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January 24 2018

12:00

Pixelmator Pro 1.0 Whirlwind review: An affordable alternative for pro Photoshop users

Pixelmator is an impressive image editor. In my review of version 3.5, I wrote, “Pixelmator represents that percentage of Photoshop’s features most people actually use on a regular basis.”

But some developers just can’t leave well enough alone. That’s good news for photographers and designers looking for an inexpensive ($60) Photoshop alternative. Pixelmator Pro 1.0 Whirlwind (Mac App Store link) is an all new application designed with more demanding needs in mind. Although there’s plenty of feature overlap between it and Pixelmator, Pixelmator Pro is a fresh start.

To read this article in full, please click here

11:30

8bitdo SN30 Pro review: A Super Nintendo-inspired controller for the PC

8bitdo has another retro-inspired controller on their hands, and this is the best one yet.
11:00

Google Home Max review: This is the best-sounding smart speaker you can buy

But Sonos might have more to fear than Amazon (ditto for Apple).

January 23 2018

18:26

Apple Releases iOS 11.2.5 with HomePod Support, External Audio Source Control, Fix for Messages Bug, and More

Today Apple released the latest version of iOS, 11.2.5, which includes compatibility with Apple's upcoming HomePod, arriving February 9. Today's update also brings new playback controls for external audio sources, a fix for the recently discovered "chaiOS" Messages bug, and various other bug fixes and improvements.

Besides adding compatibility with HomePod, the primary user-facing feature of today's release is a new set of controls for audio playback on external devices. When viewing Control Center on your iPhone or iPad, if you open the expanded audio playback tile (either by tapping the signal icon in the top-right corner, or by using 3D Touch or a long press), compatible external audio sources now display as separate UI tiles underneath the main audio tile. As seen above, the Apple TV is a supported audio device. Opening one of the additional audio tiles allows you to control playback on an external device while having separate playback controls from what's playing on your iOS device. In my testing, I could set an album in Apple Music to play on my Apple TV while listening to a podcast in Apple Podcasts on my iPhone.

Apple also mentions in the 11.2.5 release notes that Siri can now read the news by being asked, "Play the news." This feature actually became available recently to users running 11.2.2, but it has not previously been highlighted in iOS release notes. U.S. users can choose from four news sources – NPR, CNN, Fox News, and the Washington Post – which play their daily news podcasts upon your request. You can also ask for news specific to Sports, Business, and Music.

Amid the various bug fixes included in iOS 11.2.5 is one pertaining specifically to Messages. Discovered last week, the "chaiOS" bug would cause your iOS device to freeze or crash if you received a certain string of text in an iMessage. The bug was particularly dangerous because it required no user interaction to affect a device; once you received the text, your device would begin having problems.

iOS 11.2.5 is joined today by companion releases on Apple's other major platforms, including tvOS 11.2.5, watchOS 4.2.2, and macOS 10.13.3.


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16:47

DuckDuckGo Launches Browser Extensions, Revamped Mobile Apps for Increased User Privacy

DuckDuckGo, the popular search engine for privacy-conscious users, today launched major updates to its browser extension and mobile apps in an effort to grant users data protection no matter where they are on the web.

The browser extension – available for Safari, Chrome, and Firefox – joins the revamped DuckDuckGo app on iOS and Android in providing a set of privacy features that affect your full browsing experience. In addition to the existing private search feature DuckDuckGo is known for, the extension and app now offer built-in tracker network blocking, smarter encryption, and a Privacy Grade rating for sites you visit.

DuckDuckGo's privacy features work seamlessly in the background for those using the extension or mobile app. Any hidden trackers detected by DuckDuckGo will be blocked, and users will be able to see a full list of exactly what has been blocked. If a site offers an encrypted version but doesn't automatically send all users to it, DuckDuckGo will perform that routing itself.

The Privacy Grade ratings are an interesting feature designed to give users a quick, easy understanding of each site's privacy practices. Each site receives its grade based on several factors – whether it offers an encrypted connection, what, if any, tracker networks are detected, including major tracker networks, and whether the site has published privacy practices that DuckDuckGo has vetted. Based on all of this information, each site contains a unique privacy grade ranging from A to F. The site will also receive an 'enhanced grade' where applicable, meaning the grade for the site after DuckDuckGo has deployed its blocking technology. Sites can only receive a perfect 'A' grade if no trackers were detected and the site's privacy policies have been reviewed by DuckDuckGo.

I've been using DuckDuckGo as my primary search engine for nearly a year, and have had a great experience with it. It will be interesting to see what difference, if any, DuckDuckGo's vetting and grading of sites will make in shaping future privacy practices.


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16:11

AppStories, Episode 39 – The Mac App Store’s Problems

On this week's episode of AppStories, we discuss how the Mac App Store has fallen behind the iOS App Store and consider how Apple might address its problems.

Sponsored by:

→ Source: appstories.net

15:22

Agenda Review: Mac-Based Note Taking with a Calendar-Focused Twist

Agenda is an intriguing approach to note taking on the Mac that’s organized around dates and your calendar. The app is beautifully-designed and notably feature-rich for a 1.0 but lacks an iOS counterpart, which is still in the works, and collaboration features, which will limit its appeal to some users. There are also areas of the app that lack polish, but overall, Agenda shows a lot of promise and should be attractive to anyone who juggles multiple calendar events and deadlines.

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Note Basics

Agenda organizes notes by projects, which are part of categories. Notes for a particular project are displayed in the center of Agenda’s window, flanked by panels for navigating your notes. At the top of the window, there is what Agenda calls the ‘jump menu,’ which provides much of the same functionality as the left-hand panel, but is handy for navigating notes when that panel is hidden.

