iOS 11 Smart Punctuation

iOS 11 includes Smart Punctuation, a feature that substitutes some forms of punctuation with those that are more typographically suitable (e.g., "straight" quotes with “smart” quotes). While this smart replacement is suited for writing, it can get in the way if you're a developer.

I recently installed the public beta of iOS 11 on my iPad Pro1 and hadn't realized that Smart Punctuation was not only present, it appears to be enabled by default. I was working on a remote server with Coda and couldn't figure out why some of the commands I was entering into Terminal weren't working. These were commands I'd used many times before, so it wasn't until I looked closely at my input that I realized the quotes and hypens I typed were not what I had expected.

Smart Punctuation can, thankfully, be disabled in Settings > General > Keyboards. I'd like to use it but with the amount of work I do on my iPad that requires using punctuation like straight quotes, I simply cannot if it's an all-or-nothing approach. I hope that there's some way for app developers to prevent smart punctuation from occurring, especially in apps like Coda or Working Copy, so that it can still be useful without the potential to cause problems. The most common bugs are always typos, and I doubt I'm the only person who is tripped up by Smart Punctuation.

  1. I told myself I wouldn't install the beta on my iPad Pro. I caved.

iOS 11 Multitasking Without Using the Dock

A common complaint about multitasking in iOS 11 is that apps seemingly must reside in the Dock for them to be available for Slide Over or Split View. Here's Apple's description of multitasking on their iOS 11 preview page:

iOS 11 makes it easier and more intuitive than ever to multitask. You can open a second app right from the Dock, and both apps remain active in Slide Over as well as Split View. You can drag the second app in Slide Over to the left. And you can get back to your favorite App Spaces in the redesigned App Switcher.

As some iOS 11 users have pointed out, one alternative to this is to invoke Spotlight to search for apps, though this requires the use of an external keyboard to show Spotlight while an app is still active. Another option is to create a folder of apps and place it in the Dock, though this still means you're still limited to a selection of apps you can multitask from.

There is another way of multitasking apps that doesn't require using the Dock at all, allowing you to one-handedly drag any app from your Home screen and place them in Slide Over or Split View. You can even use this process to replace any app in a pairing.

  1. Press the Home button to go back to the Home screen
  2. Tap-and-hold an app until you can drag it around
  3. Either:
    • Tap to select another app and launch it from the Home screen
    • Invoke the App Switcher (either by swiping up from the bottom of the screen or double-pressing the Home button)
  4. You can then drop the app in Slide Over or Split View, or replace either app in the pairing

It does feel clumsy at first and there's probably more Apple can do to improve this. But after using this technique many times already, it's become second nature and I can accomplish this all one-handed. I don't tend to use the app pairings that Apple is seemingly trying to push as a feature of iOS 11, instead just selecting apps and multitasking whenever necessary.

I've only been aware of these methods since using Beta 2 so cannot confirm whether it existed in the first beta or is a recent addition. Whether these are worthwhile solutions to app multitasking or just the first step in an ongoing improvement remains to be seen. But if this is how multitasking is going to work in the first public release of iOS 11, I'm fine with it for now.

Update: As reddit user dunnouniquename suggests, you can also drag an app from the Home screen with one hand then using another finger to open another app. This launches the app while you're still dragging the other one. I've updated the post and video to reflect both methods.

The Need for iOS Recovery

The Mac has long had the ability to restore macOS without the need for separate install media, a feature known as macOS Recovery:

macOS Recovery is part of the built-in recovery system of your Mac. You can start up from macOS Recovery and use its utilities to recover from certain software issues or take other actions on your Mac.

macOS Recovery makes it easy to reinstall macOS if there's been a major software issue. If the Mac's hard drive has been wiped or the Recovery system isn't working, it can even connect to the internet and download the necessary macOS installer:

Newer Mac computers and some older Mac computers automatically try to start up from macOS Recovery over the Internet when unable to start up from the built-in recovery system. When that happens, you see a spinning globe instead of an Apple logo during startup. To manually start up from macOS Recovery over the Internet, hold down Option-Command-R or Shift-Option-Command-R at startup.

iOS devices, unfortunately, don't have such a feature. If iOS needs to be reinstalled (a somewhat rare occurrence), the device must be connected to a Mac or PC and restored using iTunes. I had to do this just a few months ago as my iPad Pro became sluggish and unresponsive. After trying to restart it, the Apple logo appeared but it would never get any further. The only option I had was to put the iPad into recovery mode, dust off my Mac, and restore it using iTunes.

