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MacStories

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

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Run Jump Die Review: A Better One-Handed Platformer

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-22 16:00

When platformers make their way to the App Store, they have a big question to answer: how will the user control the character? Some titles, like Nintendo’s Super Mario Run, offer tap-and-hold controls that assign a single task to the user; others, including the popular port Downwell, elect for software buttons simulating a console-type experience. The vast majority of platformers fall into one of these two categories, either limiting the control of the user or giving up simplicity in favor of pressing the screen in just the right place.

Run Jump Die is the best of both worlds, featuring one-touch controls that are intuitive and smart. It’s a platformer in the vein of retro classics, but with mobile and modern updates that make it feel like it belongs in 2017. The overall game, anchored by the unique control scheme, is a joy to play, showcasing just the right combination of challenge, exploration, and satisfaction.

In Run Jump Die, the only character-related thing you can’t control is the pace at which you move. You play as a rabbit, walking, scaling, jumping, and gliding your way across the level toward finding a carrot. While playing, each of your movements will be controlled by the length of your taps on the screen – tap quickly to change directions, climb ladders, and interact with signs; to make short or long jumps, you’ll need to tap longer on the screen.

Run Jump Die’s levels are set up in ways that play to the control mechanism’s advantage, making the game feel smooth and easy to navigate (for example, there’s never a sign to read directly next to a ladder). On most occasions, the controls are adapted as second nature, allowing you to focus more on the enjoyment of the levels than on your taps.

That’s a good thing, too, because the level design and overall quality of Run Jump Die is something to appreciate apart from its technical innovations. Levels feel fresh and challenging, calling back to games of old while making the platforming feel exciting. In many instances, I’ve struggled to make it through a level because it’s actually hard, not because of a wrong input.

And while the surface-level game is fun, Run Jump Die also features collectibles and tasks for completionists looking to put more time in. Speedrunners and explorers will be rewarded with badges, and you can always try to blitz through the level to set a new record time.

In terms of story, there’s not one – you’re just a rabbit trying to get its fill of carrots, I suppose. You’ll quickly find that Run Jump Die runs short on narrative – a turnoff for some, but not something that I find particularly concerning. The gameplay – the classic platforming experience brought to mobile – is what I find most compelling, and it’s where the game excels.

This review is short on in-depth information on levels or later-game mechanics, but that’s because Run Jump Die doesn’t warrant a long review. It’s a game where you tap to make your way through levels in a familiar way, and its execution is a polished and charming experience. Instead of spoiling what comes in Run Jump Die, I’d simply encourage you to pick it up for yourself, play its levels, and enjoy it for what it is.

You can download Run Jump Die in the App Store for iPhone and iPad for $2.99.


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Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition Coming to iOS This Fall

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-22 15:08

Square Enix has announced that its role-playing epic, Final Fantasy XV, is coming to iOS this fall. Since the original game was created for powerful consoles like PS4 and Xbox One, it’s requiring a major overhaul in its journey to mobile devices. The mobile game is being branded ‘Pocket Edition’ and brings several significant deviations from the original:

  • The graphics and design have been redone to give the game a more playful, cartoony feel.
  • While the story for the game is taken from its console counterpart, it will include some gameplay changes.
  • The game will be split into ten episodes, all of which will launch at the same time, with the first episode available for free.

While it’s common practice to create mobile spinoffs of popular console games, Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition appears unique in that it’s taking a sort of hybrid approach: major pieces of the original game, such as the story, are being directly ported over, while other aspects are changing. We’ll find out this fall how well this approach pays off.


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Zapier Launches Support for Productivity App Alfred

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-22 14:40

Zapier today added support for Alfred, one of the most popular productivity apps for macOS. Alfred is like a supercharged version of macOS’s built-in Spotlight; it enables you to quickly, easily search for files, webpages, or apps, perform text expansion, control music playback, and much more. Despite Alfred’s already extensive capabilities, Zapier support opens up a world of new possibilities.

Zapier is an automation web service that we use and love here at MacStories. Its power is found in integrating with a substantial number of web-powered services that can be hooked together to automate tasks in all sorts of ways. Zapier’s support for Alfred means that access to that extensive catalog of web-based services and tools is now at the fingertips of Alfred users, making tasks of varying complexity levels possible with a few simple keystrokes.

In Zapier’s announcement post, Matthew Guay walks through how to get Zapier set up with Alfred, and he also shares several examples of workflows now made possible thanks to today’s news.


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Metapho 3.0 Adds Video Support and More

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-22 13:56

Metapho is a powerful utility for accessing, editing, and removing metadata from photos and videos. When I reviewed Metapho 2.0, I was impressed with how easy it was to access and edit image metadata. With version 3, Metapho has been extended into new areas without sacrificing the ease of use of prior versions.

Perhaps the biggest change is that Metapho now supports video. Earlier versions of the app could only handle still photos, so it’s nice to see video added to the mix. The process works the same way as with photos. Access a video using Metapho’s action extension from the Photos app or from within the Metapho app itself. Metapho displays the video’s metadata, which can be edited or stripped.

One of Metapho’s strengths is its design. Whether you start in the app itself or its extension Metapho displays the metadata for images in a clear and concise manner. Today’s update changes the layout by adding cropped versions of the photos or videos you are working on at the top of the page, so you know which image you are working on without it taking up an unnecessary amount of vertical space on your iPhone.

Metapho’s extension also got a refresh with version 3. For the first time, you can select multiple photos to edit. It’s a small change, but one that should speed up the editing process for anyone working with several images or videos.

Metapho is not a utility that I use often, but I keep it tucked away in a folder because when I need it, there’s no better way to edit photo and video metadata. It’s a great example of a thoughtfully designed app, so I'm glad to see its functionality expanded without compromising its utility.

Metapho is available on the App Store.


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Readdle Extends Spark Functionality With App Integrations

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-22 13:00, modified at 17:27

Spark has been on a roll. Just a few weeks ago, Readdle significantly improved search in its popular macOS email client. Today, Spark 1.4 for macOS takes another step further into professional app territory with the addition of several useful integrations with third-party apps, while Spark 1.9 for iOS adds deep PDF Expert support and other functionality.

