Good news for owners of Eye-Fi X2 wireless storage cards: the company has released a new utility to set up and sync older Eye-Fi cards after the 15 September 2016 support cutoff date. Accessibility expert Steven Aquino rejoins us this week for a look at the new accessibility features coming to Apple’s ecosystem in the upcoming updates to macOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS. Finally, Julio Ojeda-Zapata reviews the Markdown-focused Ulysses writing app for the Mac and iOS. Notable software releases this week include Parallels Desktop 11.2.1, 1Password 6.3.2, Storyspace 3.2, and DEVONthink 2.9.2.

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Eye-Fi Gives X2 Card Owners a Reprieve

  by Josh Centers: josh@tidbits.com, @jcenters

As Glenn Fleishman reported a month ago, Eye-Fi, which makes SD cards that can automatically transfer newly taken photos to a cloud service, is dropping support for many of its older products as of 15 September 2016 (see “Eye-Fi Demonstrates the Danger of Cloud-Dependent Hardware,” 30 June 2016). Because the software for those cards is cloud-based, the removal of support would have rendered the cards practically unusable.

Fortunately, Eye-Fi is now offering users a short-term solution in the form of the free X2 Utility, a new Mac app for the Eye-Fi X2 and older cards. X2 Utility can transfer photos from impacted cards without requiring cloud connectivity, and it can also activate and set up those cards.

The X2 Utility site linked above provides setup (make sure to uninstall the Eye-Fi Center software before installing) and usage instruction, but Eye-Fi won’t be supporting the app or developing it further. The Mac version is available now, and the company is exploring the feasibility of a Windows version — the exact term used by Eye-Fi was “if and when.”

Kudos to Eye-Fi for developing this interim solution for users of its products, though it would have been nice if the company had anticipated the inconvenience it was causing users and created X2 Utility before announcing that it was dropping support for older cards.

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New Accessibility Features Coming to Apple’s Ecosystem

  by Steven Aquino: stevenaquino@icloud.com, @steven_aquino

At WWDC, Apple introduced a slew of enhancements to its four software platforms: macOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS (see “WWDC 2016 Keynote Recap,” 13 June 2016). Although there was no mention during the keynote, Apple also has added new accessibility features aimed at addressing a wide range of needs.

Here is a rundown of the new accessibility features across Apple’s operating systems.

macOS 10.12 Sierra -- macOS Sierra’s headline feature is the Siri voice assistant, which, in addition to being a convenience for all users, could also be enabling for those who struggle with navigating the Mac’s user interface. And Dwell Control, which connects macOS to head tracking devices, will give users with limited motor function more ways to control their Macs.

iOS 10 -- With iOS 10, Apple has added two new important accessibility features: Magnifier and Software TTY. Both will be valuable additions for users with low vision and/or hearing impairments. iOS 10 also boasts a number of other new and enhanced accessibility features, including filters for those with color-blindness, a VoiceOver pronunciation editor, and more.

watchOS 3 -- The big accessibility feature for watchOS 3 is that the Activity app’s stand reminders can be tailored for wheelchair users, so they receive alerts to roll instead. Taptic time notices and complications for the extra-large watch face will also be appreciated by the vision impaired.

tvOS 10 -- With the new accessibility features in tvOS 10, watching TV should be both easier and easier on the eyes.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of overlap in the new accessibility features in Apple’s four operating systems, but that’s a good thing, since it makes for a more consistent experience across multiple Apple devices.

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Writing App Ulysses Blends Power and Simplicity

  by Julio Ojeda-Zapata: julio@ojezap.com
  1 comment

As a writer with a tech bent, I’ve long been obsessed with writing apps – which I define as software I would use to compose articles like this one, along with blog posts and other kinds of prose.

The sheer number and variety of writing apps for Apple users can be vertigo-inducing, and I’ve tried my share. These apps range from the complex (such as Microsoft Word and Literature & Latte’s Scrivener) to the minimalist (like Byword and iA Writer).

Some writing apps stick to a middle ground. Apple’s Pages and Google Docs are feature-rich, each in their own way, but not to the point of absurdity like the insanely complicated Word.

Then there’s Ulysses, a Mac and iOS writing app that also attempts to strike a balance between simplicity and raw power – but in a way that is a departure from the familiar.

The apps’ publisher, a German outfit called the Soulmen, updated the Mac version in March 2016 – and snagged an Apple Design Award for it during WWDC 2016. The iPad version received an update that added iPhone support. Both Ulysses apps last week underwent another, smaller upgrade to add a handful of additional features – such as blog publishing.

I’ll focus on the Mac version here but dip into aspects of the iOS app that are important.

What It Is… and Is Not -- Before I go further, I should make crystal-clear what Ulysses is – and isn’t – in general terms.

Ulysses is not like Word or Pages, which blend word processing with desktop publishing to fashion complex documents that incorporate intricate layouts with all manner of imagery and typography. It’s also unlike Scrivener, which bristles with organizing features for long-form writers, such as novelists who wrestle with plot outlines, character lists, and story arcs. And it doesn’t have collaborative editing capabilities like Google Docs.

