Shortcuts Issue

I’ve been working on a shortcut to clip a selection from a webpage rendered in Safari with a specific formatting to iA Writer. The shortcut worked, but only I managed to get the shortcut running once.

Every repeated execution would just not happen. The button in the share sheet will respond to a tap, but no activity is executed. Not only that, no other shortcut on the share menu will work after I ran my clip to iA Writer shortcut. The only way to get out of this is to force-restart the device1.

After the restart, the shortcut will (again) run successfully once, and then the mechanism for executing shortcuts seems to get locked up again.

For debugging, I split the shortcut in two parts. The first part will clip the text, apply the mentioned formatting to it, and copy the result into the clipboard:

Selection to Clipboard

This shortcut works just fine. And I can repeat this action as much as I want, no problem.

The second part takes the text from the clipboard, URL-encodes the text, and casts it into the URL scheme for getting the content into iA Writer:

Clipboard to iA Writer

Again, this part (for itself) works reliably, over multiple executions of the shortcut.

That’s right, the weird part about this is that I can run the two shortcuts independently from each other in succession without locking the shortcuts execution up as described above. Everything will work just fine and the text is reliably created in iA Writer just as it should be.

Having arrived at this point, I figured I might as well call the second shortcut from the first and let them (if this turns out to be the magic incantation) communicate via the clipboard. Maybe I could avoid the lock-up this way.

Nope, no such luck. The execution of shortcuts locks up again until I reboot my device.

As the next step in tracking this issue down, I have created a Python script in Pythonista that does exactly the same as the original undivided shortcut. The script runs just fine repeatedly, without locking up anything.

So, the takeaway from this experience seems to be that, unless I managed to create a bug in my own implementation, there might be some weird issue with shortcuts that execute URL schemes in general2 and are executed in the context of a text selection within a web page rendered in Safari.

This does not seem such an exotic combination that it never got properly tested. And yet, I have no other explanation for this phenomenon right now,

  1. I also tried closing Safari, the Shortcuts app, and iA Writer from the task manager, but this did not release the lock. 
  2. To let iA Writer off the hook, I tested the shortcut with a URL scheme for Bear. Same issue. 

Taio, three weeks after

After three weeks of using Taio, my initial interest in the app has significantly cooled.

At some point, the app started to change its default behavior for rendering CSV files in the editor. Instead of setting me up with a text editor view, Taio will render a CSV file in some sort of preview mode, i.e. as a table. But: as a consequence of this change, the file can no longer be edited after being loaded into the editor1.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found any preference setting that might impact this behavior that would enable me to leave this “accidental preview mode”. It also does not seem as if this “feature” is mentioned anywhere in the release notes.

In my previous article, I have complained about the rendering of footnotes in the preview being non-functional2. According to the release notes, the latest version3, Taio should now be able to render footnotes properly.

It doesn’t. It crashes on me if I try to activate the preview mode for the markdown source of, e.g. this article. Every single time.

That said, I stand by my initial verdict that I see the potential in Taio. But, at least from my personal point of view, the app clearly needs more time to mature before it can become a serious contender in the markdown editing and processing business.

Update (2021-04-03): The latest version of Taio fixes both the CSV rendering issue described above and the rendering of footnotes. My thanks to the developers for the swift reaction.

  1. Which is, to some extend, the point of using an editor. 
  2. Although the release notes of that version of three weeks ago also claimed to support the rendering of footnotes. 
  3. Which is 1.15.2, at the time of writing. 

Support for Markdown Metadata

Jason Snell and Dan Moren have published an interesting article about markdown text editing using different editor apps on Six Colors.

The article discusses the capabilities of a collection of iOS/iPadOS-based markdown editor apps, consisting of established contenders like iA Writer or Drafts, and the new hotness, Taio.

The authors also provided a handy table summarizing the pros and cons of the different apps at a glance. From my own perspective, one aspect was missing from the table and the entire article: the ability to correctly handle markdown meta-data during preview.

