Use 3D Touch on iPhone 6s to Save Anything to PDF

3D Touch on the iPhone 6s has become increasingly useful since its launch last year. It makes lots of things easier (selecting text using 3D touch on the keyboard is a great example) but there are now some things you can do with it, that you can’t actually achieve at all without it (at least not without jumping through hoops).

For example, let’s say you are reading an email in Apple’s Mail app, you can easily save it as a PDF using 3D touch.  The process is really simple – though not at all obvious to the uninitiated. Choose to print the email but when the phone shows you a preview of the document with some printing options, 3D-press on the preview image and it peaks and pops open as a PDF, with a share button that lets you save it wherever you want – Dropbox, Evernote, Notes, Pages, anywhere.

without this 3D Touch trick, there is no easy way to save an email from Mail to another app at all!

This works in any app that allows printing but I’m using Mail as an example because for some reason Mail doesn’t even have a share button, so without this 3D Touch trick, there is no easy way to save an email from Mail to another app at all!  To my knowledge, Apple has not even documented this feature. (I can’t imagine why).finp6s

 

 

 

A USB Thumb-Drive for Both iPad and Computer

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 1.30.49 pmIf you work with 25 iPad wielding students in a classroom, then you already know that sharing large video files between iPads or between iPads and computers comes with some friction.

Sure,there’s a festival of ways to transfer content from a student’s iPad to your computer or vice-versa, or from a student’s iPad to another student’s iPad.  (AirDrop, Dropbox, Instashare, PhotoTransfer WiFi, Email, just to name a few) but each has it’s limitations – especially if your school’s Wi-Fi is flakey or the internet is slow.

A Mobi My iStick in your pocket is a pretty neat solution. When you plug the iStick into your computer it behaves just as any USB thumb-drive would – because it is a USB thumb-drive.  But slide the slider over, and at the other end is an Apple-approved lightning jack that fits into the lighting port on a student’s iPad.  It’s the first USB thumb-drive that works with an iPad and it lets you copy files directly between iOS devices (whether or not they are your own) and computers, without needing Wi-Fi, bluetooth or an internet connection.

What’s Good:

Copying files to the device from a computer is as simple as can be.  Transferring those files to an iOS device is just as straightforward. When you plug the iStick into your iOS device, a pop-up message asks to use the iStick. You click Agree. The iStick app opens, you select the “iStick” tab and you can see all the files on the iStick, open them, move them to the camera roll etc.  You can even play movies on the iPad screen, directly from the iStick without first copying them to the iPad (Super if you are running out of storage space on your iPad!).

What’s Not:

On the iOS side, things are not quite as simple as they are on the computer. You need to install the (free) iStick app on every iOS device that you want to use the iStick with. Working with Photos and movies is straightforward enough.  Within the iStick app you see a “Photo Library” folder. That shows you all the Photos and Videos on your iPad, which you can then easily copy to your iStick.  For other documents, however, the process is clumsy and slow. You need to first open the document in the app that created it (say, Pages) then choose “Open in” and select iStick.  Then you need to open the iStick app (on the iPad),  select “iPad” (or “iPhone”), navigate to the inbox folder, select the file and chose to move it to the Documents folder (still within the “iPad” tab of the iStick app on the iPad).  THEN (if you haven’t given up by now) you insert the iStick USB thumb drive, navigate to the Documents folder in the iStick app, and choose to move the file from there to the iStick. Once you have done that, it’s simple to drag it off onto your computer as you would with any USB thumb drive, but the process of moving documents to the iStick is horrendous!

My advice:

  • If you want to shift large videos or photos between devices quickly and avoid doing this over Wi-Fi – this is a great solution.  It would allow your students to create movie projects on their individual iPads, and then you could pass the iStick around and they could all copy their finished product to it.
  • If you want to increase the storage space on your iPad – because perhaps you have a model with only 16GB – again this is a great solution because you can store movies on the iStick and still play them from there without first having to copy them back to the iPad.  If you were to move the videos off your iPad any other way (Eg. upload them to Dropbox) you would then have to re-download them before watching them!
  • If you are travelling, and want a way to back up the photos and movies you are taking – or to transfer them from your iPhone to your iPad in the absence of Wi-Fi – it’s great!
  • But if you were hoping to use the iStick to conveniently shuttle all kinds of miscellaneous files – PDFs, text documents etc – between iOS devices like you are accustomed to doing with USB thumb-drives and computers … forget it!  Sure, you can move files that way. (It’s not that it doesn’t work, per sé) – but the process is so graceless that you’d be better off attaching your files to a self-addressed email!