At its core, Ulysses focuses on plain text. In this regard, it’s more like those minimal apps I mentioned. They typically support Markdown, a plain-text markup language used for composing and converting to HTML and other formats. Ulysses also is Markdown-centric, with users applying the syntax by default. But Ulysses is more ambitious than other Markdown editors in its organizational capabilities, and it adds features (like image embedding) that simpler writing apps leave out.

Ulysses users don’t have to be obsessed with Markdown. I’ve yet to fathom why the language is so popular among a certain species of Apple user, but I appreciate Ulysses all the same (I wrote this article in it). I like minimalism, but at the same time, I’m a control freak about keeping things organized meticulously, and Ulysses scratches both itches nicely.

Interface Overview — As a sometime user of Byword, a popular Markdown app that is aggressively minimalist, I found Ulysses a bit daunting at first. However, its more complex interface design is easy to grasp after a while.

It takes a three-column approach with a composing area on the right, an organizing sidebar or “library” on the left, and a document or “sheet” listing in the middle. Sheets are organized into groups, which appear in the library. The sheet for this story is in a TidBITS group, for instance. Groups include subgroup support with a familiar nesting behavior.

Although groups map conceptually to folders and sheets to files, Ulysses departs from other plain-text editors in that you cannot readily locate its content outside the app. It’s a single-library app, and all your content lives inside, much like Apple’s Notes and Photos apps.

There is an exception to this rule: Ulysses also supports “external folders,” meaning you can point the app at a Mac folder to access and modify text files therein. It’s an imperfect option, however, because some Ulysses features (such as image embedding) don’t work in externally loaded files.

Time to Write — Composing in Ulysses is straightforward. Again, you don’t need to be a Markdown ninja because formatting is mostly automated. Highlight a word, press Command-B, and you will boldface that text — but it shows up as Markdown with two asterisks on either side. To further guide you, formatting commands also appear in a Markup pop-up menu and in a popover window that you park off to one side of your screen for reference.

If, like me, you’re not a devotee of Markdown, you’ll have to make your peace with how weird Markdown appears (there is no rich-text composing option, as in Byword). Ulysses masks some of this complexity with colored shapes or “text objects” denoting Web addresses, image embeds, footnotes, and annotations in place of markup syntax.

Ulysses actually uses an in-house Markdown variant it calls Markdown XL, with departures from the vanilla Markdown originally created by John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame. The differences aren’t hard to grasp, but you can switch to regular Markdown if you desire.

Ulysses adds useful tricks, such as the aforementioned image embedding. Drag a picture into the document and it’s shown as an IMG tag, but double-click it and the image appears. This feature isn’t available with documents that reside in an external folder, as noted.

Sync and Export — Ulysses content fits into three buckets, each shown in the library. One of these is an iCloud repository, which syncs content among a user’s Macs and iOS devices. Most users would likely embrace this approach by default, but there is also an On My Mac option with content that resides only on the Mac and doesn’t sync anywhere else.

A third option, the previously mentioned External Folders bucket, has taken on greater importance with a recent update to Ulysses for iOS. That version now supports Dropbox syncing, which brings it in line with other iOS writing apps. For those using both the iOS and Mac versions of Ulysses, this means that you can anoint a Dropbox folder as a primary content repository that is available from any device.

Stashing a document in Dropbox also enables a simple collaboration scenario if two or more Ulysses users want to work on a document in a shared folder.

Regardless of where a sheet lives while in progress, you can export it in multiple ways. Format choices include plain text, HTML, EPUB, PDF, and Word’s DOCX. Those who are particular about how the output is formatted, what fonts are included, and so on can even specify a number of style parameters upon exporting a document.

If you’re writing a book or other complex document and you need to consolidate content that has lived across more than one sheet, you can export multiple sheets at a time.

Ulysses export also includes a publishing option for bloggers. Users have been able to post content to Medium for some time, and recent upgrades added WordPress (PDF link) as a second posting destination. The Soulmen implemented this feature in a sophisticated manner, supporting both WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress blogs. It includes HTML and Markdown as export choices, along with options to set categories, excerpts, tags, format styles, featured images, and posting times.

I can’t overstate how cool this is for WordPress users. I’ve been able to publish flawlessly to my personal blog, with even embedded pictures posting impeccably. I have also used Byword and WordPress’s Mac app for updating my blog, but Ulysses is shaping up to be my favorite WordPress client.

Other Features — Ulysses is a deep application, and you’ll be rewarded for poking around in its nooks and crannies. Features I found notable in the Mac app include:

Wrap-Up -- Ulysses fills a key niche as a personal writing app that packs a punch but doesn’t suffer from feature overload. It has particular appeal for writers who continually move among Macs and iOS devices and want to have a consistent work environment and no significant compromises on the iOS side.

For Markdown fans, Ulysses represents an upgrade from simple text editors while not going as far as a full-fledged word processor with a more sophisticated handling of styles and graphics. Even if Ulysses isn’t necessarily the ultimate Markdown editor for all (everyone has a favorite), it’s worth a look.