By placing navigational panels on both sides, your notes dominate the center column of Agenda’s window. The layout provides symmetry and balance that places the focus more squarely on the notes than on navigation, which I like a lot. Both panels can also be hidden from sight, but I don’t find either particularly distracting because they can be resized to fit into thin but functional strips.

Notes are created by clicking on the plus button at the top of Agenda’s window or typing Cmd+N. By default, new notes appear at the top of the window in reverse chronological order, but the order can be flipped around by clicking on the name of the project or note in the jump menu.

A selected note has a light yellow background, but otherwise, where one note begins and another ends is defined primarily by their titles. The screenshot below includes three notes: Topics, Issue 112, and Test Note. The Test Note at the bottom is selected, which you can also see from the jump menu at the top of the window that shows the note is in the Weekly project under the MacStories category.

Notes created in Agenda look nice and handle URLs elegantly, linking the title of webpages to their URLs when the favicon for the page is dragged into the app. Bulleted and numbered lists are supported as are checklists, heading levels, fixed-width type, indentation, and other basic formatting. You can also add stars to individual paragraphs of notes as a way of highlighting something that’s important. It’s a solid start, but I would also like to see support for block quotes, additional fonts, an option for increasing and decreasing text size, and a dark theme.

Dates and Your Calendar

One of the things that I find so interesting about Agenda is that even though many of its features will be familiar to users, it still has a distinctive feel. The difference that sets Agenda apart is its perspective on note taking, which is firmly grounded in the calendar. That doesn’t mean it takes over and clutters your calendar – far from it. Agenda is organized around dates regardless of whether you incorporate notes into your calendar.

Searching for notes by date.

Searching for notes by date.

Notes can be assigned any date in the past, present, or future. For example, you could create a packing list for a trip a month from now and assign it the date you expect to begin preparing to leave home. You could also jot down notes about a meeting you attended a week ago and give the note that date. You could even start a new note every morning, assigning it the current date, and treat Agenda like a journal.

The advantage of assigning dates is that you can then search for notes based on dates and date ranges. Clicking on the search button at the top of Agenda’s window opens a search field with a calendar button next to it. From the calendar button, you can search for notes based on pre-defined date ranges or custom ones you choose by dragging across the dates in the pop-up calendar.

A link to an Agenda note.

A link to an Agenda note.

You can also link notes to existing events or new events in your calendar. Your calendars with all their events are displayed at the top of Agenda’s right-hand panel. If you pay for Agenda’s premium features, you can also create new calendar events from within Agenda. Clicking on an event gives you the option to create a new note that will be linked to the event. If you’ve already got a note you want to link to an event, there’s also a calendar button that appears in the top right-hand corner of every note when you hover over it that you can use instead.

Agenda employs a custom URL scheme to link a note in an event’s notes field. Click on it and you’re taken right back to the linked note in Agenda. It’s a handy feature that makes it easy to link a note to a calendar event. If you want to link to a note in another app, you can do so from the Copy As item under the Edit menu or from the gear icon in an individual note.

Search, Filters, Tags, and Links

Agenda has a relatively flat organizational hierarchy, relying on a combination of search, filters, tags, and links to surface notes. To test Agenda, I created a category called ‘MacStories’ with projects for ‘AppStories,’ ‘Sponsors,’ ‘Weekly,’ and ‘Writing.’ That’s just enough structure for most of what I do, but if you prefer a more granular hierarchy, you might want to look elsewhere.

Notes marked 'On the Agenda.'

Notes marked 'On the Agenda.'

New notes are added to ‘On the Agenda’ by default but the behavior can be turned off in preferences. Notes can also be marked as ‘On the Agenda’ manually by ticking a radio button in the top left-hand corner of each note. The feature is pitched as a way to create a working set of active notes, which are easily accessed from the Overview section of the left-hand panel. I think I prefer relying on things like note pinning and sorting by modification date to surface current and important notes because maintaining a meaningful set of ‘On the Agenda’ notes requires me to manage each note’s state more than I like.

Notes can also be assigned to people using ‘@‘ tags or any arbitrary category with hashtags. When you want to filter a search by person or hashtag, type the name of the tag in the search field and choose the ‘Search for Tags’ or ‘Search for People’ options from the dropdown menu. Unfortunately, there is no way that I have discovered to create queries that combine tags and keywords. In addition, there is no directory of people you’ve assigned to notes or hashtags you’ve created, and existing tag names do not autocomplete when you’re adding one to a note.

A note tagged with #ideas.

A note tagged with #ideas.

It’s worth noting too, that by default, searches performed from the search field at the top of Agenda’s window only query the notes in the project that is currently displayed. However, the drop-down menu that appears as you type a query provides an option to ‘Search in All Projects.’ If you’ve paid for Agenda’s premium features, you can also save searches in the Overview section of the left-hand pane. For example, I’ve tagged notes with things I want to discuss with Federico using his name and have a saved search that allows me to pull those notes up quickly the next time we talk.

Notes can also be linked to each other, which allows for the creation of wiki-like integrated sets of notes. Links to other notes look just like links to webpages. They use the title of the note you’re linking to and the linked note will appear in the Related Notes section of the right-hand panel.

The variety of ways to search and filter notes in Agenda is essential because the lack of note previews makes browsing a large collection of notes more difficult than in other apps. Browsing can be made a little easier by collapsing notes, which reduces scrolling, but its utility is hampered by the fact that a collapsed note only shows its title. I’d like to see an option added for displaying at least the first few lines of a note too.

The many ways to navigate Agenda provide the flexibility that many other note taking apps don’t have, but it comes at a cost because it introduces complexity. That creates a learning curve that is steeper than most note taking apps. It’s not an insurmountable issue by any stretch, but getting the most out of Agenda requires users to look at their notes from a new perspective and invest a little time.

