Workflow, a new app to automate tasks on the iPad and iPhone

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I have been playing with automation on the iPad as long as their have been apps created with automation in mind. Given that an iPad is not a PC, either Mac or Windows; the iPad has always had limitations from a workflow perspective. Automation of simple and sometimes complicated tasks has been a way to make the iPad even more useful from a productivity perspective. My last post on the subject reviewed some of the key automation options around summer 2014. Fortunately, developers have not stopped coming up with more and more ways to make work more efficient on the iPad. And the most recent example of this ceaseless development is an amazing new app for the iPad iPhone called Workflow. This app is designed to take automation to a whole new level for iOS and ultimately make workflow automation available to the masses rather than just the nerds. After spending some time with this app over the past few days I have to say that the developers did an amazing job right out of the gate and I can already see how this tool is going to make my life easier on the iPad and maybe could make your life a bit easier as well. Read on to learn a bit more about this app and about my first attempt at creating a useful workflow with Workflow!

With iOS8, Apple added a lot more capabilities for apps to interact with each other whereas prior versions of iOS kept each app separate, i.e. “sandboxed”. This design decision allowed Apple much more control over what is happening on the devices which limits the bad things apps can do. The opposite of this design is of course Microsoft Windows where installed apps can access other apps and system processes which means that each machine is at the mercy of the quality of the apps installed. The effect of course are things like full system crashes, viruses and other assorted issues. With iOS 8, Apple provided more options for apps to interact with system processes/apps like Calendar, Mail, Contacts, etc. as well as providing options for apps to work together in new and unique ways. Workflow leverages these additional integration capabilities by building a framework to create workflows that can combine different functions across the iPad/iPhone. Whereas prior to iOS 8, automation was mostly limited to automating specific tasks within an app with tools like TextExpander or using outside services like IFTTT or TaskClone to monitor very specific things like new Evernote notes or Google Mail. Workflow changes all of this by providing the ability to create real automation directly in iOS without former limitations. The best way to see how this works is to download the $2.99 app and take a look at the included Gallery of workflows. If you want a more in depth overview of the app and a few useful workflows take a look at this review out on Macstories. You may be wondering whether Workflow is a bit advanced for the average iPad user. And to an extent it is, at least for the average person starting out. However, Workflow does provide some great example workflows that are easily expanded or adapted and there will continue to be people like Federico coming up with new and useful workflows. Additionally, other 3rd-party apps will surely jump on the bandwagon developing hooks and other integration methods for Workflow to leverage.

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In an effort to create something useful as a starting point I created one very basic workflow to create a new note in Evernote with a list of the day's meetings and open reminders/tasks. This is hopefully the beginnings of a more sophisticated workflow to recreate what I saw executive assistants creating for executives at a former employer. Each exec would be provided a schedule for the day with associated notes, phone numbers and directions. The executive would carry around this folder from meeting to meeting to use as their guide. At the time I always thought there had to be a way to automate this. This rudimentary workflow is a first step in creating this daily guide. The workflow is an adaptation of the Share Availability workflow included in the Gallery. This workflow pulls all calendar events for a user-selected day and then sends the booked times via email. With a few small tweaks I was able to change the output of this template to create a new note in Evernote with the listing of events including start time, end time and event name. I also added a second section to pull active tasks from Apple's Reminders app. Here is the resulting note in Evernote from my workflow.

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Yes, this is basic but I think you can see the potential. I would love to extract addresses from all meetings for a day and list distance between meetings and maybe even pull directions to meetings adding each to the daily agenda. Given the wealth of building blocks included with Workflow, I bet both of these requirements are quite possible. You can try my workflow by downloading and installing it from here. Also, take some time to try out the workflows that Federico posted in his article.

As you can see, the possibilities with Workflow are endless. Hopefully Apple will not be threatened by the power of this app and pull it off of the App Store, so get your copy soon just in case. And, the price of $2.99 is not the final price, but an introductory price to get the app in more hands.

Can you see the possibilities of Workflow? If so, what would you like to automate in your workflow? Have you created you own workflow already that is saving you time? If so, please share it in the comments.

DISCLOSURE: The links above are affiliate links. This means that I earn a few cents if you click the link and purchase the app. This costs you nothing but it helps me keep this site running.

 

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Virtualization, the key to unencumbered iPad productivity?

