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Using Tally

I was recently asked on Twitter for practical examples of how I use Tally, made by Greg Pierce of Agile Tortoise. My response is way too long, even for the new 280-character limit, though, so I thought I’d write it up here.

Note: This is not a paid endorsement. I know Greg, and I know he makes great apps. Which is why I downloaded Tally in the first place. But he has never asked me to promote anything of his. I just like talking about great products.

Tally, for those who don’t know, is a simple iOS app for keeping a tally of just about anything. Tap anywhere on the screen to add one to the counter. Couldn’t be easier.

You can run multiple tallies at once, too. And there are other settings inside the app for customizing further. But that’s the basic gist. It’s a very simple app. But it’s this simplicity and malleability that make Tally so valuable to me.

Tally is also one of the few apps with an iOS widget that I actually use. Thanks to the widget (and the very good Apple Watch companion app) I almost never have to actually launch Tally on my iPhone to keep my tallies going.

The obvious use case for an app like Tally is to keep score in games, or count the number of people who enter a room. That sort of thing. But that’s not how I use the app.

Basically, I use Tally to keep track of behaviors I’m curious about tracking, but that I don’t want to get too deep into a rabbit hole about tracking. Make sense?

Let me give you an example. A while back, my doctor asked me to estimate how often per week I eat red meat. I couldn’t really give her an honest answer. I figured it was more than she was going to recommend, regardless, but that didn’t bother me as much as simply not knowing. I had never thought to track my red meat intake before. So I made a tally called Red Meat, and I started tracking it, casually. Every time I ordered a cheeseburger, I’d flick over to Tally on my Apple Watch or on the widget screen and add one to the count. Carne Asada burrito? Add another to the count. And that was it. I wasn’t trying to guilt myself into changing any behavior. I didn’t want to create permanent stats on my red meat intake for the rest of my life. It wasn’t a chore. I was just curious.

The results, of course, surprised me. I was definitely eating red meat more often than I thought I was. Given the health drawbacks of cholesterol, cancer risk, heart problems, etc., it was definitely more than I wanted to be eating. But I didn’t panic. I just kept tracking it, this time setting my sights on reducing that weekly number. Could I do one fewer this week than last week? No pressure. No judgement. Some weeks I’d do better. Others I wouldn’t. Let me just see if I can make different choices on occasion.

Over time, I went from eating red meat more than seven times a week (or roughly once a day) to three or fewer times per week. That’s a big shift, but I did it over a prolonged period, so it barely felt like a change. Months later, I find myself craving red meat less often, so keeping the number down at three or so has become second nature. I can probably stop tracking it at this point, I’ve gotten so consistent at keeping that number down.

And that’s the whole point. There are some things in my life I absolutely want tracked over the long haul, in an app tailored specifically for that thing. My caffeine intake, for instance. My heart rate. My weight. And so on. But for other things, I’m just mildly curious. I suspect I have a habit that isn’t ideal, and so I gather some data to see if my suspicion turns out to be true. If the number makes me concerned, I make small adjustments to my habits, so I can be less concerned.

I didn’t need a red meat tracking app, in other words. I just needed to keep a casual tally for a few months. I needed data, and Tally was the easiest, low-pressure way to gather that data.

The beauty of Tally is that I can use one app to track just about anything. Another thing I started tracking not long after red meat was my alcoholic beverage intake. I never drink myself into a stupor, but I do like a nice glass of wine most nights for dinner. I also mix the occasional cocktail at home, mostly as a hobby. Throw in the occasional social gathering in the evenings, and just how many drinks was I actually having during the average week? Once again, it was more than I thought. So I’ve begun working on reducing that number, too.

This isn’t about scaring myself into making a massive change to my behavior overnight. Experience has shown me that’s a waste of time. If I want to make changes to long-ingrained habits, I know I need to make small adjustments over a long period, until the new habit becomes as natural as the old one once was. Until the old habit seems downright unattractive. It’ll take much longer to accomplish, but it’ll also last much longer.

You can also use Tally with an eye for increasing, rather than decreasing, behaviors, of course. How many times this week did I resist the urge to correct someone on the Internet? How many times did I work on gathering new leads for my consulting business? The possibilities are endless. And it’s so easy to track things, you’re far more likely to do it than with more complicated data entry apps. It only takes a few seconds to pop into the Apple Watch app or flip over to the widget screen on my iPhone, and add one to the count. It’s quicker than checking in on Swarm, or posting a pic to Instagram, for sure.