Readdle has built custom export integrations into its macOS email app that let you send the text of messages or links to the messages to Apple Reminders, Things, 2Do, OmniFocus, Wunderlist, Todoist, Trello, Asana, Evernote, OneNote, and Bear. The interface of each integration is designed to complement the design of the destination app. What can be exported varies depending on the destination app or service. For example, in addition to exporting the message, the Todoist integration lets you pick a due date and assign a project, while Trello lets you pick among all of your boards and lists and attaches a PDF to the Trello card.

I tried exporting messages to Apple Reminders, Todoist, 2Do, OmniFocus, Trello, Evernote, and Bear. With each, you can export the full text of an email message or just a link back to the original message. In either case, the subject of the message becomes the title of the item in the destination app, and a link back to the Spark message is included. One nice touch is that Spark links the original message to the command ‘Open email in Spark,’ which is tidier than the long URLs I get when I add an Airmail link to another app. If you export the full message, the body text is included as an attached note or comment.

Spark for macOS includes 11 third-party integrations.

Spark for macOS includes 11 third-party integrations.

One limitation of Spark’s system is that it exports text only in most cases. Links and images in the body of an email message were not added to the apps I tried except for Evernote and Trello, where those items are preserved in the attached PDF file, but not the body of the Trello card. While I would prefer if images or links were exported too, the inclusion of a link that opens the original email message almost instantly makes that less of an issue than it would otherwise be. That said, exporting messages worked well overall in my testing, except for one long, complex email newsletter I tried to send to Todoist, which returned an error.

For now, the new third-party integrations are included with Spark macOS-only, but Readdle is working to bring them to iOS soon. Meanwhile, Readdle has added tight integration with PDF Expert to Spark for iOS and the option to lock the app behind Touch ID. The PDF Expert functionality lets users quickly open, edit, annotate, and sign PDF attachments in PDF Expert and then just as easily return to Spark with a reply open for editing and the file attached.

It's easy to mark up a PDF you receive with an email message and return the revised document to the sender.

It's easy to mark up a PDF you receive with an email message and return the revised document to the sender.

Some interesting workflow possibilities will open up when third-party integrations are added to Spark for iOS. For example, you could send a link to an email message to a task manager, retrieve it later from within your task list, open an attached PDF form, fill it out and sign it with PDF Expert, and then use the share sheet to store a copy in the iOS 11 Files app and return a copy to the sender via Spark.

It’s good to see Readdle expanding Spark integrations beyond its apps. The close ties between Spark and other Readdle apps allow the app to pull off some tricks that other email clients can’t, but the reality is that many people use a variety of unrelated apps and services, which is what makes the third-party export integrations added to Spark so valuable. I can’t wait to see these features added to the iOS version too.

Spark 1.4 for macOS is available on the Mac App Store and Spark 1.9 for iOS is available on the App Store.


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Siri’s Co-Creator Shares His Vision for the Future of AI

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-21 22:11

Earlier this year Tom Gruber, the co-creator of Siri and current member of Apple’s AI team, gave a TED talk focusing on his vision for the future of AI, which is rooted in a philosophy he calls “humanistic AI.” The video and full transcript for that talk recently became available, providing a broader audience with Gruber’s insights into the place of AI in our everyday lives. While he doesn’t offer any specifics regarding work Apple is doing in this space, it is clear that Gruber’s vision represents, at least in part, the vision of Apple for Siri and AI as a whole.

Gruber describes humanistic AI as “artificial intelligence designed to meet human needs by collaborating and augmenting people.” This theme of AI augmenting, complementing humans is fleshed out by Gruber in several ways; one example involves Siri serving as an accessibility tool, while another theorizes at the benefits AI can offer to the human memory. The full talk provides an interesting glimpse into how Apple sees AI evolving in the near future.

→ Source: ted.com


Get Your Mac Server Into the Hands of Experts with MacStadium [Sponsor]

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-21 12:45

MacStadium is the premier Mac hosting company that provides dedicated Mac hardware and private cloud services. They have multiple data centers where your hardware is secure, always available, and supported by a team of Mac experts.

It’s time to get your Mac build infrastructure out of the office closet and into the hands of the experts. MacStadium hosts thousands of Macs for customers all over the world. Some of the biggest companies in the world use them for their iOS build and test servers. With multiple diverse locations, and the ability to scale infinitely, it’s the Mac hosting that AWS doesn’t offer.

MacStories runs on a Mac mini at MacStadium (and before they were bought by MacStadium in 2016, at Macminicolo). It's a setup we've used for years and it's always been fast and reliable.

The folks at MacStadium are running a special promotion for MacStories readers. You can trial a Mac mini server in their data center for a full month at no cost. Just sign up to rent a Mac mini using coupon code “MACSTORIES” and you’ll be all set.

You can check out the details here.

Our thanks to MacStadium for sponsoring MacStories this week.


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iTunes U Collections Are Moving to Apple Podcasts

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-20 13:47

Apple has announced that in September, when iTunes 12.7 is released, it will migrate iTunes U collections to Apple Podcasts. iTunes U courses will be available only through the iTunes U app on iOS.

iTunes U was launched in 2007 to offer downloadable collections of free educational content through the iTunes Store. In 2012, Apple introduced the iTunes U iOS app, which allowed educators to create iTunes U courses that go beyond audio and video by incorporating handouts, homework, quizzes, ebooks, and other content. Although courses are currently listed alongside collections in iTunes on macOS, courses are designed to work best in the iTunes U app, which is iOS-only.

According to Apple’s announcement and support pages, it will automatically convert iTunes U Collections to podcasts in September and eliminate the iTunes U section of iTunes on macOS. That means there will no longer be a way to download iTunes U course materials on a Mac. The change also means that the iTunes U catalog will only include courses and will only be accessible from an iOS device.

The transition of iTunes U collections to podcasts will occur automatically but carries a couple of caveats. First, iTunes U and podcast categories are different. Collections will be assigned podcast categories automatically, but they may differ from the ones assigned in iTunes U. However, collection creators can use their new iTunes Podcast Site Manager sites to change the category at any time.