I’ve come to love Ulysses and lament that my particular circumstances keep me from using it as my default writing environment. I use Windows PCs regularly, and there is no Windows version of Ulysses (unlike Scrivener). What’s more, Google Docs is central to my work at my day-job employer and in my freelance duties, thanks to its greater collaborative capabilities.

If it were solely up to me how I put words on a screen, however, Ulysses would likely be my writing app of choice.

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TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 15 August 2016

  by TidBITS Staff: editors@tidbits.com

Parallels Desktop 11.2.1 -- Parallels has released Parallels Desktop version 11.2.1 (build 32626) with bug fixes for the virtualization software. The update resolves an issue with the Windows 10 Insider Preview Start menu not showing up in Coherence, fixes a kernel panic that occurred when upgrading an OS X 10.9 Mavericks virtual machine to 10.11 El Capitan, and resolves a bug with the Space key not working after upgrading the host OS to the macOS 10.12 Sierra public beta. ($79.99 new for standard edition, $99.99 annual subscription for Pro/Business Edition, free update, 294 MB, release notes, 10.9.5+)

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1Password 6.3.2 -- AgileBits has released 1Password 6.3.2, adding the capability to copy documents across 1Password accounts (which AgileBits introduced in conjunction with the recently added individual 1Password subscriptions; see “1Password Introduces Individual Subscriptions,” 4 August 2016). The password manager also improves the behavior of 1Password mini during Mac App Store updates, speeds up launch time in certain circumstances, fixes a bug that prevented a custom icon created in the Mac App Store version from uploading to 1Password accounts, improves VoiceOver navigation when the sidebar is visible, and resolves a bug that caused redundant authentication requests for 1Password.com accounts. ($64.99 new from AgileBits and the Mac App Store with a 25 percent discount for TidBITS members when purchased from AgileBits, free update, 47.6 MB, release notes, 10.10+)

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Storyspace 3.2 -- Eastgate Systems has released version 3.2 of Storyspace, its graphically rich hypertext writing app. The update brings with it Storyspace Reader, a free, redistributable application you can use to share Storyspace files with editors, reviewers, and readers. Storyspace also improves its maps, enabling you to move links and quickly see whether links have guard fields (which activate and disable links you move through a document). Plus, new smart guides help keep maps neatly arranged. ($149 new, free update, 188 MB, 10.10+)

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DEVONthink 2.9.2 -- DEVONtechnologies has updated all three editions of DEVONthink (Personal, Pro, and Pro Office) to version 2.9.2, continuing to tune up the new synchronization features added in version 2.9 (see “DEVONthink/DEVONnote 2.9,” 22 July 2016). A Synchronize All item has been added to the toolbar, and you can locate pending items quickly by using smart groups or advanced search. All three editions immediately set Finder tags of indexed items that have been added to the DEVONthink To Go iOS app (which has been updated to version 2.0.1), improve reliability of uploads to and downloads from sync stores, fix a bug where new WebDAV locations didn’t accept invalid HTTPS certificates, and improve multi-threading of sync store operations. (All updates are free. DEVONthink Pro Office, $149.95 new, release notes; DEVONthink Professional, $79.95 new, release notes; DEVONthink Personal, $49.95 new, release notes; 25 percent discount for TidBITS members on all editions of DEVONthink; 10.9+)

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ExtraBITS for 15 August 2016

  by TidBITS Staff: editors@tidbits.com

In ExtraBITS this week, Tim Cook gives an unusually personal interview to the Washington Post, CVS launches its own mobile payment system, and Microsoft’s Project Murphy creates face mashups you describe.

It’s Lonely at the Top of Apple -- Apple CEO Tim Cook sat down with Jena McGregor of the Washington Post to commemorate his fifth anniversary as Apple’s head honcho. The usually private Cook opened up in this wide-ranging interview, discussing his mistakes, who he asks for advice, and what he think Steve Jobs would be up to today. Cook mentioned that the job could be lonely, but he was quick to add, “I’m not looking for any sympathy. CEOs don’t need any sympathy.”

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CVS Launches Apple Pay Competitor -- Pharmacy chain CVS, a member of the Merchant Customer Exchange consortium behind the failed CurrentC Apple Pay competitor, has launched its own mobile payment platform. CVS Pay is part of the CVS Pharmacy app for iOS that combines access to your debit or credit card, ExtraCare rewards card, and a Health Savings or Flexible Spending account. Like CurrentC and Walmart Pay, CVS Pay uses barcodes to transmit information. Interestingly, since CVS manages Target’s pharmacies, when Target implements Apple Pay support later this year, you won’t be able to use Apple Pay at their pharmacies.

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Project Murphy Photoshops Faces on Command -- Microsoft has created a new experimental chatbot, called Project Murphy, that you converse with via Facebook Messenger, Skype, or Telegram. The image-morphing technology underlying Project Murphy is impressive, but the results can be wonderfully silly since the bot merges the faces in two images to create hypotheticals of personal scenes you describe. For instance, try “What if Oprah were Miss Piggy,” “What if Tim Cook were Superman,” or “What if Steve Jobs were very old?” You can even upload your photo to use in “What if” questions for 10 minutes. Project Murphy is a lot of fun, especially if (like us) you’re not good at image manipulation apps like Photoshop.

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