Feature of the Week

10.4: Automation

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From globalization and industry to speakers that can turn on your lights, automation is a big word with a lot of different applications and meanings. In short, it describes how people take one or more unchanging tasks and create a system that does it for us, either repeatedly or on command.

For instance, often times you’ll want to get to a specific page of a specific score in your forScore library. First, you’ll need to open the file—either by browsing for it through forScore’s menus, or by searching for it—and then tap forward or use the page selector at the bottom of the screen to navigate to the correct page. With forScore 10.4, you can now create shortcuts that do both tasks for you at once, and they use a familiar mechanism: URLs.

Any time you share a link with a friend, open a bookmark in your web browser, or click on a tracking number in an email, you’re using a URL. While URLs most often reference content on the internet, they also have other uses. Instead of the usual “http” or “https” prefix, a link might start with “mailto” and open a new email draft addressed to the person indicated in the URL. These prefixes are called Schemes and help your device understand how to handle different types of URLs.

With our latest big updates, forScore now declares its own custom scheme (“forscore”) and can handle these specially-formatted links, allowing you to navigate to specific content or a location in the Services panel with one easy tap. This support is provided across the entire system, so any app that displays tappable links, including Apple’s own Safari, Notes, and Mail apps, can send the URL on to forScore so it can respond no matter where it comes from.

You can ask for a specific score, bookmark, page, or setlist, and you can combine these parameters to achieve different results. For instance, tapping forscore://open?setlist=Summer finds the setlist called “Summer” if it exists in your forScore library, and opens to the first item in the list (using the setlist’s current sort order). If you know the Summer setlist includes a piece called “June”, you can open the setlist to that specific piece using forscore://open?setlist=Summer&score=June and forScore will do just that.

Those are just a few examples, but there’s a lot more you can do with forScore 10.4 and automation. For a full list of parameters and formatting requirements, be sure to check out this page.

10.4: PDF Metadata

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As we discussed a few years back, PDF files often contain embedded metadata that helps you get more information about them beyond just what’s visible on their pages. These metadata fields give you some context regarding the file, including things like who created it, what it’s about, and whether or not it’s password-protected. Unlike forScore’s metadata fields, which are far more detailed and specific to music, PDF metadata is more generic and written into the file itself so no matter which device or operating system you use to view it, that information is always there.

Since version 1.6, forScore has had the ability to read and adopt some of this information for use within its own fields. Title, Author, and Subject can be interpreted as a score’s title, composer(s), and genre(s). To convey extra information, we used specially-formatted keywords (such as “forScore-rating:5” or “forScore-difficulty:3”).

Over time, we added new metadata fields to forScore like duration and key, but there was no way for forScore to store or read these values from PDF files. With forScore 10.4 we knew we wanted to add support for these types of data, but we also wanted to take the opportunity to rethink how we store them and what they’re called—to formalize them and make them more universal. A keyword called “forScore-duration:92” might work fine for us, but it doesn’t exactly help you when you’re using other apps.

With forScore 10.4, these special keywords have been updated and expanded to reflect many of the common pieces of information musicians need to know about their scores. We think this new approach could become a de facto standard, so we put together a page that explains the rules and usage of PDF metadata in the context of sheet music. You can learn more about it here, and if you use another app (like a musical composition app) that creates PDF files and you think they could benefit from this information, pass it along!

10.4: Approachability

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The existence of this column should be proof enough that forScore is a rich app, full of features that span just part of the impressive diversity of musicians, instruments, and styles out there. While many features are essential for many people, virtually no one is completely familiar with them all.

That’s why we included some additional inline descriptions of certain tools with forScore 10.4 and forScore mini 3.4. Whether you’re encountering a feature for the first time or you’ve just forgotten how to use it, this text gives you a hint and a little bit of direction to get started.

