apple watch

Favorites of 2018 - Things

These posts will never happen if I don’t make it fuss free. So here is it! With little introduction or fanfare, the ‘stuff’ that made up my year. My favorite albums, live shows, apps, and ‘things’ of 2018.

The final installment features the most tangible and miscellaneous. My favorite things! The stuff that didn’t fit into any other category but that brought me joy this year.

Things

Prepd Lunch Box

This modular lunchbox helps me to better plan my lunches throughout the week. After mass prepping on Sunday night, I slam all of my meals into a weeks worth of these containers and then easily swap them out at the end of each day. This lunchbox is slim enough to fit in my backpack. There is a companion app that has recipes for meals that easily fit into the containers.

Series 4 Apple Watch

Of all the Apple products I own, this is the one that I take the most delight in. My Series 4 watch has this new watch face that allows me to slam a ton of information onto it at a glance. My current version of it I call the 'status circle' watch face. It keeps track of my progress on activity, sleep, water intake, and tasks, while also helping me stay on top of alarms, timers, and calendar events.

Rx Bars

If you are what you eat, I am a coconut chocolate Rx Bar. These energy bars are delicious, and most importantly, they are substantial. I can sub one of these out for breakfast or have it as a late afternoon snack. It carries me through. And there are tons of delicious flavors, all made with a minimal list of natural ingredients.

Rx Bars come in diverse flavors.

Rx Bars come in diverse flavors.

The Prepd lunchbox.

The Prepd lunchbox.

Hidrate Spark Smart Water Bottle

This water bottle reminds me when to drink. It automatically senses how much I drink and displays my progress on my Apple Watch. It even remembers the last location it was connected to my phone in the event that I loose it (like yesterday...) This water bottle is a big motivation for me to drink more water. I love it.

My Apple Watch Series 4, with my ‘status circle.’ watch face. When I am not taking screenshots at 2 am, the blue status ring on bottom represents the water I drink in the Hidrate Spark water bottle.

My Apple Watch Series 4, with my ‘status circle.’ watch face. When I am not taking screenshots at 2 am, the blue status ring on bottom represents the water I drink in the Hidrate Spark water bottle.

You read that last caption right! This water bottle automatically logs my water intake. And much much more.

You read that last caption right! This water bottle automatically logs my water intake. And much much more.

Ableton Live Hoodie

My wife got me this last Christmas and I love it. Everyone loves it. I feel a little bit phony wearing it because Ableton is not an app I use much anymore. But it carries with it the general spirit of an audio editor. And some bright colors! I am down with that.

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Nintendo Switch

Over a year into owning this thing and I am still amazed that I can play the latest Mario game the same way on an airplane that I can on my living room TV. Our latest craze is Overcooked 2. It’s the most addictive local multiplayer I have experienced in a long time.

Thrive Market

Thrive sells health food items in larger than normal quantities at discounted prices. As I continue to experiment with adjustments to my diet, this service is becoming my go to for essentials like nuts, cooking oils, fresh water fish, and more!

Territory

For busy teaching weeks (like a week where my music team puts on four concerts), it is hard to manage meal prep. For those weeks I turn to Territory. Territory makes healthy, delicious, meals that are pre-made and shipped straight to my front door. The amount of diet customization you can do with this service keeps me coming back for more. 

2018 iPad Pro

I also upgraded my iPad Pro this year and gave my old one to my wife. What is there to say? I really like this iPad. It makes the Apple Pencil feel like magic. I am still frustrated by the keyboard case, and iOS is still not an OS I can get all of my work done on. But somehow, the hardware improvements to this device (larger display, FaceID, inductive charging Apple Pencil) makes it a real delight to use.

It does not fundamentally change the way the iPad works. But it also does.

It does not fundamentally change the way the iPad works. But it also does.

Favorites of 2018 - Apps!

These posts will never happen if I don’t make it fuss free. So here is it! With little introduction or fanfare, the ‘stuff’ that made up my year. My favorite albums, live shows, apps, and ‘things’ of 2018.

Next up, apps!

