How to: Use AirPlay

Minimum Requirements and Basic Information

 

by Sam Costello of Lifewire

For many years, the music, videos, and photos stored in our iTunes libraries and on our computers were stuck on those devices (barring complex file-sharing arrangements). For Apple products, that has all changed with the advent of AirPlay (formerly known as AirTunes).

AirPlay lets you stream all kinds of content from your computer or iOS device to other computers, speakers, and TVs.
It’s a pretty neat, and powerful technology that’s only going to get more useful as more products support it.

You don’t have to wait for that day to come, though. If you want to start using AirPlay today, read on for tips on how to use it with many existing devices and apps.

AirPlay Requirements

You’ll need compatible devices in order to use AirPlay.

  • A Mac or PC
  • An iOS device running iOS 4.2 or later
  • iTunes 10.2 or later (some earlier versions support AirTunes or more limited AirPlay implementations)
  • Any iPad model
  • iPhone 3GS or higher
  • 3rd generation iPod touch or newer
  • Any Apple TV model
  • AirPort Express
  • Compatible third-party apps
  • Compatible third-party hardware like speakers or stereo receivers

Remote App
If you have an iOS device, you’ll probably want to download Apple’s free Remote app from the App Store. Remote allows you to use your iOS device as a remote (are you surprised?) to control your computer’s iTunes library and what devices it streams content to, which saves running back and forth to your computer each time you want to change something. Pretty handy!
Basic AirPlay Use

When you have a version of iTunes that supports AirPlay and at least one other compatible device, you’ll see the AirPlay icon, a rectangle with a triangle pushing into it from the bottom.

Depending on what version of iTunes you have, the AirPlay icon will appear in different locations. In iTunes 11+, the AirPlay icon is in the top left, next to the play/forward/backward buttons. In iTunes 10+, you’ll find it in the bottom right-hand corner of the iTunes window.

This allows you to select a device to stream audio or video to via AirPlay. While earlier versions of AirTunes required you to set iTunes to seek out these devices, that’s no longer necessary – iTunes now automatically detects them.

As long as your computer and the device you want to connect to are on the same Wi-Fi network, you’ll see the names you’ve given the devices in the menu that appears when you click the AirPlay icon.

Use this menu to select the AirPlay device you want the music or video to play through (you can select more than one device at the same time), and then begin playing music or video and you’ll hear it playing through the device you selected.
See how to enable AirPlay for iPhone for a walkthrough.

AirPlay With AirPort Express

One of the easiest ways to take advantage of AirPlay is with the AirPort Express. This is around $100 USD and plugs directly into a wall socket.

AirPort Express connects to your Wi-Fi or Ethernet network and lets you connect speakers, stereos, and printers to it. With it serving as the AirPlay receiver, you can then stream content to any device attached to it.

Simply set up the AirPort Express and then choose it from the AirPlay menu in iTunes to stream content to it.
Supported Content

The AirPort Express supports streaming audio only, no video or photos. It also allows wireless printer sharing, so your printer no longer needs a cable attached to your computer to work.

Requirements

  • iTunes 10.2 or later
  • At least one AirPort Express running firmware 7.4.2 or newer (you can use multiple AirPort Expresses in the house)
  • Speakers (or printer) to plug into the AirPort Express

AirPlay and Apple TV

Another simple way to use AirPlay in the home is via the Apple TV, the tiny set-top box that connects your HDTV to your iTunes library and the iTunes Store.

The Apple TV and AirPlay is a powerful combination indeed: it supports music, video, photos, and content streamed from apps.

This means that with the tap of a button, you can take the video you’re watching on your iPad and send it to your HDTV via the Apple TV.

If you’re sending content from your computer to the Apple TV, use the method already described. If you’re using an app that displays the AirPlay icon (most common in web browsers and audio and video apps), use the AirPlay icon to select the Apple TV as the device to stream that content to.

Tip: If the Apple TV doesn’t show up in the AirPlay menu, make sure AirPlay is enabled on it by going to the Apple TV’s Settings menu and then enabling it from the AirPlay menu.

Supported Content

  • Audio streamed from iTunes or iOS devices
  • Video streamed from iTunes or iOS devices
  • Video from iOS apps (e.g. YouTube app or video embedded in web pages)
  • Photos from computers or iOS devices
  • Mirroring a device’s screen on the TV

Requirements

  • Apple TV: 2nd generation Apple TV and newer for video and photos, or 1st generation Apple TV for audio only
  • iTunes 10.2 or higher
  • iOS device running iOS 4.3 or higher to stream content from third-party apps, or iOS 4.2 or higher to stream from built-in iOS apps
  • An HDTV

AirPlay and Apps

 

A growing number of iOS apps support AirPlay, too. While the apps that supported AirPlay were initially limited to those built by Apple and included in iOS, since iOS 4.3, third-party apps have been able to take advantage of AirPlay.

Just look for the AirPlay icon in the app. Support is most often found in audio or video apps, but it may also be found on videos embedded in web pages.

Tap the AirPlay icon to select the destination you want to stream content to from your iOS device.
Supported Content

  • Audio
  • Video
  • Photos

Built-in iOS Apps That Support AirPlay

  • Music
  • iPod
  • Videos
  • Photos
  • YouTube
  • Safari

Requirements

  • AirPort Express, Apple TV, or compatible speakers
  • iOS device running iOS 4.3 or higher to stream content from third-party apps, or iOS 4.2 or higher to stream from built-in iOS apps
  • App that supports AirPlay
  • AirPlay With Speakers

AirPlay With Speakers

There are stereo receivers and speakers from third-party manufacturers that offer built-in AirPlay support.

Some come with compatibility built in and others require aftermarket upgrades. Either way, with these components, you won’t need an AirPort Express or Apple TV to send content to; you’ll be able to send it directly to your stereo from iTunes or compatible apps.

Like with the AirPort Express or Apple TV, set up your speakers (and consult the included manual for directions on using AirPlay) and then select them from the AirPlay menu in iTunes or your apps to stream audio to them.

Supported Content

  • Audio

Requirements

  • iTunes 10.2 or later
  • Compatible speakers
  • iOS device running iOS 4.3 or higher to stream content from third-party apps, or iOS 4.2 or higher to stream from built-in iOS apps
  • App that supports AirPlay

 

Do you have a favorite AirPlay Hack? Tell us about it in the comments below!

