multiple Siri's

My Biggest Hope for Siri at WWDC 2016

I recently published a blog post containing my predictions for Apple’s WWDC 2016. I touched on some of my wishes for all of their current hardware devices and operating systems that run on them. What I mention here isn’t necessarily a prediction, but rather a hope – or a plea – for something that I think is drastically needed.

Whereas one of my long shot predictions centered around a new hardware device that acts as a speaker or hub for the home, and is completely governed by Siri, this request – I think – can be much simpler than that. I don’t think it requires a new device, though I admittedly have no idea about how complex it could be to make it work.

What I want is for when I say “Hey, Siri!” that only the nearest or current device that I’m using responds!

Right now in my house, I have an iPhone 6S, an iPad Pro, my wife’s iPad Air 2, and her iPhone 5S. Two of those devices (the 6S and iPad Pro) have “always-on Hey Siri,” while the other two have it active only when the device is charging. The iPhone 6S only responds to my voice, though all of the other devices will respond to whatever voice speaks the “Hey Siri” command. It is not uncommon for the 5S and Air 2 (the older two devices) to require more frequent charges, and so will be plugged in. All of these devices will frequently be in the same room. So, a worst case example of what can happen right now is that, using my own voice, I will trigger all four devices to respond to my “Hey Siri!”

This is not helpful. And it gives the illusion of there being multiple Siri assistants, when I don’t think that should be how we view Siri.

(And I imagine it only getting more confusing if, as rumoured, Siri comes to the Mac next. If the function works the same way as on iOS devices, then we might assume that “Hey Siri” will also come over, and will work on the Mac while it is being powered.)

First of all, the devices don’t all reply with a perfectly synchronized voice. There is always a delay on some of the devices. So, even if all of them are saying the same thing, the reverberation or echo effect I get means that the response is next to useless to me. Secondly, and to complicate matters further, “Hey Siri” does not have an amazing track record for accuracy, so more often than not, at least one of the devices will hear me wrong. What happens is that I suddenly feel like I’m in the middle of a room hearing multiple conversations, unable to parse what any one in particular is saying.

I am not a programmer and don’t claim to have any idea of what goes into making these extraordinary devices work as well as I do. But in my mind, here is an idea: have all of the devices that get triggered initiate some kind of rapid communication between them that designates one device as the “responder.” How this responder device gets chosen could happen in a few ways. If I’m using one of the devices at the time, then clearly that device could take command and override any of the others. Alternately, if I just walk into a room and shout my command without actually using any device, then proximity could be assigned by how loudly my voice is detected. Nearer devices will detect my voice louder than devices on the other side of the room. All the devices can hear me, have a brief conversation amongst themselves about which unit heard me the loudest, and then only that device would respond to me.

I have no idea if this particular idea would work, but I know that there is a solution out there somewhere!

How to Use Apple’s Notes App on PC

Notes on iOS 9 is a huge jump forward for the Notes app. Extra formatting, lists, sketches (including pressure-sensitive drawing on the new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus), web clips. You can easily create a new note from text you select in another app, or automatically included a link and picture preview of the webpage. This list goes on and on if what you can now do with Notes. It is not the bare bones basic note-taking app we’ve come to know over the years!

Like many people, I am finding this newly added functionality to the Notes app to be incredibly helpful for quickly getting my thoughts down in a note. It is wonderful on my iPhone 6S, especially where I want to include sketches! They’re easy and fun to make. I also have come to really appreciate the functionality of iCloud to sync my notes between my devices. Creating a note on my iPhone but then being able to access it on my iPad or MacBook is incredibly useful! However, at work, I have a Windows PC (unfortunately), and there are times where I wish I had the added convenience of my notes syncing to that device as well.

Then it occurred to me… I DO have that convenience!

