App of the Week: Alfred

Ditch Spotlight for this genius universal search bar on Mac

Spotlight is a powerful tool on the Mac, but it doesn’t even compare to the third-party app Alfred and its countless user-developed workflows.

By Taylor Martin of CNet

Apple’s Spotlight for Mac is a wonderful tool, but even with Siri and a third-party add-ons coming this fall, Spotlight doesn’t compare to one of my all-time favorite applications, Alfred.

Alfred looks and acts much like Spotlight. But with the add-on Powerpack, it gets a lot smarter. The $22.04 (£17.00 or AU$28.61) app adds “workflows,” which make your Mac do a chain of tasks with one command.

The best workflows for Alfred

If you’re ready to ditch Spotlight, install these add-ons to change the way you use your Mac. Seriously.

To install one of these workflows, follow the link to download it, double-click to open and the workflow will install itself.

  • Google Suggest does exactly what you would expect it to. It puts suggested searches inside Alfred. Press your launch command for Alfred (by default, it’s Options + Spacebar) and type “g” followed by a space. Then type your search query. With each keystroke, the list of suggested searches narrows. Use arrow keys or the hotkey (listed to the right of the result) to select one and load the search results in your default browser.
  • Amazon Suggest is the same thing for Amazon searches. Launch Alfred and type “amazon,” followed by your search query. Highlighting and selecting one of those results will launch the Amazon search in your default browser.
  • Curious how critics feel about a new movie? Use the RottenMovies workflow to find out. Type “rt” followed by the name of the movie. The workflow will search Rotten Tomatoes and you can see the score without ever visiting the website.
  • Sitting at a desk all day, it’s easy to let 10, 20 or even 30 minutes slip by unnoticed.
  • Sometimes you need to set quick reminders for yourself to respond to someone in 20 minutes or check the coffee pot in 5. EggTimer 2 is the perfect workflow for this. Launch Alfred and type “timer 5 Check coffee pot” to set a 5-minute timer with a reminder to check the coffee pot. You can also set alarms for specific times using the same syntax: “alarm 4:00pm Take a break” or “alarm 12:00pm Lunch.”

  • When writing, I’m constantly switching between my writing app and Google search for currency and unit conversions. With the Units workflow, I can make those same conversions without ever leaving my writing app. In Alfred, type “units” and type or select what you want to convert from the list of options (length, temperature, currency, etc.). Next type a number and select the starting unit from the options and finally select what you’re converting to. When you hit enter at the end, the conversion is copied to your clipboard for pasting. It will take a few tries to get the process down, but once you do, this is one of the most handy converters around.
  • The Recent Items workflow is great for helping you recall things you have been working on in the last few hours. Install the workflow and launch Alfred, then type “rec.” The workflow will suggest types of recent items, such as applications, downloads, folders or up to two custom items. Select one of the types of files from the selection (or begin typing to narrow the suggestions) and all the recent items of that type will appear. Selecting one will open it.
  • After you get used to a keyboard launcher like Alfred, it’s difficult to break the habit of launching Alfred when you want to do anything, even things that you don’t normally control with Alfred, such as adding new tasks to your task manager. Fortunately, you can add that functionality with workflows for Trello, Wunderlist and Todoist.
  • Sometimes toggling Wi-Fi will fix any connectivity issues you’re experiencing. It’s not a difficult task on OS X, especially with the menu bar icon. However, the Wi-Fi Control makes it a much faster process. You can turn Wi-Fi on or off with the workflow, but you can also restart Wi-Fi (toggle off and back on) with just a few keystrokes.
  • The Kill workflow is easily the one I use the most. If you have a rogue app that gets hung or you need to force quit, launch Alfred, type “kill” followed by the first few letters of the app and press Enter. It will immediately kill any apps or processes.
  • I also do a lot of link shortening for personal analytics. The Shorten URL workflow is fantastic. It includes support for goo.gl, bit.ly, is.gd, j.mp and more. With the workflow installed, launch Alfred and type “short” followed by a space, paste the URL you want to shorten and select the link-shortening service. The shortened link will be copied to your clipboard and automatically pasted wherever your cursor is placed.
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    • It’s easy to use the same password over and over. But if you use a password manager, quickly generating a new password is the more secure route. With the Password Generator workflow, type “pw” followed by a number for how many digits you’d like the password to have. Press enter and the randomized password will be copied to your clipboard.
    • Sleep is a sleep timer workflow for your Mac. Just type “sleep” followed by the number of minutes you want your computer to stay awake. After the timer finished, the Mac will go to sleep.
    • Who doesn’t love GIFs? Alphy puts Giphy search right inside Alfred. Just type “gif” followed by your search term. Highlight one of the suggestions and press Shift to preview it. Pressing Enter will copy the URL of the GIF to your keyboard, Command + Enter will copy the Giphy URL and Alt + Enter will open the GIF on the Giphy website.
    • There are several ways to quickly insert emoji with a Mac. Emoj is yet another way, and this one comes with search, which means you can find a specific emoji, even when you don’t know its exact name. The downside is that this requires Node to be installed on your Mac.
    • If you’d prefer unicode emoticons over emoji, Dongers is the workflow you’re looking for. Type “dongers” and your search term for a list of relevant emoticons, like the table flip. (ノಠдಠ)ノ︵┻━┻
    • One of the first things I do if my internet connection is having problems is run a speed test. The SpeedTest workflow allows you to do this without loading the speedtest.org site in your browser. Type “speedtest” press enter and wait. When the test completes, you will receive a growl notification with your uplink and downlink speeds, as well as your ping.

