ultimately chose Appigo’s Todo Cloud because it had most of the features I was looking for including a web interface and great iOS apps that all had the same features. It was also reasonably priced at $1.99 per month. It seemed like a no-brainer.

After using Todo for several months I started to feel uneasy. The web interface wasn’t terribly elegant and I simply didn’t feel confident in the system. It’s lack of a review feature had me worrying I would miss something important and I “solved” that problem by assigning a due date to everything. This made me feel overwhelmed and I lost trust in the system.

It was around July that I started to contemplate a return to OmniFocus. Version 2.0 for the Mac had been released in May and the folks at the OmniGroup were promising to ship OmniFocus 2.0 for iPad along with iOS 8 in the fall. When I compared Todo to OmniFocus, I wrote:

When I was using OmniFocus I felt like I was completely in control of my work and all the demands placed upon me. I trusted the system and it never let me down. I do not have the same sense of trust with Todo and that’s a scary thought. While I haven’t made the jump back to OmniFocus yet, it’s looking more likely every day.

In August I dove back into OmniFocus and found myself feeling more confident. I was back to a trusted system and once again had a handle on my work. The last couple weeks of August were perhaps the most demanding of my entire career as a principal but OmniFocus helped me stay on track.

The OmniGroup stayed true to their word and launched OmniFocus for iPad alongside iOS 8. The iPad app was the oldest of the three apps and was in dire need of a refresh. It now looks fantastic and is a pleasure to use.

So, where did all of my criticisms go? The lack of a web interface is still a problem that I think needs to be addressed. Adding this would increase OmniFocus’ user base and perhaps increase the pace of development due to increased revenue. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part.

Feature parity was another big stumbling block for me but this has mostly been solved. Forecast mode is now available in all three versions (Mac, iPhone, iPad) and this is probably the area of the apps that I spend the most time in. Perspectives can now also be created on the iPad thanks to an upgrade (which is free for those who purchased OmniFocus 1.x for iPad). The only feature that I consider critical and does not exist on all three versions is Review which is missing from the iPhone.

Finally, pricing is now more palatable. OmniFocus 2 for Mac cost me $25 because I’m a grad student. If I weren’t a student, it would be $40 for the standard version which is 50% off the 1.0 version. The iPhone app is still $20 but the iPad app has dropped from $40 to $30. A $20 in-app purchase is necessary to gain some of the advanced features but users who purchased 1.0 get these for free. While I still like Todo’s subscription pricing better, I am glad that it now costs less than $100 to buy the full suite of OmniFocus apps.

In addition to addressing my criticisms, OmniFocus for iOS now has another incredible feature which has been covered at length in other reviews. The day’s tasks are now shown in the Today section of Notification Center which allows me to see what I should be working on very quickly. I use this every single day.

Since switching back to OmniFocus, I can honestly say that I have better command of my work. The app helps me to quickly determine what I should be working on. Most importantly, I know that because I have everything in this one system, nothing will be dropped or forgotten. I can defer a task or project for months and it will show up when the time comes. This gives me an increased sense of confidence and allows me to devote brain power to other things.

I firmly believe that technology should make our lives better by helping us to be more efficient and allowing us to focus on what’s truly important. OmniFocus fulfills this promise by serving as my external brain. I once again feel comfortable recommending OmniFocus for Mac, iPhone, and iPad to any busy professional trying to balance his or her responsibilities and commitments.

Drafts 4 ⇢

The majority of text that I jot down on my iPhone and iPad starts out in Drafts: tasks, classroom walkthrough notes, reminders, text messages, agenda items, and more. It’s so important to me that it sits in my dock. Today, Drafts 4 has been released with so many new features that I don’t know where to begin. I honestly think that it will take me a week or two to digest everything that has been added. Here are some things that have jumped out at me so far:

  • Share extension
  • Today widget extension
  • Extended keyboard row
  • Version histories
  • Actions sync across devices
  • Multi-step actions

Drafts 4 is available now as a universal app sporting a new icon and requiring iOS 8.

Reasons to Protect Urban Catholic Schools ⇢

There are some excellent points and tons of great links in this article about Catholic schools and the importance of social capital:

The clearest example of our field’s disregard for the old and valuable—and this disregard’s lamentable consequences—relates to urban Catholic schools. For fifty years, urban Catholic schools have been closing, with thousands shuttered across America’s most distressed communities. Sadly, very few reform organizations have lifted a finger in response.

What a strange reaction from those advertising their sense of urgency about ensuring disadvantaged kids have access to successful schools. There is an extensive and convincing academic literature on the positive influence of urban Catholic schools on disadvantaged kids. They significantly improve reading scores, high school graduation rates, higher-education matriculation and graduation, and more.

We also know that they can promote civic virtues, that the U.S. Supreme Court found voucher programs constitutional, that they can be held accountable, that district reform has not led to the improvements needed, and that chartering hasn’t created enough high-quality seats yet.

My Home Screen (October, 2014)

Now that I’ve been using the iPhone 6 for two weeks, I have figured out how to organize my home screen in a way that makes sense. Here is my iOS 7/iPhone 5s home screen (left) next to the iOS 8/iPhone 6 home screen (right):

July 2014 homescreen  October 2014 Home Screen

There isn’t much difference. The home row and bottom four rows of apps haven’t changed a bit. However, I did make some changes to the top two rows due to the size of the iPhone 6.