Because I have iCloud set up on my devices to sync everything, I can actually access my notes from the iCloud website! If I log on to with my Apple ID for the account that I am syncing across my devices, I can access all my stuff from any computer that is connected to the Internet, whether it is a PC or a Mac or otherwise! I can also not only just view my notes, but I can create new ones and manage my existing ones, and everything that I do will sync to all my devices.

iCloud is a great feature of the Apple software ecosystem, and it makes the new Notes app even better!

How to Filter Twitter Search Results by Language

If you use Twitter, this is a post for you that will teach you a power user super tip: how to filter Twitter search results by language.

Twitter is a fantastic service, offering tidbits of information in 140 characters or less. You can follow your friends or news channels or favourite brands, and stay up to date with what’s going on in the world, as it happens. However, if you want to see something specific, you can always launch a search to find what you’re looking for across the Twitter network. This is a great way to find some information, or more likely, links to sites to deliver even more in-depth information. But what many people don’t know is that they can supercharge their Twitter searches to get even more relevant information.

The part that isn’t commonly known is that Twitter supports regular expression (regex) searches. And this doesn’t just work on the Twitter website, but also on Tweetbot, my hands-down favourite Twitter client for OS X and iOS (and presumably other clients as well). [1]

My number one complaint when I search for something on Twitter is that sometimes it returns search results in different languages. Usually, this is because my search term is ambiguous enough and has multiple meanings across different languages. But, I don’t necessarily want tweets in languages that I don’t understand clouding my search results and making it harder to pick out useful tweets. So this power user tip will help you to only surface tweets with your search terms in the language of your choice.

To get search results in Twitter in only one specified language while ignoring and not displaying all others, here is how you do it. First off, you need to know the ISO 639–1 language code of the language that you want to see in your search results. Then, you simply add “lang:nn” to the end of your search term, where “nn” is your language code.

For example, if I want to search for polar bears and only get English results, I would type in the search field:

polar bears lang:en

Similarly, if I wanted to find tweets about espresso in Italian, I would search for:

espresso lang:it

If you are using Tweetbot or another Twitter client that supports it, you can even save these searches to come back to later. This is an amazingly convenient feature, and by including a regex modifier to limit the language, it makes the search results that much more relevant to you! Give it a try and let me know what you think. And come back soon, as I’m going to do another post with additional modifiers that you can include in your searches!

  1. By the way, Tweetbot has just released version 4 for iOS, which is a universal app for iPhone and iPad – highly recommended!  ↩

Restore OS X from Time Machine to Fix a Bad Update

So, I made a really stupid mistake when updating iTunes on my MacBook Pro. Luckily, I have regular backups to Time Machine to quickly get me back on track! Here’s what happened, and what I did to fix it.

Apple updated iTunes, which included fixes for their Apple Music service. I was notified of this by the Mac App Store app, and so I proceeded to update as I would usually do. It went through the installation/update procedure, but then appeared to hang. I didn’t see anything going on, and all my running apps seemed stuck and unresponsive. I don’t recall of the mouse or keyboard were messed up too, but they may have been. Now, usually I would be the one preaching patience and letting the machine do its thing. No idea why today was different. Either I was in a rush or just merely inpatient. In any case, this stalled computer needed to be dealt with NOW.

So what did I do? I held down the power button, triggering a hard reset.

I know that you generally aren’t supposed to do this, as there is a huge risk of data loss and corruption. That probably holds doubly true when you do it while the computer is accessing core files, such as iTunes.

What I didn’t realize until precisely the moment the screen went black was that there actually was the white overlay timer on the desktop to indicate something important was going on. Poor placement of the indicate against my lightly coloured desktop wallpaper. Unfortunately, I killed the power in the middle of an upgrade operation, not a hung and unresponsive program.

I rebooted, and was immediately told that I had done something inadvisable. I also was prompted several times for my iCloud password for various apps (Messages, FaceTime, more?), along with Yosemite asking to grant permissio. For something important-sounding to access something else equally as important-sounding. I agreed and provided all the credentials I was asked for until everything settled down. Then I tried to open iTunes.