Second, collections that include ePub files may want to substitute them with PDF files. According to Apple’s iTunes U Public Site Manager support page:

Apple Podcasts supports all media types currently supported by iTunes U collections, with the exception of ePub files. If your collections contain ePub files, you might want to replace the ePub files with another file type (for example, a PDF file).

This advice seems at odds with the Apple Podcasts Connect support page that says ePub files are supported by podcasts. However, unless Apple provides clarification, it is probably best to switch to PDFs as suggested.

As podcasts grow in popularity, converting iTunes U collections to podcasts should expose them to a broader audience. The transition also simplifies iTunes on macOS and limits the iTunes U app to the content that is designed to work best with it. Each of those reasons makes sense in isolation, but there is a gap that hasn’t been addressed. What’s missing is a way to access iTunes U courses on the Mac. It’s possible that Apple has decided that iTunes U courses should be iOS-only, but I can’t help but think we’ll see a new approach to iTunes U on the Mac this fall and that this transition may be part of a broader plan to dismantle iTunes.


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Game Day: Pigeon Wings

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-19 13:58

Pigeon Wings is a hyper-fast, racing game with shoot ‘em up elements and a lot of personality. You play as Pigeon, a pigeon-pilot tasked with saving Megalopolis from the evil Duke Dexter. The backstory immediately sets a light-hearted, humorous tone for the game that doesn’t get bogged down in long cut scenes explaining what’s happening. What sets Pigeon Wings apart though, is its tilt control steering system. The controls work flawlessly becoming second nature so quickly that they fade into the background making it easy to get lost in the game’s short races.

At its core, Pigeon Wing is a racing game interspersed with shoot ‘em up levels where you battle Duke Dexter’s pilots. Each of the 50 levels is relatively short making it easy to dip in and of the game when you have time. Touch Arcade reports that another 20 levels and an endless mode are on the way. As you complete levels, you’re awarded up to three coins that can be exchanged for items like better engines for your airplane.

The most surprising aspect of the game though is its controls. The tilt controls of most games I’ve played have been disappointingly imprecise or laggy, but not Pigeon Wing. It took just a couple short races to get used to how much I needed to tilt my iPhone to move Pigeon’s plane up and down to avoid obstacles. Acceleration is controlled by holding your thumb down on the left side of the screen. Firing weapons and boost are controlled by tapping the right side of the screen.

The racing levels are challenging. The landscape rises and falls as you fly requiring you to navigate your plane up and down to avoid hitting things and having to restart the level. At other points in the game, the obstacles are blocks that require quick shifts up and down. The shoot ‘em up levels require you to shoot down Duke Dexter’s pilot while dodging incoming fire and add welcome variety to the game.

The soundtrack of Pigeon Wings fits perfectly with the design of the game. The music is just as fast-paced as the action, which adds a sense of urgency to the races. The design is excellent too. The big pigeon in a tiny red airplane complements the whimsy of the storyline.

I’ve been playing a lot of puzzle games lately, and Pigeon Wings has been a fantastic break from them. There aren’t many games that get tilt controls right, but here, they get out of the way leaving you with pure, fast-paced fun.

Pigeon Wings is available on the App Store.


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Slack for iOS Gains Quick Replies for Notifications

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-18 23:48

The latest update to Slack’s iOS app introduces a feature I’ve been waiting for since we started using the service for daily communications at MacStories: quick replies to notifications. Now when you get a Slack message, you can pull down on the notification banner – or, if you’re viewing an old notification, press on it – to send a reply without opening the app. I’ve tested this feature in the Slack beta over the past week, and it’s considerably reduced the number of times I have to open the app.

The fact that Slack’s native iOS app still feels so slow when loading and switching between channels makes this addition all the more welcome. It would be nice to have both quick replies and emoji reactions as options upon expanding a notification, but this will suffice.

→ Source: itunes.apple.com


Canvas: iOS 11’s Drag and Drop & Multitasking

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-18 18:10

On the last two episodes of Canvas, we’ve covered two major features of iOS 11 for iPad – drag and drop, and new multitasking. These are a good starting point to understand iOS 11’s essential improvements to the iPad and I feel like Fraser and I were able to explain our different ways of working on iOS. You can listen to the episodes here and here.

→ Source: relay.fm


Apple Releases iOS 11 and iPad How-To Videos

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-18 01:04, modified at 01:38

Apple has published a series of six short videos to YouTube highlighting the marquee features of iOS 11 on the iPad. Each of the how-to videos is about one minute long and shows how to use a new feature:

  • 'How to harness the power of the amazing new dock’ demonstrates how to add items to the dock, access recent files, and drag files into apps like Messages.
  • ‘How to mark stuff up with Apple Pencil’ shows how to mark up notes from the lock screen, Mail attachments, photos, and screenshots.
  • ‘How to manage and fly through your files with iOS 11’ is a quick tour of the new Files app, including how to use recents, favorites, and various cloud services.
  • ‘How to effortlessly scan, sign, and send a document with iOS 11’ shows someone scanning, signing, and sending a lease using the the Notes app.
  • ‘How to get more things done more quickly with multitasking with iOS 11’ explains how to share images in a Keynote presentation in Messages using Slide Over.
  • ‘How to get the most out of your hands with iOS 11’ demonstrates how to use two hands to drag and drop multiple images.

The videos do an excellent job of describing and demonstrating each new feature quickly and simply. With iOS 11 just weeks away, a little pre-launch education about its new capabilities on the iPad is a smart move by Apple.

You can view each of the videos after the break.


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Transmit 5 Review

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-17 16:07, modified at 23:39

If you’ve used a Mac for a while, you’ve likely come across Panic’s file transfer app Transmit. Not long ago, I would have probably still described it as an FTP app even though it’s handled things like Amazon S3 file transfers for a while. However, with the recent release of version 5, Transmit for macOS has become much more than an FTP client adding support for ten cloud services. Moreover, Panic has taken the opportunity to rewrite its file transfer engine so that it’s faster, tweak virtually every feature, and update and streamline the app’s design. The result is an all-new Transmit that is both familiar and more capable than ever before.

