First Apple Watch Apps Available on the App Store

Ahead of the Apple Watch release next month, Apple has begun approving the first wave of Watch apps from a selected group of developers. Here's Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors:

As of today, several popular iOS apps have been updated with built-in Apple Watch apps, including Evernote, Dark Sky, Things, and Target.

Additional apps with Apple Watch support will be rolling out over the course of the day, giving us a first look at how many of the apps on the device will function. We'll be updating this post with a list of Apple Watch apps that are available as they come out in the App Store.

See iDownloadBlog for a running list of the updated apps.

I received two Watch app updates on my iPhone – Evernote and Lifesum. In both cases, the apps are indicative of the kind of functionality that will be enabled in the initial group of Apple Watch apps. Evernote will let you dictate new notes, view existing ones, set reminders and receive notifications, and even search for notes in your account. Lifesum will bring “simple” food tracking to your wrist, plus suggestions, exercise reminders, and daily tips to live healthy. I'm curious to see how iPhone apps will bring a subset of their functionality to the Watch, and especially how quickly I'll find a balance between useful notifications and annoying interruptions.

I also think timing is interesting. For the first time in several years, a new Apple product will be reviewed by people who have access to third-party apps from the App Store. When the iPhone launched, there was no App Store; when the iPad launched, reviewers didn't have access to public downloads from the iPad App Store.

That won't be the case with Apple Watch, and this is a clever choice from Apple. Because the Watch is many things, it needs apps to offer a more complete picture of its potential. By approving the first Watch apps this week, reviewers (and customers at the try-on sessions in the retail stores) will get access to a selection of third-party apps that can show how the Watch will integrate in everyday life through the apps they already use.

Smart move, and good timing.

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Instapaper 6.2 Adds Speed Reading, Textshots

Nice Instapaper update released today: the app's extension has been sped up (again), Instant Sync has been added (it uses silent notifications on iOS to fetch new articles in the background), and you can now get through your read-later list with speed reading. I've never been a fan of speed reading, but I like how Betaworks integrated it as a feature inside Instapaper. The extension is much faster in the new version, and it seems to be on par with the speed of Pocket's share extension.

Along the lines of integration, Instapaper 6.2 also lets you generate textshots for Twitter directly from the app. There are some excellent touches in how Instapaper handled textshots: they're generated via software (so you won't end up with images cluttering the Camera Roll) and they preserve the current font and theme selection.

A textshot generated by Instapaper and perfectly previewed inline on Twitter.

A textshot generated by Instapaper and perfectly previewed inline on Twitter.

Furthermore, Instapaper also attempts to guess the best aspect ratio to avoid truncation on Twitter. All this, I think, makes it one of the finest implementations of textshots to date. Bonus points for making it easy to tweet a text selection with the Share button of the copy & paste menu.

Betaworks keeps doing good work on Instapaper. Version 6.2 is available now on the App Store.

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Twitter Launches Periscope

Periscope, Twitter's latest acquisition, has launched today on the App Store. For those who haven't been following the news, Periscope is a company that Twitter bought before the rise in popularity of Meerkat, a live streaming app. Periscope also lets you live stream video from your iPhone, but, according to early reviews, it's cleaner, faster, and obviously more integrated with Twitter's social graph – which was unceremoniously cut off from Meerkat.

Mat Honan has a good story on Periscope:

Fire up the app, launch the camera, and the app tweets out a message (if you want it to) that you have gone live. Simultaneously, a notification fires off — with that little look-at-me whistle — to everyone following you on Periscope. As they join in, they can comment on what you’re doing. And because it has super-low lag time — or latency, to use the term of art — people watching can comment on your actions more or less as they happen. It means that people watching the video can change the course of what’s happening. They can chime in with questions or comments, and all the while tap-tap-tap on the screen to send a stream of hearts to the broadcaster. Don’t want comments? Fine, you can turn them off. If you choose, you can let the video live on Persicope’s servers afterwards, where it will stay for 24 hours before disappearing forever. Or you can choose to let your video be purely ephemeral, living only in the moment and then gone forever. It is delightfully fun.

Joanna Stern's article, however, really hit close to home for me:

Maybe I should be thankful. Periscope’s biggest promise lies in those times when life is far from boring. Whether it be a breaking news situation or a friend’s traumatic experience, there are times when peeking in and watching a live story unfold makes the most sense. While it’s bound to be abused, this new way of communicating could bring us closer than any photo or recorded video could.

I experienced that this week. My friend Drew Olanoff, who has been suffering from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, just had a stem-cell transplant. He’s been using Periscope to stream (or “‘scope”) from his hospital room, updating his friends and followers on his progress. Every day, he shows the board that lists his blood stats and flips the camera around—by tapping on the screen—so we can see how he looks.

Like Joanna, I don't know if my life is exciting enough to warrant a daily dose of live streams. But then again, before Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, most of us didn't think we'd be inclined to share so much about our daily lives either. Reading how Drew is using Periscope reminds me of when I was stuck there doing a stem cell transplant, and how I wished I could update all my friends and readers at once in a simple, natural way. Sure, I could send selfies to different iMessage threads and I could tweet text and pictures, but the idea of a real-time live stream is much more powerful. And Periscope is pretty cool: I came across some questionable streams in the Home tab, but the app is fast, polished, and, indeed, a window into the world of others.

Live streaming isn't new. But this new take on the category – fast, integrated, mobile – comes at an interesting time. Periscope is free on the App Store.

