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#1529: Tracking and joining videoconferencing calls, making framed screenshots with Picsew, better dictation with Voice Control

If you have trouble keeping track of and joining all your videoconferencing calls, Julio Ojeda-Zapata suggests a couple of helpful apps that make the process easier. We constantly work with screenshots here at TidBITS, and Josh and Adam have found the Picsew iOS app indispensable for combining, framing, and editing screenshots. Finally, Adam takes a hard look at the standard iOS and macOS dictation capabilities and how poorly they compare with the Voice Control dictation feature that Apple introduced in iOS 13 and macOS 10.15 Catalina. Notable Mac app releases this week include Final Cut Pro X 10.4.9, Compressor 4.4.7, and Motion 5.4.6; BusyCal 3.10.3 and BusyContacts 1.4.9; iMovie 10.1.15; ScreenFlow 9.0.5; and Fantastical 3.1.5.

Julio Ojeda-Zapata 3 comments

Juggle Video Meetings More Easily with Meeter and Fantastical

The use of videoconferencing services such as Zoom and Google Meet has spiked in recent months, largely due to the pandemic. With so many stuck at home, these services have become critical, not only for work meetings but also for maintaining personal relationships. (For more on this generally, see Glenn Fleishman’s “Videoconferencing Options in the Age of Pandemic,” 2 April 2020, and “Become a Videoconferencing Pro with These Tips,” 3 June 2020.)

The surge in video meetings has led to complications. Because not everyone uses the same videoconferencing services, juggling two or more on computers and mobile devices has become a widespread phenomenon, and staying on top of scheduled video meetings has become even more of a headache.

A couple of tools promise to make this easier. With the utilities, video-meeting schedules are more visible and better organized, and joining meetings at the appointed times, regardless of the platform, is less of a hassle.

One of these tools, a currently free Mac utility called Meeter, resides in the menu bar and collects upcoming meetings from several dozen videoconferencing services into a handy drop-down menu. Choose a list entry to join that meeting. There’s also a companion iOS and iPadOS app that offers the same basic functionality.

The other tool, the popular Fantastical calendar app for macOS and iOS, has added a bunch of video-meeting features, including menu-bar alerts, a Join button for imminent meetings, and in-app meeting creation for a couple of top services.

Finally, for those who use Google Calendar, some Chrome extensions make working with video meetings easier.

Meeter

Generally speaking, dealing with video meetings requires a number of steps:

  1. Scanning your calendar app for meetings, or waiting for a meeting alert
  2. Searching for meeting links buried in event notes
  3. Clicking the link or, in some cases, copying the link into a Web browser
  4. Clicking or tapping a button to initiate or join the meeting.

Meeter’s master list distills this dance down to a quick scan-and-click operation for all upcoming meetings from the various services you use. Meeter’s developer says it supports about 30 services; for expediency, I mostly limited my tests to Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom.

Meeter's minimalist interface
Meeter’s “minimalist” user interface style

For meetings to appear in Meeter’s master list, they must first show up in Apple’s Calendar (even if it’s not your default calendar app). How to make this happen varies depending on which meeting service you are using. For instance:

  • Google Meet: Google has integrated this videoconferencing service into the Web-based Google Calendar, where you will schedule your meetings. If you want Google Meet meetings to appear in Meeter, make sure your Google account is set up on your Mac so your video-meeting events appear in Apple’s Calendar.
  • Microsoft Teams: Meetings created in Microsoft Teams’ desktop, Web, and mobile apps are saved to your Microsoft account, so make sure that account is configured on your Mac. The Mac and Web versions of Teams also send meetings directly to Google Calendar and, by extension, to Meeter, if the Google account is set up on your Mac.
  • Zoom: If you’re creating a meeting using one of Zoom’s apps, there’s an option—called “iCal” in Zoom’s Mac app, and “iCalendar” in its iOS app—to send an entry to Apple’s Calendar. Zoom’s Mac app also can send meetings directly to Google Calendar and indirectly to Meeter, if the associated Google account is set up on your Mac.

If your meetings aren’t showing up in Meeter’s menu, go to Preferences > Calendars to confirm that it has detected the relevant accounts. Also, make sure their calendars are selected in Meeter.

