As A Minister: Why You Should Care About What Apple Said This Week

Monday in San Francisco, Apple kicked off WWDC, their Worldwide Developers Conference. As a minister, why should you care about such things? I'll give you few reasons why. 

The iPad is Changing. There may be some new products on the horizon, i.e. the rumored 12-inch iPad Pro, but even without that announcement yesterday (Apple has since stopped making major product announcements at WWDC and stuck to developer stuff), the iPad is changing. 

There was some stuff demoed that we will see with iOS 9 in the Fall that is amazing - it's what the iPad should have been all along. If you're a minister and you use the iPad on a daily basis, you're going to be impressed with what Apple is doing. 

Two of the biggest things on the iPad - working with text and multitasking - have been completely redone. Now you can have two apps running side-by-side in tandem and resize the windows. This isn't a revolutionary thing - Samsung has been doing it with tablets and even phones for a while now - but it's wonderful to have on the iPad. Now you can have two Bible apps open at the same time, or an internet site open in Safari on the left and a writing app on the right. Pretty sweet stuff. 

The other is text selection. We preachers live in text. At least I do. And Apple has designed an intuitive form of text selection that nearly looks like a trackpad. You can depress two fingers on the keyboard and zip around to highlight text and move your cursor. Very cool. Much faster than dragging your finger in just the right spot and getting frustrated when it goes below the line you wanted it to. 

The Mac isn't changing. I say that because Yosemite was a complete redesign of OSX, and yes, it has more bugs than an abandoned hotel. But this release, named OSX El Capitan (named for a rock face in Yosemite National Park...Leopard > Snow Leopard, Lion > Mountain Lion, Yosemite > El Capitan). El Capitan is focusing on performance and stablity, so in effect, Apple is slowing down the on new features in order to make the current ones work much better. 

Search on iOS is getting better. Universal search on iOS is going to be much better thanks to deeper integration. What does this mean? It means you can find more stuff that you need quicker. Siri will be lots more useful, a la Google Now on Android devices. Siri is more intelligent too - you can say "Show me photos from Florida last October" and it can fetch those photos, provided you have them synced in the new Photos app. 

The new Notes app. 

The new Notes app. 

Notes I can now finally recommend. The built-in Notes is an app that lots of ministers I know use a lot just to jot down things they come across. Notes wasn't very functional or useful in my opinio. You couldn't style text or insert pictures. Now you can. Not only that, the app has been redesigned for all platforms - iPhone, iPad, and the Mac. And it syncs via iCloud so you don't have to worry about it. I still think there are better note-taking apps for your phone and tablet - Drafts, Editorial, and Simplenote to name a few - but Apple is really making strides with the app that 75% of their users use because it's just there

This was only a few things that Apple announced of many, but these things will continue to improve my experience on iOS and the Mac and I know as ministers it will benefit you as well. 

Maybe One Solution Isn't The One Solution

For the last year, I have been looking, searching, researching, trying out, and tweaking what I thought might have been the one solution to my workflow woes. You see, what I want isn't hard - a simple synching solution for me to be able to compose classes and sermons on my computer (or iPad mini) and have them sync to my two other devices. I had some criteria when I began this mission:

1. It must sync to my iPad mini, because I do all my teaching and preaching from it. Additionally, it must look great and I must be able to format it in a way that I can easily glance at my notes when presenting. 

2. It must be on iOS. A companion Mac app would be helpful, but not essential. iPhone app is also not optional as I do a lot of tweaking on the go. 

3. It must be simple. No crazy layouts or unnecessary button on the app - just...simple. 

So, I narrowed my list down to three applications for my workflow: Evernote, Simplenote, and Plain Text. 

 

Evernote

Evernote seems like it's been around a long time, and that's because it has. It is a service that has never been accused of standing still. Evernote continually pushes new designs, additions, and features to its suite of apps which now include Penultimate and Skitch

Pros: Evernote is very well designed. The iPad app is beautiful on a retina iPad mini screen (and on the iPad Air as well). The apps are designed to easily do what you want to do: capture anything and everything. Evernote can capture text, pictures, voice memos, and even has embedded To-Do lists. It allows rich-text editing (bold, italics and such). It syncs fast across all devices, has a Mac and Windows app, and is also cross-platform on Android and Windows Phone as well. 