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Handwriting on an iPad – My Recommendations for Apps and Styli

 

IMG_5617Two years ago, I wrote this post about my search for the best handwriting tools for the iPad.  I reviewed both software (notebook apps in which to write), and styli (pens with which to write).

In summary, I recommended Noteshelf as my app of choice, and the Adonit Jot Flip Stylus as the best stylus.

Twenty-four months later, have I changed my mind?

Yes and no.

First, the Apps.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 5.38.40 pmMost of the apps I reviewed have been updated and improved since I wrote that post.  I still think Noteshelf is the best of them. It is still much the same as it was but has made significant improvements.  The most notable improvement is that there is now an option to create notebooks that automatically sync with Evernote (as Penultimate did two years ago).  Unlike Penultimate, though, you can turn this feature on or off on a per-notebook basis.  I have one notebook that automatically syncs to Evernote. I use that one for quick notes, detailing phone conversations, etc.  It works great.  All other notebooks I prefer to sync manually when I am ready to sync, rather than continuously in the background.

The other feature I previously wrote about preferring in Penultimate, was the way it handles cut and paste using a lasso-drag-tap feature.  It’s incredibly cool and useful. Noteshelf now has that feature too.

I still think Noteshelf is the most responsive and accurate notebook app, with the best set of features. Not the cheapest (Penultimate and some others are free) but the best – even more clearly so than it was two years ago.

Second, the Styli

I still love the Adonit Jot Flip – and it’s still the stylus I turn to when I want to scribble notes on my iPad.  It’s just fantastic. It does have two significant shortcomings though.

  1. It really is not an appropriate choice for kids – because that little clear plastic disk is just too easy to break/lose. So is the screw-on cap.
  2. It’s no good if you are using a stylus to record a screencast in an app like Explain Everything, Educreations or Collaaj, because the app records the ‘tap-tap’ sounds of the hard plastic disk striking the glass and it’s quite distracting.

I’ve  tried a number of new styli since writing that original post.  Most significantly, I bought the Evernote edition Adonit Jot Script stylus (for more than AU$119), which features a fine nib – the idea of which really excited me.  More recently I’ve tried the Edugrip App Pencil.

Adonit Jot Script

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 4.50.42 pmI hate it.  If you are thinking of buying one of these, my advice is to borrow one and try it out first.  Maybe it’s just my handwriting style or something, but I find it laggy, unresponsive and inaccurate.  It requires AA batteries, needs to be switched on each time I want to use it, and needs to be synced via Bluetooth LE to the iPad.   I find the experience annoying, and my handwriting is not even nearly as neat as it is in any other stylus I’ve used! That’s just too much compromise to make for a fine point. Plus there is no pocket clip, no ball-point pen in the back, and compared to the Adonit Jot Flip, it feels cheap and plasticy, and it’s more than twice as expensive! Like the Adonit Jot Flip, it makes an audible “tap” when it touches the glass, so it’s no more appropriate for use in screencasting.  I never use it for anything.  I only keep it so I can show people who are thinking of buying one why they shouldn’t.

App Pencil

IMG_5606This stylus is a new offering, with an unashamedly educational focus.  The App Pencil is actually quite great for its intended market.  It’s basic, robust and inexpensive ($15).

It features a triangular transverse section (like those big grey-lead pencils kids use when they are learning to write) and the material is a sort of dense rubber – so it’s super-comfortable to hold.  It is all in one piece; there is no cap to lose, no plastic disk to break off.  “Unbreakable” and “Child” are two words that can’t be used together.  Nothing can withstand a determined kid, but i think this is about as resilient as a stylus could be expected to be!