Conveniently, icons shown with events in Meeter’s menu match the service being used for the meetings. Inconveniently, this didn’t always happen for me. Google and Zoom listings sported recognizable icons for the services, but others—such as meetings scheduled in Jitsi Meet—had generic icons.

Elsewhere in Meeter’s preferences, you can designate when to be notified about an imminent meeting (on event start, or 1, 2, or 5 minutes prior), and whether clicking a meeting entry will open a corresponding desktop app (if one such exists) or a particular Web browser installed on your Mac.

A Countdown option extends the menu bar icon with a time-based countdown and, optionally, the meeting title. There are also hotkey options for keyboard jockeys, a choice between a somewhat garish default interface style or a minimalist style that’s a traditional Mac look, and a Quick Call feature for frequently used contacts.

Meeter default interface
Meeter’s default user interface style

You can’t create new video-meeting events within Meeter, but the developers said they’re considering such a feature.

Meeter’s iOS app is a stripped-down version of the Mac app, with calendar account and event detection, the option to toggle accounts on and off, and links to join meetings. For the latter feature to function in most cases, you need to have the service’s own app (like Microsoft Teams) installed.

Fantastical

Fantastical from Flexibits is a terrific Mac and iOS calendar app for those who are dissatisfied with Apple’s Calendar and want something more feature-rich. Fantastical finds accounts installed on your device, but Flexibits recommends you add accounts directly into Fantastical (in the Accounts screen of Fantastical’s preferences) in order to take advantage of all features. A recent update adds video-chat features roughly comparable to those Meeter provides (see “Fantastical 3.1,” 17 June 2020).

These features begin with automatic conference call link detection. This might not sound impressive—Apple’s Calendar also reliably detects and activates conference call links found within an event’s notes or URL field. But Fantastical layers on functionality in several ways:

  • In Fantastical’s Day, Week, and List views, events that include video meetings display an icon corresponding to the video service being used for that meeting. The icons also appear in the DayTicker, Fantastical’s scrolling event master list. Flexibits says this feature will work with Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, RingCentral Meetings, BlueJeans, and Skype for Business. It also worked for me with Jitsi Meet. Fantastical
  • Events with video meetings display prominent Join buttons at the top of their detail views. For instance, a Zoom event shows a Join Zoom Meeting link with a corresponding icon. You need to keep track of when meetings are due to begin since such detail-view links often appear well ahead of time.
  • Fantastical places a Join button in the DayTicker alongside imminent video events. Events in the Day and Week views also display such a button. Click or tap the button to join the meeting.
  • On the Mac, you can optionally have an alert about an imminent meeting show up in the menu bar. Clicking the alert lets you join the meeting at the appointed time. For this to work, the “Show upcoming conference call in menu bar” box must be checked in Fantastical > Preferences > Appearance. Zoom notification

What about setting up video meetings? If you are a Zoom or Google Meet user, you can do so directly in Fantastical. When creating an event, look for and click either a button for Add Google Meet or Add Zoom Meeting. For the latter to work, add your Zoom account to the other accounts set up in the app. Flexibits says it’s considering additional video services for in-app event creation.

Google Calendar

While we are on the subject of scheduling video meetings, I have a bit to say about Google Calendar on behalf of Mac users who rely more on Google services than on Apple equivalents. Google’s Web-based calendar is a great place to manage multiple video-chat services in a consolidated fashion. You just have to set up a couple of things first.

If you’re using Google Chrome (or another Chromium-based browser like Brave or Microsoft Edge), you can install extensions—like Zoom Scheduler, Jitsi Meetings, and BlueJeans for Google Calendar—that correspond to the videoconferencing services you use. Such scheduling tools add buttons for themselves in Google Calendar’s meeting-creation field, alongside the Google Meet button that is a standard feature there (see “Be Careful When Scheduling Events Using Siri,” 13 May 2020).

Adding a meeting in Google Calendar

This won’t work for all services. The Cisco WebEx scheduling extension does not integrate with Google Calendar, for instance, and I couldn’t find a Microsoft Teams extension for this purpose.

