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Stephen Hackett's blog about things that light up and make noise. 512 Pixels is about Apple, technology, journalism and design.

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An update to the YouTube to Huffduffer workflow

This is follow-up to Friday's post on ripping audio from YouTube and sending it to Huffduffer with Workflow for iOS.

As I wrote on Friday, Dropbox's handling of shared links doesn't play nice with Huffduffer, so I was sending my audio out to a remote server via Transmit for hosting.

Turns out, there is a way to do this with Dropbox and Workflow. It does require Clean Links from the iOS App Store.

My new workflow works as before, but uses Clean Links to accommodate Dropbox's URL handling.

It's important for me to say I wasn't clever enough to think of this. The URL business is all lifted from Daniel Breslan's workflow tackling a very similar problem.

This is the beauty of working with this app. Taking parts of what's out there and building something new is super easy. It makes me want the app's Gallery feature to be a lot more robust.

From YouTube to Huffduffer with Workflow

Workflow has already become an incredibly useful iOS tool. It's letting me do things on my iPhone and iPad that I previously could only do on my Mac.

For years, I've stripped the audio from talks uploaded to YouTube and listened to them in my podcast client via Huffduffer.

In the past, seeing a link to something while on the go means having to send the URL to Instapaper and having to remember to rip the audio and upload the file to Dropbox or S3 when I return to my Mac.

I figured this could all be done in Workflow, but struggled to make it work. I asked, and the Internet answered.

As you might imagine, Federico saved the day:

The workflow takes a YouTube URL, grabs the video, converts it to MP3, uploads it to Dropbox and then passes the Dropbox URL to Huffduffer's webpage.

It's not perfect — it hangs on some videos — but overall, it's great for most of what I've thrown at it in testing.

More importantly, I'm having lots of issues with the link to the Dropbox-stored file. Dropbox re-directs the link the app gives back and Huffduffer can't seem to always follow the redirection.

Since I have an S3 account, I tweaked the workflow to use the iOS document picker interface. This lets me upload the file to my S3 bucket with Transmit.

Unfortunately, Workflow can't fetch the S3 URL, so after uploading the file, I'm manually opening Transmit, getting the URL of my file, opening it in Safari and firing this workflow as an extension.

UPDATE: I've got a Dropbox workaround in place now.

This isn't perfect, and it's a few more steps than the workflow Federico suggested, but I'm getting a much more consistent experience when trying to download the file in Overcast, which is the point of all of this.

I need a nap.

On the Serial finale and journalism as entertainment

There's a lot of chatter today about the end of Serial, the podcast from This American Life that has followed the story of Adnan Syed, who is in prison after being found guilty for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee.

SPOILERS BELOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Today's episode didn't end the way some people wanted. Adnan is still in prison, and the world is still unsure of his guilt.

Serial ends with lots of open questions; there's no clear next step, no immediate benefit to Adnan for taking part in the story. Serial may have unpacked his case — his very life — but it didn't put things back together in a way that has much closure for the audience.

Honestly though, even typing that makes me feel weird. It's hard to remember it's all true. Serial plays out like a television crime drama — and entertains like one — but it's not.

It's a news story.

It's well-edited and heavily polished, but under all of it, Serial's first season was just a news story.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Serial's narrator and co-creator Sarah Koenig said this, looking forward to today's finale:

I’ll present what my reporting bears out, and that’s my responsibility. It’s not my responsibility to entertain you with some wonderful, perfect ending. I don’t mean that in a holier-than-thou way at all—it’s just—I’m a reporter.

On one hand, Koenig was clearly trying to set expectations for rabid fans, but on the other, her point about Serial being a result of reporting is important.

Her work on Serial wasn't traditional, hardcore journalism. Koenig freely shared her personal opinions and views in every episode, something that isn't smiled upon those in the industry who believe reporters should be objective, if not clinical, in their writing.

Serial wasn't created from that school of thought. It's a blend of entertainment and news reporting. It's a hybrid of fact and opinion.

That tension is why Serial is so popular, and at the same time, so weird — and, at times, oddly uncomfortable. It's why the ending — though rooted in reality — is disappointing to so many people.

