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make app switching faster


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I'm a new user comparing Alfred, LaunchBar, and Quicksilver. Quicksilver isn't in the same league as LaunchBar and Alfred, but it seems to me that it's kind of a wash between Alfred and LaunchBar. I mean that, once you adapt to each app's intended and best practices, I can do the things I need to do with either app with pretty much the same time-saving ease of effort. Alfred's advantages are workflows and ease of feature discovery. Personally, I haven't found any game-changing Alfred workflows, and LaunchBar's features do eventually get discovered and remembered. When it comes to app switching, however, LaunchBar is surprisingly more efficient, so I want to make suggestions to see  if Alfred can be made as efficient.


 

1. Enable a single-keystroked trigger. LaunchBar can be invoked with a single keystroke of a modifier key, so right off the bat, Alfred takes twice the keystrokes to invoke than LaunchBar. You might think this is hardly a difference, but consider how the extra hand-positioning adds up over time. What's more, I'm frequently using my computer to give public presentations, which aren't just PowerPoints, but a lot of switching between browser, video player, pdf and other file displays, etc. With people talking at you competing for your attention and me standing up and me moving around, it’s far easier and more reliable to reach down and invoke with a single press of the cmd key than doing a cmd-space.

 

2. Enable longpressing the last character in a string to launch the current selection. For example, when I type “fin,” Finder is the top choice. At this point, LaunchBar will launch Finder if I continue to hold down that final ’n’ key after a user-settable delay. That delay can be surprisingly short and is easier and more reliable than having to let go of the ’n’ key to hit the return key, or, worse, hit cmd-1.

 

3. Enable assigning abbreviations. In the above example, the ’n’ in the string “fin” isn’t guaranteed to always make Finder the selection, so that you never dare to “fly blind” because of a potentially disastrous selection and must always perform the addional cognitive function of verifiying the choice. The latter is a real rhythm-breaker when performing public presentations. LaunchBar short circuits this via abbreviations that you can anchor (on the fly, even) to that one selection. “fin,” then will be guaranteed to continue to always produce the Finder selection no matter how the contents of my hard drive change until I modify that abbreviation.

 

Here, then, is my app switching worklow with Alfred: cmd-space, f, i, n, <check to make sure>, enter. That’s 6 keystrokes plus a cognitive delay to check. Here’s my app switching workflow with LaunchBar, where I’ve assigned the abbreviation ‘f’ to Finder: cmd, f (held down for like .03 seconds). That’s 2 keystrokes guaranteed to work every time so that I never need to verify that LaunchBar is going to do what I intend. Alfred’s app switching is far more cumbersome than LaunchBar’s, where I have 1- or 2-character abbreviations assigned to all my apps. Multiplying that by the hundreds probably thousands of times I switch apps per day, let alone when giving a public presentation, and you see why I have to run both Alfred and LaunchBar.

 

I'm happy to run both Alfred and LaunchBar simultaneously, popping up whichever one I feel is better in the moment, but I think I prefer Alfred's more lively development community and environment, so I wouldn't mind the option of going all-Alfred if Alfred would switch apps with fewer keystrokes. The three features I listed above would do that, and I can't see how they would interfere with other Alfred functionality, so I want to request them. If they can already be achieved in Alfred in some way, please post.
 

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I've used one key trigger before, albeit through a third-party like Karabiner. Didn't like it and changed back, but it's doable.

 

Perhaps not as easy as you describe with the abbreviations, but it's also possible to make a workflow and give it an unusual trigger that ensures it'll always match. For example with ",f" as a keyword to open finder, my Alfred would never select anything else since , eliminates all other options.

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On 30/10/2017 at 6:38 AM, JimmyTheSaint said:

Enable a single-keystroked trigger

 

Why don't you assign an F-key? This kind of thing is what they're for.

 

On 30/10/2017 at 6:38 AM, JimmyTheSaint said:

a lot of switching between browser, video player, pdf and other file displays, etc. With people talking at you competing for your attention and me standing up and me moving around

 

Have you tried Alfred Remote? This sounds like something it would be perfect for.

