Files, iWork, and Dropbox Issues by Erin Wade

One of the banner features of iOS 11 is the addition of the new Files app, which works in a fashion similar to the Finder in Mac OS, and offers the promise of giving a central location for all of your file access needs in iOS. For those of us who have been shepherding around files from app to app ove the past seven years, this is an exciting prospect.

It is often the case that other developers aren’t ready to take advantage of the new features in iOS on day one. Sure enough, Dropbox was not ready to fully integrate into the files app on the iOS release date. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Dropbox shipped an update within a week of the emergence of iOS 11, promising to integrate with Files and, perhaps more importantly, allowing save-in-place.

What does this mean?

Depending upon the app one uses, for much of the history of Dropbox on iOS, if one has wanted to work on a file stored in Dropbox, it’s been a multiple step process:

  • Export the file from Dropbox into the app (which typically opens a copy of the file in the app)
  • Perform the edits one wishes
  • Export (copy) the edited file back to Dropbox
  • Delete the copy from the app

Much more complicated than the simple open-edit-save routine that one would prefer. What’s more, it’s easy to omit the last step in the routine, and end up with a batch of leftover files in the app, visually clogging up the works. To be fair, Dropbox has offered an API to allow apps to save into Dropbox - 1Writer, the text editor I use to write these posts, is an example of this. But Dropbox has never before embraced save-in-place for apps like Apple’s iWork office suite, which I use routinely for work. This means I’ve been routinely doing the dance I described above for the past several years. To say I was excited about the prospect of no longer doing this would be an understatement.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

Let me dial that back just a bit. Strictly speaking, it does work to open an iWork file from Dropbox using the files app, and that file saves back to the same location in Dropbox when you close it. Just the simple open-edit-save routine that one hopes for.

Where the problem comes in is that this only works in an unshared Dropbox folder. Use a shared folder - arguably a primary reason for Dropbox’s existence - and things go directly south. It is possible to open an iWork document from a shared Dropbox folder using Files, but that’s where the joy ends. It is not possible to modify the file and save back.

When one opens a document under these circumstances one is greeted by a warning indicating "Couldn’t connect to iCloud".

couldn't connect to iCloud

Disregard that warning, and attempt to make any change at all to the document, and you’ll interrupted by a warning indicating "Couldn’t Connect: Pages [or Numbers] couldn’t connect to iCloud. There may be a problem with the server or network" or "Couldn’t Connect: Pages couldn't Connect to iCloud. Try editing this shared document later, or edit a copy."

couldn't connect 1

couldn't connect 2

The second warning suggests that the app (Pages, in this case) thinks this is a shared document - one that is being shared by multiple people using iCloud. It’s not - the only shared thing in the scenario is the Dropbox folder it is resting in.

Turn off the integration between Files and Dropbox and things continue to work the way they did before iOS 11 (well - except for Keynote Files, which now inexplicably cannot be uploaded to Dropbox from the iOS app at all, but that is outside this discussion). It’s possible that this issue is only occurring on my devices, but I suspect this is not the case. I’ve filed but reports with both Dropbox and Apple, and I’m hoping others experiencing this will do the same to get this issue addressed quickly - I’d really like to see this work as promised.

Mac OS Sierra iOS-Style Keyboard Settings by Erin Wade

On a whim the other day I took a moment to dig into the keyboard settings on my iMac, which I recently upgraded to Sierra. What I was curious to see was whether there might be any way to get parity in the typing behavior between iOS and MacOS.

On any iOS device there are two features to typing, setup by default, to which I have become very accustomed:

  • Double-tapping the space bar generates a period; and
  • Auto-capitalization at the beginning of each sentence.

I was surprised and delighted to find that these are now features that can now be turned on in the keyboard settings in MacOS:

iOS-style settings

Why is this important?

These features started with the iPhone, and appear to have been put in place to make typing faster on the iPhone's virtual keyboard, which for space reasons buries the period in the second-layer. Still, it was continued on the iPad when that device was released, despite the period being at the first layer. I've been working - writing - on iPads since 2010 and, as a result, my habits on the virtual keyboard have grown to expect this behavior.

