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Apple news, app reviews, and stories by Federico Viticci and friends.


The State of Nintendo’s Smartphone Games

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-15 00:14

Great overview by Bryan Finch, writing for Nintendo Wire, on the state of Nintendo's high-profile mobile titles:

With the recent release of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Nintendo has now delivered all of its previously announced smartphone games. The shocking change in company policy that lead to the development of these titles was one of the final projects that Nintendo’s former president, Satoru Iwata, managed before his untimely passing.

These games have been a mixed bag of success for Nintendo, both in terms of quality and profits, and since all of the known games are now out in the wild, it’s a good time to check in and see where each Nintendo mobile game stands at the end of 2017.

My goal here is to examine what the games set out to achieve, how successful they were with those goals on launch, where they are today and where they can go from here.

Finch is spot-on about Super Mario Run and what went wrong with the game, and I agree with his assessment of Animal Crossing's future potential. I wonder what Nintendo could do with a future mobile Zelda game.

See also: rumors of Nintendo looking for another mobile development partner, and Pocket Camp's performance thus far.

→ Source: nintendowire.com

Apple Introduces Podcast Analytics Beta

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-14 22:55, modified at 23:43

During as session about podcasts at WWDC in June, Apple announced that it would introduce podcast analytics later in the year. Today, the feature was rolled out as a beta service as part of iTunes Connect, Apple’s content creator portal. At release, the data available to podcast producers includes unique device downloads as well as playback metrics.

Historically, podcast analytics have been rudimentary. Producers could track downloads, but there was no way to tell how many users were behind those downloads or how long they listened. Those sorts of features are something that some podcast producers, especially those coming from the radio industry, have wanted Apple to add for a while.

With the beta introduced today, producers can track the number of unique device downloads and view graphs of how long listeners lasted before giving up on a show. The data is aggregated to protect user privacy, but it’s nonetheless substantially more information than podcasters have had in the past.

The data is limited to users using the Apple Podcasts app on iOS 11 and later or listening via iTunes 12.7 or later on macOS, which limits its utility for some show producers. For example, Apple Podcasts listeners account for barely over 5% of listeners of our podcast, AppStories, a number which counts users of the app on all versions of iOS.

One of the big proponents of these sort of analytics has been big brand advertisers who want to more closely measure the performance of podcast advertising. As podcasts have boomed in recent years and producers have looked to bring larger advertisers along for the ride, pressure has mounted for the kind of analytics that are employed on the web. It remains to be seen whether podcast analytics do to podcasts advertising rates what click-through and other metrics have done to other online media outlets’ advertising revenue.

The beta is available at podcastsconnect.apple.com/analytics.

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The Lisa

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-14 18:52, modified on 2017-12-15 03:55

When thinking about the earliest days of Apple, it's easy to recall the Apple I, the Apple II line and the Macintosh. However, there's one more computer that defined Apple's early years. This computer was ground-breaking but incredibly expensive, and exposed many things wrong within Apple itself.

The Lisa launched 35 years ago next month. Today, it is mostly considered as a precursor to Mac. While that is true, it doesn't come close to doing this computer justice.

Development & Launch

Development of the Lisa began in 1978, just one year after the Apple II shipped. It was heralded as Apple's next-gen computer, and was to be a system that allowed the company to make in-roads into businesses in an all-new way.

When Steve Jobs and others made their fateful visit to Xerox PARC in 1979, the vision for the computer drastically changed. Lisa was to be Apple's first computer with a real GUI, driven by a mouse. Over the five years, development costs swelled to $50 million.

Steve Jobs was eventually forced out of the Lisa program in 1982, but the computer retained the name of his daughter. Officially, Lisa stood for “Local Integrated Software Architecture," even though Jobs later said it was "obviously" named after his child. During these years, Jobs denied paternity, even through a legal case included DNA testing, making this chapter of Apple history a little ... uncomfortable.

After years of work and ballooning costs, the Lisa finally launched in January 1983 at a cost of $9,995.1

Lisa 1

The original machine was powered by a 5 MHz Motorola 68000 processor and included support for a hard drive, and shipped with two "Twiggy" floppy disk drives.

Apple Lisa with optional ProFile hard drive

Apple Lisa with optional ProFile hard drive

Officially known as "FileWare," this disk and drive system proved unreliable and slow. The disks were 5.25 inches like other disks at the time, but were incompatible with other drives. Every Lisa came with Apple II-like expansion slot, which gave birth to a range of accessories over the year, including high-density floppy drives, SCSI controllers and even aftermarket CPUs.

Lisa Software

The real story with the Lisa was the software it ran. The Lisa operating system included features like protected memory. This was absent from the Macintosh operating system until the launch of Mac OS X eighteen years later. Under the hood, it ran on a file system that supported hierarchal directories, making it ideal for organizing files on the Lisa's internal hard drive.

Lisa had two main modes. The first, named The Lisa Office System, included seven GUI applications for users: LisaWrite, LisaCalc, LisaDraw, LisaGraph, LisaProject, LisaList, and LisaTerminal.

With these applications, the Lisa introduced the GUI (and the mouse!) to just about everyone who saw one of the computers. This technology allowed users to interact directly with their content in a way that a command line never allowed. This edition of Byte magazine has a great feature on the computer, written by Gregg Williams. It really shows how new these concepts were in 1983:

Suppose I'm writing a report for my boss and I want to prepare a chart to illustrate a point. With a few movements of the mouse (more on this pointing device later), I "tear off" a sheet of Lisa Graph "paper" (thus activating a program called Lisa Calc and displaying an empty grid on the screen) and give it the heading "Annual Sales." I then type my numbers into a grid, name the graph and the x and y aces, and request a bar graph. Violà: I get a bar graph.

To us, this sounds like a normal day in Numbers or Excel, but 35 years ago, it was mind-blowing. The software played a large part in Apple's marketing for the machine, as this ad shows:

(Don't miss this very dramatic ad, either.)

The second mode was a development environment named Apple Lisa Workshop. Developers could use Workshop to create applications to run in the Office System environment, needing to reboot between the two modes to test their software. It's clunk by today's standards, but means that a Lisa could be used to write software for itself. It took the Mac a couple of years to officially reach that computing milestone, and the iPad has yet to do so.

Sadly, PCalc never supported the Lisa

Sadly, PCalc never supported the Lisa

Response to the first Lisa was mixed. The price tag was a major hurdle for all but the largest companies looking at the machine as a productivity tool.

Enter Macintosh

After being booted from the Lisa team in 1982, Jobs wandered around the company until he took over the Macintosh project from Jeff Raskin. The Mac took shape as a Lisa alternative closer to the cost of an Apple II, but more on that in a second.

One year after the Lisa was introduced, Steve Jobs took the Macintosh out of the bag for the first time in January 1984 and the Lisa's days instantly became numbered.

The Mac included many Lisa-first technologies, including a GUI and the mouse, but at a cost that was far lower. Its operating system was more rudimentary, however, lacking multitasking and protected memory. The new machine was clocked at 8 MHz as opposed to the Lisa and Lisa 2's 5 MHz.

The Mac sold 50,000 units in its first 100 days; the Lisa sold only a few thousand in its first year. No doubt the Mac's $2,495 price tag was a major factor.

In an internal Apple video, Jobs addressed the relationship between the Lisa and the Macintosh:

What's so exciting about Macintosh is that while Lisa pioneered this amazing technology, this amazing software technology that makes this possible, with Macintosh, we've been able to take that software technology and pull it down into a price range that is going to be affordable not just to the corporation, as Lisa is, but the individual.

We're going to find people buying Macintoshes for their own use, or for use in a dormitory, or for use in a corner of a corporation that might never have gotten a computer before.

The Lisa was in trouble.

Lisa 2 & MacWorks

The Lisa 2 was announced in the same keynote as the Macintosh. The new model was designed to help correct the original product's shortcomings. The new machine featured a single 3.5-inch, 400k disk drive built by Sony that proved far more reliable. The cost was slashed to as little as $3,495. Lisa 1 owners could replace their Twiggy drives for this new interface. The upgrade was free, and included the front plate to hide the previous opening.

The Lisa 2 came in several configurations. The 2/5 included a 5 MB hard drive, as the Lisa 1 had, while the high-end 2/10 featured a 10MB internal hard drive and 1 MB of RAM.

The new machine came with an upgraded version of the Lisa Office System, now renamed 7/7. Don't miss this PDF boasting the benefits of the Lisa's native software.

At the same time, Apple released MacWorks. This was a software emulation layer that allowed the Lisa to run Mac software and applications. While it initially only ran from a floppy disk, version 2 added hard drive support.

