Near-field communication, commonly called NFC, is a communications protocol that allows two devices to communicate when they are very close to each other, within about an inch or so. You might already use NFC every day in an access card for your office, parking garage, etc. The iPhone has had NFC support since the iPhone 7, but to use NFC on an iPhone 7, iPhone 8, or iPhone X, you first need to launch an app which is made to work with NFC. That's not convenient. The newest iPhones — the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR — can support NFC without first launching any special app. Your iPhone just needs to have the screen turned on and be unlocked. The idea is that you can tap your iPhone to an NFC tag (or hold it really close) and you can trigger some action. You still need to have an app to handle the action, but with the newest iPhones that app does not need to be open. One such app is Launch Center Pro.
Launch Center Pro is an app that you can use to launch shortcuts. It has been around for a very long time (I reviewed the app back in 2012) and it has improved over the years. You might, for example, configure the app so that every time you press a button in the app, the app sends a text to one or more people with a specific message. Launch Center Pro is no longer the best automation app on the iPhone now that we also have the Shortcuts app, but the two apps are not identical, and each can do some things that the other cannot do, or cannot do as well. One example is that Launch Center Pro can support NFC stickers, but Shortcuts cannot.
Here's how it works. You buy some NFC stickers in the app. Then you place the sticker someplace, such as on an item on your desk. Then you tell Launch Center Pro what to do whenever you tap that NFC sticker. It's not unlike using the "Hey, Siri" function along with Shortcuts, HomeKit, etc. so that something happens (like turn on the dining room lights) when you tell Siri to do that task. But with NFC, you don't have to say anything out loud, which can be more appropriate in a location like your office, where you might not want other people to hear you talking to Siri.
You buy the Launch Center Pro NFC stickers in the app. I bought a set of five clear ones for $5, or you can buy a set of five with the app's logo for $8. Note that for the clear ones, the sticker portion is clear, but you can still see the silver NFC components. Each sticker is round and about an inch in diameter.
Currently, the stickers sold in the app don't work if affixed to metal objects, such as the back of a MacBook Pro or an iPad. The developer suggests that this could change in the future if there are enough requests for it.
Place the sticker in the desired location, and then use the Launch Center Pro app to add the sticker to its list of recognized NFC tags. Now you can create any shortcut in the Launch Center Pro app — which can include, for example, a command to launch a shortcut that you created in the Shortcuts app — and then tell Launch Center Pro to associate a specific NFC tag with that action.
Now, when you tap your iPhone to the NFC tag, you will see an alert at the top of the screen. Tap that alert and the Launch Center Pro app will launch and the action will occur.
You can have more than one action associated with a single NFC sticker. When you do this, tapping the NFC sticker with your iPhone will cause the app to ask you to pick one of the actions from a list.
Part of me wishes that I could skip the step of tapping that alert. It would be faster if I could just tap the NFC sticker and have the automation action run right away. But as the Help documentation in Launch Center Pro explains, "for security and usability reasons, iOS requires user interaction in order to complete an action. ... If any app could take actions without user intervention, it would allow shady apps to do things like send your phone to malicious websites, pre-fill messages to paid text messaging accounts, or even use malicious NFC stickers to directly compromise your device and steal your persona data."
It's fun to trigger actions that I configure just using a tap on an NFC sticker. But is it useful? The answer to that question depends upon your own creativity, and I'll admit that for now, I haven't yet settled upon anything groundbreaking. I've got one that sends a text to my wife to let her know that I'm about to leave work so I'll be home soon. I've got one that sends a silly text to my son, just because he and I were playing with the NFC function and configured it that way. But I know that I'll come up with more useful NFC actions in the future, and I like the idea of having an additional way to trigger actions. For some folks, it might be useful to tap an NFC sticker to start a timer, making it easier to track time for your timesheets. Others might find it useful to have a certain song or playlist start playing when you tap the NFC sticker. Some folks might put a sticker in a kitchen to launch a grocery app.
