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Ulysses Moves to a Subscription Model

Before getting into details, though, you should know that this switch was neither a quick decision, nor did we take it easily. We have been talking about it for over 2 years now. We’ve had uncountable discussions, and the topic came up at least once every month — yet we always postponed a decision. The sheer complexity and far reach of this change were too intimidating. I am not exaggerating in saying that this was the hardest decision in our whole time as professional software developers. After all, we have a system which currently works — after 14 years we are still around, Ulysses is still “a thing”, it’s even going better than ever before, and there are no immediate signs which hint at a change coming soon.

via Max Seeleman, on Medium

A little birdie told me this change was coming a few months ago, and I’ve been looking forward to seeing how well Ulysses pulled it off. It goes without saying to anyone who reads me regularly that I support this decision 100%, and I was happy to become one of Ulysses’ earliest subscribers yesterday.

Max’s writeup is lengthy, but well worth your time if you are interested in how to explain the benefits of moving to a subscription model.

I’ll confess: I have a very lengthy blog post of my own about the general topic of subscriptions drafted that I will likely never publish, because I couldn’t find a satisfactory way to argue many of the points that Max puts very eloquently in this piece. I’ll elaborate more of my thoughts on this topic in the coming weeks, but I’ll be smart about it this time and break it down into smaller chunks so I can manage to actually post something.

One thing’s for sure, Release Notes attendees are in for a treat when Max takes the stage this October in Chicago.

(written with Ulysses 11)

The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs

Back in 2013, while reviewing one of the ill-fated movies made at the time about the life of Steve Jobs, I suggested that Job’s life lent itself better to a classical 5-act play structure, or even Opera. A 2-hour pop movie about Jobs was simply the wrong format.

Well, someone clearly agreed with me, as the Santa Fe Opera Company has debuted a new Steve Jobs opera with music by Mason Bates and Libretto by Mark Campbell.

Throughout the course of 19 scenes, beginning with the launch of iPhone in 2007, the opera navigates the transformative experiences of Jobs' life, from his days at Reed College to his time with spiritual advisor Kobun Chino Otogawa to the launch of the Apple I.

As can be expected, personal relationships appear to feature prominently in the production. Scene synopses and a cast list show interactions with Steve "Woz" Wozniak, former girlfriend Chrisann Brennan, wife Laurene Powell Jobs and father Paul Jobs. In true opera fashion, Otogawa's ghost makes multiple appearances.

The story itself weaves back and forth between decades, a technique reminiscent of flashbacks in movie making.

"The libretto for 'Steve Jobs' has a very non-linear narrative," Campbell said. "We create a story where he is confronting his own mortality and decides to look at a few places in his past."

(via AppleInsider)

I wish I could make the trip to Santa Fe. Hopefully a production will be done in New York at some point. I’d love to see this, just out of curiosity. At least one reviewer hasn’t been super supportive thus far, but I’d still like to judge it for myself.

The approach sounds very different from the 5-act structure I outlined in my original post about Jobs’ life. The non-linear story sounds very intriguing. At the very least, it delves into what sounds like a much more personal exploration of Jobs than anything we’ve seen so far, which would be nice. Certainly better than any of the pop movies that have attempted to tackle this material.

I still believe, many years from now, when there’s more first-hand source material from friends and family, HBO will make an awesome miniseries about Jobs. Heck, if I was right about the opera…

Muscle Memory

Apple has been playing around with the iPad keyboard again in iOS 11. And I think this time the changes are mainly an improvement. Although my muscle memory is driving me nuts right now.

What am I talking about? Long time iPad users likely know the old swipe up on the comma key to put in an apostrophe, and swipe up on the period key to get double quotes trick. It is a killer time saver compared to having to switch over to the symbol keyboard just to get to these often-used characters. I’ve often wished iPhone had something similar.

iOS Keyboard swipe up on comma and question mark keys

(Actually, those shortcuts give you ' and ", because iOS 10 isn’t smart quote-enabled. But more on that in a moment.)

In iOS 11, we get a new gesture: swiping down on keys to get alternate characters. It works on most keys, and you get a graphical hint of what the result of your swipe will be ahead of time. It’s not ideal for typing several alternate characters in a row, like a series of numbers, but for one-off characters, like apostrophes or quotes, it’s very cool.

iOS keyboard swipe down gesture on K and L keys

And, because iOS 11 now does smart quotes by default (finally), you get the real deal curly quotation marks and apostrophes.

The problem, however, is threefold. First, the apostrophe and quotation marks are above the K and L keys, not comma and period. Second, I’m used to swiping up—not down—on keys to get alternate characters. So I have to retrain my brain for both of these. It makes perfect sense, when you watch the animation, to swipe down, as you can see the alternate character get dragged down into position. This is no doubt more intuitive, or at least more discoverable, to newcomers. I’ll get over that eventually.

The third and biggest issue is that the old gesture of swiping up on comma and period are still there. And they still type ' and "—or dumb quotes, if you will.

I get why Apple would want to leave the old gesture there, as it could be confusing for old-time iPad users to lose it. But I do hope they switch to smart quotes for these gestures. I know 90% of users don’t know or care about smart quotes. But that’s all the more reason to make these consistent with swiping down on K and L.

I doubt many people actually need quick access to ' and ".

iOS 11 is still in beta, of course, so there’s hope.