 

On 30/10/2017 at 6:38 AM, JimmyTheSaint said:

Enable assigning abbreviations

 

You can already do this as @TheDonk explained. Alfred also searches Spotlight comments, so you can assign "abbreviations" that way, too.

 

On 30/10/2017 at 6:38 AM, JimmyTheSaint said:

In the above example, the ’n’ in the string “fin” isn’t guaranteed to always make Finder the selection

 

If you enter "fin" a couple of times and choose Finder, Alfred will remember your choice and Finder will always be the first result for the query "fin". This only doesn't work if you fat-finger it repeatedly and undo the association.

 

On 30/10/2017 at 6:38 AM, JimmyTheSaint said:

you never dare to “fly blind” because of a potentially disastrous selection and must always perform the addional cognitive function of verifiying the choice

 

The way Alfred works, fundamentally, is it shows results as soon as they start coming in and updates them as more arrive. It even allows workflows to work this way with its awesome rerun feature. As a consequence, this means that paying a modicum of attention to what you're doing is a good habit to get into with Alfred…

 

The only way you can reliably "fly blind" is to ensure you're only looking at the results of a single search, as there's no guarantee that the apps search will finish before, say, the contacts or bookmarks search. If you want to use Alfred's default search, that probably means removing everything but applications (and perhaps preference panes).

 

Otherwise, you should consider setting up a File Filter that only searches for applications, and then assign that to a hotkey. If you assign F12, then you should be able to hit F12, f, and reliably launch Finder (as long as you teach Alfred that "f" is for Finder and don't fat-finger it a bunch).

 

On 30/10/2017 at 6:38 AM, JimmyTheSaint said:

Enable longpressing the last character in a string to launch the current selection.

 

That fits the way Launchbar works well, but it doesn't sound like a great fit for Alfred, to my mind. As noted above, due to the way Alfred works, there's something of an implicit expectation that you'll check which result is highlighted before actioning it. Longpressing the last key to action the top result doesn't gel so well with that, IMO.

 

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Thanks for taking the time to reply with detailed suggestions. I can try out different combinations to see if I can slim down my overall workflow, but doing some quick keystroke math, I'm skeptical that I can improve on the way LaunchBar offers the option to economize on keystrokes out of the box. On the other hand, one advantage of heavy customization when it comes to Alfred is the syncing of settings so that your creation doesn't have to be reprogrammed on each client. Generally, though, it seems you feel that Alfred is complimentary to LaunchBar, particularly when you say that a modicum of cognition is expected when invoking all Alfred operations. Interestingly, I do find that they coexist on the same computer quite nicely, LaunchBar feeling faster and Alfred feeling smarter, but the difference isn't all that dramatic, except when it comes to the development community--and I hope also Alfred Remote.

 

I'll try playing around with the Alfred remote app. It's got a bad rap on iTunes, so I've kind of shied away from it, but it does look like fun. At my presentations, I use an iPad and a presenter when I'm mobile, though I frequently have to run back to the laptop. Years ago, I tried remote control programs for my computer, but switching apps on an iPhone or iPad back then wasn't guaranteed to accurately toggle you between identical contexts and return you instantly to the same spot in a Word file or PDF, which is a disaster because you then have dead air while you fumble around for your place in front of your audience. But even nowadays, I expect Alfred Remote is still at the mercy of the WiFi network you happen to be on at the moment. But yeah, my ultimate dream is to someday be able to reliably control all aspects of the laptop presentation features from an iPad that lets me circulate around the room without worries. I have the latest iPad Pro, but if the remote app will work even better on the iPhone X, then that would be a nice excuse to buy one of those.

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1 hour ago, JimmyTheSaint said:

I'm skeptical that I can improve on the way LaunchBar offers the option to economize on keystrokes

 

Why is the number of keystrokes such a big issue? Can you not type properly because you’re not at the keyboard or something? It seems like we’re talking about a few tenths of a second here.

 

1 hour ago, JimmyTheSaint said:

It's got a bad rap on iTunes

 

Probably due to the name. It’s more of a “sidekick” than a real control-your-Mac-from-across-the-room remote. There’s no simulated keyboard or touchpad. But it is very well suited for something like switching apps or paging through slides.