In many cases, these descriptions are immediately visible on screen (as with the Cue connection prompt and the Devices panel). Other times, a standard system info button—a circle with a lowercase “i” within it—can be found in the bottom right-hand corner of a panel (as with Darkroom, Links, and Buttons). Tap these buttons to learn more about that tool if needed.

It can be hard to toe the line between displaying as much helpful information as possible and filling an interface with distracting clutter. Balancing the needs of newcomers and experienced professionals all at the same time is something we’ve done for eight years so far, perhaps to varying success, but we think these hints fit right in and are appropriate for each situation.

10.4: Rearrange

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One of forScore’s most powerful features is the Rearrange panel that allows musicians to reorder, duplicate, insert, rotate, and remove pages of their PDFs to fix structural issues or create a new layout to better handle repeats. In previous versions of forScore Bookmarks and Links had to be removed when saving a rearranged file, but with version 10.4 that’s no longer necessary.

Any links whose source and target pages haven’t been removed are now preserved and adjusted to account for your new layout. If a link’s target page has been duplicated, the first copy is used. Bookmarks are also preserved when rearranging, whenever possible: as long as the start and end pages still exist in your new layout, and as long as they haven’t been inverted (a bookmark can’t start on page 5 and end on page 3), they’re now updated to account for your changes.

Whether you’re doing major reconstruction or inserting a missing page, you no longer have to sacrifice the work you’ve done to create links and bookmarks.

10.4: Item Pickers

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Sometimes, while working with forScore, you’ll need to choose one or more scores or bookmarks from your library—not to view them, but for various other reasons. We use something we call ‘item pickers’ to allow you to do just that, and with forScore 10.4 these pickers got a few new abilities.

First, let’s identify all of the different situations where you might encounter one of these pickers: in the Metadata panel when choosing additional items to batch edit, in Rearrange when inserting one or more items, when creating a new template, setting up item-specific goals or reports in Dashboard, or when creating or editing a Button that uses the “navigation” action type. The first two allow you to select one or more items and tap “Done” when you’re ready, while the rest are closed automatically as soon as you choose a single item.

Most of these pickers now offer the same full range of sort options that the main menu does, allowing you to view your scores and bookmarks by title, newest, rating, difficulty, time, or key, if applicable. (Dashboard’s pickers are a little different, since they offer you the ability to pick a score, bookmark, or setlist. Since the sort bar is busy letting you choose between “items” and “setlists,” these new sorting options aren’t available in this case.)

The pickers used within the Metadata, Rearrange, and Templates panels now also offer Quick Peek previews of their items so you can make sure you’ve got the right piece before you select it. Swipe over any item from left to right—the opposite direction from the standard delete gesture—or tap and hold two fingers on it to see a preview. Tap away to return to the list, or tap the thumbnail image to select the item.

These upgrades make it easier for you to browse through your library and make sure you’re picking the right item so you don’t have to guess or rely on trial and error.

10.4: In-Place Editing

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For most of iOS’ history, sharing files between apps has always worked one way—it sent a copy of the file to the receiving app, duplicating the data and making sure each app could only modify its own version. This straightforward way of copying content between apps is easy to understand, but it also makes editing files more difficult and uses up more of your device’s storage.

With forScore 10.4 and iOS 11 we now support in-place editing of files. That means that you can use other apps on your device to modify the files stored within forScore without duplicating them first, as long as two conditions are met: First, the other app must support in-place editing (if it doesn’t, it gets a copy of the file just like before). Second, only files stored within forScore’s Documents directory can be edited—if you share an annotated PDF, for example, forScore sends a temporary copy that isn’t saved anywhere, so any edits made won’t be reflected within forScore.

The easiest way to edit a file with another app is to share it from forScore and choose the app you want to view or modify it with. As we discussed last week, forScore now integrates with iOS 11’s Files app—this means you can also open the Files app and choose to share one of forScore’s files with another app. If you’re working with an app that uses iOS’ document browser to open files, like our Badger app does, you can even access and update forScore’s documents without leaving the app you’re working in.