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Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/

Ever wonder whether it is possible to leave the laptop at work or access all of your work applications from your iPad? For some it is absolutely possible to run any Windows-based application including Microsoft Outlook on an iPad using technology called virtualization. Many organizations have made the switch to virtualized applications and full Windows environments to simplify the process of maintaining large numbers of desktop machines. Other corporations have added virtualization as a way to provide acccess to corporate applications and networks across different platforms like Apple Macs and even Linux machines. The benefit for iPad users is that two of the largest virtualization players provide excellent, free iPad applications so that iPad users can access their Windows-based environments from an iPad! And this is the last mile allowing iPad users to finally cut the laptop cord to get things done securely using an iPad. Read on to learn about how Citrix Receiver and VMware Horizon can provide you this access.

Virtualization is a great way to access Window-based resources on the iPad. Many companies have implemented some form of virtualization to simplify the process of maintaining and building PCs at work. Some use virtualization to implement thin-clients in the workplace which essentially allow the deployment of extremely cheap, thin client PC’s. Others implement virtualization to simplify the maintenance of PCs across the network. Check out this article for a great overview of what virtualization is and where it makes sense for organizations. For iPad and other tablet users, visualization is a way to access a full corporate desktop from the convenient form factor of the iPad. Two of the major visualization software companies provide excellent iPad applications for accessing a virtual desktop, Citrix Receiver and VMware Horizon (owned by EMC).

Citrix Receiver is available on the iPad App Store and allows for access to whatever virtual applications your organization provides including full desktops as well as individual applications. Here is a screen shot of a virtualized instance of Microsoft Outlook.

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Here is a picture of a full desktop running through Citrix.

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I access various Citrix environments by logging onto my company’s virtualization web page and then choosing the application that has been delivered to me virtually. I work across various locations and network domains which limits my ability to access Outlook as a native client. A perfect example is that I work from home a lot and my home network is of course not connected to my work domain. I get around this by running the virtualized Citrix client for Outlook. This essentially allows me to run a full version of Outlook in a seemingly native fashion on my work laptop, except that I am viewing a picture of Outlook running on a corporate server. I can access these virtualized applications the same way on the iPad, I just login to the corporate virtualized application directory, click the application or environment I want and then chose to open the application in iOS Citrix Receiver.

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In summary, for me accessing virtualized Citrix environments on the iPad works exactly the same way as it works on a PC or a Mac.

VMware Horizon is a similar application in concept to Citrix, but of course designed to work with VMware-based virtualized desktops.

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Connecting to my Horizon environment is a bit different in that remote connections are made using a RSA SecurID. I just launch the VMware Horizon app on the iPad and then enter my secret PIN along with the RSA token currently displayed on my RSA iPhone App. From there a full Windows desktop environment is presented and I can access all of my work appications including Outlook as if I was sitting in the office on a full Windows computer.

 

Overall both Horizon and Receiver are great applications for accessing corporate systems on the iPad. Both applications allow you to do what you need to write emails, edit documents and even access spreadsheets without having to use the iPad versions. I would not recommend working on either of these applications all of the time on an iPad, but both allow you to do just about anything you would need while working at home or working remotely on a business trip. Give your corporate IT organization a call to find out if your company supports virtual desktops or VDI’s. If they do, you may be in luck!

Have you tried Horizon or Citrix on your iPad? Does your company provide virtualized environments for its workers?

 

 

 

 

 

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Office on the iPad + Dropbox = Flexibility!

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Well, Microsoft went ahead and did it, they connected another cloud service to Microsoft Office for the iPad, Dropbox! I am still a little shocked; Dropbox + Office definitely changes things. I have written extensively about Office on the iPad and I continue to be a heavy user since it was first released last spring. However, I have found the ability to share documents using OneDrive more difficult than Dropbox, Box and Google Drive. But, I stick with OneDrive because I have to, it's the only corporate-approved option. Now that Office integrates with Dropbox, I may have to seriously consider doing more work with Dropbox and less with OneDrive where possible. Read on to for a bit more perspective.