Despite adding support for ten cloud services, Transmit remains just as easy to use as ever. Local files are on the left and servers are on the right. Drag a file from the left to the right to initiate an upload. It couldn’t be simpler.

It’s Transmit’s ease of use that has always appealed to me the most. My day-to-day needs for an app like Transmit have been fairly light, so I appreciate that it’s simple and fast to set up a server and transfer files. That said, the addition of support for services like Backblaze B2, Rackspace, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and One Drive has opened up some interesting new possibilities that I expect will greatly expand my use of the app.

Transmit 5 supports ten new cloud services.

Transmit 5 supports ten new cloud services.

For instance, images on MacStories are hosted on Rackspace. I typically use a custom web app to upload images that are compressed with Kraken.io and then uploaded to Rackspace, but I’ve already found Transmit to be a much faster way to upload images. Transmit has the added benefit that I can upload several screenshots at a time and then quickly copy the URLs and drop them into an article. The next step is to automate the process so that dropping a screenshot in a folder sends it to Kraken for compression, uploads the new image to Rackspace, and places the URL on my Mac’s clipboard.

The possibilities with services like Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive are interesting too. Say you have multiple Dropbox accounts like one for work and the other for home use. With Transmit, you can be logged into both simultaneously and access both sets of files. Plus, if you have a Mac that doesn’t have much storage, you can selectively sync Dropbox your Mac, but still, access all the files through Transmit.

The expansion of Transmit’s support for cloud services will have the greatest day-to-day impact for most users because of the flexibility and convenience it adds, but there is much more in version 5. Panic rewrote its file transfer engine from the ground up to make it faster. I haven’t tested the update side-by-side with the last version, and keep in mind that I don’t typically transfer more than a handful of files at a time, but transfers do feel faster than before.

Transmit's file inspector panel.

Transmit's file inspector panel.

Transmit also includes Panic’s custom sync service. With Panic Sync, servers you set up on one Mac or in Transmit on an iOS device are copied to all of your other devices that are signed into the service saving you the trouble of setting up the same server multiple times. One side effect of Panic Sync is that I can see my new Rackspace and Dropbox setups in the iOS app, but neither is supported by the iOS version, which is too bad. Hopefully, support for all of the new cloud services is in the works for Transmit’s iOS app too.

With File Sync, you can also designate local folders to sync to servers and vice versa. I’m using File Sync as an extra layer of backup protection for my most important MacStories project folders, which are now in at least five places, only two of which are in the same physical location.

The refinements to Transmit don’t stop there though. Nearly every aspect of the app has been tweaked in some way or another. The hundreds of little changes make it hard to point to any one thing that makes a big difference, but together they give Transmit a fresh look and feel that is a pleasure to use. I particularly appreciate all the little design adjustments. There is less chrome and more information at your fingertips with things like the file information inspector panel, which makes the app easier to use than ever.


Users’ file transfer needs have expanded with the growth of cloud services. It’s no longer enough to simply support FTP and SFTP transfers. By adapting Transmit to accommodate more cloud services and reevaluating and improving scores of existing features, Panic has laid a strong foundation for the app to remain a premier file transfer utility for many years to come.

Transmit is available directly from Panic’s website.


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Tim Cook Responds to Events in Charlottesville in a Message to Employees

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-17 14:13

BuzzFeed reports that Apple CEO Tim Cook sent an email message to employees yesterday responding to recent violence between hate groups and counter-protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia, and to subsequent statements by US President Donald Trump. Calling hate a cancer that ‘left unchecked … destroys everything in its path,’ Cook wrote that:

I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans

The message goes on to call on all employees, regardless of their political views, to stand together for equality:

As a company, through our actions, our products and our voice, we will always work to ensure that everyone is treated equally and with respect.

Cook also announced $1 million donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League and that it will match employee donations to those organizations and others two-for-one through September 30th, and offer a way for customers to donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center via iTunes in the coming days.

The full text of Tim Cook’s email message to employees is available on BuzzFeed.

BuzzFeed separately reports that Apple has also disabled Apple Pay support for a handful of websites that sell Nazi paraphernalia.


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Neo Angle Review: No Turning Back

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-16 16:10

You might be tempted to feel confident after the first few levels of Neo Angle, the follow-up game from Blyss developer Dropout Games. After all, you just have to move your triangle to a certain spot on the grid, occasionally picking up small fuel cells along the way. Early on, the most challenging part may be refraining from bobbing your head to the music.

But any amount of hubris will be quickly expelled once Neo Angle draws you in to levels 6, 7, 8, and beyond. When you get into the teens, good luck spending less than a couple of minutes per level. This difficulty, plus the retro-style design and music, helps Neo Angle stand out in ways its predecessor did: it’s deceptively challenging, but nailing a level is addicting, drawing you in deeper into the level count.

Each stage is made up of a grid of squares and you, as a triangle within those squares, must navigate to the goal. You’ll do this by reflecting your triangle – if you’re in one half of the square, you’ll flip to the next half. Along the way, you’ll need to collect fuel cells, which are rotating pyramids throughout the map. With fuel cells in hand and a clear path to the end, you’re all set.

One big problem: once you take an action – picking up a fuel cell or flipping a button, for example – your path solidifies, blocking you from returning the way you came. This mechanic is what adds all the challenge to Neo Angle, requiring you to think many steps ahead or risk a level restart. Below is an example of what this looks like:

Without a plan, levels become almost impossible to figure out the first time. And even with a strategy, you’re likely to fail many, many times. Although created as a relaxing puzzle game, Neo Angle can sometimes feel like it’s there to frustrate you – more than once, I’ve had to put it down, take care of something else, and then try to solve the puzzle again.

Take away its difficulty, though, and Neo Angle would fall in line with thousands of puzzle games that require more of your time than your brain power. Instead, it wants you to work smarter, not harder, and in my time playing Neo Angle, it delivers on that desire.