Requiring a Mac or PC to restore an iPad, a device that even Apple touts as a replacement for a traditional computer, makes it extremely difficult to complete the transition to a post-PC era. Ultimately, iOS (and by extension, the iPad) is still treated as an accessory.

Apple could break the shackles of iTunes for restoring iOS by either:

  • Implementing some form of iOS Recovery, similar to macOS Recovery
  • Using APFS Snapshots

With iOS Recovery, the device could either have a recovery volume containing the installer for iOS (space permitting) or be able to connect to the internet and download the necessary files, even if iOS isn't working—just like macOS Recovery.

Apple's new file system, APFS, is used on all iOS devices running iOS 10.3 and above. A notable feature of APFS is Snapshots, a read-only version of the file system taken at a point in time that can be reverted to. There isn't much documented about this feature but, in theory, iOS could take regular snapshots or even just one after a successful boot. If there's a problem (e.g., failed iOS update), iOS could simply restore to that point. It's not as robust as an iOS Recovery solution as it likely requires the file system to be intact.

In either case, there are possibilities of implementing some form of recovery process that doesn't require iTunes. After all, this is a process that hasn't changed since the launch of the original iPhone over ten years ago, so it's long overdue for a change.

Two New Keyboard Shortcuts in iOS 11

This first beta of iOS 11 has a small number of new keyboard shortcuts, though more may be added as we get closer to release. Two particular shortcuts are worth highlighting.

  • Instead of swiping up to see the Dock, it can be shown at any time using + + D. It seems quite buggy for now and seems to toggle the Dock's visibility, rather than only show it, so invoking it on the home screen seems to causes the Dock to disappear.
  • Another screenshot shortcut has been added, + + 4. This takes a screenshot but immediately opens it in the markup editor instead of leaving it for you to action. If you're regularly marking up screenshots, this is a particularly useful shortcut to familiarize yourself with.

As usual, you can view a list of available keyboard shortcuts for every app by holding down the ⌘ key. Not every app may include all available shortcuts in this list (e.g., Safari), so there may be new shortcuts that are not yet documented.

A Review to a Kill

Apple is now requiring app developers to use their recently added API for review prompts and is no longer going to allow custom options. This means that developers cannot create their own prompts to ask users to leave a review, nor control how often and when they appear. From the App Store Review Guidelines:

Use the provided API to prompt users to review your app; this functionality allows customers to provide an App Store rating and review without the inconvenience of leaving your app, and we will disallow custom review prompts.

This guideline change is good for two reasons and is part of a wider change to how reviews are going to work. First, it'll put a stop to apps that practically beg for a review every time they're updated. Second, a consistent user experience that allows for in-app reviews is going to make it much easier for users to leave a review, eliminating the need to nag in the first place.

Ryan Christoffel at MacStories shares what might be a concern among developers:

Apple's solution certainly provides a better user experience than custom alternatives, particularly since it allows rating an app without needing to visit the App Store. But the concern from developers may be the loss of control over when, or how often, that prompt is presented.

Ask yourself this: how many apps have you actually reviewed? If you're honest, I bet that number is low. The annoyance of review prompts is largely because of the hoops that users have had to jump through to actually leave a review. This compels most developers to repeatedly ask for reviews, especially when reviews were hidden when a new version of the app was released, because many users simply won't bother.

I think the loss of control is a good thing for everyone involved. The trade-off is that the new prompt allows users to leave a review directly within the app. This is giving developers exactly what they want: a frictionless way for users to leave reviews.