Lets look at some examples:

  • A PDF file’s table of contents has an entry that is misspelled and you’d like to correct it. Sharing the score from forScore as a PDF allows you to open the file in Badger, our PDF editing app, and make your edits. Because Badger also supports in-place editing, when you return to forScore your changes are immediately reflected in the Bookmarks menu’s TOC tab.
  • The page number of several entries in a CSV index file are incorrect and must be updated before you can create bookmarks within that file. Sharing the file from forScore and opening it with a text editing app on your iPad allows you to make those changes and save them, so that when you return to forScore they’re ready to go.
  • While browsing forScore’s documents in the Files app, you notice that the lyrics of a piece haven’t been updated properly. Tapping and holding the file and choosing “share” allows you to open the PDF file in another editing app on your device, correct the text, and save the changes. When you open forScore, the file has been updated.

If it seems like there are a lot of rules and different scenarios for working with your files, you’re right! By opening up the ability to access files between apps, Apple has introduced a decent amount of complexity that just didn’t exist before.

Fortunately, there’s a great example of a device that plenty of people use every day and behaves similarly: computers. If you’ve learned how to work with files and folders, apps and websites, then you’re already familiar with many of these concepts and after a little bit of an adjustment period you’ll be whizzing back and forth making edits without breaking a sweat.

10.4: Files

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When the iPad was first introduced it raised a lot of questions about where exactly this new device fell on the spectrum of iPhone to Mac. It had powerful multi-touch gestures on a screen big enough to make desktop-class apps possible, but it avoided some fundamental computing concepts such as the ability to view multiple apps simultaneously and, most controversially, the file system.

The iPad has a file system, of course, but iOS and its software was designed to hide that reality away from users in order to simplify the experience. Unlike on a computer, where one file can be opened and edited with multiple applications, iOS only allowed copying files between apps so that each one had its own version spread across your device. That approach remained controversial, but eventually Apple recognized the need to provide some sort of file management.

Files App

It began when Apple released the “iCloud Drive” app alongside iOS 9. That app only showed files stored in iCloud, but it was an important first step. With iOS 11, things got much more interesting: Apple replaced the iCloud Drive app with a new “Files” app that showed files stored in iCloud, certain files stored on your device, and even allowed third-party apps (like Dropbox) to offer their cloud storage services and display documents within the Files app. This provides users with a single, familiar interface for managing, sharing, and editing their files no matter where they’re stored.

Not all apps can display their documents in the Files app, however. To do so, they must support both iTunes file sharing and in-place editing. We’ve supported the former since forScore was first introduced, and with version 10.4 we added support for the latter. (In-place editing is a bigger topic, so we’ll be taking a deeper look at that next time.) That means that forScore’s Documents directory can now be accessed through the “On My iPad” location in the Files app’s sidebar. It makes working with documents easier, allowing you to do things like copy them between forScore and iCloud Drive, Dropbox, or any other third-party app that integrates with the Files app.

Services

Since version 8.1, forScore’s Services panel has allowed you to access iCloud Drive through a system-provided interface. Apple doesn’t provide an API to allow us to communicate with iCloud Drive directly, so this works differently from other services like Dropbox. First, you must choose whether you want to download or upload a file. Once you’ve done that, Apple takes it from there and displays an interface that looks a lot like the iCloud Drive app.

Although iOS 11 makes some big changes, the way you access it through forScore’s Services panel is virtually unchanged. You still choose to download or upload files, but on iOS 11 the interface that comes up looks almost identical to the Files app and gives you access to its powerful new features. It supports downloading or uploading multiple files at once, and it gives you access to any third-party apps on your device that expose their contents to the Files app.

There’s something to be said for Apple’s original approach. The length of this article is proof enough that file systems are complicated, but it’s what you can do with the system that makes it worth having. If you can’t accomplish the same things with a simpler system, or if you can’t do them quickly, then perhaps that complexity is justified.