Playing Neo Angle falls right in the middle of “relaxing on the couch” and “pacing around the room, growing more and more impatient,” which is a stimulating place to be. A game with its mechanics and design needs to be tough and rewarding, and Neo Angle checks both those boxes.

If you’re looking to try Neo Angle, you can pick it up in the App Store for iPhone and iPad for $0.99.


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ESPN for Apple TV Launches MultiCast Feature, Enabling Multiple Simultaneous Streams

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-16 14:39

Todd Spangler has a story for Variety on an improvement to the ESPN Apple TV app that should make the most avid sports fans very happy.

A new version of the ESPN App for Apple TV’s tvOS, available Wednesday, includes a feature called MultiCast that provides the ability to view up to four simultaneous live streams at once. On any given day, ESPN users can choose from 30 or more live events airing across its networks.

From everything I’ve seen, the implementation of this feature appears well designed and well thought through. As seen at the top of the image above, MultiCast makes a number of different customization options available to users. You can watch anywhere from one to four different streams at once, and depending on the number you have playing, the screens are resized and optimized for the best viewing experience.

While I don’t see myself using MultiCast often, I know there are bigger sports fans than me who constantly flip between different games at certain times of year, such as during the upcoming college and professional football seasons.

→ Source: variety.com


Twitter for iOS Adds Topic Feeds to Explore Tab

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-16 14:06

Alex Kantrowitz of BuzzFeed shares news on a feature Twitter recently rolled out in its iOS app:

Now you can view tweets sorted by topic, without having to follow anyone, right in Twitter's Explore tab...Twitter's algorithms will show you these topics based on what they know about your interests. Eventually, the platform will give users more control over what they see, the spokesperson said. The company will roll out controls that allow people to tell it they don't like a topic, which will inform Twitter's decisions on what to show them.

These featured topics are the first major addition to Twitter’s app since it launched a refreshed design earlier this summer; combined with those previous changes, topics make the Explore tab a more attractive place than ever to visit. As the home to search, Moments, trending hashtags, and now tweets organized by topic, Twitter has created an information hub worthy of one of its four primary tabs.

My favorite tidbit from the Buzzfeed piece is that Twitter plans to give users more control over which topics they see. Hopefully this isn’t limited to simply disliking certain topics, but instead will extend to offering full control of topics you want to see. There are certain topics I’d love to keep up with, but that I don’t necessarily want to follow specific accounts for, so a full-fledged list of topics to choose from – whether those topics relate to accounts I’m currently following or not – would be great.


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Walmart’s Vudu Streaming Service Launching Apple TV App Soon

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-16 13:34

Dani Deahl reports for The Verge:

Walmart has confirmed a native app for Vudu, its video streaming service, is set to become widely available on Apple TV beginning August 22nd.

Vudu is one of the major players in the video streaming space, so its arrival on Apple TV is welcome. What that arrival will look like, however, remains to be seen. The service offers a digital marketplace where users can buy or rent films, but it’s unlikely those options will exist on Apple TV due to Apple’s policy of taking a 30% cut of all In-App Purchases. More likely, the new app will simply serve as a way to play films that are already in your library.

→ Source: theverge.com


Unobstruct Clears a Path to a Better Web Reading Experience

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-16 12:57

Too many websites wreck the reading experience by floating interface elements on top of articles. One of the worst offenders has been Medium, which John Gruber called out on Daring Fireball recently. Medium has made some improvements since then but didn’t eliminate floaters, and there are many other sites with social media buttons, branded navigation bars, and other material that hovers over webpages even as you scroll down the page. The practice makes it especially hard to read on the smaller screens of mobile devices.

Inspired by the Daring Fireball article and a JavaScript bookmarklet to which Gruber later linked, Troy Gaul, a developer at The Iconfactory, created Unobstruct, a Safari content blocker for iOS that eliminates floating bars, buttons, and other UI elements. The simple app, which Gaul fittingly announced in a post on Medium, removes any HTML that is set to sit on top of a site’s content and not scroll.

Unobstruct doesn’t hide persistent navigation bars by default because doing so would make it impossible to get around some sites. Instead, you can use the app’s action extension from the share sheet to hide the bar. Later, if you need the navigation bar, you can simply reload the page to get it back.

I love Unobstruct’s colorful and feisty robot icon. It adds a bit of fun and whimsy to an otherwise utilitarian app. For insight into the icon’s design, be sure to check out Ged Maheux’s blog post, in which he details how he started the design by making rough sketches in The Iconfactory’s drawing app Linea, then moved to Adobe Illustrator after Gaul had picked his favorite.

Unobstruct doesn’t block as broad a variety of webpage elements as some content blockers, but its singular focus on floaters pays off. In my testing, the app worked flawlessly to remove floating buttons automatically, as did the extension for eliminating navigation bars. Branding and sharing are important to websites, but they shouldn’t get in the way of the core experience – reading. The trend of obscuring content with floaters is a shame, but I’m glad I have Unobstruct to make browsing those sites a little nicer each day.

Unobstruct is available on the App Store.


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AppStories, Episode 18 – Mac and iOS Shelf Apps

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-16 11:15, modified on 2017-08-18 18:12

On this week's episode of AppStories, we look at shelf and clipboard apps on macOS and iOS, consider how third-party shelf apps are likely to work under iOS 11, and discuss the advantages of Apple adding a shelf feature to iOS.

Sponsored by:

MindNode - Delightful Mind Mapping.

→ Source: appstories.net


HomePod Follows in iPhone 4’s Steps

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-15 21:13, modified on 2017-08-16 19:22

The HomePod firmware that was accidentally posted last month by an Apple employee has led to a wealth of knowledge about Apple's upcoming iPhone.

Most leaks in recent years have come from Apple's expansive supply chain. A rear shell here and a camera component there slowly fill in the details about unreleased hardware. It's a slow process normally, but one the rumor cycle has become accustomed to over the years.

The HomePod is obviously different. While the accidental leak contained just software, inside its depths were details about all sorts of unannounced features. Developers even found icons depicting the next-generation iPhone.