To complete your setup, install a Google Calendar-viewing Chrome extension such as Google Calendar or Checker Plus for Google Calendar. Both put an icon with a dropdown menu in Chrome’s extension list for staying abreast of your upcoming meetings—including video meetings—much as you would with Meeter or Fantastical.

Google Calendar extension
The Google Calendar extension.

Upshot

None of the utilities I’ve described here are necessary for staying on top of video meetings, but they all make it easier.

Meeter has the added benefit of costing nothing, at least during the pandemic (in the Mac App Store, it shows as having an in-app purchase to enable some advanced features, but the developers aren’t charging while things are so topsy-turvy). It is also available in the Setapp subscription service for $9.99 per month.

Fantastical is free in a basic form, but use of all its serious features—including those related to video meetings—requires a subscription that costs $4.99 a month, or $39.99 a year. Fantastical has a loyal fan base willing to pay—and there’s a 14-day free trial for those who are on the fence—but it’s overkill for what I need.

As impressive as Fantastical may be, I’ll keep managing my video meetings in Google Calendar, which has worked out nicely for me. I’m also sticking with Meeter for quicker access to my upcoming meetings.

Josh Centers Adam Engst No comments

Picsew Is Indispensable for Professional iOS Screenshots

When you document technology for a living like we do, you put a lot of thought into screenshots. Even if you don’t write about tech professionally, there are times when screenshots are essential to document bugs, request help, or show a loved one how to do something.

We’ve found the Picsew app for iPhone and iPad invaluable for combining and modifying screenshots, and, most importantly, applying device frames to iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch screenshots. It’s a free download in the App Store, with a $0.99 in-app-purchase to upgrade to Picsew Standard or $1.99 to upgrade to Picsew Pro. You need Picsew Standard for adding device frames, annotations, high-quality exports, and more, but Picsew Pro is necessary only if you want to make multiple screen screenshots by recording video rather than combining static screenshots.

Picsew offers a lot of tools. Here are the ones we use the most often.

Stitch Pictures Together

We usually like to pair portrait-orientation iPhone screenshots together, because otherwise they’re way taller than they are wide and leave an awkward amount of whitespace to the right. We have a number of different tools to pair images, but Picsew makes it simple.

When you open Picsew, it shows the most recent images in your Camera Roll. You can tap Recents at the top of the screen to switch to another Photos album, like Screenshots.

Whichever view you’re in, tap the images you want to stitch together in the order in which you want them to appear. The thumbnails turn blue and a number appears on them, reflecting the left-to-right order (or top-to-bottom, if you arrange them vertically) in which Picsew will combine them.

Selecting photos in Picsew

A blue bar also appears at the bottom of the screen with options for how to stitch the photos together:

  • Scrollshot: One long, continuous image
  • Vertical: Images stacked on top of each other
  • Horizontal: Images stacked side by side

We almost always use the horizontal setting, but the others can be useful as well. For instance, a scrollshot could be useful for showing the entire Settings screen, connecting multiple screenshots of a scrolling set of release notes, or stitching together multiple screenshots of a long Web page.

When you select several images and tap Horizontal in the blue bar, Picsew displays the images side by side with little yellow pencil icons on the edges. You don’t need to do anything more—you can tap the Share icon to save or share the combined image—but Picsew provides some ways you can improve the presentation.

Images stitched by Picsew

Crop Images

In the process of combining multiple images into a single picture, you might want to do some cropping. To do that, you use the little yellow pencil icons. It took us a while to figure out how Picsew’s cropping works because it’s a bit different than similar tools in most Mac image-editing programs. First, note that Picsew provides four cropping tools at the bottom of the screen. From left to right:

  • Axial Crop (crop edges): Use this option to crop the vertical or horizontal edges of the individual images in the set.
  • Edge Crop (crop the combined image): This choice lets you crop the edges of the combined image as a whole. We use it the most.
  • Single Crop (crop individual images): Select this option to trim one image in the set, which causes the paired images to shrink to stay proportional.
  • Split Image: The final choice is hard to understand. It lets you split the image at a particular spot, which duplicates it, and then crop the image at the split point. You can use it to cut out part of the inside of an image, like if you have a screenshot of a Twitter thread and want to trim out some of the replies.

