Clipboard manager for iOS (that can be used anywhere)

Clipboard managers have existed for years on iOS, but they’ve never been allowed to be as powerful as their desktop OS counterparts. On iOS specifically, you’re required to exit out of whatever you’re doing to open another app or widget to save or view clipboard items.

Using an Accessibility feature released in iOS 14, you can facilitate saving and viewing clipboard items by using Back Taps—literally tapping the back of the phone—from anywhere in the OS:

Saving the current clipboard to iCloud Drive
Double Back Tap saves the clipboard to iCloud Drive

By using Back Taps, retrieving something from the clipboard can happen on the Home Screen or from within any app:

Choosing from previously-saved items in the clipboard
Triple Back Tap brings up recent clips

This relies on two Shortcuts written by Federico Viticci, found in the MacStories Shortcuts Archive:

These Shortcuts are powerful on their own, they use a file of previously-saved clipboard items and sync them through iCloud Drive. With both of these Shortcuts in your device’s library, you can assign them to Double and Triple Back Tap actions in settings to be able to use them anywhere:

Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Back Tap

I set the Double Back Tap to save the clipboard; Triple Back Tap to recall the list.

Like every year, I hope a native iOS clipboard manager, or third party alternative, slides its way into an update. This workaround using Shortcuts and an Accessibility feature isn’t as passive as a system-wide implementation would be, but I’m happy to be part of the way there for now.

LiDAR: paving the way to AR glasses

Apple announced a new iPad Pro this week and, looking beyond my own giddiness for the new keyboard with built-in trackpad, it has a new hardware component which focuses on augmented reality: LiDAR.

For all intents and purposes, LiDAR is a stylised port-manteau of light and radar, and is a 3D laser scanning technology. In short, it can scan and create a map of your close environment, a clear advantage for AR applications.

AR LiDAR demo from Apple iPad Pro announcement
Source: Apple

iPad has often been the testing ground for new technologies, it received LTE connectivity before iPhone, and it adopted Apple's own silicon, the Apple A-series chips, before iPhone, too. I have a feeling the inclusion of LiDAR on iPad is no different: this is a technology that is ultimately destined to be used in a different product down the line, like AR glasses.

I hinted at this in a previous article:

The advantage of glasses over a phone is that your eyes can be the viewfinder, so a possible solution is using a depth-sensing camera only—recognition of the environment without being intrusive.

LiDAR is the depth-sending tech I was after, it allows recognition of the environment without needing a classic camera and, as Jay Peters from the Verge notes, it works in real time.

With LiDAR potentially being the perfect technology for AR glasses, one of the final puzzles is how to display the data that it captures. In other words, how the screen of a pair of AR glasses will work: prism projector screen like Google Glass; a low-powered laser straight into the eye, like the Intel Vaunt; or something else?

AR: the next big thing

Tim Cook during a recent visit to Dublin:

“I’m excited about AR. My view is it’s the next big thing, and it will pervade our entire lives."

AR—augmented reality—is pegged by many as the next disruptor in technology (and, more generally, life). What may seem as a gimmick is already a multi-billion dollar market, but what AR will be for the consumer in the future is still to be concretely seen and decided.

Today it exists through phones and tablets, but holding a device in an unnaturally high position is not the future. Anyone who is certain that AR will disrupt is envisaging hands-free, AR glasses.

The beginning of AR: headsets

Google Glass burst onto the scene in 2013, introducing the first pair of potentially consumer-friendly AR glasses. Even though it was a tool for development, consumers could now envisage a time where technology from science fiction could come to fruition.

Google Glass
Google Glass, Image by Tim Reckmann

Google’s effort was arguably before its time, before consumers understood the utility of modern smartwatches, let alone AR glasses. Google Glass didn’t look like regular glasses and had a feature set that was perceived as limited at the time. Add the inclusion of a somewhat controversial camera, the questions of privacy reinforced the idea that smart glasses just weren’t ready for the mainstream.

The release of a second version, however, shows the idea still had merit. Between these releases, Microsoft’s attempt at augmented, or mixed, reality saw the release of HoloLens, a casque which filled the wearer’s entire visual field.

Microsoft HoloLens
Microsoft HoloLens, Image by Guido van Nispen

Microsoft was tackling the dream from another angle, putting more computational power within the unit, coming closer to virtual reality (VR) implementations. The result was clear, the device gave the user a virtual world to interact with, but came with a caveat of being an at-home device only, due its size and design.

What Google got right was the size and wearability. Microsoft got the functionality and the power. They key now is to balance both whilst also factoring in fashion.

The first real pair of AR glasses

The first mainstream product isn’t necessarily the first product in the market, the first real pair of AR glasses will be ones considered by a regular person, not tech nerds.

Starting with the frame, it would need to be small and light enough to even be considered. I imagine to achieve this, the majority of the processing power would likely need to reside in another device, like a phone or a watch. Ming Chi Kuo reported that generic-looking frames could be the default, but it’s easy to see the potential of partnerships with big designer brands, like Hermès, to offer more unique styles, similar to the Apple Watch strategy.