Note that while the Launch Center Pro app is very powerful, it is also a little complicated to use, especially at first. There are great help guides to walk you through it, but you are going to have to put a little time into this app the first time that you use it. And while the app itself is free, you need to pay $4.95 to unlock the NFC feature, or you can choose one of several other payment options. (I pay a $9.99 yearly subscription which unlocks all of the features, mainly because I love that this developer has long been figuring out ways to push the envelope on iPhone automation so I want to subscribe to encourage future efforts.)
If you think that triggering actions using an NFC sticker instead of Siri sounds like it could be useful for you, or even if it just sounds like something you would have playing with, then you should check out Launch Center Pro.
This week, the huge CES conference took place in Las Vegas. Many electronics companies showed off technology that may be coming out later this year. Although Apple was not an exhibitor, one of the big themes was the number of TV manufacturers who will release new TVs with greatly improved compatibility with iOS, such as adding support for AirPlay and HomeKit. Samsung TVs will even have an iTunes app, and attorney Nilay Patel of The Verge discusses some of the questions that this raises. MacStories provided a good overview of many of the CES announcements, with an initial article by attorney John Voorhees and a second article by Ryan Christoffel. Also, Kentucky attorney Stephen Embry offers some thoughts on how some of the new technology announced at CES may affect lawyers by providing more evidence. And now, the news of note from the past week:
Joseph Cox of Motherboard wrote a series of articles explaining how cellphone companies are selling the location of mobile phones to unsavory third parties. The carriers have responded by saying that they are ending this practice. Hopefully that is true.
Drew Coffman of The Sweet Setup believes that the best two apps for taking notes on an iPad are Notability and GoodNotes. Coffman prefers Notability, which is an excellent app, but I enjoy using GoodNotes.
Chance Miller of 9to5Mac reviews HomePass, an app that lets you keep all of your HomeKit setup codes in one place.
Starting a new year often means getting more serious about exercise, so its time to remove the hangers and dust from your treadmill and returning to a regular walking or running routine. Some people like to listen to music on a treadmill. I usually listen to podcasts. But another nice way to pass the time on a treadmill is to watch video on a screen. The iPad is perfect for watching videos, and some treadmills have a built-in ledge for holding an iPad, but many models don't. Since last month, I've been testing out a simple device that I purchased on Amazon for $22, the ADIRSports Acrylic Universal Treadmill Bookholder. As you can tell from the title, this device can be used to hold books while you are on a treadmill, but it is also advertised as a way to hold an iPad, and that's how I have been using it.
This product comes in multiple sizes, and I purchased the largest one for my 12.9" iPad Pro — the model advertised as 11" x 11" x 2.5". In retrospect, I see that I could have also purchased the smaller version with a 9" height because the 2018 version of the 12.9" iPad Pro is 8.5" high when it is in landscape orientation, and I never plan to use my iPad in portrait orientation on my treadmill. Having said that, I'm perfectly happy with the way that the iPad sits a little bit lower on my treadmill with this larger size, and perhaps the extra surface area adds to stability. There is also a 3.5" version, but you don't need that for a thin iPad; that version would only make sense if you want to fit a thick book underneath the lip.
The back lip of the device is about 1.75" which turns out to be perfect for fitting over the back of my treadmill. (I own a PaceMaster ProSelect treadmill, but the PaceMaster company went out of business in 2012.) If the top surface of your treadmill is thicker, you could certainly flip the device and put your iPad in the 1.75" side and put the 2.5" side over your treadmill.
My main concern about a product like this was sturdiness. First, I don't want the Bookholder to slide off of my treadmill while I am walking or running. I was especially concerned because the top of my treadmill is actually curved. However, the plastic of my treadmill and the acrylic of this product do a fine job of staying stable when they make contact with one another, and I haven't seen the Bookholder slide left or right at all.
Second, I don't want my iPad to slip off of the device. Fortunately, that has not been a problem. Even when my iPad Pro is not in a case, it stays in place while I walk or run on the treadmill. There are no lips on the sides, so if I physically push my iPad I can make it slide, but even with the vibrations of my treadmill it does not slide on its own. Better yet, I have been keeping my iPad in the Apple Smart Folio case for the third generation 12.9" iPad Pro, and the silicone provides incredible friction between the back of my iPad Pro and the acrylic of the Bookholder, making everything very stable.