The Lisa's display was 720 pixels wide by 260 pixels tall. This horizontal layout was great for applications like text editing, but led to complications when it came running Mac software, which expected square pixels.

MacWorks was designed to help Lisa users enjoy what the Macintosh had to offer and to consolidate Apple's internal work to maintain its two GUI-based operating systems.

In reality, MacWorks was just another nail in the Lisa's coffin. As groundbreaking as the Lisa Office System was, it was quickly forgotten as things like MacWrite and MacPaint took over.

Mac XL

In January 1985, Apple released another version of the Lisa hardware. Essentially a rebranded Lisa 2/10, the Mac XL was positioned as the first high-end Macintosh, despite its clock speed being 5 MHz like the Lisa and Lisa 2. It sold for $4,000.

(Somewhat surprisingly, the Macintosh XL did fairly well, at least in comparison to the Lisa, which sold only 10,000 units in two years.)

The ill-fated Mac XL

The ill-fated Mac XL

The XL still shipped with rectangular pixels, but the optional Macintosh XL Screen Kit upgrade changed the resolution to 608x432. This made running MacWorks far better. The Lisa's operating system was still there, but it played second fiddle to the Mac's.

The End of Lisa

The end of the Lisa project is a heartbreaker. Apple quit building new Macintosh XL units in the spring of 1985, and officially killed the product in early 1986, after months of being out of stock.

A company named Sun Remarketing released MacWorks Plus, their updated version of the Mac emulation software that supported Macintosh Plus features, emulating up to System 6.0.8.

The company also helped Apple dump some 2700 unsold units in a Logan, Utah landfill.

In 1986, Apple offered all Lisa and XL owners the opportunity to turn in their computer for $2,600 off the purchase of a Macintosh Plus and Hard Disk 20, a rig worth $4,098.00 at the time.

Lisa's Legacy

The world owes a lot to the Lisa. It pioneered the GUI and mouse, and changed computing forever. This computer deserves to be remembered, but history honors the winners.

As such, the Macintosh gets the credit for many of the Lisa's achievements. The Mac was cheaper, more approachable, and simpler, and it pushed the Lisa to the curb in a hurry. Had the Macintosh been even a few years later, the world may remember the Lisa more easily.

Of course, The Lisa was never going to be a mainstream machine due to its price. The cheaper Macintosh gave birth to modern computing, even if it cribbed a lot of ideas from its older sibling. The Lisa may have lost out to the Mac, but its ideas are still with us today.

  1. That's over $24,000 in today's dollars. ↩︎

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Apple Releases iMac Pro and Updates to Final Cut Pro X, Motion, and Compressor

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-14 14:13, modified at 14:31

As expected, Apple introduced of the iMac Pro today, and an update to its professional video-editing app, Final Cut Pro X. Companion video-editing apps Motion and Compressor received updates too.

Specifications of the new iMac Pro are in line with what was reported earlier this week. In its press release, Apple provides examples of the kind of performance increases that different professionals can expect:

iMac Pro takes Mac performance to a whole new level, even when compared to our fastest quad-core iMac.

  • 3D designers can visualize huge 3D models and render scenes up to 3.4 times faster.
  • Developers can run multiple virtual machines and test environments, and compile code up to 2.4 times faster.
  • Scientists and researchers can manipulate massive data sets and complex simulations, visualizing data up to 5 times faster.
  • Photographers can work with enormous files and perform image processing up to 4.1 times faster.
  • Music producers can bounce (export) massive multi-track projects up to 4.6 times faster and use up to 12.4 times as many real-time plug-ins.
  • Video editors can edit up to eight streams of 4K video, or edit 4.5K RED RAW video and 8K ProRes 4444 at full resolution in real time without rendering. The iMac Pro can also export HEVC video 3 times faster.

All that power comes at a substantial price. The iMac Pro starts at $4,999 but can be configured to over $13,000.

Apple also updated Final Cut Pro X, its professional video editing app for macOS. According to Apple:

new features including 360-degree VR video editing, advanced color grading tools and support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) video. Optimized to take full advantage of the incredible performance capabilities of the all-new iMac Pro, Final Cut Pro users can now edit full-resolution 8K video for the first time on a Mac. Apple is also extending 360-degree VR video support to Final Cut Pro companion apps, Motion and Compressor.

Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Apps Product Marketing said:

“With new features like 360-degree VR editing and motion graphics, advanced color grading and HDR support, Final Cut Pro gives video editors the tools to create stunning, next-generation content…. When combined with the performance of Mac hardware, including the all-new iMac Pro, Final Cut Pro provides an incredibly powerful post-production studio to millions of video editors around the world.”

The update to Final Cut Pro X lets editors create 360-degree video content and view those projects in real time using an HTC VIVE VR headset and SteamVR. Apple has also added professional color grading tools and supports popular HDR formats. Other features Apple touts include:

  • Easily import iMovie projects from iPhone and iPad into Final Cut Pro for advanced editing, audio work, motion graphics and color grading.
  • HEVC and HEIF support for importing and editing high efficiency video and photo formats from Apple devices.
  • Updated audio effects plug-ins from Logic Pro X with redesigned, resizable interfaces.
  • Faster, higher quality optical flow analysis built on Metal, Apple’s advanced graphics technology.

In addition to the update to Final Cut Pro X, Apple has updated Motion, which lets users create 360-degree VR titles and effects that are accessible from Final Cut Pro. Compressor has also been updated to let ‘users deliver 360-degree video with industry-standard spherical metadata.’

Final Cut Pro X, Motion, and Compressor are available on the Mac App Store as free updates to existing users. For new users, Final Cut Pro X is $299.99, Motion and Compressor are $49.99 each. Educational users can purchase the apps as a bundle for $199.99.

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Twitterrific for iOS Adds Black Theme, Dynamic Type, Temporary Muffles, Poll Support, and More

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-14 01:45

Twitterrific 5 for iOS was updated today with several new and improved features. My favorite addition is a true black theme that looks striking on the iPhone X. Users that pick the black theme are given a choice between a dark theme that has been modified for ‘greater contrast and clarity’ and the true black theme.

The app’s design has undergone other changes too. Users can pick avatars that are rounded rectangles, circles, squares, or squircles, and text sizes can be adjusted with more granularity thanks to the use of Dynamic Type.

Muffles, which are rules that partially hide tweets from your timeline, can be temporarily disabled now. Previously, the only way to deactivate a Muffle was to delete it.

Twitterrific’s experimental support for polls, which debuted on macOS recently, has been added to the iOS app too. To celebrate the holiday season, The Iconfactory has also added a new icon option: ‘Jolly Ollie,’ which features Twitterrific’s mascot in a Santa hat.

Twitterrific is available on the App Store.

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Connected, Episode 172: Shazamalo

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-13 15:24

Myke was surprised by Apple's Shazam acquisition, Ticci is living that 4K life and Stephen is thinking about an iMac Pro.

A fun episode of Connected this week with a good variety of topics. You can listen here.

Sponsored by:

  • Balance Open: Find out more about Balance Open and get $2 in Ethereum.
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→ Source: relay.fm

AppStories, Episode 35 – An Interview with Christian Selig, Creator of Reddit Client Apollo

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-13 12:18

On this week's episode of AppStories, we interview Christian Selig, the creator of the popular iOS Reddit client Apollo about the development and design of the app, incorporating Redditors’ feedback, the complexities inherent in building a Reddit app, and working in Swift.

Sponsored by:

  • Jamf Now – Manage and protect your Apple devices in minutes. Create your free account today.
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→ Source: appstories.net

Bear 1.4 Brings Tag and Note Autocomplete, True Black Theme for iPhone X, and More

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-13 12:09

As I noted last month in my iPad Diaries column, I've started using Bear in addition to Apple Notes to research articles in Markdown and later convert them to drafts in Ulysses. I was impressed with Shiny Frog's work on iOS 11 and how they brought advanced drag and drop to Bear, but I'm even more positively surprised by the improvements to tagging they released today as part of Bear's 1.4 update.

The marquee addition to Bear 1.4 is autocomplete, which is most notable when adding tags to a note. Now, instead of remembering which tags you've already added to your notes in Bear, you can start typing a pound sign and the first letter of a tag, and Bear will show you an inline popup with tag suggestions.1 Tap one, and the tag immediately gets added to the note without typing it in full. This not only simplifies how you can organize your notes with tags, but it also ensures you always use consistent tag names as you won't end up with duplicates (such as #idea and #ideas, which happened to me because I couldn't remember which one I had originally created).