Because the 6 has such a larger screen, I didn’t want to keep reaching up to the top of the phone to access the apps I use most frequently. Until Apple improves reachability by allowing the user to rearrange icons in a less linear fashion, I put two rows of filler apps at the top of the screen in order to easily reach the other apps with my thumb.

To accomplish this, I simply took four folders that previously lived on page two and moved them over to page one, and also took four other commonly used apps and put them in row two. The clock, for example, is only accessed a few times a day to set, snooze, and turn off alarms. I use Day One at least once every 2-3 days to journal, and 1Password has become increasingly important to me since I put all my logins, passwords, and secure data into the app a few months ago.

I should also note that the size of the iPhone 6, as expected, has grown on me. I’ve gotten over some of my initial reservations and am quite comfortable using the phone. I still think the design of the 5s is superior, but my hand has adjusted to the 6 and I now feel comfortable using it.

Transformative Principal #42-43 ⇢

Transformative Principal logoI was recently interviewed by Jethro Jones for his Transformative Principal podcast. The interview has been split into two episodes. In the first we discussed what it’s like to be the principal of a parochial school, balancing responsibilities, and what I look for when interviewing teacher candidates. In the second episode we discussed how I use iOS to be more productive and what inspires my work.

Enabling Notification Center Email Actions

When I received my iPhone 6 I decided not to restore from my previous iPhone’s backup. Sometimes it’s nice to start fresh and, call me crazy, but setting up all the apps on a new phone is something that I actually enjoy doing. I also like it because it helps me familiarize myself with the new settings and features of a new phone and iOS.

A great new feature of iOS 8 is the ability to swipe notifications to reveal additional actions. This is particularly helpful for messages and email, which I access through Notification Center. Swiping left on an email reveals three actions: X (which will clear the notification without doing anything to the message), Mark as Read, and Archive.

Shortly after setting up my iPhone 6 I noticed that I wasn’t able to access “Mark as Read” and “Archive” when swiping. This had me stumped for quite a while. I had no idea why I wasn’t seeing these options. However, after a bit of investigating in the settings, I realized how this happened. Each email account has separate settings, and I had turned off “Show Previews” for all of them. I have no idea why this affects swiping in Notification Center. In fact, I would argue that this is one of the most ambiguous settings in iOS 8. In any case, the “Show Previews” (shown below) is the setting you’ll need to switch on if swiping in Notification Center isn’t working.

Email Settings

Behind the Scenes of Apple Pay ⇢

Yoni Heisler explains why Apple Pay is so secure:

With a service like Apple Pay in use, large credit card breaches at companies like Target and Home Depot become ancient history because there are no credit card numbers to steal in the first place. What’s more, Apple Pay’s use of tokens eliminates common threats such as man in the middle attacks and good ole’ fashioned credit card skimming because, again, actual credit card information never touches the merchant.

There are many more fascinating details in this piece. I’m excited that Apple is taking on this challenge and I hope it’s successful. I want to say goodbye to plastic cards someday.

First Impressions of iPhone 6

I received my iPhone 6 over the weekend and, after four days or so of normal usage, am starting to get used to the large screen. I don’t necessarily think this is a good change as I was perfectly happy with the smaller screen of the iPhone 5S. The 6 is bulky and round, which is making it hard to hold on to. The 5 and 5S were more rectangular, with the glass screen lying across the surface. The 6 changes all that, as most of the major parts of the phone, the screen in particular, are now curved. This presents a few problems.

First, it clashes with the operating system. iOS 7, released about one year ago, was a huge design change for the iPhone and iPad software. Curvy app icons disappeared as did textured backgrounds, gloss, and buttons. I liked this change and felt that it fit well with the iPhone 5 and 5S. Both the iOS and the device were a bit more simple, square, and spare.

The iPhone 6 tosses all of that aside in favor of gloss and shine. The screen is curved, causing the edges to give off slightly distracting reflections that are reminiscent of the pre-iOS 7 app icons and buttons. This phone would have looked great running iOS 6 and earlier but I want my new phone to look modern. While I won’t be going back to the 5S anytime soon (my desire to have the latest and greatest trumps my nostalgia) I can’t help but feel a tad bit disappointed that Apple didn’t stick with a more angular design.

Second, because this phone is larger and curvier, I find myself worrying that I’m going to drop it. I expect this feeling will go away within the next week or two as the novelty of the new phone starts to wear off. However, I was nervous about carrying it around without a case so I purchased Apple’s leather model. I had the leather case on my 5S and was very pleased with the look, feel, and quality. The problem with a leather-clad iPhone 6 is that it still feels slippery. After trying the leather case for a few days I exchanged it for the silicone version. The silicone model is much grippier and fits just as well. Using the silicone case quickly put my mind at ease and the cheaper case seems like it might even be more durable.

Despite my reservations, I would still recommend the iPhone 6. Apple is all I know when it comes to smart phones, and they would have to make a downright ugly phone for me to consider switching away from iOS. The iPhone 6 is not ugly, and I suspect I will come to appreciate it over time.