Importing and Exporting

Agenda can import Agenda and Markdown files as well as Apple Notes. The first two types of imports worked well, but importing from the Apple Notes app comes with serious caveats. I imported 755 notes from Apple’s Notes app, which took about two minutes to complete. All of my notes were successfully imported with each folder transformed into an Agenda project, but the imported notes were text-only. None of the images or links with the Notes-style previews were imported. Because so many of the notes I have in Apple Notes include those things, the imported notes were of little use to me, so I deleted them almost immediately. Though not strictly an import issue, pasting Markdown text containing three consecutive dashes into a note crashes Agenda.

Notes can be exported as PDF, rich text, Markdown, or Agenda files. Curiously, in my tests, only whole projects of multiple notes can be exported as a PDF file, while individual notes or projects can be exported as Markdown files or rich text.

I also ran into a couple of issues exporting notes. First, notes I printed or exported as rich text or PDFs included a message at the bottom that said they were created with Agenda even though I was testing Agenda’s premium features, which are supposed to remove those messages from printed notes and PDF exports. It turns out the message can be turned off from the detailed print dialog that appears when you print a note, which is easy to miss – I did. Second, Markdown exports sometimes dropped the last line of a note unless I clicked on another note and back again before exporting.

What’s Missing?

Agenda is Mac-only for now, but the developer says that an iOS version will be launched in the first half of 2018. That won’t be a deal-breaker for everyone, but it does preclude me from making it my full-time note-taking app. After I began testing Agenda, I took some notes about last week’s issue of MacStories Weekly. Almost immediately, I found myself in Slack on my iPad with Federico and Ryan wanting to refer back to a note but couldn’t.

Agenda doesn’t include collaboration features either. Although you can export a note and send it to someone, Apple’s Notes app and third-party options like Google Docs and Quip remain better solutions for collaboration.

Pricing Model

Agenda’s pricing model is worth mentioning too because it is somewhat unique. Agenda’s core features are free. An In-App-Purchase unlocks premium features including the creation of calendar events, saved searches, and copying and exporting of Markdown. The In-App Purchase also comes with any new features introduced for the twelve months following the purchase. If you don’t pay again at the end of twelve months, the app remains functional, you’ll get bug fixes, and any unlocked features will still work, but you won’t get new features that are introduced.


Agenda is a polished 1.0 from a design standpoint, but it still has some rough edges, and there are gaps in its feature set as noted above. It’s not an app I could make my default for note taking yet, primarily due to its lack of an iOS version. Besides, I use notes in conjunction with my task manager far more often than my calendar, so the value of its calendar-focused perspective is somewhat lost on me. Still, if you work primarily on a Mac and juggle a large number of calendar events, Agenda is worth a look, especially since the core features are free, which should give most people a fair sense of whether it fits with the way they work.

Agenda is available on the Mac App Store and directly from Momenta’s website.


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13:38

Apple Announces HomePod Available to Order This Friday, In Stores on February 9

Today in a press release, Apple announced that its HomePod device will be available to order beginning this Friday (January 26) for the previously announced price of $349, and will ship for a release date of Friday, February 9. HomePod will be available in two color options: White and Space Gray.

HomePod was first unveiled last June during Apple's WWDC keynote, with an announced ship date of December. It wasn't able to make that date, receiving a new 'Early 2018' estimated release in mid-November. Historically, that kind of designation has meant anytime up through April is possible. Fortunately, prospective HomePod buyers won't have to wait quite that long.

As Apple's first entry into the smart speaker market, HomePod is the company's answer to popular products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Unlike those other devices, however, HomePod is being marketed more as a premium-quality speaker, primed for music playback, than as a digital assistant hub. Siri is certainly an important component of the device, but at least for now, its role is being somewhat downplayed. At WWDC Phil Schiller announced that at launch, the HomePod's version of Siri will only support a limited number of domains.

While these domains cover the majority of Siri's normal functionality on iOS devices, some notable categories missing that would make sense for the HomePod include calendars, audiobook playback using iBooks, and Notes. With the HomePod's release so early in the year, it's possible we'll receive word on additional domains at WWDC this June. Until then, what you're getting with HomePod is exactly what Apple announced onstage: a powerful home speaker with Apple Music integration, which also happens to be a HomeKit hub that includes Siri, but in limited capacity.

One standout piece of news in today's announcement is that the HomePod's multi-room audio capabilities won't be available at launch, but instead will come later through a software update. This seemingly supports previous rumors that AirPlay 2's development may have been what led to HomePod's initial delay.

Update: The HomePod page on Apple's website confirms that not only is AirPlay 2's multi-room support delayed until later this year, but so is the previously demoed capability to have two HomePods pair together for offering stereo sound.

The HomePod website also provides new details on how users will be able to interact with HomePod in non-voice ways. In addition to using the 'Hey Siri' trigger phrase, you can also touch and hold the top of the HomePod and talk to Siri. There are also controls for audio playback tied to different sets of taps on the HomePod's surface, as shown below.


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02:51

No Cutting Corners on the iPhone X

Brad Ellis on the very special corners of the iPhone X:

Here’s where the nerd part comes in, iPhone X rounded screen corners don’t use the classic rounding method where you move in a straight line and then arc using a single quadrant of a circle. Instead, the math is a bit more complicated. Commonly called a squircle, the slope starts sooner, but is more gentle.

And:

Now let’s talk about the notch itself. The left and right sides have two rounded corners. Because of the curve falloff, one curve doesn’t complete before the next one starts — they blend seamlessly into each other. As a result, no tangent line on this edge actually hits a perfect vertical.