Whoops.

This isn't the first time that Apple has leaked from the top about an upcoming iPhone.

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone 4 in June 2010, he opened his comments this way:

Today we're introducing the iPhone 4. This is really hot... It has an all-new design. Stop me if you've already seen this.

The crowd interrupted him with laughs and cheers before he went on:

Believe me, you ain't seen it. You gotta see this thing in person. It's one of the most beautiful designs you've ever seen. This is — beyond a doubt — the most precise thing, and one of the most beautiful things we've ever made.

The reason for the joke was obvious. On April 19, — some 6 weeks before Jobs took to the stage in San Francisco — Gizmodo had published a bombshell of an article titled "This is Apple's Next iPhone." Jesus Diaz didn't beat around the bush with his opening lines:

You are looking at Apple's next iPhone. It was found lost in a bar in Redwood City, camouflaged to look like an iPhone 3GS. We got it. We disassembled it. It's the real thing, and here are all the details.

The details that followed were spot-on. Diaz ran through the physical attributes of the phone. A front-facing camera. A camera flash. A higher resolution display. A larger battery. A glass back joined to the front with a ring of metal. The photos Gizmodo published of this phone are nearly indistinguishable from those taken of production units months later as tech journalists reviewed the iPhone 4. They even took the thing apart.

Diaz believed the phone to be authentic, as Mac OS X and iTunes recognized it as an iPhone. Moreover, it was in a case designed to look like an iPhone 3GS, lending credence to the idea that it was a device dedicated to real-world testing.

I remember reading this article when it was published and being shocked that such an important device could be found in the wild.

Diaz would go on to outline how the website came to have possession of the device. An Apple engineer named Gray Powell left it in a bar accidentally. It was then picked up by someone in the bar and weeks later, they sold it to Gizmodo for $5,000.

That intermediate party should have turned the lost device into the police. Keeping it for a few weeks and then selling it, as John Gruber pointed out, makes them guilty of theft.

A few days later, the blog got a letter from Apple, asking for the phone back, as Brian Lam wrote:

This phone was lost, and then found. But from Apple's perspective, it could have been considered stolen. I told them, all they have to do to get it back is to claim it—on record. This formal request from Apple's legal department is that claim. It proves—if there was any doubt in your mind—that this thing is real.

Gizmodo complied with the request, and returned the device — now verified to be an iPhone — to Apple.

That's not the end of the story, though. Gizmodo editor Jason Chen had his house searched by California's Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team, armed with a warrant. Police seized four computers, two servers and external hard drives.

The whole story was already controversial, but this really poured gasoline on the fire. The search raised fundamental questions about the line between bloggers and journalists, and if the former should enjoy protections for the latter. That's a topic for a different time, but one that is endlessly interesting to me.

At Steve Jobs' death, Brian Lam wrote a bit about the saga:

I was on sabbatical when Jason got his hands on the iPhone prototype.

An hour after the story went live, the phone rang and the number was from Apple HQ. I figured it was someone from the PR team. It was not.

“Hi, this is Steve. I really want my phone back.”

I like that Jobs was calm and collected when he spoke to Gizmodo. It shows a real sense of class and responsibility that I'm sure was hard to muster.

We haven't seen a hardware leak from Apple like the iPhone 4 since this. Reports indicate that Apple products still undergo real-world, incognito testing, but no devices have been revealed like the iPhone 4 was.

That brings us back to the HomePod. Leaking secrets via software is probably easier to do accidentally. Shoot, just last year, images of the then-unannounced Touch Bar were found in a public macOS Sierra release. As Apple's ecosystem continues to grow, and iOS becomes more important, Apple will need to put better practices into place to keep this sort of thing from happening in the future.


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Game Day: kubrain

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-12 13:47

Gamebra.in’s new puzzle game, kubrain, proves that there is still room for creativity and innovation in the color matching puzzle genre popularized ages ago by Tetris. Like many other games in the category, kubrain requires players to match colored blocks as they descend onto a playing field, but there’s a mind-bending twist. The playing field is a 3D cube that players can rotate to make room for incoming blocks. The result radically changes the way you approach the game compared to other matching games creating a challenging and novel gaming experience that is fun to play and difficult to master.

Gamebra.in is well-known for its series of minimalistic, high-quality puzzle games like hocus, pocus, which I reviewed earlier this year, and voi. The family resemblance between kubrain and Gamebra.in’s other games is unmistakable while remaining a unique experience.

Blocks roll in from two directions onto kubrain‘s playing field, which is the inside corner of a 3D cube consisting of three surfaces. As the cubes approach the playing field, you need to find open spaces for them next to other cubes of the same color. Match at least three and the cubes are cleared from the game. If there’s no room for a cube when it reaches the playing field, the game ends.

Gravity plays an important role too. When you rotate the playing field, so a horizontal surface with cubes resting on it becomes a vertical surface, the cubes slide down to the new horizontal surface altering their placement. If that breaks your brain a little, it’s because that’s the point. It’s a mechanic that’s not hard to understand once you start playing, but with cubes constantly marching onto the screen, it’s also very difficult to master.

The fun of kubrain is in the way it requires you to constantly consider different 3D perspectives while under the time pressure of incoming cubes. Between the changing perspectives and impact of gravity, Gamebra.in has managed to take a familiar genre and breathe new life into it creating a fresh and fun game that will drive you crazy in the best possible way.

kubrain is available on the App Store.


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Welcome to Macintosh Season 3 Announced

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-11 16:00

In 2015, Mark Bramhill, burst onto the Apple podcast scene seemingly out of nowhere with a new tightly-edited podcast called Welcome to Macintosh. Besides the high production values that Bramhill brought to that first season, the show succeeded by offering concise, compelling storytelling about interesting and sometimes obscure moments in Apple’s history.

Today, Bramhill announced Season 3 of Welcome to Macintosh, which will be published every other Friday beginning August 18th. Season 3 is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $17,000 to cover travel and other production costs. Backers of the project will receive behind-the-scenes videos and a special podcast feed available alongside the new Season 3 episodes, all of which are accessible from a special Members page on Macintosh.fm.

