You might want to think twice before removing the mail app in iOS 10

I wrote last week about the forthcoming iOS 10 release that finally will allow you to remove some of the stock apps including Mail. I speculated at the time as to what this would mean for third party mail apps and clicking mailto links:

What is most interesting about this is that Mail is included in the list. There are many third-party mail apps on the app store at present but one issue has always been that when you click an email address in, say, a web browser the email opens up in the stock mail app. This change implies that somewhere, somehow you will be able to define which app you want to handle these sorts of requests.

Turns out that’s not the case. If you remove the Mail app and then click a mailto link you get the following message:

Clatv-sXEAAb12K

That’s not very helpful or useful and is pretty disappointing that Apple have chosen to take this approach. I am hoping that they see sense during the beta phase and allow the selection of the default mail app rather than persisting with this half baked solution.

Thanks to Xiaohan Jin (@XJin0120) on Twitter for pointing this out.

Remove (Some) Stock Apps in iOS 10

By and large the Apple announcement last night was pretty dull. That so much time was devoted to emojis showed (to me at any rate) that there wasn’t anything ground breaking to offer. What was interesting was one thing that wasn’t discussed and that was the ability to remove (some) of the stock apps in iOS10.

iOS comes with an ever increasing number of preinstalled apps such as stocks, mail, weather, compass, calendar etc. and many, myself included, have long wanted to remove these from the device but that hasn’t been possible – until now. It now appears that on iOS10 you are going to be able to remove quite a few of these apps including the five listed above.

What is most interesting about this is that Mail is included in the list. There are many third-party mail apps on the app store at present but one issue has always been that when you click an email address in, say, a web browser the email opens up in the stock mail app. This change implies that somewhere, somehow you will be able to define which app you want to handle these sorts of requests.

One app, however, that isn’t included in the list that you can remove is the browser Safari. This suffers from the same problem as the mail app in that when you click a web link in, say, an email it always opens in Safari when you might rather it open in Chrome, or Opera. That Safari is missing from this list signifies one of two things to me. Either it is too bound up with the OS to be removed (the Microsoft Internet Explorer argument) or that Apple derives revenue from having you use it via its relationship with Google and/or Yahoo. I know which one my money’s on!

Still, small steps and all that!

Google Cardboard. VR – the Future or Passing Novelty?

A friend of mine turned up recently with a Google Cardboard a, well, cardboard phone holder that allows you to watch virtual reality content. I was interested to have a go but skeptical as to the longer term possibilities of the technology.

As you can see from the picture above the box has a place to put your phone which is held a few inches in front of a couple of lenses. You need specific apps in order to see the content which create a sort of stereoscopic effect. Although this is made of cardboard it is pretty robust although it can be a bit hard on the nose!

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Where the real magic comes in is when you move your head as the view you see in front of you moves too. For example, a popular example application is a roller coaster which means that as you look down you can see the ground, look up and you’ll see the sky above you (or the ground if you are upside down!). This was really effective and made me feel quite queazy. The Google Cardboard app itself also has a number of good demos.

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This is all fine but at this point it was pretty much a case of “so what?”. I could see how this might be applicable in gaming but I’ve never need much of a gamer so this wasn’t ever going to appeal to me. However, dig a little deeper and you can find some interesting apps that do show off the potential.

The first is the Rivet Music which allows you to watch a series of intimate jazz concerts getting you right up close and personal with the musicians. This was pretty cool but I found standing SO close to the musicians was a little off putting and holding up the Cardboard for an extended period is pretty tiring.

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The other app that really shows off VR to the best effect and serves some useful purpose is Google’s own Street View. Using the app I was able to explore my street and others. It would be really useful if, for instance, you were buying a house and wanted to check out the surrounding areas before making a decision. The immersive nature of VR gives you a much better understanding of the area than just looking on the site itself.

So I am yet to be sold 100% on VR. I can see that there are applications that it could be great for and gaming is the one that really springs to mind but for other applications I am yet to be convinced that it won’t remain pretty niche in the short term.

Oh and VR headsets other than Google’s Cardboard are available. Here I am using Mattel’s View-Master VR which is a neat update on the original ViewMaster. This is more robust than the Cardboard but heavier and bulkier too so not too suited to longer sessions.

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Have you tired VR? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Font Awesome and Glyphicons not Working on iOS Safari

I have been working on a new side project (called WriteTrack since you ask!) which is based on the bootstrap framework and makes use of both Font Awesome and Glyphicons. I had got far enough along the path to want to check out the look on a mobile device which is when I came across the issue that you can see on the left hand side of the header image above. They weren’t rendering as expected at all – the desired look is what you can see on the right hand side of the header image above.