     

    Have you tried Alfred? What are some of your favorite workflows? Sound off in the comments below!!

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    How to: use the extra features packed into Apple’s tiny AirPods

    Yes, AirPods are clearly for playing music but you can rapidly choose where that audio comes from —and just what happens when you tap on the AirPods. AppleInsider details all the options.

     

    By William Gallagher of Appleinsider

    You can be listening to music moments after you first put AirPods into your ear and we may never get used to how great that is. However, just because they are designed so that you can pop them in and go, it doesn’t mean this is all they can do.

    AirPods don’t have screens and they don’t have tangible buttons. But, the AirPods themselves and the charging case are replete with functions. You can edit touch controls so that a tap on your right AirPod plays the next track while a tap on the left one calls up Siri.

    To help you keep your iPhone in your pocket, Siri can whisper the name of your caller into your AirPods as your phone rings. You can so easily switch to listening to your phone or your iPad.

    And you can only slightly-less-easily switch to listening to your Mac, your Apple TV and even your Apple Watch.

    No screens

    There may not be a screen on these tiny AirPods but if you open their case while you’re next to your iPhone, the phone will display information.

    Just opening the AirPod case tells the iPhone to pay attention and shows battery information. You get the current charge of the case and an average of that for the two AirPods. Put one AirPod in your ear and now you get the individual battery charge for each one.

    It’s worth checking this instead of relying on that average, too, because very often the two AirPods will have different levels of charge. Even though you always charge them in the case together, one may be significantly lower than the other.

    That’s because one of them may have been acting as a microphone when you’ve received phone calls.

     

    You get this information when the AirPods have been paired to your iPhone. If they haven’t been yet, find the small white button at the back of the AirPod case and hold it in.

    After a few seconds, this makes the AirPods and their case discoverable over Bluetooth and your phone can find them.

    Even when you’ve got them paired, though, that’s not the same thing as having them connected. To quickly connect your AirPods, swipe to bring up Control Center, then tap on the small symbol at top right of the Music section.

    This is the quickest way to connect and start playing music to your paired AirPods but there is a slightly longer way around too.

    With one exception to do with phone calls, you control all of your AirPods via the Bluetooth preferences in your iPhone’s Settings. Go to Settings, Bluetooth and look for your AirPods in the list of paired devices.

    Next to its name there will be a Connected or a Not Connected label. It’s a toggle: tap on Not Connected and it will connect or vice versa.

    There is also an Information button to the right. Tap on that and if your AirPods aren’t connected, all you see is an option to Forget this Device.

    If they are connected, though, that’s when you get direct access to most of the AirPods’ best features.

    Ears and throat

    From here you can do the big moves like disconnecting the AirPods or, again, Forget This Device. You can also change the name of your AirPods. By default they’re called your ones, as in “William’s AirPods” or “Rachel’s AirPods”.

    If William or Rachel are ever mad enough to give up their precious AirPods and they really, really like you, then you can change the name here.

    Toward the foot of the settings page there is an option to have Automatic Ear Detection on. It’s the default but if it’s ever not on, switch it on. This is how the AirPods are allowed to do something with the information that you’ve just picked them up and popped them into your ear.