Although I can do - and do - the majority of my work on iOS devices - primarily my iPad Pro - there remain a handful of activities that I must log in to my iMac to complete and, because I'm frequently away from the office, this is often done remotely from my iPad. Although I am not doing long-form writing over the remote connection, I do periodically have to write notes or short passages during this process. Inevitably, because I'm working from my iPad, this results in errors in which I am forgetting to capitalize and/or forgetting to punctuate. (These notes are for my own reference and consumption, typically, so if I were another person I could consider just leaving them as they are... if I were another person). With this new setting in Sierra that issue is no longer a problem.

In fact, it works so well that, for fun I've begun taking to simply using the iPad Pro as the keyboard for my iMac on occasion. I do this sitting right in front of the iMac at my desk, using a neat bit of software called TouchPad. I originally purchased TouchPad to allow me to work at servers - machines where there is no external keyboard connected - from my iPad. However, it works quite nicely in this application as well, such that I could easily envision a future in which even desktops and laptops simply have a virtual keyboard and trackpad attached to them. And I'm not the only one:


Virtual Keyboard?

However, for my purposes, having the iPad Pro set up as a keyboard at my desktop is a benefit because I am more comfortable doing most things on the iPad. When I am sitting at my desktop machine it is typically because there is some specific activity that I have to use it for, but I may need to reference other things. For example, I may be doing bookkeeping on the desktop, but need to reference receipts or similar documentation in Dropbox. I can obviously pull these up in Dropbox on my desktop screen, but I'm often more comfortable - and quicker - with Dropbox on my iPad. With the iPad Pro set up in split-screen I can quickly reference materials in Dropbox and then switch back to TouchPad - by tapping on it on the other side of the split screen - to enter that information on the iMac.

TouchPad on iPad Pro

The top part of TouchPad you see in the picture is a virtual trackpad - the app covers both duties, so one can sit at a desktop or laptop machine with no other input devices, And simply work from an iPad. Or an iPhone, if one were so inclined. It's also very handy if you have a computer set up as a media server (e.g. providing audio or video to your television), where it may be inconvenient or unattractive to have a physical keyboard and mouse attached.

Way of the future? I'm not sure about that. People still grouse about typing on glass. Still, for each one of those folks there is an entire following generation that is becoming more and comfortable with virtual keyboards...

The MacStories Review of iOS 10 by Erin Wade

Every year for the past several years Frederico Viticci at Macstories has been writing reviews of each new version of iOS just following it's release.

MacStories, as you might guess, is a website focusing on Apple products, software, and accessories. They do a nice job at all of that, and if you are interested in that sort of thing (I am, as one might guess) I can happily recommend the site for that purpose.

However, Frederico Viticci's iOS reviews are something very special indeed:

The iOS 10 Review

While it is called a "review", these articles could just as well be considered unofficial user's manuals for each new version of iOS. Frederico delves incredibly deeply into each new version of Apple's mobile operating system and describes, in detail, what is new and different, and how to use the new features, in addition to providing critique. If you've ever wanted to know how to get more out of your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, or been uncertain whether the new version of the operating system could do a given thing, these articles are the way to get there.

At first blush the articles can seem intimidating - the review for iOS 10 is 30 pages long, and that's 30 web pages: Each page is on a specific topic, and is as long as the topic requires to cover. If it were a book (and if you are a MacStories club member, I believe you can get the review as a book) each page would essentially be a chapter. But the intimidation quickly dissipates when one realizes that the website actually has a table of contents for the article that lets you move through it at your own pace and allows you to quickly find and read the portions you are interested in when you want. Don't have an iPad? Skip the section on that device. Don't care about Apple Music right now? Move on to the next chapter.

iOS Review TOC

The review is written very clearly, in language that is not overly technical or techie oriented - it is clearly intended to help guide everyday users in how to take better advantage of their devices. Frederico was in the vanguard of people determined to use their iPad as a primary computing device, and so had strong motivation early on to find ways to wring all of the functionality out of these machines. These articles have been incredibly helpful for me in my own travels down a similar path. I strongly recommend checking it out if you are interested in learning more about what your device can do.