I love this type of design details. Almost three months later, sometimes I still stop and stare at the screen on my iPhone X to realize what a marvelous feat of industrial design and engineering it is.

→ Source: medium.com

January 22 2018

19:42

Apple Rolls Out Beta of ‘Apple Music For Artists’ Analytics Dashboard

Speaking of music services, Billboard's Melinda Newman reports on today's beta launch of Apple Music For Artists, a dashboard to provide artists with hundreds of data points about their fans' listening habits.

The initial beta rollout involves a few thousand artists who will test the product and see what adjustments and expansions, if any, should be made before Apple Music for Artists opens in the Spring to the several million artists with content on the iTunes and Apple Music platforms. Later plans call for a mobile app.

The easily navigable dashboard’s home page provides artists with their current number of plays, spins, song purchases and album purchases. The user can specify the time period ranging from the past 24 hours to the 2015 launch of Apple Music.

Other services have offered similar analytics products for years, but Billboard notes that Apple's take features more depth and a cleaner user interface for artists.

In addition to broad strokes, artists can drill down on a granular level in myriad ways. A global map allows musicians to click on any of the 115 countries in which Apple Music/iTunes is available and find out what’s happening with their music. They can select individual cities and see how many plays and sales they have in each market, as well as look at their top songs in every city. They may further examine the listener demographics per city, for example, calling up how many times females ages 16-24 in Los Angeles have listened to a particular song.
[...]
Additionally, artists can view all Apple-curated playlists on which they appear, see how many plays they receive and how they are trending over time.

If you're an artist offering content on Apple Music, this sounds like a pretty cool addition to the service, especially because you can inspect data going back to Apple Music's launch over two years ago.

→ Source: billboard.com

19:33

Spotify’s Playlists as Musical Events

Victor Luckerson, writing at The Ringer, makes a good point about how Spotify's algorithmic playlists have turned into the cultural phenomenon that Apple wanted to build around Apple Music:

Spotify is in much the same position right now. With its regularly refreshing playlists, which rearrange artists’ music into a new kind of original content, Spotify has become a beloved musical destination rather than just a tool. It’s an iPod and a radio and a BuzzFeedWhich Drake Album Matches Your Personality?” quiz at the same time. Taylor Swift may have a legion of fans, but Discover Weekly does as well. Those always-updating playlists are now the must-attend musical events that Apple was trying to create around exclusive albums and radio shows.

As I wrote many times here on MacStories, I'd love for Apple to consider more smart playlist features akin to Spotify's Discover Weekly and Daily Mixes.

This is also interesting:

Netflix used its power as an entertainment destination to nudge its users to watch its own original programming. Now instead of being indebted to Hollywood, the tech company seems to run it. Spotify isn’t there yet, and successfully making the Netflix pivot will be tougher because music isn’t as valuable to investors as video. Its attempts to diversify with original content have so far been nonstarters, and despite persistent rumors, the company hasn’t yet tried to establish its own record label.

Given Jimmy Iovine's recent comments on music services and original content ("Guess how much original content streaming has: zero!"), I wonder if the future of music may indeed veer towards the current TV streaming model, with albums made exclusively for specific music streaming services (and as a heavy music listener, this possibility scares me).

→ Source: theringer.com

18:36

What I Wish the iPad Would Gain from the Mac

The iPad is finally starting to grow up.

Despite the device becoming an instant sales phenomenon upon launch, iPad in its earlier years of life was never a legitimate PC replacement – nor was it meant to be. From birth the iPad existed not to cannibalize the Mac, but to supplement it. Steve Jobs called it a "third category" of device, fitting snugly in the space between a laptop and smartphone.

In recent years, however, the iPad has gone through a stark transition. If you want an iPad to supplement your iPhone and Mac, you can still get one in the $329 "just call me iPad" model introduced last spring. But the bulk of Apple's iPad efforts of late have centered on making the device a capable replacement for the traditional computer. The iPad Pro and iOS 11 represent a new vision for the iPad. This vision puts the iPad not next to the Mac, but instead squarely in its place. It's a vision embodied by the question, "What's a computer?"

I made the iPad Pro my primary computer when it first launched in late 2015. The transition pains from Mac to iPad were minimal, and the device has grown even more capable since that time thanks to improvements in iOS. My need for a Mac is now extremely rare.

My desire for a Mac, however, still exists in a few specific use cases. There are things the Mac has to offer that I wish my iPad could replicate.

Now that the modern iPad has many basics of computing covered, here are the things I think it needs to take iPad-as-PC to the next level.

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Multiple Instances of an App

Windowing is one of the most basic UI concepts of the Mac, and has been for a long time. When it makes sense for an app, windows can be used to open multiple instances of the same app – multiple notes, PDFs, Word documents, etc. all in separate places. But windowing, in the traditional sense at least, doesn't exist on the iPad, and likely never will. There's another answer to this problem, though, one that the Mac recently adopted: tabs.

Tabs have long been a standard interface element in web browsers, including Safari on both the Mac and iOS. But in 2015 their usefulness on the Mac expanded systemwide when macOS Sierra added the ability for any app to have a tabbed interface.

Sierra's tab expansion is relevant here because the iPad should realistically be able to follow suit. The chance of windowing on iOS may be practically nonexistent, but there's nothing about current iOS paradigms that would prevent tabs from becoming a systemwide feature. If we assume that iOS will eventually allow viewing two instances of the same app at once, then using tabs to power that system would make the most sense due to the groundwork that's already been laid in Safari on iOS.

