iOS

Is Workflow For iOS Dead As We know It?

Is Workflow For iOS Dead As We know It?

2018-03-02 - Worflow main image.png

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).

2018-03-02 - Worflow Tweet.jpg

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:

2018-03-02 - Workflow DM.jpg

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.

Angry Birds Seasons: A Geeky Holiday Gaming Tradition Comes to an End

IMG_0454.jpg

The holidays are filled with various traditions and it is these traditions that make them so memorable and comforting (at least the good ones do). The most common holiday traditions are centered around family activities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have your own personal/individual holiday tradition. After all, sometimes you could really use some time to yourself...a break from all the social gatherings that tend to take place this time of year.

AB_Seasons_HammierThings_Logo.jpg

Several years ago I stumbled on to my own such personal holiday tradition, a gaming tradition. I’m not a huge gamer by any stretch, but I have certainly been known to spend an hour or two here or there playing a video game or two. I started playing Angry Birds. Sounds like more of a confession than anything doesn’t it? But it wasn’t just your garden variety of Angry Birds. No. I started playing Angry Birds Seasons, specifically the winter themed game within the Angry Birds Seasons collection of games. The game works a bit like an advent calendar, where each day you get to open up a new door/level in the game. The game starts on December 1st and the last stage or level is opened up for play on Christmas Day, December 25th. It's pretty much the only time all year that I play Angry Birds and it has become a tradition for me. If you get a full 3-starts on all 25 levels then you get to play a bonus stage. Every year there are at least a couple of levels that are really difficult for whatever reason to get 3 stars. But its all part of the challenge.

1480807360141.jpeg

Traditional Game Play

So starting on December 1st every year I start playing my Angry Birds game again. Typically I get up in the morning, grab me a cup of coffee and play for a few minutes. I would love to say that I curl up by the fireplace, but I live in Florida so that just doesn’t happen (although it did happen one year when we went back to Kansas for Christmas). If I don’t beat the level within a short amount of time then I pick it up again in the evening before bed. If I am still playing that same level into the next morning I may punt and look up a “how to beat this stage” video, but only if I am really desperate. After all, traditions should be fun and not frustrating right? What I like so much about this tradition is that is lasts for 25 days. It is also nicely spaced out across the holiday season, so it gives me lots of little breaks and something to look forward to each day. It also has more than one way to beat each level, although typically there is only one way to rack up enough points to get the coveted 3-stars.

But Not This Year

So on December 1st of this year I opened up the app and the winter themed game from 2016 was the only one listed. I contacted Rovio, the developer behind the Angry Birds franchise and they told me that because of everything they had on their plates they were unable to devote as much time as they had in the past to the Angry Birds Seasons games. So sadly there will be no new winter holiday update to the game in 2017. Rovio did say that they were hoping to develop new “Seasons” games in 2018. So I guess there is always next year…

Traveling Without a Lightning Charging Cable

IMAGE.JPG

I am on a couple day work trip to Denver and I forgot to pack my iOS lightning charging cable. I have 2 iPhones (1 personal and 1 work) and an iPad Pro, so not having a cable to charge these devices was going to be a problem. The reason I forgot my charging cable was because I recently got a Fuse Chicken Titan Loop lightning cable that I now keep attached to the outside of my every day carry messenger bag...every day except days I travel. When I travel these days I tend to use my Henty CoPilot Backpack and leave my messenger bag at home. So my lightning cable is still at home attached to my bag.

When I realized this on the airplane ride out to Denver I initially thought I would just stop in at Target and grab a lightning cable. But then I realized I really didn’t have to. I still had my iPad charging brick as well as my OLALA Slide Power Bank Portable Charger that I had reviewed right here on this blog earlier this year. The great feature about this charger is that it has both lightning and micro-USB charging cables built-in, so as long as you have the Power Bank battery you have the charging cables you need to use it. So all I had to do to make it though my travels this week was to keep the Power Bank charged with my iPad charging brick (I did have the micro-USB power bank charging cable) and then rotate my iOS devices through charging cycles using the Power Bank and its built-in lightning cable. So that saved me a little bit of money and a trip to Target.

Super Mario Run for iOS Update & Sale

2017-10-01 - Super Mario Run for iOS Sale.jpg

Last week Nintendo released a significant update to their iOS Mario game called Super Mario Run. The update brings a whole new way to play called Remix 10, which randomly throws together 10 sections of the game’s levels into 10 very short sprints. If you complete these successfully and rescue the princess you get to play as her in the story mode of the game. This update also include the ability to unlock a new world called World Star. Also, players now have the option to listen to their own music while playing the game (and of course the character you are controlling wears headphones in the game...nice touch). Last but not least, Nintendo has dropped the in-app-purchase for unlocking the full game from $9.99 down to just $4.99 through Oct 12th. So what are you waiting for, go download Super Mario Run for iOS and get your Mario fix! I can personally say the game is really well done and a lot of fun to play. I created a short video of me playing one of the stages. Don’t laugh too hard, I haven’t been playing long...