App of the Week: DuckDuckPro

A Year of DuckDuckGo – a review

 

By Tom Wood of designwithtom.com

I’ve been using DuckDuckGo as my default search engine instead of Google for about 12 months. This is why I could never go back.

1. Privacy

The main reason I switched over in the first place was a privacy concern. Spawned from a talk by the irrepressible Aral Balkan, the notion of corporatocracy was first lodged in my brain. Google weren’t just storing all my search history, but they were using it for all manner of things except for the one thing they assured me it was for; improving my searching.

With a Privacy Policy written in clear English, DuckDuckGo are all about you.

2. Quality of Search

Using Google you’re subject to what is known as the filter bubble. The filter bubble is where your search results are conditioned by the history of your previous searches. That means that different results are shown to different people. Not everyone who searches for Donald Trump (or guns) sees the same thing.

There is no filter bubble on DuckDuckGo. The ability to switch which local region you’re searching in gives you more options and ultimately, a truer search.

3. Design

Look at it. Look how clean it is! Don’t like how it looks, then head straight to part 4!

Lose the visual clutter of Google, and the mismatching styles and enter some gentle alignment and you get DuckDuckGo. Search for a topic like Airbnb and you’ll get a tidy summary (from Wikipedia of course) at the top of the page, and some genuinely related links to the right. All of this in your search results.

Search for an HTML snippet like <td>, and you’ll get an HTML table in correct syntax ready for you to copy and paste. Occasionally a StackOverflow answer will even appear up there!

4. Customization

So you don’t like how it looks and you prefer Google. Why?! Only joking.

You can change how DuckDuckGo both looks and behaves. You can change the default ProximaNova font to Helvetica Neue, or the colour to pink. You can change the way links open, or stop the favicons from displaying. You can truly cater it to your tastes.

5. Instant Search

You know how Google can give you the results to basic arithmetic, or tell you the weather without having to leave your search results? Well DuckDuckGo have been doing that for longer, and arguably, they do it better.

The weather is supplied by the wonderful and gorgeous Forecast.io (now renamed DarkSky), the clean strokes and bold lines are a breath of fresh air.

But perhaps the cleverest thing, is DuckDuckGo’s ability to play a song from within the search results. Try it. You can play a Soundcloud tune without ever having to leave your search results.

Oh, and if you search for “Stopwatch” you get (you guessed it) a working stopwatch.

6. !bangs

Bangs are the most useful part of DuckDuckGo. A bang is when you type an “!” followed by a letter, and then type your search query to instantly search on another site. Directly. Use wikipedia right from DuckDuckGo; “!w trainspotting”, or thousands of other sites.

You can use it to search Google if you need to, !g or !guk or even !maps. It’s such an intuitive way of searching. Visit DuckDuckGo for the full list (or submit your own)

It’ll work with !wikipedia, or !stackoverflow, !verge, and so on and so on (9,088 at the time of writing. Wow).

But the best part? DuckDuckGo does all of this anonymously, and if you don’t know why that’s a big deal (or if you don’t care) then I implore you to watch Aral’s talk below.

 

Download DuckDuckGo for iOS here
Download DuckDuckGo for Android here

 

Do you have a favorite browser you use for security? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Tales from the Orchard: What would Steve Jobs think of today’s Apple?

 

Originally posted on ZDNet

Steve Jobs was never one to leave anyone in any doubt as to what was on his mind, and thanks to hundreds of hours of keynotes, speeches, and interviews, we can get an insight into what he might think about the current state of the company he founded.

 

Still no next big thing

“One more thing…” — Steve Jobs

No quote excited Apple fans than this one. Those three simple words launched a number of world-changing Apple products.

 

Lack of focus

“Focusing is about saying ‘No.'” — Steve Jobs

The iPhone started out as a simple idea — a device that reinvented the smartphone. All a buyer needed to do was decide how much storage capacity they needed — 4, 8, or 16 gigabytes — and they were an iPhone owner.

Jump forward a decade and buyers are faced with eight different iPhones in numerous storage capacities and finishes.

 

AirPods

 

“The problem with Bluetooth headphones is that it’s not just recharging your iPod, you have to recharge your headphones too. People hate it. There are quality issues — the bandwidth isn’t high enough, and even if it does get there some day, people don’t want to recharge their headphones.” — Steve Jobs

While there’s little doubt that Bluetooth is now more than capable of delivering crystal clear audio, Apple’s solution to how to charge the AirPods would have no doubt upset Jobs. Not only do AirPod owners need to pop the AirPods into a case to charge, they also have to remember to charge up the case itself!

Dongles, dongles, and more dongles

 

“I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” — Steve Jobs

Apple is clearly on a mission to simplify its Mac lineup, and one way it wants to do that is by eliminating as many ports as possible and standardizing on a single port where possible, as it has done with the new MacBook Pro.

Problem is, while one port might work for the iPhone and iPad, when it comes to a computer it’s a real pain, and it forces many users to carry with them an array of different dongles and accessories (such as this Satechi Type-C USB 3.0 3-in-1 combo hub) in order to be able to get work done.

Dumb solutions to simple problems

 

“You’ve baked a really lovely cake, but then you’ve used dog s— for frosting.” — Steve Jobs

Apple employs some of the smartest people on the planet, and the company is capable of doing wonderful things.

But it’s also come out with some howlers. For example, the battery case for the iPhone that has a charging indicator on the inside where you can’t see it. Or a rechargeable mouse that has the charging port on the bottom. Or a rechargeable pencil that has a tiny cap that’s easily lost.

These are just the sort of design howlers that you don’t expect from Apple.

Bogged down iOS

 

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” — Steve Jobs

When the iPhone was unveiled a decade ago the operating system (then called iPhone OS, the iOS name didn’t appear until 2010) was sleek and simple. Everything was a couple of taps away and the user interface was intuitive and a snap to use.

Fast-forward a decade and things have changed dramatically. While iOS 11 retains some of the look and feel of the early iPhone OS, Apple has bolted on, shoehorned in, and otherwise added to the mobile operating system so much that the once elegant and streamlined platform has become a kludgy and awkward mess.