What I really like about the App Pencil though, is that writing with it feels surprisingly good.  Most styli I’ve tried that have a rubber tip like this, are hard to write with because the rubber drags over the glass and feels blunt and numb.  I liken it to writing with an eraser. But the App Pencil feels better than most; it slides relatively smoothly over the glass.

Like all styli with blunt, rounded tips, it’s hard to form small characters (because you can’t see the point on the screen where the line is being formed) but for typical note-taking, diagram labelling, etc., it’s a pretty good experience.

The App Pencil has a rubber loop at the back end, that could be use to tie it with a string to the iPad (assuming the iPad has a case that provides something to tie it to).

I wish App Pencil were triangular along it’s entire length, so that it wouldn’t roll, but the ends are circular in transverse section, which means that it easily rolls across the desk.  (not that it will break, though, it just bounces when it hits the floor).

Edugrip claims that the App Pencil works with all Apple and Android tablets except the iPad Air.  That said, I have an iPad Air and it seems to work just fine for me.

It will be the stylus I use when screencasting with Explain Everything.  I’d also recommend it to any teacher planning to booklist a stylus for students to use at school.

Install Fonts on Your iPad

Have you ever crafted a Keynote slide or Pages document on your computer, thoughtfully selecting the perfect font, only to find that when you open the document on your iPad you are greeted with the message:

“The font FortuneCookie is missing.  Your text might look different.”

This morning I made a slide in Keynote on my Mac, and chose the font FortuneCookie.  My iPad replaced FortuneCookie with Helvetica Neue – a nice enough font but not the one I had chosen!

Or perhaps you are just bored by the small selection of fonts on the iPad and want to add a few.

Unknown to many people, it’s actually quite easy to install additional fonts on your iPad.  Start by downloading AnyFont ($2.49)

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Fig 1. iTunes on my Mac, Showing the File Sharing section within the Apps tab, of the iPad.

Then connect your iPad to your computer, open iTunes, select your iPad in the devices list, click the Apps tab at the top, and scroll down to the File Sharing section.  Within the File Sharing section, you will see a list of all the apps that are available for file sharing.  Select AnyFont from that list, as shown in Fig 1.

Drag any true type font (.ttf) or open type (.otf) or true type collection (.ttc) from your computer to the left-hand pane titled “AnyFont Documents”.  If you have just installed AnyFont this pane of the window will be empty.  You can see that I have added 14 fonts.

iPadAir-anyf.jpg

Fig 2. Close up view of the AnyFont app on the iPad, with FortuneCookie.ttf selected. Tap the large icon to begin installing.

Now you can close iTunes on your computer and disconnect your iPad.  Open the AnyFont app on your iPad, and tap the font(s) you have just added.  The app will take you through a few steps to install the font.  (These steps feel unusual as you are doing them, but they are quite easy and safe).

That done, open an app such as Pages, and format some text and you will now see that your new font is available to use.

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Fig 3. My Keynote slide, looking nice with the font FortuneCookie.

That’s all there is to it.  Now you can make your presentations and documents look as nice on your iPad as you can on your Mac.

Finally! Record the Screen of Your iPad in Any App, with Narration.

Yesterday X-Mirage added the ability to record not only your iPad screen and audio via Airplay, but also your voice narration.  I’ve been waiting for someone to implement this for ages.

First, Before we get to the details, here’s a little video I made to demonstrate how good the result is.

I’m a fan of iPad screencasting apps like Educreations, Collaaj and Explain Everything, but the limitation on all these apps is that they can only record within the app itself, due to Apple’s sandboxing policy. In other words you can’t use Explain Everything to make a video tutorial about how to change settings in the Settings app, or how to create an eBook in Book Creator or how to write a formula in Numbers or Excel.  Nor can you use them in combination with a content-based app to make a screencast explaining a topic.

X-Mirage is not the first computer application to allow video mirroring from an iOS device. It’s not even the first to provide a video recording function. In fact, both AirServer and Reflector have made this possible for some time now. But X-Mirage does something these others don’t. [Edit: actually AirServer has recently added this functionality too]. It allows you, via your computer’s microphone, to simultaneously record your voice. Now you can simply work on your iPad and describe what you are doing, and X-Mirage captures it all!. When you are finished, the video and two audio tracks are mixed down into an MP4 video and saved to your computer. [It seems that this is only possible on a Mac at this stage. The PC version of both X-Mirage and AirServer will record iPad video and audio, but not your voice – sorry PC users].