Because of the size of this product (and the iPad it holds), when you use this product you are covering up much of the front panel of your treadmill. I don't have trouble temporarily moving my iPad to the side to start and stop a workout, but I don't recommend using this product if you need to press lots of buttons on your treadmill during your workout, especially if your hands get sweaty. But if you start a program on your treadmill that changes pace automatically, or if you decide to just go a long distance at the same pace, so that there is no need to fiddle with buttons during a workout, then this works great.
And that is how I have been using this product. Much of the time that I use my treadmill, I like to walk at a fast pace for a long distance. Thus, I choose my settings on the treadmill, then I start a workout on my Apple Watch, and then I press start on the treadmill and put the Bookholder with my iPad in place and press play on my iPad. Binge watching TV shows from a service like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, using my AirPods connected wirelessly to my iPad Pro, is a fantastic way to make the time go by on a treadmill. Indeed, I often go longer than I might have otherwise just because I want to get to the end of an episode before I stop.
This is a very simple product, but it works well, and it gives me a new way to make the time seem to go by more quickly while I am using my treadmill. If you like the idea of watching video while you are on your treadmill, I can recommend this product.
Hello, 2019! Last year was a particularly good year in the world of iOS hardware for attorneys. The iPad Pro 12.9" is one of my favorite Apple devices in many years, the Apple Watch Series 4 is far better than prior models while at the same time seeming like a preview of better things to come, and Apple followed up on the amazing iPhone X in 2017 with three new models with different sizes and capabilities. What will 2019 bring us? One thing that I hope to see is improvements to iOS on the iPad so that the software is just as good as the hardware. But I'm sure that much more is coming, and I agree with most of Jason Snell's 2009 iOS wishlist. And now, the recent news of note:
In a recent decision from the federal Fifth Circuit, Meador v. Apple, Inc., No. 17-40968 (Dec. 18, 2018) (PDF link), the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit against Apple arising out of a fatal automobile accident caused by a driver who looked down at her iPhone 5 to read a text message instead of paying attention to the road. The plaintiffs argued that receipt of a text message triggered an unconscious and automatic neurobiological compulsion to read the text message, and that Apple should have made it impossible to receive a text while driving. The Fifth Circuit held that, under Texas law, the iPhone 5 was not a substantial factor in the driver's tortious acts. It is an interesting decision on causation. Of course, Apple did implement Do Not Disturb While Driving in iOS 11 in 2017.
If you want a sturdy keyboard for your iPad Pro that basically turns it into a laptop, Jason Snell previews the Brydge 12.9 Pro keyboard for the 12.9" iPad Pro. I don't use a keyboard with my iPad Pro nearly enough to justify a device like this, but if you often use an external iPad keyboard, this does look like a nice option.
Lit Software makes some of the very best apps for any attorney using an iPad: TrialPad (my review), TranscriptPad (my review), and DocReviewApp (my review). If do not yet own all of these apps, you can buy them before December 31, 2018, in the Ultimate Litigation Bundle and save some money. The discounted price is $249.99, which is $50 off. And if you already own some but not all of those apps, you can use the App Store option to complete the bundle at a discounted price. (Note that Lit Software is not a sponsor of iPhone J.D. this month, but the company has been a sponsor in the past.)
For more details, you’ll want to read this post on the Lit Software blog. As the company explains in that post, at some point in 2019, Lit Software plans to remove the option to individually purchase its apps and instead offer the Lit Suite, a yearly subscription which will give you access to all of Lit Software’s apps, including the three apps noted above as well as new apps that the company releases. What will these new apps be? Here is one guess: I mentioned last year that at ABA TECHSHOW 2018, Lit Software was showing off a very early preview of an app that the company was working on called TimelinePad.
I personally prefer a subscription model for software that I use all the time because I want to provide constant support and encouragement so that the developer has a financial incentive to add new features. I currently subscribe to lots of iOS apps such as 1Password, Carrot Weather, Launch Center Pro, Overcast, Microsoft Office, etc. But if you prefer to own your apps, you can still buy the Lit Software apps and they are still supported, and you might as well buy them over the next few days to save some money.