Notification panels and popups litter the interface, gaining access to often-needed features now require users to memorize a number of different gestures, and the Settings app is now a mess to rival the Windows Control Panel at its worst.

Siri is still so dumb

 

“Details matter, it’s worth waiting to get it right.” — Steve Jobs

Apple acquired the technology behind its Siri voice assistant back in 2010 and integrated the technology into the iPhone 4S in late 2011, and since then it has spread from the iPhone to the iPad and the Mac.

But over that time Siri has gone from being “Wow!” to “Meh.” Put Siri in a room with Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Now and you quickly discover just how dumb and gimmicky Siri actually is. The voice recognition is poor, and the range of things you can do, and the flexibility to ask questions in a natural way, is very basic compared to other voice assistant offerings.

Apple’s massive R&D budget

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” — Steve Jobs

Apple’s R&D budget has increased over tenfold since the iPhone was released in 2007, and yet the company hasn’t come up with anything that comes close to the success of the iPhone.

Apple Pencil

 

“Who wants a stylus. You have to get ’em and put ’em away, and you lose ’em. Yuck. Nobody wants a stylus.” — Steve Jobs

I know many would argue that the Apple Pencil is more than a stylus, but many of problems with the stylus — finding it, putting it away, and losing it — haven’t really been solved by Apple.

The iPad’s rapid decline

 

“What we want to do is we want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes.” — Steve Jobs

The iPad was Apple’s plan to disrupt the tablet market and put a stepping-stone between the iPhone and the Mac. And it looked like it would work. But in seven years sales have gone from showing strong growth initially to hitting a peak a few years back to now a rapid decline.

It could be said that the problem with the iPad is that consumers and enterprise buyers have lost interest in tablets, and that it’s only natural that sales would tank. But in that case how has Apple managed to keep Mac sales strong in the face of horrible PC sales, or managed to return the iPhone to growth?

Evolution over revolution

 

“I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes.” — Steve Jobs

Over the past few years we’ve seen a lot of incremental, evolutionary updates from Apple, ranging across hardware and software, but there’s been little in the way of revolutionary changes. Certainly nothing that compares with those big gambles that Apple took while it was under the leadership of Jobs.

Following, instead of leading

 

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” — Steve Jobs

Apple used to look forward, but now the company feels like it is increasingly looking sideways at what its competitors are up to, in particular the premier Android device maker, Samsung.

Samsung has a “throw it against the wall and see what sticks” attitude when it comes to hardware, and over the past few years we’ve seen Apple take a similar approach, especially with the iPhone. Some of these moves have been successful (for example, it’s clear that there was indeed a pent-up demand for larger and more expensive iPhones) while others have flopped (the iPhone 5C springs irresistibly to mind here).

 

Share your favorite Steve Jobs comments in the comments below!

App of the Week: Acorns

 

By Investmentzen.com

Summary

If you have never heard of Acorns, that is about to change. To save you time from scouring the web for quality Acorns reviews, we went ahead and put together everything you need to know here.

Acorns uses the “micro investing” approach by allowing you to round to the nearest dollar for every purchase you make and investing the difference. All those pennies start to add up and compound over time, and best of all it happens automatically when you make purchases you would normally make anyways!

Account Minimum
$5
Fees
$1/month or 0.25% per year for accounts greater than $5000.

Expert Walkthrough

What is Acorns?
Saving money today can be difficult. That amount of people who are investing in their future is far lower than it should be. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. It doesn’t have to be this way!

It can be difficult to reach the goal of a comfortable emergency fund or even starting to save for retirement. It takes both time and attention. With how busy life gets, these two things are not always easy to find.

Now Acorns has entered the game and is helping people in this exact situation. This is a service that allows you to get your feet wet with investing with little to no knowledge required. With such an inventive idea, we’ve put together this Acorns review for you to see how they can help you start investing today.

Acorns is revolutionizing the way millennials invest. They are taking charge in a time when it is well known that most people are not saving nearly enough to guarantee a comfortable retirement. This is a problem! Retirement can be as long or longer than your working career, so you want to make sure you are planning for it.

This is why Acorns allows college students to pay absolutely no fees for four years. Once you provide a valid .edu email address, you won’t pay a dime to Acorns for the remainder of your four-year degree.

Acorns does an excellent job explaining the investing process to beginners. Throughout the experience of signing up and investing, key terms are defined in a digestible format. This way, you know the implications from every action you take within your investment portfolio.

 

 

How Does it Work?

Acorns enables you to round to the nearest dollar for every purchase you make and invests the difference automatically.

These pennies are invested in one of six asset allocations. Each portfolio is made up of different Exchange Traded Funds (ETF). These options allow you to decide how aggressive or conservative you want to be.

The portfolios that are available are:

Conservative
Moderately Conservative
Moderate
Moderately Aggressive

Each of these portfolios are balanced differently to aim for your desired level of risk.

It really is that easy.

In addition to “Rounding Up” you have the option of contributing lump sums on a weekly or even daily basis.

This method takes more effort because you have to go out of your way to send money initially, or regularly. While it is a great way to get in the habit of investing, Acorns mainly focuses on sending a few cents on each transaction you make. It is done in the background so you may even forget it is happening.

There is no cost to sign up, but a $5 deposit is required to begin investing.

It is easy to login and check your balances and performance of your investments. Acorns will automatically reallocate your funds to fit the asset class you have selected.

This way, if the small business cap stocks have a good month, you won’t have too much tied up in that sector after the rally. Your money will be redistributed to other asset classes, potentially limiting the risk of losing these gains.

Pros

Acorns has changed the game for millennial investors. Although those from all walks of life use the service, the younger generations are taking advantage of this micro investing approach more than others.

Acorns makes investing easy. With a “set it and forget it” methodology, in a way it forces you to begin investing by rolling in few cents for every purchase you make.

This is a great way for college students who may not have access to a 401k plan to build up a savings account. Acorn investments will grow just as if the funds were placed in an individual mutual fund with an investment bank.

They do all the work. When you sign up with Acorns, the hardest part of your job is initially deciding where you want your money and linking your cards (which is not difficult). After that, you are saving money.