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

X-Mirage is remarkably simple to use. With your iPad and computer connected to the same WiFi network, Launch X-Mirage on your computer, then swipe up from the bottom bezel of your iPad to bring up the Control Centre. Tap the AirPlay button at the bottom of the Control Centre, and choose the X-Mirage option and toggle mirroring to ‘on’. You will then see your iPad screen mirrored to your computer.

To start recording, click the (quite obvious) red ‘Record’ button at the right edge of the window. To record your microphone as well, you also need to click the smaller microphone button immediately to it’s left. That’s in fact the only part of this process that is anything less than child’s play – you have to click both those buttons when you start recording. First you need to start the video recording, and then once that is going, click the microphone button to start recording your voice.

x-miragewindow

Because X-Mirage uses your Mac’s microphone (not the microphone in your iPad) you do need to be aware of your computer’s proximity (Ie. you can’t be walking around with your iPad while recording). The upside of this, however is that if you have a good external microphone attached to your Mac, your screencast’s audio will benefit from better sound quality than if X-Mirage recorded from the iPad’s microphone directly.

X-Mirage is $16 with discounted educational pricing available from the website.

Even at the full price, It’s well worth the money (in my opinion).


 

PS. I do know that it’s possible to use Reflector (or AirServer) to mirror an iPad screen to a computer, then simultaneously use some other screencasting software on the computer to record what Reflector was displaying – I’ve done that myself a number of times.  It’s a lot of mucking around, though, and for all that effort you have to really want to make a screencast for it to be worth the effort!

 

Collaaj for iPad – An Impressive New Screencasting App to Rival Explain Everything

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 3.24.09 PM Since I first saw Explain Everything I have been a fan – sharing it with teachers everywhere I go.  In my opinion it has long been the clear winner in the iPad screencasting space, which is also occupied by Educreations and ShowMe.   In my opinion, price aside, Explain Everything is better in almost* every way than Educreations and ShowMe.

Now… there’s a new kid on the block, turning heads – and recording it!

Collaaj’s compelling feature.

Collaj lets you record your webcam video at the same time as you record the screen!  As far as I know, no other screencasting app (on the iPad) allows this.  Explain Everything, ShowMe and Educreations allow you to record your iPad’s screen and your voice narration, but students can’t see you speaking to them.  in Collaj If you tap the camera icon in the sidebar, voila! your face appears in a little window on the screen.  This can be repositioned if it’s not in the place you want it.  You can even move it during the recording – if you want to write on the part of the screen occupied by the webcam video.  That is pretty cool.   I love this feature because I think one of the shortcomings  of the ‘flipped learning model’ is that video explanations can loose a little bit of humanity.   Our brains are hard-wired to respond to the human face.  Seeing the face of the person speaking to you somehow makes the experience of listening to an explanation more personally accessible.Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 5.03.42 PM

That is Collaaj’s  winning feature.  It’s a very compelling one.   But in most* other respects I think Explain Everything is still ahead.  The two possible exceptions to this are in the price, and in the video sharing options.  The school context will influence your choice here.

Note: since posting this, a reader has pointed out to me in the comments (see below) that it is, in fact, possible to record your webcam in Explain Everything.  The process is a little more convoluted but it certainly works!  Thanks for that Reshan!

*Sharing your screencasts.

Explain Everything is great if you want to share your video via YouTube, Vimeo, etc as you can easily do this right from the app.  Collaaj, ShowMe and Educreations allow you to upload the video to a private server provided by the app, and then share a link with your students.  Personally I prefer to use YouTube, but in some schools YouTube is blocked and so the “in house” option may be preferable there.  Once you have recorded your video and saved it, it goes into the Collaaj library within the app and from there you can upload it to the Collaaj server and then share a link with your students.