So here’s that additional table row, extended by two further apps (DEVONthink To Go and Keep It) that handle the storage and preview of markdown text:

Feature Taio 1Writer Drafts iA Writer Textastic DEVONthink To Go Keep It
Metadata No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes

Of all the apps in the table, iA Writer provides by far the best support for markdown meta-data. While other apps mentioned in the table restrict themselves to more or less tolerate meta-data, iA Writer goes one step further and supports the usage of meta-data to parameterize the markdown text.

iA Writer Preview

I‘ve had iA Writer installed on my devices for years and used it on and off. But only recently I discovered that the preview mode locks. If preview is activated then it will be applied immediately to all files loaded into the editor view until it becomes deactivated manually.

That‘s actually a nice touch. DEVONthink To Go has a very similar approach, i.e. markdown files are rendered in preview mode by default and a switch to edit mode requires a tap

Taio – Text all in one

In episode 334 of the podcast Connected, Federico Viticci talked in passing about a relatively new app named Taio as the „spiritual successor to Editorial“. I listened to the episode while walking, got interested, and stopped immediately to have a look at the app.

It seems that Federico nailed it: Taio1 is a markdown editor that comes with a lot of useful features, among them the ability to perform actions on the content of a markdown file, similar to the workflows defined in Editorial.

In contrast to Editorial, however, Taio does not have a „personality“. It uses standard controls and symbols that can be found in other apps as well. Personally, I don‘t care much. A standard iOS app these days looks quite nice and does not require a „personality“ in the same way as it used to be the case.

I‘d much rather that the developers focus on functionality rather than appearance. A distinct and recognizable look and feel is certainly nice, but no replacement for a solid set of features. To win me over, any app that provides extensive customization has a much better chance than a comparable app with a fixed look and feel.

For example, I have a tendency to be picky with the fonts that I like to use with any app that focuses on text2. Taio gives me the option to choose my font freely and the list of supported fonts even includes fonts that are installed on the device via a profile.

When I started to write this text, Taio was available for free on the App Store. The „Pricing“ menu item in the preferences contained a statement from the developer. The gist of it was that Taio was considered very much a work in progress and would only remain free as long as some sort of feature completeness had not yet been achieved.

Having reached that goal, access to specific pro features would require some exchange of money. In other words, Taio had obviously been considered as something like a „public beta“ that were (for some reason) not distributed via Testflight, but as a regular App Store app.

Meanwhile, a new version of Taio has been released which introduces the already announced Taio pro feature-set. As with many other apps, you have the choice between a one-time payment and a monthly or yearly subscription.

The creation of a markdown note in my iOS usage will either happen in Drafts or DEVONthink. In the latter case, I typically don‘t start typing, but share the note with an editor (like Taio) that can do in-place editing and which gives me more comfort than the bare-bones text editor that comes with DEVONthink.

In Taio, I can work on the text of the note and add the meta-data for the stylesheet. I can do a preview using the same stylesheet as in DEVIONthink. After I’m done with the editing, I can simply get back to DEVONthink and the updated note text appears after a few seconds3.

In terms of the ability to preview markdown content, Taio stands out by supporting a couple of previewing options:

  • It has an integrated preview mechanism for markdown content.
  • It is also possible to implement a preview using the action mechanism provided by Taio. There is an example for a custom preview using actions that can easily be updated with custom stylesheet content.
  • Preview using Markdeep is provided as a further customizable action.

Even though the app is already very impressive, there are some aspects where I would personally see some room for improvement:

  • There is no support for markdown meta-data at the moment. This is an important detail for me because I put a reference to a stylesheet located in DEVONthink at the top of all my notes that I plan to import into DEVONthink. That way, the notes are rendered in the style of my choice in DEVONthink.
  • Some markdown editors will render markup for bold or italic text using a bold resp. italic text style. Taio currently does not support such a feature. Although I can certainly live without it, I would welcome a future extension of the text rendering in the editor.
  • Markdown markup in quotes or footnote text is completely ignored by the syntax coloring. This is an obvious defect that hopefully gets added at some point in time.
  • Speaking of footnotes: while the release notes claim that footnotes are supported my own tests came to a different conclusion. I previewed text that failed to render footnotes in Taio in other markdown previewers and it worked just fine in those.

Nevertheless, I see the potential in Taio, it has already become my preferred solution for iOS text file editing.