Serial wasn't the first piece of work to blend entertainment and reporting, of course, but I do think Serial functions as journalism. Koenig and her team clearly spent lots of time investigating every angle of Adnan's story, no matter how obscure the detail or difficult to track down.

In many ways, Serial could only exist as a podcast. The episodes give the story a rhythm and give the audience a sense of excitement each week. It's a great medium for this type of blended reporting.

However, the old-school rules of objective journalism exist for a reason. They protect reporters, subjects and stories from being influenced by emotions. Breaking those rules is fine, as long as expectations are set correctly. The fact that people are upset at Serial's ending indicates they weren't.

While I still don't know what I think about him, I hope Adnan's case gets back in front of a judge. I hope his story is heard, and that Koenig's work can help straighten it all out.

Journalists can affect great change, but expecting it to happen in a neat 12-part story with an exciting ending is a little silly.

Connected 18: Conceptually Sad

This week, on Connected:

This week, the boys talk about photo management, iOS workflows and smart watches. Shocking, right?

Joking aside, Dropbox is getting serious about things, Workflow is an amazing app and my Pebble is going back from whence it came.

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Android Wear notifications coming to the Pebble and the end of my experiment

Pebble:

‘Tis the season for anticipation. We count down the days to gifts and good wishes, and we just can’t wait. We’ve been in the workshop ourselves, crafting something Android Pebblers will love unwrapping. Version 2.3 of our Android app gives Pebble the power to reply and act on notifications right from your watch. It’s Android Wear notification compatibility on Pebble, and it’s awesome.

Android users on our own team are super thrilled with what version 2.3 lets them do from their Pebbles. We’ve built actions that even Android Wear devices themselves don’t perform.

I've been thinking a lot about how the Pebble will fare in a world with integrated devices like the Apple Watch or Android Wear devices.

With this announcement, Pebble is putting a stake in the ground with Android. In short, the e-ink Kickstarter star can interact with notifications now, not just receive them.

This addresses my biggest complaint with the Pebble when it is paired with an iPhone — that to reply to a message or deal with a notification, I still have to pull out my iPhone.

I think it's foolish to expect Apple to expose similar functionality to Pebble or any other third-party once iOS 8.2 ships with Watch support.

In this future world, the Pebble may have to shift to being more Android-centric, where it can compete better against more integrated devices. I don't think this means Pebble is doomed, but its marketshare may be forever capped.

As far as my Pebble, I'm returning it after wearing it for several weeks.

It's not that wrist notifications aren't useful; in fact, I'm more excited about the Apple Watch than I was before using the Pebble, but the device itself just isn't for me.

Our favorite third-party email app for OS X

Jason Snell, at The Sweet Setup:

Because Apple makes it, Mail is for everybody. But it’s not for everybody. Apple designed it to serve the masses, and if you want more–or less–from your email client, Apple Mail may not suit you. Maybe its old-school approach to mail, lifted from classic mail clients like Eudora and NeXTMail, just doesn’t fit the modern emailer. Maybe you want deep links to productivity apps on your Mac that Mail just won’t provide. Or maybe you’re just tired of being in a dysfunctional relationship with Mail.

All told, we looked at nine different challengers to Mail, each of which brings its own clever spin on how to process or display email.

The state of Apple's Mac software: December 2014

Back in May of 2013, I took a look at all of Apple's software in the Mac App Store and walked away with the conclusion that a lot of Apple's first-party Mac apps were in pretty sorry shape.

Let's revisit that, and see how things shape up here at the end of 2014.

Please note that all prices listed below don't take into account that many of these apps are free for with new Macs. Ratings pulled from the Mac App Store on December 14, 2014.

OS X

While OS X Server isn't its own OS anymore, Apple groups Yosemite and the OS X Server bundle together in the Mac App Store.

OS X Yosemite

Free on the Mac App Store | 2.5 stars with 2,778 ratings

Released on October 16 with a sweeping UI overhaul, Yosemite marks a new chapter in OS X's story.

Like many versions of OS X, Yosemite's initial release had some problems. This time around, some users have seen issues with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and poor performance.

The poor performance is plaguing Yosemite in its App Store ratings, but many users are underwhelmed or confused by the new UI or features. All-in-all, I'm happy with Yosemite, but clearly that sentiment isn't universal.