Acorns also offers a mobile application for iOS and Android devices. Take a look at the Acorn app reviews in the app store to see what people are saying. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive. The app is helping so many people, there may be use of a full Acorns app review in a future article.

Acorns is very useful if you are just beginning to learn about investing. They make it very easy by doing virtually all of the work for you. Your everyday purchases contribute to your savings.

From the time you swipe your linked card, you will decide which asset allocation you want to invest in. Acorns puts your money in a well diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds.

 

 

Cons

Acorns isn’t perfect for everyone. This service is not a way to replace a 401k or Roth IRA. The lack of tax benefits may steer some away.

The fees to use the service can be rather high when combined with a low account balance.

If you take advantage of the Round-Up program that Acorns offers, the pennies you are contributing will add up over time. Depending on how much you spend, you could be hovering under $20 for quite some time.

A $1 fee on a $20 balance is a 5% fee. When compared to retirement accounts with other financial institutions, 5% would be extremely high.

You can of course lower the fee percentage by depositing a larger initial amount, which would dilute the $1 fee to a lower percentage of your total savings.

Limited investment options. Acorns does offer 6 different assets allocations that are well diversified. However, hundreds more options can be found by dealing with a commercial investment company like Wells Fargo or Fidelity.

 

 

Is Acorns Worth It?

Acorns is an amazing tool to get started with investing. If you do not have a company offered retirement account like a 401k, it allows you to put your money in the stock market with little barrier to entry.

It is not a way to replace a 401k or Roth IRA. Acorns does not provide a match like most companies, and the growth is not tax deferred or tax free.

The passive nature of using Acorns works well for investors who want a hands off approach. With reallocating and depositing done in the background, you have more time to focus on other things in your life.

If you would rather get a root canal than learn about investing, then Acorns could very well be the solution to your problem. Use this Acorn review and decide for yourself if this method of investing will be beneficial for you.

Download Acorns for iOS and Android

Do you have a favorite investment app? Tell us about it in the comments below?

Tales from the Orchard:Apple’s iOS 11.4 update with ‘USB Restricted Mode’ may defeat tools like GrayKey

The iOS 11.4 beta contains a new feature called USB Restricted Mode, designed to defeat physical data access by third parties — possibly with forensic firms like Grayshift and Cellebrite in mind.

 

“To improve security, for a locked iOS device to communicate with USB accessories you must connect an accessory via Lightning connector to the device while unlocked — or enter your device passcode while connected — at least once a week,” reads Apple documentation highlighted by security firm ElcomSoft. The feature actually made an appearance in iOS 11.3 betas, but like AirPlay 2 was removed from the finished code.

The change blocks use of the Lightning port for anything but charging if a device is left untouched for seven days. An iPhone or iPad will even refuse to sync with computer running iTunes until iOS is unlocked with a passcode.

USB Restricted Mode may be intended to impose a seven-day window on when digital forensics specialists like Grayshift can break into a device, at least using any simple techniques. Those firms will often employ a “lockdown” record from a suspect’s computer to create a local backup of iPhone data, skipping passcode entry.

iOS 11 already has some restrictions on lockdown records, namely automatic expiration, and full-disk encryption that renders them useless if a device is rebooted. The 11.3 update shrank the life of iTunes pairing records to seven days.

ElcomSoft suggested that connecting a device to a paired accessory or computer could extend the Restricted Mode window, and centrally-managed hardware may already have that mode disabled.

“If the phone was seized while it was still powered on, and kept powered on in the meanwhile, than the chance of successfully connecting the phone to a computer for the purpose of making a local backup will depend on whether or not the expert has access to a non-expired lockdown file (pairing record),” ElcomSoft elaborated. “If, however, the phone is delivered in a powered-off state, and the passcode is not known, the chance of successful extraction is slim at best.”

The exact details of the hacking techniques used by Cellebrite and Grayshift’s GrayKey have been kept secret, so it’s possible they may still work after iOS 11.4 is released. The companies could however resort to more extreme methods to get at data, such as removing the flash memory from the devices, copying them, and using the copies to attack the password.

 

What do think of Apple’s move to thwart hackers and the FBI? Sound off in the comments below!

App of the Week: Record Player

There’s An App Like Shazam But For Album Covers

 

Shazam has proved to be a really useful piece of kit for the casual music listeners amongst us.

Hearing a tune in the background on the office radio or in a store that spikes our interest once upon a time may have ended there. A potentially momentarily frustrating situation if ever there was one.

Along came Shazam to solve such a problem, easing our mysterious musical woes. Just hold your phone up to the sound and the app will tell you what song it is as well as nudging you towards purchasing it on iTunes (support the music man).

It was obviously fairly popular as Apple bought the service last year for around $400 million.

Record Player has seen those successes and applied it to something more visual. Album covers.

The concept is simple. You’re browsing a record store and you see an album that tickles your fancy – however you may not have listened to it properly in the past. Vinyl isn’t exactly cheap so you may want to take the record out for a ‘test run’.

Snap a picture of the cover and the app will use the Google Cloud Vision API and the Spotify API to bring up the playlist on Spotify.

According to Billboard and Nielsen Music, vinyl LP sales have reached a record high, accounting for 14% of all U.S. physical album sales in 2017, an 11% increase from 2016.

Download Record Player for iOS here

Download Record Player for Android here

 

Do you have a favorite reference app like Shazam or Record Player? Tell us about it in the comments below!!

How to: Hide Files on Any Phone or Computer

 

 

 

By David Nield of Gizmodo

If you’ve got something you want to hide away, then you’ve got plenty of options on Android, iOS, Windows, and macOS—options that we’ll run through here. Even if the kids or a stranger should get access to your devices somehow, these files will stay hidden from view and locked away.

Before we get started, though, we should note that while the solutions below will provide a measure of privacy from a casual user who nabs your device, they aren’t all necessarily going to protect your files from a hacker or someone else with expertise.

 

Android

When it comes to files on mobile devices, those files are usually photos or videos—your other files are likely to be stored in the cloud, not on your device. To hide an image in Google Photos for Android, long-press on it then tap the menu button (three vertical dots) and pick Archive. The photo can still be dug out of the archive, but it does give your sensitive photos some level of protection from the casual browser.

