Feb
26
2012

Earlier today Apple posted a new TV ad on its website and YouTube channel, this time about iCloud. Carrying a new tag line “Automatic. Everywhere. iCloud.”, the commercial focuses on practically every functionality of Apple’s cloud service, from Photo Stream and Calendar sync to app downloads, Address Book sync, and iBooks. In particular, the ad shows the kind of integration that’s possible with iCloud — the video briefly touches upon Automatic Downloads from one device to another, and more prominently features Photo Stream for photos and calendar events synced across devices.

The YouTube description of the ad reads:

With iCloud, the stuff you love is everywhere you need it. Automatically.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Apple will start using this new “Automatic. Everywhere.” marketing slogan elsewhere. In the meantime, check out the video below.
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In our longest Reading List collection to date, we’ve curated some great articles about Mountain Lion (which is still a hot topic among bloggers), Apple’s renewed “scamming apps” problem, and a variety of other subjects, including iOS-ification, the Home Screen, and third-party developers. It’s not just about quantity (more than 15 entries this week) — we think this week’s Reading List is the one with the highest quality material so far. So grab a good cup of coffee (albeit we have nothing against tea, as some of you have asked), your favorite chair, and let’s dive in. (more…)

Feb
24
2012

#MacStoriesDeals – Friday

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Here are today’s @MacStoriesDeals on iOS, Mac, and Mac App Store apps that are on sale for a limited time, so get them before they end!
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According to MG Siegler at TechCrunch, Apple has acquired Chomp, app search and recommendation engine that has an iPhone app available in the App Store. Siegler reports that the Chomp team and product will be transitioned over to Apple, although details of the deal aren’t clear:

My understanding is that such deals will remain intact for now but are likely to end once the Chomp team and product transitions over to Apple. The same is likely true for Chomp’s stand-alone products.

I haven’t been able to learn the exact terms of the deal, but I hear that all the investors should be very pleased with the outcome. This is not a cheap “acqui-hire”, Apple has bought the Chomp team and technology and plans to use both to completely revamp App Store search and recommendations, I hear.

With Apple’s Tim Cook famously saying he’s not religious about holding or not holding the cash (nearly $100 billion) at Apple’s disposal, the acquisition of Chomp should be a clear sign of the company’s willingness to invest in talent and technologies from startups that have proved to care about quality of their products. Chomp in particular is an interesting choice for Apple, as it might signal important changes coming relatively soon to the App Store, especially on the side of discovery of apps with recommendations targeting a user’s tastes and behaviors. With over 700,000 apps available (per AppShopper) and thousands getting approved every day, the issue with discovery is a real one: most developers struggle to get their apps noticed and the best chance for popularity still remains Apple’s own feature in the App Store’s homepage with the “App of the week” and “New & Noteworthy” sections. Furthermore, the existing App Store infrastructure doesn’t have integrated sharing features for Twitter and Facebook, which Chomp has.

It’s obviously not clear what Apple has in store for Chomp yet, but here’s a couple of wild guesses based on the app’s existing functionalities:

Improve app discovery learning what an app does, rather than just its name. Currently, Apple seems to be basing its algorithm for discovery (part available in the Genius UI, part in iTunes under an app’s description) on categories and “what other customers also bought”. Chomp is capable of learning an app’s core functions, and find similar or complimentary apps.

Build sharing of apps for Twitter and Facebook right within the App Store. This would be a nice feature in iOS 6 — alongside a mobile wish list.

Improve search with suggestions, tags, and a cleaner layout similar to what Chomp already does.

Let App Store users create profiles and revamp the whole review system, as developers have been asking for years now. The profile option would be an interesting possibility, and it could easily work in conjunction with Ping, which has failed to gain traction. This has also been experimented by other apps that have tried to compete in the app recommendation space in the past years.

As with the recent Anobit acquisition, it’s likely Apple will confirm the acquisition of Chomp soon. It will be interesting to see if and how Chomp’s technologies will be integrated with a future version of the App Store, which keeps on growing at a tremendous pace but needs a better system to discover apps and filter out less important results.

Update: Apple has confirmed the acquisition to AllThingsD without providing further details on how the service will be integrated with the App Store.

Feb
23
2012

iOS 6 Wishes

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I read two great articles over the past few days detailing how Apple could improve iOS by taking a page from its competitors’ book (specifically, Android and Windows Phone 7) to enhance the way apps communicate with each other, and by looking at the way webOS handles multitasking and application windows on the TouchPad. They are good articles with some clever ideas, so make sure to check them out.

I have been writing a lot about ecosystems, file sharing and inter-app communication in the past months. After the public launch of iCloud last October, I’ve argued that Apple’s cloud solution is the platform for the next decade that might as well become the “operating system” itself, although it (and, by reflection, iOS) still lacks document-oriented functionalities to facilitate the process of creating and moving documents between apps. I have also made the case for a “universal save” option for iOS apps that might take advantage of iCloud, and, fortunately, it seems Apple is listening.