A search of the usual places suggested all sorts of potential solutions such as loading of the fonts in different ways in the CSS. In the end the solution was a lot simpler and required zero code changes.

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The issue is simply to do with iOS content blockers in Safari – go to Settings -> Safari -> Content Blockers and turn off any content/ad blocker that you might have enabled and then go back to Safari and refresh the page. Bingo! You should find that the icons now render correctly,

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Connecting an iPad Pro over Ethernet

So it has been a fun few first weeks with my iPad Pro and I am really loving the portability, the keyboard and pencil and the update to iOS to make it more suitable as a work tool. However, it was while I was on holiday that I came across a feature that I really could have done with – ether-networking. The wifi was poor where I was and it would have been good to connect over ethernet and upload more.

Turns out ethernet networking is possible with the iPad Pro and a few (costly) dongles. The major deal breaker for this might well have been lack of any drivers for wired networking on the device but this has been included in iOS even if Apple haven’t advertised the fact.

For this trick to work you will need:

  • an iPad Pro of some description
  • Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter
  • a USB Ethernet adaptor (I used the Apple adaptor but this isn’t available from Apple any longer)
  • a 2.1 amp usb charger (the one that came with the iPad should be fine)
  • an ethernet cable to connect to your router

Setup is simple in that all you need to do is connect it all up but it will only work when powered and then only when powered at 2.1 amps. I tried a number of third party chargers with mixed results so best to stick to the original charger for best results.

Once connected you get no notifications on the device itself and it isn’t possible to see anything in system configuration. The only way to tell that it is working is to turn off wifi, go to a browser and load up a page. I also did a speed test as you can see below – that’s speeds I don’t get from wifi!

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While this isn’t something that I am going to be using everyday it is useful to have in my arsenal when I am traveling and want to get online and have decent speeds.

How did they manage to get that?

So I received the above message to my phone last week. There were several things that were interesting about it:

  • it was supposedly from Apple (it isn’t)
  • whoever sent it had my full name
  • they also had my mobile number.

This was obviously a scam as Apple a) wouldn’t send notifications like this and b) definitely wouldn’t send you to a site called “applewarning.co.uk”.

I’m pretty careful about who has my mobile number although getting my name is pretty easy so I’m left wondering just who or what has been compromised to allow this information to become available to spammers. Unfortunately that is going to be pretty difficult to find out.

Given that this is relatively sophisticated I can imagine a number of people being caught out by it. Don’t let you be one of them.

Accessing an AWS EC2 Instance via Macfusion

As part of a drive to improve security we are moving more of our AWS EC2 development instances behind a VPN. This is fine for most things but the code editor we use, ShiftEdit, won’t see the servers behind the VPN as they are not publicly assessable over SSH. This means I was looking for a different solution. Ideally I wanted a code editor that had native SSH support using private keys or agent forwarding and had a tabbed interface. Unfortunately none of major players seemed to have what I was looking for.

There are a number of free editors that have sprung up recently including Adobe Brackets, Microsoft’s Code and Atom from GitHub. I really like Atom and I noticed that there were some plug-ins that purportedly supported SSH so I gave a couple of those a go but none seemed to work very well. One connected but wouldn’t show any files and the other wouldn’t connect at all.

Then I stubbled upon MacFuse, a Google project that allows you to mount various file systems as virtual drives on a Mac. This sounded ideal but the project had been discontinued a while ago but a quick search led me to one that was spawned from MacFuse that is still supported – FUSE for OSX.

It took me a while to get my head around how to connect FUSE for OSX to an EC2 instance so here is how I did it.

Installing the Required Components

First of all download and install FUSE for OSX from here: https://osxfuse.github.io/. Installation is mainly a case of clicking through the installer but when you get to the option make sure that you select “MacFUSE Compatibility Layer”:

Install_FUSE_for_OS_X__OSXFUSE__and_FAQ_·_osxfuse_osxfuse_Wiki

Next download and install Macfusion from here: http://macfusionapp.org/. Then start Macfusion.

Configuring Macfusion

The first time you run you will see the following screen. Click Start and select the option to start at Login.

Macfusion_and_Evernote_Premium

Next click the + at the bottom to add a new destination and select SSHFS from the menu:

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Now enter your instance details:

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It isn’t necessary to make any changes on the other tabs.

Making the Link to Your Key

Before you can connect to your instance you have to let Macfusion know where your key is held. To do this you need to create a text file called “config” in ~/.ssh. Into this file you need to put the following (changing “your-instance-key.pem” for the name of your key file).

IdentityFile ~/.ssh/your-instance-key.pem

You can add as many keys here as you need.