At first, iTunes gave me a dialog box saying that it was checking my library. I’d seen this before and thought it connected to Apple Music. However, it did this for a very long time. Minutes. When it finally went away, I could see that iTunes was running from the menu bar, but it wasn’t visible on screen. I quit the app and restarted. It checked the library again, but then it went into my music. Though this time, I got the rainbow beach ball spinning as it tried to load the album art. This took several minutes before it loaded everything. I should note that I don’t have a huge library. Maybe 30 albums? I don’t know exactly, but nothing that should be this unmanageable. Once it all seemed to work, I quit again and tried again. Again, checking forever and then loading forever. This time I went durther and tried to access my movies or tv show tabs. These each took forever to load.

Whatever was going on, it was clear that I had messed up something, and this new iTunes was not usable.

I tried to reinstall iTunes by downloading the DMG file from Apple, but that did t change anything. The same long load times remained.

So, my next trick to try was a restore from Time Machine. However, there was a catch to this. I have two Time Machine backups, one done wirelessly to my NAS, and one done periodically to my USB 3.0 portable drive. The NAS version backs up pretty much hourly, or however often Yosemite schedules it. I back up to the portable drive every two weeks or so. The catch now is that my most recent backup is only accessible wirelessly, meaning it would take quite a long time to do. The portable drive would be much faster to restore from, at the cost of the last two weeks of data.

I went with the portable drive over the NAS, with the thinking that most of my documents get saved to Dropbox or iCloud, and these could simply sync back after the restore.

It looks like my decision paid off. The restore was completed in about an hour, my documents and pictures synced back, and I am now pretty much where I left off. Happily, iTunes is up to date and opens as quickly as before, pre-stupidity.

So, the lessons? Don’t be impatient! Give your computer time to do what it’s doing. When you see things that say not to disconnect the power during the operation, believe that this is important! Also, backup your computer! Luckily, I had a semi-recent backup to get my system back, and was able to sync my documents back easily. I might even start to more regularly backup to my portable drive so that I always have a very recent backup available to restore from quickly, should something like this happen again.

Fingers crossed it won’t happen again though! I have learned my lesson. :)

FaceTime icon

How to Use FaceTime Audio to Make Free Phone Calls

Do you have a very small, limited number of minutes on your cell plan, but typically are on a wifi connection and avoid using your cellular data? If this sounds like you, then you need to learn how to place a FaceTime audio call. Quite simply, it is a phone call that uses data instead of your cell minutes, and if your wifi is free, then it doesn’t cost you anything at all!

To place a FaceTime audio call, you can do so straight from your friend’s Contacts entry. Assuming that they have an Apple ID setup and associated with the email address you have saved for them (correct me if I’m wrong on this point), you will find FaceTime listed beneath their phone numbers. Next to the word FaceTime, you will find two icons: one of a video camera and the other of a phone handset. Obviously, if you would like to have a traditional FaceTime video call, then you can tap on the video icon to start it. However, if you’d like to take advantage of the free calling that comes with FaceTime audio, then you simply have to tap on the phone icon. It will immediately start dialling your friend, and will note on the screen that it is a FaceTime audio call. When you’re done your call, you hang up as normal.

Using this trick is a great way to save your limited cellular minutes for those times when you really need them! You can still do this over your cellular data connection, though with free wifi so commonly available, you can basically place your audio calls for free!

How to use iCloud Tabs in Safari for iOS and OS X

iCloud Tabs is the Apple solution to syncing currently open tabs in Safari across all of your devices. It is a life saver for when you have to leave a webpage now and need to access it again from another device later. All it takes is a few taps and you’re right back to where you were. Make sure you read to the end, where I show you one of the best, yet widely unknown features of iCloud Tabs!