One of the few iPad-specific additions to iOS 10 was a Safari enhancement that enabled viewing two webpages at once in Split View. You could toggle this view using menu options, but the most natural way was with a gesture: simply pick up one of your existing tabs, drag it to either side of the currently-active tab, and the two tabs would enter Split View. The feature works beautifully, and was a clear foreshadowing of what iOS 11's drag and drop system would bring.

I believe the most natural, iPad-appropriate method of enabling multiple instances of a single app is seen in these clues from macOS Sierra and iOS 10.

Every app that wants tabs on iOS should be able to use them, with the added benefit of in-app Split View modeled after iOS 10's Safari. Out of apps I use every day, Ulysses, Notes, Files, and Slack would benefit most. With Ulysses and Notes, I would regularly keep multiple documents open at once so I could easily switch between them, and in-app Split View would enable writing while keeping research visible at the same time. Files adopting tabs would save me from the endless location switching I have to do each day, while in-app Split View support would make it easier to compare the contents of different documents or even different folders with each other. Slack wouldn't benefit as much from tabs, since its navigation bar remains on-screen most of the time, but it sure would be nice to have two different channels visible simultaneously in Split View.

The tools are all in place: enabling multiple instances of an app would be a natural next step in the iPad's evolution.

More Diverse Hardware

When you set out to purchase a Mac, the number of options available can be a bit daunting. For starters, Apple sells seven different base computers bearing the Mac name:

  • MacBook
  • MacBook Air
  • MacBook Pro
  • iMac
  • iMac Pro
  • Mac Pro
  • Mac mini

Where it can get really confusing though, is when you dive a level deeper and explore the myriad of default configurations for each Mac. Not counting color options, the Apple Store offers a whopping 23 potential choices to shoppers. And of course, those 23 options aren't the stopping point – with each one of them, you can tailor things like the processor, memory, storage, and more to your exact specifications – in the end, your Mac buying options are virtually limitless.

Contrast with the iPad, which Apple currently sells three brands of:

  • iPad
  • iPad Pro
  • iPad mini 41

On one hand, the level of simplicity across the line is refreshing when compared with the Mac. But if the iPad is to become a true, mass market alternative to traditional computers, it needs to find a healthy new middle on the spectrum of Mac-level fragmentation and iPad-level simplicity. The iPad's current distinction between consumer and professional-focused devices is a start, but I hope to see even more divergence in the line going forward.

Whether you would continue calling it an iPad or not, an iOS-powered laptop would be a fascinating product. The laptop form factor is tried and true, providing a more rugged, durable feel than the current iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard combo. The device's keyboard could be backlit and provide larger keys, with the potential even for an expansion of Touch Bar to iPad. In a future where iOS and macOS app development converge, the Touch Bar would be a natural fit for an iOS laptop. Would the device have a trackpad? I'd see the benefit of one, but it could go either way.

If you can't imagine working primarily on iOS today, an iOS laptop likely would do little to change that. But if, like me, the iPad is already your full-time computer, then a laptop running iOS with a Touch Bar, trackpad, and 15-inch display probably sounds, well, magical.

On the negative side, unless Apple can craft an elegant way to make this device function as a 2-in-1, it would likely lose most or all of its usefulness as a tablet. Despite that trade-off, however, an iOS-powered laptop might just be the perfect fit for certain users – I would certainly consider it.

My 12.9-inch iPad Pro sits in "laptop mode" about 90% of the time, with the Smart Keyboard attached and in use. That remaining 10% where I benefit from it being a tablet would be tough to replace right now, but if, say, an iPhone X successor with a 6.5-inch display were available, that device could be a valid substitute for my current tablet use of the iPad – thus making an iOS laptop all the more desirable.

Another new form factor the iPad could adopt is something resembling Microsoft's Surface Studio – a desktop powerhouse with a sizable display that could be used both in traditional mode and a drafting-table mode. If such a device were to ever exist, it would increase the need for a method of iOS interaction involving trackpad and cursor. The device would be primed for video and audio production, app development, and all the other things the iMac excels at today.

It might sound crazy to imagine the iPad as a desktop computer, or even a laptop that loses all tablet capabilities, but if it never adopts substantially new form factors, the iPad will remain limited in ways that iOS devices don't need to be limited.

iOS may have been birthed for a tiny 3.5-inch display that, in its time, no one would have mistaken for a "real" computer, but today, many people's only computer is an iPhone. And for those who need something more than an iPhone for things like work, the iPad – spurred on by the 12.9-inch iPad Pro – has pushed iOS to become a competent workhorse. There's more that can be done, however, with the help of continual software development and further expansion of hardware.

Persistent Background Privileges for Apps

Effective power management is essential to mobile devices with relatively small batteries. One of the ways iOS ensures your device's optimum battery life is by making sure apps that aren't on-screen use little to no processor power. If apps on your iPhone were able to run constantly in the background, your battery would be at risk of draining at an unacceptable rate.

Many iPad users may treat the device like an iPhone – unplugging it for a day of use, then charging overnight. Due to the iPad Pro's importance to my work, and my need for it to be ready at a moment's notice for taking on the go, I treat the device more like a laptop than a tablet. As I used to do with my MacBook Air, when I'm working at my office desk, my iPad Pro is normally kept plugged in. I suspect this behavior isn't unique among those who work full-time on an iPad Pro.

As the iPad grows to resemble a laptop more than a tablet, iOS should follow suit. Laptops are often used on the go, but they are also regularly used in a static setting near a charger; as a result, they don't need the same level of power management as iOS devices historically have. The iPad Pro, in all its laptop-ness, is uniquely suited to be the first iOS device to allow apps to run non-stop in the background.