Being a heavy Microsoft user at work and quite frankly I continue to be quite happy with what I can do with Excel and even Powerpoint compared to what I can with other apps. Yes, I could certainly be more cool and polished with Keynote like Macsparky, but being Microsoft-focused at work for two decades, its hard to imagine making the leap to anything different. I can now confidently spreadsheet-jocky with the best of them easily whipping out pivot tables and VLOOKUPs whenever necessary; why would I waste the brain cells to figure all of this out with Numbers or other alternative? I already know that if I was able to use a Mac at work I would surely use the Mac versions of Office. So, with this in mind, as I wrote back last spring, I was extremely happy when Office for the iPad came out. I was even more happy when my company jumped into Office 365 and OneDrive for Business. This essentially allowed me to be efficient on my iPad within the corporate confines WITHOUT subverting corporate IT. However, even with this freedom, I have run into document sharing problems from time to time with OneDrive. In short, it's just not as reliable to share documents as Dropbox and Box are. Both of these services allow for individual file and folder sharing via URL with a simple click or tap from either a computer or the iPad. OneDrive allows for this directly from Office for the iPad, but I have found that some recipients have had trouble opening documents shared via link from OneDrive. However, I have never had a problem sharing documents from either Box or Dropbox. In fact, I have used Dropbox to share copies of my eBook over the years whenever there was a glitch with a PDF download.

Now that more users have the ability to access their corporate Office documents on the iPad for free, I have to imagine that this will put additional pressure on all of those non-Apple, non-Google iPad competitors. I have written about these competitors many times over the years with this article on TabTimes being the most recent. In a way this saddens me as I think that real innovation in software often comes from the small startups. I just hope that Microsoft's move does not effectively do to CloudOn and Office2 HD what Microsoft Word did to Wordperfect. At least companies like CloudOn are still fighting by trying to innovate on the tablet as this press release in October attests. But, even before trying out CloudOn's new update, I find it hard to imagine a scenario where I would switch off of Microsoft. But, I am sure my curiousity will get the best of me in the near feature.

Have you made the switch to Microsoft Office for the iPad? Does Microsoft's new pricing scheme change whether you would use Office on the iPad?

P.S. If you are curious what others are saying about Microsoft's move, check out this review out on the Wall Street Journal. It certainly provides a conflicting perspective on Microsoft's new pricing strategy.

 

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Exporting formatted notes from Drafts 4 to Evernote on your iPad

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Other than email, the app I use most is Drafts. I have been using Drafts to document meetings and notes for well over two years. I added automated task processing with TaskClone back at the end of 2013 and have not looked back. So, when I heard about the new update to Drafts, I was a bit concerned about whether my trusted workflow would work in the new version. In short, my workflow worked, but not in the way that I had hoped;the note made it to Evernote and TaskClone processed my tasks; but all note formatting was lost. Whether you use my workflow or not, the ability to get Markdown-formatted notes created in Drafts into Evernote is awesome. Read on to learn how to get Markdown-formatted notes into Evernote using the latest version of Drafts.

There are many improvements in Drafts 4 that specifically leverage key features of iOS8 which I will write about in the future. Here is a list of the improvements and new features. A really great summary and overview of the new Drafts 4 is out on Macstories. If you want to learn about some very specific improvements in Drafts and how to use them, Federico's post will walk you through some powerful new capabilities. The first thing I noticed when switching to Drafts 4 and migrating my actions from Drafts 3 to Drafts 4 is that my workflow to export a note to Evernote for my Taskclone workflow broke, specifically the saved note lost all of the Markdown formatting created in Drafts.

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Now what?

The solution to this problem was found by searching the Drafts Action directory until I found this shared action. As you can see, this action uses the date/time to create the note title in Evernote. However, the critical piece of information that I found in this shared action is the code to enter into the Content section of the Drafts setup;

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So, to get Markdown-formatted notes into Evernote simply use the Markdown to Evernote Action from the Drafts Directory. Or, add the code from the picture above directly into the action you use to export to Evernote. Either way you will now be able to retain the formatting you create in Drafts once the note is imported into Evernote.

Do you use Markdown in Drafts?

DISCLOSURE: The links above are affiliate links. This means that I earn a few cents if you click the link and purchase the app. This costs you nothing but it helps me keep this site running.

 

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iPad Productivity and Evernote iPad eBooks now only 99 cents!

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My two iPad ebooks are now only $0.99! I am running this special promotion in advance of my upcoming edition of the iPad Productivity ebook coming this winter. The new version is over twice as long, contains content related to iOS8, Omnifocus, 1Password and much more.

In the meantime, enjoy my original ebooks for the low price of $0.99 each! The iPad Productivity ebook is over 10,000 words and contains lots of great iPad workflow ideas, app reviews and process suggestions. The Evernote eBook is focused on how to get the most out of Evernote in the iPad.

Check out the iPad Productivity eBook here and the Evernote ebook here.