The current version of OS X Yosemite is 10.0.1 and was updated on November 17, 2014.

OS X Server

$19.99 on the Mac App Store | 3 stars with 86 ratings

Starting with OS X Lion, OS X Server is no longer a separate operating system, but rather a bundle of utilities and programs that are installed on top of OS X itself. With that change, OS X Server is now just $19.99, a far cry from the $499 price tag it used to demand for unlimited users. OS X Server is generally updated with OS X, but that hasn't been the case with Yosemite so far.

That deep-seated change has left OS X Server easier to use, but less powerful on the high-end of things. That rift continues to be the case with 4.0, and I don't expect Server to ever grow past where it is now, market-wise. It's fine for home and small business use, but past that, it just doesn't scale.

The current version of OS X Server is 4.0 and was released on October 16, alongside Yosemite.

iLife

Best I can tell, the name "iLife" only shows up in the App Store these days. Even on Apple.com, these three apps are divided up onto their own pages. Whatever sibling-hood once defined them, it's been lost to time. The once-powerful iLife brand is dead, but some of the apps are still around.

iPhoto

Free on the Mac App Store | 2.5 stars with 1,031 ratings

iPhoto, once perhaps the crown jewel of iLife, is dying very soon, to be replaced with Apple's upcoming iCloud-backed Photos application.

For me, the writing has been on the wall for quite some time. What was once a powerful, sleek, easy-to-use application for the everyday Mac user has grown slow and bloated. User reviews for iPhoto are all over the map, but the negative ones complain of missing photos, confusing organizational tools.

Many reviews I saw complain about the UI looking out of place on OS X Yosemite. Clearly, Apple's not going to invest in a UI overhaul for a lame duck application, which makes me wonder if the general public missed the company's announcement about the future of the program.

iPhoto currently sits at version 9.6, and was last updated to address compatibility and stability issues under OS X Yosemite on October 16, 2014.

iMovie

$14.99 on the Mac App Store | 3.5 stars with 341 ratings

After being gutted many years ago, Apple has been steadily building iMovie back up.

iMovie was last updated on October 16, 2014 and sits at version 10.0.6. The update brought Yosemite fixes, new file export options — including custom H.264, ProRes and Audio Only options — as well as many other timeline and editing tool updates.

Cupertino is still clearly interested in iMovie, and while it may lack the simplicity of iMovie HD, it's a powerful, easy-to-use application that signs off on the iLife brand promise.

GarageBand

$4.99 on the Mac App Store | 4 stars with 163 ratings

Version 10.0.3 of GarageBand was released alongside Yosemite in October, and included fixes for the new OS, better controls over audio effect plug-ins and more.

For most users, GarageBand 10 is an improvement over previous versions. It now packs many features that were previously reserved for Logic customers, including the Drummer and advanced vocal tools.

However, it's not all sunshine and roses with GarageBand 10. Upon release, it had lost many podcast-centric features and the new UI is confusing in places.

Overall, I think GarageBand's future is fine, as long as Apple makes it clear to users when they should make the plunge to Logic.

iWork

Fans of Apple's productivity suite have been on a roller coaster for the last several years. A little over a year ago, the suite got its first major update since 2009, but the updates included a big blow in productivity in the name of cross-platform usability. Famously, AppleScript support was dropped from the early versions of iWork '13, leaving many users stranded without automated workflows.

However, Apple has spent 2014 updating the apps, with candid honesty:

The new iWork applications—Pages, Numbers, and Keynote—were released for Mac on October 22nd, 2013. These applications were rewritten from the ground up to be fully 64-bit and to support a unified file format between OS X and iOS 7 versions, as well as iWork for iCloud beta.

[...]

In rewriting these applications, some features from iWork ’09 were not available for the initial release. We have reintroduced some of these features and will continue to add brand new features on an ongoing basis.

Alongside the feature issues, the modern version of iWork breaks compatibility with files created in legacy versions of the application. Files can be updated to the new format, but going back to the '09 format isn't clean.

With all of that in mind, let's look at the current state of the three Mac apps that make up iWork.