It makes sense for an iPhone to not have persistently running apps, because the vast majority of the time the device is used off the charger. But the same logic no longer holds true for the iPad – at least, not for the iPad Pro. Why does this device, which spends most of the day in use at my desk, plugged in, need me to regularly open apps like Dropbox and Google Photos to ensure that those services can backup recent photos I've taken? Sure, maybe those processor-heavy tasks should be paused when I'm on battery power, but when I'm not, there's no reason those apps shouldn't have the same privileges that Apple's Photos app has already.

Outside of cloud storage management, background privileges for apps could enable a host of helpful utilities and automation. Clipboard management, for example, should be just as easy on the iPad Pro as it is on a Mac, where an app like Copied can instantly, invisibly log everything you copy across the system. Wouldn't it be great if an app like Workflow could become more Hazel-like, triggering workflows automatically in the background based on pre-set rules?

These types of features make the Mac work for you, invisibly getting things done for the user's convenience. In order to become a more powerful machine that serves professional users, the iPad needs the ability to do the same.

More First-Party Apps for Professionals

Much of Apple's best app development work is found on iOS. The newly redesigned App Store is a beauty to behold and delight to use, Apple News offers easily my favorite reading experience on digital devices, and Mail – even with its shortcomings – remains my favorite email app despite an abundance of third-party alternatives. Apple by and large makes great iOS apps; unfortunately, the target market for those apps isn't professionals.

Contrast Apple's app portfolio on the Mac with iOS – you'll find plenty of solid iOS apps that simply aren't available on the Mac, but when it comes to professional-geared apps, the story's entirely different. There's nothing first-party on iPad that comes anywhere close to the power of Final Cut Pro X, Logic Pro X, and Xcode.

I don't think it has to fall on Apple to create professional grade apps in every domain, but I wish they would do some leading by example. Final Cut and Logic equivalents on iPad would go a long way toward showing Apple's commitment to the iPad as a device for professionals.

Even if those apps never existed, though, enabling app development on iOS via an Xcode-like iPad app is essential. Third-party teams can build their own apps for video or audio work, but only Apple can create Xcode for iPad. And maybe, once iPad-first users can create apps directly on their favorite device, we'll begin seeing more evidence on the App Store of just how powerful an iPad app can be.

Multi-User Support

This one's a no-brainer. Not only is it a feature that traditional computers have had for ages, but it also fits with the way many iPads are used today. Despite their lack of proper multi-user support, iPads are often shared devices in a household. If that isn't reason enough, how about this: multi-user support already exists on the iPad, but it's exclusive to education customers. Just bring it to everyone, Apple.

The only potential wrench in this idea is that Face ID will likely arrive on iPad in the near future, and, assuming the technology replaces Touch ID altogether, Face ID's current limitation to one saved face, and issues distinguishing between family members, would make multi-user support challenging. Apple could always resort to using only passcodes for user login on Face ID-equipped iPads, while letting older iPads with Touch ID use fingerprint authentication, but that seems unlikely – it would behoove Apple to make sure the best multi-user experience is found on the newest, most advanced devices. If Face ID does come to iPad soon, we may be left waiting for it to advance past its current limitations before multi-user support arrives.


Looking over this list, I'm struck by how realistic and attainable these requests are. Sure, some might never happen, but most seem inevitable if the iPad continues to grow.

Which leads to an important question: if the iPad does evolve in these ways, what happens to the Mac?

The iPad is already proving a formidable Mac-alternative for some users – what happens if it continues closing the gap by adopting the Mac strengths I've listed? If the iPad offered support for multiple instances of an app, was available in a more diverse array of hardware, allowed apps to get things done persistently in the background, was home to Xcode, Final Cut Pro, and Logic Pro equivalents, and became a proper shared device with multiple user accounts – why would people continue using the Mac?

The Mac will always have a base of users who are most comfortable with it and don't want to transition to a new thing. But that base, in this hypothetical advanced-iPad future, likely wouldn't be big enough to merit continued investment from Apple into the platform.

This, I fear, is the greatest hindrance to the iPad's development.

Unless the Mac changes in substantial ways, continuing to evolve enough to stay meaningfully ahead of the iPad, the iPad's growing capabilities will lead to greater cannibalization of the Mac.

How far down that road is Apple comfortable traveling?


  1. With the advent of larger iPhones, including perhaps the largest-screened iPhone ever coming later this year, the iPad mini is likely not long for this world. ↩︎

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15:29

Jamf Now: Easily Set Up, Manage, and Protect Your Apple Devices [Sponsor]

For some people, IT is a task and not a career. Jamf Now helps you manage and secure your iPad, iPhone, and Mac devices at work.

For example, when a business is first starting out, it’s pretty easy to keep track of a couple of Apple devices. But as the company grows and they start to buy more tech for employees, it gets harder to keep track of everyone’s Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Figuring out how to secure an iPad that an employee lost can be tough — especially if they work remotely.

Jamf Now makes that, and much more, easier. You can check real-time inventory, configure Wi-Fi and email settings, deploy applications, protect sensitive company data, and even lock or wipe a device from anywhere. Jamf Now helps manage your devices so you can focus on your business. There’s no IT experience needed.

MacStories readers can start securing their business today by setting up the first 3 devices for free. Add more, for just $2 a month, per device. Create your free Jamf Now account today.

Thanks to Jamf Now for supporting MacStories this week.


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January 20 2018

18:18

Installing tvOS Betas Over-the-Air from iOS with iCab and Dropbox

I was trying to update my two Apple TVs (a 4K model and a 4th generation one) to the latest tvOS 11.2.5 beta earlier today to test AirPlay 2 (more on this soon) and, because I remembered there was a way to install tvOS betas without a USB-C cable, I was attempting to download Apple's tvOS beta configuration profile using Safari on iOS. However, as soon as I tapped the Download button on Apple's developer website, I got this message instead of a new tab showing the downloaded configuration file:

I don't know when Apple changed this behavior, but I recalled that Safari wouldn't try to install tvOS configuration profiles on an iOS device. Without a way to manually fetch the .mobileconfig file and save it to my Dropbox, I was going to unplug my TVs and connect them to my MacBook Pro (which usually sits in the closet until it's recording day for AppStories or Relay) to finish the process.