Slide Number

Explain Everything allows you to make multiple slides and navigate through them while you are recording – much more like using an interactive whiteboard.  Educreations, ShowMe and Collaaj each allow you to record just one screen at a time.

Laser Pointer

One feature I really like about Explain Everything is the laser pointer tool.   When I am explaining a concept, and using a diagram or graph to do so, I don’t necessarily want to write on the graph – and doing so always feels just a little bit clumsy.  Oftentimes, I just want my viewer to look at a part of the diagram.  I find the laser pointer a much more efficient tool for this than simply a pen tool.  None of the other three apps have a laser pointer tool.

Zoom

Another great feature of Explain Everything is the zoom tool (indicated by a magnifying glass).  It lets you pinch-to-zoom on part of the diagram so that you can focus on just one feature, then zoom out to look at the whole diagram once more for context.  I really like that feature and wish that Collaaj would implement it.

Fit and finish

When it comes to polish, Explain Everything is still far and away the best of the three.  Educreations and ShowMe just look a bit to plain and basic, and lack functionality in comparison.  Collaaj is kind of buggy.  You can tell it’s new in this space.  As an example, while importing images from DropBox is apparently supported – I can’t get it to work for me.

Price

All these apps are free, except Explain Everything which is $2.99.

The Verdict?

I’m torn.  I love Explain Everything.  I love the finesse with which the tools work, I love the fact that I can upload my videos straight to YouTube,  I really love the laser pointer and zoom functions.  If only it had the ability to record my webcam video like Collaaj does there would be no question as to which to use!  in the meanwhile I’m really liking Collaaj because it brings something to the iPad that has been missing.

Edit: Again, thanks to Reshan’s helpful contribution, I’m back to Explain Everything.  🙂

Three Solutions for Combining Videos from Multiple iPads

Who’d have thought it could be so difficult?

A couple of weeks ago I ran an iPad workshop for teachers.  One of the participants, Judith, raised an interesting problem that stumped me.  I promised to find her a solution.  This blog post represents the fulfilment of that promise.

The Problem

Judith wanted to be able to have several students record video on their own iPads, then copy those separate videos to one student’s iPad and there, combine into a single file in iMovie.  That doesn’t sound like it would be too hard, now, does it?

The problem it turns out is that you can’t get a video into iMovie unless it is in the iPad’s camera roll.  Getting a video into the cameral roll is (stunningly) problematic.  Copying it into iMovie via iTunes’ File Sharing window on a computer doesn’t work. Neither does emailing it from one iPad to another.  You can of course send the video to an iPad via email, Dropbox, GoodReader, Documents, File Storage or any one of a number of other apps – but this doesn’t get it into the camera roll – which means you can watch the video in the app that contains it – but it doesn’t show up in iMovie.

I spent several hours on Google and Apple’s support forums, etc.  That got me nowhere.

Twitter got me further.  In fact a number of my tweeps were very helpful and offered suggestions that worked.   Many of these, however did require the use of a computer as an intermediary between the two iPads.   I was really looking for a way for two students equipped with iPads only, to share their videos.

Since then, I have done a bit more experimentation myself (and purchased numerous apps).  Out of all that, I present what I consider the best three solutions.  Each works well and each has advantages and disadvantages.

1. BOX

(Kudos to Heather Bailie @hebailie for this)   This was the first solution suggested that worked!  Box.com is very like DropBox. Students can upload their videos to their free Box accounts via the Box app and share them with each other.  They can then download each others’ videos to their own box account and then in Box there is an option to save the video to the photo roll on the iPad (this option is not available in DropBox and others).  Once it is there on the camera roll it will be visible within iMovie.

Advantage:  It’s free.

Disadvantage: The video data is uploaded and downloaded via the internet, which makes the process slow and since videos tend to be large files, this will also be an issue for the bandwidth-impaired.

2. APPLE’S CAMERA CONNECTION KIT

Mr. Barlow @mrbarlow suggested a stirling solution which is to use the Apple iPad camera connection kit.  For $35 this stupidly overpriced little piece of plastic lets you connect a Digital camera to your iPad and transfer your photos to your iPad’s camera roll.   The nifty thing Mr Barlow pointed out is that this also works between two iPads.  In other words, you can connect one iPad to another and transfer the photos and videos from the camera roll of the first to that of the second.  That works very well, and is very fast.

cameraconnector

Advantages:  It’s fast.  It works simply, without installing anything or setting anything up.