I'm a fan of the contextual menu to choose tags, which I think works well on both the iPad and iPhone. What's even better though is that the same menu is now used to autocomplete wiki-style links to cross-reference other notes in Bear. The app has long offered the option to create links to other notes, but, like tags, the feature was inconvenient as it required you to manually type the entire name of a note you wanted to link to.

That annoyance is gone thanks to autocomplete. Now as soon as you type double brackets and the first letter of a note, Bear will show you a list of notes you can embed as links. Tap one, and you'll create a reference link to the note in the document you're working on. Alas, Bear still doesn't include an option to compile linked notes upon exporting the master one (which would be terrific to work on longform articles in the app), but I appreciate the possibility to more easily create TOC-type notes in the app.

Custom tag icons in Bear 1.4.

Custom tag icons in Bear 1.4.

There are other improvements worth mentioning in this update. Bear now automatically assigns custom icons to popular tags: in the app, the articles, games, ideas, and iPad tags I was using before now carry delightful monochrome glyphs that add a touch of personality to the sidebar and also make tags easier to find. I'd be curious to know how many more popular icons are supported. You can disable this option in the Bear's theme settings by turning off 'Custom icons for tags'.

Speaking of themes, Shiny Frog has added three new themes for Pro subscribers: Duotone Light, Duotone Snow, and Dieci. The latter (which means "ten" in Italian) is a true black theme that looks fantastic on the iPhone X's OLED display as it seamlessly blends with the bezels of the device.

In addition, Bear for Apple Watch now lets you scribble on notes by force pressing them, and you can also append todos to an existing note directly from your wrist. My favorite small tweak, however, is about using custom keyboards with Bear: the app now remembers custom keyboards you use for each note. For instance, the app will automatically show Gboard if you last used it in a note, but default to Apple's system keyboard, or a different custom one, elsewhere.

Bear's subscription model seems to be working well for Shiny Frog: the indie studio is releasing substantial updates to Bear at a regular pace, iterating upon their original vision of a Markdown-flavored note-taking app that combines elegance with power-user features. Version 1.4 is another remarkable update for what is, arguably, the best alternative to Apple Notes on iOS. If you've never played around with Bear, now would be a great time to check it out.

Bear 1.4 is available on the App Store.

  1. Alternatively, tap the hashtag button in the toolbar, and the tag suggestions menu will come up right away. ↩︎

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iMac Pro First Impressions Around the Web

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-13 01:16

The iMac Pro was debuted on Apple’s online store today, but won’t be available to purchase until December 14th. Over the past week, the company provided test hardware to a handful of photographers, videographers, an aerospace engineer, and programmers. Each seems to have been given an iMac Pro with a 10-core 3GHz processor, 128GB memory, 2TB SSD, and the Radeon Pro Vega 64 graphics with 16GB memory. Although no one had time to put the machine through a thorough review, they each put the new iMac through a unique series of tests and real-world tasks to see how it performed.

Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:

Thomas Carter, editor at Trim, a London-based editor of commercials, music videos, and film:

While I really haven’t had enough time to do a deep dive, it’s clearly the best Mac I’ve ever used — it’s stupidly powerful and great to work on.

If you’re a pro user who needs a Pro Mac, it’s probably for you (and you can get your hands on one starting December 14). If you’re already an iMac user but you need more power, it’s probably for you too. If I had to make a wildly uninformed guess, I’d say this will be more than enough computer for 90% of pros.

There will still understandably be a number of places where this machine will not be enough, and I don’t mean it’s lacking in power — if you’re someone who needs rack-mountable, user-expandable hardware, this may not be for you.

Mike Seymour, writing for fxguide:

What this iMac does deliver in spades is stylish, fast sexy, hard core power and the promise of being able to get work done in an ever demanding media landscape. This is a great editing machine... insanely great.

The new machine I have been using for the last week also has the new Final Cut Pro, which we will cover in full later this week. But this feels like a brilliant machine for editing. The work I have been researching lately uses VR/AR for virtual digital humans. This type of work is both graphics and computationally demanding, requiring both at least 10 cores and the best Graphics card money can buy. It also requires a large amount of complex machine learning/AI. Unexpectedly, this iMac actually scores well on this front.

In the end this iMac Pro is as significant for the direction it heralds for tomorrow, as the performance it delivers today.

Craig Hunter, a mechanical/aerospace engineer and developer with Hunter Research and Technology who tested the iMac Pro with aerodynamic design and development benchmarks and Xcode:

Most of my apps have around 20,000-30,000 lines of code spread out over 80-120 source files (mostly Obj-C and C with a teeny amount of Swift mixed in). There are so many variables that go into compile performance that it’s hard to come up with a benchmark that is universally relevant, so I’ll simply note that I saw reductions in compile time of between 30-60% while working on apps when I compared the iMac Pro to my 2016 MacBook Pro and 2013 iMac. If you’re developing for iOS you’ll still be subject to the bottleneck of installing and launching an app on the simulator or a device, but when developing for the Mac this makes a pretty noticeable improvement in repetitive code-compile-test cycles.

The nearest comparable shipping 27” iMac I configured was $3699 but with a greatly inferior CPU and graphics chipset, four fewer cores, and other disadvantages across the board. So in that context, spending another $1300 to get into an iMac Pro is a no brainer.

Vincent Laforet, a professional photographer and videographer:

I found a very consistent set of results:  a 2X to 3X boost in speed (relative to my current iMac and MacBook Pro 15”) a noticeable leap from most generational jumps that are generally ten times smaller.

Whether you’re editing 8K RED video, H.264 4K Drone footage, 6K 3D VR content or 50 Megapixel RAW stills – you can expect a 200-300% increase in performance in almost every industry leading software with the iMac Pro.   

Cabel Sasser, co-founder of Panic and publisher of Firewatch:

Could the T2 chip mentioned by Sasser be the chip reported on my Mark Gurman this past February?

iMac Pros were also provided to YouTubers Marques Brownlee and Jonathan Morrison. Brownlee provided a first-look at the iMac Pro’s specs and performance, while Morrison focused on its use as part of a comprehensive computing setup.

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Workouts++ Adds Podcast Playback, Mapping, New Workout Types, Siri and More

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-13 00:12

Almost a year ago, David Smith released Workouts++, an alternative to watchOS’ built-in Workout app that adds an iOS component to leverage the data collected during workouts. Today, Smith released version 2.0 of Workouts++ with a host of new features enabled by advances in the Apple Watch and Apple’s health and fitness APIs, including podcast playback, location tracking and mapping, support for new workout types, Siri integration, and more. On top of that, Workouts++ is now free with no In-App Purchases, advertising, or subscription.

I’ve tried a lot of different workout apps and been disappointed by most of their watchOS apps in one way or another. Sometimes the problem is the Watch app’s performance. Other times, the issue is a design choice that emphasizes information that I don’t care about.

Workouts++ avoids those pitfalls a couple of ways. First, the watchOS app is as fast to start and easy to use as Apple’s Workout app. The app has never held me up when I’m ready to go out for a run. Second, the watchOS UI is fully customizable. From the iOS app, you can pick from a wide array of workout types and Watch UI layouts, so the app displays the real-time statistics that matter to you most.

The iOS app makes great use of the workout data the Watch app collects.

The iOS app makes great use of the workout data the Watch app collects.

But Workouts++ is more than just a customizable Workout clone. It has a rich iOS companion app that makes good use of the data collected during a workout, presenting it per-workout and in the aggregate. As I said in my review of version 1.0:

Tracking workouts is personal. Two people who do the same type of workout are unlikely to have the same goals. One runner may be targeting a certain heart rate, while another is working on hitting a certain pace for an upcoming race. Apple’s Workout app is a good way to get started with tracking workouts, but Workouts++ embraces the differences between people's workout goals by providing ways to monitor the information that is most relevant to them.

It’s that ease-of-use coupled with personalization that Smith has extended with version 2.

The LTE radio in the Apple Watch Series 3 has been a boon for exercising. I love the ability to get notifications and stream music over a cellular connection directly to my Watch. At the same time though, the Series 3 immediately left me longing for a way to listen to podcasts when I exercise.

Podcast episodes are color coded according to their Watch status.

Podcast episodes are color coded according to their Watch status.

Workouts++ has come up with a solution that works surprisingly well given the audio API limitations of watchOS. It has a dedicated tab in the iOS app where you can subscribe to your favorite podcasts, which show up in the ‘All’ section of the tab. If you tap on an episode, it downloads and is transferred to your Apple Watch, a process which can take a while. The advantage of downloaded episodes is that there’s a little button on the Watch’s playback screen to skip ahead and back 30 seconds or one minute at a time depending on the length of the episode.