If you’re on a Samsung phone, the default gallery app does a bit of a better job at keeping any photos or videos you want private kept safe. Select the photos and videos you want to hide, tap the menu button (three vertical dots), then pick Move to Secure Folder—enter the folder PIN, and the content gets moved over. No one else can get into that Secure Folder without the PIN.

For something a bit more comprehensive, try Keepsafe: It creates a PIN-protected digital vault on your phone for those photos and videos that you really don’t want other people coming across. Getting files into the vault is easy, or you can take your photos and videos from inside Keepsafe instead.

Also worthy of a mention is Vaulty, which works in a similar way but makes the process of getting photos and videos in and out of your digital locker even easier. Remember that if you’re using Google Photos as your gallery, you’ll still need to delete the originals, otherwise they’ll just get shown from the cloud (which the likes of Keepsafe and Vaulty don’t touch).

File Hide Expert covers any type of file and is very straightforward to use—it simply gives you access to the file and folder structure on your phone, lets you select the content you want hidden, and then hides it. The interface is rather rudimentary, but if you want something basic that works for any type of file, it’s a good option.

There is actually another trick you can use on Android using a file manager like ES File Explorer: Put an empty text file called .nomedia inside any folder with images you don’t want to show up in the default gallery app (though they’ll still appear in the file manager). In fact Android will ignore any folder that starts with a period. It’s a rather fiddly solution, but it might suit some of you.

IOS

The iOS file system is even more locked down than Android of course, so you’re unlikely to have files floating around that you don’t want people to see that aren’t photos or videos. There is the new Files app, that shows your iCloud Drive files (if you’ve got any), but there are no options for hiding files here.

You can however hide photos and videos from the iOS Photos app to keep them away from prying eyes that aren’t yours: Open the file in question, tap the Share button (bottom left), then choose Hide. That removes the photo or video from Moments, Years, and Collections, though someone could still browse to the Hidden album in the Albums section of the app, so it’s not all that secure.

We’ve already spoken about hiding photos and videos in Google Photos, and the process is the same for Google Photos for iOS. Tap and hold on one or more files, tap the menu button (three horizontal dots), and choose Archive. This hides the pictures or clips from the front screen of the app, though they can still be found from the Archive entry in the menu (and still show up in albums and search).

One other option is to put photos inside Notes (though this doesn’t work for videos). First you need to set up a password in the Notes section of the iOS Settings app, then you can open any note, tap the Share button (top right) and choose Lock Note. You’ll also need to remove the photo you’ve added from the main Photos app.

If you need to hide files from specific apps, your best bet is looking inside that app to see what options are available. Dropbox, for example, can be passcode protected from its internal settings screen: Tap Account then the cog icon, and choose Passcode Lock to prevent anyone from getting into your files.

We’ve come across a number of handy third-party options too, including Private Photos Calculator and Private Photo Vault, which protect your sensitive snaps and clips with a PIN code. You can capture photos and videos inside the apps, or import them from the Camera Roll, but if you take the latter option you also need to them delete the pictures from the iOS Photos app.

Windows

Windows has a file hiding tool built right into it, as you might already know: Right-click on any file or folder, choose Properties, then tick the box marked Hidden and click OK. That’s it—your chosen file or folder is no longer visible in File Explorer.

Unless the person who’s gained access to your computer is clever enough to display hidden files, that is. The setting can be toggled right from the View tab of the ribbon menu—the Hidden items entry on the right. You can set files and folders to be hidden from this menu too, via the Hide selected items button.

If you think that’s enough protection to foil any would-be lurkers—that they won’t know Windows well enough to display hidden files—then you’re already all set. On the other hand, if you want to take your hiding file techniques to the next level, you’ll need some help from a third-party app, and there are quite a few to pick from.

Of the ones we’ve tested, Wise Folder Hider Free impressed us the most with its ease-of-use and feature set. You can just drag and drop folders on top of the program interface, and they disappear from File Explorer as if by magic. A password is then required to get into the application. If you want encryption as well, you can upgrade to the Pro version for $19.95.

We were also impressed by My Lockbox, which is also available in free and Pro versions (the latter lets you protect an unlimited number of folders). Again, one password protects access to the program, and it’s perfect for just hiding a single folder away rather than a bunch of files or folders.

Another option is to wrap up all the files you want to hide away in a compressed archive, and then put a password on that archive that blocks unauthorized access. 7-Zip is one free tool that can do this for you, though someone else could still see and delete the archive unless you added one of the hiding options we mentioned above.

MacOS

When it comes to Mac computers, the cleanest and simplest native option is to use the Terminal app, which you can launch from Spotlight (Cmd+Space). Type “chflags hidden file-or-folder-path” then Enter to hide something, and “chflags nohidden file-or-folder-path” and Enter to bring it back. If you like you can type out the command then drag and drop a file or folder into the Terminal window before hitting Enter (just remember the path so you can bring it back).

Various third-party options will take care of the task for you as well. Hide Folders does exactly what it says on the tin, and you simply drag and drop in files and folders from Finder and then click the Hide button. Anyone who launches Hide Folders can see what you’ve hidden though, so you might want to add password protection, which is a $20 upgrade for the Pro version.

Secret Folder does almost exactly the same job, though the interface is a little cleaner and easier on the eyes. Again, you can simply drag and drop folders into the program window to hide them, then toggle the Invisible/Visible switch accordingly. The application costs $20, but a free trial is available.

Hider is a more comprehensive solution that’s again is priced at $20 and again lets you give the software a trial run for free. In addition to hiding selected files and folders, your data is also encrypted, and you’ve got some useful extras thrown in as well (like support for external hard drives). Files can be shown or hidden using simple toggle switches, with everything protected by a master password.

If it’s particular apps that you want to block, then Cisdem AppCrypt might fit the bill for you. You can specify apps (or websites) to password protect, so anyone who gains access to your Mac won’t be able to run programs containing information you don’t want seen. It costs $20 a year, with a free trial available.

Going back to photos, if all you want to do is hide images and video clips, you can use the same options (with the same caveats) as we talked about for iOS. From the Photos app, right-click on an image and choose Hide Photo. This removes it from the main photo stream, but considering the Hidden album is only a click away on the left-hand navigation pane, it’s not the most effective solution.