As an example, consider the Edge Crop tool. When you select it, pencil icons appear on all four sides of the combined image. Perhaps you want to crop the top of the image out in order to focus attention on search fields at the bottom. Here’s how you’d do that:

  1. Tap the pencil icon at the top of the combined screenshot.
  2. Tap and drag the image toward the pencil icon.
  3. When you release, the pencil icon turns into a checkmark. Tap it to set the crop.

Cropping stitched images in Picsew

That’s very different from how cropping works in Preview and Pixelmator on the Mac, where you select an area to keep and crop out the rest. But once you become accustomed to Picsew’s approach, it makes more sense on a small touchscreen than how it usually works on the Mac.

Clean Up Screenshots

One of our favorite features of Picsew is that it can remove scrollbars and clean up the status bar in iOS screenshots. After you crop your image, or even if you don’t, tap Tools at the top of the screen. In Tools view, a number of different tools appear in the toolbar at the bottom. Tap the magic wand to reveal switches for Clean Status Bar and Remove Scrollbar.  Enable one or both of the switches to make Picsew apply their effects immediately.

Cleaning ups screenshots in Picsew

Remove Scrollbar is self-explanatory: if there’s a visible scrollbar in the screenshot, that switch removes it.

Clean Status Bar regularizes the screenshot’s status bar by setting the time to 9:41 (Engadget explains why), the cellular reception bars to full, Wi-Fi reception to full, and battery life to 100%. We like using this when we can’t crop the status bar out entirely, as we feel it makes our screenshots look a bit more professional and prevents things like a weak cellular signal or a low battery gauge from distracting from the content.

Those switches work even if you have multiple screenshots stitched together. You can also set Picsew to apply them automatically. Tap the back arrow to return to the main screen and then tap the gear in the upper-right corner. Then tap Smart Recognition and turn on Auto-Remove Scrollbar and Auto-Clean Status Bar.

Add Borders

When you pair images together, Picsew jams them together without any space in between, which isn’t ideal. However, it’s easy to add a border, and if the border is both between the images and set to the background color of the destination page (usually white), it can provide the desired separation.

In the Tools view’s toolbar, tap the fourth icon from the left, which looks like a window frame. Five more tool icons appear above the toolbar. From left to right:

  • Disable Border: No borders are applied. This option is the default.
  • Enable Internal Border: Apply borders between images.
  • Enable External Border: Apply borders outside the images.
  • Enable All Borders: Apply borders both between and outside images.
  • Border Settings: Adjust the options for the other tools.

Tap the Border Settings gear icon at the right to change the color and width of the border. You can set different widths for the inside and outside borders, but if you want different colors for the inside and outside borders, you have to set the inside border, save the image, and then add the outside border to the resulting image. Despite the use of purple in the screenshot below for better illustration, we always border our images internally with white.

Adding borders in Picsew

Add Device Frames

Device framing is the feature that brought us to Picsew in the first place. On a Mac, screenshots generally have context—they’re of a window or a menu or a portion of the screen that somehow makes sense. Screenshots of the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, however, are just rectangles, and it’s a help to readers if the screenshot looks like an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch.

In the Tools view’s toolbar, tap the Mockup icon (the second one from the left, which looks like an iPhone), and then tap one of the colors in the top toolbar to place a similarly colored frame around your screenshot. Picsew applies the correct frame automatically, whether the screenshot is from an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch. It does this by matching the size of the screenshot with possible device frames. If you tap the iPhone icon to the right of the colors in the top toolbar, you can choose from different available frames, even when they’re silly, such as bordering an iPhone 11 Pro screenshot with an Apple Watch frame.

Adding a device frame to an Apple Watch screenshot
Before and after framing of an Apple Watch screenshot

Unfortunately, framing works on only a single image, not if you’re trying to combine multiple images. The workaround is to apply frames to them one at a time and combine later. In Picsew’s photo picker, choose one image, tap Adjust in the blue bar, tap Tools, apply the device frame you want, and repeat that for any other images you want to combine with it. Then, in the photo picker, choose the screenshots you framed and combine them. Happily, the frames include some white space, so you don’t need to add a border between the images manually.