When you start a workout on your Watch, you simply swipe left once to display two sets of podcast episodes. At the top of the view are the downloaded episodes that play immediately when you tap the play button. The remainder of the podcast view lists streamable episodes. Tap one of those episodes and it doesn’t start playing until (at least in my tests) about 4 MB of data has been transferred to the Watch. The initial buffering doesn’t take very long on a good connection, but if you’re headed out for a run, the wait can feel longer than it in fact is.

In my tests, the podcast feature worked well when I tested it with episodes of varying lengths. The primary downside, however, is that these episodes are only available when you’re working out and there’s no way to sync the play position to another podcast player for when you’re no longer exercising. Still, the option of brining my favorite podcasts with me when I exercise is a fantastic addition to the app.

Version 2 of Workouts++ now has location tracking and mapping too. Tapping a workout entry in the iOS app opens its detail view, which now includes a map of your training route. There’s also a map under the Stats tab, which shows all your routes at once.

The workout detail view and Watch layout configuration screen have been redesigned.

The workout detail view and Watch layout configuration screen have been redesigned.

The app also includes several other new features and enhancements including:

  • The ability to start a workout using Siri;
  • New Pool and Open Water swimming workouts;
  • A redesigned Apple Watch UI configuration system and workout detail view in the iOS app;
  • New Stopwatch, Elevation, Average pace/speed and Activity ring measurements that can be displayed during a workout; and
  • distance and duration alerts.

Workouts++ continues to be one on of the most versatile, adaptable workout apps available. It’s an app that is perfect for anyone who feels constrained by the built-in Workout app on the Apple Watch or who loves to tinker and customize their app experiences.

Workouts++ is available on the the App Store.

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How to Design for iPhone X (Without an iPhone X)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-12 22:02

Great analysis by Sebastiaan de With on how they redesigned Halide for the iPhone X (the app indeed turned out to be one of the best iPhone X app updates we've seen so far):

Design for ergonomics. On regular iPhones, you have to do much less as a designer to optimize ergonomics. The iPhone X requires you to think about comfortable button placement and usability. Ergonomics is more than just tapping, but also swiping and other gestures. Lay out your UI so all actions are accessible and as comfortably usable as possible.

It’s a whole new device: Design for it. Everyone can stretch an app out to a larger screen, but just like the iPad, a fresh approach is not only welcomed but helps you stand out in the App Store. This is a great time to validate your current design. Are your approaches still valid? Is there a better solution possible? You might come to some valuable insights that you can apply to all your designs, not just the ones for the shiny new device.

If you're a developer working on iPhone X UI updates, don't miss Sebastiaan's map visualization of the device's display.

→ Source: blog.halide.cam

Twitter Rolling Out Official Support for Threads

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-12 21:46

Twitter's latest feature – which is rolling out "in the coming weeks" – is another that's been inspired by something users have been doing for a few years now: threads.

From the Twitter blog:

At Twitter, we have a history of studying how people use our service and then creating features to make what they’re doing easier. The Retweet, '@reply', and hashtag are examples of this. A few years ago we noticed people creatively stitching Tweets together to share more information or tell a longer story – like this. We saw this approach (which we call “threading”) as an innovative way to present a train of thought, made up of connected but individual elements.

Now, hundreds of thousands of threads are Tweeted every day! But this method of Tweeting, while effective and popular, can be tricky for some to create and it’s often tough to read or discover all the Tweets in a thread. That’s why we’re thrilled to share that we’re making it simpler to thread Tweets together, and to find threads, so it’s easier to express yourself on Twitter and stay informed.

We’ve made it easy to create a thread by adding a plus button in the composer, so you can connect your thoughts and publish your threaded Tweets all at the same time. You can continue adding more Tweets to your published thread at any time with the new “Add another Tweet” button. Additionally, it’s now simpler to spot a thread – we’ve added an obvious “Show this thread” label.

As far as I can tell, this is a prettier interface for the original method of creating a thread by replying to yourself. Twitter has integrated a multi-post feature into the app's compose box, and there doesn't seem to be a new API endpoint for threading. It seems like a nice workflow with a 'Tweet All' button at the end. In theory, popular third-party clients could replicate the same behavior (and design) in their own compose UIs – just like various tweetstorm utilities create "threads" by posting multiple replies in a row.

→ Source: blog.twitter.com

Automating Your Holiday Lights Inside and Out

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-12 20:26

It’s easy to get carried away with elaborate and expensive home automation projects when you’re just starting out. A better place to begin though, is with a simple, temporary setup that doesn’t cost a lot but will still give you a glimpse of some of the conveniences of home automation without making a big commitment. When I heard that iHome had introduced a reasonably-priced outdoor smart plug, I knew immediately that it and some holiday lights would make an excellent home automation starter project.

This is by no means a Clark Griswold-level undertaking. My family’s holiday decorations are fairly simple. In the front yard, we put up lights in the bushes and on the columns on either side of our front door. Inside, we have a Christmas tree in our living room with lights. The first step was to put up the outdoor lights the weekend after Thanksgiving on what turned out to be a mercifully warm day.

After the lights were up and working, I plugged them into the iHome’s iSP100 Outdoor SmartPlug, which I connected to an outdoor outlet near my front door. The iSP100 is about as simple as you can imagine. It has a short cord attached to a plastic box that holds its electronics. One end plugs into a standard US outdoor electrical outlet, and the other end takes two or three-pronged electrical devices.

Next, I opened Apple’s Home app, tapped the plus button and picked ‘Add Accessory.’ Scanning the HomeKit code on the side of the iSP100 was a little awkward because the outlet was close to the ground, and it was a bright, sunny day, but after a few tries, the code was recognized. However, the Home app refused to add the plug.

The process of doing this while stooped over in front of my house quickly tried my patience, so I took the SmartPlug inside and set it up in the kitchen where I didn’t have to bend over, and I had a better WiFi signal. This time, setup was quick and painless. With the SmartPlug available in the Home app, I moved it outside and tested it by turning the lights on and off with the ‘Outside Outlet’ buttons I had created. The last step was to set up two automations. The first turns the SmartPlug on at sundown and the second turns it off at 11:00 pm.

Setting up automations to turn my holiday lights on and off.

Setting up automations to turn my holiday lights on and off.

The following weekend, we bought a Christmas tree. After the lights were on the tree, I plugged them into an iHome iSP8 Indoor SmartPlug that I picked up during a Black Friday sale. After adding the iSP8 to the Home app, I included it in the automations that I had created for the outdoor lights. Now, like magic, our Christmas lights come on simultaneously at sunset in our living room and the front yard.

I prefer to control HomeKit devices from Apple’s Home app because it’s easier than going to multiple manufacturers’ apps to manage devices. The Home app is also better-designed and easier to use than most of those apps. The iHome app is no exception. The UI is unattractive and assumes you want to see a list of every room in your home even if you have only one or two iHome devices.

There is one cool feature of the iSP8 has that you can’t access in Apple’s Home app though, which is why the iHome app remains on my iPhone. If you tap the info button next to the iSP8, it displays the plug’s electrical usage. I knew Christmas lights use a fair amount of power, but was surprised to learn our medium-size tree is using around 200W. You can also view the cost of that electricity based on historical prices for your area over different time periods. It’s a neat feature that I wish the Outdoor SmartPlug had too.

The Apple Home app (left), the iHome app (center), and the iHome app's electrical usage feature.

The Apple Home app (left), the iHome app (center), and the iHome app's electrical usage feature.

Although scheduling our holiday lights to turn on and off at set times is probably all I needed to do, I wanted to take things a step further and test Siri and Alexa integration. I’m glad I did because the two assistants work in subtly different ways that my simple setup highlights.

Siri can control individual HomeKit devices, groups of devices, and what Apple calls ‘Scenes.’ If I want to turn on my Christmas tree lights in the morning over breakfast, but leave the outdoor lights off, I can just say ‘Hey Siri, turn on the living room outlet’ and later turn them off with ‘Hey Siri, turn off the living room outlet.’

Scenes work a little differently though. Initially, I created a Scene called Christmas Lights that includes both iHome accessories in their ‘on’ states. Tapping the Scene from the Home app or in Control Center turned on my lights, and I could toggle them back off by tapping the button again.

Turning on lights in a Scene (left), turning off lights with a different Scene (center), Siri can't turn off a Scene (right).

Turning on lights in a Scene (left), turning off lights with a different Scene (center), Siri can't turn off a Scene (right).

