Graham Spencer

783 posts on MacStories since January 2011

Graham is a regular contributor to MacStories, a law and economics student at university and connoisseur of great TV shows. With a particular passion for telling stories with the aid of data and visualizations, there is a high likelihood that he wrote a story if you see a graph on MacStories.

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Why I Switched My Favorite Twitter, RSS, and Podcast Apps for Three Weeks

For at least five years there have been three slots on my iPhone Home screen dedicated to apps for Twitter, RSS, and podcasts. For as long as I can remember, they have been taken up by Tweetbot, Reeder and Castro. Three weeks ago I got rid of all three, and replaced them with Twitteriffic, Unread, and Pocket Casts. I had come to the awkward realisation that although I frequently tried new apps (and occasionally reviewed them), I didn't do the same thing when it came to Twitter, RSS, and podcast apps – at all. I had become too comfortable with the same apps.

So for three weeks I've been solely using those apps, and this "experiment" has lead to a few interesting revelations to me. Perhaps the most obvious one was that I discovered certain features I really liked, but had no idea I liked, until they were missing in the app I switched to (and vice versa). I won't spoil the results, but suffice to say I have resolved to try new apps (whatever their purpose) more frequently, even if I'm really happy with the app I'm currently using.

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Apple Refreshes 15-inch MacBook Pro with Force Touch Trackpad & Introduces Lower Priced Retina iMac

Apple today refreshed the 15-inch MacBook Pro, bringing the Force Touch trackpad, faster flash storage, longer battery life and more powerful graphics performance to the product line. The changes come after the 13-inch MacBook Pro was upgraded earlier this year alongside the debut of the new MacBook, both of which included the new Force Touch trackpad.

The new 15-inch MacBook Pros start at $1,999 and come with a 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB memory, 256GB flash storage and Intel Iris Pro graphics.

Apple also released a new configuration of the iMac with Retina 5K display. The new configuration comes in at a lower starting price of $1,999 and includes a 3.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, 1TB storage and AMD Radeon R9 M290 graphics.

“The response to the new MacBook and updated 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display has been amazing, and today we are thrilled to bring the new Force Touch trackpad, faster flash storage and longer battery life to the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “Customers love the groundbreaking iMac with Retina 5K display, and now with a new lower starting price, even more people can experience the best desktop we’ve ever made.”


Facebook Introduces Instant Articles

Late yesterday Facebook launched Instant Articles, a new feature for Facebook's iPhone app that will allow select media partners including the New York Times, National Geographic and BuzzFeed to publish articles on Facebook itself. For users, the big advantage is that Instant Articles will load much quicker than an webpage and Instant Articles can also include interactive elements.

As more people get their news on mobile devices, we want to make the experience faster and richer on Facebook. People share a lot of articles on Facebook, particularly on our mobile app. To date, however, these stories take an average of eight seconds to load, by far the slowest single content type on Facebook. Instant Articles makes the reading experience as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.

Along with a faster experience, Instant Articles introduces a suite of interactive features that allow publishers to bring their stories to life in new ways. Zoom in and explore high-resolution photos by tilting your phone. Watch auto-play videos come alive as you scroll through stories. Explore interactive maps, listen to audio captions, and even like and comment on individual parts of an article in-line.

The Verge has a great in-depth look at Instant Articles, including a terrific 4 minute introduction video which also features Facebook's Mike Matas.

Facebook is currently partnering with nine media organisations, but there's no doubt more will be added over time. The launch partners are: The New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel and Bild.

If you want to read an Instant Article yourself, just open the Facebook app on your iPhone, go to the Facebook page of one of the media partners and scroll until you see an article with a gold bookmark in the top-right corner. I've had a look at a few and they certainly load faster than a typical article would load, and they also look great, particularly with some of the new interactive elements.

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No Ecosystem Is an Island: Google, Microsoft, Facebook & Adobe’s iOS Apps

Apple doesn't make a single Android or Windows Phone app, and makes barely anything for Windows. But Apple's reluctance to develop on other platforms hasn't stopped Google and Microsoft from bringing their own apps across to iOS. That shouldn't be any surprise at all, given the different business strategies the three take. But what might be surprising is the extent to which Google and Microsoft have committed to bringing apps to iPhone and iPad users.

You are no doubt aware of the big apps from Microsoft (Word, Outlook and Minecraft) and Google (Gmail, Maps, Calendar), but the reality is that these two companies alone have over 150 apps available on the iOS App Store today. For good measure, I've also taken a look at the iOS development efforts from Adobe and Facebook, which are also significant.

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Apple Announces New Environmental Initiatives in China

In a press release from earlier today, Apple announced two new environmental initiatives in China. The first is a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to increase the amount of responsibly managed forests in China, aiming to protect as much as 1 million acres of forestland.

“Forests, like energy, can be renewable resources,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environmental Initiatives. “We believe we can run on naturally renewable resources and ensure that we protect—and create—as much sustainable working forest as needed to produce the virgin paper in our product packaging. This is an important step toward that goal and our commitment to leave the world better than we found it.”

The second initiative is a project to build two 20-megawatt solar farms that will generate up to 80 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. In its press release, Apple also provided an update on their renewable energy progress, noting that 87 percent of Apple’s global operations today run on renewable energy.