Sending the Result

Once you’re happy with the results, tap the Share icon in the upper-right corner to send the final image to its final destination. Picsew provides options to save the image to Photos or the Files app. Or you can tap Share To to see the standard share sheet.

We usually use AirDrop to send the final image directly to our Macs.

Other Tools

Since we are extremely proficient with Preview on the Mac (we wrote a book about it, Take Control of Preview), we tend to stop there in Picsew and do any additional edits in Preview. However, Picsew offers additional tools that others might find useful:

  • Watermark: With Picsew’s Watermark tool, you can apply either a single textual watermark at the bottom of the image or a series of them that slant across the image. You can modify the text color, size, and opacity.
  • Redaction: All too often, a screenshot contains information you don’t want to make public. Picsew’s redaction tools let you hide information with rectangles, smears, blurring, or pixelation.
  • Text: New in the latest version of Picsew is support for text annotation. You can adjust the size, color, alignment, and style (reversed or not) of your text, and position it anywhere on the image.
  • Pen: Picsew’s pen tool lets you draw freeform sketches or rectangles. You can change the stroke width, color, and opacity. There’s an Undo button, but you can’t adjust or reposition a shape once you stop drawing.

The main thing we’d like to see in Picsew is the capability to frame multiple images while combining them—having to do each one independently and then combine the results is tedious. Because of that, we often rely instead on an iOS shortcut created by Federico Viticci of MacStories that both frames and combines screenshots in one step. It’s faster and easier to trigger from Photos, but it doesn’t provide frames for all (or even many) of Apple’s devices, most notably the 10.5-inch iPad Pro that we both use. It’s also essentially impossible to edit; it’s amazing that Federico was able to put up with Shortcuts long enough to create it.

One other feature that Picsew could use is the capability to crop images to specific dimensions. Sometimes you need an image that’s exactly 1280 by 800 pixels, for instance, and that’s not a common feature in iOS apps. However, our friend Khoi Vinh recently created another iOS shortcut that does just this. We haven’t tried it yet, but it’s worth a look if you need such a feature in iOS.

Despite these areas where Picsew could improve, it’s easily worth a dollar to anyone who regularly works with iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch screenshots.

Adam Engst 22 comments

How iOS and macOS Dictation Can Learn from Voice Control’s Dictation

Speech recognition has long been the holy grail of computer data input. Or, rather, we have mostly wanted to control our computers via voice—see episodes of Star Trek from the 1960s. The problem has always been that what we want to do with our computers doesn’t necessarily lend itself to voice interaction. That’s not to say it can’t be done. The Mac has long had voice control, and the current incarnation in macOS 10.15 Catalina is pretty good for those who rely on it. However, the simple fact is that modern-day computer interfaces are designed to be navigated and manipulated with a pointing device and a keyboard.

More interesting is dictation, where you craft text by speaking to your device rather than by typing on a keyboard. (And yes, I dictated the first draft of this article.) Dictation is a skill, but it’s one that many lawyers and executives of yesteryear managed to pick up. More recently, we’ve become used to dictating short text messages using the dictation capabilities in iOS.

Dictation in iOS is far from perfect, but when the alternative is typing on a tiny virtual keyboard, even imperfect voice input is welcome. Most frustrating is that you cannot fix mistakes with your voice while dictating, so you end up either having to put up with mistakes in your text or use clumsy iOS editing techniques. By the time you’ve edited your text onscreen, you may as well have typed it from scratch.

macOS has also had dictation features for years, but it has been even less successful and less commonly used than iOS’s feature, in part because it requires so much more setup than just tapping a button on a virtual keyboard.

With iOS 13 and Catalina, Apple significantly beefed up its voice control capabilities and simultaneously introduced what seems to be an entirely different dictation technology—call it “Voice Control dictation,” which I’ll abbreviate to VCD here. In many ways, VCD is better than the dictation built into iOS and macOS. An amalgamation of the two technologies would be ideal.