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As is often the case with obvious web browser functionalities missing from Safari on iOS, iCab came to the rescue. This powerful third-party browser (which has been around for years and has been covered numerous times on MacStories) offers – among dozens of advanced settings and customizable menus – a built-in downloader UI to download files from any webpage and manage them directly from the app (unlike Safari, which continues to be limited to a Quick Look preview and app extensions to copy files elsewhere).

I opened developer.apple.com in iCab, filled the login field using 1Password's extension (iCab has an optional toolbar button to only bring up iOS password manager extensions), and tapped on the Download button for tvOS' beta configuration profile. Instead of forcing me to open the profile in Settings, iCab, like any other true desktop browser, asked me if I wanted to download it.

Files downloaded in iCab end up in the Downloads popup of the app, where you can tap one to reveal a contextual menu with options to preview it, send it to another app, or view its properties. From this screen, I could have tapped 'Open file in another App' to send the profile to the Dropbox extension and upload it to my account.

Why is it so hard to add this feature to Safari on iOS, Apple?

Why is it so hard to add this feature to Safari on iOS, Apple?

I also remembered, however, that iCab offers a file provider extension to view downloaded items in the Files app, which is exactly what I'd like Apple to add to Safari in iOS 12.

This is the right way to deal with files downloaded from a web browser on iOS.

This is the right way to deal with files downloaded from a web browser on iOS.

From iCab's extension in Files, all I had to do was drag the configuration file into the Dropbox location, wait a second for the upload to finish, then long-press the file to reveal the action menu. Here, I tapped the arrow on the right to scroll to the second page of options, where I selected 'Copy Link':

This button is one of the new extension points for file providers in iOS 11. Selecting it opens a screen that quickly generates a shareable Dropbox link, which is copied to the system clipboard.

Now, all the tutorials I found via Google search mentioned pressing the Play button on the Siri Remote after selecting the 'Send to Apple' option in Settings ⇾ General ⇾ Privacy to open the Add Profile page on tvOS. It appears these settings were reorganized with tvOS 11 last year. To bring up the "hidden" screen to manually add a configuration profile on an Apple TV, navigate to Settings ⇾ General ⇾ Privacy, select Share Apple TV Analytics, then press the Play button and click on Add Profile.

At this point, if your iOS device is already paired with an Apple TV, you'll get a notification to type text from an iPhone or iPad instead of having to fiddle with the Siri Remote's touchpad.

Expand the notification and paste from iOS instead of typing with the Siri Remote.

Expand the notification and paste from iOS instead of typing with the Siri Remote.

On my iPad Pro, I hit ⌘V to paste the Dropbox URL in my clipboard, and I replaced the dl=0 bit at the end with dl=1 to allow tvOS to download the installation file from my Dropbox. It worked, and after updating to iOS/tvOS 11.2.5 on all my devices, I'm now testing AirPlay 2 streaming in two separate rooms of our apartment, pacing in the hallway to make sure it's working. My girlfriend thinks I've lost my mind.

The moral of this short story is twofold: I will inevitably forget how to bring up the Add Profile page on tvOS, so I'm going to bookmark my own post for future reference (in DEVONthink); and when Safari for iOS doesn't cut it, I bet iCab has an option that can do exactly what you need in a couple of seconds.


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15:18

iOS 11’s Lower Adoption Rate

Rene Ritchie shared a comparison of iOS adoption rates over the years (starting with iOS 7 in January 2014) and, so far, iOS 11 has the lowest adoption of all major updates, four months after their public release.

Looking at the numbers, you can see a decline in the transition from iOS 7 to 8 (iOS 7's troubled rollout affected millions of users for months), a stabilization with iOS 9 and iOS 10, and another decrease with iOS 11 this year.

I see two potential reasons for this. With iOS 11's 32-bit cut-off, it's very likely that a good percentage of users who would have updated simply couldn't because they were on older hardware not supported by iOS 11. More importantly though, the widespread perception that software updates make Apple devices slower isn't helping adoption rates. This time, Apple itself had to confirm that iOS 11 did, in fact, throttle iPhone performance to compensate for aging batteries (a perfectly fine motivation, terribly communicated to customers from a software design and PR perspective).

A couple of weeks ago in our 2018 Apple predictions episode on Connected, I mentioned that I believe iOS 12 will have a focus on speed and performance as a tentpole feature, specifically called out at WWDC as an important effort by Apple's engineering teams. This is just my personal theory, but I don't think new emoji and Animoji will be enough to convince reluctant users to update their iPhones later this year. If Apple wants to counter the narrative surrounding iOS 11 and see these adoption rates pick up again, I think they'll have to demonstrate – not merely promise – that their next software update will have practical, tangible benefits on the everyday usage of an iOS device.

→ Source: twitter.com

January 19 2018

20:11

Voice Control is Coming to the Alexa App Soon

Amazon is adding voice control support to its Alexa app on Android and iOS. According to TechCrunch:

The addition of voice commands means users can speak directly to their handset the way they would an Echo — to play music, trigger Alexa skills and the like. The update is being rolled out over the course of the coming days through Google Play and Amazon’s own Appstore. A similar update is also on the way for the iOS App Store, but its timing is still up in the air, likely due to Apple’s stricter vetting process.