Season 3 features 10 all-new episodes and kicks off with a multi-episode series on how emoji are created and Bramhill’s efforts to convince the Unicode Consortium to approve a new emoji he created himself. I won’t spoil the episodes, but I had the opportunity to listen to two of them, including the first called ‘Will You Be My Emoji?,’ and they didn’t disappoint. As with earlier seasons, Bramhill’s skillful storytelling left me eager for more.

In connection with today’s announcement, Bramhill released a short promotional teaser episode. ‘Will You Be My Emoji?’ will be released on August 18th and subsequent episodes every other Friday thereafter.

You can listen to Season 3 on Macintosh.fm or subscribe to Welcome to Macintosh from iTunes, Apple’s Podcasts app, or any other podcast player using the show’s RSS feed.


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The Internet Archive Brings Back HyperCard

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-11 15:11, modified at 18:36

Today is the 30th anniversary of the introduction of HyperCard, a system for building interactive media. HyperCard featured database features, form-based layouts, and a programming language called HyperTalk, which made it a powerful and flexible tool that had a loyal following. To mark the occasion, the Internet Archive has built on its previous Macintosh emulation project to bring HyperCard back through emulation.

As Jason Scott describes it on the Internet Archive Blog:

HyperCard brought into one sharp package the ability for a Macintosh to do interactive documents with calculation, sound, music and graphics. It was a popular package, and thousands of HyperCard “stacks” were created using the software.

Additionally, commercial products with HyperCard at their heart came to great prominence, including the original Myst program.

The Internet Archive already has a collection of HyperCard stacks that you can try using its browser-based emulator, and if you have stacks you created, you can upload them to add to the collection. HyperCard played a big role in exposing a generation to programming and influenced the architecture of the web we use today, so it’s fantastic to have the opportunity to take it for a spin again.

→ Source: blog.archive.org


Streets Adds User-Generated Panoramas and Extends Its URL Scheme

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-11 13:53

When I first reviewed Streets by FutureTap over a year ago, I was impressed with the beautiful Google Street View panoramas that it allows users to browse. Whether you want to armchair travel around the globe or just see what a coffee shop looks like before you leave home to meet a friend, Streets makes it effortless to navigate between map and panorama views. In addition to browsing Streets’ gallery of famous locales, it keeps a list of recent searches, favorites, and allows you to search addresses and your contacts for places.

With the update today, Streets expands its photographic content with user-generated panoramas. When you zoom into the map view, you will see little blue dots, some of which represent panoramas from users. When you switch to the panorama view, those images are now part of what you’ll see. Pull down on the drawer that extends from the top of the panorama view and, among other things, you’ll see information about the photographer that took the shot. If you also have FutureTap’s app Where To? installed, some panoramas allow you to open that app for more details about the location you are viewing.

Also, Streets has extended its URL scheme to allow the app to put images on the clipboard. When Apple acquired the Workflow app last spring, the app lost the ability to use Google’s Street View imagery as part of workflows. Streets’ URL scheme extension is a clever work-around that allows Workflow users who have Streets installed to get Street View images once again.

Whether I’m planning a trip or meeting a friend for lunch, Streets has become my go-to method of checking out a location in advance. The simple navigation makes it a great choice when you’re mobile and using your iPhone or sitting back and enjoying Streets’ panoramas on an iPad. With its latest update, Streets has upped its imagery game and added an excellent solution users with Street View workflows.

Streets is available on the App Store.


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Swarm Shifts Focus to Become a Personal Travel Timeline

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-10 21:30

Swarm received an update this week that takes the app in a new direction. The latest version of the app deemphasizes location sharing with friends, mayorships, and sticker and coin collecting. Those elements are still there, mostly tucked away behind the ‘Friends’ tab, but the focus has shifted. Now, the app centers around the creation of a personal timeline as a sort of journal of places you’ve visited.

Swarm’s main interface has been simplified. There are just two tabs: ‘Me’ and ‘Friends’ with a check-in button between them. At the top of the ‘Me’ tab is a card-style map of your current location with the total number of your check-ins, places visited, and categories of places visited, each of which is tappable for browsing where you’ve been. Tapping on the map expands it showing nearby places you’ve visited with a list of them that you can drill into to get more details on past check-ins. If you want to explore a different location, zoom out from the map’s local view to pick somewhere else.

Going back to the ‘Me’ tab, there is a new timeline below the map card of your most recent check-ins. You can scroll through the timeline chronologically to relive recent stops you’ve made, but even more powerful is search, which lets you look for past check-ins by location, category, the friends who checked in with you, and more. Swarm search has become my ‘outboard brain’ for travel reminding me of restaurants and other favorite spots in cities I don’t visit often.

The ‘Friends’ tab is dominated by a chronological list of your friends’ check-ins. There’s also a card similar to the map card in the ‘Me’ tab, which opens the leaderboard if you like competing with your friends to see who can collect the most coins with their check-ins.

Whether you like the new design of Swarm will depend largely on how you use it. I and some of my friends have used Swarm primarily as a sort of personal travel journal or location bookmarking service and have ignored the leaderboards and collecting aspects. Apparently, we weren’t alone. However, if you prefer the gamification offered by past versions, it’s still there, but it’s no longer the easy path.

I like the changes to Swarm, especially the ease with which I recall past places I visited. Still, I feel like too much of the old app has been swept under the metaphorical rug in a way that won’t satisfy users who like those features and could also hold back Swarm from becoming the personal travel journal that the update suggests it’s intended to be. Nonetheless, if you were put off by the competitive social aspects of Swarm in the past, this week’s update is worth a look.

Swarm is available on the App Store.