Pages

$19.99 on the Mac App Store | 2.5 stars with 269 ratings

At its core, Pages has always had two personalities: a powerful but (relatively) simple word processor coupled with a page layout tool that comes packed with a bunch of Apple-supplied templates.

Today, that divide is still present in Pages, but has become slightly more blurred. The toolsets presented to a user in either mode have more in common than ever. Tracking changes and exporting to various formats is easier than ever, including the ability to create ePub, Word and PDFs.

Like the other members of iWork, the current version of Pages is Yosemite-only. It supports hand-off, iCloud Drive and AirDrop. It's current version number is 5.5.1 and was last updated on November 6, 2014.

Numbers

$19.99 on the Mac App Store | 3.5 stars with 156 ratings

The youngest member of the iWork family, Numbers has finally caught up with Pages and Keynote in terms of polish.

This year, the application received numerous enhancements to the way it sorts and handles tabled data. It handles imported CSV-based data much better than before, and comes with better layout and design tools.

Numbers version 3.5 was released on October 16, 2014.

Keynote

$19.99 on the Mac App Store | 4 stars with 172 ratings

The original — and probably best-loved — iWork app is beating its younger siblings in the App Store ratings, and for good reason. Keynote continues to be the favored child at Apple, and it survived the gutting Pages and Numbers underwent far better.

In fact, many of the updates Keynote has received this year were improved features, not re-introduced ones. There's just not much new here right now.

Keynote 6.5 was released on October 16, 2014.

Pro Apps

iWork's rough year was pre-dated by Apple un-bundling the Final Cut Studio and Logic Studio brands into individual purchases on the App Store.

As a side-effect, the more popular apps have been updated more aggressively than the others. However, it allows customers to purchase just what they need, which I think is an improvement.

Aperture

$79.99 on the Mac App Store | 3.5 stars with 80 ratings

Along with iPhoto, Aperture has been declared to be an "end of life" product, despite still being for sale for $80. While I would argue that Aperture's development has never been aggressive, seeing an app with such promise finally be shuttered isn't surprising, but it is a little sad.

Aperture 3.6 was released in October this year, for compatibility with OS X Yosemite.

Final Cut Pro

$299.99 on the Mac App Store | 3.5 stars with 28 ratings

At $299, Final Cut Pro X is Apple's most expensive piece of software on the Mac App Store.

With the release of the new Mac Pro, Final Cut Pro X was updated a year ago to support 4K footage. As I'm not a video guy, I don't fully understand what this month's 10.1.4 update brought, but looking at the release notes, it's not hard to see Final Cut Pro is receiving regular updates from Apple.

Motion

$49.99 on the Mac App Store | 5 stars with 35 ratings

It's easiest to think about Motion as a companion for Final Cut Pro X. Designed to create and customize titles, transitions and effects for Apple's flagship film editor, Motion isn't all that useful on its own.

Motion was last updated on August 19 to address issues with burning Blu-ray discs and sits at version 5.1.2.

Compressor

$49.99 on the Mac App Store | 3 stars with 23 ratings

Like Motion, Compressor adds functionality to Final Cut Pro X; it is used to encode and export video from the larger app in a near-countless number of ways.

Version 4.1.3 was released in August of this year. While not updated quite as often as Motion, it's considered to be under active development.

Logic Pro X

$199.99 on the Mac App Store | 4 stars with 232 ratings

Logic Pro X is only a year and a half old and received numerous smaller updates quickly. The current version — 10.0.7 — was released on May 13, 2014 and featured a changelog longer than I've seen on any other non-OS Apple release. While GarageBand may be creeping upstream in some ways, Logic Pro X is still the king when it comes to Apple-built audio editing.

MainStage 3

$29.99 on the Mac App Store | 4 stars with 6 ratings

Revved to version 3.0.4 in June of this year, MainStage is built for piping live audio through your Mac. While not widely known — even to those of us who use Logic on a regular basis — the MainStage 3 was launched alongside Logic Pro X and has received fairly regular attention since.