Disadvantages:  You have to buy the connector for $35.  Only one pair of students can use it at a time.  It’s so diminutive an item that you are likely to lose it.  If some of your students have iPad 3 and some have iPad 4 or iPad mini you will also need to buy a lightning to 30-pin adaptor (another $35) – bringing the total cost to $70.

3. Photo Transfer WiFi

Just this week Simplex Solutions released an awesome new app – Photo Transfer WiFi that is exactly what I was looking for! This really nice universal app is just $2.99.  Once the app is installed and open on two iPads, they see each other, once their passwords are shared, the two can simply send photos and videos to each others’ camera rolls.  It’s a thing of beauty and simplicity.   Unlike using the Box solution, it doesn’t send the files through the internet – so it’s much faster.  And unlike the Apple Camera Connector Kit, several groups can be doing this at the same time.

transferphotowifi

Advantages:  It’s fast.  It doesn’t use the internet, just WiFi.  It’s got a very intuitive interface (unlike many other apps I tried).  It’s affordable.

Disadvantages: There really are none – except that it’s not free.  But this developer deserves every cent he earns.

If you have another solution, I’d sure love to hear about it.  Please share it in the comments below.

Students can now conveniently publish podcasts directly from an iPad app

Some time ago I posted about iPadio a web service that for years has been a key part of my students’ toolkit.  iPadio allows a student to record a podcast (aka “phonecast” or “phlog”) directly to the internet, for free, from an ordinary landline or mobile telephone.  In my experience this is a really easy, no-fuss way to get students to publish their learning orally, anywhere, anytime they have a phone at their disposal.

4

The service also provides the ability to automatically cross-post phonecasts to iTunes, Facebook or a class blog.  That’s what I had my students do, so that my students and I didn’t have to visit 25 different websites to listen to each others’ phlogs).

I was excited to recently get an email from iPadio, announcing that they have finally released an iPad app which means students, armed with an iPad and having an internet connection can now record and publish a podcast conveniently from the classroom.  The app is incredibly simple to use and the sound quality is excellent because unlike iPadio’s free phone service, the audio is recorded on the iPad at a relatively high bitrate and  subsequently uploaded (rather than using the phone network in real time).

The iPadio app is free and available from the iTunes app store.  It is necessary for students to create a free account to use the service and they should be reminded to take appropriate cybersafety precautions, remembering that their iPadio page and the podcasts on it will be available to the public.

iPad Microscopy

Being a science teacher, I have been experimenting with my iPad, trying to find a way of taking photos through the lens of an ordinary student microscope.  Science teachers whose students own iPads, will immediately see the benefit of this.  Rather than drawing what they see, students can take a photograph, and then import that into another app on the iPad to incorporate into a project.

The difficulty lies in (a) holding the iPad still enough to avoid motion blur, (b) lining the camera lens up with the microscope’s subjective lens (an alignment that must be exact) and (c), holding the iPad the right distance (about 4 mm) away from the microscope lens for the image to be in focus.  It’s not hard to glimpse a fleeting clear image, but holding that precise pose long enough to press the shutter button is frustratingly challenging!

Screen Shot 2013-03-30 at 2.10.53 PM

The first time I tried to do this I did manage to get a good photo – but it took me ten minutes of trying!  That is not realistic in a classroom with year 9 students, who may not be as patient as I am!   Patience may be a virtue that we should encourage in our students – but I don’t have time for that!  What I really want is a simple solution that will work 100% of the time.

The solution I found is really simple.  It’s a $2 app called Fast Camera.  Fast camera shoots photos faster than an assault rifle shoots bullets!  I measured 720 photos per minute! (whereas an AK-47 fires a meagre 600 rounds per minute).  You hit the camera button and click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click… it goes.  With the camera firing like that, you can hold the iPad above the microscope lens, and move it slowly around until a clear image makes its momentary appearance.   Once it does, you can stop the camera, leaf through the hundreds of thumbnails, and choose the best one to save to the iPad’s photo roll.  The other several hundred ‘mis-fires’ can be deleted at the click of a button.