Connecting to Your Instance

Now you have everything set-up you can go back to Macfusion and click on the Mount button:

Macfusion_and_Evernote_Premium

All being well the icon should turn green and say Mounted, as follows:

Macfusion_and_Evernote_Premium

Viewing Your Files

Finally go to  Finder and when you look at your mounted devices you should see your SSH drive. When you double click it will list the file on the remote drive and you can use them just as you would any other local file.

Neil’s_iMac

I was able to select a folder as a project in Atom and edit just as if the files were local.

When you are done unmount the drive.

It’s all relatively straight forward, let me know how you get on.

Bringing Handwriting to the 21st Century

Over the years I have had all manner of tablets and writing devices but I have never come across one that did the trick for me. Most styluses either have a big fat end which is fine for replicating your finger but no good for emulating handwriting. Or there are the more “active” styluses that only work with certain apps, or have calibration issues, or have terrible palm rejection. In most cases they suffered from all three issues.

And then along came the Apple Pencil

I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical about how accurate the Pencil would be after so many missed attempts in the past and the claims made by Apple were, frankly, ludicrous based on my prior experiences. “Highly responsive. Virtually no lag.”, “Draw lines of any weight. Just apply pressure.” and most unbelievably “Go ahead, rest your palm on the display.”

But it really is all true. The Pencil is super accurate with no discernible lag whatsoever meaning that it is suitable for handwriting and it seems to work in every application so all those notebook apps you have are now properly usable. Better still is that the palm rejection really does work you can lean on the iPad and write and only the writing shows up.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. You pay a lot for that level of accuracy and whether it is worth it will depend on your workflow. Also you are going to want to find a way of not losing that expensive Pencil because Apple have provided no smart (or dumb for that matter) way of attaching it to the iPad so you need to carry it round in a pocket or get one of these great holders from Quiver. Either way it is an expensive loss so it is slightly disappointing that there isn’t a better solution from Apple themselves.

So, in conclusion, ff you like writing or drawing and are happy to do so on your glassed screen iPad then the Apple Pencil is for you.

Pros

  • Very accurate
  • no palm rest problems

Cons

  • Typical Apple pricing
  • No way to attach it to the iPad
  • iPad Pro only

Adding MicroSD Storage to a Laptop

I have, amongst other things, an Acer Chromebook which I really love but it is a bit tight on storage at 16GB. I know that Google wants me to store everything in the cloud but that just isn’t possible when you are disconnected and want to watch a movie.

My requirement was to have something with a reasonable amount of storage but didn’t stick out too far from the machine so I could leave it connected all the time. I somehow stumbled upon this
Micro SD USB Card Reader adaptor which pretty much does what it says on the tin.

I shoved in an existing 64gb micro SD card that I had and put it into my laptop and was able to play movies and music without any issues and not dropping or lag. I know that there are USB drives which are similar in size and capacity but if you have a Micro SD card kicking around unused then this could be just what you are looking for.

UPDATE! SInce I wrote this I notice that 7dayshop is selling this 32gb card complete with a USB 3.0 card reader for only £12.99. So if you want to try this out now might be the time.

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Simple Bug Tracking with Evernote

I have been starting on a side project with my son this week where I am developing a small web app for him. He has left home a while ago so we needed to find a way to collaborate on the project without too much effort and without interfering with our day jobs. So, for example, we went through the requirements while travelling on a train up to London.

When it comes to testing and bug tracking we again needed something quick and simple. In the past I have used both The Bug Genie for work and Trello for smaller side projects but both seemed too much for this project. This is when I decided to use Evernote which I have had a long love affair with.

For this to work I created a series of tags as follows. I created Bug and Enhancement for the ticket types and High, Medium and Low for the ticket severity. Finally I created one further tag called Fixed. Now when a note is created we can add the relevant tags along with a title and a description of the issue.

To retrieve the tickets we can make use of Evernote’s search grammar. So to find all notes that are in the ProjectX notebook that are enhancements of high priority but not fixed we could search for the following:

Notebook:ProjectX Tag:Enhancement Tag:High -Tag:Fixed

Similarly to find all bugs that have raised in the last couple of days we would search for:

Notebook:ProjectX Tag:Bug -Tag:Fixed created:day-2

Once you have completed a search you can save it for quicker access in future. On a Mac you can find this on the Edit > Find menu as shown below. For other platforms see here.

Save a Search on Evernote

When you click in the search field the save searches appear below the search history:

Evernote_Premium

Finally you can also drag the search from the drop down list to the Shortcuts for even faster access.

A simple way to keep a track of issues on our side project.