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Facebook Messenger’s “Optimized” Approach and App Discovery

Over at Fast Company, Sarah Kessler has a good summary of Facebook's Messenger announcements from today's F8 developer conference:

Facebook wants to turn its Messenger app into more than just a messaging app. At its F8 conference in San Francisco Wednesday, the company announced details on its much-rumored plans to integrate Messenger with purchases made on other sites, and to allow third-party developers to build apps that work within it.

Messenger users will soon be able to select from a list of services inside of the app. At launch, most of these apps help users create new content, like singing telegram app Ditty, GIF app Giphy, and voice app FlipLip Voice Changer. There’s also a fun special effects app available from J.J. Abrams and an ESPN app that provides users with sports GIFs. Facebook says 40 apps will be available today or in the days to come.

I was curious about Facebook's plans for Messenger Platform, and the addition of an API immediately caught my interest. I tweeted:

After reading more about how Messenger Platform works with third-party apps, though, I realized that my tweets from earlier today don't exactly apply to what Facebook is doing.

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Filters for iPhone

Fun, polished new app by Mike Rundle: Filters is a photo editor for iPhone that includes over 800 effects, filters, textures, and overlays. Normally, I wouldn't be interested in this type of app and I would say that 800 options are too much, but I like how Rundle structured navigation inside the app and how you can freely experiment, compare edits with the original photo, and save favorite filters for quick access.

I've spent a few minutes playing with the app today, and while I won't use all of the filters it offers, I enjoyed looking at options (there are some great ones) and the little touches in the UI (Rundle is the designer and developer of the app, and this integration shows). Benjamin Mayo has a good review over at 9to5Mac.

Also: Filters is $0.99, with no In-App Purchases or other social gimmicks. Recommended.

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Why Force Touch Matters for Accessibility

Aside from keeping our iPhones in our pocket more, I think the Apple Watch is compelling for another reason: communication. The ways in which Apple is allowing people to communicate via Apple Watch – taps, doodles, and, yes, even heartbeats – is a clever, discreet new paradigm that epitomizes the company’s mantra that the Watch is the most intimate and personal device they’ve ever created. I, for one, am very much looking forward to trying these features.

What’s even more compelling, though, in my view, is the engine that’s powering the delivery of said communication – namely, the Taptic Engine. Beyond its use for notifications and communication on the Watch, Apple has implemented its Taptic Engine in one other form: trackpads. Apple has put the tech into the new MacBook and the refreshed 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. I had an opportunity to play with the Force Touch trackpad (about 30 minutes) at my favorite Apple Store here in San Francisco, and came away very, very impressed.

I find Apple’s embrace of haptic feedback fascinating and exciting, because the use of haptic technology has some very real benefits in terms of accessibility.

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Fantastical 2 for Mac Review: Reinvented

Fantastical for Mac, originally released in 2011, redefined calendar apps for OS X and my idea of a modern calendar client.

Developed by Michael Simmons and Kent Sutherland – together known as Flexibits – Fantastical pioneered features and design choices that, with time, have become a staple of other calendar apps and OS X utilities: natural language input is now expected in popular todo apps and services; the OS X menu bar has grown into a popular destination for desktop utilities; integration with multiple calendar services in a single app is now a de facto standard.

Fantastical was a powerful calendar assistant. Four years later, Flexibits wants Fantastical 2 for Mac – their latest creation years in the making – to be the only calendar app you'll ever need. While the original Fantastical was a companion to the full Apple iCal experience, Fantastical 2 reinvents itself as a full-blown calendar client that retains the most important aspects of the app's debut and adds a whole new calendar interface to the mix. And in the process, it exudes the finesse and attention to detail that Simmons and Sutherland are known for.

In 2011, Fantastical raised the bar for modern calendar interaction. Fantastical 2 builds on that solid foundation, bringing design changes and new functionalities that will define the evolution of the Fantastical family.

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Scenery for Mac: Quickly Generate Marketing Photos of your App or Website

Launching today, Scenery is a new Mac app that can quickly create professional looking photos of your app or website on a device for marketing purposes. Developed by Unsigned Integer, the makers of Deckset, Scenery essentially allows developers and marketers to skip the expensive and time consuming process of taking their own photos or spending hours in Photoshop.

The Scenery app is free and comes with 3 starter templates (two iPhone 6 templates and one Samsung Galaxy S5 template). Additional template packages can then be purchased from prices ranging from $15 to $100. Each template package has a particular theme such as ‘Around the House’, ‘Wooden Benchtop’ or ‘Flat White Workspace’ and can include various devices such as iPhones, iPads, Macs and Android smartphones. At launch there are 14 template packages available for purchase.

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Instagram Launches Layout

Fun new app by Instagram, designed to create photo collages. From the company's blog:

Today we’re announcing Layout from Instagram, a new app that lets you easily combine multiple photos into a single image. It’s fun, it’s simple and it gives you a new way to flex your creativity.

After Hyperlapse, Instagram continues to build dedicated utilities without cluttering the main Instagram experience (which has already gotten more complex over the years). I'd argue that photo collages are more mainstream than slow-motion videos, and Layout seems to lack the impressive technical feats of Hyperlapse. It's polished, intuitive, and I like how it simplifies controls for resizing and mirroring, but it doesn't showcase any breakthrough technology. It doesn't need to, though, considering the popularity of slightly more complicated collage apps such as Diptic.

Nathan Ingraham writes at The Verge:

Layout is a determinedly simple app — choose your pictures, choose your layout, and make a few quick adjustments. That's all it does, and its designers are happy to admit it. Even as Instagram's flagship app has gotten more flexible, adding more granular editing tools to the filters it first became known for, the company wants to keep advanced techniques like Hyperlapse and collages in their own apps.

Curious to see if this will take off (my friends will be a fascinating testing ground).

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