The Evernote iPad app is gorgeous. 

Cons: For me, it seems a bit too much. I don't often need to capture photos and voice memos, only text. So I end up completely ignoring those features, mostly because I refuse to pay for a premium account ($5/month or $45/year). I did have a premium account for six months and didn't use the features. While it's a great app for 90% of people, a power user like myself who wants simplicity above all else isn't going to be using it very much. Still a great app though. 

 

Simplenote

Appropriately named, Simplenote is just what it says it is - simple note syncing across devices. I was just about ready to declare this platform dead when Simplenote relaunched with a new web design and app design as well as an introduction of a dedicated Mac app. I really thought this was going to be my solution. 

Pros: Extremely simple and well designed. Fonts and text look great and a retina MacBook Pro and retina iPad mini. The app is active in development and syncs well with other devices. There is no clutter to deal with in these apps - they simply allow you to compose notes, title them, tag them, export them, and pin them to the top of your list. Composing and writing in these apps (as well as the Mac app) is a joy. 

Simplenote for Mac. 

Cons: It's almost too simple. Simplenote allows no formatting of any type and does not support Markdown editing, so if you want to style your text at all, you are limited to bullet points, numbering, and capitalizations. This sounded great in theory but I've noticed if I can't bold some text or make section headings bigger in my notes then I frequently lose my place while teaching and preaching because all the text looks the same. Tagging is great, and if tagging is your thing, you're going to love this app. If it's not, stay away, because that's the only amount of organization you get from Simplenote. All you have is a long running list of your notes, in order of what was last edited first. There's the option to 'Pin to Top' which comes in very handy.

I've run into some sync issues (as late as Oct-Nov 2013), but most of those seem to have been ironed out. The apps still crash on me frequently (once to twice a week) - I don't think a day or two goes by that the Mac app hasn't quit for no apparent reason and once the iPad app crashed on me while scrolling and preaching in front of hundreds of people (ack!). The iPhone app has a bad bug where it will crash when trying to sort changes in a note. I know developers are active on this app and I love Simplenote, I just cannot afford to use something that's unreliable. If the apps were stable enough, I might have this as my go-to platform. 

 

Plain Text

And here we are, talking about the joys of plain text once again. I really don't know why I migrated away from plain text, but it seems that my search has brought me full circle, back to where I started. 

You may read this and discount the plain text preference as an uber-nerd thing, but, in fact, it's really not. It just works. 

Pros: You can use a variety of text editors on all devices and plain text formats, including regular ol' .txt, Markdown, or Multi-Markdown. Markdown allows you to style your text how you want without changing to rich-text format. It uses simple symbols like asterisks to indicate bold and italics and hashtags to indicate headlines. Comes in handy when you get it down. The app I love to use on the iPad is Editorial, and on the Mac it's Byword. You can usually sync these apps to Dropbox and keep them in nested folders, easily categorizing what you need where you need it. Apps like Editorial, Nebulous Notes, and Byword are minimalistic and usually offer inline Markdown support, so you can see your bold and italics and headlines while writing. Best of all, plain text is future proof and my files are not tied to any platform, so I can move them around as I please. 

Editorial for iPad. 

Cons: No simple "Compose it and forget it" syncing. Syncing is pretty painless, but requires a little bit of file management as well. Syncing isn't instantaneous unless you save your files in the app you're using. So unlike Simplenote and Evernote, you can't just sync and go. Plain text may not appeal to many people because it's not as simple to set up as other services. There's an extra added step when syncing to Dropbox, and you must know where your text repository folder is located. 

So looking at these three platforms, jumping back and forth between using them for the last year, I realized that there really is no "one solution" for capturing all my thoughts, pictures, and text (long or short). One solution is finding a small, precise suite of apps that fit your purposes. I'll use Editorial and Byword for all my writing (70% of the time), Simplenote for lists and occasional text capture (20% of the time), and Evernote for pics and logs (10% of the time). 

For me at least, one solution ends up being three solutions. 