At the end of the week I reset the count, and I can start fresh. There’s no permanent record on which to judge myself. I don’t even really look at the numbers as the week goes by. I just view each tap as collecting a data point. Nothing more. On Sunday, when I actually look more closely at the numbers, I take a moment to reflect on how I’m doing. If I did better? Great. If I didn’t? No worries. I’ll try to do better next week.

We all want to improve ourselves in some way. I don’t know if this will work for you to help make adjustments in your habits. But it’s sure worked for me. I encourage you to give Tally a try, if you think it may help. It’s free to download and very inexpensive to get all the features unlocked.

On Keyboard Placement

I’ve seen a number of complaints about the iPhone X keyboard implementation. “So much wasted space.” “They should put the spacebar down at the bottom, where it always was.” “They should fill that space under the spacebar with emoji buttons.” And so on.

All of these suggestions strike me as poorly thought out. I immediately understood why Apple made the choice to leave that area mostly blank. The space bar is where it used to be. The home button used to be where that empty space is.

Given how difficult it is to change muscle memory, and given how much of a stretch it actually is to reach the bottom of the iPhone X in real-world use, putting frequently used buttons down at the bottom is a really bad idea.

I got to test this firsthand with my own app, x2y. I wasn’t expecting to get my iPhone X version finished in time for the release date, but at the last minute I had some time, and I was able to handle all the changes I felt were necessary—except one. My custom number pad still reached down to the bottom of the phone. I figured this would not be ideal, given what Apple had chosen to do with the built-in keyboard, but not having the hardware in my hands, I figured I’d ship it and see what happens.

Sure enough, as soon as I played around for a few minutes on my own iPhone X, I knew this could not stand. I was accidentally typing the wrong numbers constantly. And it was just too much of a stretch to get to that bottom row regularly.

So I fired up Xcode again and started figuring out a fix. In the end, the new design technically doesn’t look as good, but in practice it feels a thousand times better. My number pad isn’t quite as high up as Apple’s own built-in version, but it’s up above the Safe Area, at least.

So there you have it. Apple clearly did the right thing with keyboard placement on iPhone X. As I mentioned before, just because your screen goes edge-to-edge, that doesn’t mean your UI should. The extra space is most often best filled with background color.

Remote Messaging in Fin 4.3

I’ll be honest: when I added remote connectivity to Fin in version 4, I wasn’t sure how many people would actually use the feature. I just thought it would be a cool thing to have, and I wanted to learn how to work with Apple’s MultipeerConnectivity APIs.

All of my side projects have been about learning something, after all.

But to my surprise, a number of my customers do seem to like connecting two or more iOS devices together while running timers.

Recently, I received a support request for an additional feature: While connected, wouldn’t it be cool to send a quick text-based message to the other devices? That way, you could signal to someone performing on stage, for instance, that there was an important announcement, or something to that effect.

Not a bad idea.

So I went to work on getting that to happen. Since all the networking infrastructure was already done, it actually turned out to be more of a user experience problem than anything else. Where should the messaging UI live in the app, and how should it appear on screen? Those were the two hardest issues to tackle. The rest was just packaging up a string and sending it over to the other device(s).

After some experimentation and refinement, I managed to get something really simple and cool up and running. And so starting today with the latest update on the App Store, Fin can now be used to send notes to connected devices.

Type in a quick message, send it, and the connected devices on your network will display the message full screen for five seconds. Fin remembers the five most recent messages you’ve sent, so you can access them with a single tap, in case you often find yourself telling your performers the same thing. You can even send emoji in messages, if you want.

While I was at it, I improved the workflow for changing the end message that appears when the timer runs out using the same controller. Here, too, you will see the five most recent messages you’ve set. It’s a part of the user experience I’ve been less than thrilled about for a long time, so I was glad to improve it in this version.

Fin 4.3 is now available on the App Store.

FaceID vs TouchID

A lot of folks probably don’t remember, but the very first iteration of TouchID was problematic for some users. Most had no issues, and it worked great. For others, including me, it would work for a short while then stop unlocking the phone. I would have to retrain my fingers every few days just to keep it going.

There were even hack tricks, like training the same finger twice, that supposedly improved performance. I tried this as well. It made things nominally better, at best.

Then Apple released a software update, and it worked great for me from that point on. I even joked at the time that perhaps Apple had “fixed” TouchID by simply making it less secure.

Then the hardware for TouchID was upgraded a year later, and it got even faster and more reliable.

I’ve been reminded of this while reading some sporadic reports from friends about FaceID. Most people, myself included this time, have no trouble with FaceID at all. (I think my phone has failed to recognize me maybe three times out of hundreds of unlocks in the past week.) But for a few folks, it seems to be a little less reliable. Particularly for those wearing glasses or with facial hair. (Oddly, both things that would apply to me, yet I appear to be unaffected.)