  1. Taio is the abbreviation for „text all in one“. 
  2. For example, I stopped using Bear some time ago and one of the reasons was the fairly limited font selection. I start my texts mostly in Drafts, which supports customizability to an extent that makes me like the app. 
  3. Of course, I would prefer DEVONthink to provide an integrated text editor that resembles the comfort that Taio provides me with. But it would not be wise to hold your breath for that. The integrated editor was on my wishlist for the recently release major version 3 of DEVONthink to go. If there is any activity to work on a more sophisticated text editor it might have been part of the major release already. 

Beats Flex

A couple of months ago, my Beats X died. Technically, it did not die, everything worked just fine. I just couldn’t switch it off. Ironically, it only much later dawned to me that this incident turned out to my first disappointing experience with an Apple headphone product that did not have a (working) on/off switch, some time before the AirPods Max were released.

The replacement product for the Beats X in Apple’s line-up is called the Beats Flex. These are nearly half the price of the Beats X. The price might have been a contribution to my decision to – although I wasn’t exactly a fan of the Beats X – order a pair of Beats Flex as a replacement on the spot.

The build quality is comparable to the build quality of the Beats X. The play button and the volume control have move to different places, which is not a big deal for me. It just took me a couple of days and then muscle memory finished reprogramming.

Like other Beats products, the Beats Flex integrate very well into the ecosystem. If you pair the Betas Flex with one of your devices, they are instantly available on all devices logged into the same iCloud account.

Pairing is instant and reliable. That’s more than you can expect from other significantly more expensive products. I also can’t complain about battery life, especially in comparison to the Beats X.

And yet, my experience with the Beats Flex is mixed.

I planned to use the Beats Flex for listening to podcast episodes while outside and for this purpose the headphones turned out to be quite good, at least after replacing the original ear pieces with third-party memory-foam tips. These provide a much better sealing and that makes a lot of difference.

I also (briefly) tried the Beats Flex for music, it is not recommended. The sound quality subjectively turned out significantly worse then the already borderline sound quality delivered by the Beats X, and that concluded the experiment.

The bottom line in four words: voice yeah, music meh., or how to totally destroy a useful App

A new version of my (for years in a row) preferred map app has been posted on the App Store today. After downloading and launching the new version, I could not believe my eyes. The app underwent a visual refresh (which admittedly looks nice), but unfortunately also underwent some significant functional changes1.

First of all, the incredible level of detail2 that used to be the signature feature of is entirely gone. The app used to show literally every trash bin, but from now on not even house numbers are available any longer.

The only improvement that I’m willing to admit is that can now show locations on the map without loading the respective map for offline usage first.

Next, it seems that the app (for inexplicable reasons) only works in portrait mode, which is a big bummer on the iPad. On top of that, all my already downloaded maps are gone after the update. I’m asked to download maps for offline usage again.

But if I look at the storage visualization in, several gigabytes of storage seem to be allocated by still. So, it seems that still retains access to the data, it just refuses to display them any longer.

I have no idea what happens to all the still allocated storage that is no longer accessible in the long term. Would I need to delete and reinstall the app to get the storage back? I deleted and reinstalled the app, and sure enough the storage utilization with the same amount of downloaded maps is much lower.

Until the release of this new version, it was possible to log in with your Open Streetmap account and report issues with the existing map data. These issues would usually be fixed in a short amount of time by Open Streetmap volunteers, way faster than other map providers (I’m looking at you, Apple) would even dream of.

The new version offers some kind of reporting functionality that redirects to a website that is not functional, according to my experiences. At least, I wasn’t able to report a broken location on that website.

Further examples concerning the functional degradation: opening hours of local businesses that used to be provided by the app are no longer accessible. It is also not even possible to get an information about the address of an arbitrary location on the map.

And finally, the app crashes like crazy. I was unable to work with the app for more than a minute without becoming unresponsive and would only work again if I killed it in the task switcher and launched it again from Springboard.

All this would not be a such a big deal for me if there was any other app that came even close to the usefulness that had for me until yesterday. Now, I’ll stop using and I’m left with only a so-so plan B for a halfway privacy-respecting map solution.

In other words, the second best app (in my opinion) in the domain of map apps that show data from Open Streetmap, CityMaps2Go, quite frankly gets at most lukewarm endorsements from me.

But I will have to live with it for the moment, maybe until the big relaunch in the sky of Apple Maps in Europe is somehow happening. Or, which would be my preferred solution, a new app that utilizes Open Streetmap data in a decent form for offline-usage hits the market. I don’t need guides or bonuses, just the map data. But it does not seem as if there is a market for that category of apps.