 

How do keep your private stuff private on your device(s)? Tell us in the comments below!

App of the Week: Couch to 5K

The Good, The Bad, & How to Know if this Training Plan is Right for You.

By Heather Gannoe of Relentless Forward Commotion

If you’ve toyed with the idea of starting to run, or have a friend who has recently taken up running, chances are you’ve heard of the Couch to 5K program.   But if you haven’t: the Couch to 5k is a wildly popular training program that is designed to take a non-runner from a sedentary lifestyle to running a 5k distance race in just nine weeks. Designed by Josh Clark, and originally published on the training website Cool Running, the Couch to 5k program has claimed to help thousands of people become runners and has blossomed into a running movement of its own.  

The training plan consists of just three days of training sessions per week, for a total of nine weeks. Each session consists of running and walking intervals, measured by time or distance, progressing forward with the final goal of running either a 5k or 30 minutes, without walking. If you are thinking of using the Couch to 5k program to help get you started on your running journey, consider the following pros and cons to this plan.

The Good:

Does the thought of running for more than a minute terrify you?  Then this training program is perfect for you.  The Couch to 5k program starts off with short intervals of running combined with generous walking breaks, which is an ideal introduction to running both physically, and mentally  (for example, day # 1 includes the following:  “Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes”).  Josh Clark states in his training program: “Too many people have been turned off of running simply by trying to start off too fast. ” Having specific, short distance or time goals prevents the participant from doing too much, too soon, which in turn prevents mental burnout and injury.

There has always been a bit of a stigma behind walking vs. running, but don’t let it bother you.   Studies show that a combination of running and walking has been shown to help prevent injuries while building physical endurance and running distance, as well as helping to prevent muscular fatigue.   So you are not any less of a ‘badass” for taking walking breaks; quite the contrary, you are a smart runner!

Further, some amazing athletes are well known for their run/walk methods.  Ultra runners (we are talking the people who run 100 + miles at once!)  are notorious for it.  And most famously, this style of training has been made very popular by former Olympic runner Jeff Galloway, who uses the run/walk method to train participants of all levels to run distances up to a marathon and beyond. The Couch to 5k program is variable in the sense that participants may choose to follow the plan by either distance or time. Each training session lists running and walking intervals by time or by distance, depending on the participant’s goal. This is helpful for those who are unable to measure the distance they run, or who may have time constraints on their training sessions.

The Bad:

Though the creators of the Couch to 5k program claim that it is for almost everyone, it might not actually be for everyone. Depending on many factors, such as health conditions, or even previous fitness experience, many beginners may find the couch to 5k training program too aggressive. Many beginning runners may find certain weeks include an increase in running distance that proves to be too difficult, and that week may need to be repeated. For example, on training day number three of week five of the program, participants are suggested to run two miles straight without a walk break. This is a significant increase from the three quarter mile interval run, with  half mile walk breaks, the session before. The Couch to 5k program encourages runners to repeat a week if necessary. However, the claim of getting participants off of the couch and onto running a 5k in only nine weeks may become frustrating to some who find they need to repeat a week.

On the other hand, some beginning runners may find the Couch to 5k program not aggressive enough. The Couch to 5k program discourages participants from skipping ahead, which can also prove to be frustrating for those who feel they are capable of doing more.

Conclusion:

Overall, the Couch to 5k training program is a very basic training guide that can be utilized by almost anyone. Even if the full nine week training program is not ideal for all participants, the Couch to 5k program may prove to be a useful starting point for someone looking to start running. The training plan can be found free on the Cool Running website and through the Facebook support page.  In addition, Couch to 5k apps are available to download to your smart phone or tablet, to help you keep track of your training.

Couchto5K is available to download for $2.99 for iOS and Android.

Do you have a favorite running app? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Tales from the Orchard: Apple Business Chat has the enterprise talking about iMessage Apps

 

By Daniel Eran Dilger of AppleInsider

Ten years ago, Steve Jobs announced the App Store. While its first titles were mostly games and novelties, soon major businesses began to recognize the power of mobile apps, shifting major investment from desktop PCs and web apps into iOS. This year, Apple is inciting new enterprise investment in iMessage Apps with Apple Business Chat–billed as an interactive, personal way to connect with customers while respecting their privacy.

 

Support the way users already communicate

 

Apple Business Chat enables customers to contact companies for personalized support using the familiar iMessage app. Just like personal chats, a user can initiate a conversation on their iPhone and resume the discussion on their Mac, iPad or even Apple Watch. They can get notifications when there’s a response and can communicate in rich detail, such as sending a photo or other attachment.

Unlike a phone conversation, users don’t have to wait on hold or navigate through a voice-first bot conversation. Unlike the web, users don’t have to search their way through a company’s marketing or support forums to just find an answer or get help with an order.

Business Chat also puts an emphasis on privacy: users don’t have to log in via Facebook to share a huge profile that includes everyone they know, their political orientation and all their other personal details; nor do they surrender contact information that signs them up for tons of future, unsolicited offers and spam.

One of the more interesting things about Apple Business Chat is that it involves a custom development platform. Leveraging the work delivered in iOS 10 for iMessage Apps, Apple enables companies to build interactive features that can present a choice (such as selecting a product or scheduling an appointment) or handle an Apple Pay transaction.

Some critics scoffed at iMessage Apps when Apple announced the platform with the release of iOS 10. But for the enterprise, Apple’s new chat messaging platform allows them to easily build dynamic ways to interact with their clients (such logging into an account, or performing some other task that is easier to do in software than it is to explain in words or communicate by voice; Apple’s initial example was an app for airline seat selection) using the same iOS development tools they already use to create client-facing or internal apps for iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch.

While Apple Business Chat can also be used in Messages on a Mac, there is no support in macOS for iMessage Apps (which are generally iOS app extensions). That may change if Apple incorporates the ability to execute iOS code on Macs (as it is expected to soon enable).

Apple loves development platforms

Apple likes custom third-party development for its hardware because it builds a valuable ecosystem that makes its products more attractive (think Photoshop on the Mac, or Instagram on iOS). By owning and managing the development platform, Apple can also shape users’ experience.