That doesn’t work with Siri though, because it can’t turn off scenes. That meant that I could say ‘Hey Siri, turn on Christmas Lights’ to turn on the Scene, but I got an error when I asked Siri to turn the Scene off. One solution is to create a second Scene that is identical to the first, but with the iHome plugs in their ‘off’ states. The difference between how Scenes are activated and deactivated in the Home app and with Siri is a quirky distinction that has led to a lot of user confusion judging from posts online.

To add to the confusion, what I first unsuccessfully tried to accomplish with a Scene, is possible with a Group. Unlike Scenes, which allow device-level control over each accessory in the Scene, settings for Groups apply to the set of devices only. For example, if you include a Hue light and power outlet in a Scene, you can set the brightness of the light and its color temperature while also setting the outlet’s power state to on or off. If you include the same accessories in a Group, however, you can only control whether the light and outlet are on or off because that’s the only setting the two have in common. The advantage of a Group over a Scene though is that Siri can turn a Group on and off.

HomeKit Group creation is buried deep in Apple's Home app.

HomeKit Group creation is buried deep in Apple's Home app.

The problem is compounded by the fact that Groups are not clearly exposed in the Home app’s UI. To create one, you need to 3D Touch an accessory’s icon in the Home app, then tap ‘Details.’ Near the bottom of the screen is an option to ‘Group with Other Accessories,’ which you can use to create and name a Group. In a tab bar app that has only three tabs, Groups strikes me as a feature that Apple should promote to its own tab as Matthias Hochgatterer has done in his excellent third-party Home app.

Amazon’s handling of grouped accessories is a little more straight-forward, but the setup process is tedious. The Alexa app is a poorly designed, confusing mess. To control my iHome devices, I had to download the iHome skill, set up an iHome account, log in, and add each device to the Alexa app. After that was finished, I included both iHome plugs in a group I named ‘Christmas Lights,’ which worked just like my HomeKit Group.

Setting up my holiday lights in Amazon's Alexa app.

Setting up my holiday lights in Amazon's Alexa app.

Now that I have HomeKit and Alexa Groups with the same name, I can tell Siri or Alexa to turn my Christmas lights on or off with the same command. In my tests, neither voice assistant worked substantially better than the other. The Echo seems to respond a little faster, and Siri is more chatty, but the differences are too small to declare a clear winner. Overall though, I give the edge to Apple because I can also control my holiday lights with my Apple Watch and the Home app is vastly superior to Amazon’s.

Setting up holiday light automation was instructive in a couple of ways. First, I went into the project wondering whether automating something so simple was worthwhile. After all, it’s not hard to manually plug in your lights. I was surprised to discover though that I’ve enjoyed having my lights automated. It’s a small difference, but our lights come on without having to think about it and regardless of whether we are home. The setup is better than an analog timer too because I can turn the lights on and off whenever I want without wondering if I’ve messed up the timer somehow.

Second, I have a greater appreciation for the design of Apple’s Home app every time I set up a new smart device. It has some quirks and limitations, but the Home app is far ahead of most device manufacturers’ apps and the Alexa app.

It’s still early days in home automation. Consequently, it pays to move slowly and carefully consider your options before taking the plunge with expensive hardware. One of the benefits of iHome’s smart plugs is that they work with HomeKit, Alexa, Google Home, Nest, Smart Things, and Wink. That sort of cross-platform compatibility can come at a higher price, but it also ensures you’ll have the greatest possible flexibility as your home automation system evolves.

The iHome iSP100 Outdoor SmartPlug, which is $40, and the iSP8 Indoor SmartPlug, which is $45, are available from Amazon.

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Punish Website Is a Blacklist-Only iOS Content Blocker

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-12 16:20

Several weeks ago we got a question from a Club MacStories member wanting to know if any of us had come across a blacklist-only content blocker. We hadn’t. We did some research and still came up empty, which we reported back to MacStories Weekly readers. That prompted developer Salavat Khanov to step in and fill the gap with a new app called Punish Website.

Khanov is the developer behind 1Blocker, a popular iOS content blocker that we’ve covered in the past. However 1Blocker, like its competitors, blocks ads, comments, and other content based on an elaborate system of rules. You can whitelist sites, but the default behavior is to block content unless instructed otherwise. Our reader wanted to come at the problem from the other direction with a content blocker that only blocks elements on blacklisted sites.

That’s exactly what Punish does. It’s primarily an action extension that’s invoked from the system share sheet. When you come across a site that crosses your tolerance line for website clutter, all you need to do is tap the share icon in Safari and pick Punish. The extension UI will appear to confirm you want to add the site to your blacklist. After you tap the Done button, the site reloads free of distractions.

To take a site off your blacklist, simply open the app and swipe left to reveal a delete button or use the Edit button. Managing your list is simple, but I’d also like to see a Cancel button added to the extension for those circumstances where you have second thoughts about invoking the blocker.

I’m glad to see that Khanov developed Punish. It’s easy to paint all websites with the same anti-advertising brush, but the reality is that advertising is still a big part of how sites earn money and there’s a strong case for a more considered and deliberate approach, which Punish enables.

Punish Website is available on the App Store for $2.99.

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T3 Interviews Phil Schiller About Face ID, AirPods, HomePod, and More

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-12 15:34, modified at 15:36

UK lifestyle site T3 has an in-depth interview with Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing. The interview covers a wide range of topics including the iPhone X, Face ID, AirPods, ARKit, HomeKit, the Apple Pencil, the iMac Pro, and the HomePod.

Schiller credits Apple’s tight integration of software and hardware and cross-team collaboration with the success of Face ID:

Other companies certainly have had the vision of 'can you unlock something with someone’s face?' but no one [has] actually delivered technology as advanced and capable and ubiquitous and consumer friendly as Face ID. And that is the direct result of this collaboration, and how these teams work for years together on a simple powerful idea with all that technology.

He also uses the AirPods as an example of the extent of the engineering that goes into making a product as seemingly simple as the AirPods:

So frequently, I talk to customers who say, ‘My favourite product Apple has ever made are AirPods.’ And that’s just a really nice thing to hear. I love when customers respond that one of their favourite product is something this simple, and yet so much work went into it.

At the surface level, it’s an incredibly simple product. But the reality is it’s actually an incredibly complex product to make. Each AirPod really is its own computer, running software and hardware. And those two computers need to deliver this very clear experience that you want, and they have to work together, because we’re very attuned to synchronisation in audio as a species. And so it has to work the way you want.

One of our favourite features is just the idea that you take it out and the music stops – you put it back in and it keeps going again. “Again, that’s a simple idea, but took a lot of engineering to make it work quickly, reliably, for all of us in all different ear sizes and different situations. And they have to work with this iPhone that may be in your pocket or your bag, across your body. And as you know, our bodies are big bags of water, which are really bad for radio signals to get through.

Phil Schiller has an impressive knack for explaining Apple’s vision for its products, which makes this interview worth reading in its entirety.

→ Source: t3.com

Apple Announces iMac Pro to Begin Shipping December 14th

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-12 14:34

Apple updated its website with news that the iMac Pro is shipping beginning on December 14, 2017. The pro-level iMac features a long list of impressive specifications. The desktop computer, which was announced in June at WWDC comes in 8, 10, and 18-core configurations, though the 18-core model will not ship until 2018. The new iMac can be configured with up to 128GB of RAM and can handle SSD storage of up to 4TB. Graphics are driven with the all-new Radeon Pro Vega, which Apple said offers three times the performance over other iMac GPUs.

The desktop, which Apple touts as a solution for video editing, virtual reality development, and other graphics and processor-intensive tasks was taken through its paces by Marques Brownlee on his YouTube channel:

According to Brownlee, the machine runs quiet and cool, but suffers from the inability to upgrade components, which is uncommon for a pro-level computer. Brownlee also notes that the iMac Pro worked well on Final Cut Pro X tasks that would typically choke another iMac.

Jonathan Morrison also got an opportunity to preview the iMac Pro, showing off his setup here:

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Cultured Code Releases ‘Mail to Things’

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-12 14:00

Cultured Code, makers of Things for iOS and macOS, today released Mail to Things, a feature that enables Things users to save new tasks directly into the app's inbox through a dedicated Things Cloud email address.

As I shared on AppStories and Connected over the past couple of weeks, I've been experimenting with Things as my default task manager. Version 3.0 of Things piqued my interest earlier this year when Ryan reviewed the app, but it was only recently that I felt I could use a break from Todoist and embrace Things' elegant and relaxing design. I haven't yet decided whether I'll keep using Things for the foreseeable future, but I'm leaning towards yes – Things' thoughtful approach to deadlines and upcoming tasks is helping me avoid the stress inherent to managing multiple projects and a team of 5 people.

