Category Archives: Gadgets

Siri Shortcuts

I love my apple gear and I love their software. I can’t help it, they make a really great experience for their users. But lets be honest here. They aren’t the only ones making great experiences and your experience is likely different from mine. That is perfectly fine.

I’m a tinkerer. I like to tinker. I like to press buttons and see what I can make the computer do. I guess that’s why I’m a Software Engineer. With all of this said, Apple has let us tinker a bit more with iOS/iPad OS 13.1. They added shortcuts. You probably have never opened this app or even know what it does.

Siri Shortcuts shortens workflows. These are the shortcuts that I have:

  1. Toggle Assistive touch, iPad OS now has mouse support and you can map extra mouse buttons like the forward and back buttons to perform different actions. I have my forward button triggering equal to the home button. But when you don’t have your mouse connected, the assistive touch circle always shows up. So that’s where the shortcut comes in to toggle that on or of.
  2. Automate launching podcasts when I connect my phone to an Alexa device. I can jump right into the podcast by tapping a notification that shows up.
  3. Automate “Plex Time” where i set my lights how I like them (I use the Phillips Hue system) and launch Plex on my iPad and on my tv so I can quickly get to watching. Plex can push content to other Plex players that you have without the need of airplay. This is nice because you don’t have to watch the show on your iPad or iPhone to push the content.
  4. Open Target Wallet (yep, you can make Siri open the target wallet app)
  5. Open Walmart Pay
  6. Log Water
  7. Log Weight
  8. Tip Calculator
  9. Find Keys (i have a tile on my keys)

I don’t really find myself using shortcuts a lot. I feel like this is a good start. It does seem to be lacking in several areas. Things I want:

  1. Allow more automations to actually be automated without need to tap on a notification.
  2. Make a way to toggle “Silence Unknown Callers” on the iPhone for the moments that I am expecting a call from someone not in my contacts.
  3. Be able to set multiple playback devices with airplay.

I can’t really think of much more that I want to do with shortcuts with its current state. There is a pretty good library of shortcuts that you can browse in their application. I just haven’t found anything in there that seems life changing. As a Software Engineer, I just want ALL THE THINGS UNLOCKED. But I know when you do that you make it more difficult for non-dev types because it can become more intimidating.

Dear Apple, please continue to expand the functionality of this application. I want to tinker more.


For years I thought it’d be very convenient to be able to look down at my wrist when I’m getting a phone call or a message to see who was calling me or the message being sent. I think that’s a great idea. But you know what’s not convenient? If you guessed charging another device daily, you read my mind.

Apple is releasing it’s first smart watch as a response to Android Wear (Google’s watch platform for third party watch makers). Apple, as always, has created both the hardware and software for the watch (as opposed to Google’s approach of just creating the software). Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, is saying that Apple’s watch battery will last all day before needing to be recharged. But according to 9To5Mac, the battery could die after 2.5 hours of heavy usage.

The other reason I’m interesting in a wearable device is that I am a runner. I have been since high school. And though I’ve been slacking a little in the past few years, I hope to get back to the prime directive of boldly burning those calories. Fitness tracking is an import feature for me.  Many of my friends have the Jawbone Up wrist band to track fitness data. Jawbone is advertising that their new Jawbone UP3 (release date still unknown) will track the following things:

  • Steps
  • Calories Burned
  • Distance Traveled
  • Sleep (REM, deep, light)
  • Resting Heart Rate (I’ve read active heart rate may come later)
  • Skin temperature
  • Ambient temperature
  • Hydration level (coming soon)

Additionally, in their phone application you can manually log weight, caloric intake and mood. It can also connect to your phone with apps like run keeper to log GPS information. It also sports a smart alarm that can wake you at an optimal moment in your sleep cycle.

While the Jawbone UP3 seems like it will be a great device, it doesn’t have the kind of notifications that a smart watch has. Additionally, if active heart rate is added, I’m guessing it can only be viewed via their phone application (due to the device’s lack of display). But the device should have a week of battery life.

The Apple Watch can track the number of steps you’ve taken, whether you’ve been standing or sitting, and the number of calories you’ve burned. It uses its very own accelerometer, heart rate sensor, and your iPhone’s GPS to track this data. It can also sets goals based on the data it collects. It does a decent subset of the things the UP3 will do, but you can’t do sleep tracking because you’ll be charging the device every night.

There is another big player when it comes to fitness devices and that is Fitbit. Their Fitbit Surge watch can track the following things.

  • Steps
  • Calories Burned
  • DistanceTraveled
  • Sleep
  • GPS position (with no phone)
  • Heart rate (active or resting)

Additionally the Fitbit Surge also has a silent alarm and has a companion app that ties the whole experience together and gives additional value with the ability to manually track weight and caloric intake. But there’s more. This device is a watch that gives notifications on phone call and text messages. It also lets you control your music.  Oh, and without GPS turned on, you can get up to a week of battery.

There’s one more device that I’d like to talk about quickly here. It’s the Pebble Time. As you can see it looks very similar to the sport edition of the Apple Watch. It has no fitness tracking capabilities, but it should be great at giving notifications. It sports a color e-ink display that is gorgeous. And because of that display type, the screen is always on and the battery life is a week. It has a great interface that is solely based on time. One of the cool features is that you can make voice replies via a built in microphone. If I only cared about getting notifications, this would be the device for me. Check out their Kickstarter Page. apple-watch-vs-pebble-time-comparison-2


I have not included Android Wear devices in this blog post because I no longer have an Android based phone. But to me, they have been a bit underwhelming. But here is a link for completeness.

Out of the devices that I researched, my favorite was the Fitbit Surge. It has an awesome battery life with the features I care the most about. But I’m definitely going to wait until after the Apple Watch is released before I make a decision on a wearable. I may even wait until the second generation Apple Watch is released to make a decision.

Or I may wait for the Nike Band that will tell you why you’re running.