Preachers, Youth Ministers: It's Time to Move to the Mac

apple_se_oct2013.png

New computers, new iPads, and new software to launch us into 2014

Apple has made it a big day for preachers, youth ministers, and teachers.

There has never been a better time to join the Apple family. I've been a huge Apple fanboy for years - and rightfully so. Because they make the best hardware and software that money can buy. People gripe about the price of Apple products, especially the computers. Yes, it's a bit of a premium price tag, but what kind of quality do you want? Do you want a laptop that's not going to flinch for four years and offer you great performance and dependability, or do you want the $400 PC that's going to give you problems 12 months in? 

A big deal today was the fact that Apple announced that all of their apps in the iLife (iMovie, Garageband, and iPhoto) and iWork (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) suites will be FREE. Mavericks, the new update to the operating system for the Mac will be FREE. There has never been a better time to buy in to the Apple ecosystem. 

Apple also introduced a new iPad Air, a thinner, lighter regular-size iPad with a new chassis but the same 9.7-inch screen size. If you're an iPad Mini fan, they also updated it with a retina display. If you have a newer iPad with a  retina display, you know how much of a difference it makes reading and writing, which is what preachers do most of anyways. I've preached and taught from an iPad for the last two years, and I'll never use paper again if I don't have to. 

The only thing we didn't see today was an update to Apple TV. If you haven't looked at Apple TV for your church or your home, you should. It allows you to mirror and display things wirelessly through a projector. It's also a very nice streaming device for your home television. Almost every church I know of uses Apple TVs to display content, keynotes, songs, and everything else. 

Back to the computers: Apple released updates to their MacBook Pros today, AND dropped the price by $200 on each model. The retina screen is fantastic, and for those who work in a word processor or read books on your computer all day, this is the machine to do it with. And with Apple making the iWork apps free - Pages for Word Processing and layouts, Numbers for spreadsheets, and Keynote for presentations - there's really no reason to spend extra hundreds of dollars on MS Word, Powerpoint and Excel just to have to upgrade them in 2 years. 

Look at it this way: you can go the Windows route, and buy a new Surface 2 for $449. Don't forget the keyboard for an extra $120. Then you have to subscribe to Office 365 for $99/year. So over the course of 4 years, you will have spent $1,069. Or you could just buy a MacBook Air $999, and get all the app and OS upgrades for FREE. And that's provided your Surface doesn't get the blue screen of death during that tenure. 

Never before have I been able to confidently say that someone, especially church offices and preachers, should make the switch to Apple products. Until now. 

I've been using Apple products exclusively (I kicked MS Office out of my life the second I graduated college) for over 5 years now, and I've been an Apple user for over 10 years. I can tell you that you will not get the customer service, the build quality of hardware and software, and more enjoyment out of using a computer or device that you will from an Apple product. No, they're not perfect, but they're a whole lot better than the competition. 

I'm going to be spending a lot of time over the next month giving you snippets of my new eBook, A Minister's Guide to the Mac, due out on November 26. The first half of the book will help any minister or professional transition to a Mac for the first time, while the second half with give you helpful apps, tips and tricks to help you make the most out of your Mac and can help even the most advanced Mac user. 

The preaching to you about the value of the Mac and Apple products starts now. It's time to kick that PC to the curb and get yourself a real machine to work with. 

 

iOS 7 May Be The Most Popular Upgrade Ever

iOS 6 on the right, iOS 7 on the left. 

iOS 6 on the right, iOS 7 on the left. 

I'm not into market research, sales numbers, or even demographics when it comes to technology. But I can tell you one thing: when iOS 7 rolls out today, it may be the most popular and most widely adopted iOS upgrade to date.  

Why? Because of kids. I have had more kids ask me, "When is iOS 7 coming out?" than you'd ever believe. Keep in mind, this is an OS upgrade. We're not talking about a new video game or a huge concert - this is an OS upgrade on a phone.  

Right now, on the record, I predict that iOS 7 will be the most popular upgrade Apple has pushed out. Ever. And it will be on over 80% of all capable iOS devices in less than a week. 