In the early days of the Macintosh, that allowed Apple to introduce a revolutionary leap in software sophistication with its Human User Interface Guidelines that made Mac applications consistent, intuitive and easy to learn. When it introduced iPhone, its new iOS platform similarly reshaped how apps appeared and behaved to enable Apple to deliver another radical leap in mobile computing.

Apple’s initial value-add for the Mac platform was ease of use and graphical aesthetics. More recently, Apple has focused on graphical performance (the buttery smooth animations of OS X and iOS) as well as data security and privacy (turning on encryption default and limiting ad tracking and third party access to your personal data) in a world of malware and surveillance advertising.

Apple Business Chat leverages companies’ existing customer support infrastructure (their internal customer contact centers and the Customer Service Platform they already use) and integrates these with its own iMessage platform. It doesn’t require companies to radically change how they provide customer support, but instead enhances their customer interactions with a design that’s easy to use, efficient, secure and designed with privacy in mind.

Business Chat with an approach like Apple Pay

Consider the difference in Google’s approach to messaging, which began with trying to inject ad messages into email, then trampled user’s data privacy with Buzz, then introduced a complex communications platform with Wave that it expected everyone to learn, then attempted to copy Apple’s simplicity and appearance with Allo without the same interest in privacy or encryption (because it wanted to read users’ messages).

Apple’s success with iMessage adoption stands in stark contrast to Google’s various stabs at communication initiatives. Apple’s iMessage is designed as a product seeking to be attractive, valuable and useful to its audience. Google’s efforts were all attempts to create a product for itself which it could use to monetize users.

A similar contrast can be seen between Apple Pay and Google Wallet; Google hoped to push banks out of the way to establish itself as the account for users’ transactions. Apple’s approach was to work with banks to offer a secure, private way of making payments using the accounts individuals’ already had.

Apple Business Chat takes a very similar approach to Apple Pay, requiring minimal changes from companies while adding value to the interface they present to their customers. And it integrates with Apple Pay to enable seamless, secure transactions right within a support session.

Apple Business Chat partners

Apple is already working with a series of major Customer Service Platforms, including previously announced partners LivePerson, Salesforce, Nuance and Genesys, and more recently adding InTheChat and Zendesk.

By leveraging the support of CSPs, Apple can launch its vision for enhancing how customers get support much more easily than if it were trying to build out a competing business outside of its core competency. Support from those partners is being expressed in the same way iOS developers talk about the App Store in glowing terms.

Salesforce pitches its LiveMessage CSP service to businesses as a way to “delight your customers at a fraction of the cost of voice support” on its website, which highlights its partnership with Marriott using Apple Business Chat.

Meredith Flynn-Ripley, VP of Messaging at Salesforce, noted that, “Consumers today are five times more likely to message with family and friends than call them–and they expect to communicate with brands the same way.”

Flynn-Ripley added, “Salesforce is the leader in delivering conversational messaging within the world’s number one Service platform and we consistently hear from our customers that they want to connect with their customers in new ways. We’re thrilled to add support for Apple Business Chat to Service Cloud and provide new, easier ways for our customers to bring messaging directly into their CRM.”

Caitlin Henehan, the VP and GM of Zendesk Chat, similarly stated, “Zendesk’s integration with Apple Business Chat Beta will allow customers to engage with businesses on a much more personal level through Messages. Companies will be able to provide timely responses and interact on the channel that is familiar and accessible to the consumer.”

Robert LoCascio, the founder and CEO of LivePerson (which handles integration for Discover, Lowe’s and Home Depot) offered the statement, “What we’re seeing is a tremendous shift to conversational experiences, and it’s top of mind for many CMOs.”

Genesys highlighted a report by Garner which claimed that, “by 2019, requests for customer support through consumer messaging apps will exceed requests for customer support through social media.”

Apple Business Chat is like Siri with a real person helping

Apple Business Chat integration with Nuance–the original technology partner behind the launch of Siri–highlights the combination of “live agent” bots and live chats with humans that companies can use to handle incoming chat requests from customers.

Nuance calls its virtual assistant “Nina,” as describes it as “designed to deliver an intuitive, automated experience by engaging customers in natural, human-like conversations for a more efficient contact center operation.”

If a customer needs more help than Nina can provide, the chat can be routed to a real person. That’s an approach Facebook attempted with its failed M general-purpose chat-bot, until it realized that it could not actually handle the range and depth of the wide-open questions it was getting with purely automated systems.

Apple’s Siri similarly conveys (problematically) that it can answer anything users can ask, making it easy to disappoint users who have complex tasks they want to speak out to a computer, only to realize that there are constraints on what can be expected of such a system.

Apple Business Chat greatly narrows down what a person will be asking and then directs those questions to a specific company, making it much easier to handle incoming tasks and, if necessary, elevate complex questions to a person who is already familiar with handing that nature of requests for the company. It can even start the conversation with interactive, web-like navigation to further narrow down what a user wants to do.

Currently, if you ask Siri a question about TD Ameritrade or Marriott, you get a dumb response that’s not much more useful than a Magic 8 ball. In the future, Siri could connect with known Apple Business Chat partners to initiate a conversation that’s handed off to an expert.

While Apple’s current state of Siri is frustrating enough to avoid using for anything but the simplest of requests, the plumbing Apple Business Chat is building out could provide an ecosystem of customer support partners that dramatically increase the value of Siri without being confined to voice-only conversations.

A verbalized request to Siri–followed up by a combination of text or voice chat through Apple Business Chat, augmented with the interactivity of iMessage Apps that can tap into your calendar, send you to Maps, recommend an App download or set up an order with Apple Pay–offers a picture of the future of smart communications that Apple is building for its customers. It’s a lot more realistic than the wide-open promise of Siri by itself, or the premise of voice-first ambient computing in general.

Apple has some advantages to build upon with Siri, including its support for a broad number of languages, an intent to build security and privacy right into the design, an ability to go beyond just voice interactions, and deep integration with the devices people already broadly use: iPhones, Car Play and Apple Watch. Expect to hear more about the future of Siri, iMessage Apps and Apple Business Chat at WWDC18.

 

What do you think about Business Chat? Tell us in the comments below!