    Similarly, it’s how they are allowed to respond when you take the AirPods out. And it rarely gets better than when you take out one AirPod and the music pauses long enough for you to hear them say “Oh, I didn’t realise you had headphones on”. That never gets old.

     

    There’s also a Microphone option which lets you specify which of your two AirPods acts as a microphone when you’re on a phone call or recording audio.

    The default is to have the AirPods themselves decide, to switch automatically to whichever one seems best. The only criteria we can think of is that if, say, the Right AirPod’s battery is low, they could switch to using the Left.

    Except the reason that one AirPod’s battery will be lower than the other is that it’s been used as the microphone. So how the AirPods pick which goes first is a mystery.

    It’s also hard to think of many situations where it would bother you which was the microphone. The earpiece, yes: if you happen to have poorer hearing in one ear than the other then you would of course choose the other one —except this isn’t about hearing, it’s about speaking.

    So just leave this set to the default of Automatically Switch AirPods and move on to your ears.

    Left ear, right ear

    AirPods respond to your putting them in your ears and taking them out again. They also respond to your finger quickly tapping on them twice. Since you have two AirPods, you can tap on either —and you can choose what happens when you do.

    It’s not the greatest selection of options. It would be fun to see what an AirPod equivalent of BetterTouchTool or Keyboard Maestro could do, but for now you get five options per ear.

    Three are to do with music. You can set that a double tap means to Play or Pause the music, that it means to skip to the next track or that it means repeat the previous one.

    There’s also a Siri option. Select this and whenever you double tap on an AirPod, it will pause whatever you’re listening to and wait for you to ask Siri to do something.

    The fifth option is just Off. That may be the dullest menu item Apple’s ever done.

    Not all

    All of these settings are done in the Bluetooth section of your iPhone’s settings. However, there is one more option you can set for your AirPods which needs you to go somewhere else.

    Go to Settings, Phone. The first option under the Calls section is Announce Calls and normally it’s set to Never.

    Tap on that line, though, and you can change it to have Siri announce your phone calls in three different circumstances. One is always, absolutely every time your phone rings. The others are to do with when you’re wearing AirPods —or any headphones —or you’re driving with CarPlay.

    Whenever it’s set to announce your calls, that’s exactly what it does. You hear the ringing start and then Siri says the name of the caller if they’re in your Contacts.

    It’s a bit quiet, to be fair. Or our ring tone is a little loud. We’re not sure which.

    However, what it means is that you can leave your phone in your pocket and not even have to peek to see who’s calling. You do have to take it out if you want to answer but then you can pop it right back in your bag while you take the call on your AirPods.

    Apple Watch

    Of course, if you’re fully Apple-compliant then as well as AirPods you’ve got your Apple Watch. Then a turn of your wrist will show you who’s phoning and that probably means the audio announcement isn’t very useful.

    When you tap on the Watch to accept the call, though, you can take it on the Watch or you can use your AirPods. If they’re connected to the Watch.

    Whatever Apple Watch you have, there is music on it if you’ve also got an Apple Music subscription. You can leave your phone at home and tell the Watch to play music direct to your AirPods.

    Back to the Mac

    One oddity is that it’s still hardest to link AirPods to your Mac. It’s not as if it’s actually difficult: you click on the Bluetooth icon in your menubar then select the AirPods and choose Connect.

    Only, it doesn’t always work. Why this should be the case with AirPods and not other Bluetooth devices is unfathomable but it regularly takes two or three attempted connections before we can be listening to our Mac over our AirPods.

    Plus when you’re used to how quickly you can go between iPhone and iPad, it’s oddly slow going to the Mac. There is a workaround, though: a $2.99 menubar app called ToothFairy sorts it out. With a click on the menubar icon or the press of a keystroke, ToothFairy connects your AirPods to the Mac immediately.

    Completing the picture

    When you start listing all these Apple devices out, you do wonder how you ended up paying one firm all this money. However, if you also have an Apple TV then AirPods are now able to connect to them much more easily.

    Originally, you had to go through the Apple TV’s Bluetooth settings. You’d go to that, then press-and-hold the button on the AirPod case until they were discoverable. Then the AirPods would appear on the Apple TV’s list of devices and you could choose to pair them.

    That doesn’t sound like a big deal, not when it’s identical to the way you pair to a new iPhone, but it always seemed to take us a few goes to get it working right.

