Federico Viticci

7505 posts on MacStories since April 2009

Federico is the founder and editor-in-chief of MacStories, where he writes about Apple with a focus on apps, developers, and mobile software. He can also be found in the iBooks Store and on his two podcasts, Connected and Virtual.

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Nintendo, One Year Later

Lukas Mathis, checking back after a year on the idea that Nintendo should drop consoles and make games for iOS:

Now, one year later, Nintendo just announced that it made a quarterly profit of 24.2 billion yen (about 224 million US$). Ars Technica notes that this is mainly due to strong sales of its first-party titles, mostly on the 3DS. However, even the Wii U is starting to show sustainable game sales numbers. So far, Mario Kart 8 sold roughly 3 million copies on the Wii U, and it continues to sell well. At 60 US$ a piece, it’s not clear to me that Nintendo could make the same amount of money selling games for iOS. Even a platform that’s doing poorly, like the Wii U, might be a better option if you can sell games for 60 bucks a piece, and reach a 50% attach rate.

As I argued last year in Nintendo Vs. Apple Pundits, Nintendo consoles exist to support the company's crown jewels – first-party games. The kind of experiences that Nintendo is able to craft on the 3DS and Wii U wouldn't simply be possible on iOS (from both technical and economic perspectives).

As Mathis notes, the rest of the console industry isn't doing too bad after a year either, with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 reporting higher sales numbers than the previous generation.

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Apple No Longer Rejecting iOS 8 Calculator Widgets

According to TechCrunch, Apple has changed its mind on calculator widgets for iOS 8 following yesterday's PCalc news:

But now we’re hearing that Apple is changing its course. The PCalc app and widget will remain in the App Store, and all calculator-type widgets will be allowed as well, an Apple spokesperson has confirmed to us.

From our understanding, the calculator use case was not one that Apple had anticipated, which is why an App Store reviewer originally explained to Thomson that he would need to adjust the app, or risk being pulled from the App Store.

James Thomson still hasn't heard anything from Apple officially, and, obviously, there are hundreds of apps that are mysteriously rejected every week and that aren't covered by dozens of tech blogs in a single day.

Still, this is the right decision from Apple, and it'll hopefully turn into an opportunity to clarify the App Store Review Guidelines for widgets and improve the company's internal Schrödinger process that makes an app featured and at risk of rejection at the same time.

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Apple Asks PCalc Developer to Remove iOS 8 Widget

As tweeted by PCalc developer James Thomson today, he will be forced to remove the app's iOS 8 widget. Following an approval that saw PCalc 3.3 launch alongside iOS 8 and a feature in Apple's “Great Apps for iOS 8” App Store section, the company has informed Thomson that “Notification Center widgets on iOS cannot perform any calculations”.

Curious app rejections aren't new to the App Store, but being forced to remove a feature that was approved, featured by the App Store team, and appreciated by thousands of users is a different story. As Thomson tweeted, he invested time and resources into the development of the widget, which was a fantastic addition to the app and a nice way to perform quick calculations directly in the Today view of Notification Center. More importantly, it was a great showcase of the new capabilities of iOS 8.

Thomson wasn't alone in thinking that a widget calculator would be a good idea: dozens of iOS 8 widgets with the same feature have been released since last month (such as Wdgts) and Apple itself offers a calculator widget in OS X Yosemite.

But even with the following examples in mind, being forced to remove apps or features that had been previously approved isn't news either (case in point). Rather, what is disappointing is the persistence of contradicting signals from a company that many developers saw as “more open” after WWDC '14. Developers like Thomson will keep finding themselves in the position of risking to implement a feature or create an app that may be approved, gain users, and be shut down by Apple for a sudden policy change.

PCalc will continue to be a great app even without its widget. But at some point, we'll have to wonder whether technology limitations or murky App Store policies are truly holding iOS back, preventing developers from building innovative iOS-first apps that dare to go beyond the status quo. Today, that's happening to a calculator widget.


The iPad Air 2′s Extra GB of RAM

Display aside, another hardware change that I noticed in my iPad Air 2 is the extra RAM Apple put in this year. Pocket Gamer's Mark Brown ran some tests:

To see how things have changed, we rebooted an iPad Air and an iPad Air 2, and then loaded monster memory hog XCOM: Enemy Unknown. We then started opening and using apps to see how much we could get done before iOS forcibly removed XCOM from memory.

Apple's handy OS X tool Instruments lets you keep an eye on what your iPad is doing, so we could see the exact moment that XCOM was killed off like a Sectoid on the receiving end of a shotgun.

Check out his gallery of screenshots to see how much an extra GB of RAM can help. In my case, the iPad Air 2 keeps more Safari tabs in memory without aggressively reloading when I switch between them, and apps generally stay active for longer periods of time. The end result is a faster experience as I see less apps being removed from memory – a change that I particularly appreciate when I'm switching between Safari and a bunch of other apps for research or file management tasks.

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The iPad Air 2 Display

Since getting my iPad Air 2 last week (I upgraded from an iPad mini), I noticed two things about the display: if I get closer to it, I can (almost) discern pixels again; and, it's considerably better than the iPad mini when used under indoor lighting.

Dr. Raymond M. Soneira of DisplayMate notes in their in-depth analysis of the display:

A major innovation for the iPad Air 2 (that is not fully appreciated) is an anti-reflection coating on the cover glass that reduces ambient light reflections by about 3:1 over most other Tablets and Smartphones (including the previous iPads), and about 2:1 over all of the very best competing Tablets and Smartphones (including the new iPhone 6). We measured a 62 percent decrease in reflected light glare compared to the previous iPads (Apple claims 56 percent) and agree with Apple’s claim that the iPad Air 2 is “the least reflective display of any Tablet in the world” – both are in fact understatements.