I’m thinking maybe I should file a radar in the meantime. If someone out there already has, let me know, and I’ll be happy to dupe.

Meanwhile, I keep finding myself swiping up on K and L, and being disappointed with the results. Muscle memory is tough to retrain.

Designing Better Touch Bar Experiences

As expected, I’ve been loving Touch Bar on my new MacBook Pro. I do find, however, that some app developers are doing a better job than others of taking advantage of this new input device.

When I shipped x2y on the Mac last year, I didn’t have a Touch Bar Mac myself yet and thus hadn’t yet figured out how to design an optimal Touch Bar experience. Now that I have Touch Bar to use every day, and I see how other developers are using it, I’m getting a much better idea of how I want to approach designing for it in the future.

x2y's Touch Bar

If you look at x2y’s Touch Bar design as it stands now, you can see that I made the most common mistake I see on many Touch Bar-enabled apps: I tried to pack every feature of the app in at once. Where Touch Bar really shines is in giving you quick access to a few commands that otherwise force you to switch from the keyboard to the trackpad or mouse, will take more than a click, or that require an obscure keyboard shortcut that customers are unlikely to ever memorize. The more things you cram into Touch Bar at once, the better the chance the customer becomes overwhelmed with options and stops trying to use Touch Bar altogether.

It’s also a good idea to focus Touch Bar commands on one specific workflow at a time. Everything you need to perform one specific flow is better than a bunch of unrelated buttons that are used for various tasks.

Mail's Touch Bar

Take a look at Touch Bar in Apple’s Mail. While there is a compose button on the bar, most of the bar is dedicated to the one most common workflow I use in Mail: triage. For every email in my inbox, I need to read a few words, make a quick decision, then do one of five possible actions. Respond, delete, archive, file into a folder, or mark as junk. (The default Mail bar also includes a flag button, but I never flag emails, so I removed it.) So now, when I look down a list of unread emails, I can read, make a quick choice, move the email where it needs to go, and arrow to the next one—all without my hands ever leaving the keyboard.

Sure, there are keyboard shortcuts for archiving and deleting, but if you’re an email filer like I am—moving your emails on particular topics or from specific people into specialized folders—you’ll know that doing so is basically impossible without using the trackpad to either drag the email or choose from the menu system the folder you want to utilize. Mail has gotten incredibly good at predicting, based on my past actions, where I want to file away new emails, so usually moving an email to the correct folder only takes one tap on Touch Bar. On the rare occasions where Mail doesn’t have the right folder pre-chosen, I can still get to it with a few taps and a swipe or two of Touch Bar.

I used to prefer triaging email on my iPad, because filing into folders was easier on iOS than on macOS. But on iOS that process is two taps, not one. So the Mac has become even more efficient at this task once again, thanks to this Touch Bar design.

The reason to leave the more common delete, archive, and junk, buttons on the bar, of course, is to have the entire triage process available in one place. No matter what I need to do with an email, I can do it from here, so my hands now go there automatically and repeatedly as I work down a list of new inbox items.

Fantastical's Touch Bar

Another app that does Touch Bar extremely well is Flexibits’ Fantastical. Here, the designers didn’t try to cram in buttons for creating or editing events, which is already easy to do from the keyboard, or other more common tasks. Instead, they used the bulk of the space on Touch Bar for a big slider that lets you jump to a different day, week, month, or year. As I write this in July, I am often looking at events on my calendar that will occur in October (as I have a rather important conference coming up in that month that I’m planning). Previously, to jump to October, I would have switched to the trackpad, moved the cursor to the forward button next to the Today button, then clicked it several times to jump to October. Now, I can keep my hands on the keyboard, reach up, and slide over to October with one swipe. When I want to go back to today, I tap the big Today button next to the slider. Flexibits found the one task that I do rather often that’s a little more work than it should be with a trackpad, and used Touch Bar to make it easier.

There are other good examples of Touch Bar design out there, of course. The app I’m using to write this article, Ulysses, uses Touch Bar to show some common markdown formatting that I tend to forget how to do, as well as the standard typing predictions offered by the system. Nothing fancy; just a little extra convenience for those who tend to need to grab these functions from the menu system. And Photoshop does an amazing job of providing tools for very specific contexts as you do different tasks. It takes a long time to explore and fully master so much added functionality, but that’s pretty standard for a professional tool like Photoshop. And focusing the bar on the specific task at hand, rather than providing every tool all at once is again a very important takeaway. Touch Bar is mutable; it makes little sense to have it sit static everywhere in your app if your app serves many different functions.

The more I use Touch Bar, the more I’m starting to reconsider how I approach it for future designs. If you’re a designer, I suggest you get your hands on an actual Touch Bar Mac and work with it in several apps if you want to be any good at creating good experiences for it.

The Next Form of Do Not Disturb

I’ve got a new feature request for iOS 12.

In iOS 11, we’re getting Do Not Disturb While Driving, which turns off all notifications and other distractions automatically when the phone detects you are driving a car. A great feature that will very likely save lives.

For iOS 12, I want Do Not Disturb Others While In Public. If you’re talking loudly on your iPhone in a public place, everyone nearby with an iPhone will get a notification.

“Do you want to tell this person to shut the hell up?”

If at least two people tap “Yes” the other person’s phone hangs up automatically and refuses to take any new calls.

It may not save lives, but it would make the world a better place.