Once you have a great photo in your iPad’s photo roll, it can be imported, just like any other photo, into other apps like Pages, Explain Everything or NoteShelf for comment and annotation.

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Photo imported and annotated in NoteShelf

Pretty cool, huh?

Wonderful! System-wide iPad text expansion

“Frankly, I don’t know how I managed to overlook the power of this for so long!”

The Problem: Some characters cannot be typed on the iPad Keyboard!

I love the iPad for many reasons, but typing on it is like trying to pick up watermelon seeds. The biggest (not the only) issue I have with the iPad keyboard, is that there are some characters that you simply cannot type! It’s crazy! Try typing a © symbol, or a greek character like µ, and you simply can’t do it. Nor can you type subscripts. That’s right – NO SUBSCRIPTS! (can you sense my eyelid twitching?). As a biology teacher, I need to type subscripts!  (Apple, do you realise how hard it is to write about biochemistry when you can’t even type “H₂O”?!)  In my previous post, I discussed one work-around, using the Cymbol app, and that’s handy for one-off instances when you need to type something unusual.  But this is a MUCH better tip – especially for characters you need to type often.

The Solution: System-wide text expansion using Shortcuts

In my previous post, I mentioned TextExpander, which works well in the handful of apps that have incorporated it’s SDK.  In all others one needs to copy, switch apps and paste – a pretty clumsy workflow.  A much more elegant solution as I have discovered is using Shortcuts. Frankly, I don’t know how I managed to overlook the power of this for so long!

This doesn’t even require you to download an app!  iOS comes with a built-in customisable Shortcuts option in the Settings app (look in Settings > General > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Add New Shortcut). The most obvious use for this (and what it was intended for) is setting short abbreviations for longer messages.  If you are the sort who is often running late you can create a shortcut “omw” that when typed into a text message will expand to “I’m on my way” (So that you don’t make yourself even later, typing out the full message on the virtual keyboard, then editing it because it was changed to something ridiculous by autocorrect).   BUT, and here is what I’m excited about,  that expanded Phrase in Shortcuts can be anything you’d like it to be.  It can be a whole essay or just a single Greek character!

Simply go to the Shortcuts section in Preferences, and type (or paste) the character or expanded text you want to appear into the “Phrase” field.  Then type your desired abbreviation into the Shortcut field.  Tap ‘Save’. That’s it.Untitled-14.jpg

For example, if I want to be able to type C₆H₁₂O₆, I paste that chemical formula into the “Phrase” field, and then type the shortcut “gglucose” into the Shortcut field. (see image). Strangely, even though you can’t type these things on an iPad, if you copy and paste them, subscripts, superscripts and special characters are maintained and work just fine. The trick here, is to create all the “Phrases” on your computer, then email them to yourself, open the email on your iPad and copy and paste them into the “Phrase” field of each Shortcut.

I make my Shortcuts a description of the result I want, with a double letter to begin with: “gglucose”, “ccarbondioxide”, “ccopyright”, “mmicroL”. Then when I want “5 µL”, I simply type “5 mmicroL”. This text expansion works system-wide, and is synced accross all my iOS devices automatically via iCloud.

If you are a science teacher, this is cause for rejoicing!  But for everyone else, it’s also useful for common replies you make to emails or other oft-typed tidbits of information. If, for example, I get an invitation to a school for a date on which I already have a booking, I type “ddateclash” and it expands to:

Thank you for the invitation.  I would have loved to present at your college.  Unfortunately I do not have that date available due to a prior booking. I do hope that your Professional Learning day is a great success, regardless.
Sincerely, Andrew

If someone emails to ask me for a photo of myself, I can reply with “pphotoofme” and it expands to http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4495191/PhotoOfAndrewDouch.jpg – the download link for a head and shoulders photo of me in my dropbox public folder.

What a time saver!  The half hour I invested in creating my shortcuts, will be paid back to me with interest before the month’s end.