Today I’d like to go on the record with a list of features and options I’d like to see in a future version of iOS. I’m not typically huge on lists or “feature request” (last one was a series of predictions for WWDC ’11), but I believe it’s worth discussing the direction where Apple is headed with its mobile operating system and, while we’re at it, propose solutions to improve existing apps and system utilities. I’ll check back on this list after WWDC ’12. (more…)

Feb
23
2012

Here are today’s @MacStoriesDeals on iOS, Mac, and Mac App Store apps that are on sale for a limited time, so get them before they end!
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Apple’s iPhone TV Ads: The Complete Campaign

Adweek created a complete collection of every iPhone ad campaign to date, starting with the 2007 commercial “Hello” (aired on the night of the Oscars).

Without much fanfare, the iPhone campaign has surpassed its predecessor in terms of volume of work—”Get a Mac” lasted for 66 spots over four years (watch them all here), wrapping up its run in October 2009; the iPhone campaign is now entering its sixth year, and is up to 84 spots and counting. “Get a Mac” was beloved for its characters and wry humor. And while the iPhone work may lack that same level of charm—it is, at its heart, merely a series of product demonstrations—it is just as exquisitely produced and in many ways more varied.

I have previously written about how Apple’s commercials often tend to tell “stories” rather than simply showcasing the functionalities of a product. The complete collection of iPhone TV ads provides a fantastic example of how Apple’s marketing style can be a little different, but still effective and capable of establishing an emotional connection with the audience.

Check out Adweek’s gallery here.

Clear Sells 350,000 Copies In 9 Days

The Guardian reports “buttonless” todo list app Clear has sold over 350,000 copies in nine days of App Store availability:

We’ve sold just over 350,000 copies,” says product manager Nik Fletcher. “The launch day was massive, and by Wednesday last week it was number one on App Stores around the world. It’s been an incredible response.”

Clear costs 69p on the App Store, meaning that the app has generated net revenues of just over £169,000 so far, after Apple’s 30% cut. The revenues are being shared between Realmac, software studio Impending and co-creator Milen Dzhumerov, as Clear was a collaborative project.

Clear is another example of the App Store’s uniqueness as a platform for independent developers. A simple idea such as a todo list application for iPhone, coupled with a great UI and the right marketing strategy can be a sustainable business model for smaller development shops and individuals. It’s also another example of how buzz and social networks such as Twitter can build an incredible amount of hype around software these days (just take a look at the visualizations on Clear’s Vimeo teaser).

Make sure to check out our review of Clear if you missed it, and our interview with developer Phill Ryu.

Since Apple released a public beta of Messages for Mac, we’ve been having a bit of a notification overload here at MacStories HQ. See, ever since iMessage was released with iOS 5, we’ve had our own group message with everyone on the MacStories team — it was a portable water cooler, where we could chat about random things, share silly pictures and even co-ordinate things for the site, even when we were out and about. We used it quite frequently, but things turned for the worse last week when we all got that Messages for Mac beta. What might have been 10 messages in a given time period, suddenly morphed into 50 messages because of the convenience of having iMessage just a click way on our Macs. Things were becoming chaotic and quite distracting, Don had even turned off vibrations — meaning he got no notification for any message, from anyone.

We didn’t want to give up on using Messages for Mac, and it was probably going to be a hard task to change our messaging behaviours to limit the number of messages sent, but it was clear this week that we had to do something.

Fortunately, we think we have found a solution. In iOS, Apple includes the ability to change the text tone and ringtone on a per-contact basis. What we did for everyone in the MacStories team, was to change the text tone to “None”. You can do this by going into the Contacts app, selecting a contact and tapping the ‘Edit’ button and scrolling to “text tone”.

This now means regardless of whether your phone is on Silent or not, you will not get any noise or vibration to alert you to the new message. There are two downsides to this ‘workaround’: the first is that you will still get the notification bar flipping down from the top of your screen. The second problem, which could be a deal breaker for some, is that any messages from that person will not cause a vibration or text tone — important to remember if they are a participant in a few of your group message threads.

There should be another way…

Whilst the ability to change the text tone (and ringtone) on a per-contact basis is really cool (and can be used for a number of other purposes), perhaps there should be another way to control message notifications differently — especially now that iMessage is bundled in iChat, and may lead to an increased number of messages sent to iOS devices. Specifically I’m talking about muting specific message conversations. This would allow me to mute the message thread that has all of the MacStories members, but still receive notifications from Federico, in case he urgently wanted me to cover something.

Apple could easily implement the option inside the Messages app, simply displaying a mute icon next to each message thread when in the ‘Edit’ mode. Just like changing the text tone on a per-contact basis, this power-user option wouldn’t make the UI messy, because it would only appear in the ‘Edit’ screen. That way, users could choose between completely muting on a per-contact basis or on a per-message thread basis — all whilst still receiving notifications for your other messages.