That said, there are several areas where Todoist can be more flexible and integrated than Things – namely, cross-platform support, collaboration, and automation through web APIs. Things will likely never be the kind of horizontal task manager Todoist is – with apps and extensions for every major platform – but Cultured Code is making its first steps towards lightweight web automation with Mail to Things.

Mail to Things consists of an email address to forward messages to, which will become tasks in Things' inbox. Because the email address is unique to your account, you need to enable it from the app's Things Cloud settings pane, which will generate a personalized email address you can copy and save to your address book. Then, whenever you come across an email message that you want to turn into a task in Things, you can forward it to your @things.email address; after a few seconds, you'll see the message pop up in Things' inbox, with its original subject line as title and message body as a note attached to the task. Only text is supported for task notes – email attachments will be discarded by Mail to Things as the app doesn't support task attachments yet.

In my tests, Mail to Things was fast and reliable: after forwarding a message to my Things address, it showed up as a new inbox item a few seconds later with the correct title and note attached to it. Mail to Things doesn't strip out the 'Fwd:' bit from a forwarded message's subject line, nor does it clean up quoted text in message's body; in a nice touch though, no matter which email client I used to forward a message, Things always included a message:// URL at the bottom of the note to reopen the individual message in Apple Mail. This allowed me to forward messages from Spark for iOS (which unfortunately still doesn't offer the native Things integration seen on macOS) while retaining the ability to reference the message by tapping a URL in the task.

Of course, it all gets more interesting if you connect your Mail to Things address to web automation services such as Zapier and IFTTT. On Zapier, I was able to turn notifications from Stripe into todos in Things by using Zapier's own 'Send Outbound Email' action, which sends my Stripe Radar notification template as an email message to my Things inbox.

Unfortunately, the big drawback of Cultured Code's first take on Mail to Things is the lack of a syntax to set projects and due dates from the email message itself. Currently, all items forwarded to Mail to Things end up in the inbox; there are no special commands to embed in the subject line so that a task is automatically created in a specific project, or assigned a deadline beforehand. This limitation is common to most task managers that don't offer a proper web API1: Mail to Things is merely a workaround for bringing the power of web automation to Things, and it doesn't offer the breadth and depth of actual API-based automation such as the Zapier actions for Todoist or Trello.

I gave John my Things email address and I made a terrible mistake.

I gave John my Things email address and I made a terrible mistake.

Despite its limitations, Mail to Things can be an effective way to extend Things' inbox beyond manual creation of new tasks. While I'd like Cultured Code to consider an advanced syntax for setting task metadata before messages hit the server, I plan on converting most of my existing web automations into Mail to Things actions for now. Mail to Things may not be as versatile as web-based task managers, but Things is the todo app I need at this point in my life; Mail to Things makes it slightly more convenient for me to turn email messages and web notifications into tasks I can process later, knowing that they'll be waiting in Things' inbox for me.

Mail to Things is available as a free update for existing Things users as part of version 3.3 of the app, launching today on the App Store for iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

  1. See: 2Do and OmniFocus↩︎

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Apple Opens App Pre-Orders to All Developers

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-11 23:13, modified on 2017-12-12 01:05

You may recall that when Super Mario Run was announced in 2016, customers could request notification of its release, which was a first at the time on the App Store. Now, all developers can do something similar by offering their apps for pre-order. According to iTunes Connect’s Resources and Help documentation:

Now you can make your new apps available for pre-order on all Apple platforms. Customers can see your product page and order your app before it's released for download. Once your app is released, customers will be notified and your app will automatically download to their device. For paid apps, customers will be charged before download.

The process for submitting an app for pre-order seems relatively straight-forward:

To make your new app available for pre-order:

  1. From the homepage, click My Apps, select the app, and select Pricing and Availability in the left column. You'll see the Pre-Orders section if your app has never been published on the App Store.
  2. Select Make available for pre-order, choose a date to release your app for download, then click Save in the upper-right corner. The release date must be at least two days in the future, but no more than 90 days in the future.

  3. Submit your app for review.

  4. Once your app is approved and you're ready to make it available for pre-order, return to Pricing and Availability, confirm the date your app will be released for download, and click Release as Pre-Order in the upper-right corner.

In addition to offering apps for pre-orders, Apple will report pre-orders as part of the Sales and Trends section of iTunes Connect. Apple has also included an FAQ with further information about the pre-order process.

It’s been about a year since Apple tested the pre-release notification waters with Super Mario Run and it’s nice to see that it’s been opened up to all developers who can use it to get customers excited about their apps ahead of launch.

Update: According to a new webpage published by Apple that summarizes the pre-order program, it also applies to macOS and tvOS apps.

In addition, Apple has added a 'Pre-Orders' section to the Games tab of the App Store, which currently includes five games. No similar section has been added to the Mac App Store or Apple TV App Store.

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Pixure 3.0 with PanelKit 2.0

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-11 20:36

I first linked to Louis D'hauwe's pixel art editor for iOS, Pixure, in March, when he introduced PanelKit in the iPad version of the app. If you've never played around with Pixure and PanelKit, imagine the ability to grab iPad popovers or sidebar panels and detach them so they're floating onscreen like tool palettes would on macOS. I was skeptical of this idea initially – I feared it would overcomplicate the iPad's UI – but it works surprisingly well on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. I know that after using PanelKit months ago, I tried a few times to grab popovers in iPad apps like Omni's, realizing that they didn't support PanelKit.

D'hauwe is back today with Pixure 3.0, another excellent update that, among various enhancements, brings a version browser (a feature more apps should offer on iOS), drag and drop, and advanced export options. With today's release, Pixure also includes PanelKit 2.0, a major update of the framework that now supports pinning multiple panels to the side of the screen as well as resizing them. Plus, your custom panel configuration is now saved across multiple app launches, so once you set up your workspace in Pixure, the app always remembers it.

Even if you're not interested in editing pixel art graphics, I recommend checking out Pixure 3.0 just to play around with PanelKit 2.0. Support for multiple panels on the side is particularly impressive – try, for instance, to resize and stack the Color Picker and Layers panels on top of each other. It's fun and intuitive, and I bet you're going to wish more pro iPad apps offered this kind of flexible, customizable UI. You can find Pixure 3.0 on the App Store and read more about PanelKit 2.0 here.

→ Source: itunes.apple.com

Apple Acquires Shazam Song Identification Service

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-11 17:10

On Friday, TechCrunch reported that Apple had agreed to acquire music discovery service and app-maker Shazam. Today, Apple made it official confirming the deal to BuzzFeed News. Shazam, which makes iOS, watchOS, and macOS apps that can detect songs, TV shows, and advertisements from their sound signatures, has been on Apple’s platforms since the early days of iOS and is the engine behind Siri’s ability to recognize songs.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed in the announcement, but according to TechCrunch, Shazam cost Apple somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 million. According to a report from The Wall Street Journal last year, Shazam accounts for about 1 million clicks per day and 10% of digital download sales. However, as streaming services have gained popularity over paid music downloads, Shazam’s affiliate link revenue from music sales has shrunken. To compensate, Shazam has turned increasingly to advertising. With today’s acquisition, Shazam should continue to drive traffic to Apple Music without the need to sustain itself as a standalone business.

In addition to Apple’s music services, Shazam sends significant traffic to Spotify. Shazam also has an Android app. It remains to be seen what will happen to the Spotify relationship or Android app now that Shazam is part of Apple or whether Apple plans to maintain Shazam as a separate iOS app. Deeper integration with Siri is one direction Apple may take Shazam’s technology implementing something like the Google Pixel 2’s automatic song identification feature called ‘Now Playing.’

Past MacStories coverage of Shazam is available here.

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Timing: Stop Worrying About Time and Focus on Your Work Instead [Sponsor]

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-11 16:06, modified at 16:15

Timing for macOS is the first step to recapturing your most precious resource: time. Before you can find lost time, you need to understand how you are spending it. But manual time tracking interrupts your workflow, and it’s easy to lose track of what you’ve done. That’s where Timing comes in. It’s different because Timing automatically tracks how you spend time on your Mac.

Timing shows you how much time you spend per app, website, and document, and categorizes that time into projects. Timing helps you be more productive by analyzing how you are wasting time too. Best of all, Timing includes automation features to help you save more time by doing things like automatically categorizing activities. The app can even ask you what you did when you return to your Mac, so you never forget to track a meeting. In addition, freelancers will love Timing's ability to generate a timesheet for your clients.