Apple's New Notes by Erin Wade

With iOS 9 Apple has given some serious love to its Notes app, including many features that you often have to purchase an app to get - drawing, some rich text editing features like bold, italics, etc, and capabilities like making different types of lists (in particular I like the checklist option - great for making shopping lists).

With iOS 9.3 they have added the capability to lock individual notes so the content is kept from prying eyes.

Under lock and thumb

This is great. Because Notes is a system app, it's likely to fall to hand for marking down all sorts of information on the phone, some of which the owner might not want others to see. But its implementation of this feature is, well, a bit odd and clunky.

First, the feature has to be turned on in settings, and then an individual note has to have the locking feature enabled by tapping the share sheet. To finalize enabling it, the user has to either enter the password or use Touch ID. All of this is fine, I suppose, though a bit obscure, particularly with the enabling feature in the share sheet menu (which otherwise mostly houses ways to, you know, share things).

How to Lock a Note

What's odd here is that this process enables the lock, but doesn't lock the document. You have to then tap the little lock symbol in the upper right hand corner to formally lock the document. What's more, you also have to do that every time you exit the document in the future.

Make sure you tap the lock!

And now we're secure

What I mean is this: Say you go through the process of locking a document, and then go back to read it again, edit it, etc. When you get done with that, and navigate out of the document, it remains unlocked unless you manually choose to lock it. What's more, unlocking that note to edit it also unlocks every other locked note you have in Notes.

To their credit, there is a "lock now" button at the bottom of the document menu screen which, when tapped, locks all open notes. And when I manually lock the note I was working on, it also locks all of the other notes that I inadvertently opened as well. But why this manual process to lock? If I really am protecting sensitive information in a note, wouldn't it be better for it to lock automatically when I exit, always requiring a password or Touch ID to open it again? Then I would know it, and all of my locked notes, are always locked - there would be no need to, say, check to see if my notes were locked before I handed my phone to someone else to look at.

One suspects that this is an attempt to compromise. Other notetaking and writing apps can have a password applied, but this is typically to access the the entire app. Here you can access the Notes application itself without entering a password, but your notes themselves can be protected. One can see the value in that - I can show another person what's on a note without giving them free access to everything I've written. The same cannot be said for an app like Day One, an otherwise excellent journaling program. There, when you enter your password or Touch ID and hand your device to another person you have just granted them free access to anything you've ever written in that app. The Notes solution is better, I suppose, if you want to be able to show others selective information on your device. But honestly, those notes I want secured should automatically secure themselves when I exit them - period.

iPad Pro Keyboard by Erin Wade

iPad Pro set in portrait orientation on the left, iPad Air 2 (in a BookBook Case) in landscape orientation on the left.

iPad Pro set in portrait orientation on the left, iPad Air 2 (in a BookBook Case) in landscape orientation on the left.

I have had an iPad Pro now for a couple of weeks. I have had some difficulty incorporating it into my workflow. I knew that having it was going to be useful, and I have some ideas about how, but it will take some time to fully integrate it.

One of the more frustrating things is how long it is taking some of the app developers to update their apps for the device. In particular this means apps don’t take full advantage of the features of the device, and I am particularly struggling with the failure to integrate the iPad Pro’s new virtual keyboard (which is, in and of itself, pretty awesome - it’s essentially a full keyboard).

In part, this presents an issue because it will take me a bit of time to learn the new keyboard. After five years of typing on glass with the 9.7“ iPad I have a lot of habits based upon that device’s keyboard. For example, I use a lot of dashes in my writing, and I have a habit of hitting the little ”.?123“ button in the lower left-hand corner in order to access that item. But two things are different on the new keyboard. First, there is now a dash on the main keyboard, right where you would expect it on a typical physical keyboard. Second, the Pro reverses the location of the ”.?123“ button and the emoticon button; this means that I keep accidentally accessing the emoticon keyboard when I intend to access the ”.?123" keyboard.

One of non-updated apps in question is Day One, the journaling app I use to do the overwhelming majority of my writing. This means that, when I set the app up in landscape format, I get a comically-large version of the keyboard from the 9.7" iPad, which is spaced all wrong, making typing a challenge.