Click here for the Ultimate Litigation Package ($249.99):
The 2018 versions of the iPad Pro have a USB-C port instead of a Lightning port, so when I bought my new third-generation 12.9" iPad Pro last month, it was time to get some USB-C cables. I've been very happy with the Anker Lightning cables which I have purchased in the past (my reviews: 1, 2), so when I was looking to get a long USB-C to USB-C cable for charging purposes, I purchased the Anker PowerLine+ C to C 2.0 cable (6ft) from Amazon for $15.97. The first version I purchased had a problem, but Anker's customer service was fantastic, and the replacement cable Anker sent me is exactly what I was looking for and I highly recommend it.
The 2018 iPad Pro ships with Apple's 18W power adapter. If you want to charge an iPad Pro (or a newer iPhone) as fast as possible, you want to use a power adapter that supports USB-PD (USB Power Delivery), which can transfer up to 29W of power to an iPad Pro, and thus can charge an iPad Pro from 0% to 50% in about 60 minutes. (USB-PD can charge a newer iPhone from 0% to 50% in about 3o minutes.) Note that while you can use a USB-PD power adapter that supports more than 29W of power, such as Apple's 87W power adapter designed for the MacBook Pro, it doesn't charge any faster than a 29W USB-C adapter when used with the 2018 iPad Pro. Apple used to sell a USB-C 29W power adapter, and you can still find it in some stores; I bought mine in 2016 (my review). Apple has since replaced it with the Apple's USB-C 30W power adapter ($49.97 on Amazon). From the standpoint of an iPad Pro, there is no difference between using a 29W or a 30W power adapter, but Apple's 30W adapter does support some additional voltages so it works better with certain other devices like an iPhone 8.
In my office, I have a power strip on the floor next to my desk. My Apple USB-C 29W power adapter is plugged in to it, and I previously used an Apple 2m USB-C to Lightning cord so that I had something long enough to reach up to my desk, where I could fast charge either my iPad or my iPhone. (Currently, only Apple sells a USB-C to Lightning cord, but there are reports that Apple will allow other companies to sell them in 2019.) That was the cord that I wanted to replace with a USB-C to USB-C cord so that I could charge my third-generation iPad Pro 12.9" at maximum speed.
There are three reasons that this Anker cord was perfect for my needs: length, durability, and cost.
First, it is a long cord. Six feet is long enough to reach from the floor next to my desk to the devices on my desk with room to spare. Also, when I travel, it is nice to have a longer cord, whether I am in a hotel room or a conference room. Six feet is about six inches shorter than Apple's 2m USB-C to USB-C cord (two meters is about 6.56 feet) but I haven't really noticed that small difference in length.
Second, I like the PowerLine+ cords from Anker because they are very durable. As I just noted, I will take this cord around with me a lot, whether I am traveling out of town or just going to work someplace else in my own office, so I prefer a power cord that will stand up to abuse. The PowerLine+ line from Anker features a double-braided nylon exterior, which protects the cord and makes it almost impossible for the cord to get tangled up. The PowerLine+ cords also have a tough fiber cord and strong connectors at both ends. After using both Apple and Anker cords, I find that the Anker ones hold up better.
Third, Anker cords are inexpensive for the quality that you get. Apple sells its 2m USB-C to USB-C charge cable for $19. This Anker cable is $15.97 on Amazon. I wouldn't mind spending $3 more than the Apple cable just to get the additional durability of the Anker Powerline+ cable. Getting all of that for $3 less than the Apple cable is a great deal.
Note that this cable uses USB 2.0 speed, so if you are using this cable for syncing, you only get normal syncing speeds of 480 Mbps. A USB 3.0 cord can give you faster sync speeds of 5Gbps, and a USB 3.1 Gen 2 cord can give you sync speeds of 10Gbps — assuming that you are connecting to another device that supports the higher speed. For example, at my home I use an older iMac which only supports USB 3.0, so when I sync my new iPad Pro to that computer I use the Anker USB Type C Cable, Powerline USB C to USB 3.0 Cable (3ft). You might think, why not just get a long six-foot cable which also supports USB 3.1 Gen 2 so that you get a long length plus the fastest sync? Good idea, but such a cable doesn't exist right now. Here is what Sarah Witman of Wirecutter said about such a cable after talking to a representative from Anker: "It’s not impossible to make such a cable—according to [the USB Implementers Forum], a USB-C cable of any length can be certified as long as it passes all performance tests. But it might be bulkier than most people would want. A rep at Anker told us that the company’s engineers have found that a 6-foot cable with full USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds would just be too thick." If you are like me and you want a longer cord just to charge your 2018 iPad Pro, then sync speed doesn't matter.