App of the Week: Workflow

Workflow 1.7.8 Adds ‘Mask Image’ Action, Things Automation Support, PDF Text Extraction, and More

 

 

 

BY FEDERICO VITICCI of MacStories

In the first update since November 2017, Apple today released version 1.7.8 of Workflow, the powerful iOS automation app they acquired last year. The latest version, which is now available on the App Store, introduces a brand new Mask Image action, adds support for Things’ automation features, and improves the ability to extract text from PDFs using the company’s PDFKit framework, launched in iOS 11. While the unassuming version number may suggest a relatively minor update, Workflow 1.7.8 actually comes with a variety of noteworthy changes for heavy users of the app.

First up is the ability to open specific workflows without running them. While Workflow previously supported URL schemes to either open the app or run an existing workflow, it didn’t support opening an individual workflow without starting it. In Workflow 1.7.8, you can now use the workflow://open-workflow?name=WorkflowName URL scheme to create launchers that open existing workflows in the app.

These new URLs are ideal for apps such as Launcher or Launch Center Pro, and I recommend them to create shortcuts for workflows you’re frequently editing, or which you want to run only after dropping content into the workflow editor (a feature that was added in version 1.7.7). Speaking of drag and drop: if you’re dragging an item and want to use it as input for a workflow, you no longer need to wait for the workflow to spring-load after hovering over it in the main My Workflows view. Just pick up a file and drop it over a workflow to run it – it’s faster and feels nicer than the old implementation.

The new Mask Image action is a feature Workflow users have been requesting for several years now; thankfully, Apple’s implementation doesn’t disappoint, and is poised to dramatically simplify image editing workflows that relied on tedious workarounds to mask images. Workflow’s native Mask Image action applies a mask to an image passed as input, cutting it into any shape you want. By default, the action offers three built-in presets: rounded rectangle (with a customizable Corner Radius value), ellipse, and icon.

In addition, you can also provide your own custom alpha mask through an image variable: in my early tests with this feature, I had fun using random images from my photo library as masks and understanding how Workflow treated their brightness as a custom alpha mask. According to the app’s documentation, darker colors in the alpha mask become transparent and lighter colors remain opaque; the mask is also resized to match the dimensions of the source image if necessary.

For the past couple of years, here at MacStories we’ve used our own workflows to mask images in the shape of iOS app icons or rounded profile pictures to be used for interviewees in our newsletters. These workflows required us to make our own squircle alpha masks from scratch and use a handful of actions and calculations with the Overlay Image action to fake the ability to mask an image because Workflow didn’t officially support it. We can throw all those workflows away with the new Mask Image action. Turning square artwork returned by the iTunes API (also natively supported in Workflow) into an app icon shape is now as easy as using Mask Image: Icon – that’s it.

Here’s a three-action workflow I made to search the App Store, pick a result (from a rich list), and generate an iOS icon for the selected app. No more third-party mask images, no more Overlay Image coordinates to be used. You can now create similar workflows for cropping a profile picture to a circle or putting iOS screenshots into device frames. I’ve been waiting for this action, and I’m happy with Apple’s solution.

In a surprise move, Workflow 1.7.8 extends its existing Things integration by supporting the more powerful automation features Cultured Code recently brought to its task manager. The Add Things To-Do action has been updated in this release with new fields based on Things 3.4’s URL scheme: you can assign a task to a project or area, specify a heading, enter dates, reminders, and deadlines, and even specify notes and tags. When saving a task in Things, you can choose to show the task editor in Things and manually confirm the new item, or immediately return to Workflow, receiving the task’s ID as input text.

There’s a common thread between the Mask Image and Add Things To-Do actions: both obviate the need for complex workarounds – whether they involve image overlays or URL schemes – because they’re based on visual automation and magic variables. The complexity of the underlying automation is completely abstracted as the user shouldn’t have to worry about the details of what goes on under the hood. Both actions make automation more intuitive and accessible, which is exactly what Workflow always set out to achieve.

To give you a practical example, here’s what my Things action looked like before today’s update, and how Apple made it obsolete with an enhanced built-in action that exposes no URL scheme and doesn’t require any date formatting:

Thanks to native Things support, I’ve already updated my Things Linked workflow (previously detailed here), and I plan to update other workflows previously shared with Club MacStories members as well.

There are a couple of features missing from Apple’s Things action I should point out: the reveal option to show a newly created task in Things doesn’t seem to be supported yet, and I couldn’t find an option to specify checklist items within the task either. The action also doesn’t integrate with Things’ more advanced JSON capabilities, but that’s to be expected given the developer nature of the functionality. Overall, I’m thrilled to see Apple rolling out initial support for Things automation in Workflow as I didn’t imagine it would happen so soon.

Lastly, besides dozens of welcome fixes and smaller enhancements (such as the ability to reorder items in dictionaries – finally), Workflow 1.7.8 features a substantially improved PDF-to-text coercion engine, built on top of the PDFKit APIs for iOS 11. In my initial tests with the update, Workflow appears to be extremely accurate in extracting text from PDFs now, correctly preserving line breaks and special characters, and going as far as splitting PDF pages as individual text items in the output – features all made possible by Apple’s PDFKit.

Perhaps even more impressively, the performance of Workflow’s PDF-to-text conversion is astounding: Apple’s iOS Security Guide, a 78-page PDF document, is converted to plain text in 1 second by Workflow on a 2017 iPad Pro. I’m going to have fun thinking of how Workflow can now fit in my paperless workflows and DEVONthink usage. In the meantime, here’s a workflow I made to pick a PDF with an iOS 11 file picker (which supports both iCloud Drive and third-party locations), extract its text, and merge multiple pages into a single plain text block.

As I wrote when Workflow 1.7.7 was released four months ago, I appreciate the fact that, despite an unclear big picture, Apple is still listening to the Workflow community and updating the app with fixes and important new features, such as today’s Mask Image and Things actions. The company clearly knows that thousands of users depend on Workflow to make their iOS devices more efficient and productive; as we near the first anniversary of the acquisition with no updates on a possible Workflow 2.0, it’s good to see that Apple is still putting in the effort to keep the app alive with new functionalities and native iOS integrations.

You can download Workflow 1.7.8 from the App Store and read the release notes here.

 

Do you have a favorite Workflow automation? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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