Update (2021-01-04): a couple of days ago, a new version (12.0) of was released on the App Store. It fixes all the issues I have complained about in 11.0, and restores the old maps, with all the glorious details. It is basically the old app with the visual refreshes (which I like, as mentioned above).

I also got a response to a review that I left on the AppStore of version 11.0. The response also clarifies that the developers have listened to the responses from the users (I was obviously not the only one who came out unhappy after the update) and that the new version 12.0 shall be the basis for, going forward.

Thanks guys, this change of direction is much appreciated.

  1. Frankly, “regression” would be a far more accurate description for the changes. 
  2. Thanks to using map data from the Open Streetmap project. 

Maps hiccup

Here's a story from the early days of iOS/iPadOS 14. After updating my devices to said operating system version, I noticed at some point that my favorite locations (in my case: home and work) in Maps were gone.

This happened to my iPhone and iPad simultaneously. I tried various things to fix this issue, but to no avail. For example, I tried declaring my home address a favorite and the menu item for favorites did: nothing.

Shortly before deciding to give up, I remembered that I have another iOS device that–at that time–was still on iOS 13. I tried, and sure enough: the favorite locations showed up in Maps on iOS 13.

Not only that, they instantly also showed up on my iOS 14 devices. I can tell because I had Maps open on my iPad when I launched Maps on the iOS 13 device.

My best guess is that this issue was caused by some anomaly in iCLoud. I'm fully aware that I'm not the only person getting tricked by iCloud. In contrast to some other people who suffered more or less severe data loss, I've been fortunate enough to just lose some bookmarks (and got them back 100%).

RSS Primer

Matt Webb has created a new website named “About Feeds” as an explanation of RSS for newcomers:

My hope is that About Feeds can become the default “Help! What is this?” link next to every web feed icon on the web. It’s bare bones right now, and I have a ton of ideas of how to make this site more and more useful.

The content of the site is bare bones indeed. While there is useful content available, it is somehow unstructured. And the big picture of why you’d want to use RSS for your web consumption in the first place is entirely missing.

The difference between a news aggregator and a reader app is not properly explained, and apps like Reeder or Unread that deliver a whole new level of reading experience are not even mentioned.

But it’s a first step, and as a huge fan of RSS myself, I’d like to see the site grow into a real RSS primer that not only focuses on the technical aspects but also on why it may be a good idea to get into RSS feeds.

Phone Rebel Crystal iPhone Case

I don’t remember exactly where I saw a picture of the Phone Rebel Crystal case for the first time. It caught my attention because the case design is very distinct, I haven’t seen any iPhone case that looks like this before. The most prominent feature, at the first sight, is that the case leaves the left and right side (except for the corners) of the phone entirely exposed.

In stark contrast to the left and right side, the four corners and and rim around the lenses are (according to the Phone Rebel website) protected by “aggressive guards”. The obvious assumption behind the case design is that phones are mostly dropping on corners.

This is the first case (to my knowledge) that lets me directly use the phone’s buttons. I’m not a big fan of the mushy haptics of buttons integrated into one of the cases I have been put on my phone in the past and the ability to use the iPhones buttons directly is a nice improvement.

What really sold me on the case is that (as mentioned before) protection focuses on the corners of the phone while the raised edges on the corners are taken back in the space between the corners so that the case is more or less level with the display.

In combination with the exposed side this makes swiping from the edges in all directions so much easier. On a typical case that has raised edges around the entire display you have to start the swiping movement on the edges and continue on the display. This issue has been solved very well by Phone Rebel, even for the invocation of Control Center.

As of now, the Phone Rebel cases can’t be ordered from big retail. I’ve ordered mine from the website of a company in (I think) the USA, and the case shipped from China to Germany in eight days. The case is not cheap, but still less expensive then cases sold by Apple.

The case ships with an additional screen protector and vinyl stickers to keep the exposed edges of the phone free from scratches. I haven’t applied neither the screen protector nor the vinyl stickers so far.

Overall, what I like about the case is that it tries to take itself out of the way as much as possible in terms of operating the phone. This is the closest thing to carrying a case-less phone while still enjoying a non-negligible level of protection against dropping.