On your iOS device, you access iCloud Tabs from the Tabs button in the lower right corner of Safari (looks like a stack of two squares). When you tap this button, you will first see currently open tabs on the device you are using. However, if you flick the screen up and scroll to the bottom, you will see your other devices listed, followed by tabs that are open in Safari on them. All you need to do is to tap on the name of the page that you want to reopen, and it will pop open in a new tab right in front of you!

To access iCloud Tabs from a Mac running OS X Yosemite, you follow similar steps to when you’re using Safari on iOS. In Safari on your Mac, you will find the Tabs button in the top right corner of your window, next to the Share button. When you click on that button, Safari will zoom out to give you an overview of currently open tabs on your machine, as well as list the open tabs on your other remote devices. To open one of those pages, you simply click on the title.

Now you know how to access open tabs on your other devices. However, what if the tab you have accessed contains personal information that you’d rather not risk leaving open on your other devices. Wouldn’t it be great if you could not only open tabs from other devices, but also close tabs on them as well? Well, you can! This is one of the best secret features of Safari! To do this on your iOS device, all you need to do is access the iCloud Tabs list as I explained above, but instead of tapping on the name of the page you want to open, instead swipe on it to the left. This will reveal a Delete button, which you can tap and cause that tab to close on that remote device! Similarly, on OS X, when you hover the mouse pointer over the remote tab that you’d like to close, a small x will appear on the right, which you can click to close, as you would click on any other window to close it.

Much like Apple’s Handoff and Continuity features, iCloud Tabs in Safari for iOS and OS X is a fantastic feature that really helps to tie the whole Apple environment together. Being able to stop what you’re doing on one device, and easily pick up where you left off on another is a revolutionary step forward in personal computing.

Touch ID logo

Touch ID on a Mac

The 2014 Apple WWDC keynote has come and gone, and it has left most people feeling very good about where Apple is taking both OS X and iOS. The next version of OS X will be called “Yosemite,” and it represents a monumental upgrade to the Mac’s operating system. Similarly, iOS 8 will be getting a lot of brand new features, for which many of them have been wished for several generations already, such as third-party keyboards and third-party developer access to Touch ID. However, since Apple decided to focus on the developers exclusively this time, as they should for a “developer” conference, everything that was revealed was software. There was no new hardware. Of course, we all expect an iPhone 6 and updated iPad Air and Mini to be released in the fall, closer to the holiday (buying!) season. Perhaps also an iWatch or upgraded Apple TV may also be in the mix. But for now, we are left with only software to see where Apple is going.

One set of the fantastic new API’s that were announced will now allow app developers to make use of the Touch ID, currently only found in the iPhone 5S. In all likelihood, it will be included in the iPhone 6, as well as new versions of the iPad. It has been very well received so far, and is a great incentive to have people actually make use of a PIN to secure their iOS devices. Some argue that Touch ID should also make its way to the Mac, especially MacBooks, which are a lot more portable and likely to be targeted for theft than the much larger iMac or Mac Pro. Having the added security would be great, as well as having a simple way of authenticating purchases, or access to personal bank accounts, etc. However, my feeling is that we won’t see Touch ID on a Mac any time soon, if ever. Here’s why.

Touch ID logo

With the release of both OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, both systems work together a lot better. For example, Yosemite can automatically detect when your iOS 8 iPhone is on a network, and automatically a network hot spot can be created to share the connection. The Photostream will sync between all of your devices so that all of your photos are viewable everywhere, almost immediately. You can even answer a phone call, coming in to your iPhone, right from your Mac’s speakerphone. There is also the fantastic new feature called Handoff, where you can begin your task (e.g. composing a new email message) on one device and then complete it on another that is nearby. This feature works because both Macs and iOS devices will gain proximity awareness, in that they know when they are near to each other. This is what will have your Mac prompt you to finish your email on the bigger screen when you sit down to it, allowing you to pick up right from where you were on your iPhone. And it is this quality that I think will be the reason Touch ID will not appear on the Mac.