 

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REVIEW: OmniFocus 2 for the iPad

I took the plunge, I invested in the new OmniFocus 2 for the iPad. I’ve written extensively about how I’m using Trello for my personal task manager and at work for project management. And I have also written extensively about how I’ve used OmniFocus as well. I originally stopped using OmniFocus mostly because I didn’t have the desktop version and therefore was not able to purge my database. With the new upgraded OmniFocus 2, I was very curious to see if improvements had been made with the purging issue and I was curious to check out some of the new functionality.

There are a lot of changes with the new OmniFocus 2 for the iPad. The first and most obvious change is that the new version has the same look and feel as Omnifocus 2 for the iPhone. The other big change is OmniFocus 2 for the iPad added the ability to edit and create Perspectives. This is one of the killer features of OmniFocus which allows you to set up customized lists that can further slice and dice your work. Here is a view of the Perspectives configuration screen accessible from the pro version of OmniFocus 2.

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As you can see Perspectives is a way create custom lists that include one or multiple projects as well as one or multiple contexts. Perspectives can be as powerful or as simple depending on your particular needs as well as the complexity of your tasks.

In addition to Perspectives, Omnifocus 2 adds many other improvements. Here is an overview of the changes described in Omni’s free eBook.

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First impressions, I was disappointed to see that OmniFocus to did not have the ability to purge the database on the iPad. I did plenty of research before making the purchase and I found nothing about the ability to purge, but I did hold out some hope. However, the functionality wasn’t there so I started my test with a manual purging of my old completed tasks. Once done, I wanted to see how easy it is to upgrade to the pro version. The problem I discovered is that the old version must be installed for Omni to verify the original purchase. So, after reinstalling version 1.x, Omni immediately recognized that I was a verified user and enabled pro functionality, i.e. the ability to create and edit perspectives. As I mentioned above the look and feel of the new iPad version is extremely similar to the 2.0 version on the iPhone released earlier this year. Overall usability is very easy and the developers have done a good job masking the complexity and flexibility of the app with its well thought-out user-interface. You still control your lists using the GTD concepts of context and project and the center of operations is still the inbox. And the ability to review and track projects is also the same if not little better in this version.

The big thing I missed when I moved to Trello was OmniFocus’ Forecast View. This view shows you the tasks that are due or must start today according to task setup. Another key feature I missed in Trello is the defer-until date which is the date when a task must start vs. when the task is actually due. Omnifocus hides tasks not scheduled to start from the Forecast view and other views so that you are only presented with the tasks you have available to start or are due. This is a great way to limit the size of your lists.

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Setup for OmniFocus is easy, just like it is on OmniFocus 2 for the iPhone. One way OmniFocus hides complexity is through it’s hidden menus. From the main screen simply swipe down on the left side of the screen and the Settings menu is shown. From here you can define specific setup options.

Default View

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View after a swipe down

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Available settings

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Given I’m still using Trello for my projects, you may be wondering how I;m using both systems without getting confused. The answer to that is a product/service called Zapier. Using this service has allowed me a sync information between OmniFocus and Trello automatically. I will describe the setup and process in a future post.

Overall I am pleased with OmniFocus 2. For setup and workflow, most of the changes are cosmetic, but cosmetic is important on the iPad. I find apps that are fun to use and intuitive generally make me more productive. I find OmniFocus 2 very easy and very pleasing to use. I’m still happy with how Omni provides excellent control over my tasks including what I see and don’t see on my lists. OmniFocus definitely makes me more productive and gives me a greater sense of comfort that things are not falling through the cracks. Stay tuned for future posts on how I’m connecting OmniFocus andTrello together, as well as how my workflow evolves and changes over time.

Have you tried OmniFocus to put it iPad? If so what do you think?

DISCLOSURE: The links above are affiliate links. This means that I earn a few cents if you click the link and purchase the app. This costs you nothing but it helps me keep this site running.

 

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Free eBook: Introduction to iPad Productivity

As a busy blogger and iPad "expert", I get asked all the time about the tools I use to be productive on the iPad. So I decided to write a small book explaining some of the basics, the things that will get you using your iPad for work rather than play. This eBook is not a replacement for my iPad Productivity eBook, but rather an introduction for those of you ready to leave the laptop at work.

You can’t buy this eBook. There’s only one way to get it—by subscribing to my FREE email newsletter. Don’t waste any more time lugging that laptop around. Sign up today!

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