Feature of the Week

10.4: Buttons

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Buttons can do a lot, and with forScore 10.4 they can now do even more. There are two completely new button types as well as some expanded functionality for a few of the existing ones.

The new “Seek Audio” button type lets you change the playback position of the current audio track, whether it’s playing or paused, and the “Open Link” type allows you to activate a predefined URL with a single tap. That URL can be a standard web address, or it can also be one of the new forScore-specific links that we discussed a few weeks back.

When you’re using the “Play/Pause Audio” button, you can now specify the playback position to use when starting playing. If the audio track is playing, tapping the button will pause it, and when you tap it again it’ll start playing from the time you supplied. If you don’t supply this information, tapping the button resumes playback from the currently paused position.

Finally, the Navigation button type now sports a “Go To…” option. This lets you specify an item to open when you tap on the button. You can choose an item from your library or from a specific setlist to also queue up the rest of the items in that setlist. Once you’ve picked an item, you can also choose to specify a page number. (You can’t set a page number without choosing an item first—if you want to go to a different page of the current score then Links are a better tool for the job.)

Buttons are easy to set up and virtually effortless to use, so the next time you find yourself doing the same task over and over again at a certain point in a score, consider using a button to simplify it.

10.4: Dashboard

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Dashboard, forScore’s set of tools that help you track and understand how you spend your time playing, got more than just a subtle design refresh with our latest updates. It’s logging system was rebuilt from the ground up for improved accuracy, and we added some new capabilities to help you get the most out of it.

You may not want to track all of the time you spend viewing a score, so forScore now lets you control how this works: a new gear icon in the top right-hand corner of Dashboard’s Analytics tab gives you several options, such as preventing tracking while you’re annotating.

You can pause or resume tracking at any time using this new panel, but the toggle action is also available as an option when configuring two- or three-finger tap gestures and through the Page Turners and Shortcuts section of forScore’s settings panel (look for “Analytics”). That means you can start and stop tracking with a gesture, page turner, stylus button, MIDI command, or external keyboard shortcut—all from the main view, without having to open Dashboard first.

When information is tracked that you don’t want, it’s now easier to remove it with our latest updates. Swipe to delete all data tracked for an item on a specific day, or reset the whole day and start fresh. If you decide not to use Dashboard any longer, or you want to reset all of its data, you can do either as well.

10.4: Sharing

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Whether you’re using AirDrop to send a setlist to a colleague or backing up a score to Dropbox, sharing is an integral part of working with items in forScore. Depending on what you’re sharing, there may be several formats you can use: setlists can be sent as plain text, or they can be packaged up in the forScore-specific 4SS file type. Scores and bookmarks can be exported as flattened annotated PDFs or they can be sent using forScore’s 4SC format.

Depending on how much content you’re sharing and which options are included, the export process can take a little bit of time. That’s why we added an export progress overlay to forScore with 10.4 so you can see how long it’ll take and cancel it if you need to.

If you’re using either of those two forScore-specific formats—4SS or 4SC files—they’re now stored more efficiently making them dramatically smaller. They’ll take up less space on your iPad or iPhone, use up less of your cloud storage provider’s quota, and take less time to transfer over a network connection.

Under the hood features aren’t always flashy, but they’re sometimes the most satisfying: we can take something that huge numbers of people do every day and make it significantly more efficient. It doesn’t have to make headlines to make a difference.

10.4: Action Extensions

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As we discussed a few weeks ago, iOS 11 includes some changes that allow multiple apps to access and edit the same documents without duplicating them first. With forScore 10.4 and forScore mini 3.4 we added support for this functionality, and understanding how it all fits together can take a little bit of practice. Whether you’re bouncing between apps or taking advantage of the iPad’s multitasking modes, keeping track of your files takes more work.

Fortunately, there’s another way: iOS allows apps to provide some of their functionality through something called an ‘action extension.’ An action extension might be included with a translation app, for instance—instead of requiring you to copy and paste text between apps, the extension can show you a translated version of a webpage right from within the web browser you’re already using. Action extensions are contextual, so when you share content using an app, the extensions available to you will depend on the type of content you’re working with. In forScore, you can share PDF files, so PDF-focused action extensions might appear in the standard iOS sharing interface.

We include three of these action extensions with one of our other apps, Badger, and they allow you to quickly view the embedded metadata, table of contents, or annotations within a PDF file. Some action extensions offer editing capabilities, so when an extension is dismissed forScore checks to see if it has provided a new version of your document—if it has, you’ll be asked if you want to overwrite the original file with the new copy or not. Badger’s extensions work this way, and other extensions can easily be updated to offer the same kind of functionality.

When serious editing is required, opening your documents in other apps is still the best way, but when you just want to check to see what information already exists or make quick edits, action extensions can offer a much more streamlined experience. As always, you’re free to use whichever one works for your situation.

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.

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