Graham Spencer

782 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.


Tim Cook: Pro-Discrimination ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws Are Dangerous

Tim Cook in The Washington Post today:

There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country.

A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors. Some, such as the bill enacted in Indiana last week that drew a national outcry and one passed in Arkansas, say individuals can cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law.

Cook's op-ed in The Washington Post comes after Indiana's 'Religious Freedom Restoration Act', which allows businesses to deny service to same-sex couples, was signed into law last week.

I encourage you all to read the full op-ed, Cook does a remarkable job at highlighting just why these laws are dangerous. His final paragraph is particularly powerful:

This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings. Opposing discrimination takes courage. With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous.


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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Blink: Effortless Affiliate Link Generation on iOS

Launching today, Blink is a new Universal iOS app from Squibner that quickly generates affiliate links for content from the App Store, Mac App Store, iTunes Store and iBooks Store. If you’re a member of the iTunes affiliate program you’ll know that you don’t want to be manually editing iTunes links with your own token and campaign tag – Blink automates that process on iOS, making it quick and effortless.

A Brief Introduction to Affiliate Links

Before I continue, a quick introduction to the world of affiliate linking for those that are unaware. Essentially, anyone can register for the iTunes affiliate program and they will receive their own affiliate token (a series of letters and numbers). If they generate an iTunes URL that includes this affiliate token and share that link with others that click on it, they will receive a (small) percentage of any iTunes sales that flow from any clicks. For many small and independent sites, such affiliate programs are a valuable source of income (and yes, MacStories uses affiliate links). Apple’s website has more details if you’d like to learn more about the technical details of affiliate linking and perhaps even sign up.

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Skala Color 2: A More Functional and Beautiful Color Picker for OS X

Bjango is a small development studio, probably best known for the (very handy) iStat Menus utility. For the past few years they’ve also been hard at work on Skala, which will be a UI and icon design tool that Bjango promises to have ‘phenomenal rendering quality and a unique blend of vector, bitmap and 3D abilities’. But in the interim, they’ve released Skala Preview (which lets you preview Photoshop documents on your iOS device) and Skala Color (a new color picker for OS X).

Marc Edwards, founder of Bjango, explained why they've created Skala Color and Preview in a brief interview with Khoi Vinh:

When we began work on Skala, we decided it could be good to break out some features into separate apps. Doing so helps ensure those modules are well tested, and creates awareness Skala is coming (we’re a tiny company, so we can’t afford expensive ads).

Late last week Bjango released version 2 of Skala Color which brings a revamped user interface, support for copying color values for use with Swift, random color generation and improved format parsing.

For those that aren’t familiar with Skala Color, it adds a tab to the system color picker window in OS X. The key features you get from using Skala Color is the ability to easily copy color values in a wide variety of formats (full list here), and really fine control over selecting a color thanks to the new user interface in version 2.

Skala Color 2 may just be a little utility, but it is full of great little design touches. For example, you don’t necessarily have to use the color sliders, you can also hover your mouse over the ring of the magnifying glass and cycle through the 360 degrees of hues. Another is how Skala Color will recognise if you have a color value on your clipboard and let you select that color with one click.

One thing to keep in mind is that Skala Color is a 64-bit app, so it won’t show up in an app that is 32-bit. That shouldn’t be a problem for the vast majority of apps on OS X these days, but I did run into it with Microsoft Office Preview.

Skala Color 2 is a free utility for OS X.




Apple’s Keynote Videos: More Frequent and More Cinematic

Whilst watching yesterday's keynote, it struck me how Apple has been increasing the use of artistic and cinematic videos to reveal and explain products during their keynotes. Sure, videos have been used in the past, but in recent keynotes it has been taken to the next level. It's particularly striking if you try and compare the original iPhone keynote announcement (essentially just Steve Jobs with a static slide deck) and September's Watch announcement (two highly produced videos, interspersed with more details from Tim Cook).

There are undoubtedly a wide variety of reasons that could explain why Apple is increasing the use of such videos. Perhaps it is because almost no-one can match the on-stage charisma and presence that Steve Jobs conveyed, perhaps it's just fun making these videos, maybe they think the videos make the keynote stronger, perhaps they want to create video content to include on their website, or maybe it's just true that a picture is worth a 1,000 words.