What’s Wrong and Right with iOS and macOS Dictation

The big problem with dictation in iOS and macOS is that, when it makes mistakes, there’s no way to fix them. But there are other issues. To start, you have to tap a microphone button on the keyboard (iOS) or press a key on the keyboard twice (Mac, set in System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation) to initiate dictation. That’s sensible, of course, but it does mean that you have to touch your keyboard every time you want to dictate a new message. And that, in turn, means that you cannot just carry on a conversation in Messages, say, without constant finger interaction, which defeats the purpose.

Enabling dictation in iOS and macOS

Another problem with dictation in iOS and macOS is that it works for only a certain amount of time—about 60 seconds (iOS) or 40 seconds (macOS) in my testing. As a result, you cannot dictate a document, or even more than a paragraph or two, without having to restart dictation by tapping that microphone button.

But the inability to edit spoken text is the real problem. There is little more frustrating than seeing a mistake being made in front of your eyes and knowing that there is no way to fix it until you stop dictating. And once you have stopped, fixing a mistake is tedious at best, even now that you can drag the insertion point directly in iOS. iOS just isn’t built for text editing. Editing after the fact is much easier on the Mac, of course, but you can’t so much as click the mouse while dictating without stopping the dictation.

On the plus side, dictation in iOS and macOS seems to be able to adjust its recognition based on subsequent words that you speak. You can even see it doing this sometimes, changing a word back-and-forth between two possibilities as you continue to speak. Other times, changes won’t be made until you tap the microphone button to start or your dictation time runs out. Regardless, it’s good—if a little weird—to see Apple adjusting words based on context rather than brute force recognition.

What’s Right and Wrong with Voice Control Dictation

The dictation capabilities built into Apple’s new Voice Control system are quite different. First, instead of navigating to Settings > Accessibility > Voice Control (iOS) or System Preferences > Accessibility > Voice Control (macOS), you can enable Voice Control via Siri—just say “Hey Siri, turn on Voice Control.” Once it’s on, whenever a text field or text area has an insertion point, you can simply speak to dictate text into that spot. You can, of course, also speak commands, but that takes more getting used to.

Unlike the standard dictation, however, VCD stays on indefinitely. You just keep talking, and it will keep typing out whatever you say into your document.

The most significant win, however, is that you can edit the mistakes that VCD makes. For instance, in the previous sentence, it initially capitalized the word “However.” (It has a bad habit of capitalizing words that follow commas.) By merely saying the words “lowercase however,” I was able to fix the problem. Those who are paying attention will note that the word “however” has appeared several times in this article. How does Voice Control know what to fix? It prompts you by displaying numbers next to each instance of the word; you then speak the number of the one you want to change. It’s slow but effective.

There is another approach, too, although it works best on the Mac. If you select some text, which you might do with a finger or a keyboard on an iPhone or iPad, or with a mouse or trackpad on a Mac, you can then direct Voice Control to act on that particular text. For instance, in the previous sentence, VCD didn’t initially capitalize the words “voice control.” That wasn’t a mistake; I’m capitalizing those words because I’m talking about a particular feature, but they would not generally be capitalized. Nevertheless, I can select those two words with the mouse and say, “capitalize that,” to achieve the desired effect. This is a surprisingly effective way to edit. It’s easy and intuitive to select with the mouse and then make a change with your voice without having to move your hands back to the keyboard.

Some mistakes are easily fixed. When I said above, “it prompts you,” VCD gave me the word “impromptu.” All I had to do was say, “change impromptu to it prompts you,” and Voice Control immediately fixed its mistake. When that works, it feels like magic, particularly in iOS. Whenever I’m using a Mac, I prefer to select with the mouse and replace using my voice.

Of course, there are situations where voice editing falls down completely. Several times while dictating this article, I used the word “by.” VCD interpreted that as the word “I” most of the time, and no matter how I tried to edit it with my voice, the best I could do was the word “bye” and the command “delete previous character.” Or, when I wanted the word “effect” above, I ended up with “affect.” It was likely my fault for not pronouncing the word clearly enough. But when I tried “change affect to effect,” Voice Control treated me to “eat fact” the first time and “ethernet fact” the second time. Maddening! It’s strange, because if I just say the word “effect” on its own while emphasizing the “ee” sound at the start, it works fine.