While the anti-reflection coating doesn't do much in direct sunlight, in my experience it has an effect for working with the iPad indoors. As for the pixels, it's not a big deal because I wouldn't normally get my eyes close to display (so in normal usage, the Retina display still looks fantastic), but I'd definitely welcome a Retina HD iPad next year.

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Logitech Unveils New Keys-To-Go iPad Keyboard

Earlier today, Logitech unveiled updates to its line of iPad keyboards and cases (Ultrathin and Type+) and announced a brand new Bluetooth keyboard called Keys-To-Go.

The Logitech Keys-To-Go is a standalone ultra-portable Bluetooth keyboard that is thin, light and durable, making it the perfect partner for on-the-go typing. At just 6.1 mm thick and 180 grams, it’s simple to tuck into your purse, briefcase or coat pocket without taking up precious space or weighing you down, and is compatible with the entire iPad lineup. What’s more, the rechargeable battery can last up to three months on a single charge, so it’s ready to type whenever (and wherever!) inspiration strikes.

The Keys-To-Go will be compatible with the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, and its FabricSkin material will make it waterproof and durable. The keyboard is fairly reminiscent of Microsoft's Touch Cover for the Surface tablet, which attaches to the device and lets touch-type via Bluetooth on physical “keys”.

Since 2012, I've been using Logitech's original Tablet Keyboard as my external keyboard for the iPad and I love it. The keyboard is large enough (smaller than Apple's Bluetooth keyboard but larger than Logitech's keyboard cases and upcoming Keys-To-Go), it has dedicated iOS shortcuts (I use the Home and Spotlight keys a lot), and it's sturdy and durable. When it comes to controlling iOS with a keyboard, I can't recommend the Logitech Tablet Keyboard enough.

I'm intrigued by the Keys-To-Go: it comes in multiple colors, it keeps the dedicated iOS keys, and it has a rechargeable battery. And, it looks really thin and it can be wiped clean easily. But I've never typed comfortably on small Bluetooth keyboards, and I'm afraid that I would miss the subtle clickiness of the Tablet Keyboard.

The Keys-To-Go will be available next month at $69.99.


iOS 8 Now on Over Half of Active iOS Devices

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors:

After five and a half weeks of availability, Apple's iOS 8 operating system is now installed on 52 percent of iOS devices, according to new numbers posted on Apple's App Store support page for developers.

The number is measured by Apple through App Store stats.

iOS 8 has been, in my personal experience, “difficult” to explain: some of its new features like widgets and extensions are best demonstrated with third-party apps that not everybody has, and additions like Handoff and keyboards aren't immediately noticeable like a new design. It appears that more people are now upgrading to a new major version of iOS after a few updates, but there are also new iPhones and iPads with iOS 8.1 pre-installed that may have influenced Apple's statistics.

Still, iOS 8 numbers are going up and that should be good news for app developers, but it doesn't seem like iOS 7 can be completely left behind yet.

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The New musiXmatch Widget for iOS 8

I've talked about musiXmatch, an app to find lyrics for songs playing on your device, before here on MacStories. Earlier this year, I covered the app's new version for iOS 7, noting how an officially-licensed database of lyrics with a polished interface makes it a superior choice for anyone who wants to read song lyrics on iOS:

Overall, musiXmatch is impressive and accurate. I've discovered lyrics for hundreds of songs and finally learned some of my favorite ones thanks to musiXmatch. The app can listen to songs playing on the same device, and its integration with iOS' local music library means it can display lyrics for songs you already have without having to use the microphone at all. I mostly find myself trying to find lyrics for songs that are playing on my computer or iPad, and the app's on-time, licensed lyrics provide a great experience for those interested in knowing the lyrics of songs they like.

musiXmatch rarely fails to find lyrics for me, and I like its design and integration with Apple's Music app. And last week, they released an iOS 8 update with one of the most impressive widgets I've seen to date.

Here's how it works: start playing a song in Apple's Music app, open Notification Center, and musiXmatch will show you synced lyrics that follow the song you're listening to. If you're used to the traditional musiXmatch experience (in the iOS app or one of their desktop integrations, such as Spotify), you'll recognize the service's display of lyrics and timeliness – only as a widget on iOS.

From both technical and user experience perspectives, this is excellent work from the musiXmatch team. Over the weekend, I tested the widget with music I had in iTunes Match, albums I synced locally, and, today, Taylor Swift's new album, and musiXmatch always found lyrics and displayed them at the right time in the widget, which needs less than a second to appear (tested on an iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6; obviously, musiXmatch needs an Internet connection to work). The widget also has buttons to open the Trending, Music ID, and Search sections in the musiXmatch app as well as playback controls, but synced lyrics with artwork preview in Notification Center were the highlight of this update.

Unfortunately, due to iOS limitations, musiXmatch can't display lyrics in the widget for third-party music streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio, or Apple's Beats Music, but it'll work for apps that use Apple's Music as the background player. The widget can't access the device microphone to identify a song without launching the app, and, for now, musiXmatch can't display lyrics in the widget for iTunes Radio streams either. These limitations narrow the potential user base (people who only use Spotify or Beats won't see lyrics in Notification Center), but hopefully musiXmatch will be able to develop some kind of integration with third-parties.

The musiXmatch widget for iOS 8 is too good to pass up. If you use Apple's Music app and would like a way to see synced lyrics with a single swipe, download musiXmatch for free from the App Store.