    Whereas now, you can simply press and hold the Play/Pause button on your Apple TV Siri remote. That opens up a list of all audio devices attached or reachable on your Apple TV. When you flip open the case of your AirPods, they appear on the screen and you just select them.

    When you’re at that screen, you can also press and hold on the selected audio device which will then change to a volume control. Considering that just using the remote control’s volume up and down buttons will do the same thing, it’s not the most use.

    Perhaps none of these AirPod options on their own is going to shake the world but it is astonishing how much flexibility and functionality these things have.

    And that’s even before next year’s rumored updates.

    What’s your favorite feature of the AirPods? Tell us about it in the comments below!!

    Weekly Round Up 9/7/18

     

    Especially coming from a guy as corrupt at Ajit Pai…

    The FCC chief’s call for cracking down on tech companies is not only laughable, it’s the ‘height of hypocrisy’

     

    Here’s hoping one of them is designed to keep the Kardashians off the air…
    10 Takeaways From Variety’s Entertainment and Tech Summit

     

    The red tape alone is ging to take a millenium to get through…
    A 22-year Apple veteran explains why Silicon Valley’s ‘fast fail’ approach won’t work with health tech

     

    We were fools to think it could.

    Now We Know Tech Won’t Save Us

     

    Watson, you sneaky, little bastard…
    IBM used NYPD surveillance cameras to develop facial recognition tech

     

    If it helps produce more “People of Walmart”, it’s all good…
    Exclusive: Walmart’s Tech Arm is Adding 100+ Jobs in Reston

     

    Who needs eyesight when you’ve got Alexa & Siri?
    Small screen, big problem: what tech is doing to your eyesight

     

    I’m sorry, what did you say? I was checking my Facebook…

    Google researchers say the tech industry has contributed to an ‘attention crisis’

    App of the Week: Five Interesting Mac Apps Worth Checking Out

     

     

    By Juli Clover of MacRumors

    Apps created for the Mac don’t receive as much attention as apps made for iOS devices, so we have a bi-monthly series here at MacRumors that’s designed to highlight useful and interesting Mac apps that are worth checking out and potentially investing in.

    This week’s picks include apps for streamlining your email, focusing on tasks, checking the weather, cleaning up your Mac, and managing all of your messaging services. Many of our highlighted apps this week were chosen by MacRumors forum members.

    Focus (Free with in-app purchases) – Focus is a time management app and monitoring service that’s designed to help you keep track of your time so you can stay on task. It encourages users to work in focus sessions, which are 25 minute blocks of time for working accompanied by a 15 to 20 minute break. There’s an included task manager so you can stay on top of tasks, along with detailed statistics so you can see how you’ve spent your day. Focus is free to download, but it costs $4.99 per month or $39.99 for year to use across all of your devices.

    Carrot Weather ($11.99) – Carrot Weather is a well-known weather app that delivers weather information with a little bit of attitude to make checking outdoor conditions more fun. It has different dialogue and graphics for various weather conditions, and what comes up is always a surprise. Carrot Weather uses data from Dark Sky so it’s super accurate and it offers up tons of data like 7-day forecasts, rain and snow predictions, weather maps, and a time machine so you can see past weather conditions.

    Dr. Cleaner (Free) – Dr. Cleaner from TrendMicro is an app that offers a Disk Clean Map so you can see what’s taking up space on your Mac, a memory cleanup feature for freeing up memory, a scanner for large files, and a junk file cleaner that’s designed to get rid of temporary files, trash, and other unwanted items taking up disk space. Dr. Cleaner is free from the Mac App Store, but there is a $19.99 Pro version that finds and eliminates duplicate files, shreds deleted files, and uninstalls apps.

    Canary Mail ($19.99) – Those who previously used the now-eliminated Newton Mail might be looking for a new mail app, and Canary could fit the bill. Canary Mail offers one-click encryption, natural language search, smart filters, read notifications, snooze options, email templates, one-click unsubscribe, and more.

    All-in-One Messenger (Free) – This is technically a Chrome extension rather than a Mac app, so it’s limited to Chrome users. All-in-One Messenger is designed to combine all of your chat and messenger services into one convenient web app so you can keep up with all of your chats in a single spot. It works with a wide range of messaging apps, like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Telegram, Slack, Discord, Google Hangouts, and more.

    Many of this month’s app picks came directly from recommendations from MacRumors forum members, and it’s these recommendations that have helped make this series useful.

    What are you’re favorite Mac Apps? Sound off in the comments below!!!