There are other annoyances. With all dictation, you must, of course, speak punctuation out loud, which is awkward and requires retraining your brain slightly. If VCD interprets a word as plural instead of possessive, you can move the insertion point in front of the “s” and say, “apostrophe,” but will put a space in front of the apostrophe, requiring yet more commands to fix the word. And just try getting VCD to write out the word “apostrophe” or “colon” or “period” instead of the punctuation mark.

Another issue that afflicts all dictation systems is the problem with homonyms. Without context, there is simply no way to distinguish between “would” and “wood,” or “its” and “it’s,” or “there” and “their” and “they’re,” by sound alone. VCD has no advantage here; standard dictation may do better.

Careful elocution is essential for recognition success when working with VCD (not that it ever recognizes the word “elocution” correctly). It is probably a good habit to get into. Many of us—myself included—slur our words together while speaking. It’s amazing that speech recognition works at all, given how sloppily we speak.

Unfortunately, VCD doesn’t work everywhere. On the Mac, I can’t get it to work in BBEdit or in Google Docs in a Web browser. In iOS, it has fewer problems, although I’m sure I’ve hit some in the past. I haven’t attempted to produce a comprehensive overview of where it works and where it doesn’t, so suffice it to note that it may not always work when you want.

Another problem, primarily in iOS, is that leaving VCD on all the time is a recipe for confusion because it will pick up other people speaking as well, or even music or other audio playing in the background. Luckily, you can always ask Siri to “turn off voice control” to disable it. Also, if you leave VCD on all the time, it will negatively impact your battery life.

Why Can’t We Have the Best of Both Worlds?

It doesn’t seem as though Apple would have that much work to do to bring the best of VCD’s features to the standard dictation capabilities in iOS and macOS. All that’s necessary is for the company to stop seeing VCD as purely an accessibility feature, instead of something that could be of use to everyone.

The most important change would be to enable dictation to be invoked easily and stay on indefinitely. In iOS, I could imagine tapping the microphone button twice, much like tapping the Shift key twice turns on Caps Lock. On the Mac, perhaps tapping the dictation hotkey three times could lock it on until you turn it off again. That would let you dictate longer bits of text without having to leave Voice Control on at all times or rely on Siri to turn it on and off.

Next, all of VCD’s voice editing capabilities need to migrate to the standard dictation feature. I see no reason why Apple has made VCD so much more capable in this way, and it shouldn’t be hard to reuse the same code.

Finally, you should be able to move the insertion point around and select words while dictating. It’s ridiculous that any such action stops dictation in iOS and macOS now.

If it sounds like I’m suggesting that Apple replace standard dictation with a form of VCD that’s more easily turned on and off, that’s correct. Apart from occasionally improved recognition of words by context as you continue to speak, standard dictation simply doesn’t match up to VCD in nearly any way.

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell in the current betas of iOS 14 and macOS 11 Big Sur, Apple has made no significant changes to either standard dictation or VCD. So we’ll probably have to wait another year or more before such improvement could see the light of day.

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Final Cut Pro X 10.4.9, Compressor 4.4.7, and Motion 5.4.6 No comments

Final Cut Pro X 10.4.9, Compressor 4.4.7, and Motion 5.4.6

Apple has released Final Cut Pro X 10.4.9, Compressor 4.4.7, and Motion 5.4.6, with Final Cut Pro receiving improved proxy workflows and social media tools. The professional video editor also now enables you to adjust ProRes RAW camera settings, crossfade audio on adjacent clips in one step, sort clips and projects by last modified date in list view, and preview 360-degree stereoscopic 3D video in simultaneous left and right eye views. The update also improves performance when dragging a complex project to a new library, resolves an issue in which thumbnails would not update when skimming titles, improves reliability when sharing a project via email, and fixes a bug that prevented layered PSD files from displaying properly.

Compressor adds the capability to convert log-encoded video to SDR and HDR color spaces, enables you to apply third-party creative LUTs to footage to add a custom look during compression, improves speed and reliability using distributed processing over SMB, adds support for playback of PNG movie files, fixes a bug that prevented droplets from recognizing M4V files, and resolves an issue in which image sequences may export with the incorrect color bit depth.