Apps

Things and OmniFocus

Task management software makes up about 50 percent my time on computing devices so it’s natural that I include what I consider to be the best two apps in this field. After seven years of using OmniFocus, I am experimenting with Things again. I plan to write about this switch in more detail but for now I leave you with this: if you are looking for a powerful way to stay on top of your tasks and don’t mind paying for a premium design, check these apps out.

The Today view in Things displays all of my tasks for the day alongside my calendar.

The Today view in Things displays all of my tasks for the day alongside my calendar.

The Forecast view in OmniFocus is similar to the Today view in Things. Though I have it turned off in this screenshot, it actually displays your tasks inline with your calendar events so you can see where ‘due’ tasks fit into your day.

The Forecast view in OmniFocus is similar to the Today view in Things. Though I have it turned off in this screenshot, it actually displays your tasks inline with your calendar events so you can see where ‘due’ tasks fit into your day.

Health

The Health app by Apple is my hub for collecting all sorts of data about myself from various devices, apps and clinics. It houses data from devices like my Apple Watch, Spire respiratory monitor, Fitbit WiFi scale, and Spark Smart Water Bottle. It tracks data in third party apps like: work outs, active calories burned, steps, heart rate, sleep, water intake, nutrition, meditation minutes, caffeine intake, and blood pressure. It can now even aggregate health data from participating clinics and practices so I don’t have to log into a million web portals. My Quest and LabCorp results are a tap away. The beauty of the app is that it allows me to organize these data points and see them alongside one another so I can draw meaningful conclusions about them. Like for example, I eat better on days when I get more sleep.

Home

Apple’s Home app is the hub for controlling my smart home. I can control all of my smart things in the same user interface rather than by punching into lots of different apps. I can also use it to automate different actions. For example, my Good Morning scene automatically runs at 6:30 am every day which turns on my lights, changes the temperature, and lately, turns on the Christmas tree.

My Today view in Apple Health aggregates all of my health data regardless of which app is responsible for tracking it.

My Today view in Apple Health aggregates all of my health data regardless of which app is responsible for tracking it.

The My Home view in Apple Home shows my most used home automation devices and ‘scenes.’

The My Home view in Apple Home shows my most used home automation devices and ‘scenes.’

Tonal Energy Tuner

Absolute must for an instrumental music teacher. Using the new Screen Time feature on iOS reveals that I spend too much time on Reddit. But also that I spend more time than any other app in Tonal Energy. It’s literally running in the foreground all day long while I’m at school, helping students to match pitch, blend, and keep steady time.

Trello

This may be my productivity discovery of the year. Trello is the team project app you have been waiting for. It’s vibrant, Kanbab board style interface will have your team, family, or Dungeons and Dragons group enjoying every minute of collaboration. Bonus points for how well this app integrates with Slack which is my preferred team communication tool.

Planning concerts in Trello allows my team to share todos, check lists, files, and more. We can give items due dates and even assign tasks to other members.

Planning concerts in Trello allows my team to share todos, check lists, files, and more. We can give items due dates and even assign tasks to other members.

GoodNotes

GoodNotes has become my go-to handwritten note application. It acts like a bookshelf of notebooks so to speak. I take a lot of the work I create in iWork, Ulysses, and OmniGraffle, export them as PDFs, organize them into notebooks in GoodNotes, then annotate them on the go using my iPad. My favorite thing to do with it is keep a notebook of seating charts that have my rehearsal annotations on top of the names of my students. I love how you do not need to trigger an annotation mode to start scribbling on a document with the Apple Pencil. It just feels like paper.

Streaks

There are a lot of great habit building apps out there but Streaks has stuck with me because it encourages you to focus on just six habits at a time. When I am building too many habits at once, they start to feel like a todo list. The Streaks method of choosing six, along with its addictive user interface, keep me launching the app, which keeps me working towards my goals.

AutoSleep and AutoWake

Of the ten or so sleep trackers I have tried for the iPhone and Apple Watch, AutoSleep has stuck with me the most. There are numerous things I like about it, but most of all is how it figures out the most accurate number of hours I have been asleep whether I wear my watch to sleep or not. The companion app, AutoWake, wakes me up silently with haptic feedback on the watch. It does this when I am in my least deep sleep within a half hour before my alarm is set to go off. This eases me awake rather than jolting me awake. I plan to blog later this month about how I am automating some cool stuff in my house when I wake up using this app.