 

1 hour ago, JimmyTheSaint said:

return you instantly to the same spot in a Word file or PDF

 

That’s really up to the app itself to ensure. All an app switcher does it tell the application to activate.

 

2 hours ago, JimmyTheSaint said:

l at the mercy of the WiFi network you happen to be on at the moment

 

I’m pretty sure it supports Bluetooth.

 

1 hour ago, JimmyTheSaint said:

will it work with High Sierra?

 

It’s an iOS app. It only cares about Alfred, not macOS.

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I'm a touch-typist, but I totally have the fat fingers problem in the divided attention mode of a presentation; I'm standing, sometimes a bit off to the side, and reaching down to the keyboard a bit awkwardly, not sitting with my hands in home position. So reducing my keystrokes to one hit of the cmd key plus one longpressed character is a huge help.

 

I've downloaded and configured the remote app, and it will do everything I need to do--no fat fingers problem touching phone icons. I'm just at the mercy of the WiFi connection. At my current venue, I don't expect that to be an issue, but I'll keep the Bluetooth option in mind for the future. I've also been burned by Bluetooth in the past, but with Apple's new generation of Bluetooth chips, I might try going all-Bluetooth and letting the WiFi connection go its own way even when it's good. Is there some way to have Alfred always choose Bluetooth for the Remote connection regardless of the status of Wifi? I'd hate for the WiFi to choke and then cause Alfred to choke and fail to fail over to the Bluetooth connection.

 

About the app switching on the phone: I think it's a memory issue. Sometimes you switch to an app only to find that the system relaunches it rather than remembering the last context. This happens even when you're A/B'ing between two apps, so I guess the iPhone's memory manager lets you down on these 2GB phones. Another reason to get a X or and 8plus and get 3GB. The problem usually involves loading a .docx file via a cloud service into the Word app.

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55 minutes ago, JimmyTheSaint said:

Is there some way to have Alfred always choose Bluetooth for the Remote connection regardless of the status of Wifi? I'd hate for the WiFi to choke and then cause Alfred to choke and fail to fail over to the Bluetooth connection.

 

Not sure, tbh. There are posts about it on the forum.

 

56 minutes ago, JimmyTheSaint said:

About the app switching on the phone

 

Ah right. I misunderstood. I thought you meant on a Mac.

 

Prrosnally, I don’t think I would trust an iOS device for a presentation if I needed to switch apps a lot. As you say, the you’re rather at the mercy of the system.

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Rather than split hairs over a few keystrokes, wouldn’t it be easier to just embed your content in PowerPoint or Keynote or whatever you use for your presentations so you don’t have to worry about switching apps when you’re presenting?  I switch to show PDFs once in a great while (using Skim in its presentation mode) but I can’t imagine going to a Word document in front of an audience....  

 

Incidentally I built this which you may find useful: 

 

http://www.packal.org/workflow/skim-remote

Edited by dfay
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4 hours ago, dfay said:

I can’t imagine going to a Word document

 

Obviously, it depends on exactly what you're trying to show, but unless you're trying to demonstrate loading Word docs from the cloud, the "cloud" element of that—at the very least—needs to be eliminated.

 

Also, the UX of Microsoft's software plain sucks. Doubly so on the Mac.

 

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I have the Microsoft Word/cloud issue when loading a Word file of speaking notes on my phone and iPad. I've used both Box and Dropbox, and even when you preload a Word file for offline access on your phone or iPad, it can be a bit touchy when actually loading the file into the iDevice's Word app, as they both appear to do some sort of "phone home" even though the content is supposedly pre-loaded.

 

PowerPoint would be one solution, but puts undesirable constraints on my workflow (due to a lot of last-minute tweaking of files and file system organization) and presentation flow. I switch between a PDF reader, a video player, and preloaded web browser tabs, often needing to change the order of things on the fly to recall info or zero in on details in unpredictable ways. I might even unpredictably browse to a new web page when I feel the internet connection will be reliable. I often show dedicated sections of the Calendar app and the Notes app to the audience, even entering new information in front of them. Or even search for and open files when a need unpredictably arises. Splitting hairs on the number of keystrokes can quickly add up to a full head of hair.

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