Thanks to the benefits of machine learning, though, we can expect that FaceID will get better quickly for those who are currently having a bit of trouble. First, with a software update or two. Then with even better hardware.

Any way you slice it, it’s clear to me that Apple was right to go all-in on FaceID. I can’t wait to have it on my iPad, my MacBook Pro—everywhere. Putting my finger down on my MacBook Pro to authenticate seems so antiquated already.

In My Pocket

So I have this new iPhone X, and I like it so far. I’m sure I’ll have much to write about it in the coming months. But first, as with any new iPhone, there is one stage of the upgrade process I always dread, and that’s getting my iTunes music library copied over to the new device.

I know I’m in the minority here, but I like having all my music on my phone. And I mean downloaded, ready to play, regardless of network connectivity. I ride the subway a lot, and thus I often find myself in a position of no internet connectivity. And I like to decide what I want to listen to in the moment, not ahead of time. It’s very frustrating for me to be in the mood for a song, go to play it on my phone, and nothing happens.

Remember with the iPod, the promise of having all your music in your pocket? That’s all I want. Seems to me that in 2017 I should be able to have what I already had in the early 2000s, right?

You would think this would be easy, copying my entire library, since all my music is on my Mac, and thus a simple USB cable would be all I'd need to copy all that music over to my new phone. If you think this is true, you clearly haven’t been reading my blog for very long. For several years now, as Apple has ignored users in my situation, the process of getting my songs onto my phone has resulted in doubled tracks, missing tracks, incorrect album artwork, songs that simply never copy, songs that appear to be on the phone but refuse to play, and on and on. It has been a nightmare for a geek like me who makes an effort to have a very orderly library and who likes to listen to entire albums. And I have been very vocal about it.

If your library isn’t that large, if every song was purchased via the iTunes Music Store, or if you just don’t care if you have to stream songs, you may not relate to any of my issues here. If you shuffle songs in your library, perhaps you aren’t even aware that several of your tunes are duplicated or missing. But if you have lots of tracks that you ripped from CDs back in the Stone Age, or you purchase songs from places other than iTunes occasionally, and you haven’t yet surrendered your entire music flow to streaming services, you may be experiencing many of the difficulties I have with iTunes over the past five or more years. If so, read on. I think I may have finally discovered a full-proof method for getting a clean copy of all my songs in relatively few steps.

The reason this is finally working for me, I think, is that a recent update to iTunes seems to have at least solved one of the biggest issues I had with file transfer. Dragging songs from the Mac’s library over to the iOS device has actually become a lot more reliable in the most recent updates to iTunes. At least for me. (Whoever it was that fixed this at Apple, thank you.) In previous versions, this was anything but reliable. Often, nothing would happen when you drag. Or, iTunes would tell you it was copying, but nothing would actually copy. Or, you’d get a “ghost” track on your iPhone—a dimmed version that would show up in iTunes when you plugged the phone in, but not in the Music app on the phone.

Other parts of the iTunes workflow, like doing an automatic sync, finding phantom songs listed, etc. are still as bonkers as ever. But at least now when I drag a file, I find that it actually does copy to the iOS device on the first try more often than not. This is a huge improvement.

So given this discovery, after a few false starts this year, I decided on a new workflow for getting my entire library copied. And to my surprise, with a few tweaks, it actually works.

Get the biggest iPhone storage capacity you can afford

First and foremost, when you are purchasing your new phone, you’ll want one with as much free space as possible to accommodate your library. Fortunately for me, Apple a few years ago upped the largest storage capacity on iPhones to 256GB, which is finally enough to hold my whole catalog with room to spare. Prior to this, I needed to pick and choose which songs I wanted to have with me, which added some extra complications and headaches.

You may find that the base 64GB models are enough to hold all your songs. Depends on how much music you have. Just make sure you account for all the space also taken by apps, photos, etc. You don’t want your phone to be on the edge of full because of your music library—or for any reason, really.

Clear all music out of your phone

When you restore from a backup during the setup process, your iPhone will not only restore all your settings and apps; it will also start downloading music. Not all your music. Just whatever songs were on your previous phone that happened to be purchased in the iTunes Music Store. This will likely leave you with a weird mix of some tracks from your entire library. If you have iTunes Match or Apple Music, the restore may also attempt to grab your other tracks, but I’ve found this completely unreliable.