Keeping the original Apple Watch in mind, The first pair of glasses could showcase a similar feature set: notifications and simple apps or actions, like maps and a voice assistant—again, processed on another device.

The Apple Watch covers the same bases on paper, albeit not in the same way as a proposed set of AR glasses. Even with an always-on display, Apple Watch requires an active movement to trigger interaction. The subtle removal of this could change everything: no overt gesture or awkward side-eye to trigger actions and reactions for things to appear on screen.

The implementation of apps and games changes the proposed pair of smart glasses into AR glasses. Adding overlays into your field of view—enabling you to play games on a blank table, or see useful direction prompts whilst using maps—is what will make this an industry-changing product. It feels like AR was never designed for phones and tablets, but was the blank canvas for something bigger. AR here relies on a camera to understand the environment which, as mentioned earlier, unfortunately has privacy implications. The advantage of glasses over a phone is that your eyes can be the viewfinder, so a possible solution is using a depth-sensing camera only—recognition of the environment without being intrusive.

Integrating audio into the equation completes the package. I imagine the most consumer-friendly implementation to use bone-conducting headphone technology, integrated directly in the frame. This can give audible feedback for the individual only without blocking external noise (plus it puts everything in one package).

And finally, how do you control the interface of AR glasses? I'm certain Apple, Microsoft and Google would push for voice assistants, but this doesn't fit all scenarios in reality1. Using an accompanying phone without looking would be clunky and isn't a viable option. Using Minority Report-style hand gestures in conjunction with eye-tracking technology could provide clean and precise interaction that could be intuitive.

Today’s stock

Much like the preemptive slew of tablet-like devices prior to the iPad, other brands are launching into the space to see what can stick in an attempt to get an edge, many with questionable aesthetics. This isn't to say that these products aren't good, but given the trend of product prototypes being introduced at CES, it's unlikely that any will take the market by storm.

Whether you're a fan of Apple products or not, the power their brand has and the manufacturing prowess they possess is undeniable. Apple's version of AR glasses are almost no longer a rumour at this point, now slated for a 2022 release according to The Information. In a competitive market, products need to be distinguishable so if a brand like Apple is to release a product like this, it could come with its own unique design quirk, like the iPhone X's notch or the EarPods’ and AirPods’ white colour—an identifiable design choice visible from a black and white glyph. The iPhone versus Android style debate is far from over.

Do we want AR glasses?

Technology can be pervasive, this can be seen with the recent trends of digital detoxes and headline feature updates which concentrate on screen time and well being.

For AR glasses to be a success in society and for society, I don’t think we can wear an interface that can interrupt us at any time. We need to feel in control, activation needs to be on our side and on our terms. Doing two things at once isn’t a skill that everyone possesses, introducing a technology that could interrupt you mid-sentence or mid-action could be detrimental. We want cool tech to better our lives, not distract us.

AR glasses are not going to replace phones yet, we’re not going to browse the web whilst staring off into the distance. Glasses should be an aid, something that provides useful information at a glance. Practically speaking, it’ll be a nice-to-have piece of tech that requires charging like everything else.

I’m more than eager to test the future by replacing my glasses with their AR variant and seeing where the technology goes, and how it can be adapted to all sorts of industries. Then we can talk about the future’s future: AR contact lenses.


  1. Prior to the release of the iPad, many tried to define what a touch screen Mac would be like. It's important to try and break the design paradigms on what we think AR glasses are, and instead try to define a feature set that would be useful, rather than complete for today's standards. 

The Apple bundle that wasn’t

I put forward a few predictions for Apple's By Innovation Only event in my last post, most of which were unfortunately off the mark. First off, no bundles were announced. Second, the lowball bundle price of $34.99 I predicted ended up being the actual price for all four services together with Family Sharing included, rather than for just one individual.

John Gruber from Daring Fireball:

A lot of people expected TV+ to cost $10 per month — not because they thought it looked worth $10 per month but because Apple is Apple.

Guilty.

The bundle that was announced

As Jason Snell put it in his article on Six Colors:

The Apple TV+ bundle that isn’t a bundle

A purchase of a new iPad, iPhone or Mac will get a year’s subscription to Apple TV+. It’s not what a lot of people were anticipating, but it’s the closest thing to a bundle that Apple announced during the event. A saving of $60 for the year (where the subscription automatically renews afterwards) isn’t much, but may prove essential in getting the service on its feet.

Impressions of Apple Arcade and Apple TV+

I still believe Apple Arcade, which has been released a few days early, is a great deal at $4.99 and I’ll be trying it out. The initial games look interesting (video: 100 games in a 100 seconds), plus there are no in-app purchases.

The Apple TV+ service comes down to the content. At $4.99, I think it’s equally worth testing.

How much will Apple’s new services cost?

Apple’s It’s Show Time event in March 2019 saw many new services being announced, most of which casually omitted pricing, release and subscription information. With Apple's increasingly push into services, they're introducing more and more monthly subscriptions to their users that could be bundled into one payment.