Touch ID does not need to be on the Mac, because it will be on your iOS device that is right nearby. I can see in the future that when the Mac will need to do something that requires user authentication (standard username/password combination), if there is an iOS device nearby, the proximity sensors will facilitate a prompt on the device to scan your finger, which in turn will communicate back with the Mac to verify the user and allow the action to proceed. The user authentication was performed by the Touch ID built into the iPhone or iPad, and the securely communicated back to the Mac with the confirmed identity. The Touch ID sensor does not need to be built into the Mac at all; it just needs to be present on a nearby iOS device that is registered with the Mac. Furthermore, the Touch ID sensor is built into the home button of the iOS device. There is no home button on a Mac, nor would it be an ergonomically useful addition to make to one. Touch ID works so well on the iPhone 5S because it is natural; it is a simple action to push the home button with your thumb or finger. Imagine having to scan your thumb on a Mac. How would you have to contort your wrist to make it register. That doesn’t seem like a very Apple thing to do.

So, Touch ID likely won’t come to the Mac, but its feature will be usable by the Mac via a local proximity connection to a future iPhone or iPad. A final thought about this is how well the Apple ecosystem works, with the fantastic interplay between software and hardware. Apple products work great on their own, but their power is truly unlocked when you combine them. Future Touch ID will only work for your Mac if you have the accompanying iOS device . And Apple would love to sell you one.

How to Create a 1Click Bookmark with Login Info

Everyone (hopefully!) knows that they should use strong and unique passwords for their various logins around the Internet. If you use the same password repeatedly, you open yourself up to losing everything if it is ever discovered for any of the sites. But if you make every password unique and difficult to crack, how will you ever remember all of them? This is where I recommend 1Password by Agilebits as a digital storage locker for all of your important information. In this post, I’m going to describe a shortcut that I just learned that makes password entry even easier on the Mac!

The usual method of logging on to a website via 1Password is likely something like this:

  1. Go to your website in Safari.
  2. Command – \ to access 1Password.
  3. Unlock 1Password.
  4. Select your password profile to load for your website.

Alternately, you may do something like this:

  1. Command – \ to access 1Password.
  2. Unlock 1Password.
  3. Browse or search through your 1Password list for the site that you want.
  4. Double-tap to open your site in Safari.

Either one of these methods if fairly streamlined and straightforward. However, with my trick, you can cut that down even further.

Here is the trick to cut out some of these steps entirely.

What you will do is create a bookmark in Safari that contains a link to the 1Password login entry.

This is really simple. First, open the main 1Password window (not the new mini-browser). From there, select your website login that you would like saved for easy access. Then, simply drag the login to the toolbar in Safari, and it will generate a brand new bookmark! To access it now, you simply click on it as you would any other bookmark, which will cause the website to open, as well as open 1Password to prompt you for your PIN. Once you’ve entered that, the bookmark will continue to enter your username and password, and then log you in! Even faster – your bookmarks will automatically just load and log you in if 1Password is already open!

This is a great pro-tip to really speed up your workflow! I’ve been using 1Password for a while, but I have always gone into the app and searched for the login I wanted. This doesn’t really take up a whole lot of time, especially with their simple search function, but this bookmark method cuts that time down even further. The AgileBits guys are great at providing tips like these on their blog, which is where I found this one.

1Password is one of my most-used and favorite apps, and I have it installed on all of my family’s Apple devices. For those unfamiliar with it, think of it as a secured database that keeps track of whatever important information you want to save in it. I’ve written about it in a previous post, though they have since released an updated (and much better!) version. You can save notes or numbers, or most relevant to this post, website user IDs. You can create profiles that contain the website address where you go to log on, your username, and your password (which itself can either simply be recorded as whatever password you have, or you can take advantage of the 1Password new password generator to create a new and complex one). When you want to log on to any of these sites, you simply access it through 1Password, which will take you to the site and automatically fill out the required fields and log you in. It’s fantastically simple, and your entire database is encrypted behind your PIN. It is a remarkable time saver.