Watch out, Apple, your servers are about to get hammered.  

iOS 7 will roll out across time zones (like every other iOS upgrade) gradually today. People in Central and Eastern can expect to get the update some time this afternoon. 

 

iPad Mini: The Ultimate Preaching & Teaching Tool

Ever since the "big" iPad debuted in 2010, I'm sure that there were a ton of posts (and probably still are) that the iPad was the ultimate tool for preaching and teaching. 

But I haven't read any of those articles, because for a long time, I didn't have an iPad. In 2012, I picked up an iPad, my wife and son fell in love with it, so I used that excuse to get an iPad mini. 

I love the smaller form factor. I love that its the size of my Bible. I love that the screen is the same resolution as the iPad 2, except packed into a smaller size. 

And I haven't used paper ever since. 

My iPad mini coupled with my Bible is all I need to teach a full-length class or preach a standard 30-minute sermon. I've went through many different workflows to perfect my process. And I'd love to share it with you. 

PDF to Dropbox

My first workflow with the iPad involved me styling a pretty document in Pages on the Mac and exporting it to PDF to a specified folder in my Dropbox. With it there, I could use a variety of apps (including the Dropbox app itself) to view the PDF for teaching my class. 

This was a clunky solution. Although pretty, the PDF wasn't editable. I couldn't add or delete content on the go, I would have to open the original document, edit it, re-export the PDF, and sync the changes across my devices. I grew tired of this workflow very quickly. 

Evernote

The second app/workflow I tried was Evernote. Evernote is an excellent all-capture app for things such as text, photos, and even audio. For a while this worked - I was able to write my class notes in the Evernote app for Mac, and after a few seconds the changes would sync to my devices. The problem here though is that I had a WiFi-only iPad mini. Unless the notes are cached and ready to go, it's not possible to pull them up on the go unless you have tethering to your smartphone. (You also run into roadblocks with this in almost every other syncing method, by the way.)

Had I stuck with my Nexus 7 and with Android, I would have stuck with Evernote, and I probably would have been happy. 

Simplenote

Very similar to Evernote in my opinion, except Simplenote is just for text. There's a couple of ways you could compose your material - through the very nice Simplenote interface on the web or through a number of apps such as Brett Terpstra's NV Alt, or with the dedicated iPhone and iPad apps. I didn't have too good of luck with Simplenote, despite loving the service, because I'm a bit too organized for it. Simplenote maintains that you should organize through a tagging system, and while I love tags, I had no need for it in my folder-by-month file structure for all my class and sermon notes. 

Simplenote is excellent for quick notes, and will even sync via my beloved Drafts app, but  that's all I currently use it for. 

.txt to Elements in Dropbox

My current workflow my not seem as simple as some of the others, but it allows me the most flexibility and is, in fact, incredibly simple and automated. I was hesitant to implement this workflow because I thought it may be too complicated, but it turns out that it's right the opposite. 

I compose my lessons in TextEdit on the Mac (or any other text editor that will save as or export to .txt format) and simply save them into the appropriate sub folder in my Elements folder, which is housed in my main Dropbox folder. Writing in plain text (.txt) allows lots of flexibility - namely file size, transfer times, and the ability to edit pretty much anywhere. 

I use the Elements app on my iPad to display my material to teach my classes. Elements will cache that folder's contents on wifi and will allow you pull up the latest version even if the app hasn't connected for a while. If you make changes though, you will have to refresh the file list. But on wifi and even over cell phone signal, this is incredibly quick considering file sizes are a tenth of the size of Pages or Word files. The app will also allow you to create a new text file in the file directory that you wish and will sync that file with Dropbox once a connection becomes available again. 

Elements does allow limited styling of your text through Markdown. If you don't know what Markdown is, it's just a neat HTML-like way to style plain text, with headline sizes, bold, italics, and bullet points. Elements will also allow you to change font sizes as well as pick from many nice fonts to display your text. 

This current workflow seems to be working, because I haven't changed it in the last 12 months. 

I love my iPad and I love the flexibility it gives me to edit my lessons on the go and compose them wherever I want. With 3 apps - Elements, Dropbox, and Drafts - I control my own creativity when and where I want to edit and create new thoughts. 

What about you? What do you use when you preach or teach?