10.4: Services

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Last week we explored forScore 10.4’s Musicnotes integration and the concept of “content providers” in addition to the existing “cloud services” that can be accessed through forScore’s Services panel. While Musicnotes is the biggest story here by far, our latest update also includes some nice enhancements for those cloud services as well.

First, we added the ability to specify a starting directory when using Dropbox or Box: open either of these services and navigate to a directory where you store your forScore files, tap the new gear icon in the toolbar, and check the “Start Here” item. Now, any time you return to that service you’ll start in that directory. There’s a grace period, however, so you can close the services panel to check something else and return within a short amount of time without losing your spot.

Next, Dropbox and Google Drive users can now view a thumbnail preview of their files so they can make sure they’ve got the right item before they download it. Just tap the info button to the right of any supported file type including PDFs, CSV files, and many image formats.

We also made some changes to the way forScore integrates with Apple’s own service (called Files on iOS 11, iCloud Drive on iOS 10 and earlier), but there’s more to the story there and we’ll be back next week with a detailed look at that one.

10.4: Musicnotes

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This week we released forScore 10.4 and forScore mini 3.4, bringing some exciting new and updated features for us to explore. We’re starting today with a big one: Musicnotes integration.

While forScore gives you a wide range of capabilities and is designed to be as efficient as possible, the bottom line is that your experience with forScore depends heavily on the quality of your content. The less work you have to do to accommodate crooked scans in large image-based files, the better forScore performs. Digitally-created files are best, providing high-quality representations of music with tiny file sizes. They’re much easier for iOS to display, so pages load faster and use less battery power.

That’s why we were so excited when Musicnotes, the world’s largest distributor of digital sheet music, came to us and proposed allowing forScore users to connect to their Musicnotes accounts and download their purchases as standard PDF files. That’s exactly what we did, and now forScore’s Services panel gives you access to both Cloud Services (things like Dropbox and Google Drive) and Content Providers (Musicnotes). Just tap on the Musicnotes item in the list and sign in to see your purchase history. Tap any item to download it, or tap “edit” and select multiple pieces to download at once or to download and add to any of your setlists.

There are no extra steps, no settings to change, and no additional fees. Whether you’ve already built up a long list of purchases or you’re just starting out, Musicnotes offers hundreds of thousands of arrangements, opening up a whole new world of premium content to our users. Best of all, these are fully licensed and you don’t have to worry about the legal gray areas of copyright law.

We want everyone to have access to great content, and we’re extremely grateful to Musicnotes for taking this big step with us. If you’re looking for something new to play and want to support us and all of the people behind the music, be sure to check out Musicnotes.com.

Voluntary Upgrades

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We’ve covered a lot of features in this series, and the most important part about the things we discuss here is the fact that everyone can use them. Aside from any hardware limitations, everyone who buys forScore gets the same features thanks to our policy of providing free updates for life. That’s a promise we made back in 2010 when we first introduced our sheet music reader and we’ve never looked back (even while other apps are moving to subscription models and building a laundry list of paid add-ons).

Back at version 1.0, forScore really was more of a concept than a complete solution, but with the support of our customers we were able to release over a hundred updates that took the idea from a rough vision to a complex and powerful set of tools that musicians all over the world rely on every day. Early adopters really deserve a huge amount of credit for paving the road we’ve traveled.

That enthusiasm never waned, and some people over the years consistently asked for ways they could choose to support forScore beyond their original purchase. After watching us grow and add a huge number of new features and enhancements, they wanted to do more to help. So last year we introduced voluntary upgrades, a way for people to support us by choosing to use in-app purchases to make up the difference between forScore’s lower price in previous years and its current price.

As a thank you to users who opt to support us in this way, we unlock the ability for them to change the app’s icon. It’s a fun tweak that we hope shows our gratitude and lets our customers share our pride in the app they helped to create.

If you want to learn more about voluntary upgrades, be sure to check out this news post which covers them in even greater detail.

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