CES

Is Workflow For iOS Dead As We know It?

Is Workflow For iOS Dead As We know It?

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Ever since Apple bought the iOS app Workflow in March of 2017 it has lead many of us in the Apple community to speculate about the future of the app. Will Apple continue to update the app or will they spend all of their time integrating the underlying technologies into iOS? This “unknown” future hanging over the Workflow app has driven many people to stop using the app all together. The thinking is...don’t rely on powerful automation features that might go away any day now.

The other side of that argument is that we shouldn’t be ignoring powerful automation when it available to us. The Workflow app is still being updated by the original developers (who I believe are now Apple employees), so why not continue to use Workflow? This was exactly my take on the whole situation, but all that changed this past January.

I attended CES this past January in support of the other blog I write for (GeekDad.com), so I was covering the event as press. One of the things I was doing was publishing a daily article about some of the highlights I saw at CES that day. That meant I needed to take an hour or so out of an already jam-packed day and write and publish an article. The best way for me to do this was to use my iPad Pro. After all, the iPad Pro is my main computing device when I am at home so why wouldn’t I use an iPad at CES?

As I was getting ready to publish my first daily highlights article while at CES and I ran into a bit of a problem. When you publish an article for a website you tend to have to format your images a certain way, both for consistency across the site as well as for compatibility reasons. So as I was formatting the images I wanted to use for the article the app I used to do this editing kept crashing on me. Yup, you guessed it...I was using the Workflow app. Workflow is great to use for this purpose because it can take a photo you have taken with your iPhone, crop it, re-size it, rename it and put it in any location you choose. Except this time when I ran my photo editing worflow in the Workflow app the app would crash. No problem. I figured I must have done something to workflow I had written for this specific task, so maybe I will start from scratch. No luck. Creating a brand new worflow and doing just a basic image edit still resulted in an app crash. So next I downloaded a basic example workflow from the app’s worflow gallery. Surely a workflow that is published as an example in the Workflow app example gallery would work right? Nope. That’s when I knew something was definitely wrong. So I first emailed the developer and then after a day or two of not getting a response I reached out to Apple (after all Apple bought Workflow and the Workflow developers work for Apple now).

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You have to give Apple credit here as they reached out to me right away. They directed me over an Direct Message on Twitter and we continued to communicate:

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So Apple essentially pointed me right back to the Workflow developers. So I emailed them again and heard nothing. I went through the rest of CES without the ability to do what I needed to do to my photos to prep them for publishing. Luckily the people I work with at GeekDad are awesome and they did my photo editing for me while I was at CES.

Finally on Feb 11 (exactly 1-month after my initial email to the developers) one of the Workflow developers emailed me back and said the crash was due to an issue with the “Edit Image” action and that they were working on a fix. It is now March 2nd and the Workflow app has not been updated for 3-months. I took a look at the history of Workflow app updates and the app was updated 3 months ago, 6 months ago, 9 months ago, and 11 months ago. So it looks like they are on about a 4 times a year update cycle. That’s ok for minor bug fixes and feature additions but when you have a major component of your app like the Edit Photo action that not only doesn’t work but actually causes the app to crash you would think they would push out a fix as soon as possible. Nope.

I don’t know what the right answer is as far as whether we as a community of iOS automation users should be using the Workflow app going forward or not. For me personally, I can’t continue to use the app for work critical items anymore. I just can’t. I choose my hardware and software tools very carefully because my time is very constrained. My day job as an engineer is enough to make most people claim that as a full plate, but in addition to that I maintain this blog and I am a core writer for GeekDad.com. So every little bit of my time counts. I like using apps that have a revenue model that supports long-term usage...meaning the developers are making money and I can count on the app being around for a while. Workflow is no longer one of those apps for me. If you publish an example usage of your app in an example gallery that crashes the app and it does this for 3-months you are sending a pretty clear message that maintaining that app is not the priority. I’m sure there will be an update coming very soon for the Workflow app and that it will fix this particular issue. But as we all know Apple tends to cater to the average user. The average iOS user is not a “power user,” so if we as a community of iOS automation users are hoping that Apple is going to take the engine of Workflow and give us powerful built-in automation in the near future I fear we will be disappointed. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Apple will do just that, but with Apple all but abandoning the Automator app on the Mac and getting rid of Sal Soghoin (the Product Manager of automation) I think it is safe to say that the future of automation at Apple is in flux.

Right now I have about 30 custom workflows inside the Workflow app and I will continue to use some of those workflows going forward. But there are several workflows that I rely on to get work done. They are critical to me being productive. The next Workflow app update may fix the Edit Image action but break something else and I can’t afford to lose another 3-months of productivity to that kind of uncertainty. For me the Workflow app is no longer a “go-to” tool. It can’t be because I can no longer trust that it is going to work for me. I will continue to use the app for small automation tasks that are not work critical items, but for important tasks I will be looking elsewhere even if that means a less efficient solution. Because in the end it just has to work.

Take a Stand For Your Health: The FlexiSpot Standing Desk

I've run the gamut on standing desks. I started by playing MacGyver and creating my own, then my employer purchased me an Ergotron and now with FlexiSpot I found a nice sweet spot..a quality product that is also budget friendly.

FlexiSpot ran across my blog post about the make-shift "MacGyverized" standing desk I put together at work (before I got the Ergotron) and asked if I would be interested in reviewing one of their standing desks. Honestly, I had never heard of FlexiSpot before and I had to look them up. I liked their design so I said yes, and they sent me one of their 35" Desktop Workstations (the FlexiSpot M2-35").