WaterMinder

WaterMinder is my favorite app for tracking water intake, mostly because of its well designed and space efficient widget.

Shortcuts

I did not get as much out of the Siri Shortcuts app this year as I wanted to. In fact, I had a lot of bad luck with it. But it is still an app that is working really well for me in a couple of small areas. In one tap, it generates a clean copy of my band's seating chart in GoodNotes for annotations and opens my lesson plan for the day in OmniOutliner. 

The Waterminder Widget.

The Waterminder Widget.

Some of my Shortcuts.

Some of my Shortcuts.

CARROT⁵ Weather

This is my favorite weather app due to its clean and appealing design. It gets my pick this year because of how they continue to innovate the Apple Watch app. My favorite feature of the watch is the customizable complications. Carrot makes the best weather complication for the Apple Watch, maybe the best complication, period. Carrot allows infinite customization for how it looks on the watch, depending on which watch face you like to view it, and even in which corner of the watch face you prefer to keep it installed.

The Carrot Weather app complication can be seen in the lower left corner.

The Carrot Weather app complication can be seen in the lower left corner.

Streaks. Guess I can check off that one in the lower right corner now.

Streaks. Guess I can check off that one in the lower right corner now.

App of the Week: Anylist —> Grocery Shopping and travel preparation has never been easier

This week’s App of the Week is AnyList.

AnyList is an app for making lists. Why use this? I already have Reminders for basic lists, Due for persistent tasks, OmniFocus for project management, and ToDoist for team collaboration. AnyList solves a grab bag of miscellaneous use cases for me, and offers a handful of other compelling features.

I started out needing a fuss-free list app that could allow me to manage reoccurring lists where I need to uncheck the entire list at the end of a process and start over, without recreating the list. This is useful for repeat grocery list items and a travel packing lists. AnyList was amongst the top recommended apps in this category, so I gave it a download.

On the surface, AnyList offers exactly what I wished for. The user-interface is not bad, but it at least looks like it belongs on iOS. A point in its favor. It works well for grocery lists, but also travel lists. As I continue to promote my book at state level music conferences numerous times a year, I am somehow still a really stressful traveler. Having a stock travel list that I can depend on has been instrumental in my ability to manage these trips and be a sane music educator at the same time. The simple feature of unchecking every item on my list and starting from scratch every time I am preparing for a trip is a game changer for me.

Next, I began to investigate the premium features ---> AnyList is also able to import from the Apple Reminders app, integrate with Amazon Echo, share lists with other users, manage grocery shopping, and manage meal planning. I decided to give the premium subscription a go. 

The Apple Reminders import is great. This allows me to keep my “Grocery” list in the Reminders app. I can say “add eggs to my grocery list” and Siri will add it to Apple Reminders. When I open AnyList, it imports items from that exact list into its own database. AnyList also supports Siri natively so I could say “add eggs to my grocery list with AnyList” and it would do the same thing more directly (though with a fussier syntax). Adding items from the Echo is very convenient as I am often in the kitchen when I realize I need something and can now just speak into the thin air, even if my hands are full while cooking.

Syncing a shared grocery list with my wife is a rock solid experience with AnyList. It happens very fast, and I have never had any duplicate copies. AnyList can also automatically organize your shopping list by which aisle of the grocery store certain items are grouped within. This orders them in a way that all allows me to check them off in store order rather than skipping around constantly. Bonus point! —> The Apple Watch version of the app is actually good, and allows me to interact with my lists smoothly and reliably without fiddling with my phone in the store. (Yes, I realize that describing an Apple Watch app as smooth and reliable is setting a low bar for watch apps).

AnyList is also a meal planner app that can parse recipes from websites, automatically add the required items to your shopping list, and walk you through the recipes step by step. (Though I still prefer the superior app, Paprika, for doing that kind of thing.)

Another bonus point! —> AnyList can be programmed to be location aware. You can tag certain shopping items by grocery store and have AnyList remind you when you are near that store. For example, some items I can only buy at Whole Foods. Therefore, I have tagged my precious Hex Ferments kimchi as such in AnyList and have set it to ping my phone when I am within distance. 