For all of these reasons, the Anker PowerLine+ C to C 2.0 cable seemed perfect to me. Unfortunately, I encountered some bad news when I purchased this cord from Amazon, but it quickly turned into good news. When I received my cord, I plugged it in and started using it right away. And almost right away, I noticed that something wasn't right. When I plugged it into my iPad Pro, the iPad beeped to indicate that it was starting to charge, then it would beep again and stop charging, then it beeped again, then again, and it went back and forth a few times before finally starting to charge. At the same time, the battery icon would flash green and then black and then back again. Clearly, there was a problem. It wasn't a consistent problem — over the course of a few days, it worked great maybe 50% of the time — but for it to happen at all told me that something was amiss, and I had the same problem when I used the cord with different power adapters.
Anker advertises having good customer service, so I decided to contact Anker and take advantage of it. Anker was incredibly responsive. They quickly asked me for the serial number for the cable, which was located on a sticker wrapped around one end of the cable — which I had removed and discarded immediately when I unpacked the cable — and was also located on the box, which I still had. Anker said that if I couldn't find the serial number, I could simply take a picture of the cable with my iPhone so that they could make sure that they understood the model that I had. I provided this information and explained the problem, and Anker immediately shipped me a replacement cable. That replacement cable has worked perfectly, every single time. Obviously, it would have been better to never have a problem in the first place, but the fact that Anker customer support was so fast and responsive actually resulted in me being even more impressed with Anker.
This Anker USB-C to USB-C cable has been perfect for my needs. When I'm working at my desk, my iPad often sits in a Thought Out Simplex Tablet iPad Stand (my review) and with the Anker cord plugged in the side, I can keep my iPad fully charged while I use my iPad, so it always has a full charge when I pick up my iPad Pro to walk away from my desk. When I travel, I use this cord with an older Anker product called the PowerPort+ (my review), which has since been replaced by the PowerPort Speed PD 5. That device includes a USB-C port which supports USB-PD for up to 30W charging, plus it has four traditional USB ports which support 2.4A charging. If you have a new iPad Pro with a USB-C connector, the six foot version of the Anker PowerLine+ C to C 2.0 cable is a great cord for your charging needs. If all you need is three feet, you can save a few bucks on the shorter version of this same cord. Both lengths come in gray or red.
There is an interesting article in the New York Times this week by Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Natasha Singer, Michael H. Keller and Aaron Krolik about how an iPhone can track, and unfortunately sometimes share, your current location. The article is interesting, but the way that it is presented on the page is also very interesting with lots of graphics that change as you scroll through the article. Virginia attorney Sharon Nelson discusses the article on her Ride The Lightning blog, noting that while the companies collecting location data claim to keep the data anonymous, she has her doubts. And now, the news of note from the past week:
I use my Apple Pencil with my iPad Pro pretty much every day that I am at work, but I realize that some folks have not yet realized for themselves how useful this device is. In an article for Macworld, Jason Snell explains how the second generation version has finally turned him into a believer in the Apple Pencil.
Christina Farr of CNBC reports that Apple has hired dozens of doctors — sometimes secretly — to work with Apple to improve the Apple Watch and other health technology.
If you use Philips Hue lights, you already know that if you lose power in your home, the lights come back on at full brightness with power is restored — which can be rather alarming. Ben Lovejoy of 9to5Mac reports that the latest version of the Philips Hue app fixes this so that lights can be configured to return to their previous states when the power comes back.
The Apple Watch Series 4 now support the ECG/EKG function. But it also can do a better job checking your heart rate. Apple recently updated a support page to explain: "To use the electrical heart sensor to measure your heart rate, open the Heart Rate app and place your finger on the Digital Crown. You will get a faster reading with higher fidelity — getting a measurement every second instead of every 5 seconds."