Tagged with “ios”

Control Centre: one step forward, two steps back

I’m not much of an iOS power user, and these days, most new features go straight over my head. As such, there wasn’t much in iOS 11 to interest me, and it took me a while to get round to upgrading.

One thing I was looking forward to was the new Control Centre. The ability to customise controls could come in handy, and doing away with the separate pages seemed like an easy win. Plus, I think the new version just looks nicer.

Now I’ve been using it for several weeks, I’m more ambivalent. Customisation has been really useful — I’ve done away with the unused calculator shortcut, and brought in Low Power Mode, which I use all the time. Most of the buttons look good and are easy to hit, and I’m having much more success with the chunky brightness and volume sliders. But as it advances in one area, so it slips in another. I have two big problems with the new Control Centre.

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Saved by the Prompt

One of the most-used apps on my iPhone is Prompt, an SSH client by Panic. I use it for connecting to the Linode web server that powers this blog. SSH on the iPhone might seem silly. (I only ever installed it as an experiment.) But in sticky situations, it turns out that having the Unix command line in my pocket can be really useful.

A recent example: I was staying at a hotel for work, and the booking reference had been sent in an Excel spreadsheet. When viewed in Safari on iOS, the booking number was “helpfully” recognised as a number, and shown in the approximated form 1.41+E9. Since I don’t have a spreadsheet app installed, I had no way to see the original number.

There are plenty of tools for converting Excel files into nicer formats, but they all need a command-line. No problem with Prompt: I synced the spreadsheet to my Linode with Dropbox, then used csvkit to turn the file into a CSV. Voila: the booking reference.

All that took less than five minutes, and used just a handful of megabytes of data.

I never use Prompt for long sessions – I’d always grab a laptop for that. But when I’m in a pinch, I can fall back on my trusty command-line tools. There’s a lot you can do with simple Linux tools that’s much harder to do with full-sized iOS apps. If you’re comfortable in the shell, it’s a great app to have handy.

What does “Spotlight Suggestions” turn off?

One of the “features” of iOS 9 is news articles appearing in Spotlight searches. If you swipe to the search screen, and haven’t typed anything into the search field, it gets pre-populated with headlines. Lots of people (including me) think this is just a distraction, and have been looking for ways to turn it off.

In Settings, you can toggle what sort of results show up in Spotlight. For headlines, it turns out to be the relatively innocent-sounding switch “Spotlight Suggestions”. Turning off this Spotlight result will get rid of the news items; detailed instructions are on CGP Grey’s blog.

On the latest episode of Cortex, CGP was discussing this toggle with Myke Hurley. As part of their conversation, they were puzzling over the name of the label:

I don’t know why on earth this label is [Spotlight Suggestions], because as far as I can tell, if you turn it off, the only thing it removes is the news. Everything else it will still show you: it’ll still show you results from your documents […], it’ll still show you everything you have turned on. It just seems not to fill that screen with something if there are no results.

I started wondering as well. I toggled that switch as soon as I started running the iOS betas. What else is it turning off?

Near the bottom of the settings pane is a small link, “About Spotlight Suggestions & Privacy”. Tapping it brings up this explanation:

Spotlight Suggestions shows you suggestions from the web, your contacts, apps, nearby locations and media, including iTunes and the App Store – and even offers suggestions before you start typing.

If you disable Spotlight Suggestions, all of these get turned off. News is the most obvious example of Suggestions because it’s the only result that shows up on an empty search screen; all the others only appear when you start typing in a search.

I think – although I’m not certain – that it’s any result that can’t be looked up locally. Results that go via the network have privacy implications, which is why these results can be turned off, and probably why they’re all under the same toggle.

Below I’ve included a few screenshots to show the difference caused by this toggle.

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