“We’ve set an example by greening our data centers, retail stores and corporate offices, and we’re ready to start leading the way toward reducing carbon emissions from manufacturing,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “This won’t happen overnight—in fact it will take years—but it’s important work that has to happen, and Apple is in a unique position to take the initiative toward this ambitious goal. It is a responsibility we accept. We are excited to work with leaders in our supply chain who want to be on the cutting edge of China’s green transformation.”

Today's announcement is just the latest in an increasingly long list of large projects Apple has undertaken to generate renewable energy and be environmentally responsible. I'd be fascinated to see if anyone in the renewable energy industry has done some research on just how significant Apple's efforts have been, compared to other multinationals and governments.

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Apple Partners with IBM & Japan Post to Deliver iPads to Elderly in Japan

Apple just announced an interesting new partnership with IBM and Japan Post, with a goal of delivering 4 to 5 million iPads to the elderly in Japan by 2020. As part of the initiative, IBM will deliver custom apps that help connect those who receive the iPads to "services, healthcare, community and their families".

“This initiative has potential for global impact, as many countries face the challenge of supporting an aging population, and we are honored to be involved in supporting Japan’s senior citizens and helping enrich their lives,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “iPad is incredibly intuitive, easy to use and has accessibility features built in, making it a perfect device for any generation to be connected and engaged.”

The initiative, which will begin to roll out in the second-half of this year, is an extension of Japan Post's national 'Watch Over' service:

For a nominal monthly fee, mail carriers check in on elderly customers and assure families about the well-being of their relatives. That service can now be extended and enhanced with iPad, complementing the in-person monitoring.

IBM's A Smarter Planet website has also posted a short blog post from Masaaki Tanaka, one of the original designers tasked with working on the project:

A tiny team at IBM Japan got the whole thing going. My first market research subjects were my mother and my mother-in-law. My mom lives nearby, so I would pop over every couple of weeks to get her reactions to design ideas. Mom is comfortable using an iPad, so she represented our more sophisticated users. My mother-in-law was less experienced with mobile technology, so she stood in for our novices. She now has an iPad and takes it everywhere.

It's unclear whether IBM's custom apps will be released on the App Store for anyone to download, but one would hope so. 4-5 million iPads is a great start, but it's only a drop in the ocean to the millions already out there in the world.

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Adobe Slate Review

In recent years Adobe has made a concerted effort to develop a collection of mobile apps that make it easy to accomplish various creative tasks. But rather than make one monolothic app that does everything (like Photoshop on PCs), they’ve been splitting up features into many apps that each focus on a different, and specific, creative aspect. For example, there is Adobe Brush CC, which enables you to create custom brushes for Photoshop and Illustrator based off photos you take on your iPhone or iPad, or Adobe Color CC, which will create a custom color palette from your photos. As Adobe has continued to release more and more of these apps every few months, their efforts have become more and more impressive. Adobe now has a sizeable collection of mobile apps that are some of the most technically impressive and well designed apps available on the iPhone and iPad.

Which brings me to Adobe Slate, one of the most recent additions to Adobe’s mobile app stable. Unlike many of their other apps which directly integrate and complement Adobe’s desktop apps like Photoshop or Illustrator (such as Brush and Color, described above), Slate is its own distinct product. Adobe describes Slate as a tool to “turn any document into a beautiful visual story”, which is actually quite a good way to describe it. A more mechanical way of describing Slate would be that it is an iPad-only app for creating a webpage (not a website) for situations where the content you want to share or display is a mix of text and images.

I recently had an assignment at university that permitted a more creative format and layout than the typical essay or report. Because I had heard about Adobe Slate launching a few weeks earlier, I decided to test it out. I ended up submitting my assignment as a webpage created with Slate, and I really enjoyed using it and think the result was pretty great.[1]

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Apple Announces WWDC 2015: Kicks Off June 8

Apple has announced the official dates for WWDC 2015. This year's WWDC will start in San Francisco on June 8 and runs through June 12.

Like last year, Apple will be awarding tickets to attendees through a random selection system (effectively, a lottery). Developers will be able to apply today through Friday, April 17 at 10 AM PDT, and they will know their status by Monday, April 20 at 5 PM PDT. There are also 350 WWDC Scholarships available, giving students and members of participating STEM organizations a chance to get a free ticket.

“The App Store ignited an app ecosystem that is simply amazing, forever changing the lives of customers and creating millions of jobs worldwide,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “We’ve got incredible new technologies for iOS and OS X to share with developers at WWDC and around the world, and can’t wait to see the next generation of apps they create.”

As with every annual WWDC, the conference will host "more than 100 technical sessions, over 1,000 Apple engineers, hands-on labs to help developers integrate new technologies and fine tune their apps". In the press release posted this morning, Apple doesn't mention an inaugural keynote, but confirmed there will be Apple Design Awards and news about the future of iOS and OS X.

Similar to last year, some WWDC sessions will be live streamed via the WWDC website to give "developers around the world access to the latest information in real time". Apple also notes that videos from all technical sessions will be available at the end of every day.


CleanMyMac 3 Brings Mail & iTunes Cleaning, Maintenance, and Privacy Features

MacPaw, the software company behind CleanMyMac, Gemini, and Hider 2, has today released CleanMyMac 3. This latest release of the Mac disk space ‘cleaner’ comes with a refreshed user interface that fits much better with the new design of OS X Yosemite, but it also includes new features that allow it to detect more unnecessary or redundant data, as well as some new maintenance and privacy features.

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