But whatever the reasoning (and I suspect it's a mix of all of the above), I really enjoyed the videos from yesterday's keynote and it's hard to say that about many promotional product videos. In fact it's kind of crazy to remind yourself that these are just product videos, because some of them are truly beautiful and intricate pieces of art. That's particularly true of the Apple Watch videos which focus on refinement process of the core material from the three collections: alumnium (Apple Watch Sport), stainless steel (Apple Watch) and gold (Apple Watch Edition).

I've embedded all the videos from yesterdays keynote below, along with some GIFs of a few of my favorite 'scenes'.

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Apple’s HBO Now Deal Has Been in the Works for a Year

In the spring of 2014 — months before HBO would announce its plans to sell the pay-TV channel as a standalone subscription service — HBO CEO Richard Plepler had already reached out, via an intermediary, to Apple media boss Eddy Cue: Would Apple want to sell HBO’s service on the Web?

Of course Apple would. So the basic agreement for HBO Now came together quickly, according to people familiar with the deal.

Peter Kafka at Re/code has more detail about the deal that made Apple the exclusive launch partner of HBO Now, the new service that will allow anyone in the US to get HBO's full library of back catalog and currently airing shows without a cable subscription. Significantly, the deal gives Apple a three month exclusivity window. That's long enough to mean that anyone wanting to watch the new seasons of Game of Thrones, VEEP or Silicon Valley (they all start April 12) will either need to have a cable subscription with HBO, or use HBO Now on the Apple TV, iPhone or iPad.


Thoughts on Today’s Apple Keynote from David Sparks

Watching the China store opening I was struck by the question of how a company instills so much devotion and emotion in customers over a new retail store opening. I think the answer is in delight.

Doesn’t HBO coming to Apple TV feel like the tiny hole in the dike that could pull the whole thing down?

I felt like the whole Apple TV bit was sort of a tease. Apple TV still needs an overhaul.

The avalanche of opinion pieces on Apple's announcements from today is only just starting, but this one from David Sparks is an early favorite for me, with most of my thoughts aligning with his. Plus, if you're getting a bit tired from all the Apple news today, you'll be relieved to know that all his thoughts are written in a concise dot-point format (with the above points being his first three observations).

I'll just add a few points myself:

  • Apple Pay was briefly mentioned, highlighting some significant progress in the United States. But still not a word on international availability, disappointing given contactless payment is already a huge thing in Australia and Europe.
  • Interesting that they didn't adjust the MacBook naming conventions. The MacBook Air is now both thicker and heavier than the MacBook.
  • HBO Now is US-only, once again disappointing from an international perspective, but hardly surprising.
  • There was a lot of focus on China, which is unsurprising. Not only did they open the keynote with a video of a retail store opening in China (and then detail Apple Retail progress in China) but China will get the Apple Watch on day one. Makes a lot of sense given how important the country now is for Apple.
  • Not that it was expected at all, but we didn't hear anything about music.

Interesting Bits and Pieces from Today’s Apple Announcements

Earlier today Apple held its ‘Spring Forward’ keynote event to unveil their new their new MacBook, announce more Apple Watch details, reveal they are the exclusive launch partner with HBO Now, and unveil ResearchKit to help medical researchers.

We’ve covered the headline details of all those announcements, but as always there are little things that we didn’t capture, or tidbits that others have uncovered since the event. That’s what this article is dedicated to, little interesting things that you may not have noticed yourself.

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Apple Watch at the ‘Spring Forward’ Keynote: Our Complete Overview

At Apple’s ‘Spring Forward’ keynote held earlier today at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, Apple provided more details about the Apple Watch, which will open for pre-orders on April 10 and launching on April 24. Today’s keynote was mostly a recap of last September’s announcement of the Apple Watch, with a handful of new details sprinkled throughout, read on to get all the key details. Read on to get an overview of the important announcements from today, but if you're looking for more information, look no further than the Apple Watch website or the keynote video.

“Apple Watch begins a new chapter in the way we relate to technology and we think our customers are going to love it,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We can’t wait for people to start wearing Apple Watch to easily access information that matters, to interact with the world, and to live a better day by being more aware of their daily activity than ever before.”

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