To better incorporate the new iPad Pro I considered actually pairing it with a Bluetooth keyboard, something I haven’t actually done since the first-generation iPad[1]. And then I remembered something: the size of the iPad Pro is frequently described in articles as being, in landscape, about the size of two 9.7“ iPad screens side by side. This also would mean, that in portrait the iPad Pro is about as wide as a 9.7” iPad in landscape.

Which means that the portrait version of the old keyboard on the iPad Pro is almost exactly the same size as the landscape version on the iPad Air. So I turned Day One to portrait orientation and started typing. This entire entry has been typed on the iPad Pro in portrait orientation. It’s worked quite nicely.

This won’t last, of course. Eventually Day One and the other apps I use will update to put the new keyboard in, and I will be writing on them in Landscape, and learning the new keyboard. But it’s nice to have found a work-around in the meantime.

  1. When the iPad first came out this was exactly how I pictured using it - with a keyboard paired, writing in that format all over the place. But, as often happens when a new system presents itself - in this case, the virtual keyboard - I became curious about using the new thing instead. It turns out that it’s quite possible to type very quickly and effectively on a virtual keyboard.  ↩

Old Soldiers by Erin Wade


For the past decade we have been an Apple household. Among the reasons for this - and one that continues to surprise me - is the longevity of these machines. I may have mentioned before that my first Mac, a 2005 Power PC Mac Mini, continues to soldier on as our media server, a decade after I bought it and several years after it reached the end of its service as a work machine.

The Mini was replaced by a late 2006 iMac, which served for several years before being placed into retirement as a machine for my daughter to use for school. Still, longevity and all aside, it appeared over the past year that the iMac had finally reached the end of its useful life. It was having trouble running for any significant period of time without locking up, and varying white lines across the display suggested to me that the graphics card was on its way out. It was set off to the side, and replaced with a lightly used and well-cared for 2012 MacBook Air that I purchased from Dan Benjamin at the 5by5 Podcast network.

By "set it off to the side" I essentially mean literally that. It sat, for months, on the floor beside my desk, waiting for me to have the time to decommission it by wiping the hard drive and sending it off to the recycling center.

I finally got around to it over the weekend before Thanksgiving. I dragged the Snow Leopard disk out of one of my drawers-o'-technology, and used disk utility to do a secure wipe of the hard drive. Done right this takes a while, and I let it run for several hours (and overnight) while I did other things.

When it was done I noticed that, while running off of the install disk, none of the white lines appeared. This, despite the fact that it had been running for hours. Given this, I went ahead and did a clean install of Snow Leopard just to see what I'd get.

The iMac has been running more or less continuously since the Sunday before Turkey Day, a full two weeks now, with only a brief interruption due to a power outage. The screen is free of artifacts. Essentially, it appears that the machine itself was fine, it just needed a clean install to recover from nearly a decade of continual use.

Of course, now this leaves me wondering what to do with it. Its operating system is several generations behind (10.6.8 vs 10.11 for El Capitan), and it doesn't have some of the bells and whistles of the newer systems like Handoff, for example. However, a little exploring after the clean install finds that it does, for example, run the iWork suite just fine through (though, ironically, I had to install Google Chrome to do this). So, it could serve as a backup desktop system for now, I suppose, while it waits to take its turn as a media server when (if?) the Mini finally shuffled off.

Things I Have Learned Because of Apple Music by Erin Wade

  • REO Speedwagon was formed in the late 1960's. And they're from Champaign IL.
  • There is actually a band called Atomic Rooster
  • I still really, really don't like The Rolling Stones
  • I believe Neil Peart is a person who can pat his head and rub his tummy at the same time.
  • In related news, I've learned that I really, really like Rush.
  • there are a lot of British Prog Rock bands from the late 60's and early 70's I'd never heard of. But I want to know more about them.
  • The Eagles have a lot of good stuff that isn't on either volume of greatest hits. None of it is from Long Road Out of Eden.
  • It doesn't matter if you select no country artists when you set it up, it will still suggest an "introduction to Keith Urban" playlist.
  • There is a reason that the handful of hit songs you hear by The Police are the only songs you ever hear by them ("deep cuts" playlists are not always a kindness).
  • Did I mention that I really like Rush?
  • Even though Apple can see your entire music collection they may suggest a playlist that is an introduction to an artist you are already passingly familiar with.
  • He may be vain, but the song really is about him.
  • Neko Case has material I hadn't yet heard, and it, like all of her stuff, is fundamentally awesome.