Apple releases a subscription bundle

The idea of a bundle is not for the user to save cash, but often to encourage the use of a service (or services) that you might not immediately pay for. For example, not everyone is interested in gaming; Apple Music may not be relevant if you have Spotify; and Apple News+ already doesn't seem to be off on the best foot. A great way to increase their usage is to include them with other services.

Apple could release a package made up of:

  • Apple Music
  • Apple TV+
  • Apple News+
  • Apple Arcade

A bundle price of $29.99 per month seems reasonable, so the actual price is probably going to be closer to $34.99 (it's always more expensive). $44.99 with Family Sharing.

I have not included iCloud Drive storage in the bundle. If Apple release a media-focussed bundle1, I believe it would be one set price, instead of giving too many options like a bundle with 100 GB of storage or bundle with 1 TB of storage. This could be solved by offering unlimited storage, but with Apple's stern stance on 5 GB of default iCloud Drive storage, it seems unlikely.

Pricing breakdown

We already know the price of some services:

Service Price per month Family sharing price
Apple Music $9.99 $14.99
Apple News+ $9.99 [Already included]

We don’t know the price of Apple Arcade yet, but it could easily fall in line with the others: a few games a month, each for a few dollars, $9.99 with Family Sharing included, similar to Apple News+. Guilherme Rambo from 9To5Mac found evidence of a more competitive price through App Store APIs, however:

According to a promotional message found in the service, the price for Apple Arcade will be $4.99 / month, including a one-month free trial.

$5 would be an amazing price (and I certainly wouldn't hesitate), but isn't consistent with Apple's usual expensive practices.

Apple TV+ pricing is more difficult to pin down. Unlike its biggest competitors, like Netflix and Hulu (and now Disney+), Apple TV+ will only offer original programming—no back catalogue of older shows or films.

Their budgets are not in the same ball park yet, either. For perspective, Apple reportedly invested $1 billion in producing original content across 2017 and 2018, whereas Netflix was closer to $8 billion, reportedly going up to $15 billion in 2019.

There is, however, one advantage to no back catalogue: Apple's original content likely wouldn't need to be locked to any regions. The service could be pushed in 100+ countries to 1.4 billion devices on launch, something the other services cannot directly boast.

The standalone price of Apple TV+ could mirror Apple Music: $9.99, $14.99 with Family Sharing. This puts them more on par with the likes of Netflix and Hulu, rather than the new, aggressively-priced offering from Disney+.

Alternative offer: trials

The most obvious alternative is no bundle pricing at all, everything costs between $10–15 individually, and potentially includes a free month as a trial.

Apple TV+

Source: Apple’s [*It’s Show Time*](https://www.apple.com/apple-events/march-2019/)
Apple Music subscribers could be offered a one month trial to test Apple TV+ entire service. With only a handful of shows, the keenest users could binge through the entire catalogue within the first month, or be hampered by an inconvenient episodic release schedule, as suggested by Mark Gurman, Anousha Sakoui and Lucas Shaw at Bloomberg:

The company is considering offering the first three episodes of some programs, followed by weekly installments

Releasing a standalone subscription for Apple TV+ seems logical, but at $9.99 for one person, it may be too pricey to compete in households that already have a Netflix, Amazon Prime or other subscriptions.

Apple Arcade

Apple Arcade encourages a push away from pay-to-win style games to standalone games with no additional purchases. One potentially great strength is built-in Family Sharing: the ability to pay one price to give access to the same games to your kids, parents or siblings.

Whether Apple Arcade is to be your main gaming outlet, or secondary to a console, the inclusion of wireless controller support in iOS 13 makes the prospect even sweeter. Bundling a trial of Apple Arcade in a purchase of a new Apple TV or gaming controller could be interesting. At $10 a month, it's worth a try and, at $5, it's a steal.

By innovation only

Apple's next special event is set for Tuesday, 10 September 2019.


  1. + / Apple+ / Apple Plus? 

What is FWD+?

FWD+ is a blog that concentrates on technology analysis, putting forward predictions and opinions on the intersection of technology and culture.

FWD+: where does the name come from?

FWD is a reference to email, the chains you may have seen at work or from family and friends (probably family), for example:

FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: a cute cat, probably

That's a typical example of a forwarded email subject line. To remove any doubt, due to its close association to email, the name of the blog is pronounced, "forward plus."

Similar to the idea of forwarding emails, this website shares content from other sources, but expands and develops it (the plus in FWD+). Rather than regurgitate and add to the noise, the goal is to look forward and provide novel viewpoints and stances to add to the discussion.

Flean: designing the FWD+ logo

The design of the logo went through many iterations: different colour combinations, shapes and styles. I wanted to stick to simple shapes whilst making something easily recognisable and unique. Linking the logo to the site's name wasn't the goal, but I had an epiphany after splitting a triangle into three segments, then rotating it:

Flean, the FWD+ logo: it's an "F" leaning forward

As the quick sketch shows, the F is the entire triangle, and the W and D are the middle and bottom segments, respectively. It was a lucky discovery.