FlexiSpot is a subsidiary of Loctek, which has been producing TV mounts and computer monitor stands and desks since 1998. I didn't know a lot about Loctek either, but I did get a chance to stop by the Loctek booth at CES and I was impressed.

Calling it a booth is an understatement, it was more like a large apartment

Calling it a booth is an understatement, it was more like a large apartment

My first test of the FlexiSpot M2 was to assemble it at home. First off, this standing desk is a serious piece of furniture. In other words, don't drop it on your toes while unboxing it (I didn't, but given its heft the thought did cross my mind). The FlexiSpot M2 comes almost completely assembled. Once you take it out of the box and set it on your existing desk surface, the only real assembly required is to attach the keyboard platform which only takes a few minutes. There are quite a few varieties of standing desks out there. Some are complete desks and others are meant to be integrated with a desk you already own. The FlexiSpot M2 is the latter, so I placed it on top of my existing desk at home (which is an oak desk that my wife and I designed and built ourselves).

My desk at home before and after installing the FlexiSpot

My desk at home before and after installing the FlexiSpot

The first thing I noticed about the desk once I got it assembled (but before I got my computer monitor on it) was that the articulating mechanism (they use a gas spring hovering system) seemed over-powered as it moved a little too quickly for my taste. But I judged too quickly. The mechanism was designed for the desk to actually have something on its surface and I was testing it with nothing on top. Once I got my monitor and a few odds and ends set on the surface, the mechanism produced a very smooth and controlled movement of the desk surface. One of the most important features of a standing desk is how easily it can be adjusted from being used seated to being used while standing. The FlexiSpot's spring hover system is not only easy to operate thanks to the dual latches under the desk surface on each side of the desk but it also locks into position and stays there until you want to move it. You will have no issues changing the desk height back and forth all day long without even having to think about it.

The next thing I noticed about the desk was its capacity. I have a 27" monitor at home and even with that large monitor on the desk I still had a ton of room to spare. The keyboard surface was also quite roomy. This is important for me because I always have other things with me when I am working at my desk (coffee, my iPhone, headphones...) and this desk gave me plenty of room in which to set all of these things.

My last major observation about the FlexiSpot M2 was how rock solid the desk was. Like I mentioned before, I have an Ergotron at work (a WorkFit-S, Dual Monitor with Worksurface+) and while it is a very nice standing desk it has a few drawbacks. The main difference between the FlexiSpot and the Ergotron is that the FlexiSpot is a much sturdier desk. I stand for a majority of my work day at work and because of that I tend to shift my standing position around quite a bit. Sometimes I find myself leaning against the desk a bit (leaning on one or two hands on the keyboard surface to support myself while reading for example) and what I noticed right away was the FlexiSpot was like leaning against a solid wall. At no point was I worried about leaning too much on the desk or worried that the gas spring hovering system wasn't going to hold. I can't do that with my Ergotron at work, not without accidentally moving the desk surface to a lower position. The FlexiSpot gave me an extremely stable surface, and once it was locked into a certain position it wasn't going anywhere.

With 12 height settings you will always be able to find just the right height you need

With 12 height settings you will always be able to find just the right height you need

After using the standing desk at home for a weekend I sent the desk into work with my wife. My wife's employer provided her with a standing desk, but that desk took up too much space and didn't leave her enough room to be able to spread out engineering drawings on either side of the standing desk. So she has been without a standing desk at work for a while now. So she gave the FlexiSpot a try. Unfortunately, she has a very strange desk setup at work. She has a curved center section with 2 straight sections on either side and above her desk she has two storage cabinets. Because of this strange geometry she needed a standing desk that would fit in between her two above desk storage cabinets and the 35" version of the FlexiSpot was just too wide. However, she was able to try out the desk at home and she really enjoyed the layout and the raising/lowering mechanism. The smaller 27" version (the FlexiSpot M1) has a small enough footprint it would have worked just fine for her at work with her desk configuration. FlexiSpot also has a 41" corner desk (the M4) and an even larger 47" desk (the M3) and both are new products but available for pre-order.

So that brings up a good point...make sure you take good measurements of your desk before you decide on a size. In my case, I chose the 35" because it was comparable to my desk at work I knew it would work for us at home. FlexiSpot has photos with dimensions of each desk, so take a few minutes and make sure those dimensions will work well with the desk you plan to use with your FlexiSpot. Also, don't forget about measuring for height above the floor. Remember, the FlexiSpot sits on an existing desk surface. So once you add a monitor to the FlexiSpot your monitor will now be sitting between 8" and 19" higher now (depending on which of the 12 height settings you dynamically choose). The thing to watch out for is the new minimum height your monitor will now be sitting at with the FlexiSpot at its lowest position. Make sure that height still works for everyone in your family given the existing height of your desk surface, the additional 8" of height for the FlexiSpot in its lowest position and the seating position you are in with your current desk chair.

Measure your existing desk space and make sure you get the right size standing desk

Measure your existing desk space and make sure you get the right size standing desk

In summary I was really impressed with the FlexiSpot M2. It was easy to assemble, had a very smooth raising/lowering mechanical action and was extremely sturdy. It even has a groove built into it so you could prop up your phone or tablet and have it just below your line of sight with your computer monitor (a really nice touch). If you have been thinking about getting a standing desk but have been deterred by price, the FlexiSpot is worth considering. It is less expensive than many other standing desks out there but is still a very high quality standing desk.

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