iPads at Work by Erin Wade

It's like clockwork, like some anti-celebration: Every year about this time folks come out with a series of articles about how one cannot do actual work on an iPad (or, as a variation: the iPad cannot replace a laptop). This is perplexing to me, given that I've been regularly doing my work on an iPad - which replaced my use of laptops - since the device was first released back in 2010. I wrote about it back then, and it continues to be the case.

This spate of articles came my way via Daring Fireball this past week. John Gruber linked to this article by Joanna Stern in which she makes an attempt to use several different tablets in place of her laptop. And one wants to give her a bit of credit, in that she actually tried each of them out. Allowing for that, her article still presents with some fundamental flaws. The first is the Turkey Bacon Problem (TBP) - the mistake one makes of trying to use something to replace something that it is not. A tablet is not a laptop. Yet in this article she is clearly trying to use each of the tablets in exactly the same fashion. In many ways this is like a carpenter purchasing a pneumatic nailer to replace his hammer, but using the device by trying to drive traditional nails and complaining that it doesn't work as well.

Additionally, she clearly doesn't have a full understanding of the capabilities of her iPad. In her section on multitasking she notes:

...using the iPad, which displays one app at a time and requires you to press the home button twice to switch apps...(Emphasis added)

Actually no - the iPad doesn't require you to press the home button twice to switch between apps. You can also turn on multitasking gestures in the settings to allow a four finger swipe to move back and forth between recent apps, and a four fingered swipe up to get to the app menu. Admittedly, this is somewhat of a power-user approach, but so is the use of alt-tab - the command combination for which she is pining - to switch between apps.

Which brings up my final point with respect to her approach. Ms. Stern indicates that, to write this article she borrowed the tablets in question (though the article suggests she does own an iPad Air). This would suggest that her evaluation of each item came from a relatively short time with each device. This shows in her evaluations of the keyboards, in which each and every one comes up wanting:

There was a tie for best keyboard. I was able to type 82 words a minute on the Surface Pro Type cover and the Galaxy Note Pro's keyboard cover, slightly down from my usual 92 words a minute. The Samsung keyboard was the closest in size to my laptop's, though my fingers felt most at home on the Surface's firm, backlit keys... I typed 80 words a minute on the Nokia keyboard case, and 72 on the iPad's Logitech cover. All of these let me type faster than on a screen. (Again, emphasis added)

Along with the Turkey Bacon Problem, there appears to be an expectation that there will be no learning curve when moving to a completely new tool. Not to beat the carpentry metaphors to death, but this is a little like buying a circular saw and manually moving it back and forth across the wood, and then proclaiming that you can cut faster with your trusty old hand saw.

I'm happy for her that she typically types at 92 words a minute (pretty specific number there - 92, not 90... But I digress). I suspect that's on the keyboard of a laptop with which she is extremely familiar. A few hours, or even a day or two of practice on an unfamiliar device is unlikely to gain the same results.

There is also an inherent assumption here that I see made over and over again:

All of these let me type faster than on a screen.

There has been a long-standing assumption that use of a hardware keyboard will always be a faster input option than typing on-screen. This was an oft-repeated trope when the original iPhone was released, and it persists in relation to the iPad. However, it seems to me that this should be taken as an empirical question, rather than something accepted a-priori.

Back when I first got my iPad I compared my typing on glass to my typing on the iPhone and on a mechanical keyboard, and found that it was faster than the iPhone, slower than the keyboard, but improving over the month or so that I had owned the device. It's been nearly four years since I first wrote that review, and I've been using iPads on a daily basis since then. This article made me curious to see where I was at with all of that practice under my belt.