Download Timing’s 14-day free trial today and save 10% when you decide to buy. You can also download Timing as part of Setapp, the service that gives you access to more than 100 Mac apps for just $9.99/month.

Stop worrying about time and focus on doing your best work instead with Timing.

P.S.: Check out Faviconographer too. It’s a free utility from Timing’s developer that adds a favicon to your Safari tabs. It’s a clever touch. When you have a lot of tabs open, it’s much easier to find the one you want when you can see its favicon.

Our thanks to Timing for sponsoring MacStories this week.

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On Ive’s Return to Design Team Management

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-09 15:15

Bloomberg's Mark Gurman and Alex Webb reported yesterday on a change in Apple's design team, confirmed by Apple PR with a statement:

Apple Inc.’s Jony Ive, a key executive credited with the look of many of the company’s most popular products, has re-taken direct management of product design teams.

Ive, 50, was named Apple’s chief design officer in 2015 and subsequently handed off some day-to-day management responsibility while the iPhone maker was building its new Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino, California. “With the completion of Apple Park, Apple’s design leaders and teams are again reporting directly to Jony Ive, who remains focused purely on design,” Amy Bessette, a company spokeswoman, said Friday in a statement.

I don't know what to think about this. I never assumed Ive would leave Apple after Apple Park was completed. From the outside, we can only infer that his return to managing the design team is important enough for Apple to issue an official statement and remove Design VPs Dye and Howarth from the Leadership page.

Benjamin Mayo also raises a good point:

It’s hard to parse what this means because nobody on the outside really has a good idea of what the title change two years ago meant. Jony Ive’s elevation to Chief Design Officer felt like the first steps to his retirement with Howarth and Dye taking up the posts of lead hardware and software design.

Yet, Apple never tipped its hand that Ive was on the way out. I expected Howarth and Dye to slowly start appearing in keynote presentation videos, in interviews, and new product marketing. Ive would slowly fade from relevance in Apple’s public relations before he left for real. That simply didn’t happen. If anything, Ive became even more intertwined into Apple’s public image. He has done countless interviews and photo shoots in the intervening years.

→ Source: bloomberg.com

TechCrunch: Apple Is Acquiring Shazam

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-09 00:46

Ingrid Lunden, writing for TechCrunch:

As Spotify continues to inch towards a public listing, Apple is making a move of its own to step up its game in music services. Sources tell us that the company is close to acquiring Shazam, the popular app that lets people identify any song, TV show, film or advert in seconds, by listening to an audio clip or (in the case of, say, an ad) a visual fragment, and then takes you to content relevant to that search.

We have heard that the deal is being signed this week, and will be announced on Monday, although that could always change.

Assuming that Apple keeps Shazam's standalone app around in the short term, I wonder if the built-in Spotify integration for streaming and saving songs will remain (I wouldn't be surprised if it gets pulled). I'm a fan of Shazam's iPhone and Watch apps, but it'd be great to have Shazam baked into Siri without having to ask any special song recognition command. Shazam's discovery and recommendation features could also tie in nicely with Apple Music.

→ Source: techcrunch.com

Yoink 1.1 Brings Clipboard and Files Integration, 3D Touch Support, and More

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-07 15:52

I use Gladys as my go-to shelf app on the iPhone and iPad, but I'm also a fan of what developer Matthias Gansrigler is doing with Yoink on iOS. Yoink is a popular drag and drop assistant for macOS that launched earlier this year on iOS with an iPad app that, like many others, took advantage of the drag and drop APIs in iOS 11 to offer a mix of a shelf app and clipboard manager.

There are some terrific improvements in version 1.1 of Yoink for iOS, released today on the App Store. The app now integrates with the system clipboard and 3D Touch quick actions, allowing you to save something you just copied either by accepting a prompt in the app or with a shortcut from the Home screen. 3D Touch is also supported inside Yoink, where you can peek and pop item previews, as well as entire stacks. Speaking of stacks, you can now create them like app folders on the Home screen – just pick up an item, hold it on top of another, and you'll create a new stack in Yoink.

Among the many other fixes and improvements of this release, I want to mention the ability to download URLs with Yoink's extension. If you come across a link to a downloadable file on your iPhone or iPad, you can share it with the Yoink extension, which will ask you whether you want to save the URL itself in the app or download the linked file instead. If you choose the latter, Yoink will start the download process in the background and save the file inside the app. This is a good workaround to the lack of a native file downloader UI in Safari for iOS.

Downloading files from Safari with Yoink.

Downloading files from Safari with Yoink.

Yoink also offers integration with Files through a file provider extension now, and there's a URL scheme to automate the process of sending text to the app. While Yoink is obviously skewed towards importing items via drag and drop, I like the idea of allowing power users to quickly save bits of text into it through apps like Launcher and Drafts.

There are dozens of smaller changes in Yoink 1.1, and I highly recommend checking out the (extremely detailed) release notes on the App Store. I like Yoink, but, for me, Gladys is still the more powerful option thanks to sync and deeper controls on file types. However, sync isn't necessarily a priority for this kind of utility, and I find Yoink's stack-based structure to be more intuitive and useful than Gladys' label organization. Yoink is a great way to get started with a shelf app in your iPad workflows, and version 1.1 is worth another look for those who only tried the app when it launched in October. Yoink is available at $2.99 on the App Store.

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Give the Gift of Club MacStories This Holiday Season

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-07 14:56

Starting today, you can give Club MacStories memberships as gifts for the holidays or any special occasion. Club MacStories extends what we publish at MacStories, which makes it the perfect gift for someone who wants more apps, automation, tips, and other coverage.

Club MacStories offers exclusive content delivered every week including:

  • MacStories Weekly, a newsletter that is sent every Friday and is packed full of our favorite apps, themed collections, tips, automation, answers to reader questions, featured Home screens, interviews, and much more.
  • The Monthly Log, a monthly newsletter that includes long-form and behind-the-scenes stories.
  • Access to giveaways, discounts, and other treats like a special members-only edition of our podcast called AppStories Unplugged and ebook versions of Federico’s annual iOS review and other long-form stories.
  • The full archive of over 125 issues of MacStories Weekly and the Monthly Log.

All told, that’s around 60 newsletters and lots of other perks over the course of a year.

So, if you have a MacStories reader on your holiday shopping list this season, consider a Club MacStories membership that they can enjoy all year long. Monthly ($5/month) and annual ($50/year) memberships can be given using the following links:

Also, thanks to all our loyal Club members who have joined since the Club’s debut over two years ago. You’re an essential part of what we do here at MacStories, and we hope you’ve enjoyed the Club as much as we enjoy creating its special content for you every week.

Happy Holidays!

- The MacStories Team

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Game Day: Reigns: Her Majesty

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-07 12:39, modified at 17:06

Nerial undoubtedly has another hit on its hands with Reigns: Her Majesty. The iOS game, which is published by Devolver Digital, will be familiar to anyone who played its forerunner, Reigns. The game mechanics and art style are largely the same, but there’s greater depth and nuance to Her Majesty, which takes it beyond a dull retread of a hit formula.

This time, you play as the queen making decisions that affect the longevity of your reign. As with Reigns, Her Majesty is a card-based game that leads you through a complex narrative where you have to make decisions at every turn by swiping cards left or right off the stack that is dealt at the outset of the game.

The consequences of those decisions are tracked by four icons at the top of the screen that monitor the strength of the church, your subjects, the army, and your finances. Each choice you make causes the meters in those icons to fill or drain. Once an icon is fully drained, your monarchy ends in a horrible death at the hands of the group you’ve alienated. As one reign ends though, you return as a new queen to see if you can hold onto power longer and progress through more of the story.

The writing is excellent, which is key because Her Majesty is primarily a text-driven adventure. Text-based games often get tiresome, but Her Majesty strikes an excellent balance between brevity and storytelling. There’s also something amusing about deciding the fate of your subjects with a quick flick of your thumb that adds levity to the grim fate that inevitably awaits you.

Her Majesty is a deeper game than the original. The game benefits from many more cards than Reigns had, which means less repetition. The relationships between the characters of the game are more important than in Reigns too. In the original game, there was more emphasis on managing the ‘business’ of running your kingdom. Here, there is jealousy, infighting, and intrigue among the characters, which I found told a more interesting story. The combination results in a more engaging tale that has kept me coming back to Her Majesty over and over.