Basically, you have no idea what you’ll actually get from a restore, so it’s best to remove everything and start over from scratch.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to tell the setup assistant to just ignore your music. You have to wait until it thinks it’s downloaded everything it was supposed to. Otherwise, it will keep trying. This usually takes the better part of a day for me, so be patient. There is a cancel all downloads button in the Music app you can try, but that may or may not work. The bottom line: don’t expect to listen to music on day one of your new iPhone. (Great new device experience there, Apple.) What I do instead is just let it try to download whatever it wants overnight and start the actual process of getting my music copied over the next day.

There are a few different ways to clear out all your music on your phone. What I like to do is plug the phone into my Mac, fire up iTunes, and delete everything from there. Click on the iPhone icon that appears at the top left a few seconds after plugging in your phone, next to the category dropdown menu.

On the left sidebar, under Settings, click on Summary. In the main window, in the Options section, be sure to check “Manually manage music and videos.”

On the left sidebar again, under On My Device, click on Music. This will show you a listing of every song currently on your iPhone. Select all the songs, then delete. Be sure there is absolutely nothing left listed after the delete.

At this point, you probably still have music on your iPhone. I did. Unplug the iPhone, open up the Music app, and verify that all the songs are gone. If you still see music listed there, be sure to delete any of the remaining songs. You have to be 100% certain that all the songs are gone, or you will very likely end up with duplicates in the end.

When all the music is truly gone from your iPhone, and you are in the Downloaded Music section, the music app should show a blank page that reads “You haven’t downloaded any music.” It’ll have a big download cloud icon. That’s how you know it’s all truly gone.

Because you still shouldn’t trust that it’s all truly gone, restart your phone. Open the Music app again, and check it again. iOS has a tendency to leave some stragglers, believe me. It’s worth as many checks as you can stomach.

Once you’re sure you have cleaned out your entire library, plug the phone back into iTunes. You are now ready to actually copy your library.

Copy your songs from iTunes onto the phone

There are lots of ways to copy your songs over, but in my experience there’s only one way that works reliably. (At least it does now. This would not have been true in earlier versions of iTunes.) For me, all the auto-syncing methods are unreliable. I tried again this year, resulting in multiple issues. What works best for me, thanks to that most recent iTunes update, is good old-fashioned drag and drop.

First, verify that the library is still indeed empty by clicking on the iPhone icon again. (I know, you think I’m nuts at this point, but I bet some of you still have a few songs showing on that list. If so, delete them again.) Once you are sure you are empty, click the back button to get back to your music library. Click on songs in the sidebar. Be sure you have all genres, artists, and albums showing in the list. Select all, and drag the songs over to your iPhone in the sidebar, under devices. A blue outline will surround the iPhone area. Drop. The songs should start copying. Depending on the size of your library, it may take a while for the copy to complete. (Maybe even hours.) Let it complete. Do not get impatient and unplug the phone. Don’t cancel. Don’t open the Music app on your phone. (It will likely crash if you do.) Let it work itself all the way through, even if you get the dreaded “Waiting for items to copy” message for several minutes. Eventually, the copy should complete, and you should now have your entire library on the phone, hopefully with no duplicates, incorrect artwork, missing songs, or corrupted songs.

You can optionally drag albums or artists one at a time. Pick and choose what you want to copy. This is what I used to do when drag and drop was less reliable. I’d do one artist at a time. Check to see all the tracks were actually there. Delete and start again if they weren’t. Etc.

This time, I found that there were only a few artists/tracks that I didn’t actually want on my phone, so I just copied everything in one drag; then, once the copy had completed, I clicked on the iPhone icon again and deleted the few tracks I didn’t want.

And that, hopefully, will get you your entire music library onto your shiny new phone with the least amount of hassle. So far, I haven’t found any corrupt files, duplicates, or missing tunes. Only time will tell, I suppose, as I actually listen to a lot of these tracks. But all indications so far are that this worked for me.

I hope that helps some of you get your music into your pocket. Compared to years past, this time around was far smoother, thanks to this new workflow. Last year, it was weeks before I was sure I had the bulk of my tracks loaded properly onto my phone. And even then I was never fully sure what I’d get when I chose to listen to an album I hadn’t tried yet.

In a perfect world, Apple would make this process even easier by giving me the option to leave music out of the restore entirely. Perhaps next time I’ll try deleting all my music and doing a backup on my old phone before restoring it to the new one to see if that helps. Or I’ll be quicker with the Cancel All Downloads button to see if I can get that to actually stop the automatic downloads after restore. Meanwhile, I’m happy that this time around I seem to be able to listen to whatever I want reliably in such a short time.