In the interest of brevity those results - including the methods of measurement - can be seen here. By way of summary, let me note that I came out with the following average wpm on each device:

  • iPhone - 57.50 wpm
  • iPad - 74.17 wpm
  • iMac -79.33 wpm
  • iMac corrected for errors - 74.67 wpm

A couple of items stand out to me here, and are relevant in context of Ms. Stern's article. The first is the level of improvement between 2010 and 2014. My performance on the iPad is considerably higher than back in 2010 - 74 wpm compared to about 64 back then. But it should also be noted that my performance on the iPhone is also considerably higher - 57 wpm compared to 33 in 2010.

I say this not to pat myself on the back (though yes, my arm is a little sore from doing so), but to point out the practice effect from using these devices on a daily basis over the past several years. One is going to be more proficient with a tool - any tool - used with regularity than with one that has just been picked up.

The other thing I noted was that my current results on the iPad are comparable to my results on the iMac with its hardware keyboard. In particular, when the iMac results are corrected for errors - relevant here because autocorrect on the iPad significantly decreases my error rate - the results are nearly identical.

In fact, when I ran a second test - using the same website for both iPad and iMac - they were even closer: 74.83 and 76.50 respectively.

I am, of course, only one person - an n of 1 - but as Andy Braren at thinkertry can attest, there are others who have found similar results. We fall short of real science here, but these results clearly suggest it is possible to learn to type as quickly on glass as on plastic, mechanical keys.

To be clear, people should use the tools and devices they want to use, the ways they want to use them. It's when information is presented as fact when it is clearly opinion based upon limited experience that I balk.

I suspect we are approximately one generation away from all of this being a non-issue. Children being born now are likely to wonder why we tied ourselves to these hulking devices - desks, big screens, keyboards - when we could have been comfortably working on things in our laps, laying on couches, etc.

Microsoft Office for the iPad? Maybe Not... by Erin Wade

This excellent, elegant post at minimalmac does a marvelous job of outlining a reality that must be uncomfortable for Microsoft:

No one really needs Microsoft Office.

My company has been mostly an Apple iWork shop for some time now. Pages is our default word processor and, although we do a lot of training presentations, the truly exceptional capabilities of Keynote has kept my copy of PowerPoint gathering dust for some time.

The only exception has been Excel. We do a metric truckload of spreadsheets and graphs, and our invested time into the platform has made it harder to transition out. However, recent experiences with the "upgrade" to Office 2011 for Mac has us looking very closely at completing that transition. It should never take 45 minutes and a web search to figure out how to make a text box... Not to mention the f$@king ribbon!

For many people, for some time, it's been a common refrain that one must have Office to work on a computer. That refrain may no longer ring true.

(Tip of the hat to Daring Fireball for bringing this link to my attention).

Bitter About Apple by Erin Wade

Last week Apple tried something different and did a pre-release of its latest version of OS X (Mountain Lion) by doing 1:1 presentations to a select group of tech journalists.

This has led others - notably, those not selected - to opine that the company has begun to take favorites, and that it has specifically ostracized the New York Times. This, the theory goes, is due to that paper's recent series of articles about working conditions at Foxconn in China, a company that assembles consumer electronics for Apple... And for a large number of other major electronics companies.

A theory that, as Daring Fireball's John Gruber ably points out, ignores the fact that David Pogue was among that select group of journalists. That's David Pogue of the New York Times.

The entire story smacks of sour grapes... Or perhaps bitter apples.

As someone who runs a business and who has on (very rare) occasion had business related interviews, I can tell you that one is always uncertain how the information one gives will be used by the interviewer. Anyone - and any business - in such a position would take pause at considering giving additional direct information to a news source which had shown a bent towards sensationalizing or reflecting unfavorably on their business in the past.

The news here - if any - is that Apple didn't excommunicate the New York Times. Pogue got his early information despite a multi-part exposé that, frankly, often seemed to present Apple as if it were the only company using the massive Foxconn operation for product assembly. This despite the fact that the entire industry - virtually every major consumer electronics manufacturer - has the same issue.

I'm not sure I'd be so generous were I in the same position with my company. Especially if I was in Apple's position. They likely no longer really need the NY Times for publicity.

The rest of it - complaints over who did and didn't get early information - plays as whining from the did-nots.