There is more to Her Majesty than just working your way through a complex decision tree though. At the beginning of each reign, you are presented with a series of challenges, which helps provide focus and structure around your decision-making. Completing challenges unlocks additional card sets, which adds variety every time you play. Also, there are objects to be found and collected in your inventory. Each can be played in the game when you encounter certain characters, which has an impact on the outcome of your story.

Everything is neatly tied together by a wonderful soundtrack from Jim Guthrie who also did the music for the hit indie game Sword & Sworcery. It’s not something I noticed at first, but the soundtrack goes a long way towards setting Her Majesty apart from Reigns.

As with so many other successful mobile games, Her Majesty is a careful balance of simple user interaction – it doesn’t get much simpler than swiping left and right – and complexity. Here, Her Majesty’s simple mechanics hide a rich, nuanced story that is difficult to successfully navigate. Her Majesty is designed to be easy to play in short sessions when you find yourself with a free moment, but it’s the narrative, and the challenge of seeing how long you can rule, that will bring you back to the game over and over.

I highly recommend trying Reigns: Her Majesty. It’s an excellent choice for when you find yourself with a little spare time over the holidays. And if you haven’t played Reigns yet, which I reviewed last year and was one of our favorite games of 2016, you should check that out too.

Reigns: Her Majesty is available on iOS from the App Store and for the Mac on the Mac App Store and Steam.

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Apple Posts ‘Best of 2017’ Lists on App Store, Apple Music, and iTunes

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-07 10:49, modified at 10:55

With a press release and special sections featured on its digital storefronts this morning, Apple revealed the most popular apps, games, and media releases of 2017.

As in previous years, the company's App Store editors have selected the best apps and games of the year for every software platform – iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. On the iPad, professional photo editing app Affinity Photo has been named App of the Year, with Jonathan Blow's The Witness winning Game of the Year; on the iPhone, Apple Design Award 2017 winner Splitter Critters was also named Game of the Year, while meditation and relaxation app Calm was chosen as the App of the Year. The Witness was also selected as Game of the Year on the Mac App Store, where Aurora HDR 2018 won in the app category. Due to the localized nature of the App Store, winners may be different in other countries and regions.

Similarly to previous annual charts, Apple has revealed top charts for the most popular apps and games of the year too. Video unsurprisingly dominated the iPad's Top Free charts with YouTube and Netflix in the two leading spots; on iPhone, Bitmoji and Snapchat were the most downloaded free apps of the year. Super Mario Run was the most popular free game of 2017, while Heads Up and Minecraft were recognized as the most popular paid ones.

Apple's curated lists extend to Apple Music and iTunes for movies, TV shows, and podcasts as well. Among dozens of picks, Apple listed Ed Sheeran's Shape of You and Drake's More Life as the Top Song and Top Album of 2017, respectively; Moana was the Top Movie of 2017, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Wonder Woman.

What sets this year's lists apart is the increased reliance on editorial curation and different story formats used to showcase winners. On the iOS 11 App Store, the Today tab has been refreshed this morning with stories about the apps and games that were selected by Apple, featuring interviews with the developers and annotated screenshots. While game and app picks can also be viewed on the respective Games and Apps front pages, it's in the Today tab that Apple was able to put higher emphasis on each winner and tell the story behind it.

The deeper focus on editorial curation is evident in the Trends of the Year list, which has identified "four breakout trends" in app culture: AR, real-time competitive gaming, mindfulness and meditation, and apps reinventing reading and storytelling. This thoughtful and longform approach to editorial curation on the App Store – with explanations by Apple editors, multiple app picks for each trend, and inline media – would have been impossible without iOS 11's App Store redesign, which is particularly paying off for this kind of annual event.

You can find Apple's Best of 2017 lists on the front pages of the App Store, Apple Music, Podcasts, and iTunes today. We've compiled a list of the app and game winners for each Apple platform below.




Apple Watch

Apple TV

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Apple Shares Differential Privacy Insights for Emoji and QuickType Keyboard

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-06 17:37

In the most recent issue of Apple's Machine Learning Journal, titled "Learning with Privacy at Scale," the team working on differential privacy shares details on exactly how its systems work. While much of the article is highly technical in nature, it concludes by sharing results from several real-life applications. Regarding emoji:

The data shows many differences across keyboard locales. In Figure 6, we observe snapshots from two locales: English and French. Using this data, we can improve our predictive emoji QuickType across locales.

The referenced chart is featured above, showing the popularity of certain emoji in different parts of the world.

The results regarding QuickType words aren't presented in a chart, but the article does mention words in several specific categories that Apple has been able to learn about thanks to differential privacy.

The learned words for the English keyboard, for example, can be divided into multiple categories: abbreviations like wyd, wbu, idc; popular expressions like bruh, hun, bae, and tryna, seasonal or trending words like Mayweather, McGregor, Despacito, Moana, and Leia; and foreign words like dia, queso, aqui, and jai. Using the data, we are constantly updating our on-device lexicons to improve the keyboard experience.

Another category of words discovered are known words without the trailing e (lov or th) or w (kno). If users accidentally press the left-most prediction cell above the keyboard, which contains the literal string typed thus far, a space will be added to their current word instead of the character they intended to type. This is a key insight that we were able to learn due to our local differentially private algorithm.

Though the article doesn't mention it, presumably the latter example of accidentally-tapped QuickType suggestions might lead to Apple adjusting sensitivity for its touch targets related to the 'e' button and the left-most prediction cell. It's interesting to consider what other unexpected lessons may be learned from differential privacy data.

→ Source: machinelearning.apple.com

Amazon Prime Video Finally Arrives on Apple TV; Was It Worth the Wait?

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-06 14:38, modified at 14:46

All the way back in June, at Apple's WWDC keynote, the Apple TV-related news was limited to a single note: Tim Cook announced that Amazon Prime Video would arrive on Apple's streaming box "later this year." Ending a long six-month wait, that promise was finally fulfilled today: Amazon Prime Video is now available on the Apple TV.

The app's interface will be completely familiar to anyone who's used the Prime Video app for iOS. There's lots of content on-screen at once, which isn't the most elegant look, but it's functional at least. A host of different tabs line the top of the screen, making it easy to find what you're looking for. These include the standard curated collections of content in Home, Originals, Movies, TV, and Kids, which are joined by Video Library, where you can watch prior Amazon purchases or rentals, while Search, Watchlist, and Settings round out the selections.

The greatest benefit of Prime Video's app isn't any noteworthy, innovative feature it has to offer – because there isn't one – but its integration with tvOS system features.1 Thanks to universal search, you can use Siri or a standard text search to locate content from Prime Video without needing to open the app first. Also, in line with Tim Cook's promise at WWDC, Prime Video integrates directly with the system TV app for discovering and tracking content.

Prime Video's integration with Apple's TV app is my favorite detail of this release. It means content watched on the service will be tracked in the Up Next queue of TV across tvOS and iOS. I've been a fan of the TV app since it launched last December, and have used it as a unified hub for shows and movies watched on Hulu, iTunes, CBS All-Access, and more ever since. The inclusion of Prime Video in that roster means the only major holdout left is Netflix. While the dream would be having one unified queue for content from all services, including Netflix, we're at least one step closer today with Prime Video's launch.

The timing of Prime Video's release coincides with Apple's release of tvOS 11.2 earlier this week, which adds a new Sports tab to the TV app. This enables tracking and watching games from various sports, and is a perfect complement to Prime Video's release due to Amazon being the rights holder for Thursday Night Football games. Starting tomorrow night, users will be able to watch NFL games using the TV app and Prime Video.

One tvOS feature the app unfortunately doesn't take advantage of is the ability to display interactive content when positioned in the Top Shelf of your Home screen. Similar to apps like YouTube, Prime Video simply displays a static image rather than presenting anything useful, such as direct access to your Watchlist.

"Later this year" is finally here. While it almost didn't ship in the promised time period, and the app itself doesn't contain any innovations that would seem to justify the extended wait time, the ending of this story is a happy one. Apple TV users can now watch their Prime Video favorites right on the big screen – just in time for the holidays.

Prime Video is available on third-gen Apple TVs and later. If you're running a fourth-gen model or an Apple TV 4K, the app requires tvOS 11.1 before it can be installed. Also of note, Prime Video's iOS app was updated today with full support for the iPhone X and Spotlight search.

  1. Certain system features are limited to users in select countries. ↩︎

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Remaster, Episode 48: Game of the Year 2017

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-06 03:00

You don't want to miss this week's Remaster, where we cover our picks for the best games we've played in 2017. You can listen here.

Sponsored by:

  • Crimson Mesa: Rediscover ‘The Ancient Game of the River’.

→ Source: relay.fm