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Ulysses Announces Move to Subscription Pricing

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-10 17:21, modified at 17:56

Ulysses, the popular text editor and 2016 Apple Design Award winner, announced today that it has adopted a new subscription pricing model. A post on the Ulysses blog by Ulysses co-founder, Marcus Fehn, covers the details:

  • Users can try Ulysses for free for 14 days before deciding whether to subscribe. After 14 days, Ulysses works in a read-only mode, but documents can still be exported.
  • Ulysses subscriptions are $4.99/month or $39.99/year.1
  • Subscribing unlocks both the iOS and macOS versions of Ulysses.
  • Students can subscribe for $10.99 for six-month periods.
  • Existing users can take advantage of a limited-time lifetime discount equal to 50% off the monthly subscription price.
  • Users who recently purchased Ulysses on macOS will be given a free-use period of up to 12 months depending on when they purchased the app. Users who bought Ulysses on iOS can receive up to an additional 6 months of free use.

Existing versions of Ulysses for iOS and macOS have been removed from the App Store and Mac App Store, but have been updated for iOS 11 and High Sierra, so they will continue to work for now if you decide to not subscribe. However, new features will be limited to the new versions of Ulysses that were released on the app stores today. I downloaded both versions and was impressed by the seamless transition, which explained the move to subscription pricing, the limited-time discount offer, and automatically gave me two free months of use even though I bought the apps nearly two years ago.

My personalized onboarding for the macOS version of Ulysses.

My personalized onboarding for the macOS version of Ulysses.

In addition to the announcement on the Ulysses blog, Max Seelemann, one of Ulysses’ founders, wrote a post on Medium explaining the company’s thinking behind moving to a subscription model that is worth reading. It’s a backstory that has become familiar. Pay-once pricing is not sufficient to sustain ongoing development of professional productivity apps like Ulysses. While Ulysses has enjoyed success, funding the kind of development that pro users expect through growing the app’s user base is not sustainable in the long-term. As Seelemann explains, several options were considered over a long period, but ultimately it’s subscription pricing that gives Ulysses the security and flexibility needed to maintain the app.

I’m glad to see Ulysses adopt subscription pricing. I can’t say that would be the case for every app I use, but I use Ulysses every day. I want it to be actively developed and available for a long time. The tricky part about subscriptions, as we’ve discussed in the past on AppStories, is that the value proposition for each person is different. One person’s mission-critical app might be another’s nice-to-have app and the success of a subscription model depends on picking price points that appeal to a sustainable segment of users. However, the flexibility that Ulysses has adopted with different monthly, yearly, and student pricing tiers in comparison to its pre-subscription pricing strikes me as an approach that is well-positioned to succeed.

Ulysses is available as a free download with a 14-day free trial on the App Store and the Mac App Store.


  1. A full rundown of pricing for each country where Ulysses is sold is available on its pricing page↩︎

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IKEA Smart Lighting System Adds HomeKit Support

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-10 12:47, modified at 18:05

MacRumors reports that IKEA has updated its Trådfri smart lighting system to support Apple’s HomeKit API. The product includes a gateway that requires an Ethernet network connection, remote controls, and LED lightbulbs that can be mixed and matched in different configurations at prices that are lower than many competing systems. Each gateway can control up to 10 lightbulbs with one of IKEA’s remotes or a free app available on the App Store.

In May, IKEA promised HomeKit support would be added to Trådfri later in the year. In a response to a customer inquiry on Facebook, IKEA confirmed that HomeKit support has been added to the latest version of the Trådfri gateway firmware. HomeKit support is also now listed on the  Trådfri product page along with Amazon Echo and Google Home support. Existing Trådfri owners can take advantage of HomeKit support by upgrading their gateways to the latest firmware version.

According to MacRumors, Trådfri also works with Philips’ Hue system, though that support is not currently listed on IKEA’s product page.

Update: According to MacRumors, which has updated its post, IKEA has issued a clarification on its Swedish Facebook page that the Trådfri lighting system does not yet support HomeKit, the Amazon Echo, or Google Home.

There has been information going out today about the compatibility of TRÅDFRI. We can now inform you that TRÅDFRI is not yet compatible with Apple, Amazon and Google. The plan is that everything will work as we'd like this fall. We are very sorry for the confusion!

→ Source: macrumors.com


OneDrive for iOS Adds Offline Folders, Improved Document Scanning, and New Sharing Options

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-09 18:09

Microsoft has released a big update to OneDrive for iOS, bringing several significant user-facing features as well as a full rewrite of the app under the hood to improve performance. According to the release notes for the update, all the new features are being progressively rolled out over the next couple days, so you may not see them right away. They are also all, at least for now, exclusive to Office 365 subscribers, and it is unclear if that will change in the future or not.

The first new feature of note is offline folders. OneDrive has offered offline files for a while now, but the ability to save entire folders offline has been painfully absent. I expect this feature will make a lot of users very happy.

Earlier this year OneDrive added a scanning tool, but it was very basic and rudimentary, requiring scanned documents to be a single page only; there were also no editing options whatsoever for scanned pages. The latest version of the app remedies these issues by introducing multi-page scanning along with tools to crop, rotate, or delete scanned pages.

The final two changes to OneDrive center around improving file sharing. One of those improvements is that you can now give someone temporary access to a file by creating a shared link with an expiration date of your choosing. The other improvement is found in the app’s ‘Shared’ tab, where users with a work or school account will see a new ‘Discover’ section. This section features an assortment of documents personalized for you based on who you work with and what projects you’re working on together.


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Carpool Karaoke: The Series Now Available on Apple Music

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-09 16:21, modified at 21:34

Last night Apple launched the premiere of its second original television series, Carpool Karaoke. Like Planet of the Apps before it, Carpool Karaoke will release new episodes every Tuesday for Apple Music subscribers. It can be accessed from the ‘TV & Movies’ section of the Apple Music app’s ‘Browse’ tab. Alternately, you can also find it in Apple’s standalone TV app, which Apple Music has a direct integration with.

The premiere episode of Carpool Karaoke is twenty minutes and features James Corden and Will Smith. The concept for the series comes from the popular segment on “The Late Late Show” where Corden rides around with a celebrity singing songs and exploring the city. Based on previews for the series, Corden will only appear in one other episode of Apple’s spinoff this season, while other episodes will contain a host of other celebrity groupings.

You can see a six-minute clip of the series’ first episode below, followed by an extended preview of the upcoming season.


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