Needless to say, I am now subscribed.

Negative point! —> The AnyList Mac app is terrible and is somehow considered a “premium” feature.

None the less, try this app! 

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The new Apple Watch Siri watch face is a dream for teachers 

Last week, Apple released watchOS 4 for the Apple Watch. With the update comes a new available watch face called the Siri watch face. The face pulls relevant data from all of your Apple apps and presents them to you as cards in chronological order based on relevance. Using the Digital Crown, you can scroll through them and see a timeline of your day. 

These cards pull data from calendar, weather, reminders, timers, alarms, sunrise, sunset, workouts, and more. My teaching schedule is complex. I teach in five different rooms, and co-teach almost 300 band students. Our programs calendar is shared with one another, our staff, and community via a complex series of Google Calendars. I have these calendars calibrated to show me only the events that display the classes that only I teach, and thus, where I need be and when. The Apple Watch displays this information simply. Until now, I have been using the modular watch face because I like how many custom complications I can fit on it. 

With the Siri face, I don’t need all these complications because most of the data I need from them shows up at the topmost card, and only when I really need to see it. The face does allow for two complications. One of the default complications is a button that launches straight into Siri. Even though one of the cards Siri watch face can display has weather, I like this to be constantly visible, so I have opted to put the Carrot Weather complication in its place. 

Do you use alarms, timers, and calendars throughout your class day? This Watch face is worth checking out. 

The Siri face shows upcoming calendar events. 

The Siri face shows upcoming calendar events. 

Combine calendar with alarms, timers, and other app data and this is a powerful watch face.

Combine calendar with alarms, timers, and other app data and this is a powerful watch face.

You can scroll through your day with the Digital Crown. 

You can scroll through your day with the Digital Crown. 

The modular face is still useful for viewing a lot of complications at once. 

The modular face is still useful for viewing a lot of complications at once. 

The killer Apple Watch apps for teachers might already exist

This post by Christopher Russel does a great job capturing my feelings about the importance of the Apple Watch in a busy classroom environment.

The surprise Apple Watch feature this week has been a combination of Siri and Alarms. Yes, alarms.

Our Middle School has no bells (other than start of the day and end of the day). We have different schedules all the time. So what I have done is this: at the end of one class, I raise my wrist, say, “Hey Siri, set an Alarm for 10:15” (or whatever the ending time of the next class is).

At 10:15, my watch dings, but more importantly, taps my wrist, and I know that I need to dismiss students.

I cannot overstate the importance of alarms. My school has bells this year and I STILL need alarms to remind me when to let kids pack up in time to be at their next classes. I am usually setting alarms throughout the entire day. In the frantic moments of teaching it absolutely does make a difference to save a few moments asking Siri on my wrist to do it rather than fiddling around with my phone.

The same goes for notifications. I am always on the move at school. And I am able to be attentive to so many things without ever stopping the task at hand. I get notifications from Slack (the messaging service our music department uses to collaborate), iMessage, and important staff emails. This might seem unnecessary, but I love being able to know if one of my colleagues is sending me a troublesome student or if there is going to be a fire drill at a particular time that afternoon without dropping what I am doing. I keep all of my Apple devices on silent or do not disturb mode so I only get notified by the gentle haptic feedback on my wrist. The only exception is when I am sitting in front of my Mac which I also leave in do not disturb mode at work but see the little red badge on various apps to know I need to attend to something. Watch notifications are non intrusive enough that I can easily ignore them. But they are still pretty non intrusive even if I choose to read them. I think the basic clock and notification features of the Apple Watch are so well implemented that they very well may be the "killer apps" everyone is always saying a new and innovative product needs to have. At least they are for me.

That being said, I am curious to see what other kinds of apps can be made when Apple releases watchOS 2 on September 16th. This update is shipping with a native SDK which will allow software developers to make their apps perform a lot faster (all third party apps are garbage slow right now) and take advantage of the hardware of the watch, particularly the digital crown, speakers, and haptic engine. I am desperately awaiting a metronome app for the watch that allows me to change the tempo with the crown and feel the tempo with haptic feedback rather than the speakers.