Unlike Google and Apple, Amazon doesn’t have a smartphone platform for its smart assistant. That puts Amazon at a disadvantage because it precludes users from activating Alexa with a trigger word on Android phones and iOS devices. Still, the move feels like a natural extension of the services surrounding Alexa and Amazon’s Echo products.

There’s precedent for this sort of app on iOS too. Astra is a simple iOS utility that acts like an Echo device. It’s registered in the Alexa app alongside any Echo products you own. Pressing the microphone button lets you issue the same commands you can to an Echo. It remains to be seen what Amazon’s update to the Alexa app will mean for Astra, but in any event, it will be interesting to see where Amazon’s push into mobile leads.

→ Source: techcrunch.com

04:15

Mac and iOS App Store Web Preview Pages Get a Makeover

Apple has introduced new web preview pages for the App Store and Mac App Store. The new design more closely tracks the App Store changes debuted as part of iOS 11. Interestingly, the web previews for Mac apps share the same refreshed design despite the fact that the Mac App Store has barely changed since its introduction in 2011.

The new design features bigger images and more white space. Reviews are laid out horizontally as cards near the bottom of the page. Longer reviews open in a pop-over card that hovers above the page when the ‘more’ link is clicked. Mac apps include a ‘View in Mac App Store’ button near the top of the page too.

The new web previews are only accessible from search results loaded in the desktop version of Safari or another desktop browser. The mobile version of the browser offers to take you to the App Store when a link is tapped, even if you long press the refresh button and pick ‘Request Desktop Site.’ In my tests, the desktop search results that load in mobile Safari look more like their desktop counterparts, but DuckDuckGo and Bing still offer to open the App Store, whereas Google’s links are simply unresponsive.

I like the look of the new preview pages. The old ones were too closely tied to the design of the iTunes App Store, which was eliminated last fall.

The inclusion of Mac app previews is intriguing. It makes sense for both Stores to share a common design language, but the Mac App Store is in desperate need of love and attention for many reasons that extend beyond its design. Whether this is a sign that the Mac App Store will get that attention soon, Mac apps will be thrown in with iOS apps on the App Store, or something else will be interesting to watch.


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January 18 2018

16:13

It’s Time for Apple to Build a Less Addictive iPhone

Farhad Manjoo, writing for The New York Times on the topic of tech addiction, interviewed Tristan Harris, who runs the Time Well Spent organization:

Mr. Harris suggested several ideas for Apple to make a less-addictive smartphone. For starters, Apple could give people a lot more feedback about how they’re using their devices.

Imagine if, once a week, your phone gave you a report on how you spent your time, similar to how your activity tracker tells you how sedentary you were last week. It could also needle you: “Farhad, you spent half your week scrolling through Twitter. Do you really feel proud of that?” It could offer to help: “If I notice you spending too much time on Snapchat next week, would you like me to remind you?”

Another idea is to let you impose more fine-grained controls over notifications. Today, when you let an app send you mobile alerts, it’s usually an all-or-nothing proposition — you say yes to letting it buzz you, and suddenly it’s buzzing you all the time.

Mr. Harris suggested that Apple could require apps to assign a kind of priority level to their notifications. “Let’s say you had three notification levels — heavy users, regular users and lite, or Zen,” Mr. Harris said.

The first idea sounded terrible until I remembered that, for a while, I also used Moment on the iPhone to understand my app habits and curb my Facebook addiction (it worked). I wouldn't want a tracking feature that shames users and makes them feel guilty ("Are you proud of that?" is precisely what should not happen), but something akin to RescueTime, discreetly integrated with iOS and built by Apple would be a welcome feature.

Deeper control over notifications is something iOS desperately needs at this point. I would be disappointed if a major overhaul of the notification framework and UI isn't in the cards for iOS 12. Android has offered notification channels for a while now; Apple should borrow the feature and a) allow developers to set different tiers for their apps' notifications and b) let users override them if a developer tries to be too clever about them. Notification levels on iOS would also be perfect for the Apple Watch: imagine if, without having to fiddle with Do Not Disturb, you could set some types of notifications to be displayed on the iPhone and only the most important ones on the Watch, with fine-grained controls in a unified, intuitive interface. I hope we see something similar this year.

→ Source: nytimes.com

01:59

Tim Cook Says iOS Beta Due Next Month Will Include Setting to Disable Battery Performance Throttling

In an interview with ABC News' Rebecca Jarvis about Apple's investments in the U.S. economy, CEO Tim Cook confirmed that an upcoming iOS developer beta, due to be released in February, will include, in addition to a previously announced battery health screen, a setting to disable iPhone performance throttling. Cook explained that, while Apple will recommend to keep throttling enabled to prevent unexpected shutdowns in emergency situations, iOS will also include an option to turn it off for users who don't want their iPhone's performance reduced by software.

As noted by Benjamin Mayo at 9to5Mac:

You can listen to Cook talk about this in the interview embedded below. Skip to around 4:30 to hear him talk about the iPhone slowdown debacle. His wording is not ambiguous, he states plainly that Apple will release the developer beta (presumably iOS 11.3) next month and that it will include the ability for users to disable performance throttling if they want to.

Given Cook's comments, it sounds likely that iOS 11.2.5 (currently in beta) will be released by the end of the month, with iOS 11.3 beta following in February and a possible launch in March, as with other .3 releases in previous years.

→ Source: abcnews.go.com

July 19 2017

11:00

Lifecraft review: Retooled Mac journal app embraces cloud sync, iOS support

Best known for creative Mac software like iScrapbook, Labelist, and PrintLife, Chronos has spread its wings with Lifecraft a digital journal app that works on mobile devices as well. While not as full-featured as the excellent Day One, there are several compelling features that make it worth a look.

To read this article in full, please click here

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