How To Print From iOS On College Wireless Networks

2017-08-26 - Print From iOS On College Wireless Networks.jpeg

College wireless networks provide internet to a large number of people and because of that they tend to be very much locked down. If you are off to college this semester and using an iPad you may face some of the same challenges I have faced getting my daughter setup with printing capabilities in her dorm room. My daughter opted for an iPad Pro as her college computer. It's a great choice for college, especially for her since she really likes to take hand written notes (the perfect task for the Apple Pencil). But if you want to print from an iOS device you really only have one choice...AirPrint (you can't print from an iOS device using any kind of physical cable or dongle). And therein lies the problem, the wireless sharing protocols that AirPrint uses are blocked on most large scale networks (like those on college campuses). So now what? If you are going iPad or iPad Pro only for college and you want to be able to print from an iOS device on college wireless networks how can you do it? There are a several options:

  1. My daughter's college IT department's solution for her was to use the campus printing service. This isn't as cheap or as convenient as using your own personal printer but it is an option. In my daughter's case I am having her use this as a backup in case she ever has problems printing to her personal printer or if she needs to print in color (I just got her our old black and white HP LaserJet).
  2. Wifi-Direct is an alternative to consider if you have a printer that supports it. This is a wifi peer-to-peer (P2P) protocol that essentially setups up wifi connection between your printer and your iOS device without needing a separate wifi network to do so. HP has a help page explaining how to setup Wi-Fi Direct printing on their printers but other printer manufactures support Wi-Fi direct as well. If you have or purchase a printer with Wi-Fi Direct capability this is a great alternative to AirPrint for printing from an iOS device. This option didn't work for my daughter because the printer we handed down to her was just old enough that it didn't support Wi-Fi Direct.
  3. Another option to print from iOS on college wireless networks is to use an old laptop, Mac or PC and hook-up the laptop directly to the printer. So much data is stored in the cloud anymore that you can probably just get away with making sure the computer you are physically connecting to the printer has access to all the cloud account you are using on your iOS device. Then you can simply access the documents or files you need to print from the computer that is hooked directly to your printer. Keep in mind that most likely you will be unable to AirDrop things between your iOS device and your Mac on the college wifi network because AirDrop uses similar protocols to AirPrint. So if the file you are trying to print isn't accessible from a cloud account on the computer physically connected to your printer then you will need to email that file to the computer and then print it. This option is the option I currently have configured for my daughter. I told her if she finds herself printing a lot of stuff I can go to option 4 for her.
  4. If you have an old wireless router around (or purchase an inexpensive one) then you can setup your own wireless network. It won't have any connection to the internet, but you can configure the network any way you like and allow AirPrint. So this is how this would work. Plug in and setup the router somewhere in the dorm room (if your printer has an Ethernet network capability then put it close enough to the printer so you can use an Ethernet cable to connect your printer to your router you are setting up). Once you have your own network setup make sure you connect (either physically via Ethernet cable or wirelessly) your printer to your new wireless network. Then when you want to print from your iOS device you need to go into your wireless settings on your iOS device and connect to the wireless network you just setup. Once you do that you will be able to AirPrint directly from your iOS device to your AirPrint enabled printer because you are doing this on your own personal wireless network. Now remember, because you have not hooked up your network to any outside network you don't have access to the internet. So if you need to print something from the internet you will need to print it out to a PDF document and then switch to your personal wireless network and AirPrint.

Hopefully you find this article helpful. I was really surprised when I was trying to get my daughter setup to print from iOS on college wireless networks that there weren't more articles out there on the internet that listed out all the work arounds like I have done above. I had to do a lot of digging to figure this out, so I figured I would share it with all of you. Also, I have to imagine that there are a lot of college students opting to go iPad only so this is a problem that more and more college students are going to run into to.

One more tip...if you are in the market for a good printer to use in a college dorm room I highly recommend the Brother HL-L2340D black and white LaserJet wireless printer. Brother makes some really nice printers but at an extremely affordable price. I've used Brother printers for many years and have always been happy with them. Not only does this Brother printer support AirPrint but it also support Wi-Fi Direct, Google cloud Print and Brother iPrint & Scan (but remember only Wi-Fi Direct will work as a workaround to a locked down college wifi network). Happy printing...

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.