Other Apps

The last section of Apple's page on the App Store is named "Other Apps," and is home to a five apps that are somewhat related in ways, but are more or less homeless, according to Apple.

iBooks Author

Free on the Mac App Store | 3.5 stars with 27 ratings

While I'd argue that Apple's free tool to create iBooks could live in the iWork category, that isn't currently the case, no matter how Pages-like this app may be.

Version 2.2 shipped on October 16 of this year, and included the ability to import ePub and InDesign files, new tools for HTML and Keynote widgets and more.

However, it took roughly a year for Apple to update the app after originally shipping version 2.0 in October 2012. The cynic in me thinks that the future of iBooks is tied to slowing iPad sales, but with iBook Author books now viewable on the Mac, maybe this app will get some more attention from Apple.

FaceTime

$0.99 on the Mac App Store | 2 stars with 86 ratings

The store description for FaceTime says it all:

FaceTime for Mac makes it easy to talk, smile and laugh with friends and family on their iPhone 4, iPad 2, iPod touch or Mac. Getting started is quick and easy — simply enter your Apple ID and you're ready to go. Whether you're talking to someone on an iPhone or on another Mac, video calls with FaceTime look great. There's no better way to keep all your favorite faces just a click away.

FaceTime has been built-in to OS X since Lion in 2011; I think it's time for Apple to pull this from the Store.

Xcode

Free on the Mac App Store | 3 stars with 76 ratings

Out of all of the "other" apps, Xcode is the most-used and most-updated. Version 6, announced this summer at WWDC, includes support for OS X Yosemite, iOS 8, Swift, Playgrounds Watchkit and more.

Version 6.1.1 shipped on December 2 of this year.

Apple Remote Desktop

$79.99 on the Mac App Store | 2.5 stars with 23 ratings

While it has a lot of competition these days from third parties, Apple Remote Desktop is still the go-to tool for many Mac admins when it comes to remotely controlling or interacting with OS X machines.

ARD has earned a bad reputation over the years for being bloated and infrequently updated. In fact, version 3.7.2 that is for sale today was released in March 2014.

That's not to say ARD is broken under Yosemite. There are some issues scattered across the Internet, but the app seems to more or less work under 10.10. However, it sure feels like those of us who rely on it (and OS X Server) aren't a major concern for Cupertino.

Apple Configurator

Free on the Mac App Store | 4 stars with 5 ratings

Like ARD, Apple Configurator is for system administrators. It allows admins to setup and configure iOS devices from one central location.

Last updates in November of this year, version 1.7.1 brought a slew of iOS 8-centric features, but many admins are looking at third-party systems to solve problems Apple's free utility cannot. All in all, it's not the gem it once was.

Conclusions

Maybe its a lack of shiny retail boxes and clear branding, or the fact that OS X is now on an annual release schedule, but it sure feels like Apple's first-party apps are being ignored. While the majority of them saw significant work in 2014, many of the updates are just work carrying over from releases at the end of 2013.

Here are some of my overall thoughts:

  1. The iLife and iWork brands aren't what they once were. After Photos comes out, iMovie and GarageBand will be the only survivors of the powerhouse that brought consumers to the Mac for so long. iWork took a beating in 2013, but it's making up for lost ground now. That all said, iLife and iWork both have strong presences on iOS, and Apple's trying to branch that out to the web as well. I think the fact that the iOS versions come before the Mac ones on this page of Apple's website speaks volumes.
  2. The creative pro apps are still receiving fairly regular updates; Final Cut Pro X and Logic X have seen numerous updates in 2014. The technical pro apps aren't in such good shape, however. OS X Server, Apple Remote Desktop and Apple Configurator all leave a lot to be desired
  3. LOL, FaceTime.app.
  4. App reviews on Apple's own products is still a weird thing to see. As shown above, most of the apps aren't scored all that high. Like all app reviews, these will tend to draw more feedback from the poles than the center, but it's clear that Apple's customers aren't all thrilled with the state of the company's software offerings. I can't say I blame them.

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Apple updates 'Made for iPhone' standards for case makers

I was only at the Genius Bar a few months past the launch of the iPhone 3G, but even then, it was awkward to tell customers that they had to pay to have their damaged phones replaced, even if they were in cases purchased in the very same store. While no case is perfect, I'm glad to see Apple working to improve what earns the MFi program badge.