Motion gains several 3D object improvements, including the capability to add 3D objects as elements in Title, Generator, Effect, and Transition templates; animating a 3D object’s position, rotation, and scale using keyframes; using behaviors to add realistic and complex animations to 3D objects; and utilizing 3D objects with tools like replicators, emitters, lights, and cameras. The update also adds stroke filter improvements, improves performance when working with particle emitters, addresses an issue with the Align To behavior and scrolling text, and a stability issue after switching to Cinema Layout. (Free updates. Final Cut Pro X, $299.99 new, 2.9 GB, release notes, 10.14.6+; Compressor, $49.99 new, 288 MB, release notes, 10.14.6+; Motion, $49.99 new, 2.3 GB, release notes, 10.14.6+)

BusyCal 3.10.3 and BusyContacts 1.4.9 No comments

BusyCal 3.10.3 and BusyContacts 1.4.9

BusyMac has released BusyCal 3.10.3 and BusyContacts 1.4.9 with enhancements and bug fixes for the personal information management apps. BusyCal adds a new option in Preferences to change the default regeneration behavior of recurring To Dos; enables you to specify your preferred email alias when sending meeting invites; improves scrolling in the Day, Week, and Month views; fixes case sensitivity of emails when performing calendar event lookups from BusyContacts; and improves recovery from network failures for Exchange accounts.

BusyContacts 1.4.9 improves integration with MailMate for email indexing in macOS 10.15 Catalina and later, increases the number of past and future repeating events from BusyCal in the Activity list, fixes a bug where deleted tags from iCloud would at times remain visible, and resolves an issue where birthdays sent to an Exchange server would at times sync a day off.

Both BusyCal and BusyContacts are included in the $9.99-per-month Setapp subscription service. ($49.99 new for BusyCal from BusyMac or the Mac App Store, free update, 23.1 MB, release notes, macOS 10.11+; $49.99 new for BusyContacts from BusyMac or the Mac App Store, free update, 12.7 MB, release notes, macOS 10.11+)

iMovie 10.1.15 16 comments

iMovie 10.1.15

Apple has released iMovie 10.1.15, adding five new filters (Comic, Comic Mono, Comic Vintage, Comic Sepia, and Ink) to give your movies a more hand-drawn look. The iOS edition of iMovie has been updated to version 2.2.10 to include the Comic, Comic Mono, and Ink filters, and the macOS version adds support for importing projects with those three filters. The update also improves overall stability, as usual. (Free from the Mac App Store, 2.1 GB, 10.15.6+)

ScreenFlow 9.0.5 No comments

ScreenFlow 9.0.5

Telestream has issued version 9.0.5 of ScreenFlow, a maintenance release that brings improvements and bug fixes to the screencast recording and video editing app. The update improves the capability to customize the start position of the Clock Wipe transition, adds an option to set the export resolution to 4K, enables you to localize the Google security text that appears within the YouTube publishing window, fixes a bug with freehand annotations not appearing correctly after being drawn, addresses a problem with real-time audio degrading and disappearing after 15 minutes, resolves an issue with text box thumbnails not appearing in the timeline, and fixes a bug that prevented dragging a single file document onto the Batch Export window. ($129 new from the Telestream Web site or the Mac App Store, free update, 54.7 MB, release notes, macOS 10.13+)

Fantastical 3.1.5 No comments

Fantastical 3.1.5

Flexibits has issued Fantastical 3.1.5, adding support for the Circuit, Vidyo, and StarLeaf conferencing platforms. The calendar app improves search speed when searching through many items from Reminders, lets you select multiple calendars and Control-click to ignore alerts for all selected calendars, fixes a bug that prevented Zoom one-tap mobile numbers from being created correctly, fixes a bug where the currently visible date could get stuck far in the past, and resolves an issue where rescheduling an event on another device wouldn’t hide the notification for the event. ($39.99 annual subscription from Flexibits and the Mac App Store, free update, 22.8 MB, release notes, macOS 10.13.2+)